This morning, the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences announced its 2016 Grammy Award nominees. While hip-hop is historically contemptuous of the Grammys, this year's slate of nominees isn't as whitewashed or pop-heavy as previous years: Kendrick Lamar, this year's biggest overall contender, is nominated for 11 awards.

In the past couple of years, the Academy has revised its consideration of certain distinctions between hip-hop, R&B, and pop. We spoke with Bill Freimuth, Head of Awards, about the evolution of the Grammys' rap, R&B, and rapsung categories; and about the Academy's efforts to better represent hip-hop on such a prominent, mainstream stage.

Freimuth also explained why Drake's biggest record of the year, "Hotline Bling," failed to earn a Grammy nomination. "It turns out that 'Hotline Bling' was never entered into our process by the label," Freimuth said. "That song came out, and it took a long time for it to build into the hit that it became. I think our members just didn’t foresee the incredible success that that song has had, and they focused instead on his other work. Any one of our members can enter anything so long as it’s eligible, and 'Hotline Bling' was certainly eligible.​"

Read the rest of our interview with Bill Freimuth below.

You've described the Grammys as a "peer award."
With approximately 13,000 voting members, I think we’re the only music awards that are voted on by peers. It’s the colleagues of the musicians themselves who were saying, hey, you’re the best. I think that’s appropriate.

It’s one thing to say I sold more albums than anybody else, or sold more singles, or I made more money on my tour, or I was the critical darling. Those are good things to say. But I think to be able to say that other creative people in the music industry feel that I was the best in my area resonates more deeply with the artists themselves.

Do you guys keep tabs on the median age, or the average age, of Grammy voters?
I think we check on it now and again. It’s something that we’re concerned about ’cause we always want to make sure that we have a very diverse voting membership; diverse in terms of age but also in terms of geography, gender, and ethnicity. We want to make sure that our membership is the closest it can be to reflecting the demographics of the music industry. Whenever we feel like we might be lacking in a particular area, there are special outreach efforts made to different groups.

What are those outreach efforts, exactly?
For certain genres, we developed working groups that are kind of a partnership between the awards department and the member services department. We have one for R&B and rap. We have one for Latin music. We have one for metal. We have one for American Roots music. We have one for dance. Those are all areas where, in the last year or so, we wanted to give a little more attention. So we try to find the thought leaders in those various communities and engage as many people as we can across the broad spectrum of those genres. We get them on conference calls. We go to conferences and festivals and meetings.

The word that we're trying to get out is that the Recording Academy is here with open arms. If you are making music, we want you to be a part of the Academy, and we want you to be voting in the Grammy Awards to make them as accurate as they can be.

The word that we're trying to get out is that the Recording Academy is here with open arms. If you are making music, we want you to be a part of the Academy, and we want you to be voting in the Grammy Awards to make them as accurate as they can be.

What's the status of that outreach?
In terms of entries, the largest increase in any field this year was in rap. We had a 29 percent increase in rap song entries, and that’s significant.

What's your role in the genre outreach and nominations process?
I manage a department of 17 people. We have to get through these 21,000 submissions that come in and make sure that they’re all eligible, and we make sure they get placed in the appropriate genre categories through our screening process. In an average year, we have about 650 people participate in our committees. We have these nomination review committees for certain fields that review the top 15 from the voters, and they narrow it down to the top five, official nominees. And then we have one very large committee that is our awards and nominations committee, which reviews the entire process and the category structure every year to make sure that it’s remaining relevant and keeping up with the changes in the music industry.

Which of those changes have had the biggest impact on how the Grammys work?
One is the blending of genres that seems to be happening these days. We had some real challenges this year in deciding whether something was, say, country or Americana. Whether something was jazz or R&B. Whether something is dance or pop. There’s a lot more overlap there than there ever was. Every year it’s a challenge to determine what’s alternative music. That’s probably our fastest moving target. In the '90s, we were giving Best Alternative Album to Coldplay.

The other challenge that we’re dealing with right now is how music is distributed. Our rules are currently based on the qualification that music has to be for sale to be eligible. It’s gotten a lot easier to get something up for sale, thanks to iTunes and Tunecore and CDBaby and Amazon; it’s quite easy to get listed, and that’s one reason that our entries have gone up rather significantly over the last 10 years. And then, there’s an awful lot going on that’s non-commercial distribution through streaming. Several artists have said they just want to make all their money in touring and merchandise, and they give their music away for free.

Most of Fetty Wap’s big singles were, initially, free SoundCloud downloads.
He’d record a track and release it. I think it might be too early to say that that’s a typical model, but more and more folks are doing that.

Is rap an outlier genre in that sense?
Rap is notable but not alone. We’re seeing it in country, we’re seeing it in pop. But rap is leading the way.

Talk to me about the "rapsung" category. That’s evolved pretty dramatically in the past decade or so.
When I first started here, in 2004, if a song had rapping on it, then it went into the rap category. Period. No matter what else it sounded like, if there was rapping on it, then it was a rap genre song. From the rap community, we started getting pushback: Just because someone is rapping doesn’t make it hip-hop. Some time ago, we started to loosen up. You could find a performance that was primarily a rapped performance ending up in pop or country. I think that evolution speaks to the dominance of rap as a performance style.

With "rapsung," again, back in the day, if somebody was rapping and someone was singing, rapsung was the category that it would go into. No question. Just a couple of years ago, it was determined that it really should be primarily a rapper’s recording with a featured singer. You look at something like Beyoncé's “Crazy in Love.” There was a big discussion where we decided that, you know, this is a Beyoncé song, it’s pop, or it's R&B, and just because there’s a little bit of rapping on it shouldn’t put it into the rap field. To be in the rap field, it still needs to be, essentially, a hip-hop song. That’s why something like the Wiz Khalifa, Charlie Puth record from Furious 7 was moved into the pop field this year. [The rap screening committee] didn’t think the overall feel of the song was that of a rap song.

Among rap fans, there’s a perception that the Grammys generally undervalues hip-hop and rewards only certain types of rap. I’m thinking of Lupe Fiasco, Yung Joc, and T.I. all losing to Ludacris.
The rap sorting committee has tightened up a bit. When they think something is pop, they’ll send it over to the pop room. In most cases, the pop room will accept decisions from the rap room. Year by year, hopefully, they’re getting better, less predictable, and less biased toward any particular style of rap.

Much of the best rap of the past five years is non-commercial, made by young, independent rappers without major label support. Are the Grammys just an uphill battle for them?
Yes and no. I want to give some credit to our voters here. A single voter cannot vote in every category in the process. They are limited to 20 categories out of the 83, plus everyone can vote in the four categories of the general field. We ask that people only vote in the categories where they have some expertise. If you look at rap or EDM, they’re both relatively mainstream genres, and there are breakout stars from both of those areas, but I think where the music is really happening is a little more underground. It is our hope that the people voting in those areas are part of that underground. They know the mainstream stuff, sure, and they give it due respect, but when they see an artist or a recording listed on the ballot, they’re able to say, oh yeah, that’s the one I heard at that club, or a friend of mine turned me onto this record. Those songs will have their chance to rise.