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J Balvin, Daddy Yankee, Address Lack of Urban Nominees at Latin Grammys

To say that Tuesday’s announcement of the Latin Grammy nominations got a strong reaction from artists, producers and industry insiders is a major understatement: The Latin Recording Academy found itself under a hailstorm of criticism for what many considered a snubbing of the urban Latin music genre.

Within hours, Daddy Yankee, J Balvin, Natti Natasha, Lunay, Anuel AA, Karol G and many others, had posted fiery messages on their social media accounts, many including a striking image of a Grammy silhouette with the phrase (and hashtag) that read, “Sin reggaeton NO Hay Latin Grammy” [“Without reggaeton there in no Latin Grammy”]. The controversy awkwardly ushers in the 20 th anniversary edition of the show, which takes place at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas on Nov. 14.

Daddy Yankee, who this year received a nomination under the Best Urban Fusion/Performance category, wrote “Though I am nominated, I don’t agree with the way the genre was treated, as well as many of my colleagues. Remember something,” he said, addressing the Academy, “Your platform didn’t build this movement” — a clear reference to reggaeton’s enormous worldwide success.

“This goes beyond an award. This is culture, credibility, belonging and RESPECT,” said urban Latin music pioneer Big Boss, who in 2004 spread the genre worldwide with his hit single “Gasolina.” The Puerto Rican singer has won six Latin Grammys in the past, three for his collaboration with Luis Fonsi on the global smash “Despacito.”

In response, the Academy released a statement on Wednesday saying that it does not attempt to influence its voting members’ decisions and welcomed more urban artists and executives to get involved in the process, essentially asking them to be the change they want to see.

“We respect and admire all the genres that compose the world of Latin music,” it reads. “In 2004, The Latin Recording Academy led the charge for recognizing reggaeton (urban) in several categories, adapting to the evolution of music. The Latin Recording Academy has followed a strict voting process for the past 20 years. The members, through their votes, select what they believe merits a nomination. The Academy has never influenced their decisions, have always honored, and respected their elections, even if there are people who do not agree with the results.

“Nevertheless, we hear the frustration and discontent. We invite the leaders of the urban community to get involved with the Academy, to get involved with the process, and to get involved with discussions that improve the Academy. At its core, The Latin Recording Academy belongs to its members, from all genres, and our doors are always open. Together we can all make it work. Let’s do it!”

While there was no shortage of outcry in the Latin music community, it was unclear what exactly the detractors are seeking. However, J Balvin, who despite singing entirely in Spanish has seen his star rise beyond Latin music in recent years, explained the issue in a video and in social media posts.

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Frente a los Latin Grammy

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“I know there is a strong hostility because of what is happening in reference to reggaeton and the phrase #sinreggaetonnohaygrammy,” he said in the video. “Indeed, it’s a tough expression and if I didn’t explain it, it would sound as if we don’t care about other genres and other artists. That is not the case, nor what we want others to perceive.

“For years, [Latin urban music] has been put down and minimized for x or y reasons,” he continued. “Within ‘urban’ they leave a broad channel in which they qualify anyone who does a collaboration; who has a reggaeton drum beat; or who raps,” he stated, pointing up the apparent confusion within the Academy membership over the broad spectrum of genres that fall under Urban Latin Music.

Someone who knows a lot about salsa…perhaps doesn’t have the qualifications to say what a good reggaeton album is,” he added. “Those who know about reggaeton, should be voting for reggaeton, while those who know about salsa can vote [in the salsa categories]. I disagree with the [Academy] using us for generating more ratings but then not giving us what we deserve within our categories.”

He essentially proposed dividing the voting by genre. “It’s understandable that these aren’t the awards for who sells the most, nor the awards for who has the most streams,” he said. “But there is a reality…which is that there needs to be change with those who are voting within the categories…. There should be a category solely for rap; one category for reggaeton; one for dancehall; one for trap, and not just take everything and place it within the same bundle and label it ‘urban.’ In reality, all music is urban, because it has its history, and it comes from different places and spaces and cultures.”

He acknowledged his friends and colleagues who are also nominated, namely Rosalia, who he shares a nomination with for their collaboration in “Con Altura,” and Alejandro Sanz, who is leading with the most nominations this year.

“Just because I don’t agree with how our categories are being treated regarding reggaeton doesn’t mean I also disagree with the other genres and with the artists that are shining,” he concluded. “Respect to all — but I also want respect for our movement, and it has nothing to do with being against other artists and the nominations that they have because, if they are there, it’s because they deserve it.”

According to its statement, the Latin Recording Academy followed the same voting procedures it has for the past 20 years. With 3,500 of its voting members spread across 34 different countries, more than 12,000 applications are received from all over the world from musicians, producers, sound engineers, and artists looking to receive recognition and be nominated for a Latin Grammy.

“We have people of all nationalities: Brazil, Argentina, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Mexico, Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Costa Rica, Nicaragua. I think we are only lacking a few countries, such as Chile,” Gabriel Abaroa told Variety earlier this month during an interview about this year’s celebration of the 20th Anniversary of the Latin Grammys.

“This same diversity is what creates the blueprint of this organization, so when we discuss a genre here, there is always someone who defends it and has knowledge on it,” he continued. “The role of the academy and the Latin Grammys is that it’s an award granted by the recognition within colleagues professionally.”

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