meta-script10 Jazz Artists Blending And Expanding The Sounds Of Latin America: Miguel Zenón, Roxana Amed, Gonzalo Rubalcaba & Others | GRAMMY.com
10 Jazz Artists Blending And Expanding The Sounds Of Latin America: Miguel Zenón, Roxana Amed, Gonzalo Rubalcaba & Others
(L-R) Lauren Henderson, Arturo O’Farrill, Claudia Acuña, Gonzalo Rubalcaba, Luciana Souza, Magos Herrera, Leo Genovese, Miguel Zenón, Roxana Amed, Camila Meza

Photos (L-R): Matt Baker, Jen Rosenstein, Hollis King, Pachy Lopez, Kim Fox, Shervin Lainez, courtesy of the artist, Herminio, Claudio Napolitano, Christopher Drukker

list

10 Jazz Artists Blending And Expanding The Sounds Of Latin America: Miguel Zenón, Roxana Amed, Gonzalo Rubalcaba & Others

“Latin jazz” is not — and will never be — a single, easily-defined entity. “I think it's still constantly unfolding,” one visionary artist says. “I think we are still looking into the question of who we really are.”

GRAMMYs/Oct 17, 2022 - 04:55 pm

If you're interested in investigating Latin jazz, two issues materialize from the phrase itself: both "Latin" and "jazz" can be interpreted as wildly freighted, reductive words.

"Jazz" is worth examining at the outset: many of its chief architects hated the word. Historically, it has connotations in the ballpark of sexual, low-down, dirty; saxophonist Gary Bartz considers it tantamount to a racial slur. That's where the alternative descriptors come in — like "modern music"; "creative music"; and "Black American Music," or "BAM."

Then there's "Latin," which refers to "Latin American"; that blanket of a word is generally understood to cover the entire South American continent in addition to Mexico, Central America, and the islands of the Caribbean whose populace speaks a Romance language.

It's human nature to categorize, to designate, to compartmentalize. But when "Latin jazz" becomes a genre tag, a marketing term, a music-industry silo, that's arguably when problems begin — first and foremost among the musicians thought by many to belong to that sphere.

Not all of them, of course. Some "Latin jazz" artists are generally fine with the genre tag, or consider it a necessary evil. Others prefer "Latinx" or "Ibero American" — the former, an inclusive neologism; the latter, an attempt to amalgamate countries and territories where Spanish and Portuguese are predominantly spoken.

But others — including some of the 10 musicians interviewed for this article — have concerns about it.

"I feel like it's the pure definition of a business to put people in categories," says Claudia Acuña, a vocalist, songwriter and arranger from Chile. "It's a very, very vast umbrella," notes Magos Herrera, a singer/songwriter and producer from Mexico. "The term 'Latin' never really feels comfortable for us," vocalist and composer Roxana Amed states, speaking to her Argentinian background.

Others push back a little harder.

"I don't really feel like that term represents me or my friends," says Leo Genovese, a pianist and composer hailing from Argentina. "I consider myself a jazz musician who happens to be from Latin America," clarifies Miguel Zenón, an alto saxophonist and composer born and raised in Puerto Rico. "Latin jazz is a way for the jazz industry to deal with those of us that have Hispanic surnames," declares Arturo O'Farrill, a Mexican, Cuban and Irish composer, pianist and educator.

Cuban pianist and composer Gonzalo Rubalcaba cites an album with vocalist Aymée Regla Nuviola, which was nominated for Best Latin Jazz Album at the 2023 GRAMMYs. While Rubalcaba heavily deals in Afro-Cuban influences on other records, "I don't see [it] as an Afro-Cuban album at all," he says.

Yet others consider the "Latin jazz" designation to be anywhere between a benign business reality, a point of debate and a positive challenge.

"[As] Argentinians, we never felt comfortable saying that we were Latin," Amed says. "It was almost weird to call myself a Latin jazz artist, because of that conception that the world had of Latin music," adds Camila Meza, a vocalist, guitarist and composer from Chile, noting the term's gradual reduction into Afro-Cuban and Brazilian rhythms.

"I'd rather not sit in any definition," says singer-songwriter Magos Herrera, "because [with] every single album that I record, I just push boundaries all the time."

Herrera's comment captures the reality of so many artists nominally within the "Latin jazz" world: They're far less interested in conforming to preconceived notions than expanding, blending, and furthering the sounds of Latin America — all with a jazzy approach.

Here are 10 artists who embody that spirit of transcending and often exploding the easy designation of "Latin jazz" — all with deep-rooted respect for their various heritages and the multiplicity of idioms in each.

LeoGenovese

*Leo Genovese performing in 2014. Photo: Andy Sheppard/Redferns via Getty Images*

Leo Genovese

Born and raised in Argentina, pianist and composer Genovese may be most visible right now as the touring keyboardist for reunited progressive rockers the Mars Volta. But it behooves anyone who catches that show to plumb Genovese's miles-deep back catalog. 

Since his early classical tutelage and graduation as a Progressive Music Major at Berklee College of Music in 2003, he's played with everyone from Esperanza Spalding to Wayne Shorter to Jack DeJohnette, and released a sizable handful of inspired albums as a leader or co-leader.

The New York Times once called Genovese a "polyglot," and that tracks when you ask him about the musicians who galvanize him — past and present. The answer is: everyone he encounters in his artistic journeys — even if he doesn't connect with their work.

"I love to listen and I love to see what people are into and what people are doing. And I think that all of that influences you, [whether] you want it or not," Genovese tells GRAMMY.com. "[At times], I'm like, "That gets me thinking, and gets me rolling, and gets me going, and gets my machine oily." (Lately, that's applied to sets he caught by saxophonist Kenny Garrett, Mexican heavy metal band Molotov, and Argentinian rapper Trueno.)

