Leading up to the Grammy nominations on Nov. 10, Rolling Stone is breaking down 16 different categories. For each, we’re predicting the nominees, as well as who will (and who should) win on Grammy night.
There’s been intense speculation about just what’s behind the dearth of hip-hop at the top of the charts this year. It took until August for a rap album (Travis Scott’s Utopia) to top the Billboard 200. Industry experts, troubled by the shift, have been pondering: Is this a sign of a commercial decline, or is it simply due to a lack of releases from big names? Most seem to feel it’s been the latter, with a prevailing sentiment that major-label releases have been lacking. Perhaps that will be reflected in this year’s nominations. Spotify’s Carl Chery, creative director and head of urban music, says that he anticipates Gunna or Scott taking home the win for the Best Rap Album Grammy — and bear in mind that Scott has yet to win a single Grammy, despite nine nominations. But, Chery says, be on the lookout for potential vote splitting: “You always have to look at who’s nominated to see if some of the votes cancel each other out, which creates an opportunity for another artist.” Should Gunna and Scott split the vote, it could leave the door open for Nas or Killer Mike, both veteran artists doing strong work that takes in the breadth of their careers as they turn the corner on 50. Here are our picks for the Best Rap Album Grammy nominations — and who should (and will) win the trophy come February.
A Gift & a Curse
2022 was set to be the year of Gunna’s career — then the YSL RICO case led to his incarceration. Last December, Gunna took a plea deal, came home, and poured his pain into A Gift & a Curse. “Fukumean” is a fun song-of-the-summer candidate, “Bread and Butter” is a fiery pushback on his detractors, and “Alright” reflects the tribulations of his past year. “I don’t know that Gunna has ever been known for his depth or subject matter, but he’s addressing a lot of things on his album,” says Chery. He says that Gunna is a “good contender” for this award, though Utopia’s star power might be too much for voters to ignore.
This 14-track album is Killer Mike’s first solo project in 11 years, and a lush, bluesy mesh of Southern church vibes with 808s. Mike digs deep on songs like “Motherless,” “Something for Junkies,” and “Two Days.” Chery notes his albums “were always considered to be elevated rap projects,” adding, “I think Michael is right up there among the best work of his career.” Mike felt the Grammys snubbed the fourth Run the Jewels album in 2020; a nom for Michael would be a nice amends. And while Killer Mike can seem preachy at times, don’t discount the appeal of just that to Grammy voters.
Somehow, this rap icon only won his first Grammy in 2021, for King’s Disease, 31 years into his career. He could get the chance to double up with Magic 2, his 16th studio album. Throughout Magic 2, Nas sounds invigorated over Hit-Boy’s glossy take on traditionalist rap. “I think he definitely benefits from the recent win,” Chery says. “The academy’s familiar with him. They’re making up for the previous snubs.” In 2020, King’s Disease was nominated for Best Rap Album alongside projects from stalwart lyricists Freddie Gibbs, Jay Electronica, and Royce Da 5’9. It was as if the Recording Academy had heard the gripes about not respecting traditionalist hip-hop and veered all the way left for a year. This time around, Magic 2 would stand alongside Michael as the nominations curated for hip-hop heads.
Scott, more than most artists, is intent on building event albums laced with ambitious production, beat switches, and a who’s who of popular music. That’s the case on Utopia, a master class in curation with a scrolling marquee of names like Bad Bunny and the Weeknd (“K-POP”), Drake (“Meltdown”), and Beyoncé (“Delresto”). Utopia debuted at Number One on the Billboard 200, and it held the top spot for a month — the first rap album in five years to do so. Chery says the nomination is a “no-brainer,” and feels like Travis has “the best shot” to win this category: “There’s an ambition to the album, which always gets rewarded by the academy.” And having received nine Grammy nominations in the past but no wins, Scott is overdue.
Heroes and Villains
Metro Boomin has gotten just one Grammy nomination throughout his career, which hardly reflects his impact on hip-hop over the past decade. Grammy voters can make up for this oversight with a Best Rap Album nomination for Heroes and Villains, which displays the malleability of trap. Metro thrillingly melds trap 808s into other sonic aesthetics throughout the 15-song album: “Trance” shifts from club drums to trap percussion ripe for Travis Scott and Young Thug to go off over; “Creepin” is a massive single with the Weeknd and 21 Savage that ended up getting the official Bad Boy stamp with a Diddy remix; “Superhero” starts off in symphonic tones before the beat switches into a brooding soundscape for Future. The project is one of this nomination period’s strongest bodies of work, which is why Chery says the committee would be “remiss” to not give it a nod.
This story is adapted from Rolling Stone’s fourth annual Grammy Preview issue, released ahead of the start of first-round voting on Oct. 13. We featured SZA on the cover, spoke to some of the year’s biggest artists about the albums and singles that could earn them a statue come February, made our best predictions for the nominees in the top categories, and more, providing a full guide to what to watch for leading up to the 2024 awards.