meta-script10 Must-See Exhibitions And Activations Celebrating The 50th Anniversary Of Hip-Hop | GRAMMY.com
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A gallery wall inside Fotografiska's "Hip-Hop: Conscious, Unconscious" exhibit in New York City

Photo courtesy of Fotografiska 

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10 Must-See Exhibitions And Activations Celebrating The 50th Anniversary Of Hip-Hop

In honor of hip-hop’s golden anniversary, check out 10 must-see exhibits, activations and programs that celebrate the history and enduring legacy of the boundary-pushing genre.

GRAMMYs/May 15, 2023 - 01:04 pm

On Aug. 11, 1973, Clive Campbell, an 18-year-old performer known by the stage name DJ Kool Herc, and his sister Cindy co-organized a school fundraiser that became widely credited as the birthplace of hip-hop. From that Bronx apartment building community room emerged a wide-reaching movement that not only changed the lives of the artists who helped the genre evolve, but the lives of fans who summarily immersed themselves in the sound and culture of hip-hop.

Fifty years later, hip-hop has weaved itself into the cultural fabric of the world. Elements of the genre can be found throughout fashion, film, photography, dance, technology, language and art. Beyond its cultural impact, hip-hop serves as a platform for artists to highlight social concerns, such as discrimination, mental health issues, police brutality, and the inequalities that marginalized communities face. And by speaking truth to power, countless emcees and music makers have given a voice to the voiceless through their art. 

Celebrations surrounding the golden anniversary of hip-hop have been going on throughout 2023, though many will ramp up this summer to coincide with the 50th anniversary of Kool Herc and Cindy's original Bronx jam. Here are 10 exhibitions, events and activations that celebrate the artistry, history, impact and evolution of the cultural movement.

"Hip-Hop: Conscious, Unconscious" 

Through May 20

Nas’ Mass Appeal Records has partnered with Fotografiska New York for a hip-hop photography exhibition that explores four of the genre’s core elements: rapping, DJing, breakdancing and graffiti.   

Featuring 200 portraits, "Conscious, Unconscious" takes visitors through five decades of hip-hop (1972–2022), highlighting little-known connections between different artists and offering a closer look at pioneering women emcees, the various subcultures that arose across the country, and the gender disparities that exist within the male-dominated industry.  

"We made a thoughtful effort to have the presence of women accurately represented, not overtly singling them out in any way," exhibit Co-Curator Sacha Jenkins said in a statement. "You’ll turn a corner and there will be a stunning portrait of Eve or a rare and intimate shot of Lil’ Kim that most visitors won’t have seen before."

40th Anniversary Screening Of Wild Style 

June 11

From Breaking to Belly and Eight Mile, hip-hop cinema has helped extend the genre’s global reach by fusing sound with entertaining narratives that allow viewers to immerse themselves in the culture. To commemorate the 40th anniversary of Wild Style — the first hip-hop motion picture — the National Hip-Hop Museum will  hold a screening at Zero Space NYC on June 11 in conjunction with Five Points Fest. 

Director Charlie Ahearn and cast members will attend the event, which will also feature DJ sets and live graffiti painting.

"The Culture: Hip Hop and Contemporary Art in the 21st Century"

Through July 16

Mobile technology and the emergence of social media in the aughts helped bring hip-hop to the world, further cementing it as a major cultural influence. The Baltimore Museum of Art's "The Culture" exhibit explores the intersection between art, fashion, technology, and music over the past 20 years. 

The exhibit features paintings, sculptures, fashion, music videos and memorabilia, including the Vivienne Westwood buffalo hat Pharrell donned for the 2014 GRAMMYs and one of Virgil Abloh’s last collaborations with Louis Vuitton. 

"Rhythm, Bass and Place: Through the Lens" 

Through June 24

This five-month-long series curated by Lynnée Denise explores the connectivity of Black music, tracking the African diaspora through performances, screenings, and curated conversations on themes like kinship, sacred traditions, Afrofuturism, literature and liberation. 

