Sean "Diddy" Combs was honored Saturday at a pre-Grammys gala for industry heavyweights, and the legendary record producer and executive took the opportunity to call out the Recording Academy for its lack of support for black artists.
Diddy, a three-time Grammy winner, took home the Industry Icon Award at the gala and gave a 40-minute speech. He dedicated the last six minutes to express his disappointment with the awards ceremony and the Recording Academy, the body behind "music's biggest night."
"I’m officially starting the clock. You’ve got 365 days to get this shit together," Diddy said. "We need the artists to take back control. We need transparency. We need diversity."
Diddy urged people in the room that they had "the power to make the changes that need to be made." He also called on the Recording Academy to fulfill its responsibilities to artists and the music industry.
"They’re a nonprofit organization that’s supposed to protect the welfare of the musical community," he said. "That’s what it says on the mission statement. That’s the truth. They work for us."
In recent years, the Grammys have been criticized for failing to honor hip-hop artists in some of its most coveted categories, including Album of the Year. Though many hip-hop artists have been nominated for the award, including Kendrick Lamar, Jay-Z, and Drake, none of their critically acclaimed albums nabbed the honor.
Adding to the problem is the fact that it's been more than a decade since a hip-hop album won Album of the Year, in spite of the popularity of the genre.
"Black music has never been respected by the Grammys," Diddy said, adding that the lack of diversity goes beyond music and includes industries such as film and sports. "And for years we’ve allowed institutions that have never had our best interests at heart to judge us," he said. "And that stops right now."
In recent years, many hip-hop artists have begun to decline invitations to the Grammys, saying they feel their work isn't being properly recognized. In 2019, the show hit a new low in grabbing young adult viewers, another sign the ceremony is struggling to remain culturally relevant.
"The amount of time that it takes to make these records, to pour your heart out into it … and you just want an even playing field," Diddy said Saturday. "In the great words of Erykah Badu, we are artists and we are sensitive about our shit. We are passionate. For most of us, this is all we’ve got. This is our only hope."
Diddy's callout comes as the Recording Academy is also facing intense controversy stemming from the allegations from Deborah Dugan, the Grammys chief who said she was removed from her post for exposing details of sexual harassment and voting irregularities within the organization. In response, the Recording Academy on Sunday announced a slate of new initiatives developed with a diversity task force.
According to a Recording Academy statement to BuzzFeed News, the organization will hire a diversity and inclusion officer within the next 90 days and establish a fellowship to make sure the efforts for increased diversity remain on track.
"It’s been a challenging week for our Academy family," said Harvey Mason Jr., the Recording Academy chair and interim president and CEO, who was among the attendees of Saturday's gala honoring Diddy.
"I’ve heard from many of you who feel betrayed and hurt by the untruths being spread about our motives and actions, the integrity of our process and the artists who've rightfully earned their GRAMMY Nominations, and the reminders of the hard truths we do have to face as a community," Mason said in the statement. "We can all be proud that we are recommitting ourselves to transparency, to independent investigations, and to following the facts wherever they lead."
Diddy ended his speech by saying how his mission in the industry has shifted from creating hit records to now "ensuring that the culture moves forward."
"My culture. Our culture. The black culture. And for me to be worthy of receiving an icon award, I have to use my experience to help to make a change," he said. "On that note, I’m finishing up: You all got 365 days."
The star dedicated his award to black artists of the past and present whose albums he felt should've been celebrated by the Grammys: Michael Jackson for Off the Wall, Prince for 1999, as well as Beyoncé for Lemonade and Missy Elliott for Da Real World.
Read Diddy's complete speech on Billboard.