When the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences announced that they were cutting the amount of categories that awards would be given out in, I didn’t really have an opinion one way or the other. Actually, I take that back-I did have an opinion. I was actually pretty happy, because there are WAY too many categories. I’m hoping that they take this opportunity to turn the show into more of an equal giving out awards/performances thing as opposed to giving out 90% of the trophies before the show and then devoting the telecast to spectacles. Not that there’s anything wrong with the performances as a group, but part of the reason people watch award shows is to actually see awards giving out.

One crappy consequence is that the amount of awards given out in the R&B genre has been cut by half. Some of it is understandable. There didn’t need to be a “Best R&B Album” award AND a “Best Contemporary R&B Album” award. Since all of the other genres combined their male/female categories into one, it made sense that R&B follow suit, and with the R&B group or band having largely gone the way of the dodo, I’m not totally sure there even needed to be a “Best R&B Performance By A Group” award (although if there’s a renaissance, I hope they bring the category back.) The one omission I’m really mad at is the deletion of the “Best R&B/Urban Alternative Performance” category, because it honored artists who were a little bit off the beaten path (which usually meant Cee-Lo, but anyway…)

This year’s nominees definitely skew a little older…one glaring thing to notice is the complete and utter lack of Beyonce in any of the categories. Consider she pretty much owns the R&B awards every year she puts something out, it makes me wonder if the omission was intentional or if she pulled a Bill Cosby and withdrew her name from the nomination process. Also, weird that Jill Scott didn’t get any love here, as she’s a Grammy fave as well-even if her last album was meh. Anyway…

Category: Best R&B Performance

Nominees: “Far Away” (Marsha Ambrosius), “Pieces Of Me” (Ledisi), “Not My Daddy” (Kelly Price & Stokley), “Is This Love” (Corinne Bailey Rae), “You Are” (Charlie Wilson)

Should Win: Whoever wins in this category will be taking home their first-ever Grammy, and it’s hard not to root for Charlie Wilson. One of the most influential singers of all time, the former Gap Band leader has clocked in nearly forty years in the game, dealt with a debilitating drug addiction followed by prostate cancer, and has become hip-hop’s go-to guy for hooks, working with everyone from Kanye to Snoop. Even though “You Are” tries a little too hard to be trendy (how the hell do you Auto-Tune CHARLIE WILSON??????), he deserves this just for Lifetime Achievement.

Will Win: This category’s a total toss-up, as none of the nominees are exactly household names to the mainstream audience. I’d say either Marsha Ambrosius (whose “Far Away” was the biggest hit of the bunch) or Corinne Bailey Rae (who has been nominated multiple times, although she has yet to win a trophy) can take this.

Category: Best Traditional R&B Performance

Nominees: “Sometimes I Cry” (Eric Benet), “Fool For You” (Cee-Lo Green feat. Melanie Fiona), “Radio Message” (R. Kelly), “Good Man” (Raphael Saadiq), “Surrender” (Betty Wright & The Roots)

Should Win: If we’re talking performance only here-we’ve gotta give this one to Eric Benet. As inconsistent as his material can be (and I thought his Lost In Time album was quite disappointing overall) he sings his ass off on this song. Like hair standing up on the back of your neck, jumping up and down and testifying SANGIN’.

Will Win: Raphael Saadiq is one of the Grammy Awards’ all-time bridesmaids. He deserves to win something, and his mainstream profile was increased in the past year thanks to his performance on last year’s ceremony with Mick Jagger. This could be his year, but there’s a big chance that Cee-Lo could snap this award up for “Fool For You”, which was actually the biggest hit out of all the songs nominated in this category. It’s also worth mentioning that Cee-Lo is the biggest name in this category, not counting R. Kelly, who I’d imagine still sketches out a good deal of Grammy voters.

Category: Best R&B Song

Nominees: “Far Away” (Marsha Ambrosius, Just Blaze & 3 others), “A Fool For You” (Cee-Lo Green, Melanie Fiona & Jack Splash), “Not My Daddy” (Kelly Price), “Pieces Of Me” (Ledisi & 2 others), “You Are” (Charlie Wilson + 4 others)

Should Win: I keep saying to myself that I should mark down “Far Away” as my should-win choice, but I realize my love of the song is tied as much to the video as it is the song’s construction. Truth is: Ambrosius, Cee-Lo and Kelly Price all are worthy of this award, and it’s really hard to pick. Price has been toiling in the industry forever-would be nice to see her pick up the trophy. Aw hell-I’m going to go with “Fool For You” as the actual best song, although whoever slotted Fiona in the performance category ahead of the legendary Philip Bailey (who was Cee-Lo’s original duet partner) should get the gas face.

Will Win: It’ll be either Cee-Lo Green or Marsha Ambrosius, and I’m leaning towards Cee-Lo. His shelf is getting remarkably crowded these days.

Category: Best R&B Album

Nominees: “F.A.M.E.” (Chris Brown), “Second Chance” (El DeBarge), “Love Letter” (R. Kelly), “Pieces Of Me” (Ledisi), “Kelly” (Kelly Price)

Should Win: Remember what I said a couple of paragraphs ago about Charlie Wilson? Well, the same goes for El DeBarge. One of the most beautiful voices in the history of pop or soul music, El ended a 16-year absence from the music industry with the excellent Second Chance LP. Topping his comeback off with a Grammy would be the icing on the cake for Eldra. And thankfully, folks were smart enough to not even consider using Auto-Tune with him.

Will Win: It’s gonna be hard to contend with Chris Brown in this category, although I’d argue that R. Kelly’s Love Letter could snatch this award too. It takes a really good album to even make a dent in my image of Kelly’s misdeeds, and Love Letter restored his commercial fortunes somewhat, too. Although I wonder if CB has been forgiven by folks enough to put a Grammy on the shelf, the relative lack of star power in this category might give him a win. An undeserved win, but a win nevertheless.

Next Up: It’s almost time for the big guns, but we have to dig through the pop and dance categories, first!

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