meta-scriptMeet The First-Time GRAMMY Nominee: Coco Jones On Her Breakthrough Year, Turning Rejection Into Purpose & Learning From Babyface | GRAMMY.com
Meet The First-Time GRAMMY Nominee: Coco Jones On Her Breakthrough Year, Turning Rejection Into Purpose & Learning From Babyface
Coco Jones

Photo: Courtesy Coco Jones

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Meet The First-Time GRAMMY Nominee: Coco Jones On Her Breakthrough Year, Turning Rejection Into Purpose & Learning From Babyface

Coco Jones is nominated across five categories at the 2024 GRAMMYs, including Best New Artist and Best R&B Album for her EP, 'What I Didn't Tell You.' The first-time nominee discussed her hit, "ICU," working with legends and the power of representation.

GRAMMYs/Jan 8, 2024 - 02:23 pm

Coco Jones is feeling more inspired than ever following a year of exciting surprises and breakthroughs. In 2023, the 25-year-old budding star celebrated her first Billboard Hot 100 entry thanks to her platinum-selling "ICU" single, embarked on her first headlining tour, and earned her first GRAMMY nominations.

"Being a GRAMMY-nominated artist changes everything. It's such a different creative mindset when the world says, 'You're good, we like what you do,'" Jones tells GRAMMY.com. "It's like a gold star. It makes you want to work harder, it makes you wanna continue to impress, and it makes you impressed with yourself, too."

Jones is nominated across five categories at the 2024 GRAMMYs: Her 2022 EP What I Didn't Tell You is up for Best R&B Album and its "ICU" will compete for Best R&B Performance and Best R&B Song. Her feature on Babyface's "Simple" has received a nod for Best Traditional R&B Performance. Jones is also up for the coveted golden gramophone for Best New Artist.

In recent years, her vocal prowess has received praise from SZA, Janet Jackson, and Beyoncé, but anyone who's even remotely familiar with Jones' story knows that her newfound success is anything but overnight. Jones first found success at age 14, when she starred in the 2012 Disney movie musical Let It Shine. The Tennessee native faced colorism early on, which she addressed in a 2020 YouTube video that went viral.

"I always wanted that representation that my dreams were possible growing up," she shares. "I definitely was not based in reality of what the entertainment industry is. It's tough and it's challenging and sometimes it isn't fair and that is not what I was prepared for as a kid."

During the pandemic, Jones secured a spot in "Bel-Air" (Peacock's reimagining of "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air") as the spoiled yet beloved Hilary Banks, but she never let go of her love of  music. Following her 2014 departure from Hollywood Records, Jones released music independently, including the ominous "Hollyweird" and "Depressed"; when Def Jam approached her in the summer of 2021, she was ready for her close-up.

Fast forward to present, and Jones is gearing up for one of the most pivotal nights of her blossoming career. But perhaps the most precious thing she's collected along the way is self-assurance. "I'm learning that I have to believe in my creative choices and that I shouldn't second guess what I feel because it does well," she says with a laugh.

Of her recent success, Jones says the back-to-back accolades shocked her, but like a true artist, she's already thinking ahead and manifesting an exciting first for 2024: "I want my debut album to hit No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart."

Ahead of the 2024 GRAMMYs, Jones discusses the power of representation for dark-skinned Black women, why her mother is her biggest inspiration, and how joining forces with Babyface created momentum in her career.

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

After finding out that you received five GRAMMY nominations, you posted an Instagram video showing you and your mother reveling in the excitement of it all. Tell me more about that moment and your mother's role in this journey.

I'm one of four children and my mom owned multiple businesses, but she made us all feel loved and supported while also being a boss. Watching her navigate the entertainment industry — which she had no prior experience with — was very inspiring. She took every challenge head-on and still managed to make time with all of her kids. 

She's always been a visionary, so I think for her, it's like, This is exactly what we worked for. The end goal is to be award-winning, to be show-stopping, to be classic, to be timeless. That's what she saw for me even when I was a little girl on stage singing Aretha Franklin.

There were times when it was hard for me to see what she saw in me, especially when you're dealing with the rejection that is the music industry. But she always knows the right thing to say to keep me going and to keep my faith. So, when it wasn't like how it is now, she was the entire team. She did anything she could to help me progress.

You retweeted a meet-and-greet with a fan, who donned your merch from 2018, which seemed to take you by surprise. It seems like your 2023 breakthrough was a win for not just yourself, but for those early supporters as well.

I would definitely say it's a win for my fans and my supporters, but also for young Black women who look like me and have big dreams and just want to see what they are dreaming about is possible. I know that I inspire so many young Black women — they tell me almost every day that seeing me win helps them believe in themselves winning.

My goal is to continue to break those barriers down for young Black women so that it's not such a surprise when we succeed.

In a 2022 interview, you said you wanted to experience the highs of being an entertainer and being on stage "even if it meant a lot of lows." Many creatives feel that way. Do you have any advice for struggling artists who feel like no one's paying attention?

You can make it this thing where you feel like you're running out of time, or you can make it feel like you're adjusting to time. Time is whatever you decide it is.

There were so many obstacles I didn't understand, but hindsight is 20/20. I needed the lessons that I learned, I needed the self-reliance, I needed the optimism and the faith. So, I think it was all very growing but still tough not knowing what was going to happen, not knowing if I was going to have that life-changing job, that life-changing song. 

I'm just grateful to God for protecting me through all the confusion and for not giving up. I had enough support around me and enough doors to open even though they felt far and few between to keep me sustained and pursuing this dream, even though I was pursuing it without any guarantees.

What I Didn't Tell You isn't the first EP you released, but it's the one that made you a first-time GRAMMY nominee. What was different this time around?

I was very supported; when Def Jam approached me, they seemed so understanding of my vision that I couldn't help but feel like we were already a team. They helped me put the pieces together. Before this, I was just on my own or it was me and my mom, so I felt more supported with this EP release. My label understands me and what I want to be, and there's no pushback against who I am and what I can naturally do. It's all about enhancing. 

