meta-script2023 In Review: 5 Trends That Defined Hip-Hop | GRAMMY.com
2023 In Review: 5 Trends That Defined Hip-Hop
(From left) Coi Leray, DJ Kool Herc, RZA, Lil Yachty, Yeat

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2023 In Review: 5 Trends That Defined Hip-Hop

While hip-hop’s lack of chart success was rife for discussion during the first half of the year, there was plenty of great rap music in 2023. It may not be reaching the top of the charts as frequently, but the genre is as vibrant as ever.

GRAMMYs/Dec 6, 2023 - 04:18 pm

For the first half of 2023, hip-hop’s lack of chart success seemed to be all anyone could talk about. 

No hip-hop album went No. 1 until Lil Uzi Vert’s Pink Tape in July, and it wasn’t until September that Doja Cat broke a 13-month dry spell for the genre on Billboard’s Hot 100 singles chart with "Paint the Town Red" (the single is nominated for Best Pop Vocal Performance at the 2024 GRAMMYs, alongside Miley Cyrus' "Flowers," "Vampire" by Olivia Rodrigo, Taylor Swift's "Antihero" and Billie Eilish's "What Was I Made For?").

This situation caused a bunch of hand-wringing. As hip-hop celebrated its 50th anniversary, was the genre past its prime — artistic, commercial or both? Was it, as one popular radio personality proclaimed, being eased out by mysterious powers-that-be in favor of Afrobeats or reggaeton?

While it may not be reaching the top of the charts as frequently as in years past, hip-hop is as vibrant as ever. As it turns out, there was plenty of great hip-hop around in 2023, thanks to both new and veteran artists. As hip-hop enters its next 50 years, look back on some of the trends that are keeping the genre one of the most innovative.

SoundCloud Rap Returns

"SoundCloud rap" was an appellation given to a group of artists starting sometime in the mid-2010s. It referred to artists like XXXTentacion, Trippie Redd, Smokepurpp, Lil Pump, Denzel Curry, and many more. Often the artists looked as colorful as the music sounded — face tattoos were the norm — and its approach was structurally experimental, emo-influenced, and raw. (A good summary of the movement is here). 

SoundCloud rap as a movement ran out of steam in 2019 after a string of tragic deaths (Lil Peep, XXXTentacion, Juice WRLD). But now a new iteration of it is back. 

Yeat, who in 2018 back at the tail of SoundCloud rap’s initial run was hailed as "SoundCloud’s latest sensation," has developed into a major star who duets with Drake on the latter's For All The Dogs. He and a crew of artists such as Ken Car$on, Midwxst, and SSGKobe are taking the high-energy vibe of the initial wave of SoundCloud rap artists like Playboi Carti, and updating it for a new generation. 

This new slate is, as other coverage has pointed out, overall less chaotic and noisy, and more professional-sounding, than its predecessors, while still having similar youthful energy.

Women Are Leading The Way

For far too long in mainstream hip-hop, women have been relegated to "the one girl in the crew" status, or been pitted against each other by fans, media, and pretty much everyone else with a there-can-only-be-one mentality. Despite that, girls and women have always played a key role in the genre, both in front of the mic and behind the scenes.

Fortunately those retrograde notions are dead in 2023. A diverse array of female rappers are leading the way artistically and commercially. On the commercial side of the ledger, last year’s GRAMMY Best New Artist nominee Latto was the first rapper to score a No. 1 hit in 2023, while GloRilla, Coi Leray and Best New Artist nominee Ice Spice (who is nominated in the category alongside Gracie Abrams, Fred again.., Jelly Roll, Coco Jones, Noah Kahan, Victoria Monét, and the War And Treaty) have all had big chart wins.

Other female artists who are making big noise include Tierra Whack (who this publication pinpointed as someone "leading the next generation"), Rico Nasty, Flo Milli, Kash Doll, BIA, and countless others. For a primer on both how we got here and what the current generation is up to, make sure to watch the Netflix documentary Ladies First: A Story of Women in Hip-Hop.

Change Is Happening At The Margins

As with most art forms, the real excitement happens at the edges. Whether it's people who are operating outside of the commercial mainstream, or artists who are pushing to expand the idea of what being a rapper even means by incorporating other types of music, the margins are where all the fun is.

In 2023, artists continued to incorporate other genres to the point where questioning whether their music is still hip-hop becomes impossible to answer — see Lil Yachty’s recent psychedelic turn and Kassa Overall’s jazzy explorations. There are also the truly outré, experimental artists like Fatboi Sharif, whose dark and abstract vision is unlike anything else; and psychedelic deep thinker Gabe ‘Nandez.

And there is a vibrant, arty underground scene that has its own revered veterans like billy woods whose profile (both solo and as a member of the duo Armand Hammer with ELUCID) has been rising rapidly over the past few years; as well as a contingent of younger aligned musicians like Fly Anakin and Pink Siifu. 

Veterans Are Killing The Stage

While some young artists are canceling or postponing live dates, or having tickets on the secondary market go for surprisingly low prices, there’s one contingent of artists who are having no problem filling seats and satisfying fans: the OGs.

The culture's legends crossed the country on stacked tours — many of which coincided with  the much-heralded 50th anniversary of hip-hop.The Rock the Bells F.O.R.C.E. Tour featured LL Cool J, the Roots, and a busload of veteran rappers. 2023 also saw the Nas and Wu-Tang Clan New York State of Mind Tour, and 50 Cent’s Final Lap Tour. 

Hip-hop’s longtime stars are tearing down stages all over the world, and filling up arenas while doing it. Despite a popular culture always focused on the new and next, these OGs are showing their staying power where it counts — onstage, in front of the people. 

Hip-Hop Celebrates Its Golden Anniversary

Hip-hop officially celebrated 50 years of groundbreaking culture in August, but 2023 became a year-long celebration of the genre’s past. Figures going all the way back to Kool Herc and  DJ Hollywood had huge moments and a renewed focus on their achievements.

The celebration wasn’t limited to one single Yankee Stadium concert or one media outlet. It was instead a long and well-needed look back that spanned live events, museum exhibits, documentaries, books, and more. The retrospective really kicked off in February, with a killer showcase of hip-hop history at the 2023 GRAMMYs. And it continues all the way through to December with the Recording Academy’s "A GRAMMY Salute to 50 Years of Hip-Hop" special

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

Lismar, S.Pri Noir, Ivorian Doll, Odumodublvc in collage
(From left) Lismar, S.Pri Noir, Ivorian Doll, Odumodublvck

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10 Artists Changing The Face Of Drill: Ivorian Doll, Bobby Tootact & More

While Cash Cobain and Ice Spice bring drill music even further into the mainstream, a new generation of artists are evolving the sound of the genre. From S.Pri Noir and 163Margs, to Lismar and Jay Hound, these 10 acts should be added to your playlist.

