Few mainstream hip-hop acts explicitly mention religion, choosing to concentrate on more worldly matters. Kanye West is an exception. This rapper-producer has earned 10 Grammy nominations - tops among this year's acts. They come on the strength of his debut solo album The College Dropout, whose single "Jesus Walks" is nominated for Song Of The Year. This Chicago native produced hits for Jay-Z, Alicia Keys, Ludacris, and other stars before himself stepping before the microphone.
Song Of The Year is a songwriter's award; opposing Kanye West are John Mayer, with "Daughters"; Alicia Keys, with "If I Ain't Got You"; Tim Nichols and Craig Wiseman, for Tim McGraw's "Live Like You Were Dying," and Hoobastank members Daniel Estrin and Doug Robb, for "The Reason."
Kanye West also turns up in the Best New Artist category, which comes with a qualifier: nominees aren't necessarily new, but must have achieved mass popularity during the previous year. Take, for example, Maroon 5. Back in the 1990s, this California rock act recorded as Kara's Flowers. Adding another guitarist, they changed their moniker to Maroon 5, and hit the best-seller charts with their Songs About Jane CD which includes the Grammy-nominated single "She Will Be Loved."
There's Best New Artist nominee Maroon 5, whose performance kicks off the Grammy telecast on Sunday, February 13. Completing the field are Latino rock trio Los Lonely Boys; teenage British blues rocker Joss Stone; and country singer Gretchen Wilson, whose Here For The Party CD was the best-selling debut album of 2004.
Alicia Keys knows something about successful debuts. Three years ago, the Manhattan native earned five Grammys on the strength of her multi-platinum first album, Songs In A Minor. This year, Alicia and her friend Usher are second among all nominees with eight apiece. The two have known each other since they were teenagers, and their chemistry sent "My Boo" straight to Number One last year. It's among the nominees for Best R&B Performance By A Duo Or Group with Vocals.
"My Boo," is also in the race for Best R&B song, where it competes against individual entries from both Usher and Alicia.
Although the Grammy judges were once criticized for their conservatism, a younger membership has this year provided eye-openers in many categories. Avant-garde Icelandic singer Bjork is a Best Female Pop Vocal nominee with "Oceania," from her largely a capella album Medulla. Over in the Best Pop Collaboration category, Johnny Cash and former Clash leader Joe Strummer sing Bob Marley's "Redemption Song." Joe Strummer died of a heart attack in 2002, while diabetes claimed Johnny Cash the following year. Finally, Beach Boys leader Brian Wilson earned a Best Pop Vocal Album nod for Smile, a project he began in 1967.
Overshadowing all other artists in this year's ceremony will be Ray Charles. A musical force of nature who went blind as a child, he helped create soul music in the 1950s by blending blues and gospel. Ray later enjoyed hits in the rock and country categories. He died last June at age 73. "Brother Ray," as he was known, garnered seven Grammy nominations, and will be the subject of a star-studded tribute during the Sunday, February 13 telecast.