Newcomer Cardi B stands out as the only woman surrounded by men in the Grammy race for Best Rap Performance. She contends for her breakthrough hit “Bodak Yellow,” and if she prevails she’ll be the first woman ever to win this award and the first solo female artist to win a rap performance category since Missy Elliott more than a decade ago.
The rap categories have undergone numerous changes at the Grammys over the years. In its current form, Best Rap Performance is a catch-all race combining men, women, duos, groups, and collaborations. This category was handed out in 1989 and 1990, and then from 2012 to the present, but no woman has won during that period.
From 1991 to 2011 the category was divided between solo performances and duo/group performances. During that time the only women who won the Rap Solo race were Queen Latifah (“UNITY,” 1995), and Missy Elliott (“Get Ur Freak On,” 2002). Then for two years (2003-2004) the Rap Solo category was divided between men and women, and Elliott won the prize for female performances both times.
Women won Best Rap Duo/Group Performance more often, but a few of those were for female R&B singers who collaborated with male rap artists — Mary J. Blige with Method Man (“I’ll Be There for You/You’re All I Need to Get By,” 1996), Faith Evans with Puff Daddy and 112 (“I’ll Be Missing You,” 1998), Erykah Badu with The Roots (“You Got Me,” 2000). Nowadays those songs would have likely contended in the Rap/Sung Performance category. So the only actual female rappers to win there were Salt-N-Peppa (“None of Your Business,” 1995) and Fergie as a member of The Black Eyed Peas (“Let’s Get it Started” in 2005, “Don’t Phunk with My Heart,” 2006).
It helps Cardi B that “Bodak Yellow” was one of the year’s biggest rap hits, spending three weeks on top of Billboard’s Hot 100 singles chart — itself a rare feat for a solo female rapper. However, she has two big obstacles standing in the way of a historic victory: Jay-Z and Kendrick Lamar, the two most nominated artists of the year with eight and seven bids, respectively.
Jay-Z is nominated for “4:44,” for which he also contends for Song of the Year. He’s currently tied with Kanye West as the most awarded rap artist in Grammy history with 21 trophies, most of which were in rap categories, so he has a history of strong support from the recording academy in this field. And Lamar is also a Grammy darling, having won this award twice in the last three years (“i” in 2015, “Alright” in 2016). He’s nominated in this category for “Humble,” which is also up for Record of the Year.
Migos and Lil Uzi Vert are nominated for their number-one hit collaboration “Bad and Boujee.” Migos also contends this year for Best Rap Album (“Culture”), while Lil Uzi Vert is in the running for Best New Artist. And rounding out the category is Big Sean for “Bounce Back”; this is his only nomination this year, and it would be his first win.
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