At Harlem's Caribbean Cultural Center African Diaspora Institute, visitors can take a walk down memory lane at the "Through the Lens" exhibition, which explores different elements of Black music. Black-and-white photos captured by documentarians Joe Conzo Jr. showcase hip-hop and Latin music in New York in the 1970s and '80s, while Malik Yusef Cumbo's portraits feature the likes of Snoop Dogg and reggae singer Dawn Penn.​​

"[R]Evolution of Hip Hop"

Through June 30

At a pop-up in the Bronx for the forthcoming Universal Hip-Hop Museum, visitors can take an interactive trip through hip-hop’s golden era — 1986–1990 — in an exhibit focusing on the five pillars of the cultural movement: MCng, DJing, breakdancing, aerosol art, and knowledge. The exhibition includes original artwork, a giant interactive boombox, platinum plaques, sneakers, all-access passes, fliers, posters, recording equipment, Adidas sweatsuits worn by Run DMC, and a notepad with original lyrics from beatboxing pioneer Biz Markie and more.

"We’re providing visitors with a sneak preview of what we’re doing with the museum that opens in 2024," Rocky Bucano, president of the UHMM, told Billboard. "And for me personally, the responsibility of making sure that we have a space to amplify and magnify and inform people all around the world about what hip-hop actually is, is so important."

KRS-One’s "Birthplace of Hip-Hop" Initiative 

Aug. 11 - TBD

Prolific emcee and preservationist KRS-One is marking the golden anniversary by hosting a series of events at the birthplace of hip-hop: the community center at 1520 Sedgwick Avenue in the Bronx, where DJ Kool Herc held the fundraiser that would spawn one of the most impactful cultural movements of the last century. 

"The 50th Anniversary of Hip Hop is a global movement that speaks to the grit, voice, and power of how it came to be in the first place — we used our voices when they tried to silence us. We used our creativity when they tried to stifle us. We created the culture because we wanted to stand out and stand up for our artistry," the rapper said in a statement. "Hip Hop is the people’s movement. I am excited to showcase this to the world in the space where it all began at 1520 Sedgwick in the Community Center. It feels right to be here, where it all began."

Upcoming events include educational and historical programs, photo exhibits, a logo-making competition and a series of Hip-Hop Kultural Specialist courses taught by KRS-One. 

Second-Annual Hip-Hop Block Party

Aug. 12

In homage to the school fundraiser-turned-neighborhood block party that birthed the movement, the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington D.C. will host its second-annual hip-hop block party this summer. 

"The origins of hip-hop and rap rest in community where people gathered together in basements, on street corners, neighborhood dance parties and community shows to tell the stories of the people and places that brought it to life in a language all its own," Dwandalyn Reece, associate director for curatorial affairs at NMAAHC, said in a statement about the 2022 event.

Attendees can enjoy live musical performances, immersive art, interactive graffiti and breakdancing activities, and an outdoor exhibition of hip-hop artifacts. And it wouldn’t be an epic summer party without good eats: The museum’s Club Café will be cooking up a hip-hop-inspired menu to mark the occasion. 

Last year’s inaugural celebration featured dance workshops, a panel discussion with hip-hop trailblazers Bun B, Roxanne Shanté, and Chuck D, performances from J.Period, D Smoke, DJ Heat and The Halluci Nation and a late-night dance party with a live set from Salt-n-Pepa’s DJ Spinderella.  

"Contact High: A Visual History of Hip-Hop"

Through Jan. 7, 2024

Seattle’s Museum of Pop Culture’s "Contact High" exhibit highlights hip-hop’s vibrant aesthetic, showcasing more than 170 images from the genre’s 50-year history. 

With photos dating back to the ‘70s, there’s a little something for everyone to enjoy, but ‘90s hip-hop and R&B fans in particular, will love this collection. Among the exhibit's images are never-before-seen contact sheets and photos of the genre’s biggest stars like Aaliyah, Wu-Tang Clan, Notorious B.I.G., Diddy, Tupac Shakur, Beastie Boys and more.

"From the Feet Up: 50 Years of Sneaks & Beats" 

Ongoing

Run-DMC helped bring street style to the mainstream with their 1986 ode to Adidas, and sneakers have since become interlinked with the genre and its artists — from Eazy E’s love for Nike Cortez to Nelly’s "Air Forces Ones." This immersive exhibition at Mana Contemporary in Jersey City, New Jersey chronicles hip-hop’s long-running relationship with sneakers and how notable emcees helped propel different brands to commercial success.  

