meta-script10 Crucial Hip-Hop Albums Turning 30 In 2023: 'Enter The Wu-Tang,' 'DoggyStyle,' 'Buhloone Mindstate' & More | GRAMMY.com
10 Crucial Hip-Hop Albums Turning 30 In 2023
(Clockwise from top left): 2pac - 'Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z.'; A Tribe Called Quest - 'Midnight Marauders'; KRS-One - 'Return of the Boom Bap'; De La Soul - 'Buhloone Mindstate'; Snoop Dogg - ' DoggyStyle'; Wu-Tang Clan - 'Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)'

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10 Crucial Hip-Hop Albums Turning 30 In 2023: 'Enter The Wu-Tang,' 'DoggyStyle,' 'Buhloone Mindstate' & More

Albums released in 1993 furthered the conversation of what hip-hop was and could be. Debut albums from Mobb Deep, the Roots and Digable Planets, and peak efforts from A Tribe Called Quest and 2pac, help define the sound of the Golden Age of Hip-Hop.

GRAMMYs/Apr 7, 2023 - 01:10 pm

Most genres of music have a generally agreed-upon golden age, when creativity, experimentation, and talent set the standard for music from that genre going forward. With hip-hop, that era isn’t just generally agreed upon — it’s named. 

While the exact beginning and end are nebulous, the Golden Age of Hip-Hop is generally considered to be between the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s, and one year that undoubtedly demonstrates the significance of this era is 1993. An auspicious year for the genre, albums released in '93 furthered the conversation of what hip-hop was and could be.

Lyricism was at its peak during this period, and rappers found new ways to critique the establishment. Though oppression and discrimination were still very pervasive, rappers were more than just soldiers in the fight against it. Albums from '93 engaged in the genre's revolutionary spirit with a forthright expression of their lived experiences as Black people in America, as well as what was going on in their minds and hearts. 

Productions in 1993 were also honoring the history of the genre by putting techniques like sampling and scratching in the forefront. One of the biggest songs of 1993 (and in rap history), Cypress Hill's "Insane in the Brain," applied a squealing and unmistakable sample of which avid listeners to this day are still trying to discern the source.

1993 saw debut albums from now-essential artists, including Mobb Deep, the Roots, Snoop Doggy Dogg, and Digable Planets. At the same time, young legends including Tribe Called Quest and 2pac released work that demonstrated how they were at the peak of their game. Today, these records help define the sound of the Golden Age of Hip-Hop.

The mainstream wanted hip-hop to be a fad; to fade away along with its message of fighting the power and freedom of self-expression. But that was not destined to be the case, and taking a look back 30 years, these albums are sure to explain why.

A Tribe Called Quest - Midnight Marauders

An unnamed female host explains the title of Tribe's third album with a disjointed, monotone: 

"...In this case, we maraud for ears."

Following up 1991’s The Low End Theory was not going to be an easy task by any means, but somehow the trio of Q-Tip, Phife Dawg and Ali-Shaheed Muhammad managed to do so on this masterpiece LP.  Released in November, Tribe constructed a record that captures the culture of rappers on the rise.

The lyrics are not as forceful as those from N.W.A. and Public Enemy. Instead of throwing salvos at the government, the inherent rebellion happens in the demonstration that a rap album didn’t just have to be social commentary. The standout "Electric Relaxation" depicts the oh-so-human experience of early courtship, while "Oh My God" reflects the general reaction from the listener when they hear how adept at the craft Tribe truly is.

Midnight Marauders is a look at the humanity behind rap and that’s what the fight for equality really is — the ability to be recognized as human. That "Award Tour" that Tribe is rapping about? It’s a statement that rap and the people who create it are here to stay: "Going each and every place with a mic in their hand."

Wu-Tang Clan - Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)

Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) is not only the supergroup's first album, but it’s also their magnum opus — though not in the sense that they peaked. Wu-Tang were staking their claim in the world, and that stake has only grown larger over the last 30 years.  

The combined forces of RZA, GZA, Method Man, Raekwon, Ghostface Killah, Inspectah Deck, U-God, Masta Killa, and Ol’ Dirty Bastard (RIP) was a power that hip-hop (and really every genre of music) hadn’t seen before or since. Each MC brought a unique style and flow (to the point they have all recorded solo albums) to the record, shouting hooks like "Protect Ya Neck," and "Wu-Tang Clan Ain't Nuthing ta F' Wit." 

But the most influential track off the record was undoubtedly "C.R.E.A.M. (Cash Rules Everything Around Me)." With its silky piano-driven beat, the nine major MCs demonstrated that they could rap with as much finesse as they could power. 

Snoop Dogg - DoggyStyle

Snoop Dogg has gone through several moniker changes (from Snoop Doggy Dogg, to Snoop Dogg, to Snoop Lion), featured in major films, and become an entrepreneur in the cannabis industry, leaving an indelible effect on culture with each evolution.  

But none of that would be possible if he didn’t write "Gin & Juice," for his now classic debut album DoggyStyle. G-funk existed before Snoop came into the picture, but Snoop gave it that extra bounce — the kind that comes from a ‘64 Impala with fresh hydraulics. From '93 on, it would certainly be a doggy dog world.

Snoop and his close friend and collaborator, Dr. Dre, embodied the gangsta rap lifestyle in a literal fashion. The same year DoggyStyle was released, Snoop and his bodyguard were charged with murder when the bodyguard killed a rival gang member. They were both later acquitted of all charges in 1996.

Souls of Mischief - 93 'til Infinity

Stepping on the scene in September ‘93, Souls of Mischief were an arm of Hieroglyphics, an Oakland, California-based collective founded by Del Tha Funky Homosapien. On their debut record, the rapping quartet of Phesto, A-Plus, Opio, and Tajai took the West Coast sound to a more chill place, connecting to audiences through their love of jazz and getting real about their understanding of the world around them.

No song better represents this intention than the album's title track. Now a classic, "93 'til Infinity's" echoing horns and dreamy keys create a spacious, yet intriguing backdrop for the foursome to share stories of everyday activities: hanging out with friends, meeting girls, and going to the movies.

But that’s the point. Very few people can relate to murder charges; everyone can relate to chilling — including rappers like J.Cole, Freddie Gibbs, Joey Bada$$, who sampled the beat, and likely many more who recognize the mischievous power of chill.

2Pac - Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z.

The second album from Tupac Shakur demonstrates his staying power, consistency, and how he was going to change the course of rap forever.

The backronym "N.I.G.G.A.Z" means "Never Ignorant in Getting Goals Accomplished," and Shakur made his goals clear on this album: He was going to stand up for the principles of rap while still pushing the sound into new territory.

Though he was deep in the gritty lifestyle of gangsta rap — a lifestyle that would eventually take his life at the age of 25 — Shakur used his music and his growing platform to stand up for moral values like respecting women, an idea he explores with an entire stanza in "Keep Ya Head Up."

And in the spirit of these more humble and grounded lyrics, Shakur employs beats that are less flashy and more minimalistic, ensuring his words are heard and understood.

Mobb Deep - Juvenile Hell

Rap music is deeply ingrained into the struggles of Black Americans, and Mobb Deep went through struggles with this LP. 

Just teenagers at the time, this debut album didn’t receive any chart placements upon release causing their label, 4th & B'way Records, to quickly drop them. Production from legends like DJ Premier and Large Professor didn’t help either. Yet in listening to the single "Peer Pressure," the sole track with DJ Premier on production, it’s understandable why Mobb Deep didn’t connect off the bat.

Though the lyrics of members Prodigy and Havoc were honest and relatable, their delivery set them apart. Their use of syncopation and unconventional rhyme placements created a groove that was less club-ready and more primed for in-depth listening. 

Perhaps the idea of taking a chance on an act with a more intricate approach didn’t seem worth it at the time for a label, but Mobb Deep would prove them wrong by embracing that struggle. 

Their second album, 1995’s The Infamous, is now rightfully lauded as one of the best rap albums in history. 

The Roots - Organix

The Roots have never been typical: They hail from Philadelphia, not one of the cities traditionally prevalent in the history of rap. They perform with a band, a staunch departure from DJing which was the standard among the genre at the time. 

Today, they’re pop culture staples with a residency on "The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon" and Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson, is an Oscar and GRAMMY-winning director and author.

Yet the atypical nature that would take the Roots to the highest echelons of culture was first demonstrated on their debut album, Organix

With the live approach, there was a looser and more collaborative feel between the beats built around Thompson’s drumming and the vocals primarily delivered by Tariq "Black Thought" Trotter. The resulting energy (which the group maintains to this day) is more akin to an instrumental jam, with the music and vocalists playing off one another. 

This created tracks on Organix with longer run times like "Pass The Popcorn" which is over five minutes, "Grits" which is over six minutes, and the rap epic "The Session (Longest Posse Cut in History)" which is nearly 13 minutes. These longer raps feature a variety of artists, but Trotter is the core of this new format, demonstrating his surprising flow.

A little-known fact about the Roots is that Thompson has also served as an MC throughout the history of the group, and Organix contains a verse or two from the famous drummer.