As part of R&B's new class, what do you want to bring to the genre?

More uptempo! I want to be able to sing my heart out but make a bop that you wanna dance to. I love how Whitney Houston would do that with some of her songs like "I'm Your Baby Tonight" and "How Will I Know."

Your breakthrough single, "ICU," is up for Best R&B Song, but what lesser-known song off What I Didn't Tell You (Deluxe) would you nominate in the same category if you could?

"Fallin'" because it's a sensual song, and I feel like it sits in a really cool, pretty place in my voice. It also tells a good story of the chaos that my life is while also starting to fall for somebody.

In 2022, you joined forces with R&B legend Babyface for his collaborative Girls Night Out project. Your "Simple" duet with him is nominated for Best Traditional R&B Performance. Do you think collaborating with Babyface acted as a precursor for the incredible year you had?

When I learned Babyface wanted me on his album, I was beside myself. He was really one of the first legends to give me that stamp of approval. I definitely think the recognition I got from him was like a turning point in what was next for my life. The world started to notice around that time. 

When I interviewed Babyface soon after the release of Girls Night Out, he talked about doing his homework to better understand the differences in today's R&B. That was surprising to hear, because he's clearly an expert at writing hit songs but not above learning from others. What did you learn from his mentorship?

I just learned that you can be a legend and you can still be open to ideas, open to new talents, and open to suggestions. Just stay open to what’s new, who's new, and why they're doing well, and that's what will keep you legendary. 

I'm a big fan of studying music, so I will continue to be a student. Creating music and studying music are two different things to me. I study it and then I feel creative, so I think it's about separating them because sometimes if you're creating while studying, you just end up repeating exactly what somebody's doing and that doesn't feel authentic. It's more about getting inspired and then creating.

My love for music and being a creative is what keeps me going because it's not always fun, it's not always easy. Sometimes it's about business, sometimes it's about pushing past your exhaustion. I don't think I would do that, not for this long, if I didn't love the payoff of being a creative. 

How will you celebrate if you win a GRAMMY?

I haven't thought about how I'm gonna celebrate. I think my favorite type of celebrations are intimate. They're with people who are in the mud with me — my family, my team. I would probably just want to have a great dinner and think about how far we've come and what's next.

2024 GRAMMY Nominations: See The Full Nominees List

Here's What Happened At The Black Music Collective’s Recording Academy Honors 2024 GRAMMY Event Celebrating Mariah Carey & Lenny Kravitz
Mariah Carey accepts the Global Impact Award during the Recording Academy Honors presented by the Black Music Collective

Photo: ROBYN BECK/AFP via Getty Images

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Here's What Happened At The Black Music Collective’s Recording Academy Honors 2024 GRAMMY Event Celebrating Mariah Carey & Lenny Kravitz

The power of staying true to yourself was at the center of the 2024 GRAMMY Week event. Honorees Mariah Carey and Lenny Kravitz were lauded by colleagues and performers, including Stevie Wonder, Quavo, Babyface and Andra Day.

GRAMMYs/Feb 3, 2024 - 08:34 pm

On a wet but buzzing Thursday evening ahead of the 2024 GRAMMYs, leading lights in the music industry gathered for the third annual Recording Academy Honors Presented By The Black Music Collective. Along the event's black carpet, stars and industry insiders were showing out — taking photos, reconnecting with friends and collaborators, and chatting with the press. 

The official 2024 GRAMMY Week event was held Feb. 1 — the first day of Black History Month — at the Fairmont Century Plaza in Los Angeles and was sponsored by Amazon Music and City National Bank. Each year, BMC presents its Global Impact Award to legendary musicians advancing the culture, and 2024’s honorees Lenny Kravitz and Mariah Carey, loomed over the entire evening before they'd even arrived.

Flava Flav, sporting his patented clock necklace, was also hyped about the evening. "It means everything to be at the GRAMMYs tonight. This is big," Flav told GRAMMY.com. The rapper then spoke about the two transcendent stars being honored. "I feel real big about the honorees. Mariah Carey, always been proud of her and I love her songs…Lenny Kravitz is my dude. That’s my man. So congratulations Lenny!" 

The significance of the event was felt from the first foot set on the black carpet. Afrobeats star Fireboy DML weighed in on the importance of the night. "I’m honored. It feels good. It’s always important to be in spaces like this," Fireboy told GRAMMY.com, adding that he's excited about his upcoming fourth album. "It’s important for the culture." 

As attendees inside the jam-packed ballroom room eagerly awaited the main guests of the night, Recording Academy CEO Harvey Mason Jr. spoke about the momentum being built through Black Music Collective. 

"[Last year] I spoke how great it was to be holding the second annual BMC event. To me it meant we established a new tradition. And now the tradition proudly continues," Mason Jr. told the audience, emphasizing how the influence of Black culture can be found in all corners of the world and across musical genres. 

A performance by Nigerian superstar Davido, a first-time GRAMMY nominee, spoke to the power of musical diversity in the Academy and BMC. Although the crowd had sat down with their appetizers, many stood up to vibe out as Davido performed his nominated song, "Unavailable."

By the time Andra Day, adorned in a bright red leather coat, got to the end of her rendition of "Strange Fruit" with support from trumpeter Keyon Harrold, everyone in the ballroom was on their feet. It was a great moment for Day, whose cover of Billie Holiday’s 1939 cry for justice hammered home the connection between Black artists across different genres and across time.

Gabby Samone garnered the second standing ovation of the night for her take on Nina Simone’s "Four Women." Simone has had a number of major cosigns as her star has grown brighter, and her fans include Jennifer Hudson and none other than Mariah Carey. Samone's performance was followed by a powerful song from Erica Campbell, whose I Love You is nominated for Best Gospel Album this year.

