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20 Iconic Hip-Hop Style Moments: From Run-D.M.C. To Runways

From Dapper Dan's iconic '80s creations to Kendrick Lamar's 2023 runway performance, hip-hop's influence and impact on style and fashion is undeniable. In honor of hip-hop's 50th anniversary, look back at the culture's enduring effect on fashion.

GRAMMYs/Nov 29, 2023 - 03:01 pm

In the world of hip-hop, fashion is more than just clothing. It's a powerful means of self-expression, a cultural statement, and a reflection of the ever-evolving nature of the culture.

Since its origin in 1973, hip-hop has been synonymous with style —  but the epochal music category known for breakbeats and lyrical flex also elevated, impacted, and revolutionized global fashion in a way no other genre ever has.   

Real hip-hop heads know this. Before Cardi B was gracing the Met Gala in Mugler and award show red carpets in custom Schiaparelli, Dapper Dan was disassembling garment bags in his Harlem studio in the 1980s, tailoring legendary looks for rappers that would appear on famous album cover art. Crescendo moments like Kendrick Lamar’s performance at the Louis Vuitton Men’s Spring-Summer 2023 runway show in Paris in June 2022 didn’t happen without a storied trajectory toward the runway.

Big fashion moments in hip-hop have always captured the camera flash, but finding space to tell the bigger story of hip-hop’s connection and influence on fashion has not been without struggle. Journalist and author Sowmya Krishnamurphy said plenty of publishers passed on her anthology on the subject, Fashion Killa: How Hip-Hop Revolutionized High Fashion, and "the idea of hip hop fashion warranting 80,000 words." 

"They didn't think it was big enough or culturally important," Krishnamurphy tells GRAMMY.com, "and of course, when I tell people that usually, the reaction is they're shocked."

Yet, at the 50 year anniversary, sands continue to shift swiftly. Last year exhibitions like the Fashion Institute of Technology’s Fresh, Fly, and Fabulous: Fifty Years of Hip-Hop Style popped up alongside notable publishing releases including journalist Vikki Tobak’s, Ice Cold. A Hip-Hop Jewelry Story. Tabak’s second published release covering hip-hop’s influence on style, following her 2018 title, Contact High: A Visual History of Hip-Hop.

"I wanted to go deeper into the history," Krishnamurphy continues. "The psychology, the sociology, all of these important factors that played a role in the rise of hip-hop and the rise of hip-hop fashion"

What do the next 50 years look like? "I would love to see a hip-hop brand, whether it be from an artist, a designer, creative director, somebody from the hip-hop space, become that next great American heritage brand," said Krishnamurphy.

In order to look forward we have to look back. In celebration of hip-hop’s 50 year legacy, GRAMMY.com examines iconic moments that have defined and inspired generations. From Tupac walking the runways at Versace to Gucci's inception-esque knockoff of Dapper Dan, these moments in hip-hop fashion showcase how artists have used clothing, jewelry, accessories, and personal style to shape the culture and leave an indelible mark on the world.

*The cover art to Eric B and Rakim’s* Paid in Full

Dapper Dan And Logomania: Luxury + High Fashion Streetwear

Dapper Dan, the legendary designer known as "the king of knock-offs," played a pivotal role in transforming luxury fashion into a symbol of empowerment and resistance for hip-hop stars, hustlers, and athletes starting in the 1980s. His Harlem boutique, famously open 24 hours a day, became a hub where high fashion collided with the grit of the streets.

Dapper Dan's customized, tailored outfits, crafted from deconstructed and transformed luxury items, often came with significantly higher price tags compared to ready-to-wear luxury fashion. A friend and favorite of artists like LL Cool J and Notorious B.I.G., Dapper Dan created iconic one-of-a-kind looks seen on artists like Eric B and Rakim’s on the cover of their Paid in Full album.

This fusion, marked by custom pieces emblazoned with designer logos, continues to influence hip-hop high fashion streetwear. His story — which began with endless raids by luxury houses like Fendi, who claimed copyright infringement — would come full circle with brands like Gucci later paying homage to his legacy.

Athleisure Takes Over

Hip-hop's intersection with sportswear gave rise to the "athleisure" trend in the 1980s and '90s, making tracksuits, sweatshirts, and sneakers everyday attire. This transformation was propelled by iconic figures such as Run-D.M.C. and their association with Adidas, as seen in photoshoots and music videos for tracks like "My Adidas."

*LL Cool J. Photo: Paul Natkin/Getty Images*

LL Cool J’s Kangol Hat

The Kangol hat holds a prominent place in hip-hop fashion, often associated with the genre's early days in the '80s and '90s. This popular headwear became a symbol of casual coolness, popularized by hip-hop pioneers like LL Cool J and Run-D.M.C. The simple, round shape and the Kangaroo logo on the front became instantly recognizable, making the Kangol an essential accessory that was synonymous with a laid-back, streetwise style.

*Dr. Dre, comedian T.K. Kirkland, Eazy-E, and Too Short in 1989. Photo: Raymond Boyd/Getty Images*

N.W.A & Sports Team Representation

Hip-hop, and notably N.W.A., played a significant role in popularizing sports team representation in fashion. The Los Angeles Raiders' gear became synonymous with West Coast hip-hop thanks to its association with the group's members Dr. Dre, Eazy-E, and Ice Cube, as well as MC Ren.

 *Slick Rick in 1991. Photo: Al Pereira/Getty Images/Michael Ochs Archives*

Slick Rick’s Rings & Gold Chains

Slick Rick "The Ruler" has made a lasting impact on hip-hop jewelry and fashion with his kingly display of jewelry and wealth. His trendsetting signature look — a fistful of gold rings and a neck heavily layered with an array of opulent chains — exuded a sense of grandeur and self-confidence. Slick Rick's bold and flamboyant approach to jewelry and fashion remains a defining element of hip-hop's sartorial history, well documented in Tobak's Ice Cold.

Tupac Walks The Versace Runway Show

Tupac Shakur's runway appearance at the 1996 Versace runway show was a remarkable and unexpected moment in fashion history. The show was part of Milan Fashion Week, and Versace was known for pushing boundaries and embracing popular culture in their designs. In Fashion Killa, Krishnamurpy documents Shakur's introduction to Gianni Versace and his participation in the 1996 Milan runway show, where he walked arm-in-arm with Kadida Jones.

*TLC. Photo: Tim Roney/Getty Images*

Women Embrace Oversized Styles

Oversized styles during the 1990s were not limited to menswear; many women in hip-hop during this time adopted a "tomboy" aesthetic. This trend was exemplified by artists like Aaliyah’s predilection for crop tops paired with oversized pants and outerwear (and iconic outfits like her well-remembered Tommy Hilfiger look.)

Many other female artists donned oversized, menswear-inspired looks, including TLC and their known love for matching outfits featuring baggy overalls, denim, and peeking boxer shorts and Missy Elliott's famous "trash bag" suit worn in her 1997 music video for "The Rain." Speaking to Elle Magazine two decades after the original video release Elliot told the magazine that it was a powerful symbol that helped mask her shyness, "I loved the idea of feeling like a hip hop Michelin woman."