Digable Planets - Reachin' (A New Refutation Of Time And Space)

The Golden Age of Hip-Hop saw the development of "jazz rap," a style that emphasized the already vital similarities between the genres by imbuing hip-hop beats with jazz instrumentation.  Digable Planets’ debut album, Reachin' (A New Refutation Of Time And Space), pioneered the sound.

Beyond the smooth delivery from the three MCs, Digable Planets further emphasized the influence of jazz by sampling genre greats like Sonny Rollins and Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers. It’s clear where Digable Planets grabbed the bassline and horn break of "Rebirth of Slick (Cool Like Dat)" within Art Blakey’s "Stretching," taking the first couple bars of longer improvisational sections and looping them into beats — a technique in line with all of the earliest hip-hop beats.  

From the jump, Digable Planets had the courage to apply sampling and looping to the high-flying virtuosity of bebop.

KRS-One - Return of the Boom Bap

In 1993, KRS-One (also known as "Teacha") hit the airwaves and store shelves with his debut solo album, Return of the Boom Bap, and subsequently invited everyone who wanted to listen into a classroom about the realities of life. 

Prior to going solo, KRS-One was a member of the hip-hop group Boogie Down Productions; fellow member DJ Scott La Rock was murdered in 1987. Such a tragic loss added a certain fire to the music of KRS-One, and from then on he has been committed to educating his listeners on what it means to be human.

On his debut, he launches this intention with an attack. "KRS-One Attacks" opens the album with the sampled words: "We will be here forever," and then proceeds into an instrumental basis point of boom-bap hip-hop production that sets the tone for the rest of the album. 

One song that will certainly be around for decades to come is the record’s hit song "Sound of da Police," a scathing indictment of the culturing of policing in the U.S. over heavy kicks and crisp snares. 

De La Soul - Buhloone Mindstate

De La Soul defined the Golden Age of Hip-Hop, putting out four albums in the celebrated period, including their September 1993 LP, Buhloone Mindstate. By 1993, De La Soul had demonstrated their ability to evolve as artists and engage with burgeoning styles like jazz rap. 

Where on early hits like "Eye Know" De La Soul were rapping at high speeds and flexing samples like Steely Dan’s "Peg," Buhloone Mindstate’s standout, "Breakadawn," embraced the more relaxed approach to rap with light jazz instrumentation and a reserved tempo to give more space for their lyrics to truly resonate. 

In the spirit of the Golden Age, the release also crosses literal and figurative borders. Figuratively in the sense that they cross musical borders by inviting jazz greats like Maceo Parker, Fred Wesley, and Pee Wee Ellis on songs like "I Am I Be" and "Patti Dooke." Literally in the sense that they invited Japanese rappers SCHA DARA PARR and Takagi Kan on to the record for the skit "Long Island Wildin'," which sees the two featured artists deliver impressive verses in their native tongue.

Though David Jude Jolicoeur’s (a.k.a.Trugoy the Dove) experimentation with sampling led to legal troubles that excluded De La Soul from streaming, that same experimentation is what inspired numerous other hip hop greats, including Yasiin Bey, Jurassic 5, Pharrell, and Tyler, the Creator.

Relive The Epic GRAMMY Tribute To Hip-Hop's 50th Anniversary With A Playlist Of Every Song Performed

Avril Lavigne Press Photo 2024
Avril Lavigne

Photo: Tyler Kenny

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15 Avril Lavigne Songs That Prove She's The "Motherf—in' Princess" Of Pop-Punk

As Avril Lavigne celebrates a major career milestone with the release of her new 'Greatest Hits' compilation, rock out to 15 of the pop-punk icon's signature songs, from "Complicated" to "Bite Me."

GRAMMYs/Jun 20, 2024 - 02:17 pm

"Hey, hey, you, you!" There's simply no debate: when it comes to the world of pop-punk, Avril Lavigne has always been the people's princess. Bursting onto the scene with her 2002 debut Let Go, the then-teen singer/songwriter was dubbed an overnight sensation with hits like "Complicated," "Sk8er Boi" and "I'm With You."She soon became one of the primary artists driving the pop-punk explosion of the 2000s — and remains one of the genre's primary legends more than 20 years later.

Lavigne's appeal went far beyond the mass of skaters and suburban kids who devoured her early music. Within months of Let Go's release, she had earned five GRAMMY nominations (tying fellow newcomer Norah Jones for the most nods of 2003) and a year later, she racked up three more. 

As pop-punk's first wave began to crest, the singer broadened her sights beyond the genre she'd helped pioneer, exploring everything from power pop to confessional alt-rock to Christian rock, as well as collaborations with artists as varied as Marilyn Manson and Nicki Minaj. And when pop-punk's second wave hit at the start of the 2020s, Lavigne made a triumphant return to the genre with 2022's Love Sux and the 20th anniversary reissue of Let Go

Now, she's set to release her first-ever Greatest Hits compilation on June 21, spanning more than two decades, seven albums and nearly two dozen hits on the Billboard Hot 100. To commemorate the album (and its coinciding Greatest Hits Tour), dive into 15 tracks that assert Lavigne's undeniable title as the "motherf—in princess" of pop-punk — from hits like "Sk8er Boi" to deep cuts like "Freak Out."

"Complicated," 'Let Go' (2002)

What better way to begin than with the song that started it all? Released as her debut single in the spring of 2002, "Complicated" declared a then-17-year-old Avril Lavigne as a major talent to watch.

Eventually, the pop-rock ode to teenaged authenticity became one of the biggest songs of the year, and led to her debut full-length, Let Go, becoming the third highest-selling LP of 2002 in the U.S. (It's since been certified 3x platinum by the RIAA and sold more than 16 million copies around the world.)

It's hard to overstate just how influential Lavigne's breakout year was, starting with "Complicated." The track peaked at No. 2 on the Hot 100, helping the newcomer earn nominations for Best New Artist, Song Of The Year, Best Female Pop Vocal Performance and Best Pop Vocal Album (for Let Go) at the 2003 GRAMMY Awards. Its runaway success also helped launch pop-punk's explosion into the mainstream, and the proliferation of artists and female-fronted bands that followed — from Paramore, Ashlee Simpson and Kelly Clarkson to Gen Z hitmakers like Olivia Rodrigo, Billie Eilish and Meet Me @ The Altar — are indebted to Lavigne's trailblazing success with the song.

Read More: Why 2002 Was The Year That Made Pop-Punk: Simple Plan, Good Charlotte & More On How "Messing Around And Being Ourselves" Became Mainstream

"Sk8er Boi," 'Let Go' (2002)

"He was a boy, she was a girl, can I make it any more obvious?" From those 15 words, Lavigne spun a pop-punk fairy tale for the ages.

If "Complicated" was an introduction to her talent, "Sk8er Boi" was the new star's real coronation as the reigning princess of the genre. Everything about Let Go's second single is nothing short of iconic, from the star-crossed love story between a skater destined for punk rock greatness and the ballet dancer who wasn't brave enough to love him, to the lip ring and striped tie Lavigne sported in the music video (the latter of which you can still purchase to this day from her official store). 

"Sk8er Boi" dispelled any notion that the teenage upstart would be a flash in the pan relegated to one-hit wonder status. In fact, the song notched Lavigne a second consecutive Top 10 hit on the Hot 100, and landed her a fifth GRAMMY nomination at the 2003 ceremony, for Best Female Rock Vocal Performance. But the cherry on top of it all? The eleventh hour twist in the track's bridge that the ballet dancer's loss was Avril's gain.

"My Happy Ending," 'Under My Skin' (2004)

After all the commercial success and critical acclaim showered on her in the wake of Let Go, Lavigne chose to forgo taking the easy road with another pop-infused mainstream win. Instead, she plunged into the darkness for 2004's Under My Skin, exploring post-grunge, nu metal and even hard rock influences on the punk-infused LP. The biggest hit from the album was second single "My Happy Ending," which became Lavigne's fourth No. 1 at Top 40 radio and spent four weeks in the Top 10 of the Hot 100, peaking even higher on the latter than "Sk8er Boi" had two years prior.

The downcast breakup anthem was the first time Lavigne put her broken heart on display ("All this time you were pretending/ So much for my happy ending," she lamented as the piano-driven verses swirled into a guitar-heavy chorus), and the result was an electric kiss-off delivered with equal parts anger, shock and a tinge of bitter sarcasm. 

The singer may not have gotten her happily ever after, but turning the doomed relationship into a scathing goodbye certainly earned her the last laugh: the song helped propel Under My Skin to becoming one of the top-selling albums of the year worldwide.

Read More: Loving Olivia Rodrigo's "Vampire"? Check Out 15 Songs By Alanis Morissette, Miley Cyrus & More That Reclaim The Breakup Narrative

"Girlfriend," 'The Best Damn Thing' (2007)

It wasn't all doom, gloom and angry tears on Under My Skin, however. Lavigne proved she was equally adept at bouncing back from a particularly disappointing Sk8er Boi with a devilish grin and a chip on her shoulder on the bouncing "He Wasn't."