A set from DJ Mannie Fresh, Kravitz took the stage to receive the first BMC Global Impact Award of the night. Introduced by mentee H.E.R, she talked about "American Woman’s" genre-bending influence on her own career and Kravitz's own influence from childhood. "The fashion, the confidence, the badass walk, and the killer vocals made me at six years old say to my dad ‘I wanna play guitar.’ ‘I wanna be a rockstar.’ ‘I wanna be like Lenny Kravitz,’" H.E.R. said. 

She then listed off some of Kravitz’s other accomplishments including working on "Rustin," the new Netflix film about critical civil rights architect Bayard Rustin, as well as Kravitz’s work in philanthropy through his Let Love Rule Foundation. 

Once the din died down, Kravitz took a trip back to childhood, too. He shared how, when he went to go see the Jackson 5 with his family, and was so hooked that he dreamed of becoming part of the storied troupe. "I fantasized that I was their long lost brother and turned the Jackson 5 into the Jackson 6," he said.

Kravitz also spoke the various genres of music that helped mold him, drawn from many different corners. From his "grandfather’s block in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn," where he "witnessed the birth of hip-hop," to being shaped by legends like Jimi Hendrix, Marvin Gaye and Nina Simone. He also shouted out his godmother, the late great actress Cicely Tyson. 

In a particularly cool mashup of genre and generation, Quavo provided vocals to "Fly Away," flanked by P-funk all star George Clinton, Earth, Wind & Fire bassist Verdine White, and Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Chad Smith. At the end of the performance, Kravitz went over to each performer and hugged them.

After a brief intermission, record producer and BMC Chair Rico Love shouted out leadership, including the Recording Academy board of trustees and Ryan Butler, Vice President of DEI. Love spoke about Black Music Collective as a space where everyone can feel at home. "The life of a creator is so hard. And lonely. That’s why it’s valuable to build community," he emphasized. 

Black Music Collective’s scholarship program, in collaboration with Amazon Music, Love said, will once again support HBCU students who aspire to be in the next generation of music industry power players. In 2023, scholarships were awarded to students at Florida A&M University, Texas Southern University, Norfolk State University, among others. Love recalls the mentors he had when he was coming up and is glad BMC is also paying it forward. 

Last night’s program found one of the few people on the planet that even Mariah Carey might be star struck by. Before the pop legend received her Global Impact Award, Stevie Wonder appeared and sat down over a keyboard. 

"Very excited to be here to celebrate someone that has been a friend and I’ve been a fan of since the very beginning of hearing her voice," he said, before serenading Carey with "I Just Called to Say I Love You," ending the rendition with "I love you, I love you, you are my hero."

Mariah Carey was seemingly surprised and star-struck herself. Once she overcame the awe, Carey detailed the pressure she faced early in her career to avoid leaning into Black music. "When I first started in the music business, I was often told to ‘conform’ to certain expectations. I was not encouraged to focus on my love for Black music," she told the crowd.

Later, some of Carey’s other friends and collaborators performed, including Babyface, who once sang backing vocals on Carey’s "Melt Away." (Carey then returned the favor by singing on "Every Time I Close My Eyes.") Another Carey collaborator, Busta Rhymes, performed crowd favorite "I Know What You Want" and offered sincere thanks to Carey for her boldness and desire to "run with the wolves." Tori Kelly also sang "Vision of Love" during this segment and earlier in the night, gospel legend Yolanda Adams performed "Make It Happen." The third annual Recording Academy Honors/BMC event certainly did make it happen, as attendees flooded out of the ballroom and into the streets pumped with pride.

2024 GRAMMYs: See The Full Nominees And Winners List

Head to live.GRAMMY.com all year long to watch all the GRAMMY performances, acceptance speeches, the GRAMMY Live From The Red Carpet livestream special, the full Premiere Ceremony livestream, and even more exclusive, never-before-seen content from the 2024 GRAMMYs.

How R&B Took Over The 2024 GRAMMYs: From Best New Artist Nominees To The GRAMMY Stage
(From left) Janelle Monáe, Coco Jones, SZA, Robert Glasper, Summer Walker, Chris Brown, Doja Cat, Victoria Monét

Photos: Paras Griffin/Getty Images for BET; Gus Stewart/Redferns; Kyle Gustafson  For The Washington Post via Getty Images; Oupa Bopape/Gallo Images via Getty Images; Nicholas Hunt/FilmMagic; Paul Bergen/Redferns; John Parra/Getty Images for Live Nation; Udo Salters Photography/Getty Images

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How R&B Took Over The 2024 GRAMMYs: From Best New Artist Nominees To The GRAMMY Stage

More than just a set of categories, R&B is a global influence felt across fields at this year’s ceremony. Women are at the forefront, the genre's vets are making a comeback and the R&B Categories are absolutely stacked.

GRAMMYs/Jan 30, 2024 - 02:13 pm

R&B is poised to make a huge impact at the 2024 GRAMMYs

Just a couple of years after critics questioned whether R&B was dead, stars such as SZA, Victoria Monét and Coco Jones are cleaning up with multiple nominations across fields. Women are at the forefront of the current R&B movement, and there’s a multigenerational reverence for recording artists with longevity.    

And they’re not the only ones making noise.

At the 66th GRAMMY Awards, the genre has a broad reach that extends even beyond the categories that have R&B in the title. The genre's sound is present in nominated works in the new Best African Music Performance category, and in Songwriters and producers who excel in this realm are being recognized alongside colleagues who stand out in pop, country, and Latin circles. 

R&B will have a place on the GRAMMY stage, too. SZA will be among the performers during the 2024 GRAMMYs telecast, while Robert Glasper, Terrace Martin, Jordin Sparks and gospel/Christian R&B artist Kirk Franklin will perform during the Premiere Ceremony.

Ahead of Music's Biggest Night on Feb. 4, read on for the myriad ways R&B will be a force to be reckoned with. 

