While the Carters — a.k.a. Jay-Z and Beyonce — are notable by their absence from the 2019 Grammy nominees in a category Jay has won a record seven times, that makes this year’s slate only slightly less interesting: For the first time since 2007, the lead artist on two of the nominated performances are white.
One, Post Malone, scored one of the year’s biggest hits with “Rockstar.” The song is also up for Record of the Year, and its parent album, “Beerbongs & Bentleys,” is an Album of the Year finalist. In a less-competitive year, he’d be a major threat to become the first white lead artist to win since Eminem did in 2015 for his Rihanna collaboration “The Monster.” (Justin Timberlake and Linkin Park are the only other white headliners to snag Best Rap/Sung Performance since the Academy introduced it in 2002.)
The other top-billed white artist in contention is Christina Aguilera, up for her Goldlink collaboration “Like I Do.” Although Xtina has recorded with a number of rappers in the past, this is her first time competing in this category. She’s already won five Grammys, including Best New Artist, over the course of her career. If her “Liberation” album had been a bigger hit or if Goldlink were a bigger chart star, “Like I Do,” might have more potential here.
Rap superstar J. Cole is copilot on 6lack’s nominated song “Pretty Little Fears,” but the latter, a singer/rapper from Atlanta, was unable to parlay critical acclaim for his sophomore album, “East Atlanta Love Letter,” into major commercial success. This is 6black’s only nomination, and a win would qualify as a true Grammy upset.
Thus, the Rap/Sung contest boils down to the two remaining nominees: Childish Gambino’s “This Is America” and Kendrick Lamar and SZA’s “All the Stars,” both of which are also up for Record and Song of the Year.
Gambino (a.k.a. Emmy-winning “Atlanta” actor Donald Glover) might seem to have the edge because the zeitgeist-capturing song was a viral sensation, and it’s the only nominee that topped Billboard’s Hot 100. Its inclusion in this category, though, is a bit of a head-scratcher. With only a few exceptions – like 6black’s 2018 nominee “Prblms” – Best Rap/Sung Performance contenders tend to be collaborations between two or more separate acts, and “This Is America” is far more notable for Glover’s rapping than for his singing. (Drake pulled off the one-man thing with “Hotline Bling” in 2017, but he had weaker competition.)
“This Is America” would seem to have a better shot in the crowded Record and Song of the Year races, where genre is less important than the song itself. Glover’s co-nominee in both of those categories is “This Is America” cowriter and co-producer Ludwig Göransson, the Swedish composer and producer behind “Black Panther,” a Best Score Soundtrack for Visual Media nominee. His behind-the-scenes work on “This Is America” makes him ineligible for a nomination in Best Rap/Sung Performance.
At the end of the day, we expect Lamar to triumph in this category for the third time in four years, if “All the Stars,” his duet with SZA, can overcome a few hurdles. As the first single from “Black Panther: The Album,” the hip-hop companion piece to the 2018 superhero film, it reached No. 7 on the Billboard Hot 100 but was not the cultural phenomenon that the movie became.
Still, it has bragging rights to a Best Original Song Oscar nomination, and although it doesn’t seem to stand a chance in the Oscar race against Lady Gaga and her “A Star Is Born” Song of the Year nominee “Shallow,” its Oscar momentum makes it seem virtually unbeatable here.
“All the Stars” is the type of traditional rapper/vocalist combination that Grammy voters tend to go for in this category, and Lamar and SZA boost its chances with their combined star power. Since neither Lady Gaga nor Bradley Cooper raps on “Shallow,” this feels like the one prize this award season that is Lamar and SZA’s to lose.