Diddy Launches Sean John

Sean "Diddy" Combs’ launch of Sean John in 1998 was about more than just clothing. Following the success of other successful sportswear brands by music industry legends like Russell Simmons’ Phat Farm, Sean John further represented a lifestyle and a cultural movement. Inspired by his own fashion sensibilities, Diddy wanted to create elevated clothing that reflected the style and swagger of hip-hop. From tailored suits to sportswear, the brand was known for its bold designs and signature logo, and shared space with other successful brands like Jay-Z’s Rocawear and model Kimora Lee Simmons' brand Baby Phat.

 *Lil' Kim. Photo: Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images*

Lil’ Kim Steals The Show

Lil' Kim’s daring and iconic styles found a kindred home at Versace with

In 1999, Lil' Kim made waves at the MTV Video Music Awards with her unforgettable appearance in a lavender jumpsuit designed by Donatella Versace. This iconic moment solidified her close relationship with the fashion designer, and their collaboration played a pivotal role in reshaping the landscape of hip-hop fashion, pushing boundaries and embracing bold, daring styles predating other newsworthy moments like J.Lo’s 2000 appearance in "The Dress" at the GRAMMY Awards.

Lil Wayne Popularizes "Bling Bling"

Juvenile & Lil Wayne's "Bling Bling" marked a culturally significant moment. Coined in the late 1990s by Cash Money Records, the term "bling bling" became synonymous with the excessive and flashy display of luxury jewelry. Lil Wayne and the wider Cash Money roster celebrated this opulent aesthetic, solidifying the link between hip-hop music and lavish jewelry. As a result, "bling" became a cornerstone of hip-hop's visual identity.

Jay-Z x Nike Air Force 1

In 2004, Jay-Z's partnership with Nike produced the iconic "Roc-A-Fella" Air Force 1 sneakers, a significant collaboration that helped bridge the worlds of hip-hop and sneaker culture. These limited-edition kicks in white and blue colorways featured the Roc-A-Fella Records logo on the heel and were highly coveted by fans. The collaboration exemplified how hip-hop artists could have a profound impact on sneaker culture and streetwear by putting a unique spin on classic designs. Hova's design lives on in limitless references to fresh white Nike kicks.

Daft Punk and Pharrell Williams. Photo: Mark Davis/WireImage

Pharrell Williams' Hat At The 2014 GRAMMYs

Pharrell Williams made a memorable red carpet appearance at the 2014 GRAMMY Awards in a distinctive and oversized brown hat. Designed by Vivienne Westwood, the hat quickly became the talk of the event and social media. A perfect blend of sartorial daring, Pharrell's hat complemented his red Adidas track jacket while accentuating his unique sense of style. An instant fashion moment, the look sparked innumerable memes and, likely, a renewed interest in headwear.

Kanye’s Rise & Fall At Adidas (2013-2022)

Much more than a "moment," the rise and eventual fall of Kanye’s relationship with Adidas, was as documented in a recent investigation by the New York Times. The story begins in 2013 when West and the German sportswear brand agreed to enter a partnership. The collaboration would sell billions of dollars worth of shoes, known as "Yeezys," until West’s anti-semitic, misogynistic, fat-phobic, and other problematic public comments forced the Adidas brand to break from the partnership amid public outrage.

Supreme Drops x Hip-Hop Greats

Supreme, with its limited drops, bold designs, and collaborations with artists like Nas and Wu-Tang Clan, stands as a modern embodiment of hip-hop's influence on streetwear. The brand's ability to create hype, long lines outside its stores, and exclusive artist partnerships underscores the enduring synergy between hip-hop and street fashion.

*A model walks the runway at the Gucci Cruise 2018 show. Photo: Pietro D'Aprano/Getty Images*

Gucci Pays "homage" to Dapper Dan

When Gucci released a collection in 2017 that seemingly copied Dapper Dan's distinctive style, (particularly one look that seemed to be a direct re-make of a jacket he had created for Olympian Dionne Dixon in the '80s), it triggered outrage and accusations of cultural theft. This incident sparked a conversation about the fashion industry's tendency to co-opt urban and streetwear styles without proper recognition, while also displaying flagrant symbols of racism through designs.

Eventually, spurred by public outrage, the controversy led to a collaboration between Gucci and Dapper Dan, a significant moment in luxury fashion's acknowledgement and celebration of the contributions of Black culture, including streetwear and hip-hop to high fashion. "Had Twitter not spotted the, "Diane Dixon" [jacket] walking down the Gucci runway and then amplified that conversation on social media... I don't think we would have had this incredible comeback," Sowmya Krishnamurphy says.

A$AP Rocky x DIOR

Self-proclaimed "Fashion Killa" A$AP Rocky is a true fashion aficionado. In 2016, the sartorially obsessed musician and rapper became one of the faces of Dior Homme’s fall/winter campaign shot by photographer Willy Vanderperre — an early example of Rocky's many high fashion collaborations with the luxury European brand.

A$AP Rocky's tailored style and impeccable taste for high fashion labels was eloquently enumerated in the track "Fashion Killa" from his 2013 debut album Long. Live. ASAP, which namedrops some 36 luxury fashion brands. The music video for "Fashion Killa" was co-directed by Virgil Abloh featuring a Supreme jersey-clad Fenty founder, Rihanna long before the two became one of music’s most powerful couples. The track became an anthem for hip-hop’s appreciation for high fashion (and serves as the title for Krishnamurphy’s recently published anthology). 

*Cardi B. Photo: Steve Granitz/WireImage*

Cardi B Wears Vintage Mugler At The 2019 GRAMMYs

Cardi B has solidified her "it girl" fashion status in 2018 and 2019 with bold and captivating style choices and designer collaborations that consistently turn heads. Her 2019 GRAMMYs red carpet appearance in exaggerated vintage Mugler gown, and many custom couture Met Gala looks by designers including Jeremy Scott and Thom Browne that showcased her penchant for drama and extravagance.

But Cardi B's fashion influence extends beyond her penchant for custom high-end designer pieces (like her 2021 gold-masked Schiaparelli look, one of nine looks in an evening.) Her unique ability to blend couture glamour with urban chic (she's known for championing emerging designers and streetwear brands) fosters a sense of inclusivity and diversity, and makes her a true trendsetter.

Beyoncé & Jay-Z in Tiffany & Co.’s "About Love" campaign

The power duo graced Tiffany & Co.'s "About Love'' campaign in 2021, showcasing the iconic "Tiffany Yellow Diamond," a 128.54-carat yellow worn by Beyoncé alongside a tuxedo-clad Jay-Z. The campaign sparked controversy in several ways, with some viewers unable to reconcile the use of such a prominent and historically significant diamond, sourced at the hands of slavery, in a campaign that could be seen as commercializing and diluting the diamond's cultural and historical importance. Despite mixed reaction to the campaign, their stunning appearance celebrated love, adorned with Tiffany jewels and reinforced their status as a power couple in both music and fashion.