"I think I became more interested in the music that blew [or, had improvisational qualities] and that represents either Argentina, Uruguay, Chile, Bolivia, or Paraguay," Genovese says, as opposed to just the music of his home country. "You name it — any of the nations."

When asked what recent project of his interweaves Latin American influences in an especially unique way, Genovese points to Ritual, his 2022 album with bassist Demian Cabaud, drummer Jeff Williams, and on four tracks, vocalist Nadia Larcher — who hails from Catamarca in northwestern Argentina.

"There is some Argentinian folkloric DNA element in there," Genovese says. And that entails influences from all over — ones listeners might not immediately think of, but that harmonize with sociocultural and anthropological history.

"Cousins and sisters and far-away relatives of this music were merging in different parts of the continent with the mixture of African people, Indigenous people, and European people," Genovese explains. "All of this is something that's still giving fruit — and it's kind of new in the history of the whole universe, in a way. 

"I think it's still constantly unfolding," he adds. "I think we are still looking into the question of who we really are."

LucianaSouza

*Luciana Souza. Photo: Kim Fox*

Luciana Souza

Born in São Paulo to bossa-nova musician parents, the dynamic singer/songwriter Souza has been around long enough to remember the days of Tower Records — and where they slotted her releases.

"I was Latin jazz, or Brazilian; it was just so it was easier," she tells GRAMMY.com. "I never found it stifling. I just thought, 'OK, you call it that.' And then within that, I'll just keep pushing the boundaries."

Souza doesn't try to hedge or obfuscate her Brazilian heritage; it permeates virtually everything she does. (She still cites
Antônio Carlos Jobim as "the most important musician in my life.) From there, what makes her work porous, pliant and mutable is that she fused Brazilian musics with jazz.

"What I love about the word 'jazz' is that it opens everything. Jazz can be anything, right?" Souza says. "It can be hip-hop; it can be soul; it can be funk; it can be Brazilian; it can be Latin." 

Long ago, she made the decision to not feel put-upon by the "Latin jazz" label: "It doesn't advance the cause of anything. What's important about the title for me is the 'jazz' word. The fact that somebody called me a 'jazz' anything: I'm happy about that, because jazz is the one that's breaking all the walls and boundaries."

A native Portuguese speaker who sings in Spanish, Souza has been nominated for seven GRAMMYs over the years; she won one, for Album Of The Year, at the 2008 GRAMMYs for her work on Herbie Hancock's River: The Joni Letters. (She sang Mitchell's Hejira cut "Amelia.")

For a recent example of her inclination to "push the boundaries," Souza cites 2020's
Storytellers, her collaborative album with American producer, arranger and conductor Vince Mendoza and the WDR Big Band Köln — a German ensemble.

"It's Brazilian music, but it's not being played by Brazilians," Souza explains. "The only Brazilian on the record is me, so the other folks have to translate this music."

Storytellers consists of well-known material by luminaries from Chico Pinheiro to Edu Lobo to Chico Buarque to Gilberto Gil, but Souza's unique execution and blending of perspectives makes these songs personal — reaching toward an entirely new zone.

"That's the great thing about music, is that we don't speak the same language," Souza says. "One is speaking English, one Portuguese, one German — but in the end, we all come in together."

MagosHerrera

*Magos Herrera. Photo: Shervin Lainez*

Magos Herrera


Tracing the taxonomy of "Latin jazz" in detail, through time and place and sound, would be a lifelong proposition. Magos Herrera is acutely aware of the oceanic nature of this subject, and notes how simple genre tags can fail in summarizing or encapsulating it all.**

"To find definitions is not too clever," the Mexican-born singer-songwriter and producer tells GRAMMY.com. "Let's just say that jazz these days is taking such a vast direction."

Herrera tries gamely to unpack the Latin aspect of the genre tag, and notes how it comes up short. "Are we talking about just the Caribbeans? Are we talking about the whole continent? Are we talking about the Ibero Americas, Spain, Portugal, and Latin America? My relationship with it is: no definitions."

Through all the divergent cultures and musics of Latin America, Herrera says, there's an ineffable, binding spirit. That spirit magnetizes her: although she was influenced by American vocalists like Carmen McRae, Betty Carter and Sarah Vaughan, she identifies more with singers like Elis Regina, from Brazil.

"Jazz artists are either revisiting the jazz standard repertoire — The Real Book — or they're embracing the contemporary jazz repertoire by the scene that's going on right now, or singers are adding lyrics to jazz classics, or they're taking pop songs and rearranging them into a jazz context," Herrera explains.

"For a Latin American artist, we're doing exactly the same," she adds. "But our popular music are all these incredible folk artists that wrote a very prolific songbook during the last century."

Herrera's artistry partly involves imbuing said works with jazzy approaches — like a livewire sense of interplay, fresh harmonic sophistication, and the introduction of new meters and tempi.

"It's very easy, if you're a jazz artist, to get lost in translation and just do something that surpasses the nature of the song," she explains. "So you have to be very careful and very tasteful, so you don't lose the weight of the song."

One window into Herrera's unique approach is 2018's Dreamers, her collaborative album with string quartet Brooklyn Rider. Dreamers focuses on selections from what she calls the "Ibero American songbook" — like those by João Gilberto and Gilberto Gil — as well as pieces written to texts by Octavio Paz, Rubén Darío, and Federico García Lorca.

What partly binds these poets and songwriters? According to a press bio, "they came from places that have endured brutal state violence." Herrera and company also chose jazz and classical arrangers from a Latin American background, like Jaques Morelenbaum, Gonzalo Grau and Guillermo Klein.

"The arrangements have the harmonic richness of jazz. The lines, how they're written, are a conversation all the time," Herrera says. "Sometimes I use my voice as an instrument as well; I have all these conversations going on with the quartet. But also there are these little moments when it opens up, and I'm able to improvise."

"My next album," she teases, "is going to be something like that too."

