I recall the first time I was nominated for a GRAMMY. I was 23 [years old] and had been in the business for six years. To receive such an acknowledgement was amazing. It had only been three years since the GRAMMYs started televising Rap categories—something my peers had fought for. In 1988, that fight included a boycott, which was what everybody saw.

What everybody didn’t see was everything behind the scenes. To get rap recognized, to make the GRAMMYs create a Rap category, to get those awards televised—that took us getting involved in how The Recording Academy treated our music.

Every artist knows what a GRAMMY means. I knew if I was serious about my career, I’d have to learn all I could about how things worked. I joined the Governor’s Board of the Academy’s Los Angeles Chapter. Before long, I understood what it meant to volunteer for a bigger purpose.

I learned the GRAMMYs gave a great show, but The Recording Academy worked all year long to not only award accolades, but help protect the rights of musicians, help them make better business decisions, connect new talent with experienced musicians, producers, and managers. I learned about Musicares, which helps musicians in dire straits and the GRAMMY Foundation, which supports music education.

The most important thing I learned was that the Academy was not the magical Oz I’d always imagined, behind the curtain, making it all happen. Trying to establish myself in a genre still in its early stages, knowing this was critical. Because who would make the Academy recognize my type of music as art? Who would decide what makes a good rap record? I wanted to be part of that decision, so I got involved to help shape the future of the music I loved.

I’ve served two years as the first African-American female President, a Trustee, and a Governor. I’ve been able to give back through my work with the Academy, educating a younger generation to not just create music, but shape the industry. At the end of the day, how the Academy considers, values, and supports Hip Hop is in our hands. WE HAVE THE POWER. Every chance that arises, I share my story because I want the Hip Hop and R&B community to activate their power.

It’s crazy how much Hip Hop has grown since that moment 20 years ago—it’s even more critical now that artists take control and shape the future of our music. This week, the best way to do this is to vote. Only through the participation of rap artists today will we continue the progress made by our pioneers who came before.

The deadline to have ballots in is 1/16. Do it for your love of Hip Hop.

How To Vote For The GRAMMYs

Where and how can people register?

To apply for membership you can either download the application or call The Academy’s member hotline: 866.794.339

Who’s eligible?

To be a voting member, you have to be a music artist with a minimum of 6 commercially released tracks (12 if it’s online). But there are 3 levels of membership: VotingAssociate, and Student and each has its own level of criteria.

Visit https://www.grammypro.com/join for more information.

What happens after you vote?

What a lot of people don’t realize is that the ballots actually go to a third party accounting firm, Deloitte & Touche, not The Recording Academy. We do this to help ensure the integrity of the process. It’s simple addition from there: no one’s vote is weighted, every vote counts as one, and nothing gets overridden. Once the firm has tabulated the votes, they send us the final list of winners and that’s it.

Photo Courtesy of The Recording Academy®/WireImage.com (2014)