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THE 38TH ANNUAL GRAMMY AWARDS | R&B / Rap

Reputation Sometimes Beats Quality

February 29, 1996|CHEO HODARI COKER

One step forward, two steps back.

That young talents such as D'Angelo and Brandy were nominated for top awards in the R&B categories suggested that Grammy voters finally had conceded to the cutting edge. But the predictable wins by Stevie Wonder (R&B song and male vocal) and Anita Baker (female R&B vocal) for songs that are mediocre by those artists' own standards demonstrate that reputation rather than quality is often the deciding factor in the final balloting.

TLC's wins for best R&B album ("CrazySexyCool") and best R&B group vocal performance ("Creep") and Babyface's producer of the year nod recognize the versatile Atlanta sound that dominates R&B. "CrazySexyCool" continues to climb the charts, and TLC also contributed a key track to Babyface's brilliant "Waiting to Exhale" soundtrack.

Both albums prove that it's possible to make imaginative records that don't completely shatter current conventions. Babyface's latest Grammy cements his position as the heir to the producer-entrepreneur throne currently occupied by Quincy Jones.

On the rap side, the East Coast scored victories with deserving wins by Naughty by Nature for rap album ("Poverty's Paradise") and Method Man (with Mary J. Blige) for group performance on "I'll Be There for You/You're All I Need to Get By."

Accepting his award for rap solo performance for "Gangsta's Paradise," L.A.'s Coolio called for a unification of the hip-hop nation and an end to stylistic rivalry, using his time in the spotlight to bring his musical family together the same way "Paradise"--the first hard-core rap single ever nominated for record of the year--unified the listening public. That made his win, and his pop moment, that much more meaningful.

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