The Recording Academy’s establishment approach was on full display once again during the 64th annual Grammy Awards, held in Las Vegas on Sunday (April 3, 2022). This time it wasn’t about a Black musician being snubbed or flat out ignored but rather the caption used to describe designer Virgil Abloh during the show’s in memoriam segment, which honors prominent individuals who have passed away in the past year.
When the screen flashed Abloh’s image, fans of the accomplished designer were taken aback to see him simply described as a “hip hop fashion designer.” While the Recording Academy was perhaps attempting to connect his career back to music, the description fell far short of who he was as a creative and what he accomplished before passing away at the young age of 41.
Putting aside his connection to music as a DJ and merch designer for multiple A-list artists, Abloh held a graduate degree in architecture from the Illinois Institute of Technology, and following his graduation worked alongside Ye (formerly Kanye West) as the first design director for Donda Studio.
Abloh would go on to launch his own label, first Pyrex Vision then Off-White and was appointed creative director of Louis Vuitton men’s division in 2018. He was also celebrated for an enduring partnership with Nike that began in 2017 and has continued following his death from cancer in November 2021. In addition to Nike, Abloh had memorable collaborations with IKEA, Mercedes Benz, Levi & Strauss, Moncler and Jimmy Choo, among others.
Given his incredible achievements, it’s hard to imagine how he was somehow reduced to a “hip hop fashion designer” by the Academy. While hip hop is an incredible art form, one that Abloh has described as foundational to his work, his reach as a designer could never be defined by a single genre of music.
Irritated by the description, designer Jeff Staple took to Instagram where he weighed in. Viewing the description as reflective of a gate-keeper mentality, Staple wrote, “This makes me so livid. I can’t with this fucxing shit. Literally no matter how high we get. How far we come. How many barriers we break thru. How long of a road we must traverse…TRUST that gatekeepers will be there every step of the damn way to try and PUT YOU IN YOUR PLACE.”
Truthfully, thanks to Abloh and his peers, the one still attempting to man the gates are growing more irrelevant each day (which could be part of the reason Drake withdrew his two Grammy Award nominations this year). While the Recording Academy’s award remains a coveted one, the statement on Abloh is a red flag indicating the organization still has a lot of work to do if it wants to retain its prestige status.