LOS ANGELES — Sean "Diddy" Combs slammed the Recording Academy before a star-studded crowd at the Clive Davis Pre-Grammy Gala on Saturday night, saying hip-hop and black music have "never been respected by the Grammys," ironically as he accepted his award as the 2020 Grammy Salute to Industry Icons honoree.
Among the artists in the crowd at the Beverly Hilton hotel in Beverly Hills, California, were Jay-Z, Beyoncé, Janet Jackson, Cardi B, Lana Del Rey, Ozzy Osbourne, John Legend and a coterie of artists from Diddy's history who had just performed a musical tribute to him, including Faith Evans, Ma$e, Lil' Kim and his son King Combs.
Diddy's remarks came toward the end of a rambling and excruciatingly long 50-minute acceptance speech that primarily saw him reminiscing about his life and career and the people he worked with. But at around the 40-minute mark — at about 12:30 a.m. — he zeroed in.
"There's something that I need to say to the Grammys — and I say this with love," he said. "Every year y'all be killing us. I'm speaking for all the artists and executives: In the great words of Erykah Badu, 'We are artists, and we are sensitive about our s---.' For most of us, this is all we've got. This is our only hope.
"Truth be told, hip-hop has never been respected by the Grammys. Black music has never been respected by the Grammys."
Diddy then referred to the turbulence that has plagued the Grammys for the past nine days, after the Academy abruptly placed its new president and chief executive, Deborah Dugan, on administrative leave in what is by all appearances a power struggle.
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Dugan was elected by the Board of Trustees on a platform of greater diversity and change, but she was ousted on Jan. 16, after just five months on the job, before her proposals, and those of the task force that had been appointed to forward the objectives, could be enacted.
Dugan has claimed in recent days that the Grammys voting process is "rigged" and run by "an old boys' club," filled with conflicts of interest.
"So right now, with this current situation," Combs continued, "it's not a revelation. This thing been going on — not just in music, but in film, sports, around the world. And for years we've allowed institutions that have never had our best interests at heart to judge us — and that stops right now." The crowd, while a bit dazed from the length of his speech, cheered enthusiastically.
"I'm officially starting the clock: You've got 365 days to get this s--- together," he said. "We need the artists to take back control. We need transparency. We need diversity. This is the room that has the power to [force] the change that needs to be made. They have to make the changes for us: They're a nonprofit organization that is supposed to protect the welfare of the musical community. That's what is says on the mission statement: They work for us.
"It's going to take all of us to get this done. I'm here for the artists, so sign me up."
The Grammys have long been assailed for a lack of racial and gender diversity, a situation that was thrown into dramatic relief when its previous chief, Neil Portnow, said in 2018 that female artists and executives needed to "step up" to advance in the industry.