GRAMMYs/Jul 12, 2024 - 02:12 pm

Originating in the early 2010s on the southside of Chicago, the hip-hop subgenre drill has transcended borders to become a global phenomenon. 

Characterized by a menacing and dark energy, drill music sets itself apart from traditional rap and hip-hop through its violent, aggressive lyrics and undertones. Drill music incorporates slower, heavier beats that often blend distorted 808 basslines, dark synths, and trap-style hi-hats. 

The gritty, lawless sound, pioneered by artists like King Louie, Chief Keef, G Herbo and GRAMMY-award winner Lil Durk, remains at the core of the drill. Their influence is spreading to more mainstream acts like Cash Cobain — whose melodic, sultry "Attitude" exemplifies sample drill and landed him at No. 25 on Billboard's Hot Rap Songs — and Ice Spice, whose bold and perky lyrics contrast drill beats. As a whole, these artists are proving that drill is more than just graphic and horrid lyrical stories; it can be fun and even make you feel like a baddie.  

Variations on drill music can be heard in regions such as South America, Africa, and Europe.  The controversial but incredibly popular UK drill, which was born in the south London neighborhood of Brixton, draws many aesthetic influences from Chicago drill while maintaining its own stylistic differences. Where Chicago drill is heavily influenced by trap music, UK drill can be seen as a type of British gangsta rap, or "road rap." Young UK artists like Digga D and Central Cee have taken over the genre, both scoring entries on the Billboard chart, and with Central landing features with Drake and Lil Baby.    

A new generation of drill rappers are continuing to evolve the sound of the genre by combining drill beats and lyrics with a wide range of influences. Read on to learn about 10 budding drill artists whose innovative sounds and diverse perspectives are evolving the global drill landscape. 

Explore More: Drill Music Is On The Rise Around The World. Can Latin Drill Take Over Next?

Kenzo B

When it comes to vocal adaptability, attention to detail, and charisma — Kenzo B has got it. The Bronx-born rapper has quickly risen in prominence in New York's drill music scene following  2022 singles "Bump It" and "The Realest," both of which showcased her raw energy and talent. 

The self-proclaimed "Queen of Bronx drill" continues to refine her rapid-fire rhymes while maintaining a fierce competitiveness, setting her apart in the male-dominated drill space. In April, Kenzo B teamed up with Harlem rapper Bianca Bonnie to drop their ultra-femme anthem "What You Talkin Bout?"

Wolfacejoeyy

Known for his sexy drill singalongs, Wolfacejoeyy is one of the most exciting rising rappers from NYC’s "forgotten borough," Staten Island. The 21-year-old seamlessly weaves hooky, charismatic rhymes into signature Staten-style instrumentals. On songs like the viral "cake" and "wya," Joeyy taps into an alter ego that teeters between hopeless romantic and relentless f—boy, backed with dynamic hats and a heavy bass.

His highly-anticipated 13-track debut album Valentino, dropped last month and includes a feature from R&B singer Reuben Aziz and production from "Power" actor Michael Rainey Jr., who raps as WhereIs22.

S.Pri Noir

Born to a Senegalese mother and father from Guinea-Bissau, S.Pri Noir is based in France. Despite rapping in French, hip-hop artist S.Pri Noir's music is slowly transcending borders — grabbing the attention of audiences worldwide. 

S.Pri Noir’s 2018 debut album Masque Blanc reached No. 18 on the Top Albums chart in France. Earlier this month, he delivered a thrilling freestyle on "On The Radar Radio," channeling his inner Cash Cobain. After a recent Instagram post, fans are speculating a potential collaboration between the two artists will drop soon.

S.Pri Noir represents the next big market in drill: Africa. Many budding artists in the genre, especially from Europe, are second or third-generation African immigrants.   

Ivorian Doll

German British rapper Ivorian Doll is making a name for herself in the UK drill scene. Boldly claiming the title "Queen of Drill," she's carving out a unique niche with explosive lyrics, drill-infused tension, and undeniable pop appeal. Each of her anthems is a potent cocktail of drama and attitude, highlighting her razor-sharp signature style that's firmly anchored in unfiltered, hard-hitting lyricism.

The 26-year-old rapper debuted in 2018 as part of a duo, dropping the infectious drill track "The Situation." Since embarking on her solo journey, she's continued to captivate audiences with standout releases like "Queen of Drill," "Daily Duppy" and the buzz-worthy song "Rumour." Her ascent in the drill scene exemplifies a fresh voice bringing new energy to the genre, blending cultural influences with raw talent and unapologetic star quality.

Bobby Tootact

Harlem rapper Bobby Tootact is known for remixing popular Afro-Caribbean songs  — from Afrobeats bangers such as Wizkid’s "Joro" to dancehall like Teejay’s "Drift" — into drill tracks with overtly rough lyrics. On 2023's "Real Facts" (produced by go-to mixer Lowkeymali‬), Bobby raps about gun violence while sampling Wizkid’s popular Afrobeats dance track "Ojuelegba."

As the child of Senegalese immigrants, Bobby's music reflects a fusion of his cultural heritage and his upbringing in Harlem. This combination allows him to create a distinctive musical identity that resonates with fans of multiple genres while merging two completely different musical worlds. 

163Margs

Blending gritty lyrics with infectious beats, Nottingham's very own 163Margs has struck a chord with listeners craving traditional UK drill music from a young artist. Margs, who debuted in 2023, has already collaborated with UK heavyweights like Digga D, Bandokay, and Blanco. His debut single "Hide and Seek" propelled him into the spotlight, showcasing his raw talent and captivating flow. 

At first listen, his 2024 single, "Barbies" can be confused as an ode to beautiful women, with lyrics like: "All of them Barbie pretty." Listeners later realize the song is actually about guns and street life. "The opps are wet and there's no disagreement / Ayy / fill up the wap / put teeth in."

Odumodublvck

Nigerian rapper and singer Odumodublvck is crafting a lane for himself with an alluring Afro-grime and Afro-drill sound. As a member of the hip-hop collective Anti World Gangstars, Odumodublvck creates high-energy music which features catchy, repetitive lyrics in Pidgin English and his Native Nigerian language (Igbo). 

His latest project, EZIOKWU, dropped in October 2023 and includes collaborations with acclaimed artists like Fireboy DML, Wale, and Amaarae — further cementing his position as a rising star in the evolving Nigerian music landscape.