ArturoOFarrill

*Arturo O'Farrill. Photo: Jen Rosenstein*

Arturo O'Farrill

Right off the bat, O'Farrill brings up a crucial point: Latin America isn't some sort of sidestream or tributary of the jazz tradition. Rather, without its primary and essential influence, it would be unrecognizable.

"'The term 'Latin jazz' is a way to program this or that artist into this or that single slot on the festival to write this or that artist into the one chapter — or paragraph — of the book," O'Farrill, a five-time GRAMMY winner, tells GRAMMY.com.

"But in a way, Latinos — or Latinx people — have been taking part in the jazz experience since the beginning," he adds, citing the foundational 1800s pianist and composer Louis Moreau Gottschalk.

O'Farrill was born in Mexico City to musical parents — Mexican singer Lupe Valero and pioneering Cuban jazz trumpeter and composer Chico O'Farrill.

"In a way, I was very resistant to the music of my father," O'Farrill says regarding his early life, "because it was Latin and in an Anglo country, feeling ostracized and even self-deprecating."

But that connection proved foundational to O'Farrill, who was already communing with the "African conversational practice" via musical moments like Herbie Hancock's solo on "Seven Steps to Heaven."

Plus, the elder O'Farrill's close friendship with Dizzy Gillespie — who did a tremendous amount to bridge the spheres of modern jazz and Afro-Cuban music, thus helping codify Afro-Cuban jazz — set the stage for his son's life's work.

"Dizzy was also a big part of my entrance into the idea that Latinos could take part in the jazz experiment," O'Farrill explains. "Like Wynton, like Louis Armstrong, he understood that jazz was a natural Latino experience — that the music that we call jazz has also been filtered through Cuba and Columbia and Peru and Mexico."

All these traditions and more coalesce throughout his work; and O'Farrill cites 2015's "The Afro Latin Jazz Suite," which won a GRAMMY in 2016 for Best Instrumental Composition.

"I embraced festejo; I embraced mambo; I embraced djembe patterns," he says about that piece. And in general, "I have no qualms about mixing Colombian rhythms with Peruvian rhythms, with reggaeton and hip-hop.

"All of these things are fair; they're beautiful; they're fair game," O'Farrill continues, citing the 2008 book Secular Devotion and its assertion that virtually all music derives from African religious practice.

"I get to mix all these rhythms, and I don't do it in a sloppy way," he says. "I really try to be genuine about it."

CamilaMeza

*Camila Meza. Photo: Christopher Drukker*

Camila Meza

When Camila Meza first absorbed the American jazz guitar greats — ranging from George Benson to Pat Metheny to Wes Montgomery — she noticed an unexpected thread through their works.

"Several of the first guitarists I got super-interested in were actually using elements of Latin music in their compositions," the Chilean vocalist, guitarist and composer tells GRAMMY.com. "So, I got into jazz through the connection that some American musicians had with Latin music."

Tracing that thread deeper and deeper into the heart of the music, Meza began incorporating Latin American compositions into her repertoire — just as stateside musicians pull material from the Great American Songbook. Simultaneously, this material influenced her writing and arranging.

"I would pick, for instance, a rhythm — let's say an Argentinian zamba, with a z, not with s — and then kind of experiment with that rhythm as well," Meza says. "I like to take cells of these rhythms, or the general feel, and then incorporate my own voice and experiment with them."

This mixing and matching, she explains, could apply to the meter, the instrumentation, or any number of other musical components.

To hear this approach in action, check out Ambar, Meza's 2019 album with the Nectar Orchestra. Therein, Meza juxtaposes material by American artists like Elliott Smith ("Waltz #1") and David Bowie with the Pat Metheny Group ("This is Not America") with originals like "Kalifu" and "Awaken." It also contains Latin American classics, like Jobim's "Olha Maria" and Tomás Méndez's "Cucurrucucú Paloma."

In crafting their arrangements, Meza was influenced by certain string parts on Latin American albums that are "very, very intense and dramatic and lyrical." She also reharmonized some of the well-worn compositions to render them fresh, personal and forward-thinking.

"Every time I take a song from anywhere, really, it goes through that process of experimenting with its harmony, experimenting with the rhythm, and making it so that it fits the message and the spirit that I want to put into the song," Meza says.

"I have inherited all this knowledge and these sounds from the folklore of both South America and the United States," she continues, "but at the same time, I have developed a sound that I consider my own."

GonzaloRubalcaba

*Gonzalo Rubalcaba. Photo: Pachy Lopez*

Gonzalo Rubalcaba

Gonzalo Rubalcaba, an esteemed pianist and composer who hails from Cuba, stresses that his home country's music is highly distinctive in and of itself.

"We can see a lot of common things between Cuba and many of the islands around. But at the same time, we see a huge contrast in many different aspects," the three-time GRAMMY winner tells GRAMMY.com. "[Historically], Cuba has been really, really well-defined in the way that musicians there produce the music."

This unmistakable tradition is inseparable from much of Rubalcaba's work — like 2015's Suite Caminos, which earned a GRAMMY nomination for Best Latin Jazz Album. "I went directly to the Afro-Cuban roots in terms of the rhythm, chantings, melodies, and history behind that music," he says.

But then there are Rubalcaba offerings where he "injects himself" a little more — like 2011's XXI Century.

"Even when we can definitely find some aspect of Afro-Cuban music on this record, this is not an Afro-Cuban recording because it is not the main subject," he says. "I'm trying to do something totally different… this record is not coming directly from Afro-Cuban [tradition] in its totality."

Whether or not he hews closely to said vocabulary, Rubalcaba's works wind up consistently personal. This is partly due to how he conceptualizes each work, which runs counter to many of his fellow composers.

"I don't feel able to put a name on top of [my works at the outset], because I'm not thinking about that when I make music or compose my music," Rubalcaba says. "I'm not saying that this is good or bad, [but] I'm not working like that. At the end, I see the whole picture and then I can realize what the record is about."

