Grammy for Best Rap Album: Drake, Chance the Rapper, Kanye West and Future are frontrunners

The rap field at the Grammys went through a period of stagnation around the turn of the 2010s. At the time if your name wasn’t Eminem, Jay-Z, or Kanye West, it was an exhausting uphill battle to take home a trophy. But in the last few years the old guard has retreated (though not disappeared). With new players emerging, this year’s Best Rap Album category will be highly competitive.

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If voters are concerned with the Billboard charts, the only choice is to vote for Drake. “Views” will surely be his fifth nomination in this category. While the king of Toronto started at a very high level of commercial success (don’t let his underdog narrative fool you), he has risen to a new level in 2016. Hot off the success of “Hotline Bling,” Drake’s 2016 release absolutely dominated the Billboard 200 album chart, spending 13 non-consecutive weeks at number-one fueled by record-breaking streams. He has only one Grammy win to his name (he won this category in 2012 for “Take Care” with very little competition), but with his newfound A-list status, he may dance his way to the podium again come February.

The big breakthrough story in rap this year is Chance the Rapper. After making a name for himself on the back of his 2013 mixtape “Acid Rap” he outdid himself with this year’s “Coloring Book.” Like with his previous independent releases, Chance’s 2016 mixtape was not for sale – fans could download it for free off of his website or iTunes, or choose to stream the record. Thus, Chance doesn’t have the sales stats to compete with Drake, but his critical acclaim is through the roof. Additionally, high profile performances on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” and “Saturday Night Live,” as well as a major guest appearance on Kanye’s newest album “The Life of Pablo” have allowed Chance the opportunity to play with the big boys. Massive touring business, universal critical adoration and gospel-tinged family-friendly rap makes Chance the Rapper a safe bet for a Best Rap Album nomination.

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But just because there are some new power players doesn’t mean that the old guard has completely disappeared. Kanye West has won this category four times before and is back with “The Life of Pablo” to compete again. Kanye unleashed his seventh major label LP back in February, complete with more Taylor Swift controversy (the song “Famous” includes the lyric “I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex / Why? I made that bitch famous”), an ambiguous title that suggests Escobar and Picasso at once, and influences from gospel, trap, and house music. Sales were derailed because of a problematic roll-out on the streaming service TIDAL (leading to hundreds of thousands of illegal downloads), but his chances here are still strong. This is Kanye West after all: he remains a staple of hip-hop music and popular culture at large and thus will maintain his standing as a rap Grammy favorite.

A key beneficiary of Drake and Kanye’s style and success is Future. He has been impressively prolific over the last three years and 2016’s “EVOL” may be enough to finally push him into the Grammy race. With first-week sales over 100,000 and critics continuing to rally around his ultra-modern blend of singing and rapping, Future is well-positioned as a perfect representative of this generation’s underground stars moving into the mainstream.

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2016 also saw the re-emergence of DJ Khaled as a “Major Key” figure in hip hop. His newest album is covered top-to-bottom with big-name guest appearances, and it seems to be working. The LP has spawned several hits on streaming and sales charts. Khaled’s incredible presence on Snapchat and role as a correspondent at the 2016 MTV VMAs means he has been visible both in and out of the rap community, which may mean he has the widespread appeal to break into the category, even if his album doesn’t have the substance of some of his competition.

A few other past nominees are in contention this year. Wiz Khalifa is back but even after the huge success of last year’s song “See You Again,” Khalifa has struggled to generate another solid hit. Rick Ross released his eighth LP, “Black Market,” last December, but fading sales and relevance means it may be difficult for him to break through the clutter. 2 Chainz and Lil Wayne collaborated on “ColleGrove,” but it generally came and went without much chatter. Schoolboy Q may be in a decent position to be nominated again for “Blank Face LP” after a previous bid for “Oxymoron” (2014); he has more momentum than Ross or Khalifa, though he’s not as big a name as Lil Wayne.

Make your Grammy predictions now; change them till Dec. 6

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