Jay Hound

Jay Hound is an upcoming drill artist hailing from a section of Manhattan's Upper West Side neighborhood and catapulted into the spotlight via his 2023 single "UKRAINE." 

A collaboration with his Sweepers labelmate Jay5ive, the track features deep and vibrating bass, and garnered over seven million views on YouTube and nearly 30 million streams on Spotify. He even released an Afro-drill version of the song, which deconstructs the grittiness of the original drill track for a more light and playful dance sound. 

Lismar

Dominican singer/songwriter Lismar is dominating the Dominican urban music scene with her contemporary hip-hop and drill rap. Gaining recognition on the Puerto Rican platform Freestyle Mania, Lismar's creativity and distinctive sound of which infuses both Latin and hip-hop music has earned her a growing fan base and a deal with Roc Nation.

In her new released tracks "Delincuente Con Traje" and "BZRP Music Session #60," she captivates listeners with her powerful flow and impactful lyrics that translate to "I look calm / but I was raised on the corner" and "If they close the door / I knock down the window." The rapper dropped her latest single "Mi Primer Concierto," a softer record that seamlessly integrates her Dominican heritage with rap.

Dee Billz

New York-based rapper, Dee Billz, combines bold and unapologetic lyrics while also toying with a Jersey club sound in his 2023 breakout hit "Thootie." The single took the internet by storm and racked up more than a million views across TikTok and YouTube.  

Last year, the drill artist collaborated with fellow New Yorker rapper’s Kyle Richh, Jenn Carter, and Tata to release "Stomp Stomp," a single that reimagines Soulja Boy's "Crank That" in a drill style. 

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Cults, Ice Spice, John Summitt, HARDY, Clairo, Ashton Irwin, Megan Maroney
(Clockwise from left) Cults, Ice Spice, John Summitt, HARDY, Clairo, Ashton Irwin, Megan Moroney

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15 Must-Hear Albums In July 2024: Ice Spice, Sturgill Simpson, HARDY, BLK ODYSSY, John Summit & More

The second half of 2024 starts strong with July album releases from Girl Ultra, CULTS, Megan Moroney, Ashton Irwin, and others across a wide range of genres.

GRAMMYs/Jul 1, 2024 - 03:43 pm

With the arrival of July, half of 2024 is already behind us. It's been a remarkable, prolific year in music, with notables like Beyoncé, Taylor Swift, and even Paul McCartney's band, Wings, making brand new comebacks. The artists releasing albums in the coming months will have to strive to keep up the pace — but judging by July's upcoming blossoms, this won't be an issue.

The month will start strong with Megan Moroney's sophomore LP, Am I Okay?, Sturgill Simpson (now Johnny Blue Skies)'s Passage du Desir, OneRepublic's Artificial Paradise, and John Summit's debut, Comfort in Chaos. Later on, 5SOS's drummer Ashton Irwin will bring forth the second part of his sophomore solo, Blood on the Drums, alt-R&B star BLK ODYSSY will unveil the concept album 1-800-FANTASY, and rock legends Deep Purple will come forward with their twenty-third LP, =1. Alt-pop duo Cults will return with their fifth album, To The Ghosts, and 2023's revelation Ice Spice will also drop her long-awaited debut, Y2K!.

Below, GRAMMY.com crafted an exciting list with 15 unmissable albums coming out July 2024. 

HARDY — 'Quit!!' (July 12)

Almost a decade ago, country rockstar HARDY found a napkin with the word "quit" in his tip jar. In 2024, the napkin became history as the Philadelphia singer named his upcoming record after it. "Thank you for inspiring me to be great. I guess sometimes holding a grudge is a good thing," wrote HARDY on social media.

Quit!! is HARDY's first LP fully embracing rock music, and follows 2023's the mockingbird & THE CROW. Comprising 13 tracks, the album features Red Hot Chili Peppers' drummer Chad Smith, Limp Bizkit's Fred Durst, and rising star Knox. HARDY also shared a slew of singles ahead, including "Six Feet Under (Caleigh's Song)" and "Psycho." 

The genre-bending artist has just headlined CMA Fest in Nashville, Tennessee, and is currently touring the U.S. throughout the summer. 

Cassadee Pope — 'Hereditary' (July 12)

More than 10 years after winning "The Voice Season 3," Cassadee Pope has journeyed plenty of roads — from pop punk to country, and now back again. Her upcoming studio album, Hereditary, is due July 12 and marks her first release after deciding to leave country music.

Pope said in a statement that Hereditary "offers a soundtrack to navigate the complexities of life with authenticity and courage." Her first full-length work since 2021's Thrive, the album is also "an emotional rollercoaster ride through the ups and downs of life, love, and self-discovery," where each track is imbued with history. The title Hereditary, according to the statement, "captures the essence of our roots, the echoes of our past, and the quest to carve our own path."

In preparation for the release, Pope shared singles "Eye Contact," "Three of Us," and "I Died" with Daisha McBride. The Hey Monday alum will also launch a North American tour with The Foxies and Natalia Taylar, starting July 11 in Anaheim, California. 

Megan Moroney — 'Am I Okay?' (July 12)

Following the breakout success of her 2023 debut record, Lucky, professional emo cowgirl Megan Moroney will be back in just a few weeks with her sophomore effort, Am I Okay? According to a statement, the album provides "an up-close look at the life-changing pain of heartbreak and the glory of moving on." 

Moroney is said to "light up" each of the LP's 14 tracks with her "signature balance of raw emotional honesty and warmhearted sensitivity." "I think after every song, [a] fair question would be, ‘Is she OK?' Whether it's good or bad," Moroney told ABC audio about the title of the project. "At the beginning, you're like, 'Am I OK?' And then, by the end, it's like, ‘Oh, I don't think she is.'" 

The "Tennessee Orange" singer already shared four tracks from the album, including "No Caller ID," "Man on the Moon," "Indifferent," and "28th of June." Currently, Moroney is opening for Kenny Chesney's Sun Goes Down tour. 

Sturgill Simpson (Johnny Blue Skies) — 'Passage du Desir' (July 12)

Sturgill Simpson will mark the beginning of a new era under the moniker Johnny Blue Skies, after fulfilling his promise to release only five studio albums under his own name with 2020's projects Cuttin' Grass Vol. 2. His first oeuvre is the LP Passage Du Desir, set to come out on July 12.

The album includes eight songs, all produced by Johnny Blue Skies and David Ferguson, and was recorded at both Clement House Recording Studio in Nashville and the iconic Abbey Road Studios in London. Passage Du Desir also marks his first project since 2021's The Ballad of Dood and Juanita.

