Whether it be about lack of representation, favoritism, or conflicts of interest, the Recording Academy’s Grammy Awards have received abundant criticism for their countless inadequacies, with nomination and performance boycotts from a whole host of artists including Frank Ocean, Drake, Kendrick Lamar, Childish Gambino, Kanye West, and, most recently, The Weeknd just to name a few. Although 2021’s Grammy Awards were certainly filled with controversy and obvious systemic flaws, it did manage to get a few things right, especially when it came to the recognition of producers that have come to define today’s beat scene.
Legendary alternative or “underground” electronic hip-hop producers Thundercat, Flying Lotus, and Kaytranada all walked away from the ceremony with wins. Thundercat ended the night with an award for Best Progressive R&B Album for his 2020 LP It Is What It Is, produced entirely by Flying Lotus. Although Flying Lotus was nominated for Producer of the Year for his work on the project, Andrew Wat was awarded the Grammy for this category. With the foundational role Flying Lotus played in creating It Is What It Is, Thundercat made it unquestionable from various social media posts that the Grammy was just as much his award as it was FlyLo’s. Since the category was re-named this year (previously known as Best Urban Contemporary Album), Thundercat and Flying Lotus are the first winners of a Grammy in this category.
Thundercat, born Stephen Lee Bruner, and Flying Lotus, born Steven Ellison, have a long history of friendship and collaboration, originally meeting at South by Southwest in Austin, Texas. The two quickly connected, clicking in their various sensibilities, both mentally and spiritually. When FlyLo created his label Brainfeeder in 2008, Thundercat was an automatic addition to the roster. Although the two have accomplished incredible creative works together, their individual work has been just as impressive.
Thundercat has gained considerable recognition for his distinct psychedelic R&B sound, blending styles of jazz, soul, and funk, and his straight-edge humor that often accompanies his work’s titles, lyrics, and music videos. This 36 year old bass connoisseur and creative mastermind began his career as a member of the crossover thrash band Suicidal Tendencies before creating his four solo studio albums under the new title, Thundercat. After the unexpected loss of his close friend Mac Miller, Thundercat explored the dark, existential dread he experienced in the wake of Miller’s death in It Is What It Is. The anguish ridden verses paired with FlyLo’s frenzied beats draw the listener into the artist’s world of pain and mourning. With features like Childish Gambino, Lil B, Zack Fox, Ty Dolla $ign, and Steve Lacy, the project is an absolute masterpiece through and through.
Flying Lotus is unquestionably one of the world’s most talented producers, often recognized as one of the establishers of the LA beat scene and founders of the wonky genre. Each of his six studio albums is an entirely different take on instrumental hip-hop, ranging from the dark and atmospheric feel of his 2012 album Until the Quiet Comes to his sound-dense, energy-packed 2010 record Cosmogramma. His works all explore themes of metaphysics and spiritualty, often releasing intense, abstract visual works to accompany his music. With heavy influence from beat making legends like J Dilla and Madlib and prominent experimental electronic figures like Aphex Twin, FlyLo has truly cultivated his own style of intelligent hip-hop beats that continue to inspire a myriad of up-and-coming producers.
Kaytranada received an award for Best Dance/Electronic Album with his 2019 LP BUBBA and for Best Dance Recording for BUBBA’s “10%” featuring Kali Uchis. Kaytranda’s Best Dance/Electronic Album win marked him as not only the first black artist to win in this category, but also the first openly gay producer to win in this area. Born Louis Kevin Celestin, this 28 year old Haitian-Canadian producer has been one of the most influential underground SoundCloud beatmakers to date. After being introduced to FL Studio at 15 years old from his older brother, Celestin began his journey into beat making and electronic production, first releasing music under the title Kaytradamus. After releasing two projects under this title, Celestin adopted his new name, Kaytranada, under which he would go on to release his critically acclaimed debut studio album 99.9% in 2016. The jazz-bounce feel and heavy collaboration line-up of 99.9% put Kaytranada at the forefront of the beat scene, which he only bolstered with the release of BUBBA. From start to finish the album is upbeat and jiggy- like tunes backing a fun, underground disco. One of the most notable parts of Kaytranada’s work is his uncanny ability to integrate tracks that include collaborations with artists from a variety of genres into one strong, cohesive project.
Regardless of your opinion on the Grammys, the recognition and awards distributed to these three producers solidified the beat community in the eyes of the mainstream media. Often seen as the “behind-the-scenes” creators, producers and beat makers are finally getting their much-deserved time in the spotlight, and with the Grammys backing of this community, this is undoubtedly is just the start.