Each resulting record could reveal any combination of the influences in his wheelhouse, but one through-line is certain: like every artist on this list, regardless of deeply into the past he reaches, Rubalcaba's works represent something new forward-thinking because he made them.

LaurenHenderson

*Lauren Henderson. Photo: Matt Baker*

Lauren Henderson

An American-born singer-songwriter deeply informed by her Afro-Latinx heritage, Henderson experienced dissonance growing up in the decidedly non-diverse town of Marblehead, Massachusetts.

"It wasn't diverse socioeconomically, either. There were people who were very fortunate and had certain privileges that many other people around the world do not," Henderson explains to GRAMMY.com. "I think you have to do a lot of work in all social situations and all types of relationships that you have." She adds that she didn't feel "completely accepted or enough of this or enough of that — Black enough, Latinx enough, what have you."

Henderson, whose family can be found all over Panama and the Caribbean, identifies as a Black American and Afro-Latina. She also personally embraces the term "Latinx," citing it as a counterweight to "the lack of representation in a lot of the entertainment industry, historically — especially for artists who look like me, or who will be recognized for their contribution to Latinx music."

"Bending and being open to flexibility" is crucial to her artistry, Henderson says: "I'm always open to the fact that my image, my self, sense of self, my identity, and all of these things grow with my personal view on my voice in this community and in this music."

In Marblehead, Henderson became more and more curious about her background and identity. Traveling fueled that urge toward self-exploration: "I would come across different people, and they would see different things in [me], or ask me different questions about my background. I didn't have the answer to some of these things, so I delved deeper. It happened to coincide a lot with my passion for music and languages emerging and bubbling."

This came to a head on 2021's Musa, which features first-call accompanists in pianist Sullivan Fortner, bassist Eric Wheeler, and drummer Joe Dyson, and braids jazz, R&B, soul, and flamenco. "I felt like I've been melding these things and then paying homage to all of the influences that I've had that have helped shape me," Henderson says, pointing aheads to future works that deepen this communion with her background.

"I'm excited to learn more about my heritage all across the world," she adds. "Music has been a vehicle to do that."

ClaudiaAcuna

*Claudia Acuña. Photo: Hollis King*

Claudia Acuña

Growing up under the authoritarian military dictatorship in Chile, vocalist, songwriter and arranger Claudia Acuña had a friend help set up an antenna to other countries. This way, she heard Frank Sinatra, AC/DC, and the Jackson 5 — along with tangos, folk music, and cumbias.

This planted the seed in Acuña's mind that music didn't have to be one thing — and jazz, which she heard in the musicals she watched with her mother, was the prime vehicle for evading easy designations.

"[More than] any other music, it gave me those wings," Acuña tells GRAMMY.com. "Not having access to things like music school or being in a band, you start creating these things in your head and singing on your own and creating this sort of language and voice, learning from records and whatever I could get my hands, or ears, on."

As Acuña continued to develop, she established herself in the Santiago jazz scene; upon arriving in New York City in 1995, Acuña rapidly established herself there, with the legendary West Village club Smalls as a hub of creativity and activity.

Within the NYC scene, Acuña went on to collaborate with everyone from O'Farrill to trumpeter Avishai Cohen to the late pianist Harry Whitaker. And in recent times, she's worked with leading lights like pianists Fred Hersch and Kenny Barron, and bassist Christian McBride.

Acuña's catalog as a leader, ranging from 2002's Rhythm of Life to 2009's En Este Momento, is imbued with an exploratory spirit, whether giving Great American Songbook standards a South American spin or expanding upon the Afro-Caribbean rhythmic toolbox.

Lately, Acuña's been in a place of gratitude and joy, reveling in the "unapologetic" freedom she's afforded herself in this artistic space. "When you're doing the music that you love, it's like being in a lavender bubble," Acuña says. "It's an amazing tool and opportunity to document a moment that is going to live beyond my own life."

MiguelZenon

*Miguel Zenón. Photo: Herminio*

Miguel Zenón

The cerebral, fiery and lyrical alto saxophonist and composer Miguel Zenón wouldn't describe what he does as "Latin jazz." But that doesn't mean he's in some way disconnected from his roots — it's the opposite.

"I'm very connected to what I am and where I come from. I try to represent that in what I do physically as a person," Zenón tells GRAMMY.com. "It's a big part of my music — being from Latin America, being from Puerto Rico."

Zenón's work has long been characterized as straddling the traditions of American jazz and Latin American idioms, and those of tradition and innovation — and these tendencies were partly initiated when he arrived at Berklee School of Music in Boston.

"My main thing was I just wanted to play like Charlie Parker and Coltrane and Cannonball," he told The New York Times in 2021. "But I quickly came to understand that I really didn't know my music, the music of Puerto Rico. If I wanted to play something slow, instead of playing standards from the Great American Songbook, I'd rather go into my world, you know?"

This rapprochement between stateside jazz and the music of his home country has led to an eclectic and rewarding discography — which features some of the most dynamic and head-turning alto playing on the New York jazz scene.

These include 2011's ethnomusicological Alma Adentro: The Puerto Rican Songbook and 2021's El Arte del Bolero, an intimate, jazzy take on boleros with his longtime musical partner, pianist Luis Perdomo. He's also recorded album-length tributes to Ornette Coleman and Puerto Rican singer and composer Ismael Rivera.

And all of these big swings feel earned, as Zenón is something of a lifelong student — and all you need to do to behold the fruits of his explorations is pick up one of his records or check him out live.

"I do the research," Zenón says. "I try to delve into the information, and be as well-versed as possible, and have as much information to deal with as possible. And then, I find common threads, common elements and things that work well together."

RoxanaAmed

*Roxana Amed. Photo: Claudio Napolitano*

Roxana Amed

Amed, a vocalist and composer originally from Argentina, remembers the press cycle for her 2021 album Ontology as something of a crossroads. The album had been nominated for two Latin GRAMMYs — and Amed wanted to avoid being pigeonholed as a result.