Curated by avid sneaker collector Sean Williams, "From the Feet Up" features 50 sneakers designed and worn by various artists, including Public Enemy’s "Fear of a Black Planet" Pumas, De La Soul’s collab with Nike, as well as kicks worn by Beyoncé, Tupac and more. Visitors can also view the 2015 sneaker-culture documentary Laced Up in the backroom gallery after checking out the exhibit.

"The Message: The Revolutionary Power of Hip-Hop"

Ongoing

Nashville’s National Museum of African American Music will celebrate the culture all year long with an interactive exhibit that examines the origins of hip-hop, how music makers used technology, like sampling, to evolve the sound as well as the socio-political messages that many artists incorporated into their lyrics. 

Visitors also get the chance to create their own custom beats inside the exhibit as they learn about the genre's pioneers. 

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picture of walkman and cassette tapes

Photo: Oscar Sánchez Photography

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The Unending Evolution Of The Mixtape: "Without Mixtapes, There Would Be No Hip-Hop"

Today, the mixtape holds a variety of meanings — from a curated playlist to a non-label hip-hop release. From the dawn of the cassette to the internet-based culture of mixtape-making, musicians in hip-hop have developed their style via this format.

GRAMMYs/Oct 30, 2023 - 01:12 pm

"Living in the Bronx, we got to hear all the latest music. If a party was on a Friday or a Saturday, by Monday the mixtapes would already be in my neighborhood," Paradise Gray says, beaming.

Now the chief curator and advisor for the soon-to-open Universal Hip Hop Museum in the Bronx — not to mention the co-host of the A&E TV show "Hip-Hop Relics," which follows the quest for genre relics alongside the likes of LL Cool J and Ice T — Gray grew up consuming countless mixtapes from the likes of the L Brothers, Grandmaster Flash, and the Cold Crush Brothers. 

"The amount of music and the way it was curated was incredible, and having it on tape was way more valuable than hearing it on the radio because the radio didn’t have a rewind button," he says with a laugh. While the general public may have moved onto other formats, those cassettes are making a comeback and mixtapes continue to pervade every aspect of pop culture — both in their musical impact and nostalgic glory.

Today, the mixtape holds a whole swath of meanings — from a curated playlist to a non-label hip-hop release. But back in the early ‘70s, kids like Gray raised on everything from Motown to Thelonious Monk, George Clinton to James Brown were blending their influences. 

"The first tapes were used to record people at places like a park jam, a party, a community gathering," explains Regan Sommer McCoy, founder of the Mixtape Museum, a repository of physical tape collections, nostalgic storytelling, and more. "They were called party tapes then, and people would make copies to give out to friends that couldn’t be there, so they could hear if the DJ was hot or not." 

As the form became more popular, DJs like Kid Capri or Brucie B would start recording their club sets as well. "The recordings would sometimes include the DJ shouting out people who were in the room — and if you were in Harlem, maybe there were a few drug dealers in the room who even paid for a shoutout," she adds with a laugh.

McCoy is a longtime devotee of the form and a music industry professional (including a stint as manager of hip-hop legends Clipse). And the more she explored, the more she affirmed that these early tapes are an unparalleled document of a moment in music history. 

Gray remembers making his own tapes as a young man in the late ‘70s, discovering the creativity that the new cassette technology could offer. 

"We had two recorders, and we would keep the breaks extended even before we were conscious of what we were doing, sampling from cassette to cassette," he says. "We couldn’t afford turntables, but me and my childhood DJ partner, DJ Bob Rock, would make hip-hop practice tapes with the breakbeats and then put them on 8-track. We took over our neighborhood with those tapes because that’s what everybody had in their cars."

Zack Taylor, director of Cassette: A Documentary Mixtape, suggests that the freedom and control Gray felt were a driving force in the ubiquity of mixtapes during hip-hop's early days. 