2024 GRAMMYs: Explore More & Meet The Nominees

R&B’s Impact Is Heard Across GRAMMY Categories

Comeback queen SZA is the most-nominated artist at the 2024 GRAMMYs, receiving nine nods. SZA's nominations  extend beyond the R&B categories into the general field and pop sphere: Her "Kill Bill" is nominated for Record Of The Year and Song Of The Year, her sophomore full-length SOS is up for Best Progressive R&B Album and Album Of The Year, both alongside Janelle Monáe’s The Age of Pleasure. And "Ghost In The Machine," a collaboration with Phoebe Bridgers, is vying for Best Pop Duo/Group Performance. 

Singer/songwriter Victoria Monét is not far behind in nominations, appearing in seven categories including Best New Artist. She’s also nominated for Record Of The Year and Best R&B Song for "On My Mama," Best R&B Album and Best Engineered Album, Non Classical for Jaguar II, Best Traditional R&B Performance for "Hollywood" and Best R&B Performance for "How Does It Make You Feel." 

Although she is vying for Best New Artist, Monét isn't a first-time nominee. She was nominated twice at the 62nd GRAMMYs for her work with Ariana Grande (Album Of The Year for thank u, next and Record Of The Year for "7 rings") and for Best R&B Song at the 63rd GRAMMYs for "Do It" by Chloe x Halle. Her current nominations  are her first that acknowledge her own solo work.

"I have GRAMMY dreams, I have award show performance dreams, I have world tour dreams," Monét told GRAMMY.com in 2020. "But really just being able to make music a career, and doing what I love—it’s a privilege. I think I’m just trying to keep that perspective, because you can really become wrapped up in this."

First-time GRAMMY nominee Coco Jones is up for golden gramophones in five different categories this year, including Best New Artist alongside Monét. She is also nominated for Best R&B Song and Best R&B Performance for her smoldering "ICU," Best R&B Album for What I Didn’t Tell You (Deluxe) and Best Traditional R&B Performance for "Simple" with Babyface (a single from his Best R&B Album nominee Girls’ Night Out).

"Being a GRAMMY-nominated artist changes everything. It’s such a different creative mindset when the world says, ‘You’re good, we like what you do,’" Jones recently told GRAMMY.com. "It’s like a gold star. It makes you want to work harder, it makes you wanna continue to impress, and it makes you impressed with yourself, too."

R&B has a strong presence in the Best Melodic Rap Performance category, which honors solo or collaborative performances that use rapping as well as R&B melodies. This year’s nominees include "Attention" by Doja Cat and "Low" by SZA, which respectively find the stars doing both the rapping and singing duties. Other nominees in the category are "Sittin’ On Top Of The World," the Brandy-sampling song by Nigeria’s Burna Boy and rapper 21 Savage; "Spin Bout U" by Drake and 21 Savage, which utilizes the R&B song "Give Me Your Lovin" by Oobie; and "All My Life" by Lil Durk featuring J. Cole, a different tune for the drill rapper.

Two of the nominees for Best African Music Performance, a new category for the 2024 GRAMMYs, bring an international take on R&B mixed with regional styles from the continent: "Rush" by Nigerian singer Ayra Starr and "Water" by South African artist Tyla. The latter song was written by an international team of songwriters including American producer Chris "Tricky" Stewart (who has won three GRAMMYs for his work with Beyoncé and received nominations  for releases by Rihanna and Katy Perry).

"I did not expect a whole GRAMMY nomination, especially so soon," Tyla told Complex. "So it's really just a blessing that I was able to be nominated and be one of the first in the category because it's a new category. It's amazing for South Africa especially." She added in the interview that she’d love to collaborate with fellow American R&B stars SZA and Summer Walker.

Like Victoria Monét, Walker has her first nomination for her own work this year: Best R&B Album for Clear 2: Soft Life EP. Walker was previously nominated for Album Of The Year for her writing work on Kendrick Lamar’s Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers.

R&B Grooves Behind The Scenes 

This year, GRAMMY nominees with significant R&B experience and accolades appear in both the Songwriter Of The Year, Non-Classical and the Producer Of The Year, Non Classical categories. Both categories are part of the general field this year, rounding out the new "big six" categories.

Nominees for Songwriter Of The Year, Non-Classical include the Virgin Islands-born Theron Thomas, whose place in the category is attributed to songs including Tyla’s "Been Thinking," Chlöe Bailey and Future’s "Cheatback," Chlöe and Missy Elliott’s "Told Ya," Ciara and Chris Brown’s "How We Roll" and Sekou’s "You and I." Thomas has previously been nominated for his work with Lizzo (Album Of The Year for Special and Song Of The Year for "About Damn Time") at the 63rd GRAMMYs and Best Rap Song for Saweetie and Doja Cat’s "Best Friend" at the 64th GRAMMYs.

In the Producer Of The Year-Non Classical category, Brooklyn’s Dernst "D’Mile" Emile II received a nomination in recognition of his work on Victoria Monét’s Jaguar II. Emile has an impressive five GRAMMY wins and 17 nominations under his belt. Three of his wins are with Silk Sonic for their slow jam, "Leave The Door Open," which won Record Of The Year, Song Of The Year and Best R&B Song. 

He also won golden gramophones for Song Of The Year for "I Can’t Breathe" by H.E.R. and Best Progressive R&B Album for his work on Table for Two by Lucky Daye at the at the 63rd and 64th GRAMMYs, respectively.

The engineers of Alicia Keys’ The Diary of Alicia Keys 20 — an anniversary release of the star’s second album — are nominated for Best Immersive Audio Album, a category created in 2005 and renamed in 2019. The new version of Diary is available in 360RA and Dolby Atmos.

Last year, Chicago house DJ, producer and remixer Terry Hunter was nominated for Best Remixed Recording for his remix of "Break My Soul" by Beyoncé. In 2024, his remix of "Workin’ Hard" by Mariah Carey is in the same category. The song, which appears on Carey’s Music Box: 30th Anniversary Edition, tosses the original’s boom bap hip-hop beat and adds robust instrumentation that lives comfortably in the Venn diagram space that R&B and house shares.

