The Detroit rapper notched a couple of wins on Sunday night, with his Recovery besting Drake and Jay-Z for Best Rap Album and his chart-topping hit "Not Afraid" earning Best Rap Solo Performance. Yet when it came to the major awards, the rapper was shut out.
So how, exactly — after rebounding from the most critically disappointing album in his career (2009's Relapse, which still won Best Rap Album in 2010) with the commercially successful Recovery and its two #1 singles ("Not Afraid" and "Love the Way You Lie") — did Eminem walk away without Album, Song or Record of the Year?
"Recovery is a dark and grueling record that doesn't always click musically. It's easier to admire than listen to, at times," Spin Music Editor Charles Aaron told MTV News. "The high points are spectacular, but there's a lot of sketchiness. Also, the Grammy voters skew old and white and have a problem acknowledging hip-hop."
As Aaron points out that in the past decade, rappers like Lil Wayne and Eminem lost out on the top prize to veteran rock acts like Robert Plant and Alison Krauss and Steely Dan, respectively. The project had all the ingredients to win big: a comeback story, big sales, chart-toppers, etc. But compared to past hip-hop albums that took home Album of the Year (Lauryn Hill's The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill and Outkast's Speakerboxxx/The Love Below), Recovery might have been "too hip-hop," according to Vibe Editor in Chief Jermaine Hall. Those efforts stretched the boundaries of rap music in a way that satiates Grammy voters.
"Outkast winning Album of the Year makes more sense for them, because it lives in several genres," Hall explained.
Still, at this point in his career, a mellowed Eminem has risen to veteran status, and after a career as the wild card, he's firmly an establishment star now, from his appearance on "The Late Show With David Letterman" to sold-out stadium shows with Jay-Z.
But in terms of hip-hop on the main stage, there's still a ways to go.
"It's an uphill battle for a hip-hop album to win Album of the Year," Rolling Stone senior writer Brian Hiatt explained. "It was a really strong comeback, but I think there's still a resistance to Eminem specifically and maybe, to a certain extent, hip-hop in general in the overall voting group in the academy."
Despite going home without the big prize, Hiatt suggested that Eminem focus on what his loss might actually represent, which is a sort of coronation of his comeback. The rapper was nominated, an obvious nod of respect, but perhaps his being shunned was recognition in and of itself.
"In a way, Eminem should treasure the fact that he didn't win, which means he's still dangerous," Hiatt said.
Were you surprised that Eminem didn't win Album, Song or Record of the Year? Let us know in the comments!
For more Grammy Awards analysis, interviews, fashion and more, stick with MTV News!