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Nashville Spoken Word Artists Help Rewrite Grammys Rules


Talk to anyone who’s won a Grammy, and you’ll eventually hear them talk about this point: They don’t make music for the awards.

But with their 2021 effort “The Other Side,” Nashville artists Rashad thaPoet and S-Wrap, in a sense, did just that. From day one in the studio, their goal was to get this music into the hands of the Recording Academy for their consideration.

However, it was not just about gaining recognition for their work, but for the art of spoken word in general. Rashad (Rashad Rayford) and S-Wrap (Saran Thompson) are among hundreds of spoken word artists across the country who felt their genre was underrepresented at the Grammy Awards.

For decades, the best spoken word album category has been dominated by audiobooks narrated by celebrities and politicians. Last year, “The Other Side” was part of an organized effort by dozens of spoken word artists to submit new albums for the Grammy Awards, in hopes they could carve out their own category.

Their voices have been heard. Earlier this year, the Recording Academy announced five new categories for the 2023 Grammys, including Best Spoken Poetry Album. (Their former top competitors will now be in the renamed category Best Audiobook Recording, Storytelling and Storytelling).

Speaking to The Tennessean, Rayford recalled when Thompson called him earlier this year with the category news – and it felt like a win in itself.

“We did it for spoken word culture,” says Rayford. “We hung up on the phone, but I think 15 minutes later we remembered at the same time, like, ‘Should we go back? Should we start over? »

Within months, they had a follow-up. “The Other Side Too” arrived in September, and it’s a first-round contender for the 2023 Grammys. to Sunday October 23.

On “Too,” the two artists co-star with production trio The Varsity, who apply layers of lush touches, dusty samples and snarky beats to their lyrics.

You can feel the breeze moving through the effervescent “New Day,” and in the accompanying video – shot at the Jefferson Street Sound Museum, Slim & Husky and North Nashville locations – Rayford tells listeners how to reach a personal place where you’re “no more tense about things in the past tense.

“It’s the sun and Dutty Wine / New energy that’s aligned / It’s the morning after, and you’re more than fine / It’s a new day.”

Rayford has been a spoken word artist for 22 years, starting at Alabama A&M University in Huntsville before bringing his art back to Music City. The local scene has had its ups and downs, but Rayford thinks it’s in a promising position.

As young talent emerges, he’s also applied his skills to a career as a speaker, blending “inspiring spoken word poetry to help companies tell more concise stories.”

“You can bring the word to all those places where people don’t expect it,” he says. “Because we have this authenticity that speaks to the heart. You can do it anywhere.