Leading up to the Grammy nominations on Nov. 10, Rolling Stone is breaking down 16 different categories. For each, we’re predicting the nominees, as well as who will (and who should) win on Grammy night.
Prestige carries weight in the Best Rap Song category. In the 20 times this particular Grammy’s been given out since 2004, 16 of those wins have gone to just three big-name artists: Kanye West (7 wins), Jay-Z (5), and Kendrick Lamar (4), with Drake winning two times. This year, Kendrick Lamar, Travis Scott, and J. Cole have big reputations on their side. Lamar took home this Grammy in the most recent ceremony, but two years ago it was Megan Thee Stallion for “Savage,” and Spotify’s Head of Urban Music Carl Chery says he’d love to see the academy break up the male monotony again: “When you look at Sexyy Red, Ice Spice, Nicki, Cardi, all of them, some of the best songs that we’ve heard all year were by women. There’s that ongoing conversation, ‘Are women out-rapping men?’ I would like to see two or three of those slots be by women.” Coi Leray’s “Players” and Latto’s “Put It on the Floor” remix with Cardi B could both be contenders here — so could Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion’s second team-up, the recently released “Bongos.” It would be great to see the Grammys recognize the scene’s buzzing movement of women with a statement like that. Here are our picks for the Best Rap Song Grammy nominations — and who should (and will) win it come February.
Baby Keem and Kendrick Lamar
Make no mistake about it: Kendrick Lamar is a Grammy favorite, with 47 nominations and 17 wins — four of them in this category. And Lamar and Baby Keem are an already proven Grammy team: In 2022, their “Family Ties” won for Best Rap Performance. Will they double up? “The Hillbillies” is another entry in one of rap’s most underrated subgenres: Kendrick Lamar having fun. It’s refreshing to hear him let loose after the pensive excavation of Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers. He and Keem take turns sliding over producer Evilgiane’s bouncy drums with the exact amount of swagger that a bar like “Niggas know that I’m best dressed, too high-profile to access” needs. Chery says, “If he’s in that category in an off year, I 100 percent bet on him,” citing Lamar’s prior Grammy success. But Chery also wonders if the track’s chances will be hurt by its one-off nature: “Should it make the cut? It’s a loosie.”
In 2021, Gunna took “Pushin P,” a phrase mostly used in the Bay and Texas, worldwide alongside Young Thug and Future. This summer, the Atlanta rapper made another cultural moment out of a colloquialism with “Fukumean,” a fun Dunk Rock and Flo-produced single from his fourth studio album, A Gift & a Curse. The track demonstrates Gunna at his best, exuding effortless cool over moody, minimalist trap production. “ ‘Fukumean’ is the song of the summer,” Chery says, who also notes that its appeal is hardly limited to the summer months: “[It’s] going to go down as one of the bigger rap songs of the year.” “Fukumean” spent 13 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100, where it peaked at Number Four, and also topped the Hot R&B and Hip-Hop Songs chart.
Travis Scott feat. Drake
Scott and Drake’s “Sicko Mode” was a nominee in this category in 2019, and this reteaming debuted at Number Three on the Billboard Hot 100. Scott shifts from a beat predicated on brooding strings into a grander production, then makes one more thrilling beat switch. Drake raps with a hushed, indignant delivery, throwing an errant shot at Pharrell that indicates the angry tone wasn’t just for effect. “With someone like Drake being part of it, both of them having a Grammy track record, I think that’s a good pick,” Chery says.
Lil Durk feat. J. Cole
“All My Life”
Last year, Jay-Z’s renowned “God Did” verse carried that DJ Khaled single to a Best Rap Song nomination, while Drake’s fiery “Churchill Downs” feature springboarded Jack Harlow into the same category. So a standout feature can boost a nomination, which should be the case with “All My Life,” a song from Lil Durk’s Almost Healed album where Durk himself admitted, “[Cole] smoked my ass on that one.” The Chicago rapper put his best foot forward with a reflective verse rhyming that he’s “tryna better myself,” but Cole stole the show. “We are in a climate now where there are people complaining about the subject matter that we hear in rap songs,” Chery says. “Now you have two of the biggest artists in the space give you something that’s inspirational and of substance.”
Ice Spice feat. Nicki Minaj
Women in rap have been providing the scene’s most exciting moments for the past year. And while Sexyy Red’s “Pound Town” might be a tad too X-rated to get Grammy consideration, Ice Spice’s collab with Nicki Minaj is a practical way to reward two of the genre’s busiest women. “Princess Diana” debuted at Number Four on the Billboard Hot 100 and stayed on the chart for 20 weeks. Chery wonders if Ice and Minaj will submit “Princess Diana” for nomination, opt for “Barbie World” from the Barbie soundtrack, or go for both, noting that the latter is tied to a movie with plenty of Oscar buzz that’s also a box-office champ of 2023.
This story is adapted from Rolling Stone’s fourth annual Grammy Preview issue, released ahead of the start of first-round voting on Oct. 13. We featured SZA on the cover, spoke to some of the year’s biggest artists about the albums and singles that could earn them a statue come February, made our best predictions for the nominees in the top categories, and more, providing a full guide to what to watch for leading up to the 2024 awards.