NEW YORK (AP) – Drama over fairness and inclusion at the Grammy Awards carried over to music’s big night Sunday as newcomers and mainstays in the industry supported Sean “Diddy” Combs and his powerful speech putting the Recording Academy on a clock to fix the nomination process when it comes to rap and R&B in major categories.”I think if they smart, they listen to Diddy,” soulful singer Lucky Daye told The Associated Press on the red carpet.
British rapper Labrinth added: “Hopefully there’s a conversation to really think about what’s happened.”
A mix of newcomers and well-known acts reached their goals of winning their first-ever Grammy Awards on Sunday, including Tanya Tucker, J. Cole, Lizzo, Billie Eilish, Lil Nas X, Billy Ray Cyrus and late rapper Nipsey Hussle.
Michelle Obama, Sara Bareilles, Rosalia and 21 Savage also became official Grammy winners when the show handed out trophies during its pre-telecast ceremony in Los Angeles.
Gary Clark Jr. and Eilish’s brother, Finneas, walked away as the most awarded stars, so far, taking home three awards each.
Finneas – who co-wrote, produced and engineered his sister’s debut album, “When We All Fall sleep, Where Do We Go?” – won best engineered album (non-classical), best pop vocal album (shared with his sister) and nonclassical producer of the year.
Only days ago, the academy’s just-ousted CEO Deborah Dugan claimed that the awards are rigged and filled with conflicts of interest. At the Clive Davis gala Saturday night, Combs – who was honored – spoke for 50 fiery minutes, saying in part:
“So I say this with love to the Grammys, because you really need to know this, every year y’all be killing us man. Man, I’m talking about the pain. I’m speaking for all these artists here, the producers, the executives. The amount of time it takes to make these records, to pour your heart into it, and you just want an even playing field.”
Legend Smokey Robinson had words of support for Combs, his friend, but he said he wasn’t surprised about the Grammy criticism. “Diddy could actually be a politician. I thought this speech was powerful. It touched on a lot of things people were afraid to say,” he said. Of Dugan calling out manipulation of the nomination process, he said, “It’s not like it’s news. We’ve known it all along. It’s just coming to the forefront. All that is hidden will come to light.”
Bluesman Keb’ Mo’, who has served on academy boards over the years, said his experiences on the inside have been “nothing but integrity.” He added: “Nothing’s perfect, but my experience is the Grammys trying to maintain integrity and the artistic process.”
Others said Combs’ words and support will hopefully go a long way.
“I believe that, you know, sometimes there’s always a tweaking that can be done. … I think sometimes you may have to just revisit the process,” said gospel artist Tasha Cobbs Leonard. “I have hope that’s what’s happening now in every category.”
A number of acts won two awards in the pretelecast, including Lizzo, Lil Nas X and Cyrus, Anderson .Paak, Lady Gaga, Tucker, Kirk Franklin and Jacob Collier. And Beyonce, the most nominated woman in the history of the Grammys, won her 24th award.
Nipsey Hussle has posthumously won best rap performance for “Racks in the Middle,” which features Roddy Ricch and Hit-Boy. Hussle’s family, including his brother, grandmother and actress-fiancee Lauren London, accepted the honor during the pre-telecast. “Nip did it, not just for the awards, but for the people,” London Hussle was nominated for two other awards: He lost best rap song to J. Cole and 21 Savage. The third award was presented during the live show, when Hussle was honored with a tribute performance from DJ Khaled, John Legend, Meek Mill and others.
SILENCE FOR KOBE
The pre-telecast ceremony, where most of the awards are handed out, opened with a brief remembrance of NBA star Kobe Bryant, who was killed earlier in the day in a helicopter crash in California.
Referring to the arena where Bryant played for the Los Angeles Lakers, Interim Recording Academy CEO Harvey Mason Jr. said, “Since we are in his house, I would ask you to join me in a moment of silence.”
New stars like Lizzo, Eilish and Lil Nas X – the most-nominated acts Sunday – won their first Grammys of their careers and have chance to win more, though a cloud loomed over this year’s awards.
The Grammys have been criticized over the years when Beyonce, Kanye West, Eminem, Mariah Carey and other top stars have lost in major categories, including album of the year and best new artist. The rap and R&B stars often fall short of their pop, rock and country counterparts.
Boys Noize, along with Skrillex and and Ty Dolla $ign, also supported the cause on the red carpet.
Everybody should be here. More black, more female,” Boys Noize said.
Ty Dolla $ign added: “The people will
rise for sure.”