meta-script10 Music Books To Dig Into This Summer: A Kate Bush Bio, A First-Hand Account Of The Grunge Scene & Feminist Punk Histories |
10 Music Books To Dig Into This Summer: A Kate Bush Bio, A First-Hand Account Of The Grunge Scene & Feminist Punk Histories
'Hit Girls' by Jen B. Larson; 'Stomp and Shout' by Peter Blecha; 'Lunacy' by John Kruth


10 Music Books To Dig Into This Summer: A Kate Bush Bio, A First-Hand Account Of The Grunge Scene & Feminist Punk Histories

2023 has been a big year for books about music, and there's still more to come. Step away from your screen and pick up one of the tomes below, from Lucinda Williams' memoir to a history of Some Bizzare Records and an overview of 'Dark Side of the Moon.'

GRAMMYs/May 26, 2023 - 02:08 pm

2023 has already been a strong year for music-related books: industry insider Tony King’s memoir The Tastemaker: My Life with the Legends and Geniuses of Rock Music, Scott G. Shea’s All the Leaves Are Brown, a comprehensive bio of the Mamas and the Papas, and Paul McCartney’s photo book 1964: The Eyes of the Storm. There’s more to come in the fall, with memoirs due from Bikini Kill’s Kathleen Hanna, Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore, and Sly Stone, as well as an updated 30th anniversary edition of Michael Azerrad’s classic Come As You Are: The Story of Nirvana

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. People love reading about their favorite artists, but a well-written book based around a good story should be capable of holding your attention regardless of your feelings about a performer’s music. It’s also a pleasure to read a book on a well-covered topic that offers a new perspective. And of course, one of the fun things in reading a book about music is that it will undoubtedly prompt you to head off to your favorite streaming site in order to listen to the songs the author has been describing.

Here’s a round up of current titles that range from covering the beat of South Africa to 1990s grunge, from a singer/songwriter who disappeared for 30 years to a new Rock Hall inductee.

Running Up That Hill: 50 Visions of Kate Bush

By Tom Doyle

In 2005, music journalist Tom Doyle was ferried by car to the home of Kate Bush, "somewhere in Berkshire [England]," to interview her for Mojo magazine. The subsequent article used just a fraction of his four hour interview with her. Nearly two decades later, Doyle uses that interview as the core of a fascinating book that offers new insights into the acclaimed, reclusive musician.

Doyle’s book was first published in the UK last year, riding the wave of enthusiasm when Bush’s 1985 single "Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God)," became a surprise worldwide hit, due to its use in the Netflix series "Stranger Things" (swiftly followed up by her recent induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this year). The "Visions" are presented mostly chronologically, with expected stops at obvious life/career high points, such as the making of each of her albums.

But it’s more than just a listing of greatest hits. Doyle fills out his portrait with excursions into other areas, such as examining the influence of mime/dance artist Lindsay Kemp on Bush’s work, her first foray into live performance with the KT Bush Band (imagine Bush letting loose with "Honky Tonk Woman!"), and her faux pas of asking for Queen Elizabeth II's autograph. Not to mention his blow-by-blow account of Bush’s unexpected return to live performance with a London theater residency in 2014. A highly enjoyable read that’s a midway point between a trivia book and a full biography. 

Mud Ride: A Messy Trip Through the Grunge Explosion

By Steve Turner with Adem Tepedelen

From his days as a guitarist in the seminal Seattle alt rock band Green River, to his tenure in long-running Sub Pop Records act Mudhoney (who just released their eleventh album, Plastic Eternity), Steve Turner managed to ride the grunge wave all the way from obscurity to international acclaim and come out the other end still standing.

And what’s most interesting about Turner’s memoir is that it comes from the perspective of someone who was close to the center of the storm, but didn’t have to navigate the pitfalls of fame that befell higher profile acts like Nirvana and Pearl Jam. Turner also carefully unwinds the many intertwining threads of Seattle’s late ’80s-early ’90s music scene, when musical chairs among bands was the norm, to make this a thorough first-hand account of the period. 

You'll also learn that '90s rock history could’ve been quite different: Turner says he was offered a position as second guitarist in Nirvana when Dave Grohl joined the band in 1990 (he declined, saying Nirvana was better as a three piece). Instead, Turner and Mudhoney took the road less traveled, and still ended up making a bigger impact than they ever dreamed of (though they still need to have day jobs).

Don’t Tell Anybody The Secrets I Told You

By Lucinda Williams

Lucinda Williams is such a compelling storyteller in her songs, it’s no surprise that her memoir grabs you from its very first page. In a telling pair of contrasting anecdotes, Williams relates how an "older gentleman" affiliated with the music business told her on learning that she was writing a memoir, "Don’t write about your childhood. Nobody wants to read about that." Conversely, a woman at one of Williams’ shows recognized that her childhood experiences were key to her art, asking Williams if she had a rough childhood as she headed backstage after the performance. When Williams nodded yes, the woman replied, "I thought so." 

And as her memoir reveals, that turbulent childhood laid the groundwork for Williams' future life and career. The constant moving as her father sought out new jobs around the country naturally led to her feeling more comfortable on the road; a handy attribute for a touring musician. Being the daughter of an acclaimed poet (Miller Williams) helped hone her own lyrical skills. She also writes movingly of struggles her mother, Lucille, had with mental illness. Lucille was a pianist, but was discouraged from pursuing a musical career; instead, the piano became "a joy and a burden at the same time," sold when she fell into a depression, repurchased when she felt better.

Williams faced her own obstacles, coping with her own obsessive-compulsive disorder, trying to find a place for herself when her music was deemed too country for rock and too rock for country, and confronting the sleazier side of the music industry (as when a filmmaker sexually propositions her at a meeting ostensibly to discuss making a video for her song "Right in Time"). Her conversational writing style draws you in, and her incisive observations keep you turning the pages. 

Hit Girls: Women of Punk in the USA 1975-1980

By Jen B. Larson

"‘Punk,’ I thought, was overproduced pop songs that sold a style," Jen Larson writes in her book’s introduction, observing that in general, coverage of women in punk still focuses on "a few groups with well-known women," riot grrrl, and little else. Larson’s intention is to delve into punk’s rich history, unearthing "these still-hidden stories [that] aren’t the tales we often hear in the popular punk narrative," celebrating the achievements of these unsung pioneers. 

There are some familiar names among the entries: Romeo Void (San Francisco), the Bags (Los Angeles), Lydia Lunch (New York). But Larson has also tracked down acts from more remote outposts — from Anchorage, Alaska (the Anemic Boyfriends) to South Palm Beach, Florida (Teddy and the Frat Girls) — bringing a greater depth to a history where the tendency is to concentrate on the musical developments in major urban centers. The song descriptions will have you heading to YouTube to check out long-forgotten recordings (like the great song by the Welders, from St. Louis, about sexual harassment: "P-E-R-V-E-R-T"). 

