The battle for this year's Best Rap Album at the 51st Grammy Awards looks like it's gonna be between two men: [artist id="510062"]Lil Wayne[/artist] and [artist id="1225081"]T.I.[/artist]
Each is up for the honor — Wayne for Tha Carter III and Tip for Paper Trail. [artist id="1269"]Jay-Z[/artist]'s American Gangster, [artist id="2017563"]Lupe Fiasco[/artist]'s The Cool and [artist id="1000"]Nas[/artist]' Untitled project round out the field. But most of the experts MTV News spoke to last week predicted one of the Southern lyricists will emerge victorious on Sunday. (The battle is a rematch of the 2007 Hottest MCs debate.)
"It's a sure thing [Lil Wayne will] take all the rap awards he's nominated for this year," Entertainment Weekly music critic Leah Greenblatt announced.
XXL magazine's Bonsu Thompson agreed. "Wayne might have the easiest victory throughout the entire Grammys," Thompson explained. "Whether it's in the recording booth or onstage, there's no competition. He sold a million copies in one week."
Tha Carter III was heralded for Wayne's lyrical brilliance. On freewheeling tracks from "A Milli" to his first #1 hit "Lollipop," the New Orleans rapper soared over expectations. The list of accolades and accomplishments he received for the album are impressive: the biggest-selling LP in any genre in 2008, wins at the American Music Awards and the VMAs, and soon a triple-platinum certification. By all accounts, Wayne has had as successful a year as any rapper in history.
So has T.I., arguably.
"I think that T.I. should win, because he has a solid album, a huge presence and a great story," Hot 97 news director Minya Oh (a.k.a. Miss Info) told MTV News last week.
The Atlanta-based artist overcame a federal arrest in 2007 that threatened to derail his career and released his most well-rounded album to date.
Paper Trail featured two #1 songs — "Whatever You Like" and "Live Your Life," which featured Rihanna. Both numbers rocketed up the Billboard Hot 100 chart, with the rapper's songs actually replacing each other at the top. In addition to the singles, Tip also revealed an introspective side of himself that he only hinted at on past projects.
"With so much struggle going on, he wanted to speak from the heart and put real thought into it, go into more details," longtime Tip collaborator DJ Toomp explained. "Sometimes you can go in the booth and just spit. And you may cover something but not get the gist of everything. But he said, 'Let me put my pen to work.' "
New York titans Jay-Z and Nas were also lauded for their recent projects, but critics don't think either album has the legs to keep pace in this category.
"I think Nas' album was nominated 'cause of the message," Thompson told MTV News. "It was more of a political or social stance from an MC rather than the body of his work. Nas may [actually] have the least chance of winning [Best Rap Album].
"I love what he attempted to do, but I think he fell a little short, content-wise," Thompson added. "The message was stronger than the music."
As for Jay, his second post-retirement album was a return to his earlier hustler mentality. The album, like Nas' album, made its debut at #1, but ultimately, while American Gangster helped Jay-Z regain his form, overall, Thompson felt it didn't stack up to the competition.
"Jay-Z really impressed a lot of people with American Gangster, but there can only be one winner and I think he's gonna fall short because of that," Thompson said.
Lupe Fiasco is the least-decorated rapper in the field, but the Chicago MC struck a chord with critics who offered praise for the brainy artist's album.
Will Lil Wayne grab all the gramophones? Is Katy Perry going to tell her girl rivals to kiss off? Can Coldplay march off with a win? MTV News is all over the 51st Annual Grammy Awards, so stay tuned for interviews, analysis and more before, during and after the big night, Sunday, February 8.