Winning Best Rap Album is an accomplishment exclusive to greats of the genre. Eminem leads the category with six wins, but megastars like Kanye West, Jay Z, OutKast, Lil Wayne and recently Kendrick Lamar fill out much of the category’s history. This year will be no different as hip hop’s biggest names compete for the 2017 title. Whether the winner is a new breakout name or a towering legend, this year’s champion will blend in with the existing roster of superstars.
We’ve already considered the two strongest candidates according to our racetrack odds, Drake (“Views”) and Chance the Rapper (“Coloring Book”), as well as veteran West (“The Life of Pablo”). But what about the other three? Could we see an upset from De La Soul (“And the Anonymous Nobody”), Schoolboy Q (“Blank Face LP”) or DJ Khaled (“Major Key”)?
DE LA SOUL, “AND THE ANONYMOUS NOBODY”
WHY THEY’LL WIN: They are the real legacy act in contention
It’s been almost 30 years since De La Soul broke through with their classic debut album, “3 Feet High and Rising,” which makes it surprising that the legendary group is just now receiving their first nomination in this category. They’ve influenced a generation of rappers, including some of their competition, with their eclectic sonic palette and unique lyricism. While young voters scramble to decide if Drake or Chance the Rapper is the hotter flavor of the moment, more established voters could be swayed by the impressive legacy of De La Soul.
WHY THEY WON’T WIN: They are missing the hit single to put them over the edge
Even though De La Soul has had a long, impactful career, it might be the difference of just one song to keep them from winning Best Rap Album. They are the only nominee this year whose album lacks a true hit in terms of radio, digital, or streaming prowess. Past winners Kendrick Lamar, Eminem, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis and almost everyone that came before them won on the back of not just a well-received album, but at least one major hit that seeped into the public consciousness. Despite it being a well-reviewed and meaningful album, some pop-minded voters may draw a blank when considering “And the Anonymous Nobody.”
DJ KHALED, “MAJOR KEY”
WHY HE’LL WIN: He’s an exciting change of pace
DJ Khaled is a wrench thrown into a traditional category that includes both old and new artists. Khaled has certainly been around a while, falling more in line with Kanye in terms of experience, but he’s experiencing a career renaissance that has led to his first nomination in this category. His outsize personality has made him a bigger celebrity than ever throughout his decade-plus career. He’d deliver the most fun acceptance speech and would satisfy the youthful audience that the recording academy and CBS would undoubtedly like to capture.
WHY HE WON’T WIN: Simply put, Khaled doesn’t rap all that much
DJ Khaled put out a number-one album that boasts features production that taps into the zeitgeist, an alarmingly impressive list of hip-hop collaborators, and unqualified hits. The one problem, when competing for Best Rap Album, is that the lead artist doesn’t rap much. Khaled is one of rap’s top producers and certainly makes his voice heard throughout the album, but voters may be shy to vote for him since his role as a rapper is fairly unconventional, compared to previous winners like Eminem, Kendrick Lamar, and OutKast.
SCHOOLBOY Q, “BLANK FACE LP”
WHY HE’LL WIN: He’s due!
While Kanye and Drake have won this category before, Chance, De La Soul and Khaled are 1st-time nominees. That means Schoolboy Q is this year’s only nominee to have previously been nominated without having won. Voters may feel like he is due for a win, having already put in time with his 2015 nomination for “Oxymoron.”
WHY HE WON’T WIN: This is one of the strongest fields of Best Rap Album nominees you could imagine
Schoolboy Q’s nominated album was commercially successful, critically acclaimed, spawned a notable hit, and built on a promising young career for a hot name in rap, while still seeming overdue after his loss in 2015. That reads like an obvious winner on paper, but it may not be that simple. Blank Face LP debuted as the country’s best-selling album and continued to sell well throughout the year, but does not come close to Drake’s multi-platinum Billboard domination. The album scored an impressive 81 on Metacritic, but its accomplishment is dampened in comparison with Chance the Rapper’s 90. Schoolboy Q scored a major hit in 2016 with “That Part,” but much of its success is owed to competitor Kanye West’s grandstanding verse. And while Q is due for a win after losing two years ago, his plight may be dismissed in comparison to De La Soul’s extensive, multi-decade career.
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