The 2015 Billboard Music Awards took place last night in Vegas with Kanye West performing, and Taylor Swift making away with nearly every award. But that’s not what we’re here to talk about. Our business with the two categories that had to do with rap, and both of them had fairly surprising results. First, Iggy Azalea won the “Top Rap Artist” category over the likes of J. Cole, Nicki Minaj, and Drake. Second, J. Cole won “Top Rap Album” over Eminem (who took home the Grammy for MMLP2) Drake and Nicki Minaj, again. The J. Cole win can be explained away rather easily, but it’s that big, fat, glaring win by Iggy Azalea that is bound to cause much consternation amongst Hip Hop fans who are honestly starting to give up on mainstream music award shows in almost every aspect. Here, we give you our honest critique of the wins by both these artists.
Iggy Azalea Wins “Top Rap Artist,” But Are We Even Surprised?
Andre: The New Classic has yet to go platinum, while J. Cole’s much lauded end-of-year effort 2014 Forest Hills Drive has done so, and it’s become the first Hip Hop album in 25 years to do so without features. In much the same way, Drake became the first artist to have his entire album hit the Billboard Hot R&B/Hip Hop songs chart with If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late. So why would Iggy Azalea take home the award for “Top Rap Artist?” I’d say it’s probably a mixture of streams on the back of her mega-hit single “Fancy” f/ Charlie XCX and her work on “Black Widow” with Brit Pop princess Rita Ora. But is even that enough to win an award called “Top Rap Artist?” The answer is for Billboard, probably. For Rap the answer is, definitely not. If the award were measured by mere metrics (which Billboard asserts that it is) then Iggy does not surpass the artists mentioned in album sales, but she does surpass them in streams. “Fancy” was the most streamed song in the United States at year-end as reported by Spotify. And, The New Classic, in all it’s terribleness, was the second most streamed album in the U.S. last year coming in just behind Ed Sheerhan’s X. To put that in some perspective, X was streamed over 400 million times. But that’s not the point, is it? While Billboard likes to be agnostic in these interactions (using purely data driven points of contention) its awards then result in nothing more than a popularity contest. And if popularity is the point of these things, then what most fans of Hip Hop consider “real” will not be winning anything any time soon.
So is she a “better” artist than any of the ones previously mentioned? Nope. If the award were based on the metrics the Hip Hop community uses to judge its artists, she probably wouldn’t win anything at all (though just what constitutes the “Hip Hop community” is also up for discussion). This would mean, though, that we lived in a very different world. As long as Iggy Azalea pushes sales (who is buying these things?) then she will continue to reign supreme in arguments about popularity. But, to whom is it popular? There have been several artists in Hip Hop’s past that have pushed aside traditional Hip Hop flavor for sounds that would appeal to the masses. If you’re a great one you can some how do both. But we’re off that. We no longer live in the kind of world where artists solely devoted to the art of Hip Hop are selling records sans J. Cole, Kendrick Lamar, Nicki Minaj and older mega-stars like Jay Z, Kanye West and Eminem. There’s also no evidence we’ll ever return there. So while The New Classic killed in terms of singles, and right now that album (retooled and called Reclassified) sits on the Nielsen charts as one of the best selling albums of the year, there’s no doubt she’ll be around. I just take issue with how this game is played, though. If you sell more albums than someone else then it should be weighted more. J. Cole deserved the win, without a doubt.
Ural: The only thing surprising was how surprised everyone still is by now regarding Iggy Azalea’s presence in Hip Hop. If one hasn’t realized by now, mainstream white America loves the Australian native with a Southern twang (on wax that is). Azalea isn’t going anywhere anytime soon if the current success of that atrocious Britney Spears “Pretty Girls” collaboration has anything to say as it steadily climbs the charts. The Billboard Music Award for “Top Rap Artist” is normally based on sales and trending data. Therefore, actual talent nor musical quality don’t matter much in this particular category. Let’s be completely honest, in the eyes of many people outside of Hip Hop’s core audience, Azalea is probably the greatest rapper of the era. To that particular group, she’s safe and plays into the white woman fantasy of being a black woman sans all the racial discriminatory issues. She’s the perfect product. It doesn’t matter that her horrific debut The New Classic currently sits at a mediocre 56 percent nor, as Andre mentioned above, has yet to go platinum. Those minor beefs with Snoop Dogg and Azealia Banks didn’t matter either because she’s protected by the kind of media coverage that necessarily wouldn’t understand Hip Hop’s mantra of standing on one’s own. Most importantly, it kept Azalea’s name in everyone’s mouths and helped her trend. All that matters is that the Charlie XCX assisted “Fancy” was the highest selling and most placed rap single of the year. With that in mind, Azalea deserved the win for better or worse.
Should Eminem Have Taken Home The Award over J.Cole For “Top Rap Album”
Ural: Not so sure what Billboard takes into consideration since The Marshal Mathers LP 2 was nominated and won the award last year. So here’s assuming that sales data mattered more than anything as J.Cole had the highest selling first week of 2014 and managed to go platinum fairly quick. Matter of fact, MMLP2 pretty much had a better sales run than the Shady XV compilation that was released at the end of last year. This year’s Grammy win for Best Rap Album could’ve also led to an early year sales boost as well which is fairly normal. However,did MMLP2 sale more than J. Cole’s 2014 Forest Hill Drive or other albums nominated for Top Rap Album between it’s release date and the awards cut-off? Nope, Billboard only takes into considering sales data between their cut-off points. The fact that Em’s album sold well enough last year to even have a place within the category is quite phenomenal in its own right. Even more outstanding is that only three months in, Drake’s IYRTITL managed make the list against albums that are between five months to over a year old with a surprise release. Overall, the mear fact that both Em and Drake made the list considering the circumstances is a great look. It’s already known that The New Classic has yet to go platinum and took forever for gold and Nicki’s Pink Print album was considered a sales flop by some. This, without a doubt, leaves J. Cole’s album on top.
Andre: How does an artist get nominated in the same category by the same award show two years in a row? It seems that Em’ outsold everyone in 2014 until J. Cole got there, so that’s why, but let’s not count him because he swept the rap category last year. Consider the rest of the field: Iggy Azalea, Drake, and Nicki Minaj. Iggy Azalea won for “Top Rap Artist” because life’s not fair, but her album didn’t have the chops or the metrics to best Mr. Cole world. We secretly think that Drake’s IYRTITL simply hasn’t spent enough time on the charts to gather a true cross section of its metrics and so it’s disregarded by default. That leaves Nicki’s strange 2014 project The Pinkprint (her most Hip Hop to date by far) versus J. Cole’s, so let’s compare metrics. Nicki had huge hit singles in both “Anaconda” and “Only.” Both have gone double platinum. Meanwhile J. Cole’s last single to go gold was “Crooked Smile” off of Born Sinner. Then there are streams. “Anaconda” came in 77th on the top 100-streamed songs in the U.S list according to Spotify and J. Cole doesn’t appear. Okay, maybe they’re talking about times the album was streamed. 2014 Forest Hills Drive has been streamed over 6 million times according to Soundscan while The Pinkprint has been streamed over 9 million times. So, in short, we have no idea why J. Cole won that award. But I’m glad Hip Hop got something in the end.
Andre Grant is an NYC native turned L.A. transplant that has contributed to a few different properties on the web and is now the Features Editor for HipHopDX. He’s also trying to live it to the limit and love it a lot. Follow him on Twitter @drejones.
Ural Garrett is an Los Angeles-based journalist and HipHopDX’s Senior Features Writer. When not covering music, video games, films and the community at large, he’s in the kitchen baking like Anita. Follow him on Twitter @Uralg.