Fans will be able to meet Johnny Blue Skies for the first time on a lengthy tour titled Why Not? this fall. Some of the stops include Nashville, Tennessee, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, two nights in Toronto, and Boston. 

OneRepublic — 'Artificial Paradise' (July 12) 

OneRepublic's upcoming album, Artificial Paradise, was inspired by the digital paradigm that we live in now. "So many of these songs were written in the last couple years while we navigated a world full of artificial stories and constructs and paradise," shared frontman Ryan Tedder on Instagram. "All around the world and people's digitally broadcasted lives and the lives that we create for ourselves and the stories that we tell ourselves and others." 

According to Tedder, the album comprises 15 tracks written over the last eight years "that didn't quite make sense together." Hence, previously released singles like "I Don't Wanna Wait" with David Guetta, "Nobody" off the anime series Kaiju No. 8, and "West Coast" are already well known by fans.

Artificial Paradise is the GRAMMY-nominated group's first release since 2021's Human, and precedes a three-day weekend of shows in Colorado Springs, CO, and a string of festival appearances including Summer Sonic Tokyo in Japan, Lollapalooza Berlin in Germany, and Rock in Rio in Brazil. "Amidst all of that artificiality, we are trying to find real connection and real love, and a real story," concludes Tedder. 

John Summit — 'Comfort in Chaos' (July 12)

To put forward his debut album, Comfort in Chaos, dance music phenomenon John Summit had to dive deep into himself. "John Summit is the performing act, but when I write music I get more vulnerable," he shared in a statement. "While writing this album, I had to go from being in the mindset of John Summit to being John Schuster, my real name." 

Comfort in Chaos arrives after a run of hit singles included in the tracklist, namely "Eat the Bass," "Go Back" with Sub Focus and Julia Church, and the Hayla-featuring duets "Where You Are" and "Shiver." Described as his "most introspective" and "emotional" work to date, Summit took the LP's 12 nifty tracks to expand his Chicago house foundations into genres like garage and drum & bass.

After stellar headline shows at Coachella and sold-out performances at Los Angeles' BMO Stadium and New York City's Madison Square Garden, 2024 is already a pivotal year for the Illinois-born sensation, and Comfort in Chaos arrives to consolidate his impact. As for summer and fall, Summit is booked for 26 shows and festival appearances scheduled around the world, with more to be announced. 

Girl Ultra — 'blush' (July 12)

If you're in need of some early 2000s nostalgia, Mexican singer Girl Ultra — real name Mariana de Miguel — is coming out with her fourth EP, blush, on July 12. Inspired by R&B, club music, and trip hop sounds of the new millennium, the album comprises seven tracks that follow de Miguel's "need for experimentation" and lush artistry.

"I wanted short energetic tracks, and in lyrical terms, I was trying to find very precise messages about sadness, femininity and lust that inhabit these current times," she explained further in a statement. Singles "blu," "blush," and "rimel" exemplify that atmosphere, tackling beauty rituals with a touch of melancholy and yearning. Overall, blush is described as a plunge "into the complex dynamics of self-image and sexuality with a poignant touch of bitterness." 

After opening for Julieta Venegas in her hometown of Mexico City and performing at Coachella this year, Girl Ultra is set to support Chromeo and The Midnight on a U.S. tour this fall. 

Clairo — 'Charm' (July 12)

As the popular saying goes, "third time is the charm" — and so singer/songwriter Clairo (a.k.a Claire Cottrill) decided the title of her third studio album. Charm will arrive on July 12, and was produced by Clairo and Leon Michels of El Michels Affair.

With the announcement, Clairo shared the delicate single "Sexy to Someone," as well as a tracklist with 11 songs. Like her previous LP, 2021's Sling, Charm was recorded in New York's Diamond Mine Recording and Allaire Studios, but this time she tracked it live-to-tape.

In September, Clairo will kickstart separate five-day residencies in both Los Angeles and New York. Further concert dates are expected. 

Orquesta Akokán — 'Caracoles' (July 12)

Since 2018, Orquesta Akokán have brought mambo to the spotlight, honoring its roots and infusing it with fresh twists. "Akokán" is a Cuban Yoruba word meaning "from the heart," and such is the thread underlining all of their work. Following their 2018's eponymous debut and 2021's 16 Rayos, the Cuban music enthusiasts are now ready to put forward Caracoles, out July 12.

For their third LP, producer Jacob Plasse and composer Michael Eckroth combined talents with renowned Cuban singer/songwriter Kiko Ruiz. The result is a danceable, uplifting record that fuses classic and modern traditions. According to a press release, "yes, it's mambo, with its prototypical instrumentation and structures, but these songs belong one hundred percent to 2024." As Ruiz said, Caracoles can "...vibrate your soul, which is precisely what the world needs right now."

Ashton Irwin — 'Blood On The Drums (The Roses)' (July 17)

"I love to make full length albums, but also the idea of the listener digesting it in two parts initially, forming their own interpretation," said Ashton Irwin, drummer of pop-rock band 5 Seconds of Summer (5SOS), in a press release about his sophomore solo album. "It's important to me, as a fan of music, to have a comprehensive body of work to fully dig into the artist's perspective."

Following 2020's Superbloom, Blood On The Drums is divided in two installments: Side 1, dubbed The Thorns, came out on June 12, and Side 2, The Roses, is set for release on July 17. Totaling 16 tracks, the LP blends 80s-inspired melodies with classic rock, experimental pop, and more, as it traverses Irwin's highs and lows. "I was thinking about the people I left behind, the people I miss, the family that I had to leave when I was young," the Australian musician shared. "Thinking about the addictions I've been through. The way I evolved as a young man who never had a father."

The title of the album is intended to be "a metaphor for how much I've given my music," said Irwin. To celebrate the release, he will play a single show at Los Angeles' The Belasco on July 18. 

Highly Suspect — 'As Above, So Below' (July 19)

The Massachusetts rockers of Highly Suspect are gearing up to release their fifth full-length album, As Above, So Below. Following 2022's The Midnight Demon Club, the band opted to tone down the electronic elements and embrace a more psychedelic, stoner rock sound, as can be heard on pre-release track "Summertime Voodoo."

"If my life is a book, then this album is the first chapter that truly addresses the central conflict," frontman Johnny Stevens said in a press statement. "The recognition of an ego, the problems it's caused — and the birth of its death. ‘As Above, So Below.' If I'm being real, I hit rock bottom again. After another close call with death, I feel wide awake. I don't know how the book ends yet, but I'm very engaged in the plot now. I'd rather it not end at all."

