Kanye West gave an utterly fascinating interview to Jon Caramanica of the New York Times this week, full of remarkably quotable comments. Of his famous bluntness, for instance—which led him to notoriously upstage Taylor Swift at an awards ceremony—he says, “It’s only led me to complete awesomeness at all times. It’s only led me to awesome truth and awesomeness. Beauty, truth, awesomeness.”
West also discussed his own experience with awards, specifically the Grammys. “I don’t know if this is statistically right,” he said, “but I’m assuming I have the most Grammys of anyone my age, but I haven’t won one against a white person.” Is he right?
Not exactly. West, with 21 Grammy wins at age 36, does indeed have the most awards for anyone his age both presently and in the history of the awards. Quincy Jones, for instance, who has won 27 awards in his lifetime, received the majority of them in the latter half of his career, after he turned 40. By the time Stevie Wonder was West’s age, he had “only” 14 Grammys. (He has 22 total.)
Has West ever won a Grammy when up against a white artist? Yes. He’s beat out the Beastie Boys, Fergie, and Eminem, the latter several times. And in the songwriting categories, he’s won against several white songwriters.
But even if West wasn’t precisely right on that score, his comment does speak to the larger issue of how we both classify and reward music and musicians. Commercially, West has mass appeal to a diverse audience; musically, he has pushed the boundaries of traditional genres on such albums as 808’s and Heartbreaks and My Beautiful Dark and Twisted Fantasy. Yet when it comes to Grammys, West has only ever won in the rap and R&B categories—categories predominately populated by black musical acts. West clearly believes that he has been shut out from the “bigger” awards—Album, Song, and Record of the Year—in part because he’s black; that he has been, in some sense, ghettoized.
And he has a point, particularly when it comes to the Grammys’ attitude toward hip-hop artists as less worthy of their biggest awards. Only Outkast’s Speakerboxx/The Love Below (which was half Prince-style rock and soul) and The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill (which also weaved between hip-hop and soul music) have won Album of the Year. No rap song has ever won Record of the Year or Song of the Year. At least one West-produced work has probably been deserving of those honors.
For all of his thoughts on the matter, West claims to be indifferent. “The thing is, I don’t care about the Grammys,” he said. “I just would like for the statistics to be more accurate.”