The book also benefits from new interviews with various band members sharing their insights. ("There’s this idea that there were no women of color in the punk movement," says Stoney Rivera of Milwaukee’s Dummy Club, who adds, "Women of color have been in the forefront of music in every genre from day one.") Even punk rock aficionados will find new info in this lively exploration of the period, which also serves up fun bits of trivia, like the Plasmatics’ Wendy O. Williams being the first woman on the cover of UK metal magazine Kerrang! and Vegetarian Times in the same month. 

Stomp and Shout: R&B and the Origins of Northwest Rock and Roll

By Peter Blecha

This book opens with a striking image of a skinny, 17-year-old Ray Charles, stepping off the bus in downtown Seattle in 1948. Though knowing no one in the city, within a day of his arrival he was playing at a local club, soon crossing paths with the likes of Quincy Jones, Robert "Bumps" Blackwell, and Ernestine Anderson. It’s a remarkable story that reveals the wealth of talent percolating in what was then considered a provincial backwater — a history that’s been not so much hidden but overlooked, drawn out by a historian who’s long chronicled the Pacific Northwest music scene.

Blecha’s book takes you back to an era not just before "Smells Like Teen Spirit," but before "Come Softly To Me" and "Walk, Don’t Run," the first big hit records to come from Northwest acts (the Fleetwoods and the Ventures, respectively). Blecha draws on the 400-plus interviews he’s done over the years to trace the evolution of the music that came to be known as the "Northwest Sound," which he describes as "a distinctive ‘rude jazz’-tinged mutation" of R&B. From "I Know I Was Wrong" by the Barons (the first NW teenage R&B group to have a hit) to the innumerable bands that put an unmistakable NW stamp on "Louie Louie" (the Wailers, the Frantics, the Kingsmen, et. al.) to the hint of ’90s rock you hear in cult acts like the Sonics, Stomp and Shout finally gives a voice to the musicians, promoters, producers, and entrepreneurs who laid the groundwork for the musical explosions to come. 

Rude Girls: Women in 2 Tone and One Step Beyond

By Heather Augustyn

Heather Augustyn tackles a conundrum of the 2 Tone/ska/bluebeat scene of late ’70s-early ’80s Britain: that women were "relegated to novelty status … in the very movement that prioritized equality and unity." As she observes elsewhere, "How strange for bands of five, six, seven men, even though they are Black and white, to sing about unity and never have it dawn on them that there weren’t any women in their new era." 

Rude Girls dives deeply into the period, with Augustyn casting her net broadly to include performers who, while not necessarily associated with ska, nonetheless interacted with the movement (such as the members of pop group Bananarama, who collaborated with Fun Boy Three). The extensive interviews make this book especially comprehensive.

A running theme is how virtually all the performers had to constantly push back against the idea that "women don’t play in bands." For Augustyn, their perseverance is something to celebrate, and one of her primary aims in writing the book is to provide inspiration for the future generations. And Rude Girls is certainly a primer for those who want to take the first step. As the Selecter’s Pauline Black so aptly puts it, "If the boys won’t let you join in their game, then sometimes it’s best to invent a new one of your own." 

Conform to Deform: The Weird & Wonderful World of Some Bizzare

By Wesley Doyle

There have been numerous books about punk rock, but not as many about the music scenes that developed in its immediate aftermath. Conform to Deform looks at the rise and eventual dissipation of  Some Bizzare Record — a label that attracted musicians inspired by punk’s energy, but who wanted to do something more radical musically. 

London DJ Stevo (Stephen Pearce) began seeking out "the stranger bands that were around" for his sets, and eventually Some Bizzare Records was born from the acts he championed. Its first release, the 1981 compilation Some Bizzare Album, helped to launch the careers of Soft Cell, Depeche Mode, and The The. Cabaret Voltaire, Einstürzende Neubauten, Coil, Swans, and Psychic TV were later drawn to the label.

Doyle takes the oral history approach to the story, and his coup is in getting the enigmatic Stevo to agree to an interview, and his idiosyncratic approach to the music industry (such as misspelling "bizarre" because "I like ambiguities") means there’s no shortage of insider anecdotes and great one-liners. It’s also a thoroughly entertaining look at an era when the music industry was a lot more freewheeling.

"It’s missing the mavericks, and I think Stevo was a proper maverick," said music journalist Colin Schaverien. It’s also a cautionary tale, illustrating how starting out with a huge success (in this case, Soft Cell’s "Tainted Love") isn’t going to guarantee your company a smooth ride.

Wayward: Just Another Life to Live

By Vashti Bunyan

Wayward (first published in the UK last year, and now in the U.S. in paperback) is the story of a woman who was determined to leave the music industry behind — only for it to catch up with her 30 years later. An acoustic performer frustrated by the machinations of the music industry in 1960s London, Bunyan left the city with her boyfriend, traveling by horse-drawn cart. There’s a dreaminess to Bunyan’s writing, even as she describes the hardships of life on the road, subsisting on porridge and brown rice for so long that the sweets on display at a candy store look like "a psychedelic vision." 

There’s also a recurrent theme of how women artists are silenced; the male friend who tells Bunyan "a girl should not be singing a [Bob] Dylan song"; her first manager Andrew Loog Oldham’s insistence that she record a Jagger/Richards number instead of an original song (he later conceded her song was the better choice); her boyfriend’s demand that she stop writing "those miserable little love songs." 

Nonetheless, the songs she did record attracted the attention of Joe Boyd, who produced her 1970 album, Just Another Diamond Day. And when it’s reissued in the 21st century, its rediscovery is all the sweeter for Bunyan, who’s finally inspired to make music once again: "I picked up my guitar and it no longer gave me the sounds of failure and sadness." It’s the story of a woman rediscovering her artistry.  

By Lior Phillips

When first sitting down to read this book, turn first to page 163 and listen to each of the "Essential Tracks" listed there to get a basic grounding in the genre you’re about to explore (the book is part of Bloomsbury’s 33 1/3 "Genre" series). This interactive element is retained throughout; at the end of each chapter is a "micro playlist" with further song recommendations (and where to find them online), a feature that helps this concise history really come to life. 

Acknowledging her subject’s complexity, Lior Phillips describes her book as offering a "series of snapshots, scenes from which the larger picture can be stretched." And while noting that the evolution of the country’s music is inextricably "tied to the anchor of apartheid," this is also a story of triumph over adversity and oppression, and the key role played by the music.

From the birth of one of the world’s most popular songs, "Mbube," by Solomon Linda’s Evening Birds (later to become "Wimoweh" and "The Lion Sleeps Tonight") to today’s purveyors of gqom (She Madjozi) and amapiano (DJ Kelvin Momo), this is a book celebrating a music that has inspired activism and delivered sheer joy.