To celebrate, Highly Suspect will play the new album in its entirety in an intimate, seven-city U.S. Tour, kicking off on July 24 in Memphis, Tennessee and wrapping up on August 2 in Brooklyn. 

Deep Purple — '=1' (July 19)

Few bands get to release 23 albums, and for that fact alone, Deep Purple deserve praise. It does help that they are rock legends in their own right, therefore, =1 comes as a sweet, inspiring surprise.

Paired with acclaimed producer Bob Ezrin once again, =1 sees the British band evoke their classic sound "without relying on nostalgia," according to a statement. They promise to bring "rip-roaring rock n' roll" in 13 energetic tracks, and a taste of what's to come can be seen in singles "Portable Door" and "Pictures of You." It is also the band's first album with guitarist Simon McBride, who joined the band after member Steve Morse left due to personal circumstances in 2022.

The title =1 symbolizes the idea that, in a complex world, everything eventually equals one. In that communal spirit, Deep Purple is set for an extensive tour, starting with European dates in July, North and South American shows in September, and back with more European dates throughout November. 

BLK ODYSSY — '1-800-FANTASY' (July 19)

"The album is a concept album where we get into the world of Afro-surrealism with a high school kid who's madly in love with a popular girl, but she really has no idea he exists," explained BLK ODYSSY about his upcoming album, 1-800-FANTASY, in an interview with BET. "He understands that she's out of his league but he is dedicated to proving to her that he's worthy of her attention and her love."

1-800-FANTASY follows that story while dipping into themes of mental health and self-control. "He creates these characters in his head to justify his crazy actions that he goes through to get her attention," BLK said, adding that that's where the album's "angsty sound" comes from. So far, a preview of that atmosphere can be seen in singles "XXX" with Wiz Khalifa, and a live performance of "Phase" at A Colors Show.

Born Juwan Elcock in New Jersey, he cites Kendrick Lamar, D'Angelo, and Outkast as influences to his own brand of alt-R&B and hip hop. "Whether it's me as an artist, or me as a producer, it is a very cinematic sound," he shared. "And it's a very theatrical sound, I like to take elements from what the human perceives as real life and put it in my music."

BLK will promote the album in his The Fantasy House tour this summer, starting off in North America and following up with European dates. 

Ice Spice — 'Y2K!' (July 26)

One of last year's biggest revelations, GRAMMY-nominated rapper Ice Spice will finally release her debut LP, Y2K!. Titled as a nod to her birthdate (1st January 2000), the long-awaited effort comes after 2023's acclaimed EP Like..?, and was co-produced by longtime collaborator RIOTUSA.

Ice Spice has been keeping the 10-song tracklist a mystery, though, and so far shared only three singles: "Think U The Shit (Fart)," "Gimmie A Light" (which samples Sean Paul's similarly titled "Gimme the Light"), and "Phat Butt." In an interview with "The Today Show", she also revealed to have locked in a "crazy collaboration," and to have experimented with "a lot of different sounding beats that I haven't really been heard on much."

Starting July, the Bronx native will be busy with a handful of performances at European Festivals, followed up by a 17-date North American tour in August.

CULTS — 'To The Ghosts' (July 26)

Madeline Follin and Brian Oblivion have been making soft alt-pop music as the duo Cults for over a decade now. July brings forth yet another of their magical offerings: fifth studio album To The Ghosts, out via IMPERIAL on July 26.

The first ideas for the album sprung up during the COVID-19 pandemic, "when they wrote music on weekdays from 10am-5pm with no deadlines or distractions," says a press release. To The Ghosts was recorded at Oblivion's apartment, and co-produced by trusted collaborator Shane Stoneback. The New York duo shared singles "Crybaby" and "Left My Keys" in advance. Of the latter, Oblivion stated that "With this being To the Ghosts, ‘Left My Keys' is dedicated to the ghost of your high school memories with an element of fondness."

Cults will kick off a headline North American tour in August, followed by a month-long stint as the opening act for Vampire Weekend's Only God Was Above Us tour.

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Doja Cat headlines at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival on Sunday, April 14, 2024
Doja Cat headlines at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival

Photo: Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

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7 Incredible Sets From Coachella 2024 Weekend 1: Doja Cat, No Doubt, Raye & More

With a weekend full of surprise guests, exciting reunions and breakout performances from first-time performers, this weekend in Indio was one for the books. Read on for seven of the top performances at the first weekend of Coachella 2024.

GRAMMYs/Apr 16, 2024 - 02:37 am

While every headliner at last year’s Coachella held some sort of historical cultural significance, Coachella 2024’s roster instead represented a series of graduations from opening slots and side stages to top-tier main stage titan status.

Friday featured Lana Del Rey, whose sole previous Coachella performance was at the Outdoor Theatre in 2014. Saturday was capped by Tyler, The Creator appearing for the third time in Indio (his last appearance as runner up to Haim and Beyoncé on the main stage in 2018). And on Sunday, Doja Cat occupied the uppermost spot after her penultimate main stage appearance in 2022.

Yet Coachella Weekend 1 this year’s attendees got astronomically more bang for their buck than they counted on, due to a surprise-guest-heavy lineup. The bulk of those special moments came from  A-list talent, from Billie Eilish with Lana Del Rey to Olivia Rodrigo with No Doubt, Justin Bieber joining Tems, Kesha with Reneé Rapp, most of the Fugees performing alongside YG Marley, Will Smith performing "Men in Black" with J Balvin … the list goes on. 

When all was said and done, the diversity, quality and impact of the weekend’s performances were tremendous. Even without elite bonus appearances, there were plenty of performances — quite a few of them newcomers, recent buzzbands and imminent breakthroughs — that made this year’s Coachella more than worthy of an early accolade for one of the first-rate fests of 2024. Read on for seven of the best sets from Coachella 2024.

Faye Webster Thrills Loyal Fans With Supreme Confidence

Underneath the shaded canopy of the Mojave Tent, Faye Webster held her sprawling audience in the palm of her hand during her Coachella debut on Friday. Deafening cheers rang out at the start of every song, which seemed to infuse the 26-year-old singer/songwriter with a level of energy unparalleled up to this point in her career.

Webster deftly worked her way through 11 tracks, each one received with wild cheers from fans, who sang with such gusto that they often nearly overpowered her own vocals. The crossroads of her confidence and creativity fully manifested during closing tune "Kingston," which saw her pausing to let the audience belt out the remainder of the line, a beckoning gesture that exuded self-assuredness. 

Notably, three of six new songs ("Wanna Quit All the Time," "He Loves Me Yeah!" and "Lego Ring") from her recently released fifth album Underdressed at the Symphony were live debuts. The fact that Webster saved them for Coachella showed a clear intention to ensure the set was extra special. Beyond any shadow of doubt, she succeeded. 