R&B Veterans Get Their Shine

R&B’s longevity will be on full display at the 2024 GRAMMYs via nominees who have withstood personal and professional obstacles to remain relevant in the music business for decades. 

With 11 GRAMMY wins and 53 nominations — including three at the 2024 GRAMMYs — Babyface can always be counted on to stay current with today’s R&B trends. He supports younger artists such as Coco Jones, Ella Mai and Baby Tate on Girls’ Night Out, which is nominated for Best R&B Album, and he is a producer of SZA’s Best R&B Song contender, "Snooze." His current work welcomes back old fans and feeds new listeners who have a taste to explore nostalgia. 

Chris Brown won his first golden gramophone for Best R&B Album at the 54th GRAMMYs in 2012 for F.A.M.E., and dedicated the win to those who have stuck by him. Twelve years later, he is up for Best R&B Performance for "Summer Too Hot" — his 22nd GRAMMY nomination.

To take it even further back to R&B in the rhythm & blues sense, check out I Am Everything, a movie about the late rock and R&B progenitor Little Richard (1932-2020) that is up for Best Music Film. Little Richard was a GRAMMY Lifetime Achievement Award recipient and a GRAMMY Hall of Fame inductee. And Written In Their Soul: The Stax Songwriter Demos, a collection of various artists from the seminal record label founded in 1957, is a contender for Best Historical Album.

GRAMMY vets Earth, Wind & Fire have six wins and now 18 nominations under their sparkly belts; the latest nomination is for Best Traditional R&B Performance for "Hollywood" by Victoria Monét. The multi-generational song also features a cooing contribution at the end from Monét’s daughter, Hazel. The two-year-old would become the youngest-ever GRAMMY winner, should "Hollywood" come out on top in the category.

With a live performance by SZA and so much influence and representation across categories, it’s truly R&B’s year at the GRAMMYs. Tune in on Sun., Feb. 4 to watch it on CBS.

2024 GRAMMY Nominations: See The Full Nominees List

Meet The First-Time GRAMMY Nominee: Coi Leray On Why Breakthrough "Players" Was Just The "Icing On The Cake" For Her Multifaceted Career

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Meet The First-Time GRAMMY Nominee: Coi Leray On Why Breakthrough "Players" Was Just The "Icing On The Cake" For Her Multifaceted Career

With two GRAMMY nominations in two different Categories at the 2024 GRAMMYs, Coi Leray is already proving to be a versatile artist. But as she promises, she's building a brand much bigger than her music.

GRAMMYs/Jan 24, 2024 - 03:00 pm

Even after a flight and an hours-long photo shoot, Coi Leray exudes brightness and warmth as she discusses her monumental year. She carries a vibrant energy that matches her music — all of which is reminiscent of hip-hop's beginnings and bright future

Leray brought that vitality to "A GRAMMY to 50 Years of Hip Hop," where she held her own among genre legends with a dynamic performance of her smash hit, "Players." Exactly one month prior to the Dec. 10 event, Leray added another milestone to her booming career: her first GRAMMY nominations.

"Players" earned Leray a nod for Best Rap Performance at the 2024 GRAMMYs, where she's also nominated in the new Best Pop Dance Recording Category, for her collaboration with David Guetta and Anne-Marie, "Baby Don't Hurt Me."

"One of the biggest things and accomplishments for me as a artist is for people to know me and admire my versatility," Coi told the Recording Academy. "To be nominated for two of my voices — my melodic, my rap, my singing — it's a dream come true. I wouldn't want it no other way." 

Her versatility expands outside of her music, too. From her signature braided hairstyle to launching her own beauty and haircare products, the New Jersey-raised rapper is also building a name for herself in the fashion and beauty industries. What's more, Leray has entered the philanthropic space as well, with plans to launch her mental-health-focused Camp Courage World Foundation later this year. 

Even just a few years into her career, Leray is steadfast in leaving a multi-faceted legacy for herself — one that takes inspiration from icons like Beyoncé and J.Lo, but feels uniquely hers. And while she sees herself in every business venture, the rapper vows for one thing to remain true: she'll always be having fun. 

Ahead of the 2024 GRAMMYs, Leray sat down with GRAMMY.com to discuss what she learned in 2023 — and how her breakthrough year was the perfect setup for a long career. 

Congratulations on a wonderful year — from receiving your first GRAMMY nominations for "Players" and "Baby Don't Hurt Me" to opening up for Beyoncé at the Renaissance World Tour in Los Angeles. How would you describe 2023 for you?

This year was the icing on the cake to what my future entails. You know with "Players" being nonstop on the radio, getting nominated to all these big award shows, performing on Beyoncé's stage, and getting a written letter from Beyoncé. 

She told me that she's been watching me grow. It shows how hard I have been working. Most importantly, it shows them what to look forward to in the future. I feel like I'm one of those artists that is going to be here for a very, very long time.

As you described, "Players" has maintained a chart-topping position since its release. The single has a sweeter meaning to it because you are paying homage to the rappers, such as The Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five, who have come before you.  The group has even publicly thanked you for re-introducing them to the younger generation. 

I wanted to ask about your decision to pay homage to them, because we exist in an era where a majority of songs have samples, but few artists go out of their way to pay respect to the pioneering artists.

I feel like it is my job to educate the youth as much as possible.

I'll be 27 in May. As I get older, I remember when I was 16, 13, 10, 18, 21. Everything that you hear now is inspired by so many great artists, such as Busta Rhymes and The Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five; those icons in hip-hop made a huge statement. What's derived from Busta's creativity, his flows, his music videos and everything — a lot of kids have to understand the music they hear today and the videos they see are inspired by him and that's where it came from.

I remember the moment where I sat down and listened to Sade. She has one of the most beautiful tones in the music industry, and one of my biggest inspirations. When I go to the studio, I try to master my tone, my melodies, and my voice.  Sade helped me grow, and [I] realize how big she is to hip-hop, the industry, and music in general.

All the icons study music. The way in which you spoke about developing your melodies and voice speaks to that, and shows your dedication to the craft. Another icon that you have spoken of in high regard and worked with is Pharrell Williams. 