[Editor's note: Lior Phillips is a contributor]

Lunacy: The Curious Phenomenon of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, 50 Years On

By John Kruth

The 50th anniversary of Pink Floyd’s landmark album The Dark Side of the Moon naturally comes with the release of the obligatory lavish box set. But there’s also a new book that takes you deeper inside the creation of this enigmatic work and its cultural reverberations that have echoed across the decades. John Kruth sets the stage nicely, with a concise summary of the band’s story before digging into the album track by track. And he also finds some unexpected byways to explore.

There’s an entire chapter on the "Cultural History of the Moon," for example, in which astrophysicist Dr. Matthew Bobrowsky informs us that there actually isn’t a "dark side of the moon." A chapter on the history of the concept album reaches all the way back to Woody Guthrie’s Dust Bowl Ballads Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 ("often considered the original concept album") and Luke the Drifter by Hank Williams. It’s also packed with a wealth of detail, such as a dissection of Clare Torry’s cataclysmic vocals on "The Great Gig in the Sky" that climaxes with a (possibly apocryphal) story of a woman who claimed that the singer’s ululations eased her childbirth pangs. You also learn the band added "The" to the album’s title to distinguish it from another record also entitled Dark Side of the Moon, released in 1972 by British blues outfit Medicine Head. 

Kruth adds that the band would never again "achieve this level of camaraderie, cooperation, and collaboration." It underscores an often overlooked aspect about the album; how its very success "trapped us creatively" in guitarist David Gilmour’s words. Kruth’s book celebrates the music, but also points out there’s a price to be paid in creating a masterwork.

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Mannequin Pussy’s Marisa Dabice On How LSD, Pigs & Non-Indulgent Hedonism Led To 'I Got Heaven'
(L to R:) Mannequin Pussy band members Maxine Steen, Kaleen Reading, Colins "Bear" Regisford, and Marisa Dabice.

Photo: CJ Harvey


Mannequin Pussy’s Marisa Dabice On How LSD, Pigs & Non-Indulgent Hedonism Led To 'I Got Heaven'

On their new album, 'I Got Heaven,' Philly quartet Mannequin Pussy harnessed the power of self-reflection and solitude. The result is a cacophonous record of punk and indie rock that's "overly amorous, horny, and lustful."

GRAMMYs/Feb 28, 2024 - 08:01 pm

Mannequin Pussy’s musical and lyrical charge is raucous, raw, angry and jangly, yet leavened with angelic choruses and delightfully impious asides — and that’s just I Got Heaven’s first song. 

From its opening track, the Philadelphia quartet's new album is redolent of riot grrrl fervor. The 10 tracks of I Got Heaven, out March 1, are laced with industrial intensity ("Of Her"), pretty and propulsive punky power pop ("Nothing Like'') and moshable speed metal duets ("OK? OK! OK? OK!").  

Founded by singer/guitarist Marisa Dabice in 2010, the quartet of Colins "Bear" Regisford (bass, vocals), Kaleen Reading (drums) and Maxine Steen (guitar, synths), Mannequin Pussy are proof that rock’s not dead. In fact, it’s being created by smart, conscious women (and one man) whose creativity is unfettered, living proof of goals that include inclusion, change and connection. And a hefty dose of raw power. 

I Got Heaven is the group's fourth album, and their second LP for Epitaph Records; it follows 2019’s Patience, and the 2021 EP Perfect. Years of DIY dues-paying have culminated in what may be a breakthrough that uplifts the quartet from scrappy indie darlings to a serious, multi-faceted rock band to be reckoned with. 

Dabice, who spoke to from her Philly home, might agree. "It's been beautiful to see the progression of this band and how much it means to people; how much it means for them to feel like they have a cathartic place to put their emotions and to feel things deeply and think critically about things and to challenge things," she says.

Post-meditation and drinking tea on a recent Thursday morning, Dabice is in the calm before the storm. A few years of sobriety, self-reflection and the catharsis of playing and songwriting finds her both self-possessed and excited as Mannequin Pussy launch their third tour April 4, with more than 20 sold out shows through May. 

As the conversation ranges from her fondness for Park Chan-wook movies to feeling part of an "iconic collective, an awakening" to working on lyrics in a 24 hour Korean spa, Dabice shares that she feels "like this is the best work we've ever done." 

The title track, "I Got Heaven," kicks off the record with such a massive punch of energy and power, it made me want to instantly join your band. Growing up, what artist or record did that for you?  

I think I've been fortunate to experience that quite a few times. As soon as you asked that question, I got the vision of watching the music video for "Maps" by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs on MTV, I must have been 13 or 14. It's such a beautiful piece of cinematic history, it bridges the gap between Yes, it's a music video, but it also makes you feel so intensely emotional because of the song and because of her performance.

Everything about that song is just like what is so phenomenal about being in a band. When you listen to a song, and you can hear it for the collaborations that went into it. There's that drumbeat you can isolate in your mind, that guitar arpeggiation that you can hear in your head, and then Karen O’s vocals on top. You can isolate, individually, how exciting each moment of that song is. That to me is what's so exciting about being in a band.

So you always knew you could sing and wanted to be a front person?

No, no, I definitely never thought I could sing. Never wanted to sing. I think even when Mannequin Pussy started, I was just screaming, but I was more like singing as a placeholder. I was [thinking], someone else will come along

Then, I could just play guitar and write songs, and then they can sing them. I wanted to write music; that was the thing that really propelled me and motivated me.

Did you audition any potential singers?

That never really happened. But our bass player, he also contributes vocals. So I do have someone whose voice I love for when a song doesn't feel right for my voice. We like to call it "hardcore duets," where we're both singing on a track.

**That works so well on "OK? OK! OK? OK!" which is one of my favorites on I Got Heaven. Was it initially written to be a duet?**  

It was a bit of happenstance, but I've always just loved the way that two voices on a song can really kind of elevate the emotionality, where it can feel as though you are just dropping in on a conversation that maybe you shouldn't be eavesdropping on. Or you have this kind of bystander effect of listening to the way these two voices interact with each other. 

How did that song begin?  

We started writing in Philadelphia, all at our practice space together. I was on the microphone, and I had had that, "okay, okay" in my brain for a few months, actually.  I'm very East Coast, but I liked this Valley Girl tough affectation. I had a voice memo for it. 

I did that "okay okay" and then [our drummer Kaylene] immediately started playing this epic drumbeat. Maxine and Bear were in the other corner watching her play drums and me do this vocal affectation as a top line thing and they filled in the spaces with guitar and bass. 

You don't usually start a song that way, right? We all had this thing that we were pouring into it. The more I looked at Bear, it was like what I'm doing is akin to an ad lib or hype man, or like this  character that should just kind of like step back and allow you to take the full breadth of the song.

It's called playing music for a reason. You're having fun, and you're playing around with different ideas and shapes and sonic textures. It was a very fun day for us doing something that felt silly, but we were all very excited by it.

That said, I’m sure there were times when creating this record wasn’t as fun?  