While the brash ditty wasn't officially released as a single in the U.S. — instead being pushed to radio in Europe, the United Kingdom, Australia, and her native Canada — it quickly became a fan favorite from the album. Nearly 20 years on, the song and its rowdy music video (come for Avril wearing fairy wings and a bright pink tutu, stay for her shattering a camera with the butt of her guitar) rather perfectly encapsulate the singer's place as one of the rare female voices at the forefront of the second-wave post-grunge movement. 

"Freak Out," 'Under My Skin' (2004)

Giving authority figures the middle finger has long been a hallmark of Lavigne's brand, and nowhere is that more clear than on Under My Skin deep cut "Freak Out." "Try to tell me what I shouldn't do/ You should know by now I won't listen to you," she scowls before ratcheting up the lyrical drama on the booming chorus. 

The track's second verse serves as a veritable manifesto for an entire generation of emo kids, as Lavigne offers the following advice to her fans: "You don't always have to do everything right/ Stand up for yourself and put up a fight/ Walk around with your hands up in the air/ Like you don't care." When in doubt? "Just freak out, let it go."

In retrospect, Under My Skin is often rightfully credited as one of the defining albums of pop-punk's 2000s heyday. And it's clear Lavigne is proud of the album's impact on both her career and the genre she helped pioneer, considering four of its singles — including "Don't Tell Me" and "Nobody's Home" — are included in the 20 tracks featured on her upcoming Greatest Hits compilation.

"Girlfriend," 'The Best Damn Thing' (2007)

Lavigne turned the power pop up to 11 for her third album, 2007's The Best Damn Thing, and traded the myopic grunge of her previous era for a blast of sugar-coated, self-confident sass. Lead single "Girlfriend" let the singer unleash her inner pop-punk princess like never before, as she played a mean girl with a flirtatious streak who somehow made stealing another girl's man seem lovable.

The unabashed bop was the first time Lavigne proudly declared herself "the motherf—in' princess," and the song's relentless sing-song hook was so addictive that it became the star's first single to top the Hot 100. Lavigne broke several records with "Girlfriend," which became one of the best-selling songs of 2007 and the most-viewed YouTube video of 2008 — as well as the first to ever reach 100 million views on the platform. 

Still can't get enough of "Girlfriend"? Hardcore fans know that the official remix with Lil Mama might even outdo the fizzy perfection of the original. 

"The Best Damn Thing," 'The Best Damn Thing' (2007)

For the title track off The Best Damn Thing, Lavigne doubled down on the bright and bubbly persona she'd donned on "Girlfriend." In fact, the song's opening rallying cry of "Let me hear you say hey, hey, hey!" and a call-and-response bridge are so downright peppy that it seems almost hard to believe they came from the same artist who thrashed her way through Under My Skin.

Released as The Best Damn Thing's fourth and final single, the song of the same name is more melodic than its chart-topping predecessor, with Lavigne unapologetically laying out the type of treatment she expects from a man in cheerleader fashion ("Gimme an A! Always give me what I want!/ Gimme a V! Be very, very good to me!"). After all, a pop-punk princess deserves a Cinderella story of her own. 

"What the Hell," 'Goodbye Lullaby' (2011)

Riding high off the commercial success of The Best Damn Thing, Lavigne kicked off the rollout for her fourth studio album, 2011's Goodbye Lullaby, with "What the Hell," a playfully bratty banger that found her toying with a love interest and vowing, "All my life I've been good/ But now I'm thinking, 'What the hell!'"

Produced and co-written by pop impresarios Max Martin and Shellback, "What the Hell" melded Lavigne's snarky songwriting sensibilities and penchant for bucking authority with a catchy, singalong refrain. But the lead single actually proved to be something of an outlier on the pop-punk princess' fourth go-around, as the rest of the album utilized a stripped-back sonic palette to lay her heartbreak bare in the wake of divorcing Sum 41 frontman Deryck Whibley.

"Bad Reputation," 'Goodbye Lullaby' (2011)

Goodbye Lullaby may have been Lavigne's first foray into a more acoustic sound — complete with introspective lyrics and surprisingly sincere song titles like "I Love You" and "Everybody Hurts" — but she couldn't resist adding a little snarl to the album's softer, more sensitive proceedings. So for the deluxe edition of the album, she featured her take on Joan Jett's classic 1980 single "Bad Reputation" as a bonus track. 

Lavigne had originally recorded "Bad Reputation" for the soundtrack to the Japanese anime feature film One Piece Film: Z (it even reached the top 10 on Japan's Hot 100!). But she apparently liked the cover so much that it ended up on the track list of not one, but two of her albums, as the song was also included on 2013's Avril Lavigne.

"Here's to Never Growing Up," 'Avril Lavigne' (2013)

Even as she approached her thirties, Lavigne wasn't about to give up her spot as pop-rock's resident wild child. Case in point: "Here's to Never Growing Up," the lead single off her fifth album, 2013's Avril Lavigne. Over a peppy stomp-clap rhythm, the singer shouts out an undying love of Radiohead, dancing on bar tops and making late-night memories with your best friends as the boombox blares all your favorite songs.

There's a thread of bittersweet nostalgia running through the midtempo jam — one that's sure to pierce the heart of any millennial listening as Lavinge sings, "Say, won't you say 'forever'?/ Stay, if you stay forever/ Hey, we can stay forever young." It's not that the singer's refusing to acknowledge the cruel act of getting older on the track, she's just rebelling against the notion that adulthood should be a dreary slog of, you know, taxes and laundry and all of those lame adult responsibilities. 

"Rock N Roll," 'Avril Lavigne' (2013)

Lavigne once again put her middle finger to the sky and re-upped her rock star credentials on the appropriately titled "Rock N Roll," the second single off her self-titled album. The spirited singalong finds the singer reveling in her eternally bad attitude as she wails, "I don't care if I'm a misfit/ I like better than the hipster bulls–/ I am the motherf—in' princess/ You still love it."

Though "Rock N Roll" didn't make quite as much of an impact on the charts as some of the other hits on this list, it remains one of the most underrated bangers in her entire discography. Plus, the song gifted fans with the campy, comic book-inspired music video starring Lavinge, Danica McKellar, a drunk-driving Doberman and one very unlucky lobster as they race across a dystopian wasteland to save rock and roll from the clutches of an evil bear-shark. (Billy Zane shows up on a rocket-powered Segway at some point, too — just go with it.)

"Head Above Water," 'Head Above Water' (2019)

Proving that pop-punk doesn't always have to come with an in-your-face, "f— you!" attitude, Lavigne released "Head Above Water" — the lead single and title track to her 2019 album — five years into an often confusing, devastating and all-consuming battle with Lyme disease.

"One night I thought I was dying, and I had accepted that I was going to die," she revealed at the time of the song's unveiling. "My mom laid with me in bed and held me. I felt like I was drowning. Under my breath, I prayed, 'God, please help to keep my head above the water.' In that moment, the songwriting of this album began."

Lavigne taps into a truly admirable well of resilience and hope on the spiritual ballad as she sings, "Yeah, my life is what I'm fighting for/ Can't part the sea, can't reach the shore/ And my voice becomes the driving force/ I won't let this pull me overboard." Unlike anything that's come from the singer's catalog either before or since, "Head Above Water" remains a powerful testament to the beloved pop-punk princess' inner strength.

"Bite Me," 'Love Sux' (2022)

As the 2010s gave way to a new decade, pop-punk made a surprise resurgence in popularity while Lavigne was making major moves of her own; she left BMG after just one album to sign with Travis Barker's DTA Records in 2021 (about which she fittingly declared, "Let's f— s— up!"). Partnering with the blink-182 drummer sparked some serious magic in the studio, as her seventh studio album, 2022's Love Sux was a wildly entertaining return to her pop-punk roots after the emotional catharsis of Head Over Water.

On lead single "Bite Me," Lavigne effortlessly dusted off her crown and reclaimed her throne with an octave-jumping vocal performance. Along with proving she still has the chops, the singer simply sounds like she's having a hell of a lot of fun as she snaps back at an ex-flame who made the mistake of crossing her. Pop-punk's reigning princess? Try queen.

Read More: How 'Love Sux' Led Avril Lavigne To True Love, Her First Fangirl Moment And An Album Process That Was 'Just Stupid Fun'

"All I Wanted" feat. Mark Hoppus, 'Love Sux' (2022)

Lavigne collaborated with plenty of special guests on Love Sux, from blackbear (on love-drunk single "Love It When You Hate Me") to eventual tourmate Machine Gun Kelly (on delicious battle of the sexes "Bois Lie"), but no other duet on the album holds a candle to "All I Wanted" featuring blink-182's Mark Hoppus

The supercharged deep cut features the two trailblazers rocking out in a whirling dervish of escapist bliss, playing a sort of pop-punk Bonnie and Clyde as they bust out of the town they're stuck in. And in doing so, they proved they're more than happy to show the new kids at the rock show just how it's done.