Kendrick Lamar Performs At Louis Vuitton

When Kendrick Lamar performed live at the Louis Vuitton Men’s spring-summer 2023 runway show in Paris in June 2022 following the passing of Louis Vuitton’s beloved creative director Virgil Abloh, he underscored the inextricable connection between music, fashion and Black American culture.


Lamar sat front row next to Naomi Campbell, adorned with a jeweled crown of thorns made from diamonds and white gold worth over $2 million, while he performed tracks including "Savior," "N95," and "Rich Spirit'' from his last album, Mr. Morale and the Big Steppers before ending with a repeated mantra, "Long live Virgil." A giant children’s toy racetrack erected in the Cour Carrée of the Louvre became a yellow brick road where models marched, clad in designer looks with bold, streetwear-inspired design details, some strapped with oversized wearable stereo systems.

Pharrell Succeeds Virgil Abloh At Louis Vuitton

Pharrell Williams' appointment as the creative director at Louis Vuitton for their men's wear division in 2023 emphasized hip-hop's enduring influence on global fashion. Pharrell succeeded Virgil Abloh, who was the first Black American to hold the position.

Pharrell's path to this prestigious role, marked by his 2004 and 2008 collaborations with Louis Vuitton, as well as the founding of his streetwear label Billionaire Boy’s Club in 2006 alongside Nigo, the founder of BAPE and Kenzo's current artistic director, highlights the growing diversity and acknowledgment of Black talent within high fashion.

Listen To GRAMMY.com's 50th Anniversary Of Hip-Hop Playlist: 50 Songs That Show The Genre's Evolution

Metro Boomin Performs at Future & Friends' One Big Party Tour in 2023
Metro Boomin performs during Future & Friends' One Big Party Tour in 2023

Photo: Prince Williams/Wireimage 

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Metro Boomin's Essential Songs: 10 Must-Know Tracks, From "Creepin" To "Like That"

The 2024 GRAMMY nominee for Producer Of The Year is one of hip-hop's most in-demand minds. Between his collab albums with Future and some highly debated beefs with rap's biggest stars, it's the perfect time to revisit the Metro-verse.

GRAMMYs/Jun 4, 2024 - 01:38 pm

Metro Boomin has spent more than a decade redefining rap music. The gloomy, 808-induced trap beats that flood radio airwaves and blare from nightclub speakers are a symbol of his influence. But now, the Atlanta-based superproducer is on one of his biggest musical runs to date.  

In April, Metro released the second of two joint albums with Future, hinted at a third release this year, sold out a concert at the Kundalini Grand Pyramids in Egypt, and clinched the No. 1 spot on Billboard’s Hot 100 with "Like That" featuring Kendrick Lamar. He also delivered a first-of-its-kind instrumental diss aimed at Drake called "BBL Drizzy," accusing the Toronto rapper of going under the knife.  

The diss was in response to Drake’s "Push Ups" and subsequent disses toward Kendrick Lamar. "Metro shut your hoe ass up and make some drums" he rapped. The verbal blow inspired Metro to release the hilarious instrumental, which he encouraged fans to rap on for a chance to win a free beat.  

Months before the feud, Metro celebrated two nominations for Best Rap Album and Producer of the Year, Non-Classical at the 66th GRAMMY Awards. While he didn’t take home a coveted golden gramophone, the momentum has elevated his career to new heights.  

Before the St. Louis-bred producer kicks off the We Trust You tour with Future on July 30, revisit 10 of Metro Boomin's biggest releases.  

"Karate Chop" (2013) 

A 19-year-old Metro crafted his first charting single right before making a life-changing move to Atlanta. With piercing synths and bubbly arpeggios, the song was the lead single for Future’s highly anticipated sophomore album, Honest. 

But Metro, a freshman at Morehouse College at the time, wasn’t sold on its success. "I never really like it," Metro told XXL. "Then every time people would come into the studio, he would always play the record and I was like, ‘Why are you so stuck on this s—? We have way harder records.’"  

But after cranking out a new mix on the original track, "Karate Chop" went on to become his first placement on a major label album. The remix with Lil Wayne further elevated the record and, by virtue, Metro’s profile as a musical craftsman.  

"Jumpman" (2015) 

 Metro mastered the late-summer anthem in 2015 with "Jumpman." The song was the most notable hit from Drake and Future’s collaborative mixtape, What a Time to Be Alive, and went on to shut down bustling nightclubs and obscure strip joints. And while the record didn’t perform as well as other songs on this list, it secured Future his first Top 20 hit.  

The song — which features Metro’s signature bass and a screeching raven sound effect — also saw a streaming boost after an Apple Music commercial featuring Taylor Swift rapping to the song. According to Adweek, the campaign helped generate a 431 percent increase in global sales 

 What makes "Jumpman" even more special is that a collab between Future, Metro, and Drake may never happen again. Reportedly, the duo is at odds with Drake because the OVO artist decided to link with 21 Savage on Her Loss instead of doing a follow-up project with Future.  

"Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1" (2016) 

"Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1" is the song that set Kanye West’s album, Life of Pablo, ablaze. Opening with a clip of gospel musician and singer T.L. Barrett’s Father I Stretch My Hands,” Metro’s signature producer tag kicks the record into full gear. The pulsating synthesizers and bouncy percussion match West’s raunchy and sexually explicit lyrics.  

Metro’s production received significant praise, with several publications pointing to his contributions on end-of-year listings. And in the eight years since its release, "Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1" has been certified six times platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America, making it one of Ye’s most-sold records of all time. 

"Congratulations" (2016) 

After the success of "White Iverson," a young Post Malone was on the hunt for the hottest producers in the rap game. He managed to land Metro, who worked with fellow producers Frank Dukes and the prolific Louis Bell on the triumphant trap record "Congratulations."  

On a 2022 episode of the podcast "Full Send," Metro revealed that the celebratory song was made after watching the world’s greatest athletes eclipse historic feats of their own. "I remember the Olympics was on TV, and just how the music was sounding, it sounded like some champion s—," he said.  

"Congratulations" marked Post Malone’s second Top 20 hit following his debut, "White Iverson." The song was certified diamond after totaling more than 11 million combined sales. Today, it remains one of Metro’s biggest achievements.

"Bad and Boujee" (2017) 

Fueled by virality and a shoutout from Donald Glover at the 2017 Golden Globes, the Migos and Lil Uzi Vert’s "Bad and Boujee" landed Metro Boomin his first No. 1 Billboard hit as a producer.  

The song has every element Metro fans have grown to love: moody keys, hard-hitting bass, and plenty of room for the artists’ adlibs to pierce through the track.  