"By all accounts, the music industry in those days was doing everything it could to stifle hip-hop, to hold it back, label it as low-class output," he says. "But the mixtape represented creativity on a personal level. DJ Hollywood, Kool Herc, DJ Clue, these were people who didn’t have the support of a label or an infrastructure, but if they had $100 they could go buy a whole bunch of blank tapes, stay up late on Friday, and have the tapes ready on 125th Street in Harlem on Saturday morning with their blends.

And while some were relishing the individual creativity that cassettes could offer, others were enthused by the ability to listen to music in a more portable way, or merely thrilled by the opportunity to record their favorite songs off the radio. Within this space, talented musicians were finding their footing in a new landscape and developing signature styles.

"There was no such thing as hip-hop at the time — it was really the microcosm of the worldwide Afro-indigenous culture," Gray says. "It’s a sample of everything, not just the breakbeats." Artists were as free to indulge in snippets of Brahms as they were the Delfonics, stringing together their own mixes or making unique blends that would soundtrack an experience that was specific  to their own.

Gray also notes that obsessives like the Bronx-based Tape Master would hit up various parties and clubs to document the moment and share the music, in turn allowing this self-defined movement to spread.

A big element of the tapes’ spread was a service called the OJs — a sort of proto-Uber where New Yorkers who owned expensive cars would offer them as a cab service. "If you were going to the club, at least once or twice you would want to show up in the OJ, a Cadillac or an Oldsmobile, and have them playing the hot new hip-hop tapes while they drove you around so everyone could see you and hear you," Gray says.

Listening to those mixtapes as a child, McCoy began to piece together the larger movement, the tapes acting as a sort of encyclopedia with something for everyone. "If I was interested in more R&B blends, I knew that someone like DJ Finesse from Queens would have R&B Blends volume 1 through a million," she explains. "And then I would go to camp every summer, and we would all bring our tapes and mix and swap them. There was a boy from California at camp and I’d get an entirely new sound."

"You couldn't get too hot…because then the RIAA is going to come in"

After first acting as a proving ground for talented DJs, mixtapes became intertwined with lyricists. Many prominent rappers — from Too Short to MC Hammer — started out by selling mixtapes of their work from the trunk of their car, showing up wherever they might find demand. DJs also started recording their sets in professional studios, toeing the line between commercial release and self-distribution — often based on whether there was enough demand to draw the industry’s attention. "You couldn’t get too hot, like DJ Drama, because then the RIAA is going to come in," McCoy says.

Eventually, these DJs would be hired on for entire projects with lyricists or even labels, uniting their voices in their unique blending style. "People like 50 Cent or Diddy would make tapes for their label," McCoy adds. Those artists would hire someone like  DJ Whoo Kid to put together an entire tape with the label’s artists featured. "And then the big labels came in, and it got real messy."

Jehnie Burns, author of Mixtape Nostalgia: Culture, Memory, and Representation, argues that this move towards more structured recording processes ties back to the way hip-hop’s origins were separate from the mainstream — both by exclusion and intention.

“Mainstream releases would have to be worried about getting samples approved, making sure it was something that would sell, but hip-hop was often being made by people with something interesting to say that didn’t fit into that mold," Burns says. "It had a lot of similarities to the early days of punk — where local culture was so important, local community, local issues. Mixtapes are able to speak to that community in a way that they understand it and care about."

And when enough of a groundswell happens in a relatively new genre, some artists will work out ways to fit its ethos into the corporate music structure while others will continue to push in the indie world.

McCoy had first hand experience with that thin line while working with Clipse — an experience that proved foundational to the Mixtape Museum. At the time, the duo of Pusha T and No Malice had their contract transferred from Arista to Jive. When their work on Hell Hath No Fury began getting pushback, the duo attempted to get out of their obligation with their new label. "They were going to court with Jive and not able to drop their album, so they were like, ‘F— you, we’ll put out a mixtape,’" McCoy recalls. While label structures might mean trying to force Clipse into a certain box, the freedom of a mixtape meant they would be able to experiment and use their own musical language.