"Breakaway," 'Let Go (20th Anniversary Edition)' (2022)

And finally, a proper celebration of Lavigne's status as pop-punk royalty wouldn't be complete without including the biggest song she ever gave to another artist. As the story goes, the singer/songwriter originally penned "Breakaway" for her debut album, but the hope-filled anthem didn't quite fit with the vibe of Let Go tracks like "Complicated," "Sk8er Boi," "Losing Grip," and "I'm With You." So instead, she gave it to a fresh-faced newcomer by the name of Kelly Clarkson, who had just come off of winning a little reality TV experiment called "American Idol." 

After being featured on the soundtrack to The Princess Diaries 2, "Breakaway" became the centerpiece and title track of Clarkson's 2004 sophomore album, which helped turn her into a bonafide superstar — and the rest, as they say, is history. 

Lavigne started performing the song live for the first time on her 2019 Head Above Water Tour, which naturally left fans clamoring for a studio version. Blessedly, the pop-punk icon gave them exactly what they wanted by revisiting "Breakaway" in the recording studio for the 20th anniversary edition of Let Go in 2022. She even reinstated her original lyrics in the opening stanza ("Grew up in a small town/ And when the snow would fall down/ I'd just stare out my window") for a personal touch that connected back to her roots in Greater Napanee, Ontario. 

Clarkson may have made the song famous, but the beating heart of "Breakaway" will always be Lavigne's story — one of a small-town girl who bet on herself, only to become a trailblazing artist whose legacy is forever cemented in the pop-punk history books. 

The State Of Pop-Punk: A Roundtable Unpacks The Genre's Past, Present And Future

Kehlani press photo
Kehlani

Photo: Mia André 

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Crashing Into The Present: How Kehlani Learned To Trust Their Instincts And Exist Loudly

"I want this next batch of music to feel like the most fiery parts of me," Kehlani says of her new album, 'Crash.' The singer/songwriter speaks with GRAMMY.com about embracing the moment and making an album she can headbang to.

GRAMMYs/Jun 20, 2024 - 01:07 pm

After finishing the first mixes of their new album, Kehlani knew exactly what she needed to do: head to Las Vegas. 

The L.A.-based, Oakland-born singer/songwriter had always identified with Sin City: "I’m full of juxtapositions," she tells GRAMMY.com. "Vegas is this crazy bright light city in the middle of a vacant desert that has weddings and also strippers." Fittingly, Kehlani harbored a very Vegas-like image in their head while creating Crash, a record built on blaring neon, glowing smoke, and the highest highs.

Crash drops June 21, and is Kehlani's fourth solo album. She burst onto the scene in 2009 as a member of teen sextet PopLyfe, but their 2014 debut solo mixtape Cloud 19 announced a far more complex character. Their debut full-length, SweetSexySavage, was released three years later to critical acclaim, with two more albums and a handful of platinum-certified singles following. As if that weren’t enough, Kehlani added acting, appearing in "The L Word: Generation Q" and a cameo in Creed III. 

And while Crash embodies the evolution and growth through all those experiences, the record builds a hyper-real language all their own. Beyond any sense of R&B or pop, soul or hip-hop, Crash finds Kehlani chasing passions that refuse to fit in any box, shifting multiple times within a track — refusing to focus on anything but the moment. 

"A crash isn't anything from the past. It isn't the anxiety of what's about to happen," she says. "It's the height of the moment. It's right now."

Nearing the release of Crash, Kehlani spoke with GRAMMY.com about finding inspiration from international music, getting their five-year-old to sing on the album, and their need to stage dive.

What’s it like living in Los Angeles after growing up in the Bay Area?

I moved to L.A. when I was about 17. I had already left the house. I left the house at 14, and by the time I was almost 18 it was the appropriate time for me to situate in a new place. L.A. and the Bay are like cousins. Do we have differences? Absolutely, things that are fundamental to us, but when you leave California, you can really see that we're just like a big family.

Had you been dreaming of L.A. as a place where you could pursue art? Were you already set on that goal?

It was the closest place that a young, very broke person could go and work in music. I'm sure there were other places with musical homes, musical cities, but if all I had to do was get on a $15 bus and go find someone to stay with in L.A., I was gonna do it for sure.

That’s the same ambition that I feel drives this new record, which is just so dense and full of surprises. That includes the lovely retro radio intro to "GrooveTheory," where you move from this ‘60s pop feel to the present. That’s such a smart way to foreground your evolution.

I think the second that we made that song and then turned it into ["GrooveTheory"], I was like, This feels like it encompasses where I'm headed, this whole new sound. 

Once that radio dials in and it comes in with R&B elements, it's producing where I'm headed, but also remembering that my core hasn't changed. Especially the energy of what I'm saying in the song, like, "I'm kind of crazy," it's introducing this energy difference on this album. I feel like that's the biggest change, and that's what's so prevalent in this whole rollout. Energetically, I'm on a whole different type of time.

You can sense it. 'Crash' feels really rooted in self-expression and personal growth, and when you listen to it as a whole, it really does seem like an evolution story. Beyond just the genre and style, how do you feel the way that you've expressed your true self has shifted over the years?

Thank you! That's been the feedback I've gotten from pretty much everyone who's listened, and I don't know what I expected, but it wasn't this. I have realized the public's understanding of me and the general consensus for so long, and I also realized how multi-faceted I am to people. 

People get really confused when I express all the sides of my personality. They’re either, like, "Okay, she makes really sweet love songs," or "We've seen you be political, we've seen you come out, we've seen you be a family member." And then there's a lot of people who are, like, "I feel like she's f—ing crazy. I've seen her in multiple relationships. I've seen her be angry. I've seen her get online and cuss people out." 

I want this next batch of music to feel like the most fiery parts of me. I want it to feel like the most present and energetic parts of me. I don't want anything to feel somber. I don't want anything to feel reminiscent. I think a lot of my albums in the past have been me looking back, and sitting in that feeling and detailing it. I just wanted [this album] to feel right here, right now, which is why the title came about. A crash isn't anything from the past. It isn't the anxiety of what's about to happen. It's the height of the moment. It's right now.

That’s unfortunately a story you hear too often about artists of color — that essentialization, where you can only be seen as one thing. R&B often gets hit with those same issues. Throughout your career you’ve stood up to those expectations, and "Better Not" on this album is such a good example of that. It’s a left turn, a stylistic contrast and an open conversation with the listener. You cleverly fuse that intentionality with a voice that’s stronger than ever.

In the past, I have had moments where I would make the song and [start recording], and there would be so many versions of each song on different microphones, recorded in different places.

"Let me try vocal production. Let me try to go back and work with this version again." I went back and did vocal production with Oak Felder, who did all the vocal production on SweetSexySavage. When I come back to some of my favorite vocal production moments, it was moments like "Distraction" or "Advice" or "Escape" — songs on my very first album — and I wanted to get that feeling again. Where it's lush where it needs to be, but also that I really mean what I'm saying. 

That started with the approach in the songwriting. Once I had the songs and I had to go back and deliver them, I had enough time to listen and listen, to learn the songs and identify with them. We would make music all day and then go out, and we would be in this sprinter van on the way to going out, and, like, bang, the songs we just made, the energy was just different. It allowed me to be present in a different way where my voice is able to show up like that.

Learn more: R&B Isn't Dead: Listen To 51 Songs By Summer Walker, Josh Levi & More Artists Who Are Pushing The Genre Forward

Which again ties perfectly to crashing into the present. As someone from South Africa, I love that the other guests that you included represent different cultural viewpoints. You worked with Young Miko from Puerto Rico, Omah Lay from Nigeria. Having that musical dialogue is so powerful.

We had so many conversations about how America's in the backseat often when it comes to music. We have our moments, and it's fantastic, like Beyoncé’s Cowboy Carter. There's a culture that is super American, that is Black, that historically needs to be dived into. It needs to be shown that we do have something here. 

So many people that don't speak Spanish bang Bad Bunny all day. Amapiano’s taking over; Tyla’s going up. It's really not here. So that wasn't a conscious choice. It's just what we've all been listening to, what we've been loving.

Read more: 11 Women Pushing Amapiano To Global Heights: Uncle Waffles, Nkosazana Daughter, & More

Speaking of guests, I wanted to ask about your daughter, whose voice is on "Deep." Was she just in the studio and you got her singing?

So those vocals on that, that’s actually my little sister and my goddaughter. And [my daughter] was in the room and she started singing along. She has perfect pitch; she's always freestyling or singing or making something up. 

I was like, "You want to just go sing on it?" What's on there is her first take. Literally. She did it the first time, all the way through, perfectly. I was like, "Well, that's it, guys. I can retire." 

That track is so lush. It feels so alive. Were you working with a full band?

[Producer] Jack Rochon, who I did a lot of the music with, he just is a freaking genius music whiz. Honestly, he's one of the most humble people that I know, and deserves credit for how amazing a lot of this album is.

Talking about touchstones, there's a Prince energy to the title track. Did you have any new inspirations or influences for this record?