I mean, I cried for sure while we were making this record, during every record. Producers are really an incredible combination of roles. They're not only a tastemaker, and an engineer and someone who's there to capture and elevate, they also really take on a dynamic of kind of being a therapist and a friend to you in those dark days where you don't really know, when you get a little lost in the weeds.

Any creative person understands what it feels like to be that moment where you're too deeply in something; you need to step out into the macro in order to be able to hear the record fully and know where you're going.

I definitely had a day where I cried to [producer] John Congleton. It was like, "I don't know if this is like any f—king good. I feel insecure about it." It's also that I feel like everyone around me is so talented. And, sometimes you're like, Am I bringing enough to this? John was really wonderful. We were all in a moment of intense financial struggle. We hadn't been on tour in a long time, so money was tough. It was a combination of a lot of stresses, kind of overwhelming. So yes, sometimes it's so much fun. Other times you're crying, wondering if it's all shit.  

This is your first time working with John as a producer. Why him?

John approached us, which I love. I’m a big believer in being courted. I don't want to be out there sending flowers! John called Brett Guerwitz, the founder of Epitaph Records, I guess they were friends. Brett called me, probably mid-2021. I looked [John] up. I was like, "Oh, I definitely know this guy. He's worked on some records I f—ing love." 

Brett's never the type of person to tell us what we should be doing with our art, but he said, "I really want you to meet him and see if there's a creative vibe between you. I think this is the record that you guys should leave Philly for and do a destination record in L.A. and just really be in it."

We were fortunate enough at that point to have the support of Epitaph.

I loved the way that John spoke about music, I love his philosophy toward music. I felt like we would be in good hands, and that we would be finding the right collaborator for this. Because what a good producer does is kind of become a temporary member of the band. A band is a combination of collaborative creative energies, and as a producer, you're being invited into that world we built between us. It was really important to find someone who would mesh with our sensibilities, and our humor and our outlook and also be in a place to teach us new things and show us new things.

I read an article where you talked about I Got Heaven as having a "pervasive feeling of longing and horniness to it." Can you comment on that vibe?

As much as we joke around we are quite serious. But I think that [with] a band name like ours, for some people, that's never going to be something they can take seriously. I think that's also a reflection of the way that we see things as being inherently feminine, perhaps, or attached to the feminine or things that are not worth real time attention or recognition. But that's a totally separate conversation!

We’re very serious, yet we wanted to make a record that really felt a bit overly amorous, horny, and lustful, because that's kind of where a lot of us in the band were. We had all these jokes about lust and desire and everything because we were traveling so much on tour. Three of us in the band all experienced breakups around the same time. It led us all into a really deep solitude period of healing, where we all kind of took two years off from dating. Really separating ourselves completely and really putting ourselves into the work.

I think creative work requires the practice of solitude. That was something we also strongly felt in the making of this record; that our own solitude was also feeding our creativity. But even in moments of solitude, that doesn't mean that you can escape the fantasy of what it would feel like to be with someone again, or what it would feel like to have love and human connection in that more carnal way. This record is full of human connection but some of it is just fantasy.

The videos for "I Got Heaven" and "I Don’t Know You" were shot on a farm, as were some of your press photos, and there’s a pig on your album cover. Are you vegetarians?

We are not vegetarians. We believe in the pursuit of moderated pleasure. But more so in like, I believe very strongly in conscious carnivorism. I think that the way in which we interact with all living beings on the planet needs to be from a place of gratitude, curiosity, and respect. Respect for the animal that has not chosen to sacrifice its life to nourish you, right? I'm not someone who overindulges. I'm like a hedonist who doesn't indulge in anything.

Interesting. Seems like a long life plan!  

I quit smoking. I quit drinking over the last two years, not because I had a problem. I just felt like it was boring. It was not making me feel good anymore. Like, it's time to move on.

I don't believe in being too strict with ourselves. I think everything should allow for the moment to infer what you should do in it. I was a vegan for three years. I feel so much healthier now that I haven't put restrictions onto myself. At the end of the day, the most important thing is you getting the energy you need to perform.  

I read that your song "Spilt Me Open" was written a day after taking acid. Is that a group activity or did you try to utilize it as a creative tool?

The story behind it is actually quite wholesome. Maybe the most wholesome LSD story! Our band vacations together. Maxine's family has a small off the grid cabin that’s been in her family for generations. No electricity, no internet, in New Hampshire.  

I'm a believer in a yearly psychedelic trip. I think it kind of realigns the system and gets your brain functioning in a healthy and creative way. And maybe helps you purge some things that you need to purge. Again, hedonist but not excess. Experimental, but not dangerous. Maxine and I took acid and usually it’s a day of being naked in nature. I forced everyone to listen to Paul Simon for 24 hours. 

The next day, we were laying around next to the lake, just me and Maxine, coming down from our trip. She started playing the beginning chords of "Split Me Open" on acoustic guitar. I was laying down next to her, and kind of had a similar experience when she started playing it. I immediately started singing along; a lot of those lines would end up in the final version. The song just kind of spilled out of us.   

What is success to you?

On one hand, I feel like success on a more spiritual level feels as though you are being seen, understood and accepted for exactly who you are, and your creative output. People connecting with our music in a way that is immensely thoughtful. 

I think success on a material level, especially for artists, means that you're paying all of your bills through your own creativity; your own creative talents are actually what is sustaining your life. That, to me, feels like a really beautiful combination. Where if it was just the one — just the material without being seen and understood? I'm not sure it would feel as rewarding.

For Laura Jane Grace, Record Cycles Can Be A 'Hole In My Head' — And She's OK With That

10 Alté Artists To Know: Odunsi (The Engine), TeeZee, Lady Donli & More
(From left) Cruel Santino, Somadina, Prettyboy D-O, Odunsi (The Engine), Kingsley Okorie of the Cavemen, Tay Iwar, TeeZee

Photos: The Lizard Queen; Kate Green/Getty Images; Paras Griffin/Getty Images; Jérémy Beaudet; Pedro Gomes/Redferns; Lorne Thomson/Redferns; David M. Benett/Dave Benett/Getty Images for Raf Simons


10 Alté Artists To Know: Odunsi (The Engine), TeeZee, Lady Donli & More

Nigerian slang for "alternative," the fusion genre of alté describes any artist with a unique visual aesthetic whose music blends elements of Afrobeats, pop, rap, R&B, soul, and dancehall.

GRAMMYs/Feb 28, 2024 - 05:40 pm

Afrobeats and amapiano may be the most prominent sounds originating from Africa on the global radar, but another sound from Africa is gaining steam. 

Coined by the creative collective DRB LasGidi in 2014, the alté genre combines elements of Afrobeats, pop, rap, R&B, soul, dancehall, and more. It's the sonic result of a Nigerian arts scene developed by and for unconventional personalities; alté describes any artist whose music blends the aforementioned elements and subscribes to the aesthetic tenants of the scene. 