"Don't expect me to be doing big-ensemble music, or strong, loud music, or brass music, or music for dancing — the uptempo thing that in general, Latin jazz suggests," Amed tells GRAMMY.com, paraphrasing her expressions during one interview. "I can speak Spanish, but still, the approach of this album is not exactly as any other Latin musician would use."

Amed's care and detail in her self-presentation certainly applies to her music; therein, she pays sharp attention to how Argentine and American musics have commingled throughout history.

"Those musicians approached their music using some American jazz tools," she says. "It was not only our own blending in each country, but it was the Black influence — like in Peruvian music."

Amed's ongoing analyses in this regard have informed her ability to gracefully walk between worlds — whether in her original work; interpreting the work of luminaries like Joni Mitchell, Miles Davis and Wayne Shorter; or paying tribute to giants like tango composer, arranger, and bandoneon player Astor Piazzolla.

"I think the best we can do — Latin jazz musicians, or whatever — is really know the language, know the American tradition, and know very well your own and try to see if that blending doesn't kill anyone in the process," Amed says. "Because sometimes you say, 'Oh, I will play this as if it were some other thing. And then you kill it; you kill the heart of the song."

Amed is in no danger of doing this; thanks to her acute artistic vision and understanding of her place in the canon, Amed helps them take root, grow and propagate into a matrix of fresh inspirations. The songs are safe with her.

The Recording Academy and GRAMMY.com do not endorse any particular artist, submission or nominee over another. The results of the GRAMMY Awards, including winners and nominees, are solely dependent on the Recording Academy's Voting Membership.

America Has Birthed A Wealth Of Musical Forms. These Indigenous Artists Want To Know Where They Fit Into Them.

GRAMMY Rewind: Kendrick Lamar Honors Hip-Hop's Greats While Accepting Best Rap Album GRAMMY For 'To Pimp a Butterfly' In 2016
Kendrick Lamar

Photo: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic

video

GRAMMY Rewind: Kendrick Lamar Honors Hip-Hop's Greats While Accepting Best Rap Album GRAMMY For 'To Pimp a Butterfly' In 2016

Upon winning the GRAMMY for Best Rap Album for 'To Pimp a Butterfly,' Kendrick Lamar thanked those that helped him get to the stage, and the artists that blazed the trail for him.

GRAMMYs/Oct 13, 2023 - 06:01 pm

Updated Friday Oct. 13, 2023 to include info about Kendrick Lamar's most recent GRAMMY wins, as of the 2023 GRAMMYs.

A GRAMMY veteran these days, Kendrick Lamar has won 17 GRAMMYs and has received 47 GRAMMY nominations overall. A sizable chunk of his trophies came from the 58th annual GRAMMY Awards in 2016, when he walked away with five — including his first-ever win in the Best Rap Album category.

This installment of GRAMMY Rewind turns back the clock to 2016, revisiting Lamar's acceptance speech upon winning Best Rap Album for To Pimp A Butterfly. Though Lamar was alone on stage, he made it clear that he wouldn't be at the top of his game without the help of a broad support system. 

"First off, all glory to God, that's for sure," he said, kicking off a speech that went on to thank his parents, who he described as his "those who gave me the responsibility of knowing, of accepting the good with the bad."

Looking for more GRAMMYs news? The 2024 GRAMMY nominations are here!

He also extended his love and gratitude to his fiancée, Whitney Alford, and shouted out his Top Dawg Entertainment labelmates. Lamar specifically praised Top Dawg's CEO, Anthony Tiffith, for finding and developing raw talent that might not otherwise get the chance to pursue their musical dreams.

"We'd never forget that: Taking these kids out of the projects, out of Compton, and putting them right here on this stage, to be the best that they can be," Lamar — a Compton native himself — continued, leading into an impassioned conclusion spotlighting some of the cornerstone rap albums that came before To Pimp a Butterfly.

"Hip-hop. Ice Cube. This is for hip-hop," he said. "This is for Snoop Dogg, Doggystyle. This is for Illmatic, this is for Nas. We will live forever. Believe that."

To Pimp a Butterfly singles "Alright" and "These Walls" earned Lamar three more GRAMMYs that night, the former winning Best Rap Performance and Best Rap Song and the latter taking Best Rap/Sung Collaboration (the song features Bilal, Anna Wise and Thundercat). He also won Best Music Video for the remix of Taylor Swift's "Bad Blood." 

Lamar has since won Best Rap Album two more times, taking home the golden gramophone in 2018 for his blockbuster LP DAMN., and in 2023 for his bold fifth album, Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers.

Watch Lamar's full acceptance speech above, and check back at GRAMMY.com every Friday for more GRAMMY Rewind episodes. 

10 Essential Facts To Know About GRAMMY-Winning Rapper J. Cole

Global Spin: Rodrigo Y Gabriela Enchant Red Rocks Amphitheatre With A Racing Rendition Of "Diablo Rojo"
Rodrigo y Gabriela

Photo: Ebru Yildiz

video

Global Spin: Rodrigo Y Gabriela Enchant Red Rocks Amphitheatre With A Racing Rendition Of "Diablo Rojo"

Feel the magic of Mexican acoustic guitar duo Rodrigo y Gabriela's transcendent talents and Colorado's famed venue with this spirited performance of their 2006 classic, "Diablo Rojo."

GRAMMYs/Oct 12, 2023 - 08:46 pm

Rodrigo y Gabriela have been captivating audiences with their masterful acoustic guitar stylings for over 20 years. In 2006, the Mexican duo broke through with their self-titled album, which spawned some of their most beloved hits to date — including the majestic "Diablo Rojo."

In this episode of Global Spin, Rodrigo y Gabriela bring the mystifying song to life in an equally magical setting: Colorado's Red Rocks Amphitheatre. 