Thank you! My main focus for this album came from going on tour for my last one and making such a pretty, sweet, intimate album, and then playing some of the biggest venues of my career. At some point I had to rearrange the setlist to add in a lot of the album before that one, because it was just more energy on the stage. By week two of tour, the setlist had completely changed. I knew that I was playing venues on this next tour that I've dreamt about, places that I can't fathom that I'm playing, like Barclays Center. 

I do a lot of things for, like, my inner child, and this is such a move for my inner child. Like, You're about to go play Barclays. Do you want to look back and say, ‘I rocked out and played Barclays’? I'm a person who headbangs on stage. I stage dive. I wanted to create an album that would ring through a venue like that. I want people to be engaged again. I'm not looking for the lighters and the somber, holding each other — which will occur regardless, because it's a me show. 

But I really wanted people to be in their bodies, and their heart’s exploding and the ground’s shaking. So that's what we accomplished. I wanted to have fun. This album is so fun to me. It’s a place of fire in my heart.

It took me a second to get the word play on "Eight." I loved the track, and then suddenly I was like, 'Oh… I knew there was something raunchy going on here.'

[*Laughs.*] "Eight" was super fun, and shoutout to the boys that I did it with, because they made it everything for me. 

I didn't come up with the wordplay. My boys did. Like, "This is how you talk!" I was like, "It is! This is perfect." Once I got in to fix things, add things, add my own spin, and finish writing, my favorite part was that it sounds like a Brandy song. She's my favorite.

I also wanted to ask about the Nina Sky sample on "After Hours."

That was mine. I was like, "What can we flip that when it comes on, my generation loses their mind?" And for me, every single time that Nina Sky comes on in the club, everybody's like "Woo!" And then you see how many songs were made from that same sample, and they're all songs that make us lose our minds. 

I went into the room with the producers, and I was like, "So, I want to flip this, but I want you to make it to where it doesn't become one of those where the whole thing is just a sample."

Similarly, "Lose My Wife" balances breeziness with high emotional stakes. Is finding a balance like that just natural for someone so capable of juxtaposition?

The second that we established that [the record] felt like Vegas, I knew what components were missing from the energy of how I feel the second my car crosses the line into the city of Las Vegas. I knew I was missing that feeling of the next morning when you realize you went on this high and you come down. I wanted to create these scenarios that weren't necessarily applicable to me, but captured that emotion. I've been there before, and I want people to be like, Damn, I've been there before. I know this feeling. 

I recorded that song at 4 in the morning with a sinus infection. The second that we finished it, everybody was like, "You can never re-sing that. Don't try to make another version, you're not gonna be able to sound like that again." All the chatter in the background of that song is really everybody who was in the studio that stayed up to just hang out. We had the tequila out, it was perfect. That was probably one of my favorite moments of making the album.

It takes a while as an artist to reach a place where you can capture those moments. You said before that people try to figure you out, and I mean this in the best possible way, but it feels like now you don’t care if they can’t figure you out.

I don't give a f—anymore, yeah. And that was a very important thing for me to learn. I used to care so much, and I would spend so much time explaining myself online, in music, in interviews, on stage. I realized that you're damned if you do, damned if you don't. 

I've been so forward-facing with my heart my entire career that I've left a lot of room for people to consistently pedestal me and then critique me, for people to want to tear me down. I realized I'm just being present, here, existing loudly in front of a billion people, and whichever way that goes is how the cookies gonna crumble. Me giving a f—? I'm the only one it's affecting at this point, for sure.

Angélica Garcia's Intuition: How 'Gemelo' Was Born By Embracing L.A., Ancestry & Spanish Language

Tove Lo (L) and SG Lewis (R) pose in front of a set of red doors
Tove Lo (L) and SG Lewis (R)

Photo: Nikola Lamburov

interview

Tove Lo & SG Lewis Crafted Sweaty New EP 'HEAT' In Celebration Of Their Queer Fans

"Every time I make anything that I'm excited about, I know that when I pass that to Tove, she's going to deliver something incredible back that I haven't even been able to imagine yet," SG Lewis says.

GRAMMYs/Jun 20, 2024 - 01:05 pm

HEAT, the new collaborative EP from GRAMMY-nominated singer/songwriter Tove Lo and dance pop producer SG Lewis is 15-and-a-half minutes of pure dance floor ecstasy. 

Across the EP's four tracks, which dropped June 14 on Tove Lo’s Pretty Swede Records, Lewis brings in classic, euphoric '90s rave sounds and infectious rhythms. Tove Lo adds her signature sexy lyrics and vocals, with an extra dose of confidence and sass.

"We both really wanted this EP to be a thank you to the queer fans that we share and for the videos and the creative to be an opportunity to amplify those queer voices and to celebrate that community," Lewis says. "I feel very lucky to get to soundtrack moments in these spaces and to also get to learn so much from this community."

The duo gave their fans a first taste of their collaborative magic in 2022 with "Call On Me," a pulsing, urgent hook up tune so good they both included it on their last albums, Tove Lo's Dirt Femme and Lewis' AudioLust & HigherLove. They also teamed up on "Pineapple Slice," a sweet and naughty cut from Tove Lo's Dirt Femme.

Since then, their fans — particularly their loyal queer fans have been begging for more bops from the pair. Tove Lo, who is bisexual and often brings queer themes into her lyrics and music videos, has been crowned a gay pop icon, and Lewis' joyful, upbeat dance tunes have brought him many fans from the LGBTQIA+ community. They made the HEAT especially for their supportive queer fans, dropping it during Pride month with steamy gay clubs in mind.

Amid teasing their fans with snippets of "HEAT" and memes on social media, Nelly Furtado also dropped a sultry new single in May, "Love Bites," featuring none other than Lewis and Lo.

The fun and ease Tove Lo and Lewis feel working together oozes from each of their collaborations. Since they first got together in the studio, the "Busy Girl" artists have become fast friends. Their love for sweaty dance floors, '90s electronic music, and danceable pop bops creates a rich, shimmery sonic landscape for their music.

GRAMMY.com caught up with the two artists on Zoom from their Los Angeles' homes, for a lively, laughter-filled chat about crafting gay club friendly dance pop bangers, their magic in the studio together, and what having the support of the queer community means to them.

What do you hope fans get when they finally hear Heat and where are you imagining it being played?

Tove Lo: I hope that all our fans get completely floored and that they play it at the pre-party, in the club, and at the after-party — in all the spaces where they want to be free and sweaty and have fun.

SG Lewis: From what I've heard so far from people who've listened to it, people can feel the fun that me and Tove were having in the studio making it. I hope that it serves as a soundtrack for hedonism, celebration, freedom, and some really sweaty moments.

I was wondering about the specific sonic references and inspirations that you brought to the EP. I definitely heard some squelchy acid house on "Heat" and on "Desire" I got some Cascada and early trance, '90s Ibiza vibes.

SG Lewis: I have been reading this book by Sheryl Garratt called "Adventures in Wonderland," which tells the story of the birth of acid house and how it was brought back to the U.K. from Ibiza and exploded into this huge moment in the '90s and grows into trance.  As a result, I was just digging through a lot of the records from then.

Also, Tove and I were DJing a lot at parties and with our friends and stuff. A lot of those records that I was playing, Tove was as well; we were arriving at the same point through different avenues. There was a shared interest in those sounds and that nostalgia, so we really wanted to channel a lot of those two genres in this project. It happened very naturally through the music that we were playing and DJing together. We hardly even ever had a conscious conversation about how it would sound.

Tove Lo: When it comes to writing the melody and lyrics, from my end, there's never a conscious, "Oh, I want to make a vocal like this." I just kind of [go with] what is speaking to me in this track and whatever comes up. I don't know where it's coming from, but it's probably coming from us DJing at 4 a.m. and it reminds me of that moment, it's unlocking this thing. [Chuckles.]

Lyrically, I wanted it to feel confident and sexy. I step over the line a few times in certain songs, which is the way I love to write. You really encourage that free space. I don't think you've ever said, "Ah, it's too far. You even said [imitates British accent], "Can it be hornier?" [Everyone laughs.]

I feel like we are very aligned with what we wanted it to be. I don't want to say there's not a deeper message, it's more just us loving music, loving to make music together, and our joint fans kind of telling us that we need to make more music together. So, we are responding to this request. [Both giggle.]

How would you describe the magic of when you two get in the studio together? Because obviously, there's something there that's special.

Tove Lo: It's weird, but it's kind of like when you meet someone that you just really click with. As people, we get along really well and like to hang out, and we have a similar sense of humor, so it is a fun time. But just because you're good friends, you don't necessarily make good stuff together. It's hard to explain it, but it's a feeling of being totally at ease with someone, but still wanting to do your absolute best. That's how I feel when I work with Sam. I want to really impress him, but I feel very comfortable doing the journey together.

