For someone who has been referred to as the greatest lyricist of all-time, Nas has had a pretty tough go of it with the Academy of Music. You’d think that someone who’s had about a 20-year career of being considered one of the top MCs in the game—some waxing and waning commercially and critically, but never anything like a total fade from relevance—would’ve been able to pick up at least a Grammy or two over the course of that time. But nope: Nas has gone 0 for 9 over the course of illustrious career (0 for 18 if you believe the man himself), already halfway to being the Susan Lucci of the Grammys—and he’s nominated four more times this year.
Surprising as it is that Nas has gone Grammyless, in a way it also kind of makes sense. Because as much respect as Nas gets among critics and in the streets, as far as mainstream acceptance and success goes, he’s been overshadowed almost his entire career by at least one of his peers. At first it was the Notorious B.I.G., whose hit singles crossed over in a way Nas’ early stuff never quite did, then it was Diddy, whose pop-rap stylings Nas briefly attempted to emulate but never quite matched, then it was Jay-Z, who emerged from his feud with Nas at the beginning of the 21st century with a much bigger profile than his rival, even if many in the underground declared Nas the battle’s victor.
Consequently, Nas has been the type of rapper that always ends up getting nominated for awards, never looking out of place as one of five nominees, but never quite having the juice to walk away with the statue. (Tellingly, Nas is also 0-6 at the Video Music Awards, arguably the second-biggest award show in music.) He’s lost to LL Cool J, Lil Wayne, Eminem and Kanye West, all of whom have had far more success as mainstream rappers than Nas, and whose songs and albums were likely far more familiar to casual voters in the Best Rap Performance and Best Rap Album categories than those of Mr. Jones. And it’s hardly like the Academy has a foolproof record of recognizing quality—Global Grind recently pointed out some of the embarrassing artists to have won Grammys before Nas, which includes Milli Vanilli and the Baha Men.
Plus, in the one instance in Nas’ career you’d think that he would surely have been acknowledged by the Academy, he wasn’t even nominated—though the reasons for that were beyond his control. 1994′s Illmatic, Nas’ debut LP and the consensus pick not only as the finest album in his catalogue, but many would say the greatest album in hip-hip history, would have been a likely candidate for the Best Rap Abum award in 1995, had the category existed—unluckily for Nas, it was not created until the year after, where Naughty By Nature’s Poverty’s Paradise took home the honors. Even still, though, you have to wonder if the category had existed and had Illmatic been nominated, would it have lost out to a more high-profile mainstream release like Biggie’s Ready to Die, or even Coolio’s It Takes a Thief? It’s certainly not impossible.
However, every new year brings with new opportunity, and this year, Nas has four separate chances to do away with his 0-fer—in Best Rap Song, Best Rap Performance (both “Daughters”), Best Rap/Sung Collaboration (the Amy Winehouse-featuring “Cherry Wine”) and Best Rap Album (Life is Good). You’d think Nas has a pretty good shot at getting at least one of them, with Life is Good being his most acclaimed album in at least a decade and “Daughters” being the kind of thought-provoking song (detailing Nas’ oft-rocky relationship with his first-born) that award voters love.
But again, Nas is up against some tough competition, including (across the multiple categories) the likes of Drake, Jay-Z, Rick Ross and once more, Kanye West, all of whom have had more of an imprint on mainstream hip-hop in 2013 than Nas, who for the most part has ceased to be an artist that radio really embraces. (Though his albums still sell well, Nas has not scored a top 40 hit since 2003.) His best shot for a win might actually come in the Best Rap/Sung Collaboration category, where he’s not going against a powerhouse song or album—though Jay, Kanye and Frank Ocean’s “No Church in the Wild” certainly has a lot of Grammy cred behind it—and he has the benefit of Winehouse’s attachment, the singer having won an astounding six Grammys, in two fewer nominations than Nas.
For his part, Nas seems unconcerned with whether or not he wins. After the nominations were announced in December, Nas’ on-tour DJ Green Lantern talked with radio DJ Boss Lady about having e-mailed his man to congratulate him on the four nods, but he says Nas was dismissive in his reaction: “No, no, no Grammys for me! Fuck the mainstream! No mainstream for me!” Part of that dismissal was likely a defense mechanism after having been shut out so many times, but it also feeds into Nas’ underdog image—having never quite been The Guy in the mainstream, Nas still gets to feel and act like the voice of the people, the spokesperson for the disenfranchised. Really, it’s not such a bad fate to have.
Besides, where are Naughty By Nature now, anyway?
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