"Alté is Nigerian lingo for 'alternative,' which means freedom of expression essentially through any medium," alté pioneer, rapper, singer/songwriter, and producer TeeZee told RedBull. In 2016, alté exploded into the mainstream, with a new class of rising stars gaining cult followings.

The genre's emergence is a reaction to conservative Naija culture, which is sometimes unwelcoming to radical changes in the status quo. Alté is distinguished by its origins in youth-led subculture and is built around an experimental aesthetic; it is exemplified by the vibey visuals of genre trailblazers Cruel Santino and Odunsi (The Engine) and the radical, non-traditional designs inspired by Nigerian and London youth culture of Mowalola.

Alté artists such as Amaarae and Tems have experienced global commercial success, while  Ayra Starr, who unifies alté and mainstream Afrobeats, was recognized at the 2024 GRAMMYs in the new Best African Music Performance Category. In Lagos, the fifth NATIVELAND music festival was held in December 2023 at the biggest venue to date and featured a bill of alté acts. Organized by the culture platform The NATIVE co–founded by TeeZee, the publication has been lauded for supporting the alté's rise. 

Lagos youth have successfully created a paradigm-shifting global movement. To get to know the multidisciplinary genre, these 10 alté acts are an introduction to the innovative scene. 

Cruel Santino

Formerly publishing music under the mononym Santi, the Nigerian singer/songwriter, director, and rapper is widely recognized as a key figure and the frontrunner in alté. A member of the Monster Boys collective, Cruel Santino is known for his distinct delivery and fusion of R&B, dancehall, rap, Afrobeats, and indie, as well as his signature ever-changing locs and distinguishing fashion. Santi first developed a cult-like following among Lagos’ youth in 2016 following the release of "Gangsta Fear," a collaboration with fellow alté trailblazer Odunsi (The Engine). At the time, Cruel Santino was rapping under the moniker Ozzy B. He has since demonstrated his range and artistry in collaborating with Gus Dapperton, Amaarae, Skepta, and DRAM. 

Cruel Santino’s highly anticipated sophomore album, Subaru Boys : FINAL HEAVEN, was featured on Rolling Stone’s The 100 Best Albums of 2022 list. The project is a fascinating exploration of the creative mind of Santi, who orchestrated the album to have the same effect as a video game. On tracks like "WAR IN THE TRENCHES" and "TAPENGA," dense synth beats, classic breakneck African drums, and computerized PlayStation-like effects fuse to create an idiosyncratic sound and help craft the vision of the Subaru Boys digital world. The Afrofuturism and intergalactic visuals associated with the concept album also draw influence from Mortal Kombat, cementing Santi’s talent as a multidisciplinary visionary.      

Odunsi (The Engine)

Odunsi (The Engine) is one of the most critical figures and producers in alté, and ushered in a new generation of Nigerian creatives who challenged the existing status quo. Odunsi released his debut project in 2016, Time of Our Lives, and followed with a slew of singles and EPs. His 2019 project, rare, was a commercial success, earning him nominations at The Headies, Nigeria’s annual music ceremony recognizing outstanding achievements in the industry, and SoundCity MVP Awards. 

Known for his cutting-edge sartorial choices and elaborate production abilities, Odunsi effortlessly blends sounds of R&B, hip hop, and Afrobeats with braggadocious lyrics, crooning on his track "PDA!" from his 2020 third studio album EVERYTHING YOU HEARD IS TRUE, "That girl got too much swagger/Fashion killer, uh, that's Margiela."

His eye for fashion goes beyond just lyricism. In 2023, Odunsi collaborated with longtime friend and fellow alté influencer Nigerian designer Mowalola for the SABI BOI collection. The same year saw the surprise release of his three-track EP SPORT. The compact project is a captivating cruise through the remarkable sonic experience Odunsi has spent years crafting. The intro track "NOSTALGIA" is a sultry blend of Afrobeats and R&B and, unsurprisingly, features Cruel Santino. 

On the EP’s second track, "OTE!," named after his abbreviated moniker, the energetic instrumental ladened with fast-paced African drums creates an infectious rhythm impossible to deny. Throughout the standout’s 1-minute and 32-second runtime, Odunsi seamlessly flows between English, Nigerian pidgin, and Yoruba languages, showcasing a one-of-kind swagger that cannot be replicated. 

Prettyboy D-O

Erupting into the scene in 2018 with Everything Pretty, the eclectic artist has created his own lane within alté. A rap maverick, Prettyboy D-O is known for his distinct flow and frenzied blend of Afrobeats, dancehall, alté, and R&B. His ascension continued with his 2021 album Love is War, which appeared as the 17th slot on the Fader’s list of Top 50 best albums that year. 

Aesthetically, he is easily distinguishable from your typical Naija rapper. Owing to his bold appearance — including a signature colorful buzzcut — cult-like following and fusion of grimy street music and the alté genre, Prettyboy D-O has been described as "culté." 

Tay Iwar

A genuine jack of all trades, the musician’s buttery vocals posit him as one of the most soulful agents in alté. Tay Iwar debuted in 2014 with his mixtape Passport, following up in 2019 with his debut album, GEMINI. The latter weaved together elements of Afrobeat and R&B, while featuring guest appearances from Cruel Santino, Odunsi (The Engine), Preyé, and his brother Suté Iwar. 

Tay Iwar has also participated in GRAMMY-nominated projects. In 2020, he provided vocals on "True Love" from Wizkid’s Made in Lagos project in 2020, and co-wrote "Steady" on the deluxe version. The deluxe edition was nominated for Best Global Music Album at the 64th GRAMMY Awards. 

Showing no signs of slowing down, the vibrant alté vocalist signed a publishing deal with Warner Chappell Music in 2022 and released his Summer Breeze EP in June 2023. 

Lady Donli

While there is space for all artists in alté, commercial success sometimes seems like a boys-only club. Despite this, Lady Donli has paved her own path within the genre. Born in Cleveland, Ohio, Donli spent her early years between the Nigerian cities of Abuja and Kaduna. The songstress flawlessly melds Afrobeat, R&B, and soul music.

She released her first project Love or War in 2014 and, nearly a decade later, she returned with sophomore project Pan African Rockstar. Combining an Afro-fusion sound with self-assuring lyrics on the title track, while including content about social issues affecting African youth, particularly Nigerian youth and women on other album cuts, Lady Donli is a vanguard of the revolutionary alté scene. 


One-third of alté founding fathers DRB LasGidi, BOJ is recognized for pioneering the fusion genre. The term was coined in his 2014 debut track "Paper" where he croons, "The ladies they like me cus I’m a shy guy/Say the ladies they like me because I’m an alté guy." His knack for self-expression without boundaries and the contemporary constraints of popular culture has paid off, earning him a partnership with Jameson Irish Whisky and a solo publishing and distribution deal with MOVES Recordings.    

