By Gabe Fernandez
For the first time in its history, the Songwriters Hall of Fame will be honoring a rapper at their 48th annual induction ceremony: Mr. Shawn Carter, more commonly known as Jay Z.
Ignoring the irony of a rapper who didn’t even write down some of his most famous verses before recording them receiving a songwriting award, there’s probably no living hip-hop artist who is more deserving of recognition for their lifetime of work.
Jay Z will be inducted along with Max Martin, the Swedish songwriter and super-producer who has dominated worldwide pop charts for 20 years, Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds, Berry Gordy, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, and three members of Chicago – Robert Lamm, James Pankow and Peter Cetera.
After his induction was announced, he tweeted out what he thought the importance of the news was and said, “By the way, this is a win for US. I remember when rap was said to be a fad. We are now alongside some of the greatest writers in history.”
While the recognition is monumental for both Jay Z and the entire genre of hip-hop, the Brooklyn-born rapper most likely did not have to dive too deep into his memory bank to remember the last time rap was not taken seriously as an art form. In fact, he could just look at the announcement of his induction when Nile Rodgers of Chic said that it took so long for Jay to be inducted because “even though he’s had more pop albums than anyone else … he did it through rap.”
Or maybe he could have looked to SHOF president Linda Moran when she gave an interview to the New York Times and talked about how close Jay Z was to being inducted last year.
“To be honest with you, last year we talked about it a lot,” she said. “Our board and community wasn’t ready. This year we felt that they had been educated enough.”
No matter how Moran attempts to spin the delay of his induction as an education-based decision, the fact of the matter is that the Songwriters Hall of Fame’s voting members were clearly uncomfortable with calling a rapper a songwriter and, to compromise with those critical of that, they decided to put in one of the most famous names in the genre.
All the numbers back that up. Jay Z has had 13 records reach the No. 1 spot on the Billboard 200, which trails only The Beatles who have 19, according to their website. Throughout his career, he has sold over 90 million records, putting him above SHOF inductees like Bon Jovi. Elite Daily has him listed as the third-richest hip-hop artist with a net worth of $550 million, behind Diddy and Dr. Dre, and he’s married to arguably the most famous woman on the planet, Beyoncé.
If this was the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, the decision would make sense. That organization is dedicated to honoring those who made a significant and recognizable impact to the genre, but even they have made more strides in hip-hop recognition as they will have six artists from that genre inducted in April when Tupac Shakur is honored.
However, this is not the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. The Songwriters Hall of Fame’s mission is “to preserve, honor and celebrate the legacy of the great songwriters whose work has enriched the world’s culture.” Their goal is to honor the best musical songwriters and instead went with name recognition, which shows that the so-called “education” the SHOF committee received on hip-hop was clearly not enough.
This should not come as a surprise to many. If hip-hop is not being dismissed in troll YouTube comments as “cRap,” it’s being demonized for its glorification of violence, drugs and money. It took until 1996 for the Grammys to recognize the genre, yet they often do not televise the award and have devolved the award into a celebration of album sales as seen by Iggy Azalea’s nod in 2015 and Macklemore beating out Kendrick Lamar in 2014.
You could even argue that Jay Z recognizes this fact. On Friday, he released a playlist on Tidal titled “Songwriting Hall of Fame” almost as an on-the-nose introductory class to hip-hop for the hall of fame’s members. There is a very clear message that’s being sent, and it says “there are more of us out there.”
Although he does have an incredible discography behind him, Jay Z could also be saying he should not have been the first inductee. According to the Songwriters Hall of Fame, artists are eligible after 20 years of their first public release. That means that the following artists qualify: Missy Elliot, Nas, Black Thought, Outkast, Ms. Lauryn Hill and every member of Wu Tang Clan, any of whom have an argument for being better than Jay.
Don’t get me wrong, the induction is important. Every bit of recognition is a step toward normalizing the genre and helps stop mainstream ignorance from supposedly reputable organizations. It also celebrates one of the hardest working men in the industry who very much personifies the “rags-to-riches” story.
But Jay Z is a famous choice that will make headlines and not be a source of controversy. He’s successful and well-deserving, but he’s safe. His nomination gives the SHOF the chance to pat themselves on the back for being progressive without scaring off a mainstream audience (see Chance the Rapper winning a Grammy).
The induction is a patronizing olive branch to a genre whose rich history has been ignored because of, at best, the fear that it was just a fad or flash-in-the-pan, or at worst, blatant discrimination. What the nomination shows is what not only hip-hop artists, but artists of color in general, have known: these types of awards and accolades were not made with them in mind.
Featured Photo Credit: Feature photo credit courtesy of Penn State on Flickr.
Gabe Fernandez is a senior journalism major and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.