But when someone from the group’s camp dropped 10,000 copies of We Got It 4 Cheap, Vol. 1 (hosted by DJ Clinton Sparks) at McCoy’s Stuyvesant Town apartment, the realities of distributing a mixtape came to bear. Luckily, she had a helping hand in the form of Justo Faison — her then-boyfriend and the founder of the Annual Mixtape Awards. The annual awards honored innovative musicians pushing boundaries in the mixtape form, and Faison had fittingly amassed quite the collection of tapes, vinyl, and other early hip-hop memorabilia.

"I couldn't make a song, but because of the cassette, I could make an album"

After Faison passed in 2005, McCoy and a friend looked around his apartment, wondering what they could do to honor him. "I didn’t know what it meant yet, but I looked around the room and just said ‘Mixtape Museum,’" she remembers. And when she started working in academia, she continued pushing and researching, focused on adding emphasis to the artform that Faison had championed as well.

As the years have passed, countless people have felt that same endless nostalgic draw to the mixtape — as evidenced by the countless memoirs, novels, and films centered on the form. Everyone that made their own mixtape had a unique perspective, a unique purpose, and a yearning to make a document of it, something that would live on longer than a simple playlist.

"Making a mixtape was super empowering," Taylor says. "I couldn’t make a song, but because of the cassette, I could make an album."

Half a century on, the term "mixtape" remains relevant and meaningful. Even kids growing up today, post-8-track, post-cassette, post-CD, post-mp3 know what a mixtape is and the importance it can hold.

"Mixtape has become shorthand for this personal, eclectic collection," Burns says. "There’s a nostalgia factor because Gen X is coming to a certain age, a connection to a slower life less reliant on technology."

In hip-hop specifically, where the term continues to refer to a non-label or non-LP project, it continues to hold the meaning of a testing ground for experimentation and a connection to a niche community.

When Taylor set out in 2011 to make his documentary as an obituary to the mixtape, the Oxford English Dictionary had announced that they’d be removing the word cassette from their printed pages.

"To most people it was dead, but it was starting to have a real revival," he says. "If it were ever going to die, it would’ve happened already. But the portability and personalization will never be replaced." To this day, when shooting commercials, Taylor brings his tape deck (made by new French manufacturer We Are Rewind) and his pleather case of cassettes rather than sticking with a Spotify playlist.

"People are so much more excited to come up and talk about tapes, even from other sets," he says with a laugh. Burns similarly continues to see the advantages mixtapes hold over streaming — especially when it comes to the inability to skip around and the endless ability to rewind and start again. "You’re not skipping tracks or shuffling. You have to listen in the order that someone intentionally put it together," she says.

Perhaps it's that intentionality and experimentation that have allowed the mixtape to constantly evolve and stay relevant. Gray certainly sees it that way.

"Mixtapes are like time machines, musical magic," he says. "And every generation’s youth has the right to make it what they want it to be. Without mixtapes, there would be no hip-hop."

And while some older aficionados may be especially protective of the golden age of hip-hop, Gray sees the mixtape’s place as a living, breathing entity as essential to the genre’s development.

"The mixtape is one of the most invaluable tools that we have available because the internet is a cesspool and needs a filter," he says with a laugh. "Mixtape DJs are filters of culture and vibration. Back in the day, you knew to expect a certain level of quality with a tape from K Slay, Kid Capri, Red Alert, Chuck Chillout, Marley Marl. Today, you know that you’ve got some serious sounds coming out your speakers if it’s that kind of artist curating it."

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nas performs at documentary screeening in 2014
Nas performs at a screening of his documentary 'Nas: Time is ILLMatic' in 2014

Photo: Kimberly White/Getty Images for Hennessy

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6 Must-Watch Hip-Hop Documentaries: 'Hip-Hop x Siempre,' 'My Mic Sounds Nice' & More...

Myriad documentaries have followed the journeys of hip-hop artists and unpacked the impact of hip-hop culture. In celebration of the genre's 50th anniversary, que up docs that shine a light on some of the biggest names and events in hip-hop history.

GRAMMYs/Jul 18, 2023 - 03:58 pm

Given its social and cultural impact on our lives, it’s hard to believe that hip-hop is only celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. From its beginnings at a party in the Bronx, the culture of hip-hop bloomed and has spread to every corner of the globe. 