He's not only an icon in music, but fashion as well. You sat front row at his debut collection for Louis Vuittion and have become a regular attendee for other notable luxury fashion houses. Are you carving out your own path as an entertainer who has one foot in music and the other in fashion?

I have always been into fashion. I have been building my brand. To me, it's bigger than being an artist. It helps me build my brand. 

I've been building my relationship with YSL. When I landed my Fendi by Marc Jacobs campaign, I was on the frontpage of Fendi's website, alongside Kendall Jenner. I have done Fashion weeks and been dressed by amazing designers, like Jeremy Scott at Moschino, Alexander Wang, AREA, Diesel, and more.

As I continue to elevate and and my music continues to grow, "TWINNEM" ended up on the charts, the success of "Players" and to land with Pharrell, then sit front row at Louis Vuitton; it just shows how much I have been progressing. 

It's also a reminder that through all the hate and negativity that I am going through, even my personal tribulations, it's those moments that make me realize, "Yo! You are a star!" and this is happening in real life. Whether it's next week, next month, you're elevating.

The weekend where I sat front row at Louis Vuitton, I was in the studio with Pharrell. We made four records. I learned so much in my 24 hours with him. I built the most amazing relationship. Pharrell is a mastermind not only when it comes to not only fashion, but when it comes to music. 

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In previous interviews, you referred to yourself as a "walking brand." As of late, you have garnered partnerships with brands such as Yves Saint Laurent, Tommy Hilfiger, Ray-Ban, and more. In your interview with Angie Martinez, you mentioned the possibility of a haircare line. I would like to hear more about the business components of your brand and how you are building an empire, adjacent to the music industry?

I have always had braids since I was a kid. When I did my first song, "Huddy," and throughout the beginning of my career, I always wore braids. I always had my baby hairs out.

It was important to me when I signed my deal to make sure that I'm good in the long run. So I sat down and thought about, what is going to help me be a better person? 

Create longevity. Create an asset. 

As much as I did my baby hairs, I ended up inventing a baby hair brush. I'm just getting my first mold. It's been a process because I want this brush to be perfect, and it's crazy because once it's complete, I want to go add something else. It's a learning process, and it feels so good to be able to financially invest into myself, grow my brand, continue to learn, have errors, make mistakes at this age and in my career.

I got my first top 10, but I never got a top five. I'm aiming bigger and everything is on God's timing. With my branding, my music and my YouTube series, "Cooking with Coi Leray," my skincare products, and my nail line products that's coming, it's all going to come in perfect timing because everything's on God's timing.

It brings me joy to hear a young woman artist, especially a Black woman, discuss their plans on building their legacy and ensuring longevity for the duration of their career. I saw this in your decision to have Trendsetter Studios, your creative agency, direct the music video for "Players." Could you walk me through the decision making process to start your agency?

I started Trendsetter Studios because I have always been into content. I've always been the creator behind everything I do. They say that I'm big on TikTok and a lot of these platforms, which I am, and I take pride in it because I'm good at what I do.

I'm great at making content. I'm great in front of the camera. I love the camera. When I signed my deal, I invested in a lot of equipment because I knew this is something. When I want to do a video, I want to be able to just grab the camera whenever I want to. Be able to create my own thing.

There's so many music videos up that Trendsetter Studios produced. I'm very grateful for my team. We're still learning. We're still growing. 

It's still in development. The goal and the key is longevity, having access and being able to build, do what you want, when you want, and how you want it.

**When you look at the projects you have worked on in 2023, such as "Self-Love" on  Spiderman: Across The Spider-Verse soundtrack and your sophomore album, Coi. What are some lessons that you've learned from those projects that you're going to apply in 2024?**

I learned to have fun. This [past] year, I kind of got wrapped up in it. It's hard to not get wrapped up in the political stuff or the numbers or the fans. I don't pay attention to the negative comments and stuff like that. But, it was at a point where I was paying attention to what someone else wanted versus myself.

I realized, in 2024, I'm only catering to what I want to do. I'm going to live in my truth. I'm going to keep growing as a young lady, as a young woman. Do what I want to do, and keep making great music, and just have fun, not get too wrapped up in the other stuff.

I want to have fun. Life is about having fun, and I'm at an age where I need to have fun. In 2024, we're having fun, and I feel like everybody's gonna feel that in my music, in my videos, in my vlogs, and whatever it is I'm doing, they're gonna feel that energy, and I'm gonna make sure of that, because that's the goal.

It seems to be a trend that icons release self-titled albums. 2023 was the 10-year anniversary of Beyoncé's self-titled album. When you look back at Coi, an album that will always be synonymous with you, where do you place that album in your legacy as an artist? 

It's gonna be here forever. It's gonna be one of those records where people are gonna go back and they're going to be like "Yo, what the hell?!"and I know that because it's such an amazing body of work. 

I write through experience, so as I go through new experiences, as I learn new things in the studio or work with more amazing creatives — creatives in all aspects, whether they're producers, engineers, songwriters, videographers, directors, creative directors, labels. As I'm working with all those people. I'm learning and every single time I just end up scoring better.

My next body of work is always my best body of work, but that doesn't mean take away the greatness from that work. It just means that I've been elevating in every single way. Coi is one of those projects where I elevated it, it has amazing music just like Trendsetter.

The more I create and the bigger I get, the more people will go back, listen, and really appreciate the body of work for what it is.  

You have not only achieved success domestically, but internationally with high placements on the Global and K-Pop charts, as well as participating in Paris and Milan fashion weeks. You have crossed over to being a well-known performer across the world. You're a girl from Jersey who has received global recognition. How does that feel for you? 

Recognition is dope. When you go over to places like Australia and Paris, they treat you like a major star. The love over there is immaculate. I get really inspired overseas. There's so many great things.

For example, Paris has so many great music video directors. Their music videos are insane. I had to go out there to really understand that.

