Grammys reflect hip-hop’s influence on the changing face of rock ‘n’ roll: Chuck Yarborough

December 3, 2017

Grammys reflect hip-hop’s influence on the changing face of rock ‘n’ roll: Chuck Yarborough

CLEVELAND, Ohio – Who’s going to win the Grammy for best song, album and record in January?

I have no idea. No bleepin’ idea at all.

But I do know one thing: It’s reflective of the changing demographics of rock ‘n’ roll, which means all those who gripe and groan about hip-hop being part of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame discussion might as well pack their bags and start looking into assisted living. Or ice floes. Whichever.

Lorde is the only principal artist among all those nominees who is not a person of color, and whose music is not primarily flavored by hip-hop. The. Only. One.

Let others debate whether that’s good or bad – and I’m sure some will, in the America in which we exist today, where racism, misogyny and xenophobia are accepted “character″ traits. But what’s undeniable is that the face of the genre has changed . . . and it ain’t goin’ back.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2016 figures, 76.9 percent of the 323 million people who live in America are white only. That surely represents a majority. But only 15 percent are 65 and older, and about 23 percent are under 18. So basically, the age demographic is means 62 percent are millennials or Gen-Xers. And guess who listens to hip-hop, regardless of color?

I live in Garfield Heights in a very racially mixed neighborhood that I love. I work mainly from home, and my dog Cody and I spend a lot of time walking the block (and yes, with a poop bag; I’m a responsible pet owner), which means I’m out on the street at all hours.

And that, in turn, means, I’m exposed to the musical choices of the drivers around here, because apparently, it’s necessary to share your musical choices, regardless of whether anyone else wants to hear them.

I hear the occasional country tune, and every now and then, classic rock, and even sports talk radio (somehow, it seems appropriately ironic to be picking up dog poo while hearing that the Browns suck). But 99.99999 percent of the time, what I hear is hip-hop.

I can make guesses as to who will win – and I’m leaning towards Kendrick Lamar’s “Humble″ in the record of the year; Jay-Z’s “4:44″ for album of the year; and Beyonce’s hubby again with “4:44″ for song of the year.

Are they all the best in their respective categories? Maybe not. Maybe that should be Childish Gambino’s “Redbone″ for record and Bruno Mars’ “24K Magic″ for album (I’m gonna stick with “4:44” for song).

Either way, the 2018 Grammys will not be the lily-white awards show from past years.

Part of me wonders how Donald Trump’s America will react to that, part wonders whether it’s a reaction to his America and part could care less.

The biggest part, though, thinks just how appropriate it is.

Oh, not that today’s hip-hop is all that and a bag of gold. It’s not. With few exceptions, it doesn’t have the social outcry of N.W.A. or the beat of De La Soul or the party-boy defiance of the Beastie Boys or the conscience of Public Enemy. To their credit, Lamar and Jay-Z (at least with “4:44”) come close.

No, what makes it right is that this is what music is really all about, what rock ‘n’ roll is all about. We look back now at Jerry Lee Lewis and Elvis and think how innocent it was in retrospect, and at the same time, how much they challenged the accepted norms.

That is what music is supposed to do, and that is what is happening now.

There are bastions of music that have remained and survived – classical music, folk and even Foo Fighters-style rock – and mainstream country is starting to edge back as it always does to its traditional roots (Garth Brooks just told me one of his favorite sayings is, “The only thing that can save country music is country music”).

Too, you can look at other categories – Kelly Clarkson, Lady Gaga, Pink, Kesha and Ed Sheeran squaring off in the best pop solo competition, for example – and see some variety of convention. (Although I’m not sure “Gaga” and “convention″ have ever been used in the same sentence before.)

Then there’s the late Leonard Cohen battling the late Chris Cornell and the very much alive Foos for best rock performance, and Kenny Chesney, Lady Antebellum, Little Big Town and Thomas Rhett lining up as victims of Chris Stapleton in the best country album fight. Again, “the usual suspects.″

Yet music is changing, and the Beatles are no more relevant to today’s rock fan than raccoon-skin coats and Rudy Vallee were to John, Paul, George and Ringo. Or, to put a different, more pointed spin on it, than “Whites Only” vs. “Coloreds” signs over water fountains.

All are just points of reference, and one to which the lyrics of one of my favorite Don Henley songs apply for those who can’t accept change: “All this bitchin’ and moanin’ and pitchin’ a fit? Get over it!″