NEW YORK – Rapper Kendrick Lamar and retro funk star Bruno Mars on Sunday picked up early awards at the Grammys, but Jay-Z remained a force to be reckoned with on a major night for hip-hop.
The music industry’s gala, taking place in New York after 15 years in Los Angeles, opened with shows of support for the #MeToo movement to end sexual harassment, with a number of A-listers wearing white roses as symbols of solidarity.
The Recording Academy of 13,000 music professionals handed out dozens of awards in side categories before the televised show at Madison Square Garden.
Mars swept the R&B category and Lamar triumphed in hip-hop, with each of them earning three awards.
But Jay-Z had been leading with eight nominations as he basked in acclaim for “4:44,” an introspective album in which he admits infidelity to his wife Beyonce and explores institutional racism.
Hip-hop has an uneven history with the Recording Academy, with only two mostly rap works winning the most prestigious Grammy for Album of the Year.
But in a sign of shifting cultural trends, this year the majority of contenders for the top prize are hip-hop artists.
Lamar won Best Rap Song, Best Rap Performance and Best Music Video for “HUMBLE.,” a playful take on the trappings of fame in which the 30-year-old portrays himself as Jesus in “The Last Supper.”
Mars took the Best R&B Album for “24K Magic,” his latest return to old-school, fun-loving funk.
Jay-Z, who rose from a broken home in Brooklyn to become a multimillionaire businessman, had refused to attend the Grammys in 1999 because the Recording Academy snubbed fellow rapper DMX.
He stayed away, upset at the lack of recognition for hip-hop, until 2004, when he showed up with wife-to-be Beyonce.
The pop diva joined him on Saturday night at the traditional pre-Grammys party hosted by veteran music executive Clive Davis.
He sounded contrite when he accepted an “industry icon” award at the fete, saying: “I realize like, man, art is super subjective and everybody is doing their best and the Academy, they are human like we are.”
“We can pretend we don’t care, but we really care,” he said of Grammy recognition.
“We care because we see the most incredible artists stand on that stage and we aspire to be there.”
But Jay-Z was not being universally celebrated. On Grammy Day, he was taken to task in a tweet by President Donald Trump, who is widely despised in the U.S. entertainment world.
Trump told Jay-Z that African-American unemployment had fallen to an all-time low. In a pre-Grammy interview with CNN, Jay-Z said such data do not matter so long as Trump belittles people of color and refuses to “treat people like human beings.”
Jay-Z is already one of the most celebrated artists in Grammy history with 21 awards. But until this year, he had always been passed over in the main categories.
Other contenders for Album of the Year were “‘Awaken, My Love!’ ” the psychedelic, R&B-infused album by Childish Gambino, the rap alter ego of actor and comedian Donald Glover, and “Melodrama” by 21-year-old New Zealand pop prodigy Lorde, the only woman in the category.
Amid the growing attention to gender discrimination in the entertainment industry following revelations of sexual misconduct by Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein, top stars including Lady Gaga walked the red carpet wearing white roses in solidarity with abuse victims and in an appeal for equality.
Country music legend Reba McEntire, who branched across categories to win the Grammy for Best Roots Gospel Album, said that the white rose amounted to a message to “treat people kindly.”
“I want to treat you like I want to be treated. And I think if we did that more often, a lot of these problems would be nonexistent,” she said.
Performers at the televised gala will include Kesha, who has taken on sexism in the industry after accusing her producer of raping her, a claim he denies.
The Grammys could reach another landmark after a year marked by Trump’s attack on immigrants and a devastating earthquake in Puerto Rico — with “Despacito.”
The viral dance hit that has broken the record for views on YouTube is in the running for both Record of the Year, which recognizes best tune, and Song of the Year, which awards songwriters.
“Despacito,” led by the Puerto Rican pop singer Luis Fonsi, would be the first non-instrumental song that is not mostly in English to win in either category since the very first Grammys in 1959.