Two cases in point are The Roots, one of the genre's most influential and progressive groups, and Gang Starr, one of the finest duos in the game. Both acts released critically acclaimed albums last year that performed well on the charts. But together, they're nominated for a total of one Grammy: The Roots' gold-certified Phrenology is up against platinum-plus sellers by Missy Elliott, OutKast, Jay-Z and 50 Cent for best rap album.
Typical of the Grammys, the rap and R&B artists garnering the most media attention and nominations have sold millions of units, and their videos are in frequent rotation on MTV. Gang Starr and the Roots, by contrast, are hip-hop artists who invigorate the genre with various influences -- jazz and rock, specifically -- in ways that aren't always embraced by radio, BET or MTV.
"The Grammys don't represent raw hip-hop," says Richard Nichols, 45, a 20-year industry veteran and producer who has managed the Roots for 12 years. "They don't care about the aesthetic. It's all sales-based. It's a promotional vehicle for artists."
Last year, Norah Jones' five Grammy wins boosted the sales of her debut CD, Come Away With Me, by 300 percent. And all acts that performed on the telecast saw a significant increase in sales the week after.
"People care if you sweep the Grammys," Nichols says. "If you win in an obscure category and nobody sees you on TV, the Grammy win doesn't mean that much."
With scheduled performances by OutKast, Robert Randolph and the Family Band and funk innovators Parliament Funkadelic and Earth, Wind & Fire, the awards show could be trying to make up for not televising R&B wins last year.
`It's about ratings'
"Every year, I fight to have some R&B and hip-hop represented on the show," Foster says. "I think last year was more of a tribute to New York; that's why you saw Simon & Garfunkel and Bruce Springsteen" on the broadcast.
"It's about ratings. When you only have so many slots, [the producers] are going for the ratings. And if Avril Lavigne is hot, they're going to go with Avril. ... Each year, they're giving a genre a shot. There's a theme going on."
Clearly, it's urban music's turn. By next year, there might be a new hot genre to steal the Grammys' focus. But the throbbing hip-hop beats and histrionics-soaked R&B vocals burning the airwaves and the charts won't be fading soon.
"Hip-hop and R&B are going to continue to grow and thrive and be successful," Gotti says, "Grammy or not."