Lost in all the controversy about this year’s Grammy nominees is the news that there’s a new all-time leader for most career Grammy nominations: Jay-Z.
The rapper picked up three noms this year, for co-writing Beyonce’s “Black Parade” and Megan Thee Stallion’s “Savage.” That gives him a lifetime total of 80 nominations, a figure that ties legendary producer Quincy Jones for first place all-time.
There’s been surprisingly little fanfare about this accomplishment. It’s a huge achievement to have more nominations than anyone else in the 63-year-history of the Grammy Awards.
Jay-Z picked up his first three nods in 1999, when “Hard Knock Life” introduced him to Grammy voters. Since then, he’s been a mainstay. Remarkable fact: Jay-Z has been nominated for at least one Grammy in 19 of the last 21 years!
The rapper born Shawn Carter has 22 Grammy wins to his credit, which ties him for ninth place on the all-time list. His most recent win came in 2019, when he and his wife Beyonce shared the Best Urban Contemporary Album award for Everything is Love.
The real question is how long Jay-Z will hold the record. Probably not long, because his wife Beyonce nabbed 9 nominations this year and now sits right behind him, with 79 nods of her own.
Most Career Grammy Nominations as of 2021:
80 Quincy Jones
79 Paul McCartney
74 Georg Solti
74 Stevie Wonder
72 John Williams
72 Henry Mancini
70 Kanye West
Here’s the full list of artists who have garnered the most nominations in Grammy history.
How Did Jay-Z Get So Many Nominations?
Why has Jay-Z been able to rack up so many nominations in just over 20 years? Besides being one of the greatest rhyme-spitters of all-time, he had the good fortune to come along in the right era. There are three main advantages Jay-Z had that past superstars like Frank Sinatra and the Beatles didn’t.
1. In the ’90s, the number of Grammy categories exploded, making it easier than ever to earn nominations.
Rap music at the Grammys began with a single award – Best Rap Performance, which was presented for the first time in 1990. By 2005, there were categories for Best Rap Song, Best Rap Album, and Best Rap/Sung Collaboration. And Best Rap Performance had been split into an award for solo artists and one for groups or collaborations.
This type of expansion repeated itself in the R&B and Pop fields as well, and the Grammys ended up with a whopping 109 categories by 2011. (In 2012, the Recording Academy reorganized and cut some categories – as of 2021, there are 83 categories.)
More categories obviously means more opportunity for nominations, and nobody has benefited more than hip hop artists. A perfect example came in 2018, when Jay-Z was nominated for 8 Grammys despite not being the most prolific rapper in music that year. He didn’t win a single award, losing to Kendrick Lamar in most categories, but those 8 nods helped inflate his career total.
2. A huge percentage of pop songs these days are collaborations.
The days of recording an album 100% on your own are gone. So many of the biggest pop hits since 2000 have been collaborations. That means it’s possible for acts like Jay-Z to earn large numbers of Grammy noms simply from a single guest verse on somebody else’s song.
And Jay-Z has been a master collaborator. He has earned more than two dozen nods from his collaborations over the years, including three for appearing on Rihanna’s “Umbrella.” One guest verse equaled three Grammy nominations!
A whopping 12 of Jay-Z’s 80 noms came in the Best Rap/Sung Collaboration category (now called Best Melodic Rap Performance), which typically rewards collaborations between singers and rappers. That category didn’t exist until 2002.
3. The Grammys now credit everybody in the major categories.
It used to be that only the artist and producer were credited in the Album of the Year category. Then, the Grammys started crediting the mixers and engineers. Then, they started crediting featured artists, even if they were only featured on a single track on the entire album.
It’s that last addition that has really helped Jay-Z. The rapper has technically been up for Album of the Year four times, even though only one of those was for his own music. Besides his own nom for 4:44 in 2018, Jay-Z has been nominated for Album of the Year for appearing on records by Lil Wayne, Kendrick Lamar, and Beyonce.
That’s three bonus nominations that wouldn’t have been possible before this rule change in 2008. (Incidentally, this rule means that the likes of Skrillex, George Clinton, T-Pain, Colbie Caillat, Giorgio Moroder, and Earl Sweatshirt can all claim to be Album of the Year nominees as well, because of their work on other artists’ albums.)
So that’s how Jay-Z got to 80 nominations. And there’s every reason to think that he will someday hit 100 career Grammy nominations – although by then, he will likely have been passed by his wife.