Sitting side by side clad in all white, the GRAMMY-winning duo jam out to "Diabo Rojo" as smoke dances around them and fans cheer. Their energy is as infectious as their mesmerizingly fast guitar playing, making for a short-and-sweet spectacle.

Rodrigo y Gabriela's Red Rocks show was one of the many stops on their summer U.S. tour, which wrapped in September. Next up, the pair are headed to Europe and the UK, starting in Dublin on Oct. 16 and wrapping in Portugal on Nov. 14.

Press Play on the video above to watch Rodrigo y Gabriela's Red Rocks performance of  "Diablo Rojo," and keep checking GRAMMY.com for more episodes of Global Spin.

Meet The Gen Z Women Claiming Space In The Regional Mexican Music Movement

ReImagined: Adi Feels "Happier Than Ever" In This Thunderous Cover Of Billie Eilish's Hit Single
Adi

Photo: Courtesy of Adi

video

ReImagined: Adi Feels "Happier Than Ever" In This Thunderous Cover Of Billie Eilish's Hit Single

Mexican singer/songwriter and TikTok star Adi offers a synth-pop take on Billie Eilish's GRAMMY-nominated single "Happier Than Ever."

GRAMMYs/Oct 10, 2023 - 05:03 pm

Though the title "Happier Than Ever" suggests otherwise, Billie Eilish's hit song is far from it. As the track's instrumental transitions from a soothing ukulele to a blazing electric guitar, Eilish comes to terms with her ex's mistreatment before exploding with rage over his behavior she let go over the years.

"I don't talk s— about you on the internet/ Never told anyone anything bad," Eilish exposes in the song's second movement. "'Cause that s—'s embarrassing, you were my everything/ And all that you did was make me f—ing sad."

In this episode of ReImagined, Mexican singer/songwriter Adi delivers an equally cathartic cover of "Happier Than Ever." She remains faithful to Eilish's vocal performance, but trades in the original pop-punk production for synth-pop sounds.

Beyond covers, Adi is a prolific content creator on TikTok and Instagram, boasting more than 450,000 combined followers across all platforms.

Since making her debut with the single "Poison" in March 2022, Adi has released two more singles, "Ojos Marrones" and "Monstruos." According to a press statement, her songwriting "reflects the feelings of a new generation of young people, where loneliness, depression, and love are present in their daily lives."

Press play on the video above to hear Adi's raging cover of Billie Eilish's "Happier Than Ever," and check back to GRAMMY.com for more new episodes of ReImagined.

Press Play: Yiga Reyes Wants "Nobody Else" In This Acoustic Performance Of His Debut Single "Nadie Más"

Jennifer Lopez's Biggest Hits, From Her Best Hip-Hop Collaborations To The Dance Floor Classics
Jennifer Lopez performs at the LuisaViaRoma for Unicef event in Italy in 2022.

Photo: Daniele Venturelli/Daniele Venturelli/Getty Images for Luisaviaroma

list

Jennifer Lopez's Biggest Hits, From Her Best Hip-Hop Collaborations To The Dance Floor Classics

As fans await the much-anticipated arrival of J.Lo's new album, 'This Is Me…Now,' revisit the hits and deep cuts that have made her a beloved icon for nearly three decades.

GRAMMYs/Sep 27, 2023 - 05:50 pm

Jennifer Lopez boasts one of the most impactful resumes in entertainment. Along with selling over 80 million albums and garnering four Billboard Hot 100 chart-toppers, she has smashed barriers for Latin performers as a career chameleon — becoming the ultimate multi-hyphenate icon.

It feels almost unbelievable to think that J.Lo's balancing act was once deemed too risky. By the time she was releasing her debut album, On the 6, in 1999, Lopez had made a name for herself in Hollywood thanks to her starring role in 1997's biographical musical drama Selena (which foreshadowed her power in the entertainment business, as her $1 million salary made her the highest paid Latina actress at the time). Under the guidance of music mogul Tommy Mottola, On the 6 was met with much acclaim and propelled J.Lo into another stratosphere.

Now, nearly 25 years later, Lopez has released eight albums, starred in over 30 films — which have collectively grossed over $3 billion — and embarked on numerous business ventures, including her launch of JLo Beauty and alcohol brand Delola. Her fragrances alone have raked in over $2 billion.

Of the many hats Lopez wears, her music career is the most awe-inspiring for many of her fans. In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, and ahead of Lopez's eagerly awaited This Is Me… Now album (her first in nearly a decade), GRAMMY.com is revisiting the hits that made the Bronx native a household name, as well as lesser-known songs that rival even her biggest anthems.

"If You Had My Love," On the 6 (1999)

"If You Had My Love" was first offered to King of Pop, Michael Jackson, before finding a home on Lopez's debut album, On the 6, named after a New York City subway line that she frequented before fame. On the Rodney Jerkins-produced tune, Lopez's assertiveness takes center stage as she addresses a potential lover: "Now if I give you me, this is how it's got to be/ First of all I won't take you cheating on me/ Tell me who can I trust if I can't trust in you/ And I refuse to let you play me for a fool."

Staying atop the Hot 100 for five consecutive weeks, "If You Had My Love" was undeniable proof that Lopez was capable of achieving crossover success in the music industry. It also coincided with 1999's "Latin Explosion" — which launched the careers of fellow Latin pop icons Shakira and Ricky Martin.   

"Waiting for Tonight," On the 6 (1999)

Of all of Lopez's smash hits, "Waiting for Tonight" is arguably one of the most timeless. As Lopez's first song to top the Dance Club Songs chart (she has since scored 18), "Waiting for Tonight" is synonymous with helping to usher in the Y2K era, thanks to its celebratory lyrics and accompanying New Year's Eve-themed video. It showed that she had critical clout, too, as "Waiting for Tonight" earned Lopez her first GRAMMY nomination for Best Dance Recording in 2000.

