NEW YORK (Reuters) – On the night before the Grammy awards, Jay-Z took the stage at a New York dinner attended by music industry titans to discuss his complex relationship with music’s highest honors, where the odds are historically stacked against hip-hop artists winning top accolades.
Jay-Z, who was honored by the Recording Academy at veteran music producer Clive Davis’ annual pre-Grammy party on Saturday, spoke about his decision to boycott the Grammy awards in 1998 when rapper DMX did not get any nominations despite having two hit albums out that year.
Jay-Z said he only returned to the awards show in 2004, when Beyonce, to whom he is now married, was nominated for her breakout solo album.
“The Academy, they’re human like we are and they’re voting on things that they like, it’s subjective … we care because we’re seeing the most incredible artists standing on that stage and we aspire to be there, so I was like, I have to be here,” the rapper said.
“It’s our duty to make sure that not only are we making the greatest art, that we’re upholding and supporting things that are super real,” he added.
Jay-Z, 48, goes into Sunday’s Grammy awards with a leading eight nominations for his emotional, soul-baring album “4:44,” in which he examine the infidelity that was so scathingly detailed by Beyonce in 2016’s “Lemonade,” as well as searing commentary on race in America.
The rapper has won 21 Grammy awards over his career, but he is yet to win the top accolades for song, record or album of the year, all of which he is nominated for on Sunday.
In 60 years of the Grammys, only two hip-hop albums have ever won album of the year; Lauryn Hill’s “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill” in 1999 and Outkast’s “Speakerboxxx/The Love Below” in 2004.
Brooklyn native Jay-Z, real name Shawn Carter, made his breakout with 1996’s “Reasonable Doubt” and has become one of the best-selling U.S. musicians and respected rap lyricists.
He was honored on Saturday for not only reshaping rap over his career but also as an entrepreneur, including reshaping the music business with his streaming service Tidal.
Singer Alicia Keys said Jay-Z’s music was “the soundtrack to my life” growing up and she sang a medley of his hits including “Hard Knock Life,” “Encore” and their New York anthem, “Empire State of Mind.”
Reporting by Piya Sinha-Roy. Editing by Jane Merriman