Lana Del Rey Taps Billie Eilish, Jon Batiste & Others For Standout Friday Set

With her notoriously downtempo demeanor, Lana Del Rey wasn’t the obvious choice for a Friday headlining spot on the main stage, but when all was said and done, her 20-song set delivered plenty to position her as a standout performer. 

Dressed in an elegant baby blue gown, her entrance — a slow ride on the back of a motorbike through the lanes of the crowd all the way to the stage — worked wonders to build excitement. And her first three song choices, a shortened version of "Without You" (not performed since 2014) and two more gems from the vault — "West Coast" (debuted 10 years ago to the day at her first Coachella appearance) and her superb cover of Sublime’s "Doin’ Time" — signaled her intention to make this show a truly special occasion (neither of the latter two tunes have appeared on a setlist since 2019).

From there it was a parade of hits culled from her robust catalog, as the GRAMMY-nominated singer waltzed her way across the expanse of a fairytale palace stage production, at several points venturing up flights of stairs to a towering terrace. Four of her 10 albums feature production from Jack Antonoff (who played with Bleachers on Saturday), so it was unsurprising when he took the helm of the white grand piano toward the end for a strikingly serene duet with a hologram Lana on "Hope is a Dangerous Thing for a Woman Like Me to Have — But I Have It."

Jon Batiste (who performed his own set on Saturday) also assisted on piano for an alluring take on "Candy Necklace," but the pinnacle moment arrived during performances of "ocean eyes" and "Video Games" alongside surprise guest Billie Eilish. Sitting side by side atop a balcony, the two harmonized through much of those tracks, and the occasions when Lana sat back to let Billie sing several sections solo were absolutely arresting. The two superstars stared adoringly at each other throughout, clearly just as awe-inspired by the unprecedented collaboration as the audience, which erupted with rapturous applause that rivaled the decibels of the set’s glittering fireworks finale.

Raye Races Toward Superstardom During Emotional Debut

After just one song of Raye’s Saturday afternoon performance, there was no question that her Coachella debut would be remembered as one of the most striking in recent years. The British songwriter and chanteuse, who shattered the record for most wins and nominations in a single year at this year’s BRIT Awards, poured every ounce of her soul into her 45-minute set. The crowd inside the Mojave tent hung on every note and went absolutely berserk all the way from the sultry intro of "The Thrill is Gone" to gloriously anthemic closer "Escapism."

Backed by a powerhouse band of eight backup singers, three string players, four brass aces and the standard guitar, drums and bass, each song was a showstopper. Without question, the most impactful moment came on "Ice Cream Man," which deals with her own experience with sexual assault and rape.

"I want you to know it’s not an easy song to sing," she started. And before she could continue, the audience released a loud roar of support, to the point that the singer shed tears. When she composed herself, she continued, "But it’s important to be loud .. and to be brave. This allows me to be loud about something I’ve been quiet about my entire life. I am very f—ing strong."

That moment — which culminated into a big band-style belter that evoked the power of Amy Winehouse and Billie Holiday — likewise drew tears from many in the audience. Further, it defined Raye as an artist destined for superstardom on the merits of genuine talent, an infinitely infectious spirit, and incomparably hard work ethic. To that end, it should be no surprise she’s the songwriter behind tunes from GRAMMY-winning artists including Beyoncé, no big deal. 

Sublime Revives Their Definitive Sound Alongside Jakob Nowell

Though many were referring to Sublime’s Saturday afternoon appearance on the Coachella main stage as a "reunion" in the days leading up to the festival, new frontman Jakob Nowell — son of the band’s deceased original singer Bradley Nowell — made it abundantly clear that wasn’t precisely the case.

"My name is Jakob Nowell and this is Sublime," he said following the conclusion of opening song "April 29, 1992," gesturing toward the beloved Southern California ska-punk band’s surviving members bassist Eric Wilson and drummer Bud Gaugh.

Read more: Sublime's Jakob Nowell On Leading His Father's Legendary Band & What To Expect At Coachella

His resistance to co-opt his dad’s legacy was admirable, which was an issue for some when Rome Ramirez joined Wilson and Gaugh in 2009 to form Sublime with Rome, a chapter that ended for those original members when Gaugh left the band in 2011 and Wilson subsequently exited in February. With all the pieces in place, the next hour played out as a fantastically fun alliance of old and new.

Jakob sounded strikingly like his dad during most moments, though he asserted his own spin on the classic sound by adding a hardcore-esque growl at various points in the set. Among the 14 songs, they revived early-era material that hadn’t been played live since the mid '90s, including "Date Rape," "Badfish" and "Doin’ Time." One cut, "Romeo," had not been performed live since 1988. The band likewise included tunes that Bradley never got to perform from the band’s final self-titled album, including some of their biggest commercial successes. Tracks such as "What I Got" and "Santeria" were sung by thousands, a chorus oozing with celebratory mass catharsis. 

By the end, there could be only one conclusion: the most definitive version of a revived Sublime has arrived and, should they choose to continue on, they’ll be received by fans with open arms. 

No Doubt Snatches Headliner Status During Jubilant Reunion

Though the reunion of No Doubt was billed as the runner-up to Tyler, the Creator’s Saturday night finisher, it’s absolutely valid to argue that the beloved Southern California outfit — playing their first show since 2015 — was the evening’s true headliner. The eye-popping expanse and unerring enthusiasm of the audience (the largest of the weekend), combined with the group’s sheer joy and explosive energy, drove the feeling home.

Every member of the core group — bassist Tony Kanal, guitarist Tom Dumont, drummer Adrian Young and frontwoman Gwen Stefani — emanated pure exultation, wide grins plastered permanently on their faces. Stefani was especially fired up; after the band powered through five treasured tracks — including opener "Hella Good" (performed at the end of long catwalk), "Ex-Girlfriend," and "Different People" (featured for the first time since 2009) — the singer stopped to address the sea of screaming fans.

"Wow … you showed up to Coachella Saturday night 2024 to see No Doubt play together on this stage for the first time in nine years. Are you crazy?!" Stefani said. "If I could just somehow explain the amount of love [we feel] and how much I wanna slap the s— out of you guys tonight!"

The sentiment was meant endearingly, but every song did hit intensely. In particular, a rendition of "Bathwater" featuring special guest Olivia Rodrigo — as hyped as Stefani with her never-ending spinning and bouncing antics — left a lasting mark. For old school fans, the Return to Saturn single was a special treat, and with Rodrigo in the mix, it elicited equal exuberance from younger audience members.