Filmmakers have been commemorating hip-hop — from its MCs and DJs, to b-boys and girls and fashion icons  — in all its glory for decades. Myriad documentaries follow the lives, journeys, successes and downfalls of hip-hop artists from across the U.S. and beyond. As we celebrate hip-hop’s birthday this August, here are five essential hip-hop documentaries to reflect on the magnitude of 50 years of groundbreaking culture.

Wild Style

Also considered the first ever hip-hop motion picture, Wild Style is so close to the truth that it’s more of a documentary. Offering a glimpse into 1981 New York, it stars real-life graffiti artists, musicians, rappers and dancers, portraying hip-hop as a cultural phenomenon alongside genres like punk and new wave.

Featuring some iconic names including Fab Five Freddy, Lady Pink, the Rock Steady Crew and the Cold Crush Brothers, the film’s vague plot doesn’t matter. Instead, Wild Style captures the essence and grit of New York City when hip-hop was on the precipice. It’s a hugely influential and inspirational part of the canon and a crucial historical document. 

Hip-Hop Evolution

This four-part docuseries provides an overview of how hip-hop works and, as its name suggests, plots its evolution from emergence to global recognition. In making the film, MC Shad Kabango intended to explore how hip-hop made a name for itself in the music industry. Through the memories of stars like DJ Kool Herc himself, the Sugarhill Gang, Russell Simmons and Public Enemy, he discovers that the real legacy of hip-hop is how it allowed those without a voice to have their say. 

Now four seasons in, this series covers every decade, style and corner of American hip-hop, highlighting the contributions of women like Queen Latifah and Monie Love. Charting key events from Kool Herc's first block party to the early 2020s, this multi-award-winning series is the perfect place to start if you want an overview of hip-hop's development from the perspective of the people who’ve led the way.  

Nas: Time is ILLMatic

This 2014 documentary unpacks the events that led to Nas’ 1994 debut album ILLMatic. Through interviews with his father, brother and East Coast hip-hop legends like Pharrell, Alicia Keys and Busta Rhymes, it not only delves into the process of making the album, but of the social context in which he made it. 

The artist said he made ILLMatic with the intention of showing people that hip-hop was changing and becoming something more real. "I tried to capture it like no one else could," he says

The documentary’s producers came to make the film from a similar perspective. Co-Producer Erik Parker was writing for Vibe Magazine at the time of the album’s 10th anniversary and realized he couldn’t fit everything he wanted to say about it into a written article. He contacted One9 and together they decided to make this film.

Together, they ended up delving much deeper into the culture and wanted to reflect the feel of the streets that infuses the album itself. The result is a timeless and absorbing documentary that captures the real essence of the hip-hop scene. 

My Mic Sounds Nice: A Truth About Women And Hip-Hop

Women are often left out of the conversation around hip-hop, despite their huge successes and significant contributions to the genre. This documentary by renowned filmmaker Ava DuVernay seeks to redress this by focusing on the careers of legends like Missy Elliot, Salt-N-Pepa, Eve, and MC Lyte.  

Through interviews with these artists and and more, My Mic Sounds Nice offers a unique and insightful angle to the discourse around the issues women face in the industry — from sexual objectification to lower pay. With commentary from those who have dominated the rap and hip-hop world for decades but often haven't received the same accolades as their male counterparts, My Mic Sounds Nice is a must-see film.

The Art of Organized Noize

Focusing on a label rather than the artist, The Art of Organized Noize explores the pioneering producers behind the Dirty South sound. Organized Noize producers Rico Wade, Ray Murray and Sleepy Brown detail how Atlanta shaped the hip-hop world. 

Record label Organized Noize was responsible for supporting the careers of Diddy, Outkast and L.A Reid amongst others — which it famously did from the confines of a dungeon. In a basement room, the Dungeon Family (OutKast, Goodie Mob, Organized Noize and a bunch of local artists) holed up, smoking weed and creating music that would define the region and popular hip-hop. 

Organized Noize built an extraordinary sense of community and comradeship, which comes in interviews with some of its famed roster, as well as from admirers from further afield.