SG Lewis: It's a really rare sensation in the studio. This is a terrible analogy, but it's like playing a game of tennis with someone and every time they return the ball, they send it dead down the center in the right position. Every time I make anything that I'm excited about, whether it's a chord sequence or a drum pattern or something, I know that when I pass that to Tove, she's going to deliver something incredible back that I haven't even been able to imagine yet. That's where the energy comes from for me, it's this kind of back-and-forth of excitement in the process. And it's just honestly so much fun making music together. I can't say that I've had such a natural studio chemistry with many people before.

What do you admire most about the other's artistry, music and approach to music-making?

Tove Lo: With Sam, I'm always very impressed with how — I think I've said this to you probably 100 times — you can make it feel like there's the energy of something new, but it still has nostalgia in it. I don't know if it's the samples you're using or you're just inspired by certain tracks, but it gives me a feeling of, "Oh, I remember this, but I haven't heard it before," which is what everyone is trying to do, but it's really hard to. And you just live and breathe music. It goes into performing and DJing too, where you'll DJ for seven hours. You just love music and you know the history. It really gives me a lot of inspiration.

SG Lewis: I'm very flattered. Tove is an expert song crafter and creator of pop music, but to me, she has something that no other writer of pop music has. She is able to speak about things with a freedom of expression in her songs. She'll say things that other artists wouldn't dare to say, out of the rules of society. I think it's why she is such a queer icon and her music is so embraced in the queer community, because she harnesses this freedom of expression in her writing that is so raw. It gives her pop music an edge that no other artist on the planet has for me.

Tove Lo: Sam, that's so nice. Can I get this recording [to listen to] when I'm having a bad day?

Can you speak to your love of crafting gay club friendly dance pop bangers, and how you harnessed that specific energy — like you said, the sweaty, free, hedonistic club space — on HEAT?

Tove Lo: Sam and I share a lot of fans in the queer community, and they basically demanded that we make more music together. So we're like, "Well, this is going to be for you then." So this is a celebration of our queer fans, and also a thank you for the support that we've both had from the community. And I'm obviously part of the community myself, being a queer woman, but Sam, you're like a guest in the community. 

Also, you have to remember, the queer community will choose you. It's not something you can barge your way into. If your music resonates, you're in and the support is always there. My most loyal fans are part of that community. And there's a similar love for that kind of music that you can let go and be yourself; it's a safe space to just really live out your true self in whatever way that may be.

SG Lewis: As Tove mentioned, I've been so fortunate to be a guest in these spaces and to receive so much love from the queer community. I'm a nerd about music, and I study the history and who's making what, and I love that about the queer fans that I have; they're reading the notes on who produced what records and who wrote this and the collaborations. There's a level of obsession with pop music that we both share.

What does having the support of the queer community mean to you as artists?

Tove Lo: For me, it feels like there's a mutual love and respect. When I do my own tours, a huge part of my crowd is queer and I feel like I can fully be myself and really feel free and comfortable in my own skin and body and to express myself the way I want. I feel like they always have my back and I always have their backs. Also, all the cool s*** starts in the queer community. They're paving the way for a lot of artists and creators. They're the ones discovering everything first.

SG Lewis: Speaking to queer friends of mine and artists that I work with, anyone in that space has had to fight to express who they are, and there's an element of bravery in even being who they are and the expression of themselves. As a result, the thing that I feel so lucky to get to witness is that freedom of expression in the queer community that is so, so powerful. That's why these spaces and these parties have such an incredible, amazing energy; everyone in that space has acquired this ability to express themselves in a way that you don't see elsewhere. To have the support of that community on a musical level is a massive privilege — to have music that is celebrated in those spaces where that extreme expression and joy and euphoria is happening is really a dream.

I want to know the story of how you two met, because in one of the press releases, I think it said it was on the dance floor.

Tove Lo: Yeah, it was, but Sam was at my house before we met. I think I was out of town, but my boyfriend and my roommates had a party or something. And Sam's like, "Where am I? Why is there a bunch of Tove Lo art on the walls?"

SG Lewis: I was at a Phoebe Bridgers concert and I was standing next to this tall, lovely Kiwi man named Charlie. We were just shooting the s*** and I was like, "This guy's the best dude ever." I ended up at their place for an after-party. I was like, "Why is there so much Tove Lo memorabilia on the wall?" He was like, "I think you're working with my wife next week."

Tove Lo: That says a lot about me, having a bunch of my own sh-t on the walls. [Laughs.]

During the pandemic, I put up every concert photo I have of all the crowds, because I didn't think anything was going to come back. So, my walls are full of shots of me from behind me with a huge crowd. Maybe this is a little narcissistic. I might need to take it down.

SG Lewis: But it's also lots of photos of your friends. It's a celebration of your life, not a shrine to yourself.

Tove Lo: I can't remember the full order, if we then just met in the studio, but we have spent a lot of time on the dance floor together.

SG Lewis: We've had some crazy times, and I have a feeling this EP is going to lead to plenty more.

Talk to me about your CLUB HEAT [parties], because I know you've had one or two and there's more coming.

Tove Lo: We did one in London when we also did the video shoot, which was a crazy day, so much fun.

SG Lewis: Our second one is on Thursday night in L.A.

Tove Lo: The first one was so fun. It was just exactly what I hoped for: completely packed, sweaty, us [DJing] back-to-back, and me not being able to help myself and getting on the mic and singing way too often, because I love the stage. It feels exactly how the EP feels — sweaty, fun, club. I'm trying to think of the perfect word, but it's just all those words. 

SG Lewis: The format of the CLUB HEAT parties is a back-to-back DJ set with a performance element from Tove. I think it gives this really amazing, unique, chaotic party energy. Those moments where she performs really elevates the energy in the room. It's honestly utter chaos in the best way possible. There was literally sweat coming off the ceiling in the London one.

Are you planning on doing more?

Tove Lo: They're gonna be [announced] last minute. There's not going to be planning far out, but we're going to be doing more. 

SG Lewis: I think there's a kind of pop-up element to them. As the nature of the party being chaotic, I think the planning of them is also quite chaotic. I think that it'd be criminal not to do this in New York, which feels like the epicenter of chaotic, sweaty parties.

What was it like working with [producer and DJ] Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs [TEED] on the EP, who did some of the co-production? How did he help bring it all together or bring out different things in the music?

SG Lewis: Orlando [Higginbottom, aka TEED] is not only one of my closest friends, he's very much a mentor of mine. He's taught me so much about production. He is one of my favorite artists and producers, and as much as he gets very sheepish when I tell him that, we're constantly playing each other's music.

While the EP came together from Tove and I in the room together, he was the outside voice who was able to take those songs from 90 to 100 percent, whether it's a synth line on "Heat" or "Busy Girl" was both of us producing together. That was a beat that we started outside of the room that I then played to Tove, and she absolutely killed it on.

I have to ask about the new song with Nelly Furtado, "Love Bites." How did that come together? What was it like working with her and having the three of you in the studio together?

SG Lewis: I was put in contact with Nelly because there was word that she was working on new music. Before I know it, I'm texting with Nelly Furtado, and I was like, "What's going on? This is insane." It was immediately apparent that she was extremely friendly and cool.

Tove Lo: She's way too chill. I'm like, you can be so much more of a diva.

SG Lewis: She was like, "Oh, send me some beats." As a producer, you hear this all the time. You send 10 beats and you never hear anything ever again. I sent this pack of beats. I go to bed and I wake up the next day, and she's written a full song on one of the beats and sends me the vocals.

Fast-forward six months, we'd worked on a couple of things, but none of them had really hit the bullseye yet. I reworked one of the things we were working on, reproduced the beat, and ended up with this idea I was really excited about, but it didn't have a chorus. I was going to ask Nelly if I could send it to Tove. Before I had the opportunity to discuss this with Nelly, I sent the idea without the chorus. And Nelly was like, oh, "Could you send this to Tove Lo to potentially write a chorus on it?"

Tove Lo: I dropped my phone, it's still cracked from it. I was like, "Are you kidding?" And [I thought the] beat was so sick. And her voice and the "ey ey," it's just like Nelly! Sam and I went in the studio and wrote the chorus together and sent it to her. And she's like, "I love this. Can we please get in the studio and finish it together?" We had a late session at 7 p.m. I think she's a night owl. I [was excited to] find someone who wants to work night hours with me. The three of us worked all night; recorded it, tweaked it, finished stuff. She's so lovely. She's got such a distinct voice. I was a little bit star-struck when she got on the mic.

SG Lewis: Her voice is so distinctive and iconic. She has the superstar tone where you know it's her immediately. It's really surreal as a producer to get to work with vocals like that from two iconic pop stars on one song.

How long was the period of time from when she asked you to send beats to y'all getting in the studio together?

SG Lewis: It was about six to nine months total. Everyone's sort of all over the world, so it was really cool for it to all come together in this moment, in the studio, in-person, together.

I love that Nelly's embracing a different sound and really daring to try different stuff, because it'd be so easy for her to try and replicate her past successes. But she's just too badass for that.