For the finale of the 16-song setlist, the band fulfilled the promise of euphoric nostalgia with a hard-hitting trio of tracks off 1995 breakthrough third album Tragic Kingdom: "Just a Girl," "Don’t Speak" and "Spiderwebs." The timeless tunes incited a sudden surge of fans toward the stage, and one would’ve been hard pressed to spot anyone not participating in the jubilant singalongs. It was a moment of multi-generational unity and unbridled joy — unquestionably unforgettable, and hopefully just the precursor to a triumphant new era of No Doubt.

Olivia Dean Enters the Stateside Festival Scene With Humbling Authenticity

Watching the first few moments of British neo-soul singer Olivia Dean’s Sunday afternoon performance in the Gobi tent, you’d never know this was her first American festival appearance. And what an incredible debut, at one of the States’ most prestigious festivals with only one album under belt (2023’s Messy) to boot. The 25-year-old stunned with utmost finesse and confidence, working the stage like a long-established diva and immediately eliciting rapturous applause after each of the first two songs, "OK Love You Bye" and "Echo."

While it can sometimes be off-putting when an artist introduces every song with a tidbit explaining what it’s about, this method had the opposite effect for Dean. Her context made each moment feel intensely personal, and the audience reaction was overwhelming. One of many tunes with a distinctly Motown bop, "The Hardest Part," was prefaced with the remark that it "recently changed [her] life," and spoke to the process of overcoming grief. After the final note was sung, she received a deafening standing ovation, prompting her to endearingly cover her face in response. And there was so much power in her anecdote before "Carmen," a tribute to how her grandmother made everything possible for her. 

"My granny came to London when she was 18 … had never been on a plane … left her life behind and had my mom, and my mom had me," she said, already being drowned out by cheers before the final remark: "This song is for my granny and anyone brave enough to move and any immigrant in the crowd right now."

As she wrapped up her short set with the bewitching single "Dive," the sun broke through the clouds, illuminating her with the loveliest natural spotlight to complement a performer who already naturally, effortlessly shines on her own.

Doja Cat Exudes Total Command & Flawless Flow For Sunday Finale 

It cannot be overstated: Doja Cat’s fest-closing performance on the main stage was a visionary masterpiece, and the strongest headlining set of the first weekend. That wasn’t certain from the stripped-down beginning moments when the GRAMMY-winning singer/rapper appeared on a circular b-stage mid-audience, dressed in a hazmat suit and encircled by a black and yellow biohazard pattern.

But excitement built steadily as she bombastically delivered opening song "ACKNOWLEDGE ME," which, even in an abbreviated format, lived up to its title and created a palpable air of anticipation. From there, she strutted back toward the main stage via a connected catwalk, meeting briefly in the middle with South African quintet the Joy (set to release their self-titled debut album on June 21) offering up fiery raps amidst the group’s arresting a cappella.

Shortly after, Doja appeared on the main stage dressed in a knee-length platinum blonde weave, flanked by an army of dancers who all wore matching getups covered in the same synthetic hair. The effect when they all converged, their movements completely in sync, created an optical illusion of one enormous hairy creature moving across the stage to punctuate the ferocity of "Demons." 

That was just the first taste of a breathtaking series of visual sequences over the course of the 70-minute show, each profoundly enhanced by cinematography that created the effect of watching a top-quality music video on the main stage’s massive screens. If you witnessed the camera work during Beyoncé’s Homecoming show back in 2018 or Rosalía’s production in 2023, you’ll understand the aesthetic. 

Other key moments when the video work was utterly astonishing arrived during the live debut of "OKLOSER" (one of five first-time song features) where the previously smooth camera went rogue, shakily weaving through the gang of dancers to create the effect of maneuvering through a chaotic house party; again during "Attention" as the lens wove through dancers in fur coats wielding Cruella de Vil-inspired cabrioles until it settled on Doja at the end of the line; and finally during closing track, "Wet Vagina," where Doja and her dancers rolled and writhed (in perfect choreographed unison) on the b-stage filled with brown mud, the sequel ending in a stunning birds-eye shot. 

Backtracking a few moments earlier, maybe the most jaw-dropping production element came on "WYM Freestyle" in the form of a giant T-Rex skeleton following Doja down the catwalk while flames erupted from the stage behind her. The precise reason for that wasn’t evident, but it certainly boosted the ferocity of her raw rap delivery.

The unending visual feast only served to amplify Doja’s already flawless flow. She never missed a vocal mark, whether singing or rapping. She didn’t even once pause to banter with the audience, creating the effect of total focus and command. Big bonuses: 21 Savage materializing mid-set to serve up "n.h.i.e.," Teezo Touchdown’s cameo on "MASC" and A$AP Rocky (who likewise performed with Tyler, the Creator on Saturday) swooping in for "URRRGE!!!!!!!!!!" before Doja dazzled with super-hit "Paint the Town Red."

When all was said and done, Doja Cat more-than-earned her graduation to festival headliner, and while she’s already set for an arena tour this year, she’s clearly destined to stun at stadiums not far in the future. 

Coachella 2024 Weekend 1 Recap: 20 Surprises And Special Moments, From Billie Eilish & Lana Del Rey To Olivia Rodrigo With No Doubt

A black-and-white photo of pioneering rap group Run-DMC
Run-DMC

Photo: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

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'Run-DMC' At 40: The Debut Album That Paved The Way For Hip-Hop's Future

Forty years ago, Run-DMC released their groundbreaking self-titled album, which would undeniably change the course of hip-hop. Here's how three guys from Queens, New York, defined what it meant to be "old school" with a record that remains influential.

GRAMMYs/Mar 27, 2024 - 03:49 pm

"You don't know that people are going to 40 years later call you up and say, ‘Can you talk about this record from 40 years ago?’"

That was Cory Robbins, former president of Profile Records, reaction to speaking to Grammy.com about one of the first albums his then-fledgling label released. Run-DMC’s self-titled debut made its way into the world four decades ago this week on March 27, 1984 and established the group, in Robbins’ words, "the Beatles of hip-hop." 

Rarely in music, or anything else, is there a clear demarcation between old and new. Styles change gradually, and artistic movements usually get contextualized, and often even named, after they’ve already passed from the scene. But Run-DMC the album, and the singles that led up to it, were a definitive breaking point. Rap before it instantly, and eternally, became “old school.” And three guys from Hollis, Queens — Joseph "Run" Simmons, Jason "Jam Master Jay" Mizell, Darryl "D.M.C." McDaniels — helped turn a burgeoning genre on its head.