Two months before its eventual ascension, the song had a steep hill to climb atop the Billboard charts. But Metro’s production and the chemistry between Quavo, Offset, and Uzi helped the record shoot up to its rightful place. It continues to garner praise In the years since its 2016 release, too. It was ranked No. 451 on Rolling Stone’s "500 Greatest Songs of All Time" list 

"Mask Off" (2017) 

When "Mask Off" dropped in 2017, it scorched the Billboard charts. Hip-hop was flirting with flutes (as heard on songs like Drake’s "Portland" and Kodak Black’s "Tunnel Vision" — another Metro-produced beat) — but "Mask Off" stands out as the biggest song of the short-lived era.  

Metro infused jazz-like undertones to perfectly meld the flute lick into the dark and mystic beat. The record led to the remix with Kendrick Lamar, with his verse breathing new life into the already-seismic hit. It’s now certified nine times platinum.  

Years after the song’s release, Future said "Mask Off" initially put radio programmers in disarray. In his East Atlanta rapper’s Apple Music documentary The WIZRD, he revealed that the song dropped before Carlton WIlliams’ "Prison Song" sample was officially cleared. "Out of all the songs, ‘Mask Off’ wasn’t even legit," he said. "The s— was on the radio, they’re thinking it’s not a sample, but it got so big they were like, ‘It’s a sample.’" 

"Heartless" (2019) 

The Weeknd's "Heartless" is a pop and electro-clash classic that fires on all cylinders. The visuals are atmospheric, the lyrics are ultra-stimulating, and the production — partly handled by Metro — makes for a lasting club banger.  

The leading single for The Weeknd’s fourth studio album, After Hours, topped the Billboard charts. It marked the Toronto-born crooner’s fourth No. 1 hit and unveiled the depths of Metro’s musical arsenal.  

Metro produced four tracks on After Hours: "Faith," "Escape from L.A.," "Until I Bleed Out" and "Heartless." On the latter and in his other collaborations with The Weeknd, James Blake, and Solange, Metro’s creative sorcery was tested. He proved, once again, that he could generate a hit outside the confines of trap music.  

"Creepin" (2022)

After a solid outing on his first album Not All Heroes Wear Capes, Metro returned with another series of hard-hitting records. His second solo venture, Heroes & Villains, featured John Legend, Don Tolliver, Travis Scott, and other premiere artists. But the biggest song to come out of the star-studded lineup was "Creepin’" featuring 21 Savage and The Weeknd 

The only single to Metro’s second solo album struck sonic gold. The Weeknd’s flowy vocals overlay the silky and harmonic record, which transitions to a more trap-induced beat once 21 Savage’s verse kicks in. The remake of Mario Winans’ "I Don’t Wanna Know" was a notable departure from Metro’s past singles, which heavily lean on his trap roots. But it still managed to connect with his audience – and even beyond it. "Creepin" peaked at No. 3 on Billboard, which was Metro’s highest-charting solo record up until that point.

Spider-Man: Across The Spider-Verse (2023) 

Following the success of "Creepin’" and his other smash singles, Metro extended his creative powers to the film world. He was given the green light to executive produce the soundtrack for Sony’s Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse. 

Metro Boomin told Indie Wire that he crafted songs from rough animations and selected scenes "just to get in the world and the story of Miles [Morales] and what he’s going through," He even exchanged phone calls and texts with the film’s composer Daniel Pemberton to ensure the soundtrack and score were on the same accord.  

From the classical serenade "Am I Dreaming" to the Latin swing of "Silk & Cologne" and the Timbaland-stomping "Nas Morales," the result was an equally transformative musical experience. Each record ranged in musicality and tone while beautifully complementing the vibrant animated superhero flick.

"Like That" (2024) 

"Like That" is easily one of the best beats in Metro’s catalog, and may end up being one of the most memorable. Samples from Rodney O & Joe Cooley’s "Everlasting Bass" and Eazy-E’s 1989 classic "Eazy-Duz-It" shaped the bouncy trap beat, sinister synths, and spine-chilling baseline. But Kendrick Lamar’s verse turned it into a heat-seeking missile.  

With the song’s thunderous bass and rapid hi-hats in the background, Kendrick dissed J. Cole and Drake for their recent claims of rap supremacy, particularly on 2023’s "First Person Shooter." The lyrical nuke sparked the Civil War-style rap feud, which led to a seven-song exchange between Kendrick and Drake.  

The initial musical blow made the genre stand still. It also led to the massive success of the record, which notched Future and Metro another No. 1 hit song. It also helped the pair’s album, We Don’t Trust You, claim the top spot on the Billboard 200 albums chart.  

Inside The Metro-Verse: How Metro Boomin Went From Behind-The-Scenes Mastermind To Rap's Most In-Demand Producer 

Lil Wayne performing at Roots Picnic 2024
Lil Wayne performs at Roots Picnic 2024.

Photo: Taylor Hill/Getty Images for Live Nation Urban

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9 Lively Sets From The 2024 Roots Picnic: Jill Scott, Lil Wayne, Nas, Sexyy Red, & More

From hit-filled sets by The-Dream and Babyface to a star-studded tribute to New Orleans, the 2024 iteration of the Roots Picnic was action-packed. Check out a round-up of some of the most exciting sets here.

GRAMMYs/Jun 3, 2024 - 09:02 pm

As June kicked off over the weekend, The Roots notched another glorious celebration at West Philadelphia's Fairmount Park with the 16th annual Roots Picnic. This year's festival featured even more activations, food vendors, attendees, and lively performances.

On Saturday, June 1, the action was established from the onset. October London and Marsha Ambrosius enlivened the soul of R&B lovers, while Method Man and Redman brought out surprise guests like Chi-town spitter Common and A$AP Ferg for a showstopping outing. 

Elsewhere, rappers Smino and Sexyy Red flashed their St. Louis roots and incited fans to twerk through the aisles of the TD Pavilion. And Philly-born Jill Scott's sultry vocals made for a memorable homecoming performance during her headlining set. 

The momentum carried over to day two on Sunday, June 2, with rising stars like Shaboozey and N3WYRKLA showing the Roots Picnic crowd why their names have garnered buzz. Later in the day, rapper Wale brought his signature D.C. swag to the Presser Stage. And while Gunna's performance was shorter than planned, it still lit the fire of younger festgoers. 

Closing out the weekend was a savory tribute to New Orleans courtesy of The Roots themselves, which also starred Lil Wayne, acclaimed R&B vocalists, an illustrious jazz band, and some beloved NoLa natives. 

Read on for some of the most captivating moments and exciting sets from the 2024 Roots Picnic. 

The-Dream Serenaded On The Main Stage

The-Dream performing at Roots Picnic 2024

The-Dream | Taylor Hill/Getty Images for Live Nation Urban

After years away from the bright lights of solo stardom, The-Dream made a triumphant return to the festival stage on Saturday. The GRAMMY-winning songwriter and producer played his timeless R&B hits like "Falsetto" and "Shawty Is Da S––," reminding fans of his mesmerizing voice and renowned penmanship.

His vocals melted into the sunset overlooking Fairmount Park Saturday evening. And even in moments of audio malfunctions, he was able to conjure the greatness he's displayed as a solo act. Although, it may have looked easier than it was for the Atlanta-born musician: "Oh, y'all testing me," he said jokingly. 

