While the bulk of Lil’ Wayne’s nominations come in the rap categories, he’s nominated for arguably the most coveted award of the night — album of the year — for Tha Carter III.  Given that the CD was not only 2008’s best-selling album but also delivered two of the year’s biggest singles — “Lollipop” and “A Milli” — it would seem that momentum is on Lil’ Wayne’s side.

Yet if the past is any indicator, Lil’ Wayne may go home empty-handed in the album category on Sunday night, with his wins contained in the rap categories. While rap or hip-hop albums have been nominated every year for a best album Grammy since 2000 (2006 was the exception), its two victories — Lauryn Hill’s The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill in 2000 and OutKast’s Speakerboxxx/The Love Below in 2004 — have been for hip-hop albums highlighted by the artists’ musicality, not their rhyming skills.

“Lil’ Wayne indisputably made the best album of 2008,” said Blender’s editor-in-chief Joe Levy. “Now, are the voters going to recognize it by sending him home with a small truckload of Grammys? Hard to say. Hip-hop still remains challenging to Grammy voters, who include guys who were making records 40 years ago.”

That’s not to say that rap has gotten a bad rap from Grammy voters. Dr. Dre has been recognized as producer of the year among his multiple Grammy wins, Jay-Z has four, Eminem has eight trophies and Kanye West owns 10.

But Eminem has lost in the best-album category twice (the first was famously to Steely Dan in 2001) and Kanye West has lost the category three times.

Danyel Smith, editor-in-chief of Vibe magazine, thinks this year might be different for Lil’ Wayne.

“I think he does have an even better chance because a lot of his rapping is very melodic,” said Smith of Wayne, who is known as much for his gravelly singing voice as he is his frenetic rapping style.

“I also think as time goes on, there are a lot more people on the voting committee … who are, if not actual fans of hip-hop, understand it more, and understand the significance of hip-hop as part of pop music and not sort of its step-cousin.”

If Lil’ Wayne does win, he’ll have to beat back tough competition. Coldplay, which received the second-most nominations with seven, are nominated for Viva La Vida or Death and All His Friends; Radiohead, who have been nominated before in the category are again recognized for In Rainbows; R&B singer-songwriter Ne-Yo is cited for his Year of the Gentleman, as is Raising Sand, the unlikely collaboration between Robert Plant and Alison Krauss.

Darius “Deezle” Harrison, a producer on Tha Carter III, said he and Lil’ Wayne are excited just to be nominated, and noted that dreams of Grammy trophies were on their minds when they worked on the CD.

“We were talking in the studio, and he was like man, ‘I wanna get Grammys this year,'” Harrison recalled. “I looked at him and I said, ‘We’re gonna get Grammys this year,’ and he looked at me and gave me a pound, and said, ‘Believe that.’ And we’re here, nominated for a bunch of Grammys. Hopefully we’ll bring them all home.”