What exactly was different about Run-DMC? Some of the answers can be glimpsed by a look at the record’s opening song. "Hard Times" is a cover of a Kurtis Blow track from his 1980 debut album. The connection makes sense. Kurtis and Run’s older brother Russell Simmons met in college, and Russell quickly became the rapper’s manager. That led to Run working as Kurtis’ DJ. Larry Smith, who produced Run-DMC, even played on Kurtis’ original version of the song.

But despite those tie-ins, the two takes on "Hard Times" are night and day. Kurtis Blow’s is exactly what rap music was in its earliest recorded form: a full band playing something familiar (in this case, a James Brown-esque groove, bridge and percussion breakdown inclusive.)

What Run-DMC does with it is entirely different. The song is stripped down to its bare essence. There’s a drum machine, a sole repeated keyboard stab, vocals, and… well, that’s about it. No solos, no guitar, no band at all. Run and DMC are trading off lines in an aggressive near-shout. It’s simple and ruthlessly effective, a throwback to the then-fading culture of live park jams. But it was so starkly different from other rap recordings of the time, which were pretty much all in the style of Blow’s record, that it felt new and vital.

"Production-wise, Sugar Hill [the record label that released many key early rap singles] built themselves on the model of Motown, which is to say, they had their own production studios and they had a house band and they recorded on the premises," explains Bill Adler, who handled PR for Run-DMC and other key rap acts at the time.

"They made magnificent records, but that’s not how rap was performed in parks," he continues. "It’s not how it was performed live by the kids who were actually making the music."

Run-DMC’s musical aesthetic was, in some ways, a lucky accident. Larry Smith, the musician who produced the album, had worked with a band previously. In fact, the reason two of the songs on the album bear the subtitle "Krush Groove" is because the drum patterns are taken from his band Orange Krush’s song “Action.”

Read more: Essential Hip-Hop Releases From The 1970s: Kurtis Blow, Grandmaster Flash, Sugarhill Gang & More

But by the time sessions for Run-DMC came around, the money had run out and, despite his desire to have the music done by a full band, Smith was forced to go without them and rely on a drum machine. 

His artistic partner on the production side was Russell Simmons. Simmons, who has been accused over the past seven years of numerous instances of sexual assault dating back decades, was back in 1983-4 the person providing the creative vision to match Smith’s musical knowledge.

Orange Krush’s drummer Trevor Gale remembered the dynamic like this (as quoted in Geoff Edgers’ Walk This Way: Run-DMC, Aerosmith, and the Song that Changed American Music Forever): “Larry was the guy who said, 'Play four bars, stop on the fifth bar, come back in on the fourth beat of the fifth bar.' Russell was the guy that was there that said, ‘I don’t like how that feels. Make it sound like mashed potato with gravy on it.’”

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It wasn’t just the music that set Run-DMC apart from its predecessors. Their look was also starkly different, and that influenced everything about the group, including the way their audience viewed them.

Most of the first generation of recorded rappers were, Bill Adler remembers, influenced visually by either Michael Jackson or George Clinton and Parliament-Funkadelic. Run-DMC was different.

"Their fashion sense was very street oriented," Adler explains. "And that was something that emanated from Jam Master Jay. Jason just always had a ton of style. He got a lot of his sartorial style from his older brother, Marvin Thompson. Jay looked up to his older brother and kind of dressed the way that Marvin did, including the Stetson hat. 

"When Run and D told Russ, Jason is going to be our deejay, Russell got one look at Jay and said, ‘Okay, from now on, you guys are going to dress like him.’"

Run, DMC, and Jay looked like their audience. That not only set them apart from the costumed likes of Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, it also cemented the group’s relationship with their listeners. 

"When you saw Run-DMC, you didn’t see celebrity. You saw yourself," DMC said in the group’s recent docuseries

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

Another thing that set Run-DMC (the album) and Run-DMC (the group) apart from what came before was the fact that they released a cohesive rap album. Nine songs that all belonged together, not just a collection of already-released singles and some novelties. Rappers had released albums prior to Run-DMC, but that’s exactly what they were: hits and some other stuff — sung love ballads or rock and roll covers, or other experiments rightfully near-forgotten.

"There were a few [rap] albums [at the time], but they were pretty crappy. They were usually just a bunch of singles thrown together," Cory Robbins recalls.

Not this album. It set a template that lasted for years: Some social commentary, some bragging, a song or two to show off the DJ. A balance of records aimed at the radio and at the hard-core fans. You can still see traces of Run-DMC in pretty much every rap album released today.

Listeners and critics reacted. The album got a four-star review in Rolling Stone with “the music…that backs these tracks is surprisingly varied, for all its bare bones” and an A minus from Robert Christgau who claimed “It's easily the canniest and most formally sustained rap album ever.” Just nine months after its release, Run-DMC was certified gold, the first rap LP ever to earn that honor. "Rock Box" also single-handedly invented rap-rock, thanks to Eddie Martinez’s loud guitars. 

There is another major way in which the record was revolutionary. The video for "Rock Box" was the first rap video to ever get into regular rotation on MTV and, the first true rap video ever played on the channel at all, period. Run-DMC’s rise to MTV fame represented a significant moment in breaking racial barriers in mainstream music broadcasting. 

"There’s no overstating the importance of that video," Adler tells me. vIt broke through the color line at MTV and opened the door to a cataclysmic change." 

"Everybody watched MTV forty years ago," Robbins agrees. "It was a phenomenal thing nationwide. Even if we got three or four plays a week of ‘Rock Box’ on MTV, that did move the needle."

All of this: the new musical style, the relatable image, the MTV pathbreaking, and the attendant critical love and huge sales (well over 10 times what their label head was expecting when he commissioned the album from a reluctant Russell Simmons — "I hoping it would sell thirty or forty thousand," Robbins says now): all of it contributed to making Run-DMC what it is: a game-changer.

"It was the first serious rap album," Robbins tells me. And while you could well accuse him of bias — the group making an album at all was his idea in the first place — he’s absolutely right. 

Run-DMC changed everything. It split the rap world into old school and new school, and things would never be the same.

Perhaps the record’s only flaw is one that wouldn’t be discovered for years. As we’re about to get off the phone, Robbins tells me about a mistake on the cover, one he didn’t notice until the record was printed and it was too late. 

There was something (Robbins doesn’t quite recall what) between Run and DMC in the cover photo. The art director didn’t like it and proceeded to airbrush it out. But he missed something. On the vinyl, if you look between the letters "M" and "C,", you can see DMC’s disembodied left hand, floating ghost-like in mid-air. While it was an oversight, it’s hard not to see this as a sign, a sort of premonition that the album itself would hang over all of hip-hop, with an influence that might be hard to see at first, but that never goes away. 

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