The-Dream slowed it down with the moodier Love vs. Money album cut "Fancy," then dug into the pop-funk jam "Fast Car" and the bouncy "Walkin' On The Moon." He takes fans on a ride through his past sexual exploits on the classic "I Luv Your Girl," and closes on a fiery note with the "Rockin' That S—." While even he acknowledged that his set wasn't perfect, it left fans hoping to see more from the artist soon. 

Smino Rocked Out With His Philly "Kousins"

Smino performing at Roots Picnic 2024

Smino | Shaun Llewellyn

Despite somewhat of a "niche" or cult-like following, Smino galvanized music lovers from all corners to the Presser Stage. The St. Louis-bred neo-soul rapper played silky jams like "No L's" and "Pro Freak" from 2022's Luv 4 Rent, then dove into the sultry records from his earlier projects.

"Klink" set the tone for the amplified showcase, with fans dancing in their seats and through the aisles. His day-one fans — or "kousins," as he lovingly refers to them — joined him on songs like the head-bopping "Z4L," and crooned across the amphitheater on the impassioned "I Deserve." 

Under Smino's musical guidance, the crowd followed without a hitch anywhere in the performance. It further proved how magnetic the "Netflix & Dusse" artist is live, and how extensive his reach has become since his 2017 debut, blkswn.

Nas Took Fans Down Memory Lane

Nas performing at Roots Picnic 2024

Nas | Taylor Hill/Getty Images for Live Nation Urban

The New York and Philadelphia connection was undeniable Saturday, as legendary Queensbridge MC Nas forged the two distinctive cities for a performance that harnessed an "Illadelph State of Mind."

The "I Gave You Power" rapper played his first show in Philadelphia as a teenager, when he only had one verse under his belt: Main Source's 1991 song "Live at the BBQ." Back then, Nas admitted to underplaying the city's influence, but he knew then what he knows now — "I had to step my s— up." And he did.

The rapper played iconic songs like "Life's a B–" and "Represent" from his landmark debut Illmatic, which celebrated 30 years back in April. He even brought out Wu-Tang Clan's Ghostface Killah to add to the lyrical onslaught, and played records like "Oochie Wally" and "You Owe Me" to enliven his female fans.

Sexyy Red Incited A Twerk Fest

Sexyy Red performing at Roots Picnic 2024

Sexyy Red | Frankie Vergara

Hot-ticket rapper Sexyy Red arrived on the Presser Stage with a message: "Make America Sexyy Again." And as soon as Madam Sexyy arrived, she ignited a riot throughout the TD Pavilion aisles. Twerkers clung onto friends and grasped nearby railings to dance to strip club joints like "Bow Bow Bow (F My Baby Dad)" and "Hood Rats."

Red matched the energy and BPM-attuned twerks from her fans, which only intensified as her lyrics grew more explicit. Sexyy encouraged all of the antics with a middle finger to the sky, her tongue out, and her daring lyrics filling the air. Songs like "SkeeYee" and "Pound Town" added to the nonstop action, leaving fans in a hot sweat — and with their inner sexyy fully unlocked.

Jill Scott Delivered Some Homegrown Magic

Jill Scott performing at Roots Picnic 2024

Jill Scott (left) and Tierra Whack | Marcus McDonald

To close out night one, the Roots Picnic crowd congregated at the Park Stage for a glimpse of Philadelphia's native child, Jill Scott. The famed soulstress swooned with her fiery voice and neo-soul classics like "A Long Walk" and "The Way." Fans swayed their hips and sang to the night sky as Scott sprinkled her musical magic.

Scott, wrapped up in warm, sapphire-toned garments, was welcomed to the stage by Philadelphia Mayor Cherelle L. Parker. The newly elected official rallied the audience for a "Philly nostalgic" evening, and the GRAMMY-winning icon delivered a soaring performance that mirrored her vocal hero, Kathleen Battle. "Philadelphia, you have all of my love," Scott gushed. "I'm meant to be here tonight at this Roots Picnic."

"Jilly from Philly" invited some of the city's finest MCs to the stage for the jam session. Black Thought rapped along her side for The Roots' "You Got Me," and Tierra Whack stepped in for the premiere of her and Scott's unreleased rap song, a booming ode to North Philly. 

Fantasia & Tasha Cobbs Leonard Brought Electrifying Energy

Fantasia performing at Roots Picnic 2024

Fantasia | Taylor Hill/Getty Images for Live Nation Urban

Led by the musical maestro Adam Blackstone, singers Tasha Cobbs Leonard and Fantasia set the warmness of Sunday service and their Southern flare with a "Legacy Experience." And as the title of the performance suggests, their fiery passion was a thread of musical mastery.

As fans danced across the lawn, it was just as much a moment of worship as it was a soulful jam — and only the dynamic voices of the two Southern acts could do the job. "Aren't y'all glad I took y'all there this Sunday," Blackstone said.

The sanctity of Tasha Cobbs Leonard's vocals was most potent on "Put A Praise On It," and Fantasia's power brought the house down even further with classics like "Free Yourself" and "When I See U."

"I wasn't supposed to come up here and cut. I'm trying to be cute," Fantasia joked after removing her shoes on stage. The North Carolina native's lips quivered and her hands shook in excitement, as she continued to uplift the audience — fittingly closing with a roaring rendition of Tina Turner's "Proud Mary."

Babyface Reminded Of His Icon Status

Babyface performing at Roots Picnic 2024

Babyface | Marcus McDonald

There are few artists who could dedicate a full set to their own records, or the hits they've penned for other musicians. And if you don't know how special that is, Babyface won't hesitate to remind you. "I wrote this back in 1987," he said before singing the Whispers' "Rock Steady."

Throughout the legendary R&B singer's 45-minute set, he switched between his timeless records like "Every Time I Close My Eyes" and "Keeps on Fallin'," and those shared by the very artists he's inspired — among them, Bobby Brown's "Don't Be Cruel" and "Every Little Step," 

Fans across several generations gathered to enjoy the classic jams. There was a look of awe in their eyes, as they marveled at the work and memories Babyface has created over more than four decades. 

André 3000 Offered Layers Of Creativity

Andre 3000 performing at Roots Picnic 2024

André 3000 | Marcus McDonald

Speculation over what André 3000 would bring to his Sunday night set was the buzz all weekend. Fans weren't sure if they were going to hear the "old André," or the one blowing grandiose tones from a flute on his solo debut, 2023's New Blue Sun.

The former Outkast musician went for the latter, and while some fans were dismayed by the lack of bars, hundreds stayed for the highly rhythmic set. "Welcome to New Blue Sun live," André said. The majestic chimes and flowy notes of his performance reflect a new creative outlook, and as the performance went on, there was a cloud of coolness that loomed over the amphitheater.

