In its 48 years, the Songwriters Hall of Fame has honored such greats as Stevie Wonder, Bob Marley, Bob Dylan, and Marvin Gaye, yet somehow the institution has yet to give an award to a rapper. That changes this year, as Jay Z will become the first rapper honored by the Songwriters Hall of Fame. He’s joined by Max Martin, Babyface, Berry Gordy, Jimmy Jam, Terry Lewis, and three members of Chicago.
And it took far too long. Even Chic guitarist Nile Rodgers, who announced the inductees, said Jay Z “was in a space where, even though he’s had more pop albums than anyone else, because he did it through rap,” it took longer for traditional voters to consider him.
This is not a new problem in the industry. This month the Grammys gave its biggest awards to Adele over Beyoncé, and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame was slow to honor hip-hop artists and was met with resistance when it finally did. These music institutions have been slow to embrace rap music thanks to memberships that are predominantly white.
But the Songwriters Hall of Fame, possibly the most conservative of the bunch, is starting to change. As it said of Jay Z:
Since 1996, 21-time Grammy award winner, Shawn “JAY Z” Carter has dominated an evolution in popular culture. With more than 100 million records sold he is one of the best-selling musicians of all time. Also a powerful entrepreneur across the music/entertainment, fashion and sports industries, JAY Z personifies the “American Dream.” The accomplished lyricist co-founded Roc-A-Fella Records in 1995, and dropped his debut album, Reasonable Doubt the following year.
It’s good to see these voters finally embrace hip-hop. But, as it is with other music institutions, it’s curious to see if they can regain the relevance they once held by becoming more inclusive of artists who have dominated the music industry for the last 30 years.