BOJ credits artists such as Wyclef Jean, Lauryn Hill, Bob Marley, Fela Kuti, Lagbaja, and Sean Paul as influences, attributing his taste to the records his parents played at home while growing up. Being raised on a diverse musical palette, these creative sources formed the eclectic rhythm of BOJ’s afrobeats, dancehall, reggae, and hip-hop-influenced signature sound. This prototypical sound he helped craft has fed directly into the modern sound of Afrobeats, and he is now regarded as a musical backbone in Lagos. His 2023 project Gbagada Express confirms this, littered with appearances from heavy hitters, including 2024 GRAMMY nominee Davido, Mr Eazi, Wizkid, Fireboy DML, Tiwa Savage, and others.

The Cavemen

Formed in March 2018, the highlife band of sibling duo bassist Kingsley Okorie and drummer Benjamin James are known for their avant-garde live performances. The group was discovered early by Lady Donli and their debut project, Roots, was released in August 2020. An ode to their Naija heritage, the pair recorded the project in their living room, and took home the 2020 Headie Award, a music award show founded in 2006 to recognize outstanding achievements in the Nigerian music industry, for Best Alternative Album. 

The album was executively produced by Lady Donli, and The Cavemen. returned the favor by producing 11 songs on the alté pioneer’s 2019 project Enjoy Your Life. Their contributions to alté are precise and unique, retaining the original essence of highlife music while combining additional Afro-fusion musical elements.    


Somadina has claimed her space among the next generation of alté stars. The young songstress cites many influences on her artistry — including John Legend, Fela Kuti, Avril Lavigne and the English pop music duo Shampoo — which is reflected in her bold blend of R&B, pop, alt-rock, and Afropop. 

In 2019, Somadina was tapped by Lady Donli to feature on the track "FLAVA" alongside alté breakout star Amaarae. In 2022, Somadina continued to showcase her promising rise by releasing an EP titled Heart of the Heavenly Undeniable under her independent label Somadina Sounds. featuring Odunsi (The Engine) and The Cavemen. on the track "Small Paradise."  Later that month, she performed at Lollapalooza Chicago as one of the Nigerian artists featured on the bill alongside Tems and Rema. 


Co-founder of Nigeria’s The NATIVE Networks, TeeZee’s contributions to the alté movement are undeniable. He began his career as one-third of the group DRB LasGidi and is regarded as one of Nigeria’s first self-publishing artists. The rapper/singer has since collaborated with artists ranging from Skepta to Davido to Kid Cudi. He continues to release projects as a solo act and executive producer, and debuted his first solo album, Arrested by Love in 2022. Still, his contributions to alté extend beyond just music. 

In 2016, he established The NATIVE, a space for Naija youth to unite for their shared interest in the craft. He cited the genre's lack of media attention during the early stages of the innovative style as the reason for founding the music magazine, which has since become an epicenter for all things relating to the culture. NATIVE Records, a label under The NATIVE Networks, was founded in 2022 through a joint venture with Def Jam Recordings and signed its first act, Odumodublvck in the same year. The rapper has since experienced significant critical and commercial success upon releasing his mixtape EZIOKWU, executively produced by the alté OG.


SuperJazzClub is a nine-person Ghanaian supergroup with skills ranging from vocals and production to DJing, filmmaking, and more. Their first song, 2019's "Couple Black Kids," is an alternative hip-hop tracj with brassy synths, heavy drums, and a computerized piano featuring vocals from all members.

Since the collective’s founding, SuperJazzClub has concentrated on encouraging a spirit of creativity and self-expression among youth. The first of its kind within alté, the group’s novel sound and boundary-pushing aesthetic secures them as a staple in the movement. 

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Living Legends: Iron Maiden’s Bruce Dickinson On Pushing His Own Limits
Bruce Dickinson

Photo: John McMurtrie


Living Legends: Iron Maiden’s Bruce Dickinson On Pushing His Own Limits

On his new album 'The Mandrake Project,' Dickinson's first solo release in 18 years, the metal singer engages in a magical epic with multifarious influences.

GRAMMYs/Feb 28, 2024 - 02:30 pm

Bruce Dickinson performs heavy metal and flies it through the sky. 

As the charismatic and energetic singer of Iron Maiden, Dickinson has fronted the band for most of the last 42 years. The philosophical performer has been nicknamed the Air Raid Siren — which is amusing given that he has also been a commercial airline pilot and has flown Maiden’s private plane Ed Force One on tour. 

And Maiden has certainly taken flight with few landings. The British heavy metal legends have maintained a steadfast following for decades, from their classic ‘80s albums like Number of the Beast and Powerslave (which turns 40 this year) to the recent Book of Souls and Senjutsu. Their last four albums have gone Top 10 in America. But Dickinson has also recorded substantial solo material, and will be hitting the road for a two-month European tour starting in Paris on May 26.

His seventh and latest album, The Mandrake Project, is his first in 18 years and has been a decade in the making. The album combines varied metal elements free from the distinctive Iron Maiden gallop. "Resurrection Men" has a Spaghetti Western vibe, while "Fingers In The Wind" offers a Middle Eastern flavor. The gothic closing song "Sonata (Immortal Beloved)," which started gestating 25 years ago, is a slowly churning, 10-minute epic. 

Such musical exploration is common for Dickinson. Starting with his 1990 solo debut, Tattooed Millionaire, he's employed melodic hard rock, grunge, and heavy metal elements with lyrics that he might not explore within Maiden, where historical and fantastical themes tend to reign. Dickinson’s 1998 album The Chemical Wedding — which featured Maiden guitarist Adrian Smith, when both had been estranged from the band — is a superlative  heavy metal album from the ‘90s. 

The Mandrake Project has spawned a comic book series from Z2 Comics with the same name; the first issue is out now and 11 more quarterly issues are forthcoming. The story stars Dr. Necropolis who seeks to restore his brother’s soul from Hell. The first issue includes hallucinogens, sex magic, the defiant ghost of William Blake, and a manipulative scientist named Professor Lazarus. Dickinson spun off the story concept from the album, and he also co-wrote the story for "Revelations" in the Iron Maiden comic anthology inspired by their seminal album Piece Of Mind

Dickinson spoke to about his new album and comic, his creative solo career, and how he wants to challenge himself and his audience. 

Why did you decide to re-record "If Eternity Should Fail"—  a contribution you made to Iron Maiden’s Book Of Souls almost a decade ago — as "Eternity Has Failed"?

First of all, it was written as a solo track. In fact, the [new] album was going to be called If Eternity Should Fail back in 2014, and [bassist] Steve [Harris] borrowed it [for Maiden]. It was always my intention to repossess the track. 

All I've done really is a version of it that's more reflective of my tastes than the Maiden thing. I always wanted to do the Ennio Morricone [flute] bit at the beginning. 