His artistic approach is new to many fans, but he never stopped showcasing the personality they have grown to love. After delivering a message in an indistinguishable language, he panned to the crowd with a look of deep thought and said, "I just want y'all to know, I made all that s— up." It's the kind of humor fans have admired from him for decades, and moments like those are one of many reasons they stayed to watch the nuances of the MC's set.

Lil Wayne & The Roots Gave New Orleans Its Magnolias

Trombone Shorty and Black Thought at Roots Picnic 2024

Trombone Shorty (left) and Black Thought | Taylor Hill/Getty Images for Live Nation Urban

The sound of jazz trombones and the gleam of Mardi Gras colors transported West Philly to the bustling streets of New Orleans for the closing set of Roots Picnic 2024. The ode to the Big Easy featured natives like Lloyd, PJ Morton and the marvelous Trombone Shorty, all of whom helped deliver a celebratory tribute that matched the city's vibrance.

Lloyd floated to the stage singing The Roots' "Break You Off," and delved into his own catalog with "Get It Shawty" and "You." Morton soon followed with a soulful run of his R&B records, including "The Sweetest Thing" and "Please Be Good."

With anticipation on full tilt, Black Thought welcomed the festival closer to the stage with a message: "It's only right if Philly pays homage to New Orleans that we bring out Lil Wayne." And right on cue, Wayne drew a wave of cheers as he began "Mr. Carter."

Wayne strung together his biggest Billboard-charting and street hits, including "Uproar," "Hustler's Muzik" and "Fireman." The performance was a rousing cap-off to the weekend — and it clearly meant a lot to the rapper to rep his city in such grand fashion.

"This is a dream come true," Wayne said. "It's a motherf–ing honor."

11 New Music Festivals To Attend In 2024: No Values, We Belong Here & More

Shaboozey Press Photo 2024
Shaboozey

Photo: Daniel Prakopcyk

interview

Shaboozey On His New Album, Beyoncé & Why He'll Never Be A "Stereotypical" Artist

After Beyoncé introduced Shaboozey to a global audience via 'COWBOY CARTER,' his genre-shattering third album arrives on the wings of his own international smash, "A Bar Song (Tipsy)" and makes a declaration: 'Where I've Been, Isn't Where I'm Going.'

GRAMMYs/May 31, 2024 - 03:40 pm

The last two months have been monumental for Shaboozey. On March 29, Beyoncé fans around the world embraced his two guest collaborations on her COWBOY CARTER album, "SPAGHETTII" and "SWEET HONEY BUCKIIN'" — and they were instantly interested in what else the Nigerian-American singer had to offer. According to his label, EMPIRE, Spotify listens of Shaboozey's music (including his first two albums, 2018's Lady Wrangler and 2022's Cowboys Live Forever, Outlaws Never Die) rose by 1000 percent after COWBOY CARTER dropped.

Six weeks later, his growing fandom sent his breakthrough single, "A Bar Song (Tipsy)," to No. 1 on Billboard's Hot Country chart — ironically, dethroning Queen Bey's "Texas Hold 'Em" in the process. The song instantly proved to have crossover appeal, also peaking at No. 3 on the all-genre Billboard Hot 100 chart, along with reaching the top spot on pop charts in Australia, Canada, Norway, and Sweden.

With his third album, Where I've Been, Isn't Where I'm Going, the man born Collins Chibueze is eager for audiences new and old to get a deeper look into his ever-evolving artistry, which he's been honing for more than a decade. He leans into country and the soundtrack of the open road on "Highway" and "Vegas," while also tapping into his talent as an MC on "Drink Don't Need No Mix" with Texas rapper BigXthaPlug. He displays a softer side, too, with tracks like "My Fault," an apologetic and pleading country ballad performed with Noah Cyrus, and "Steal Her From Me," which finds Shaboozey smoldering with his own Southern slow jam.

Shaboozey's massive global recognition may be fresh, but he's here to remind listeners that he's not a new artist. In a candid interview with GRAMMY.com, the singer discusses how he's put in a decade of hard work in order to appear to be an overnight success.

You've topped the country charts as well as pop charts around the world. Do you think we are witnessing a more welcoming era in country music right now?

I think it's definitely a lot more welcoming. All these genres of music now, just because of the internet age and the access to information — like, now I can go watch Tubi, which has thousands of Western movies, and then Spotify, I can jump from listening to a Townes Van Zandt album or a Leonard Cohen album, and then I can go play Future, you know what I mean?

And then I can jump from them, and go listen to The Marías, who are friends of mine. I can listen to some indie rock music, and then I can listen to some Fred again.. or something like that. So having all that at your fingertips, I think, it's allowed for some interesting combinations in all genres of music.

I think we're the generation of paint splatter! I do think it is very welcoming. As artists we are able to connect. We can have our own micro communities. There's not just one way to connect with people now, there are so many other ways. It's different out there now, it's really different.

You're releasing your second album with EMPIRE — how has the company helped you to develop?

EMPIRE has been super awesome. I was signed to Republic for a while, for a year or two, and I saw some article where it talked about Universal partnering with EMPIRE to handle some distribution stuff. I remember talking to my manager at the time, and being like, "We should go there!"

Major labels can get pretty cluttered. Sometimes they just don't have the bandwidth to develop acts that aren't going to take off in a couple weeks or a month or a quarter. They have these quarterlies they have to meet.

So for an artist like me, who is — a lot of people like to describe me as disruptive. It's weird to describe yourself as that. I'm just being me, and people are like, "That's disruptive." But for someone like me, who's like that, it's very important for me to be innovative and push things, and change the way people consume.

I never came in the game wanting to be stereotypical, or just your usual artist. I came in just trying to be like, Man, I love art. I love being creative and that's what I am. Sometimes that's hard to package to everyone. It's like, what is it? For major labels, sometimes, they love to be like, this is pop, this is country, this is just that.

And so for EMPIRE to bring me into what they had going on, and to stick with me within these three or four years I've been with them, knowing that there has been a lot of ups and downs. There've been a lot of [times] that we thought were going to do something that [we] didn't. Because it's a process with artistry, it doesn't happen overnight. They say it takes 10 years to have an overnight success, and it's true.

Your new album flows so well. Was it written to be taken in as one complete piece?

I'm a lover of a concept album. I love film, I love stories, I love payoffs. I love the hero's journey, they call it.

There is a way to tell a story in a three-act structure. And within those structures you have your rising action, you have your hero's call to action. They lead the world, you have your climax, and then you have, was the hero changed? Did they get the thing they were looking for at the end of it?

I'm a huge fan of film, huge on concepts, world building. I want something to feel immersive, so arrangement is big to me.

But before, I used to be super picky about [ensuring that] everything needs to connect, and I had to learn to let that go and just know that that's a part of me as an artist. As I create, I'm telling these stories naturally, so I stopped being too hard on myself about things needing to connect because that would cripple me at certain points. But now, again, I'm just learning how to let it go, and let it come naturally. It's cool to see that people are still saying with this project that there's still a concept there. And I'm like, oh, there is still a concept there. There is still a story.