It made me want to be the voice that when I come to America, "I'm like, I want to use more videographers so people can see how amazing they are too." It's a blessing to be able to travel.

You mentioned a desire to work with music video directors in Paris and abroad. You have already worked with international talents such as David Guetta and TOMORROW X TOGETHER. It seems you are pivoting yourself as an entertainer who uses music to bridge the gap between these cultures. 

Well, David Guetta is an incredible artist.

He is a mastermind when it comes to the studio, and I want to continue to work with David. We have an incredible relationship, and amazing chemistry in the studio. He's one of the first DJs to bring hip-hop and EDM together. That's another life experience for me that I'm going to remember forever.

You know, being a young Black queen in the music industry and being able to have so much versatility, it allows me to collaborate with so many great artists. David Guetta, he's a mastermind. That's another way to educate the young kids on David Guetta too. I know he's already a major, but they don't know the history.

Some people might not know the history, and I feel like it's important. David Guetta getting nominated with me — I'm getting nominated with my rap song and the pop electronic recording record. It's just a dream come true, I'm telling you. 

**In your music video for "Wasted" with Taylor Hill from Blue Moon, you showed a side of you that is different from your previous works. The video displayed a tender and vulnerable side of you. Can we expect to see more of that from you in 2024?** 

I can admit that I haven't done my best at showing that side. I was under my rock a little bit, but I promised to myself that in 2024 I am going to show more of my process, bring people into my world, my fans, and I think I owe it to my fans 1000%. I think that they want to know Coi Leray outside of Instagram, The Shade Room, social media, and blogs.

I want them to also understand who I am as a woman, as a person. Music is important, but relationships are important. Just as much to me, and I admire that.

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Icons not only inspire us through music, but the way they invest in their community. In 2023, you organized a Thanksgiving Giveback in your hometown. What led you to start doing philanthropy efforts? I think people will always want to root for the girl who made it big and paid it forward.

That's why I started my Camp Courage World Foundation. I'm super excited to launch that at the top of 2024.

It's something I've wanted to do for a long time. I finally thought of an amazing name for it and I'm excited. We're focusing on mental health because I feel like that's something that I've dealt with my entire life, my childhood, growing up and now, and there's so many things that I do that I'm pretty sure that these girls would want to know and learn.

For example, just reading books and waking up every day, praying, finding my spirituality and sticking through it, staying consistent, going to church, even if they're not physical, online every Sunday, speaking to my pastors, my life coach, getting therapists, whatever it is that's going to make me better, that doesn't have me relate to anything that can self harm myself mentally, physically, financially, emotionally.

I'm excited for that launch because that's also going to be the next step in a big part of my career that I feel is one of the most important things. 

Having major records is cute. That's fire. Everybody wants a number one record, but with that number one record, you want to be able to give back and inspire because, at that point, what are you doing it for?

Since your debut, conversations about your body, your image, and your contributions to hip-hop have been a point of contention in the cultural zeitgeist. It seems you have decided to take control of the narrative in the media and the press. Whether it is through the development of your brands or the creation of your talent agency, do you feel as if you are on a path of reclamation? 

I'm taking control of it. I should be able to tell it. It's my life.  

I was sitting down talking to my people. I had told them. I said, "Yo. 2024. The future is so bright that the only thing that can stop me is me."

A lot of people don't know what I go through outside of this stuff. I go through a lot, you know what I mean? But going through what I went through, it taught me a lot about myself. 

I realized this year was all about self-awareness, and it prepped me for 2024. Like I said, I'm the only one that can get in my way. 

It's about just staying focused, staying level-headed, staying consistent. And staying prayed up. 

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2023 Year In Review: 5 Trends That Defined R&B
(From left) Babyface, Emily King, SZA, Usher & Summer Walker

**Photos: **Steve Granitz/FilmMagic; Rob Kim/Getty Images for The Recording Academy; Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for The Webby Awards; Paras Griffin/Getty Images for ABA; Paras Griffin/Getty Images

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2023 Year In Review: 5 Trends That Defined R&B

R&B dominated in 2023, with women leading the vocal-charge behind R&B’s biggest recognitions. From deep confessional projects to the comeback of Usher, check out this year’s R&B biggest trends

GRAMMYs/Dec 27, 2023 - 05:42 pm

R&B lovers were spoiled in 2023. 

Talented legends received well-deserved flowers, while focused newcomers celebrated many exciting firsts. Usher set his sights on an epic comeback, and Best New Artist nominees Coco Jones and Victoria Monét (who are nominated in the category alongside Gracie Abrams, Fred again.., Ice Spice, Jelly Roll, Noah Kahan, and The War And Treaty) set the R&B charts ablaze while embarking on their first headlining tours.

R&B in particular is set up for a big year at the 2024 GRAMMYs: SZA earned the most nominations at the 66th GRAMMY Awards with a total of nine, followed by Monét with seven nods. What's more, women led the way in the genre this year — four out of the five Best R&B Album and Best R&B Song nominees are ladies.

As R&B music continues to evolve and shatter naysayers' expectations, revisit some of the biggest trends that defined the genre in 2023.

The Ladies Dominated

Women ate and left no crumbs in 2023. Vulnerable as ever, self-discovery through romantic heartbreak was a common theme — as evidenced by Emily King and Summer Walker's confessional projects (more on those later).

R&B-infused bangers from Tyla and Tems took the male-dominated Afrobeats genre by storm, while Chlöe and Halle Bailey's solo endeavors set the sisters apart creatively. Janelle Monáe's first album in five years saw her basking in the fierceness of sexual freedom. Part of R&B's new class, Kiana Ledé joined forces with London-born Ella Mai for a "strong R&B girl moment" and her first release of 2023, "Jealous," is set to appear on Ledé's upcoming sophomore album.

