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Kanye West leads Grammy pack

Producer-turned-rapper competing against self
/ Source: The Associated Press

Kanye or Green Day? Usher or Ray?

The Grammys are back Sunday with a number of exciting contests, led by Kanye West against ... himself.

The producer-turned-rapper leads all nominees with 10 nods. He has two nominations in the best rap-sung collaboration: “Slow Jamz” with Twista and actor-singer Jamie Foxx, and “All Falls Down” with Syleena Johnson.

West’s debut album, “The College Dropout,” also was nominated for album of the year. He’ll face off against Alicia Keys and Usher — who have eight nominations each — as well as the late Ray Charles and Green Day.

Charles, whose posthumous duets album “Genius Loves Company” became the biggest seller of his long career, has seven nominations.

Critical darlings like Usher, Green Day, The Killers and Gretchen Wilson being nominated shows that the Grammies continue to move away from the much-derided “Grannies” image.

“The Grammys sometimes tends to skip over (acts). It takes them a couple of years sometimes to really get with the program,” says Carson Daly, the late-night talk show host and former MTV personality, who also owns a record label.

The last time Green Day won a Grammy was 11 years ago, when their breakout record “Dookie” netted them a trophy for best alternative music performance. But Sunday, they could win six trophies, including the heavyweight album of the year for their politically aware rock opera, “American Idiot.”

Still, some critics only see the Grammys as the show that honored schmaltzy songs like “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” and “Wind Beneath My Wings” as records of the year, and inexplicably gave Jethro Tull the best hard rock/metal performance in 1989.

“The people who are the voters represent music professionals,” said Michael Caplan, co-founder of Or Music, a small record label that’s home to acts such as the Los Lonely Boys, which is up for four Grammys this year.

“Not all music professionals understand the mainstream or the cutting edge of what’s going on,” he says. “Sometimes they need a gentle nudge to go in the right direction.”

In many ways, that nudge has come from hip-hop. Once rap was considered a fringe category not even worthy of inclusion on the telecast. But in recent years it has dominated major nominations, along with R&B acts with a hip-hop feel.

Grammy-winning producer Rich Harrison, who has created hits for acts including Destiny’s Child and Jennifer Lopez, says the Grammys have had no choice but to recognize those contributions more, making them more relevant.

“Rap is the new pop, hip-hop is the new pop, and (the Grammys) have had had to fall in line,” he says.

The awards are voted on by the 20,000-member Recording Academy, which includes everyone from CEOs and producers to engineers and technicians. With a group that large, and with 107 categories to vote on, it’s hard to make everyone happy. Still, it seems as if the Grammys are pleasing more these days.

“I think they’re back to a very high credible standard,” Daly said, “because they’re reflecting what’s going on right now.”