Kendrick Lamar is the only rap artist who contends for Album of the Year, for his sophomore effort "To Pimp a Butterfly," which gives him a strong advantage to win Best Rap Album. That should have helped him in 2013 too, when he was nominated in both categories for his acclaimed debut "Good Kid, M.A.A.D City," but that was a rare instance when two rap albums competed for Album of the Year: "Good Kid" and Macklemore & Ryan Lewis's "The Heist." Unfortunately for Lamar, the recording academy picked "The Heist" for Rap Album instead.
The good news for Lamar is that he's the only artist with that distinction this time, so history is decidedly on his side. Since this category was created in 1995, whenever rap has competed for Album of the Year, it has won Best Rap Album every single time. Besides Lamar's "Good Kid," only one other rap album has competed in both races and lost: Nelly's "Nellyville" (2002); just like Lamar, he lost to another Album of the Year contender, Eminem's "The Eminem Show."
In all, 11 Album of the Year nominees have prevailed as Best Rap Album:
1996: "The Score," The Fugees
2000: "The Marshall Mathers LP," Eminem
2001: "Stankonia," OutKast
2002: "The Eminem Show," Eminem
2003: "Speakerboxxx/The Love Below," OutKast
2004: "The College Dropout," Kanye West
2005: "Late Registration," Kanye West
2007: "Graduation," Kanye West
2008: "Tha Carter III," Lil Wayne
2010: "Recovery," Eminem
2013: "The Heist," Macklemore & Ryan Lewis
Can anyone buck this trend and pull off an upset? Perhaps Drake ("If You're Reading This It's Too Late"), who is nominated for the fourth time and is the only nominee who has won this category before as an artist, for "Take Care" in 2012. Drake has four total nominations this year, a far cry from Lamar's whopping 11 bids, but it nevertheless makes Drake one of this year's most nominated artists.
Also hoping to surprise, as well as make history, is Nicki Minaj ("The Pinkprint"). If she prevails it would be the first win for a female solo artist. To date only one woman has won this category: Lauryn Hill as a member of the Fugees for "The Score." Minaj has one past nomination here, for "Pink Friday" in 2011, and three total nominations this year.
The Grammys often like to reward veterans, so watch out for Dr. Dre's "Compton," which was inspired by the film "Straight Outta Compton" about Dre's rise to fame with the group N.W.A. The prominence of the film can't hurt his chances here, and he's already a five time Grammy-winner, including a past victory in this race as a producer of Eminem's "The Marshall Mathers LP." Perhaps surprising given his lengthy career, this is only his third solo album.
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Kendrick Lamar photo credit: Richard Isaac/REX