Women were the highlight of Babyface's collaborative Girls Night Out — which is nominated for Best R&B Album at the 2024 GRAMMYs alongside Coco Jones' What I Didn't Tell You (Deluxe), Victoria Monet's JAGUAR II, Emily King's Special Occasion, and Summer Walker's CLEAR 2: SOFT LIFE. Singers Ari Lennox, Kehlani, Muni Long, Queen Naija, and a host of other female R&B artists shined bright as they belted out tunes about the highs and lows of love.

But the year in R&B unequivocally belonged to SZA, who boasts the most nominations at the 2024 GRAMMYs, including Record of the Year, Song Of The Year, and Album Of The Year.

Women Made Vulnerability Their Superpower

The ladies of R&B took the confessional route with their 2023 projects. On Special Occasion, Emily King channeled the inevitable pain brought on by the end of her 15-year relationship but not without leaving room for joy — from the delightful opening track "This Year" to feeling regretful on "Bad Memory." Summer Walker similarly left it all on the table with CLEAR 2: SOFT LIFE, a nine-track EP that chronicles her frustration with feeling undervalued in relationships. The frankness of "Hardlife" speaks to the emotional burdens many Black women face in their relationships and beyond.

SZA's SOS (nominated for Album Of The Year alongside Jon Batiste's World Music Radio, boygenius' the record, Miley Cyrus' Endless Summer Vacation, Lana Del Rey's Did You Know That There's A Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd, Janelle Monáe's The Age Of Pleasure, Olivia Rodrigo's GUTS, and Taylor Swift's Midnights) was the gift that kept on giving in 2023. Self-described as "bizarre acts of self-embarrassment," SOS solidifies SZA as a generational talent as she fearlessly toys with folk ("Special") and grunge ("F2F") and spits rap verses ("Smoking on My Ex Pack") like it's nothing all while wearing her heart on her sleeve. That unapologetic candor is what makes SOS such a standout.

R&B Veterans Made A Comeback

Nostalgia was front and center in 2023 as acts like New Edition announced a 2024 Las Vegas residency and Y2K-era duos like Ashanti and Nelly gave love (and touring) a second chance.

After two show-stopping runs in 2021 and 2022, Usher's acclaimed Las Vegas residency continued well into 2023 and solidified him as the "New King of Vegas." In between shows, the eight-time GRAMMY winner released "Good Good" featuring Summer Walker and 21 Savage — signaling a new and exciting era that also includes a headlining spot at the 2024 Super Bowl halftime show. The performance will coincide with a global tour and the release of Coming Home, marking Usher's first studio album in nearly a decade. 

Babyface kicked off 2023 with "As a Matter of Fact," his first solo record in eight years. It spent five consecutive weeks atop Billboard’s Adult R&B Airplay chart, becoming his longest-running single. In June, Babyface crammed four decades' worth of music into his NPR Tiny Desk Concert, which included snippets of his own hits like "Whip Appeal" and beloved songs he penned for other artists like Whitney Houston's "Exhale (Shoop Shoop)" and Tevin Campbell's "Can We Talk." The latter song is sampled in his duet with Ella Mai, "Keeps On Fallin'." 

Meanwhile, vocal powerhouse Cheryl Lynn's 1983 hit "Encore" went viral on TikTok. Penned by the legendary duo Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, the song's resurgence 40 years later even took Lynn by surprise. "What in the world is going on?" she tweeted. The "Got to Be Real" singer now boasts over 500 million Spotify streams.

New Names Shined Bright

While icons like Usher, Babyface, and Cheryl Lynn took us down memory lane, Best New Artist nominees Coco Jones and Victoria Monét achieved critical and commercial success while proving that the future of R&B is in gifted hands.

Thousands of miles away in South Africa, 21-year-old Tyla's "Water" cracked the Top 10 on the Billboard Hot 100, becoming the first solo song by a South African artist to chart since Hugh Masekela's "Grazing in the Grass" 55 years ago. "Water" is nominated for Best African Music Performance at the 2024 GRAMMYs alongside ASAKE & Olamide's "Amapiano," Burna Boy's "City Boys," Davido's "UNAVAILABLE" featuring Musa Keys, and Ayra Starr's "Rush."

Two weeks after inking a new deal with Epic Records, Mariah the Scientist kept the celebratory vibes going by dropping her third studio album, To Be Eaten Alive, on her 26th birthday. Lead single "From a Woman" not only answers boyfriend Young Thug's "From a Man," but it explores relationship-centric vulnerability and surrender through the lens of empowerment. "I close my eyes and trust your plan / Won't let no one force my hand," she sings softly against a smooth beat — illustrating that the studio is indeed a creative lab for the former biology student.

EPs Stole The Show

Many emerging artists are choosing to release EPs over studio albums as a more cost-effective way of establishing their fan base while creating anticipation for future full-length projects. In fact, two of the five nominated works in this year's Best R&B Album category are categorized as EPs.

After many years of putting out music independently, Coco Jones' debut EP, What I Didn't Tell You, repositioned the 25-year-old "Bel-Air star" as someone worth watching on the charts. "Sometimes people see me as the characters I play, but these stories are my own script," Jones shared in a press release. Becoming her first-ever entry on the Hot 100, Jones' "ICU" is nominated for Best R&B Song (alongside Halle Bailey's "Angel," Robert Glasper's "Back To Love" featuring SiR & Alex Isley, Victoria Monét's "On My Mama," and SZA's "Snooze"). The sizzling ballad is also up for Best R&B Performance (alongside Chris Brown's "Summer Too Hot," Glasper's "Back To Love, Victoria Monét's "How Does It Make You Feel," and SZA's "Kill Bill").

Following the success of Summer Walker's 2021 sophomore effort, Still Over It, many fans awaited another studio album from the 27-year-old mother of three. But in late spring, Walker surprised audiences by dropping an EP titled, CLEAR 2: SOFT LIFE. Walker is diaristic in detailing her journey toward joy and self-compassion, from being fed up in "Mind Yo Mouth" to holding herself accountable on closer "Agayu's Revelation."

Whether you prefer the old or new school, R&B's biggest names are putting their own spin on a decades-old sound, proving that the genre knows no bounds.

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