My last project [Cowboys Live Forever, Outlaws Never Die] was super inspired by western films. Old western films, like, spaghetti westerns, and the whole nature of outlaw, just like period piece western culture. So I was huge on everything needing to feel like it was period. It needed to feel like this 1800s western, and this Black outlaw and his gang.

Obviously, I wanted the [visual] content to reflect that. And then you're realizing…  Wait, every video shoot I'm having to rent western wardrobe and chaps? It's a lot to do all the time, you know? It was a commitment… and I don't wear that everyday, so it wasn't really 100 percent being authentically myself in that moment. It was like, I'm creating a character and this character is separate from me.

That's hard to do all the time. Especially when it's a period piece in the 1800s and you're in 2024. So at some point I was like, hey, I want this project to be more like, I can put something on in my closet and go shoot some content, versus having to find a western town, or a world or environment that fits the 1800s.

Do you think that Beyoncé was inspired by that album?

I definitely think so. I think that's what was cool about her project, and her entry into country. I saw a lot of similarities between the things that inspired us.

What I love about country is, I really love the old stuff that really does play into the old West, the Wild West — and I saw that Beyoncé, she would talk about little things like that, too. Like the outlaws, hangmen and six shooters, and stuff like that. So you can see that she's really inspired by that stuff as well. I was told by her team that she would definitely watch a lot of old Western films through the process of doing her project.

How has the Beyhive treated you since you appeared on COWBOY CARTER?

I love that community. Seriously, that community, they've been extremely supportive from what I've seen, because Beyoncé's message has been about shining light on people that may have been overlooked. So they definitely carry out the mission of supporting the people that Beyoncé supports. They've been amazing.

I would like to say that early on with "Bar Song," they were definitely pre-saving it, they were sharing it as much as they could on Twitter, and there were a lot of posts that I was making that were getting high viewership. You could tell that there were a lot of impressions before the "Bar Song" came out. So they're great.

Did you ever think you'd be on an album with Willie Nelson and Dolly Parton?

I hoped for those things when I was creating my album. I wanted to see more hip-hop artists collaborating with people like that. I was always like, man, if I was given a $10 million budget to make a project, I'd get Willie Nelson or Hank Williams Jr. or someone like that to jump on it. I want to see something like that.

As someone whose parents grew up in Nigeria, what do you think of the global breakthrough of Nigerian artists like Burna Boy and Wizkid?

It's amazing to see. Afrobeat is definitely universal now, global like that. I think Wizkid was one of the pioneers of getting that music across the water in such a way. Burna Boy, too — if you check out his aesthetic, it's influenced by a lot of different things. He's not just wearing traditional Nigerian garments, he's wearing designer stuff, and he's got the jewelry pieces and Cartier. It's presented in a way that that style of music wasn't really represented [before] in that sense.

I lived in Nigeria for a year or two, and when I was there, there was no wifi or the internet. Now I go back and my cousins are on Netflix and on Instagram and all these places. So yeah, everything is spreading out. But as far as Afrobeat, I mean, that music is incredible, the production. It's so infectious when you hear it, but it's cool to see people of Nigerian descent, me as well, having our reach everywhere.

Davido, he reached out to me a couple days ago, he's like, "I need you to get on this record." There's a lot of Nigerian artists now that are hitting me up, and are like, "Hey, will you jump on this, will you jump on that?" I'm hearing some of those guys are trying to get into country music. It's cool to kind of have my own Burna Boy moment right now!

The new album sounds like you really worked on developing your voice as an instrument, with more singing than rapping. Is that a fair assumption?

Yeah. Being from Virginia, we didn't have those outlets to kind of hone in on. I didn't have a vocal coach, or a songwriting program, or anything like that. We kind of had to figure it out on our own.

I think that's why you have so many artists that come from Virginia where they're all very eclectic, they all have this kind of rawness to them. Missy Elliott, Timbaland, Pharrell, even Tommy Richman. He's got that song going crazy viral too. You know the song, the "Million Dollar Baby" song. It's a guy singing falsetto [like] Bee Gees over a hip-hop beat. I'm like, where did you learn to structure a song like this?

This album was that project for me. My manager here [told me] it's working, because I'm learning how to arrange music and write songs that have a broader appeal, but I didn't know that at the time. We were just having fun, just learning how to do it with whatever resources we had. It can get kind of funky.

I think my first project was very funky, and then this one was [made after] 10 years of being in it. You start to figure it out a little bit more.

Beyond Country: All The Genres Beyoncé Explores On 'Cowboy Carter'

Aaliyah in 2001
Aaliyah in 2001.

Photo: Sal Idriss/Redferns

list

8 Ways Aaliyah Empowered A Generation Of Female R&B Stars

More than 20 years after her untimely death and 30 since her debut album, 'Age Ain't Nothing But a Number,' Aaliyah's legacy lives on through female R&B artists of generations new and old. Dig into her impact, from her fearlessness to her fashion sense.

GRAMMYs/May 24, 2024 - 02:39 pm

With worldwide sales of 32 million, five GRAMMY nominations, and more than a dozen Hot 100 hits to her name, Aaliyah achieved more in her tragically cut-short 22 years than most would several lifetimes over. And more than two decades after her untimely death, the female R&B scene is still very much indebted to her pioneering talents.

In the last few years alone, she's been namechecked by Beyoncé, sampled by SZA and Normani, and covered by Mariah the Scientist and Sinead Harnett. And that's only on a sonic level. Ella Mai and Mahalia also recreated her signature tomboyish look in their video for "What You Did," as did Jhené Aiko on " P*$$Y Fairy (OTW)." Justine Skye and Sevyn Streeter are just a few of the names who paid their respects in 2023 ABC tribute Superstar. And going further back, Aaliyah has also been cited as a major source of inspiration by Ciara, Tinashe, Nelly Furtado, and Rihanna, while Katy B and Jessie Ware even named their "Jolene"-esque duet after their musical icon.

And thanks to Aaliyah's innovative second and third studio efforts, 1996's One In A Million and 2001's Aaliyah, finally escaping from licensing limbo in 2021, those growing up in the streaming age are now discovering her supremely sultry voice, masterly interpretative skills, and array of forward-thinking hits, too. In the last three years, the likes of "Try Again" and "Are You That Somebody" have racked up more than 140 ad 170 million streams, respectively, on Spotify alone.

But why exactly does the singer nicknamed Baby Girl still have such a hold on contemporary artists, several of whom were barely out of diapers when she was busy tearing up the R&B rulebook? To coincide with the 30th anniversary of Aaliyah's debut album, Age Ain't Nothing But A Number, here's a look at how the "street but sweet" star built up such an inspirational legacy.

She Knew How To Use Her Voice 

Aaliyah arrived at a time when powerhouses Mariah Carey, Celine Dion and Whitney Houston were the dominant female singers. But the New Yorker quickly proved that lung-busting multiple octaves isn't the only way to vocally impress.