How Rising Dance Star Dom Dolla Remixed The Gorillaz & Brought Nelly Furtado Back To The Dance Floor

Hector "Roots" Lewis, Romain Virgo, Iotosh, Lila Iké, Samory I and Tarrus Riley in collage
(From left) Hector "Roots" Lewis, Romain Virgo, Iotosh, Lila Iké, Samory I, Tarrus Riley

Photos: Courtesy of the artist; Johnny Louis/Getty Images; Courtesy of the artist; Yannick Reid; Horace Freeman; Courtesy of the artist

list

10 Artists Shaping Contemporary Reggae: Samory I, Lila Iké, Iotosh & Others

In honor of Caribbean American Heritage Month, meet 10 artists who are shaping the sound of contemporary reggae. From veterans who are hitting great strides, to promising newcomers, these acts showcase reggae's wide appeal.

GRAMMYs/Jun 19, 2024 - 01:51 pm

The result of audacious experimentation by studio musicians and producers, reggae originated  in Jamaica circa 1968 in Kingston, Jamaica. Along with its various subgenres of lovers rock, roots, dub and dancehall, reggae has influenced many music forms and found adoring audiences all over the world.

An authentic expression of the singers and musicians’ surroundings and experiences, reggae evolved from its 1960s forerunners, ska and rocksteady, shaped by contemporary influences such as American jazz and R&B, and mento, Jamaican folk music. Likewise, today’s reggae music makers draw from genres such as hip-hop (especially its trap strain) to create a generationally distinctive sound that still remains tethered to Jamaica's musical history.  

In the 2020s, the Best Reggae Album GRAMMY winners reflect the diverse musical palette that comprises contemporary reggae. EDM influences and reggaeton (a genre built upon digitized dancehall reggae riddims) remixes dominate the 2024 winner Julian Marley and Antaeus' Colors of Royal. The award’s 2023 recipient — Kabaka Pyramid's The Kalling, produced by Damian and Stephen Marley — intertwines traditional roots reggae with Kabaka’s love of hip-hop. The late, great Toots Hibbert was posthumously awarded the 2021 GRAMMY for Time Tough, a hard rocking, R&B influenced gem that captured Toots’ soulful exuberance. In 2020 Koffee became the youngest and first female awardee in the category for Rapture, which features the most experimental soundscapes among this decade’s winners. Ironically, the most traditional approach to reggae is heard on American reggae band SOJA’s 2022 winner, Beauty in the Silence.

Read more: Lighters Up! 10 Essential Reggae Hip-Hop Fusions

In honor of Caribbean American Heritage Month, which was officially designated by a Presidential proclamation in June 2006, here are 10 Jamaican artists who are shaping contemporary reggae. Some are veterans who are currently hitting the greatest strides of their professional lives, others are newcomers at the threshold of extremely promising careers. All are committed to their craft and upholding reggae, even if their music ocassionally sounds unlike the reggae of a generation ago.

Kumar Bent (and the Original Fyah)

In the mid 2010s, Jamaican band Raging Fyah had a significant impact on the American reggae circuit, with their burnished, inspirational roots reggae brand as heard on such songs as "Nah Look Back" and "Judgement Day." They toured the U.S. with American reggae outfits including Stick Figure, Iration and Tribal Seeds, and supported Ali Campbell’s version of UB40 in the UK. Raging Fyah’s album Everlasting was nominated for a 2017 Best Reggae Album GRAMMY.

The following year, charismatic lead singer and principal songwriter Kumar Bent (along with guitarist Courtland "Gizmo" White, who passed away in 2023) left due to differences with their bandmates.

In 2023 Kumar teamed up with Raging Fyah alumni, drummer Anthony Watson, keyboardist Demar Gayle and backing vocalist/engineer Mahlon Moving to create The Original Fyah. In February they performed at the band’s annual Wickie Wackie festival in Jamaica and they’ve recorded an album due for upcoming release (Demar has since moved on to other projects.)

Kumar, 35, a classically trained pianist, has recorded two solo albums, including Tales of Reality with Swiss studio band 18th Parallel; they’ll tour Europe together in October. Kumar’s acoustic guitar sets have opened several dates for stalwart Jamaican band Third World this year.

Each of his musical endeavors are focused on bolstering Jamaica’s signature rhythm.

"Reggae from the 1970s and ‘80s was special because Jamaican artists made the songs exactly how they felt, and found an audience with the sounds they created," Kumar tells GRAMMY.com. "If we (Jamaicans) keep making R&B, hip-hop sounding music, we are giving away what we have for something else that we are not as good at."

Lila Iké

Lila Iké's multifarious influences run deep. "I am a Jamaican artist who is influenced by different music and you’re going to hear that coming through," she said in a June 2020 interview with The Daily Beast, following the release of her debut EP The ExPerience

While Jamaican music expanded beyond what Iké called "the purist reggae vibe," she told The Daily Beast that "it’s important to maintain the music’s indigenousness. I incorporate that into the rhythms I use and my singing style because I want young people to know, this music doesn’t start where you hear it, it has transcended many years and changes." 

Born Alecia Grey, she chose the name Lila, which means blooming flower, and Iké, a Yoruba word meaning the Power of God. Her vocals are a singular, mesmerizing blend of smoky, soulful expressions with a laid back yet poignant rendering. Lila’s effortless versatility is rooted in her upbringing in the rural community of Christiana. Her mother listened to a wide range of music, R&B, jazz, soul, country and reggae, with Lila, her mom and sisters singing along to all of it. 

Lila moved to Kingston to pursue her musical ambitions; she performed on open mic nights and posted her songs on social media. Protoje reached out to her via Twitter with an invitation to record. From that initial meeting, Protoje has managed and mentored her career. Through his label In.Digg,Nation Collective’s deal with RCA Records, Lila will release her debut album later this year; Protoje also produced the album’s first single, the reggae/R&B slow jam duet "He Loves Us Both" featuring H.E.R.

Hezron

A passionate singer whose vocals marry the grit of Otis Redding with the cool of Marvin Gaye, singer/songwriter and musician Hezron has yet to achieve the widespread impact his talents merit, although he's been planting seeds since 2010. That year, his single "So In Love" was the first of Hezron's substantial musical fruits and exceptional catalog.

On his 2022 self-produced, remarkable album Man on a Mission, Hezron explores a range of Jamaican music and history. On the rousing ska track "Plant A Seed," Hezron's guttural, gospel inflected delivery is reminiscent of Toots Hibbert as he warns his critics, "You think you bury me and done but you only planted a seed." The album also features a scorching R&B jam "Tik Tok I’m Coming"; an acoustic, mystical acknowledgement of Rastafari, "Walk In Love and Light"; and a stirring plea to "Save The Children." The album’s title track is a spirited reggae anthem offering support to anyone in pursuit of their goals while underscoring Hezron’s own purpose.

"Man on a Mission is about my personal journey, the obstacles I’ve had to overcome in the music business and beyond. I’m telling myself, telling the world, this man is on a mission to restore Jamaican music to a prominent place internationally," Hezron tells GRAMMY.com. 

In November 2023 Hezron embarked on a global mission: a two-month tour of Ghana, followed, this year, by summer shows in Canada and the U.S. before returning to Africa, with dates in Ivory Coast, Kenya, and South Africa.

Iotosh

A self-taught multi-instrumentalist, songwriter and vocalist, Iotosh (born Iotosh Poyser) made his name as a producer who can seamlessly blend disparate influences into progressive reggae soundscapes. He’s produced singles for several marquee acts who emerged from Jamaica’s reggae revival movement of the previous decade including Koffee’s "West Indies," the title track on Jah9’s Note to Self featuring Chronixx, and Jesse Royal’s "Rich Forever", featuring Vybz Kartel. He also produced five of the 10 tracks on Protoje’s GRAMMY-nominated album Third Time’s The Charm.

Iotosh’s parents (Canadian music TV journalist Michele Geister and Jamaican singer/songwriter/producer Ragnam Poyser) came from different musical worlds, so he heard a multiplicity of genres growing up, including hip-hop, rock, funk, soul, reggae and R&B. Iotosh wanted to replicate all of those sounds when he started making music, which led to his genre blurring approach. 

As an artist, his 2023 breakout single the meditative "Fill My Cup" (featuring Protoje on the remix) was followed this year by "Bad News," which explores grief that follows losing a loved one, both on one-drop reggae rhythms. He describes his debut eight-track EP, due in September, as "a mix of traditional reggae and elements of contemporary music, pop, hip-hop and R&B." 

"In my productions, I try to have some identifiable Jamaican aspects, usually the bassline, which I play live," Iotosh tells GRAMMY.com. "Reggae is based on a universal message, it’s peace and love but contextually it comes from a place of enlightening people about forces of oppression. If that message is in the music, it’s still reggae, no matter what it sounds like." 

Iotosh will make his New York City debut on July 7 at Federation Sound’s 25th Anniversary show, Coney Island Amphitheater.

Read more: Meet The First-Time GRAMMY Nominee: Kabaka Pyramid On Embracing His Voice & The Bold Future Of Reggae

Mortimer

Producer Winta James first heard Mortimer while working on sing-jay Protoje’s acclaimed 2015 album Ancient Future, and decided he was the right singer to provide the evocative hook on the opening track, "Protection." About a year after they recorded the song, Mortimer became the first artist Winta signed to his company Overstand Entertainment.

