NEW YORK - The soundtrack of Marvel's "Black Panther" propelled rap superstar Kendrick Lamar to the front of this year's Grammy pack with eight nominations, closely followed by fellow rapper Drake who scored seven.
Women performers also achieved far greater presence in the 2019 edition of the top music awards, with Cardi B, Lady Gaga and folk-rock singer Brandi Carlile all nabbing nominations across the top categories.
As with last year, hip-hop dominated across the board -- though in 2018, the Recording Academy fell under sharp criticism after rap mogul Jay-Z left empty-handed and Lamar was shut out of the general categories.
Thanks to the hit "Black Panther" film Lamar -- whose album "DAMN" won the Pulitzer Prize for music this year -- once again has a chance to win the coveted Album of the Year prize after three prior losses.
His song "All the Stars" is also in the running for both Record of the Year and Song of the Year.
He'll face competition at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, from fellow rappers Drake, Cardi B and Childish Gambino -- as well as Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper, who snared nominations in both of those top categories for their hit "Shallow" from the film "A Star is Born."
Six of the 2019 nominees for Best New Artist are women, whose presence in the top categories marked a sharp departure from the previous gala, which saw women snubbed in the major prizes.
After that show the academy expanded the four big categories from five nominees to eight, while also creating a diversity task force responding to criticism that the show was consistently too male and too white.
After leading nominations last year, however, Jay-Z and his pop queen wife Beyonce were left out of the top categories despite acclaim for their joint project "Everything is Love."
The Carters did get two nominations for R&B and best music video, while perennial favorite Taylor Swift earned just one nomination for best pop vocal album.