Tyler, the Creator has spent most of his career knee-deep in controversy and thrives off of his unique ideas and shocking subject matter. His unique evolution as an artist and personal sense of style influence much of society and entertain his followers to a massive degree.
At the 62nd Grammy Awards last Sunday, he raised concerns which have always been known among the Black community but have been rarely brought up on a national stage.
His 2019 album “IGOR” was critically acclaimed by fans and music critics alike, with both groups praising the change of style and incredible consistency and storytelling Tyler displayed on the album. Additionally, it was nominated and won the Best Rap Album award at the Grammy Awards.
Yet, his album was only nominated for Best Rap Album, and it contains less than 30% actual rapping. The rest of the album is brilliantly orchestrated instrumentation, singing, chords, synthesizers and melodies that could well be considered pop ballads.
“EARFQUAKE” clearly takes inspiration from genre-bending producers such as Timbaland and Pharrell, and “IGOR’S THEME” is a mostly instrumental track which contains a bridge that brings chills to the average listener who enjoys different song structures and unique instrumentation. The album is genre-bending and takes inspiration from many different styles of music.
To call “IGOR” a rap album could be compared to calling “Thriller” by Michael Jackson just a pop album or calling King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard just a rock band. By characterizing Black music in such a way, the value of the art is diminished and much of its depth and impact is nullified.
During his speech after the Grammy ceremony, Tyler expressed how the win felt like a “backhanded compliment” as he felt like his album did not fit the criteria for the category it was placed in.
While he was happy his art was being recognized on a national stage, he also pointed out the systematic problem when Black people create art: No matter what they create, their creations will not receive the same amount of coverage or representation that they deserve.
The art will continue to be restricted to a certain category such as “urban” due to the lack of people of color who control who earns awards. The confining misrepresentation of putting his album in the “rap category” displays a larger problem among the community of individuals who vote for these types of awards.
While calls to abolish genres cite the limiting nature of characterizing music this way, Tyler expresses a more specific belief of exclusivity in which I agree with. Rap and other genres should be able to expand their influence beyond their perceived boundaries. Blackness continues to be shown as detrimental to showcasing art to a wider audience.
The Grammy and other award shows have a well-known history of suppressing Black art or limiting the amount of Black art that is showcased on a natural scale. Black art has constantly been snubbed, embarrassed or pigeonholed to a certain set of categories even if the categorization refuses to be accurate to the art being shown.
Artists of color tend to win in “racialized” categories such as rap and R&B, but rarely win major categories such as Album of the Year, Song of the Year, Record of the Year and Best New Artist. This consistent lack of representation illustrates the glass ceiling which Black artists are trapped beneath.
Tyler has achieved a feat that should be celebrated and praised throughout the music community. It shows progress and proves that Black art should be recognized on a national stage. His exclusion from other categories shows the pigeonholing tactics that the Grammy uses to limit Black artists from being nominated and celebrated in multiple avenues.