In 2019 Mortimer (born Mortimer McPherson) released his impressive EP, Fight the Fight;  single "Lightning," was especially noteworthy for its roots-meets-lovers rock sound anchored in a heavy bass and delicately embellished with a steel guitar. Mortimer’s sublime high register vocals express a refreshingly vulnerable perspective: "Girl, my love grows stronger each day, baby please don't hurt me just because you know I'll forgive." 

"The songs that get me the most are coming from a place deep within," Mortimer told me in a January 2020 interview. "I started out writing what I thought was expected of me as a Rasta, militant, social commentaries, but it was missing something. Before I am a Rastaman, I am a human being, so I dig deep, expressing my feelings simply, truthfully."

Mortimer’s debut album is due in September and his latest single, "Not A Day Goes By," addresses his struggles with depression: "I’ve given up 1000 times, I’ve even tried to take my own life," he sings in a haunting tone. Mental health struggles remain a taboo topic in reggae and popular music overall; Mortimer’s raw, confessional lyrics demonstrate his courageousness as an artist, and that bravery will hopefully inspire others going through similar struggles to speak out and get the help they need.

Hector "Roots" Lewis

Earlier this year, Hector "Roots" Lewis made his acting debut in the biopic Bob Marley: One Love, earning enthusiastic reviews for his portrayal of the late Carlton "Carly" Barrett, the longstanding, influential drummer with Bob Marley and The Wailers.  Formerly the percussionist and backing vocalist with Chronixx’s band Zinc Fence Redemption, Hector is blazing his own trail as a vocalist, songwriter and musician. 

The son of the late Jamaican lover’s rock and gospel singer Barbara Jones, Hector’s profound love for music began as a child. In 2021, Chronixx launched his Soul Circle Music label with Hector’s single "Ups and Downs," an energetic funky romp that’s a testament to music’s healing powers.  The song’s lyric "never disrespect cuz mama set a foundation" directly references Hector’s mother as the primary motivating force for his musical pursuits. 

In 2022 Hector toured the U.S. as the lead singer with California reggae band Tribal Seeds (when lead singer Steven Jacobo took a hiatus) taking his dynamic instrumental and vocal abilities to a wider audience. The same year, Hector released his five-track debut EP, D’Rootsman, which includes regal, soulful reggae ("King Said"), 1990s dancehall flavor ("Nuh Betta Than Yard") and R&B accented jams "Good Connection." 

Co-produced with Johnny Cosmic, Hector’s latest single "Possibility" boasts an irresistible bass heavy reggae groove. On his Instagram page, Hector dedicates "Possibility" to people who are facing the terrors of "warfare, colonialism, depression and oppression," urging them to "believe in the "Possibility" that they can be free from that suffering." 

Read more: 7 Things We Learned Watching 'Bob Marley: One Love' 

Hempress Sativa

The daughter of Albert "Ilawi Malawi" Johnson, musician and legendary selector with Jah Love sound system, Hempress Sativa was raised in a Rastafarian household where music played an essential role in their lives. Performing since her early teens, she developed an impressive lyrical prowess and an exceptional vocal flow, effortlessly switching between singing and deejaying. 

Consistently bringing a positive Rasta woman vibration to each track she touches, Hempress Sativa’s most recent album Chakra is a sophisticated mix of reggae rhythms, Afrobeats ("Take Me Home," featuring Kelissa), neo-soul ("The Best") and cavernous echo and reverb dub effects ("Sound the Trumpet"), a call to action for spiritual warriors. On "Top Rank Queens" Hempress Sativa trades verses with veterans Sister Nancy and Sister Carol, each celebrating their deeply held values and formidable mic skills as Rastafari female deejays. 

Hempress Sativa is featured in the documentary Bam Bam The Sister Nancy Story, (which premiered at the Tribeca Festival on June 7) recounting the legendary toaster’s influence on her own artistry. Speaking specifically about Sister Carol, Hempress tells GRAMMY.com, "She is my mentor and to see her, as a Rastafari woman from back in the 1970s, maintain her standards and principles, gives me the confidence moving forward that I, too, can find a space within this industry where I can wholeheartedly be myself."

Learn more: The Women Essential To Reggae And Dancehall

Tarrus Riley

One of the most popular reggae songs of the 2000s was Tarrus Riley’s dulcet lover’s rock tribute to women "She’s Royal." Released in 2006 and included on his acclaimed album Parables, "She’s Royal" catapulted Tarrus to reggae stardom; the song’s video has surpassed 114 million YouTube views.

Tarrus has maintained a steady output of hit singles, while his live performances with the Blak Soil Band, led by saxophonist Dean Fraser, have established a gold standard for live reggae in this generation. Tarrus’s expressive, dynamic tenor is adaptable to numerous styles, from the stunning soft rocker "Jah Will", to the thunderous percussion driven celebration of African identity, "Shaka Zulu Pickney" and the EDM power ballad "Powerful," a U.S. certified gold single produced by Major Lazer, featuring Ellie Goulding

His 2014 album Love Situation offered a gorgeous tribute to Jamaica’s rocksteady era (during which time his father, the late Jimmy Riley, started out as a singer in the harmony group the Sensations). Tarrus’s most recent album 2020’s Healing, includes meditative reggae ("Family Tree"), trap dancehall with Teejay referencing racial and political sparring on "Babylon Warfare," and the pop dancehall flavored hit "Lighter" featuring Shenseea (the song’s video has surpassed 102 million views). 

Healing’s title track ponders what the new normal will be like, "without a simple hug, so tight and warm and snug/what will this new life be like, without a simple kiss, Jah knows I'd hate to miss."

Recorded and released at the height of the pandemic, Healing is deserving much greater recognition for its luminous production (by Tarrus, Dean Fraser and Shane Brown) brilliant musicianship, nuanced songwriting and forthright expression of the myriad, conflicting emotions many underwent during the lockdowns.

Samory I

Samory I is among the most compelling Jamaican voices of this generation, whose mesmeric tone is both a guttural cry and a clarion call to collective mobilization. Born Samory Tour Frazer (after Samory Touré, who resisted French colonial rule in 19th century west Africa), Samory I released his critically acclaimed debut album, Black Gold, in 2017.  

His latest release Strength is produced by Winta James, and was the only reggae title included on Rolling Stone’s Best 100 albums of 2023. The modern roots reggae masterpiece features the affirming "Crown," on which Samory commands, "I stand my ground, I will not crumble/I keep my crown here in this jungle."  Mortimer is featured on "History of Violence," which details the generational trauma that plagues ghetto residents over a classic soul-reggae riddim. "Blood in the Streets" is a blistering roots reggae anthem, an anguished exploration of the conditions that have led to the violence: "Shame to say the system that should be protecting Is still the reason we suffer/The perpetrators blame the victims, do they even listen? Can they hear us from the gutter?" 

Despite the societal and personal suffering that’s conveyed ("My Son" bemoans the death of Samory’s firstborn), Samory I offers "Jah Love" urging the wronged and the wrongdoers to ‘Show no hate, hold no grudge, seek Jah love," It’s an inspirational conclusion to Strength, rooted in Rastafari’s deeply meshed mysticism and militancy.

Romain Virgo

There’s a scene in the video for Romain Virgo’s 2024 hit "Been there Before" where he sits alone in an  empty room cradling a gold object with three shooting stars; those familiar Romain’s career beginnings will recognize it as the trophy the then 17-year-old won in the Jamaica’s talent contest Digicel Rising Stars, in 2007. "Been There Before" is a compelling sketch of Romain’s life’s struggles, yearning for something better, as set to a throbbing bassline: "To be someone was my heart’s desire/so me never stop send up prayer," he sings in a melancholy, quavering tone.

Growing up poor in St. Ann, Jamaica, the trophy represents the contest victory that changed Romain’s life. One of the Rising Star prizes was a recording contract with Greensleeves/VP Records. On March 1, Romain released his fourth album for VP The Gentleman, one of 2024’s finest reggae releases, evidencing Romain’s increasing sophistication as a writer and nuanced vocalist.

Throughout his career Romain has vacillated between romantic lover’s rock stylings ("Stars Across The Sky"), reggae covers of pop hits (Sam Smith’s "Stay With Me") that are so good, you’ll likely forget the originals, and organic, tightly knitted collabs including the aforementioned "Been There Before" featuring Masicka, all of which has created Romain’s large, loyal fan base and a hectic international performance schedule.

Yet, Romain’s greatest success might be maintaining the wholesome, humble personality that captivated Jamaican audiences when he won Rising Stars 17 years ago. "People have seen me grow in front of their eyes," Romain tells GRAMMY.com. "I enjoy singing positive music, knowing my songs won’t negatively impact kids. Being a husband and father now comes with much more responsibility in holding on to those values, it feels like a transition from a gentle boy into a gentleman." 

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