The Latin house anthem is so quintessentially J.Lo that it's easy to forget that it's a remake of short-lived girl group 3rd Party's song, further exemplifying her star power. What's more, it teased her future Spanish-language project, as she cut a sultry Spanish version titled "Una Noche Más" which closes out On the 6.

"Let's Get Loud," On the 6 (1999)

On the 6 opens with a string of R&B tracks — including "Feelin' So Good" featuring Fat Joe and Big Pun — before taking a different turn with "Let's Get Loud," which flaunts Lopez's Latin heritage. Within the first few seconds, the proud Nuyorican declares "Ya Jeny llegó, presente!" (translating to "Jenny has arrived, present!"), and it's impossible not to dance along.

Co-written by Gloria Estefan, the salsa number mostly flew under the radar, never cracking the Hot 100. Even so, "Let's Get Loud" managed to score Lopez her second GRAMMY nomination for Best Dance Recording in 2001. It also remains one of J.Lo's signature songs, becoming a set list staple and playing part in career-defining performances, including the Super Bowl halftime show in early 2020 and Joe Biden's inauguration the next year.

"Love Don't Cost a Thing," J.Lo (2001)

A self-proclaimed "hopeless romantic," Lopez told potential suitors that her love don't cost a thing on her second album, J.Lo. Reaching No. 3 on the Hot 100 and even taking the top spot in several countries, the song's commercial success solidified her hitmaker status, simultaneously thrusting her relationship with then-boyfriend Sean "Diddy" Combs further into the spotlight. It's rumored that "Love Don't Cost a Thing" was aimed toward the Bad Boy Records founder: "When I took a chance, thought you'd understand/ Baby, credit cards aren't romance/ Still, you're tryna buy what's already yours/ What I need from is not available in stores," she sings in the second verse.

"Love Don't Cost a Thing" also kicked off Lopez's tradition of releasing catchy earworms like "I'm Glad," "I'm Into You," and "Marry Me" that chronicle the A-lister's quest for happily ever after.

"Walking on Sunshine," J.Lo (2001)

With anticipation-filled lyrics like "I can't wait, wanna see how this night is gonna be," "Walking on Sunshine" (not to be confused with Katrina and the Waves' 1985 classic) sounds like a sequel to On the 6's "Waiting for Tonight." Lopez even performed a mashup of the songs during her 2001 tour.

The infectious song follows platinum hits "I'm Real" and "Play" on J.Lo — and yet, it still manages to outshine both. At its core, "Walking on Sunshine" is pure bliss, and perfectly captures the dance-pop genre that flourished in the early aughts.

"I'm Real" (Murder Remix) feat. Ja Rule, J to tha L-O! The Remixes (2001)

Armed with a slinky smooth Rick James sample, Ja Rule's grittiness paired with Lopez's soft coos are a match made in vocal heaven on the "Murder Remix" of "I'm Real," which pushed her more into urban territory after Black radio stations complained that her J.Lo album lacked an R&B-leaning single. (And Ja Rule screaming "What's my motherf—in' name?," to which Lopez responds "R-U-L-E, still reigns as one of the best opening lines in a song.)

Despite drawing criticism at the time due to Lopez's use of the n-word, the collaboration became so popular that it was added to the reissue of J.Lo, making the original version seem almost nonexistent — paving the way for more major reworkings of Lopez's songs, including "I'm Gonna Be Alright" and "Ain't It Funny." The latter started as a Latin pop record before being reimagined as a hip-hop track with all-new lyrics and an in-your-face "Flava In Ya Ear" sample, making it completely unrecognizable to listeners while serving multiple demographics.

"I'm Gonna Be Alright" (Track Masters Remix) feat. Nas, J to tha L-O! The Remixes (2001)

Reworked for her J to tha L-O! The Remixes album, "I'm Gonna Be Alright" is easily Lopez's most forgotten hit — but it's one of her finest, thanks to Lopez's confident delivery, along with its captivating melody and resilient lyrics. "I said I couldn't do it but I did it/ After telling everybody that I wasn't with it," she sings on the chorus. "Though it brings tears to my eyes, I can feel it/ And that voice inside says I'm gonna be alright."

Featuring Nas (who replaced then-rising rapper 50 Cent, which ignited a feud between the two), and a sample of "Why You Treat Me So Bad" by Club Nouveau, "I'm Gonna Be Alright" stands out as one of Lopez's few singles that deal with a failed relationship.

"Still," This Is Me… Then (2002)

Creatively, Lopez was at the top of her game when her third studio album, This Is Me… Then, arrived in late 2002. Yet, it sold fewer copies compared to J.Lo, even despite producing megahits "Jenny from the Block" and "All I Have" (more on those later). As iconic as those songs are, they don't compare to the soulful album's opener "Still," which set the perfect tone for This Is Me… Then — her most romantic and sonically cohesive project to date.

Built around a sample of Teddy Pendergrass' 1979 song "Set Me Free" and enhanced with synthetic record scratches for a retro feel, the lyrics heard in "Still" are actually quite simple. But it's the haunting melody and Lopez's sincerity that pulls in the listener immediately, and makes them wonder why it wasn't released as a single in lieu of "Baby, I Love U!," which stalled at No. 72 on the Hot 100.

"Jenny from the Block" feat. Styles P and Jadakiss, This Is Me… Then (2002)

It's a running joke that Lopez shouts out The Bronx every chance she gets, so it's only fitting that a song like "Jenny from the Block" exists in her arsenal.

Featuring The LOX's Styles P and Jadakiss, "Jenny from the Block" teeters on pretentious as Lopez insists that fame and fortune haven't changed her. But fans and music lovers alike ate it up: The song spent three weeks at No. 3 on the Hot 100 and remains one of her most-streamed and highest-charting singles.

