The Grammys announced on June 10 that they were changing the name of their best urban contemporary album category to best progressive R&B album. Most observers welcomed the change. “Urban” was the buzzword in R&B for a number of years, but many now see the term as dated and perhaps racially insensitive. On June 5, Republic Records announced that it was banning the term.
The name change was fair-game for a quickie poll, including this one which turned up in an unexpected place—the Recording Academy’s own site, Grammy.com: “What do you think about the Best Progressive R&B Album category name change?”
The tartly-phrased choices:
It’s a step in the right direction
It’s too little too late
At press time, the first option had corralled 51% of the votes. 21% took the second option. 28% went with option three. So response was about evenly divided between the one positive response and the other two, which were negative or neutral.
“There were some uncomfortable feelings around [the term urban],” Harvey Mason, Jr., the academy’s chair and interim president/CEO, told Billboard in June. “I think it’s been a gradual shift within in the R&B community. It’s been discussed [within the Academy]. It’s been a little contentious at times.
”Here’s the academy’s definition of best progressive R&B album: “This category is intended to highlight albums that include the more progressive elements of R&B and may include samples and elements of hip-hop, rap, dance, and electronic music. It may also incorporate production elements found in pop, euro-pop, country, rock, folk, and alternative.”
The Grammys introduced genre album awards, including best R&B album, in 1994. That category continues to this day. Alicia Keys is the top winner in the category, with three wins. John Legend, TLC and D’Angelo have each won twice.
In 2002, the Grammys added a second R&B album category. From 2002-10, it was called best contemporary R&B album. Beyoncé was the top winner in those years with three wins. Usher was second with two wins.
In 2011, the Grammys dropped 31 categories, including best contemporary R&B album, in a major streamlining. But the next year, they added or re-added three awards, including a second R&B category — best urban contemporary album. It remained in place until last year. Beyoncé and The Weeknd were the top winners in those years, with two wins each. (Beyoncé’s total includes a collab with Jay-Z in The Carters.)
R&B fans should look on the bright side. Country has had just one album category since 1994.