Aaliyah was still capable of such acrobatics. According to producer Daryl Simmons, she would often rely on opera runs before recording to warm up her voice; Diane Warren, who worked with the star on ballad "The One I Gave My Heart To," has spoken of how she was taken aback by her versatility. But Aaliyah's signature delivery was very much "less is more." You can hear her sensual, featherlight tones in the likes of Kelela, Rochelle Jordan, and The Internet's Syd, the latter of whom has specifically hailed Aaliyah as a formative influence on her own cooler-than-cool style.

She Retained An Air Of Mystery 

Aaliyah's less-is-more approach also applied to her public profile. Perhaps due to the controversy surrounding her relationship with debut album producer R. Kelly, the singer largely preferred to let her music do the talking.

Even when she did speak to the press, she kept her cards close to her chest. And she avoided giving the more salacious outlets any further ammunition by growing up away from the spotlight. If they were looking for celebrity beefs, love triangles or stumbling out of nightclubs, they had to look elsewhere.

In the social media era where oversharing is the norm, Aaliyah's desire to keep her private life entirely private now seems both admirable and practically impossible. But there are still several artists who've recognized there's a power in retaining a sense of mystery. Just look at Sault, the enigmatic collective said to be fronted by the Aaliyah-esque Cleo Sol, who've released 11 albums and evenperformed live without officially revealing their true identities.

She Was A Triple Threat 

Triple threats are par for the course these days. From Beyoncé and Rihanna to Brandy and Nicki Minaj, almost every female R&B star now seems determined to show they can pull off singing, dancing and acting — and, in the case of Jennifer Lopez's recent passion project, all at the same time. But Aaliyah was one of the first to showcase such impressive versatility.

In 2000 thriller Romeo Must Die, she stole the show from Jet Li as the daughter of a crime lord who refuses to get drawn into his dangerous underworld. And thanks to an inventive blend of wirework and futuristic choreography, she was equally spellbinding in the video for tie-in single "Try Again." 

Meanwhile, her slithery performance as the titular bloodsucker was by far the standout in 2001 horror Queen of the Damned. Having landed key roles in The Matrix Reloaded and Sparkle shortly before her untimely death, Aaliyah's movie career would undoubtedly have ascended to the same lofty heights as her musical.

She Wasn't Afraid To Take Control 

Don't be fooled by Aaliyah's softly spoken vocals and coy demeanor. The star was never afraid to tell it like it is. Just ask A&R executive Jeff Sledge, who guided her early days with Jive Records. "She was shy but when she would speak, you could tell she was a real artist," he told The Guardian in 2021. "She had her ideas of what she wanted to do and say — she wasn't a puppet."

Although her talents lay as a performer/interpreter rather than a songwriter/producer, Aaliyah continued to exert creative control throughout her discography. While promoting sophomore One In A Million, she told MTV, "I was very confident in my convictions and what I wanted this time around." 

It's a mindset reflected across her lyrical themes, too. On "If Your Girl Only Knew," she hits back at a player whose attention she's unwillingly caught, while on "Are You That Somebody," she insists on keeping her new beau a secret until he proves his worth.

She Helped Launch Missy Elliott's Career 

Although Missy Elliott had started to make waves in the music industry — firstly in short-lived girlband Sista, and then as writer/producer for Jodeci and Aaron Hall — it was her partnership with Timbaland and Aaliyah on 1996's One In A Million where she truly established herself as an R&B game-changer. Elliott co-penned nine tracks, including the singles "Hot Like Fire," "4 Page Letter" and "If Your Girl Only Knew," her sensual melodic hooks the perfect foil for Timbaland's innovative beats.

By the time their crowning glory, "Are You That Somebody," dropped in 1998, Elliott had become a star in her own right: maintaining the synergy, her debut album, 1997's Supa Dupa Fly, also boasted a guest appearance from Aaliyah. But as Elliott told Entertainment Weekly in a tribute to Aaliyah after her passing, their connection went far beyond the studio: "It was more of a family vibe than just work. We could tell each other anything." Over the next few years, both established (Whitney, Mariah) and emerging (702, Tweet) female talent would follow Aaliyah's lead by utilizing Elliott's production skills.

She Gave The Youth A Voice 

From SWV and En Vogue to Brownstone and Jade, the mid-'90s R&B scene was dominated by ladies well into adulthood. Aaliyah, however, was just 15 when debut Age Ain't Nothing But A Number hit the shelves. Subsequently, a generation of young girls immediately latched on to who they saw as a kindred spirit.

Although Aaliyah always sounded more mature than her years, her debut often reads like a schoolgirl's diary entry. (She even opens the title track by noting one: "May 5, 1993/ Aaliyah's diary/ Got it," goes the often-omitted intro.) Songs about crushes, hanging out with her friends, and partying on the weekend certainly reflected the teenage experience with authenticity (Aaliyah was still attending Detroit High School for the Fine and Performing Arts).

What's more, "Young Nation" essentially finds her spearheading a new youth movement, "keeping it smooth with a jazz attitude.""There were so many messages in her songs that guided me and became the soundtrack to my childhood," British singer Kara Marni told The Guardian, proving that Aaliyah's generational influence extended far beyond her homeland.

She Had A Timeless Sense Of Style 

"There doesn't seem to be a current streetwear trend that Aaliyah didn't sport first," Vogue's fashion editor Janelle Okwodu recently claimed, no doubt referring to everything from bandanas and baggy jeans to sports jerseys and ski hats. From the moment she first graced MTV in overalls, a tracksuit and the chunkiest of leather vests in "Back & Forth," the New Yorker made it crystal clear she wasn't interested in appealing solely to the male gaze.

Aaliyah could dress up for the occasion; see the Roberto Cavalli ballgown she wore to the 2000 VMAs. But her sense of style always leaned more toward the casual and tomboyish end of the spectrum, empowering the next generation of R&B performers to wear exactly what they wanted. British singer Nao was one such follower of her fashion: "There was a part of Aaliyah that made me feel comfortable in rolling out in my denim trousers or in an oversized jumper and knowing that my music can be enough."

She Proved Female R&B Could Think Outside The Box 

TLC's "No Scrubs," Missy Elliott's "Get Ur Freak On," Amerie's "1 Thing." Think of the most innovative R&B singles of the pre-streaming era and it's likely a female act is responsible. And thanks to a sonic palette that still sounds like it's been sent from the future, Aaliyah undeniably paved the way.

Age Ain't Nothing But A Number first established her innovative ways, her mellifluous vocals gliding across Timbaland's progressive beats and bank of avant-garde sound effects. But it was 2001's eponymous LP that truly pushed the genre into various weird and wonderful directions, from the snake-charming classical sample on "We Need A Resolution," to the warped Nine Inch Nails-esque guitars on "What If," to the squelchy sci-fi funk of "Try Again." 

Even when she went classic, as on gorgeous slow jam, "I Care 4 U," she practically invented alternative R&B. Musical boundaries might now be a thing of the past, but in the early '00s, Aaliyah was one of the few breaking them down.

​​10 Ways TLC Shaped The Future Of R&B