At the same time, by developing the comic book, I'd also moved on a story that I could import back into the words, into the lyrics. According to the story of the comic book, Eternity has failed. Death is over and done with. I quite like that. I thought we can rejig it with a slightly different emphasis on it. Put a few bits of chanty stuff at the end. Generally it's a different groove to the Maiden groove. It's more of an even type groove. 

The Mandrake Project is not a concept album but spawned from the comic, and the first video connects with the story in the first issue. 

I wanted it all to hang together. I thought, it's a waste of money doing a video that doesn't cross over from one to the other. Now the irony of that video [for "Afterglow of Ragnarok"] is that ... I went, It has nothing whatsoever to do with anything on the comic. How am I going to do this? It was a dream by Necropolis in which he's taken his acid trip using Mandrake potion, and he dreams he's at the end of the world and sees the shaman foretelling his future. There's the weird mirror that he sees himself talking to himself and sees things. The mirror can also be a portal into the other world of his dreams, and back out of it at the end. 

So I wrote that up as a treatment for a video and then [realized] there is no way we can afford to shoot that video. So I turned it into an eight-page comic as a kind of a prequel to the comic [series]. And we'll give it away just to get people in the mood for what might be coming next. I did that with [writer] Tony Lee and with [artist] Staz Johnson, so it was kind of a dummy run for what was going to be each 34-page comic. 

Then, at the 11th hour, I find this director, Ryan Mackfall, and we get on great. We love all the same types of weird folk horror movies from Britain from the ‘50s, ‘60s, ‘70s, and early Universal horror. He said, "I'll be able to shoot this and I'll be able to get it in on budget." I went, "That's great, mate, but what are you going to actually shoot?" He said, "Well, you've already done it. I'm going to shoot the comic." 

You were a child in the ‘60s, and that decade really informs a lot of your work: There’s the Hammer Horror vibe of your current videos. The organ work on this album reminds me of Deep Purple. Monty Python’s humor heavily influenced your two racy, aristocracy-lampooning Lord Iffy Boatrace novels. You love singer Arthur Brown, one of the original shock rockers. What is it about the ‘60s that keeps informing your work? 

I actually don't think about that. But if I had to think about it, I would say the ‘60s, up till the mid-‘70s, was a golden time because there were all these barriers being broken down in music. Nothing was impossible. Everything was possible. Everything was plausible. You had Mahavishnu Orchestra, and then on the other hand you had Led Zeppelin. Nobody excluded anything. Nobody said, "I can't listen to John McLaughlin because I listen to Motorhead." They're not mutually exclusive. It's all music. And in the ‘80s that got completely lost. Everybody was segmented up to their little silos, and it pissed me off. 

When I started doing this…the people I admired were not just rock stars. And because I effectively don't look like a rock star — tall, skinny and blonde…. I was much more about being a storyteller and an artist. Increasingly, whether it's a comic book or an autobiography, everything I do for public consumption is telling stories. And if you tell an interesting story in a way that makes people go, I didn't expect that twist, then I put that back into music. A lot of this album has got a lot of unexpected little twists that I hope bring a little smile to people's internal monologue. 

You were working on your second solo album Balls To Picasso when you heard Roy Z's Latin rock band Tribe of Gypsies recording in the adjacent studio and brought them in for your project. He's been your co-songwriter, producer, and guitar player on every album of yours since except one. Why do you two have such a great mind meld? 

Roy can be somewhat mercurial from time to time. To be fair, so can I. I’m trying not to sound pompous about this, but when we tap into something together, we tap into something that's bigger than the both of us. So as soon as that realization hits, we go, "Oh my God, put the mic on, capture that moment." But that initial moment of inspiration, when you’re both channeling something from somewhere — I don’t know whether it’s alien intelligence or whatever the hell it is — I don't question it. But you have to be there in person for it to happen and to notice it. But when it does happen with us, it happens quickly. Or not at all. 

Would it be fair to say that there's more of the arcane, the occult and the religious covered here than in Maiden? That seems to be where a lot of your personality and a lot of your interests lie. 

Definitely. I drop some things in with Maiden, but there are always some musical limits that are outside of the Maiden universe slightly. Morricone, surf guitar and stuff like that. If I said, "Steve, we need bongos, man, let's do some bongos" — he'd think I'd lost my mind. I have, but in a good way. So those are things that are expressions of my musical personality that are unalloyed by being in Maiden. 

I'm always on the lookout for some of Z’s musical textures, basically, in terms of sounds and things like that. It's a different way of working. It's more like two kids in a sandbox with me and Roy, and nothing is excluded. Ever. And anything's on the table if we want to have a go at something. 

Over 20 years ago, there were rumblings about The Three Tremors, a proposed vocal trio between you, Judas Priest’s Rob Halford, and Ronnie James Dio. How did that evolve, and why did it ultimately not happen? 

We had promoters salivating and people could see dollar signs. It was a great idea, but I didn't want to do it unless it was not just a commercial great idea, but an artistic great idea. I love Rob, I love Ronnie. And why they would want me, I don't know. Then Ronnie unfortunately got sick and passed away. So it was mooted that maybe [original Queensrÿche singer] Geoff Tate might fill in. We had a few meetings with Geoff, and I think the minds didn't quite meet in the way that I thought they should, so it was obvious that probably wasn’t going to work. 

By this point, however, Roy and I had already written two tracks for a potential album which used the voices of three singers in different ways during the songs. The intention was to write a whole album of material like that. I think that would have been quite cool, but the problem was it was a lot harder than it sounds.

"Tyranny of Souls" [which became the title track to Dickinson’s last solo album] was one of those tracks, and "Shadow of the Gods" [on the new one] was another. We didn't get any further than that. I did demo versions of those songs in which I actually did little imitation voices of Rob and Geoff to give an idea of where their lines would be in the song. So when the project didn't happen, I said, "Let's just record both those songs anyway." 

Maiden have made a massive impact on the metal world. One can argue that you are as influential as Metallica. Have you thought about why people keep coming back to the music and are so loyal after nearly 45 years? 

Stylistically, Maiden are, I think it's fair to say, unique. Nobody sounds like us. Even people who copy us, they still don't sound like us. And that's because we're not perfect. When people copy things, they try to make them perfect. But if the thing you're copying is imperfect to begin with, you can't copy it. You'll never be as imperfect as the thing you're trying to copy. It’s the same with The Rolling Stones who are far from perfect, but they're so perfectly imperfect, that they are the identity. 

I don't know how this happens, but [with] the six of us now together it sounds like Maiden and nobody else sounds like us. It's instant. You can hear it. Also, because we are authentic. That's quite rare in the modern world because everybody's so desperate. It's sad in a way that streaming and everything is just ripping the guts out of creativity. So if people want to be successful, they have to try too hard. Whereas you should be able to just relax and have fun and be successful. They have to go and do this and do that, and jump through hoops and manufacture their authenticity now. 

That's the biggest curse of being a creative now. If you come up with something that's unique people go, "Oh, yeah, but your problem is it doesn't sound like everybody else." 

