It’s the sooooooul train! Kinda.

Did you know that the Best R&B Album category was not made official until the mid-Nineties? Think of all the great classic soul albums of the past, from What’s Going On and Superfly to Bobby Brown’s Don’t Be Cruel and Mary J.’s What’s the 411?. None of ‘em ever had an opportunity to win a Best R&B album Grammy because the category didn’t exist!

Not that the National Arts of Recording Arts & Sciences has been slow to honor soul music in general. Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles and Stevie Wonder, among the architects of modern day soul music, have tons of Grammys. That said, there are also artists like Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson, and James Brown, who have been ignored. The three pillars of soul have a combined four Grammys between them. In other words, Christina Aguilera (talented as she is) has more Grammy Awards than James Brown. If that ain’t wrong…

Anyway, this year’s nominees are a little old school, a little new school. Check ‘em out.

Category: Best Female R&B Vocal Performance

Nominees: Gone Already/Faith Evans

Bittersweet/Fantasia

Everything To Me/Monica

Tired/Kelly Price

Holding You Down (Going In Circles)/Jazmine Sullivan

Should Win: Interesting category, pitting four veteran divas against the relative neophyte in Jazmine Sullivan. Whoever wins in this category will be getting their just due after being fairly unrecognized (Monica & Faith Evans have one Grammy each-the rest have gone unrewarded). “Gone Already” was a sleeper (and one of the best songs on a very mediocre album). Based on the qualitative value of each song, I’d vote for Faith here.

Will Win: Monica made a pretty major comeback with “Everything to Me”, which topped the R&B charts. My gut tells me she’ll win the award…

…Although…Fantasia could come up aces here if Grammy voters feel for her recent personal troubles.

Category: Best Male R&B Vocal Performance

Nominees: Second Chance/El DeBarge

Finding My Way Back/Jaheim

Why Would You Stay/Kem

We’re Still Friends/(Kirk Whalum &) Musiq Soulchild

There Goes My Baby/Usher

Should Win: El DeBarge’s comeback single was not only beautifully performed, but it pulled at the heartstrings. It shouldn’t even be a contest.

Will Win: It’s all about name recognition here, and for better or for worse, everyone knows who Usher is. Besides, his album sold more than the other four nominated projects combined…

…Although…El DeBarge was once a major star, and Grammy loves to award triumphs from adversity. Perhaps a Grammy win could keep El on the right track and breathe new life into his criminally overlooked album.

Category: Best R&B Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocals

Love/Chuck Brown, Jill Scott & Marcus Miller

Take My Time/Chris Brown & Tank

You’ve Got A Friend/Ronald Isley & Aretha Franklin

Shine/John Legend & The Roots

Soldier Of Love/Sade

Should Win: A duet between Ronald Isley and Aretha Franklin was a LONG time coming. The pair took Carole King’s well-worn classic and breathed new life into it. In a very close race, this pairing wins by a nose.

Will Win: They have to give Sade something, right? I just don’t see them getting completely shut out…

…Although…John Legend is a Grammy favorite, the Wake Up! album was lauded, and it’s about time for The Roots to get their due. Don’t count them out.

Category: Best Traditional R&B Vocal Performance

When A Woman Loves/R. Kelly

Hang On In There/John Legend & The Roots

You’re So Amazing/Calvin Richardson

In Between/Ryan Shaw

Go [Live]/Betty Wright

Should Win: “When a Woman Loves” was good enough to get me back on Team Kellz, a feat that was damn near superhuman.

Will Win: John Legend & The Roots made a well-received album, they have name value, and they didn’t go to trial for child molestation…

…Although…R. Kelly could pull this one out, but I doubt it. The conservative Grammy bloc is gonna go for Legend all the way.

Best Urban/Alternative Performance

Nominees: Little One/Bilal

F*** You/Cee Lo Green

Orion/Carolyn Malachi

Tightrope/Janelle Monáe & Big Boi

Still/Eric Roberson

Should Win: Bilal’s Airtight’s Revenge was 2010′s Best R&B Album that not enough people heard. In a just world, he’d at least get a Grammy for his troubles.

Will Win: Does this category exist just so Cee-Lo can get a Grammy? Not that there’s anything wrong with that, mind you! Just asking!…

…Although…Janelle Monae, who had probably last year’s best-reviewed R&B album, could sneak past with this one.

Category: Best R&B Song

Nominees: Bittersweet/Charles Harmon & Claude Kelly, songwriters

Finding My Way Back/Ivan “Orthodox” Barias, Curt Chambers, Carvin “Ransum” Haggins, Jaheim Hoagland & Miguel Jontel, songwriters

Second Chance/E. DeBarge & Mischke, songwriters

Shine/John Stephens, songwriter

Why Would You Stay/K. Owens, songwriter

Should Win: Have you people not been made aware of my rapturous praise of El DeBarge?

Will Win: John Legend. Name recognition, folks. Thank God Usher’s not nominated in this category…

…Although…Anyone’s a candidate here, with the exception of the Jaheim and Kem songs.

Category: Best R&B Album

Nominees: The Love & War Masterpeace/Raheem DeVaughn

Back To Me/Fantasia

Another Round/Jaheim

Wake Up!/John Legend & The Roots

Still Standing/Monica

Should Win: The line between what designates a “contemporary R&B” album vs. a regular old R&B album are probably paper thin. Shouldn’t we do away with one category or the other? At any rate, this lineup consists of 3 OK albums, one album that should have been much better than it was (I’m talking to you, Raheem) and one solid piece of work from John Legend & The Roots. You figure it out.
Will Win: No contest here. John Legend & The Roots take it…

…Although…although nothing. This is a fairly sure bet.

Category: Best Contemporary R&B Album

Nominees: Graffiti/Chris Brown

Untitled/R. Kelly

Transition/Ryan Leslie

The ArchAndroid/Janelle Monáe

Raymond V Raymond/Usher

Should Win: This is sort of a motley crew, isn’t it? Honestly, the best album of the five was R. Kelly’s surprisingly good 2009 project. Leslie and Monae turned in good efforts, as well.

Will Win: Usher’s the name most familiar to casual pop listeners for non-legal reasons. Raymond stunk to high heavens, but it sold. Usher takes it…

…Although…I wonder how unorthodox Grammy’s voting bloc might be. If so, Monae could be a sleeper.

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