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Some Things Awarded, Some Things Earned: Open Letter to Kendrick Lamar

“I’m Real, I’m Real… I’m really really REAL!” – Kendrick Lamar

On October 9th in 2009, Nobel Committee Chairman Thorbjorn Jagland announced the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to President Barack Obama. With almost knee-jerk reaction and reporter questioning, Mr. Jagland indicated that the committee was awarding President Obama with the coveted award because of his ‘attempts’ to ‘resolve conflict through negotiation’ and for his  ‘vision’ for the role of the US in international diplomacy. Obviously, being just a few months into his presidency, President Obama had not accomplished much in that arena. What the Nobel Committee decided to do was to align their Award with the ‘vision’ and ‘hope’ of President Obama in a manner that would enable their own contribution to the fulfillment of Obama’s vision.

This is a case where an esteemed award is awarded not necessarily on merit or quality of labor, but for larger strategic reasons. Fully aware of the gravity of its own award, the Nobel Committee attempted to ‘affect’ peace and diplomacy via awarding President Obama the Nobel Peace Prize.

The GRAMMYs are not the Nobel Committee. However, a history of Awarding practices will shed light on a possible reason why you left the festivities trophy-less last night.

macklemore-kendrickMacklemore and Ryan Lewis are good artists. Macklemore and Ryan Lewis are not the first to advocate-rap for the humanity and equal treatment of gay people. Macklemore and Ryan are also not the first to buck high-dollar fashion in Rap. In 2011, hip-hop artist Murs dropped Love and Rockets: Volume 1 the Transformation. The final track of the album is a song called ‘Animal Style’.  In ‘Animal Style’, Murs brilliantly exercises his poetics in a tragic love story about a gay couple dealing with mainstream acceptance. Anybody remotely aware of hip-hop OR poetry OR the art of storytelling knows that (in our inner Kanye voice) “Animal Style is better Strange Love. That is all”. Furthering this historical review, in 2002 Common dropped the album Electric Circus. Track 10 is called ‘Between Me, You & Liberation’ and features Common and Cee-Lo in tune for an illustration of personally tragic stories.  In the 3rd verse, Common raps “He spoke with his eyes tear-filled/ A lump in his throat as fear built/ My whole life it was instilled…. This aint the way that Men feel..” Common goes onto explain “..now it was no way for him to ignore it/ His parents found out and hated him for it/ How could I judge him, had to accept him if I truly loved him..” Common’s third verse is better than Strange Love. Rest assure, I’ll be ensuring the public takes an extra critical review before they dismiss Hip-hop as ‘behind the progressive times’ when it comes to gay rights rhetoric. 

The GRAMMYs are not the Nobel Committee. However, they may have acted like them last night. By not awarding you “Best Rap Album”, the GRAMMYs proved to be ‘aligning themselves with the vision’ of Macklemore and Ryan Lewis. And just like the Nobel Committee’s award to President Obama, the GRAMMYs attempted to ‘affect’ change rather than reward artists based on the merit and quality of what was actually produced.  We need not look any further than the ‘wedding’ that took place after Macklemore’s stage performance.


I wish I could tell you what Chuck D said years ago in his slightly different tone, that the GRAMMYs don’t matter. But accolades certainly have their place and function in elevating an artist’s platform for influence. Furthermore, how history awards individuals’ contribution to society is largely tied into accolades.

Consider President Abraham Lincoln. History has awarded him the title of ‘Emancipator’ of the slaves. In one of the biggest box office movies of 2012, Lincoln, the movie director, Steven Spielberg, didn’t bother to cover any of the Abolitionist work, influence, or relentless pressure brought on Lincoln to move from a neutral stance on slavery to a progressive stance on emancipation. The movie is based on the book ‘Team of Rivals’ by Doris Goodwin. In it she wrote: “In 1876, the celebrated orator Frederick Douglass dedicated a monument in Washington, D.C., erected by black Americans to honor Abraham Lincoln. The former slave told his audience that “there is little necessity on this occasion to speak at length and critically of this great and good man, and of his high mission in the world. That ground has been fully occupied… The whole field of fact and fancy has been gleaned and garnered. Any man can say things that are true of Abraham Lincoln, but no man can say anything that is new of Abraham Lincoln.

 Doris goes on to remark, “Speaking only eleven years after Lincoln’s death, Douglass was too close to assess the fascination that this plain and complex, shrewd and transparent, tender and iron-willed leader would hold for generations of Americans”

Yep, she missed it. Frederick Douglass didn’t fail to properly assess the fascination of Lincoln, he just succeeded in acknowledging the proper Abolitionist influences that gave rise to Lincoln’s actions. Funny how Doris missed the following quote which Douglass made IN THE VERY SAME speech:

Frederick-Douglas-Sketch_la“Abraham Lincoln was not, in the fullest sense of the word, either our man or our model. In his interests, in his associations, in his habits of thought, and in his prejudices, he was a white man. He was preeminently the white man’s President, entirely devoted to the welfare of white men. He was ready and willing at any time during the first years of his administration to deny, postpone, and sacrifice the rights of humanity in the colored people to promote the welfare of the white people of this country”

The struggle for Emancipation was not ornamental to Douglass. Frederick Douglass devoted his entire free ‘LIFE’ to the abolition of slavery. He became the ‘thorn in the hind part of Lincoln’s sight. Douglass tormented Lincoln’s conscience and publicly blasted Lincoln’s policies and intransigence in moving from the neutrality of the “non-extension’ philosophy toward full emancipation of slaves.

[His]tory has ‘awarded’ Lincoln the title of ‘Great Emancipator’. But a more accurate review of historical truths will tell the story of the incessant pressure that the Abolitionists, and Frederick Douglass in particular, put on Lincoln. Emancipation was ‘earned’ by the Abolitionist’s movement.

I write you this to encourage you that your life’s work, everything from Training Day, to Overly Dedicated, to Section.80, to good kid, m.a.a.d. city has ‘earned’ you a place in this generation’s heart. Affecting the minds of kids drowning in gang violence and misconceptions of what ‘Real’ is, is a tall order. Your work has been a powerful bullet to the head of ignorance in our communities. Awards will come. Accolades will be put in their proper place. But of the truth, well the truth will always come to light. And we all see your light.


I bet they’ll pull a ‘make up’ call next time around. Smh

Peace up,

Sage Salvo


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