At the time, she was still riding high off making history as the first person to have a No. 1 album (J.Lo) and movie (The Wedding Planner) in the same week. By then, Lopez and then-boyfriend (and now husband!) Ben Affleck's romance had turned into total tabloid fodder, as seen in its accompanying video — which is infiltrated with shots of Bennifer on a yacht, grabbing lunch, and stopping for gas while the paparazzi captures their every move.

In a lot of ways, "Jenny from the Block" represents just how ubiquitous J.Lo was in the early 2000s. Outside the Bennifer craze, the rags-to-riches song remains an ode to Lopez's Bronx upbringing. It even birthed Becky G's "Becky from the Block" and seemingly inspired Fergie's "Glamorous," which topped the Hot 100 in 2007.

"All I Have" feat. LL Cool J, This Is Me… Then (2002)

Lopez and LL Cool J's chemistry is undeniable on "All I Have." Relying on a controversial sample of Debra Laws' "Very Special," the song's call-and-response quality is what makes it so fun to sing along to even after all these years.

Though the ballad showcases Lopez's softer side, female empowerment takes over: "'Cause I'm good holdin' down my spot/ And I'm good reppin' the girls on the block/ And I'm good, I got this thing on lock/ So without me you'll be fine, right," she sings on the song's pre-chorus.

"All I Have" not only became Lopez's fourth No. 1 hit, but thanks to its holiday-timed release and winter wonderland-themed video, it was dubbed a "Christmastime breakup theme."

"Get Right," Rebirth (2005)

In the three-year gap between This Is Me... Then and Lopez's fourth album, Rebirth, she hit a career low when Gigli bombed at the box office. She and Ben Affleck famously called off their engagement a mere five months later. Surprisingly, though, much of Rebirth is void of heartbreak and takes a lighter approach, as evidenced by the horn-laden lead single "Get Right," which sees Lopez enjoying herself at a club.

"My hips moving, oh, so slow/ Bar tab looking like a car note," she sings in the second verse. At face value, it's easy to view "Get Right" as just another dance tune, but it doubles as a metaphor for Lopez's openness to finding love again in the face of heartbreak.

"Qué Hiciste," Como Ama una Mujer (2007)

Lopez fully embraced her Puerto Rican roots from day one, recording Spanish-language and bilingual songs here and there, like 1999's "No Me Ames" and 2001's "Cariño." But after recording 2004's "Escapémonos," a duet with then-husband Marc Anthony, she was inspired to go all in — and she did so with 2007's Como Ama una Mujer.

A self-described "dream come true," Como Ama una Mujer spawned the rock-infused "Qué Hiciste" (translating into "What Did You Do"), Lopez's first Spanish-language song to crack the Hot 100 at No. 86 — though it ruled the US Hot Latin Songs chart. On the tune, Lopez sings from a scorned woman's perspective (e.g., "Hoy empañaste con tu furia mi mirada," which translates to "Today you clouded my gaze with your fury"), showing off her flair for drama with a blazing hot video to match.

"Stay Together," Brave (2007)

Seven months after Como Ama una Mujer's release, Lopez returned to her more radio-friendly sound, but it came with a funky twist à la her sixth album, Brave. Lead singles "Do It Well" and "Hold It Don't Drop It" were lauded by music critics, though "Stay Together," the LP's opener, arguably steals the show.

On the pro-monogamy track, Lopez exudes confidence while dropping words of wisdom: "Through the bumpy roads, the others bite the dust/ 'Cause they be thinking they're in love when they're in lust."

"On the Floor" feat. Pitbull, Love? (2011)

Ahead of joining the 10th season of "American Idol" as a judge, "On the Floor" was the chart comeback Lopez needed after two back-to-back underperforming albums. The lead single off her seventh studio album, Love?, pays homage to her dance background as she sings lyrics like "If you're a criminal, kill it on the floor/ Steal it quick on the floor" over a thumping beat.

Heavily interpolating Kaoma's "Lambada" from 1989 and featuring guest verses from Pitbull, "On the Floor" skyrocketed to No. 1 in over 30 countries and became 2011's best-selling single by a female artist, reinstating Lopez's staying power. (To further prove its impact, there are two versions of "On The Floor" on Spotify — both of which have more than 400 million streams each.)

"First Love," A.K.A. (2014)

Lopez was dating backup dancer Casper Smart, who was nearly 20 years her junior, when she dropped the feel-good "First Love." Their age difference raised eyebrows, but in typical J.Lo fashion, she wore her heart on her sleeve.

On the percussion-heavy track, she sounds carefree while seemingly acknowledging her failed romances. "I wish you were my first love/ 'Cause if you were first/ Baby, there would have been no second, third or fourth love," she sings on the chorus.

Even though it didn't fare well on the Hot 100, it marked her first and only time joining forces with pop genius Max Martin. It also gave Lopez her 15th No. 1 dance hit, tying with Donna Summer for the seventh-most on the chart at the time. Earning three more No. 1 dance hits between 2014 and 2020, Lopez surpassed Summer with an impressive 18.

In the nine years that have passed since Lopez's last studio album, A.K.A., Lopez has released dozens of one-off singles, including "Ain't Your Mama," "El Anillo," "Dinero," and "Medicine." Much to her fans' surprise and delight in the fall of 2022, she commemorated the 20th anniversary of This Is Me... Then with an announcement of This Is Me… Now, an aptly-titled sequel to her 2002 album. Lopez told Vogue that the forthcoming endeavor — which chronicles her rekindled relationship with now-husband Ben Affleck — is not only her most honest work to date, but "a culmination of who I am as a person and an artist."

While J.Lo has yet to announce an official release date, she just performed nine songs from the album at a special Apple Music Live show on Sept. 21. Once This Is Me… Now is finally unveiled, it will unlock a new era for the triple threat — one that only continues her awe-inspiring, ever-influential legacy.

Beyoncé's 'Dangerously In Love' Turns 20: How The Solo Debut Foreshadowed The Singer's Icon Status