Living Legends: Chicago's Robert Lamm On Songwriting and Longevity

How Beyoncé Is Honoring Black Music History With "Texas Hold Em," 'Renaissance' & More
Beyoncé performs during the RENAISSANCE World Tour in Inglewood, California.

Photo: Kevin Mazur/WireImage for Parkwood/GettyImages


How Beyoncé Is Honoring Black Music History With "Texas Hold Em," 'Renaissance' & More

From ventures into country and dance music, Bey's drive for creativity is an exercise in freedom.

GRAMMYs/Feb 28, 2024 - 02:18 pm

The most powerful thing for a Black woman to be is free; to embrace freedom of expression, freedom of agency and freedom of autonomy. In all aspects and areas of our lives, Black women strive to be free. 

In the Black American consciousness, freedom takes on a political nature. But the ways in which we reach our freedom, individually and collectively, are complex and nuanced. Take Beyoncé for example: To the average African American, she is free; her billionaire status frees her from participation in a capitalist state plagued by classism, sexism, and racism.

Yet an individual actor (regardless of star status or income bracket) cannot free themselves from the system at large. And one of the few spaces where people who live on the margins can find a freedom similar to that of a 32-time GRAMMY winning icon is on the dancefloor.

Dance has always been a source of liberation for Black people, where "...shakes of the head, bending of the spinal column, throwing of the whole body backward may be deciphered as in an open book the huge effort of a community to exorcise itself, to liberate itself, to explain itself," philosopher Frantz Fanon wrote in The Wretched of the Earth. In a scene from Renaissance: A Film by Beyoncé, the singer shares a similar sentiment: "This tour…I feel liberated. I have transitioned into a new animal."

This is not Beyoncé’s first attempt at liberation, but it may be her most vocal. Her journey first began in 2013 with the release of Beyoncé, followed by 2016’s Lemonade, and continued on 2022’s Renaissance. Throughout these three albums, she has made declarative statements about her role in 21st century pop culture feminism, reveled in the exploration of Black Southern womanhood identity, and blended these intersecting identities to form a new being. 

It’s poetic how Beyoncé uses music to define herself. In lieu of speaking directly to the press, she has used the vehicle of pop culture to communicate her needs, desires, as well as her understanding of the world. The strategy has proven successful: Through her groundbreaking and popular works, Beyoncé has dominated much media for the past decade. She knows that whoever controls the media, controls the mind. 

Her last two albums have consciously explored genres created by Black artists, whose contributions had disappeared from the narrative. In the media frenzy that inevitably follows Bey's releases, the icon put this history — as well as contemporary artists — back on the global consciousness. 

When Renaissance dropped, the artistry and voices of Big Freedia, Grace Jones, Honey Dijon, Moi Renee, and TS Madison were heard across the world. However, their presence was more than a simple collaboration or feature."This a reminder," Beyoncé says on "Cozy," the album’s second track. 

The album — an auditory homage to the house music her late uncle Johnny loved — introduced audiences to the above artists, all of whom have made their own impacts on dance music. But it also educated listeners about the Black trans and queer underground dance scenes that birthed dance music and culture. In "chocolate cities," such as Baltimore, Chicago, Detroit, dance music was liberation music. Renaissance is and continues to be a call for liberation.

Read more: Obsessed With Beyoncé's 'Renaissance'? Keep The Dance Party Going With Albums From Frankie Knuckles, Big Freedia & More

But liberation becomes confusing when it is Southern. Although the South has a long history of Black liberation — extending as far back as maroon communities to the freedom rides movement to protests against police training facilities in Atlanta — it still is associated with enslavement in the African American mind. 

Country music, a genre with roots in the musical styling and traditions of Black people in Appalachia and the South, becomes whitewashed over time. This erasure, amplified through gender and racial discrimination policies, paints the South and country music as a hostile environment for Black Americans. 

As a result, the banjo, "an instrument of innovation and collaboration," an instrument that is of African origin often used in minstrel shows and artists in blackface, becomes associated with the degradation of Black people. It is no coincidence that the banjo takes prominence on "Texas Hold Em"; when Rhiannon Giddens plays the banjo on the track she recontextualizes a fraught relationship between African Americans and country music.

So what happens when the most powerful entertainer in the world reminds people that she is not only Southern, but country in nature? The world begins to lose its mind. 

Prior to the release of "16 Carriages" and "Texas Hold Em," Beyoncé had attended two significant events in western wear: The 66th GRAMMY Awards and Super Bowl LVIII. Donning a Stetson hat and a bolo tie (the official state tie of Texas), everything signaled a return to home. A return to the South. 

As a little girl, Beyoncé spent summers in Alabama with her paternal grandparents; her grandfather would play and sing country music to her. With such foundational experiences, it makes sense why Beyoncé would use country music to describe the theft of her girlhood on "16 Carriages."

Throughout her discography, Beyoncé has alluded to her country origins — from costuming in her early days as the frontwoman of Destiny’s Child to songs like "Creole" and "Formation." And while she may not have held country in a full-on embrace, its spirit has never left her. 

Yet, she needed to experience liberation of the Renaissance World Tour to bring this version of herself forward. On tour, she found liberation in the booming voice of ballroom legend and commentator Kevin JZ Prodigy, and through the joy of her daughter Blue Ivy Carter. Beyoncé found liberation not only through her dancers, narrator and her daughter, but in the ways in which the stage provided an opportunity for them all to be free. 

She needed to be liberated in order to be the most actualized version of herself. A self, unlike the little girl in Alabama, who knows how unwelcoming the country music industry can be.

One singular action cannot bring forth liberation, and Beyoncé cannot take down the country music industry by herself. However, she can work in unison with Black country musicians like Rhiannon Giddens and Robert Randolph on "16 Carriages" and "Texas Hold Em" to make a change in the industry.

Her presence is giving visibility to the artists who have been working in country music long before Bey entered the playing field. Shortly after the release of "16 Carriages" and "Texas Hold Em," Black female country artists such as Tanner Adell, Reyna Roberts, K. Michelle, Rhiannon Giddens, and Rissi Palmer received a significant increase in streams. Palmer is one of the few Black women in the genre to chart on Billboard, prior to Beyoncé breaking the mold as the first Black woman to top the Billboard country chart.   

Although she is one powerful person, Beyoncé understands each movement in music, culture, and politics is the byproduct of those who have come before her like Linda Martell, the first Black woman country star. 

There is much to be speculated about the lasting impacts act ii, scheduled for release on March 29, will have on the country music industry, Its arrival certainly heralds an important impact on the artist herself. 

Beyoncé is free, in her career, sound and attitude toward life. And the unintended (or possibly intended) consequence of her freedom and self actualization is that Black people in country music are allowed to be free too. 

How Beyoncé Has Empowered The Black Community Across Her Music And Art | Black Sounds Beautiful