Best Rap Song may be one of the most competitive genre awards at the 2018 Grammys as it pits two past winners against each other whose songs are also up for Record of the Year: Kendrick Lamar for “Humble” and Jay-Z for “The Story of O.J.” So who has the edge in this race, and will it preview the outcome of the top category?
This award for rap songwriters was created in 2004, and since then Jay-Z has been nominated 11 times, winning three: for “Run This Town” (2010), “Empire State of Mind” (2011), and “N*ggas in Paris” (2013). That makes Jay-Z the second most awarded artist in this category behind Kanye West, who has won six times. Jay-Z is also the most nominated artist at this year’s event with eight total bids including Album of the Year (“4:44”). Under normal circumstances that would make him a shoo-in.
But the irony is that while Jay-Z is also up for Record of the Year (“The Story of O.J.”) and Song of the Year (“4:44”) in the general field, his nominations are reversed in the rap categories, with his performance nomination coming for “4:44” and his songwriting bid for “Story of O.J.” That complicates matters somewhat when it comes to predicting this race since we would normally be able to look to the general field to identify frontrunners in genre categories.
Lamar’s “Humble” was snubbed for Song of the Year so he may appear to be at a disadvantage, but since Jay-Z’s Song of the Year nomination is for “4:44” instead of “The Story of O.J.” that may level the playing field here. Lamar is nominated for seven Grammys overall, and he has won this category twice before: for “i” (2015) and “Alright” (2016). What’s more, Lamar has won almost every rap category he’s been nominated in since 2015, so it may be tough for Jay-Z to win while Lamar is in his honeymoon period with the recording academy.
Can anyone challenge the two juggernauts in this race? Two women are looking to make history: if Cardi B (“Bodak Yellow”) or Rapsody (“Sassy”) win they would be the first woman ever to claim this award for a song where she is the lead artist. To date only a handful of women have ever won it at all: Miri Ben-Ari for Kanye West’s “Jesus Walks” (2005); Rihanna for Jay-Z’s “Run This Town” (2010); and Angela Hunter, Alicia Keys, and Jane’t Sewell-Ulepic for Jay-Z’s “Empire State of Mind” (2011). This year both women have one other nomination: Cardi B is also up for Rap Performance for “Bodak Yellow,” while Rapsody has a Rap Album bid for “Laila’s Wisdom.”
Rounding out the category are Danger Mouse, Run the Jewels and Big Boi for “Chase Me.” Danger Mouse is a six-time Grammy winning artist and producer, though not primarily known for rap. He previously won Album of the Year as a producer on Adele‘s “25” (2017) and picked up additional prizes in rock and alternative categories as well as Producer of the Year in 2011. But Big Boi definitely is known for rap music. He is best known as one half of the duo OutKast, which was the only rap act ever to win Album of the Year (“Speakerboxxx/The Love Below,” 2004). But this is the only nomination for any of them this year, so they may struggle to challenge the kings of this category.
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