Hip-Hop x Siempre

Although historically left out of conversations about the genre, “Latinos have been an inherent part of hip-hop from its start," Rocio Guerrero, Head of Global Latin at Amazon Music, said in a statement. To wit, Amazon's documentary Hip-Hop x Siempre details the contributions of Latinx artists throughout the culture's 50-year run. 

The Amazon Original includes interviews with Fat Joe, Cypress Hill's B-Real, N.O.R.E., and Residente, and up-and-coming acts such as Eladio Carrión, Villano Antillano, Myke Towers and Snow Tha Product. 

"Latino artists take inspiration from Hip Hop beats and lyrics, infusing them with traditional Latin rhythms to make the genre our own, ultimately aiding in its global reach and relevance,” Guerrero continued, adding that the documentary honors "this shared history and its impact on our culture by highlighting the diverse and intergenerational voices that are part of the movement."

10 Crucial Hip-Hop Albums Turning 30 In 2023: 'Enter The Wu-Tang,' 'DoggyStyle,' 'Buhloone Mindstate' & More

NMIXX perform at KCON 2023 in Los Angeles.

Photo: CJ ENM

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KCON L.A. 2024 Returns: Get Ready With This Playlist Featuring NCT 127, Zerobaseone, ENHYPEN, Zico & More

The ultimate K-pop festival-convention returns to Los Angeles July 26-28, featuring a star-studded lineup with over 20 artists — including ENHYPEN, NCT 127, and Jeon Somi — interactive experiences, and unforgettable performances.

GRAMMYs/Jul 23, 2024 - 01:50 pm

Ever since it first began in 2012, KCON has been a delightful surprise for attendees. Turn right on the convention floor, you might receive a goodie bag filled with high-quality skin care products. Turn left, and you could stumble into the first-ever performance of a K-pop group in the U.S. All this happens before the main concert even begins at night.

Returning to the L.A. Convention Center and Crypto.com arena from July 26-28, this year’s hybrid South Korean pop culture festival-convention event will host over 20 artists. 

The line-up ranges from popular acts around like ENHYPEN and NCT 127 to '90s K-pop legends g.o.d and hip-hop icon Tiger JK (aka Drunken Tiger), plus burgeoning acts, including the newly formed seven-member girl group, IZNA, from the TV competition show I-LAND 2. KCON L.A. 2024 offers an array of musical exploration for anyone enraptured by the South Korean music scene. 

Read more: 11 Rookie K-Pop Acts To Know In 2024: NCT Wish, RIIZE, Kiss Of Life & More

After days of meet-and-greets, showcase performances, and a special KCON Stage, each night of this year's KCON will culminate in a full-blown concert that will air in South Korea as part of the M Countdown music show.

Whether you’re a fan of soloists like Taemin, Zico or Bibi, girl groups like Kep1er and NMIXX, or boy bands like Zerobaseone and TWS, this KCON is undoubtedly for you. There are also surprises for anyone intrigued by changing entertainment technology, like Apoki, a virtual singer designed as a bunny from outer space. 

While you may not (yet!) be a fan of all these artists, familiarize yourself with all that they have to offer with this playlist featuring some of their most popular and newest songs ahead of this year’s KCON L.A. 

More K-Pop News

Ivan Cornejo press photo
Ivan Cornejo

Photo: Le3ay Studio

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On 'Mirada,' Ivan Cornejo Redefines The Sound Of Sad Sierreño And Helps Fans Heal Through Music

Ivan Cornejo has always found solace in music. With his new LP, 'Mirada,' he wants his fans to experience that sense of belonging: "I write about emotions that everyone goes through or has been through."

GRAMMYs/Jul 23, 2024 - 01:08 pm

Within the landscape of Música Mexicana, Ivan Cornejo is a rarity.

The 20-year-old California native stands out as one of the most intriguing acts in a genre represented by artists known for their flashy looks and music. Soft-spoken and warm, Cornejo's gentle demeanor effortlessly translates into his music and on-stage persona and musical productions.

Cornejo's songs and lyrics are far removed from the "corridos tumbados" that have taken over global charts. Fans have dubbed the Mexican American singer the "Gen Z therapist" because of his heartbreak-influenced lyrics and dexterity in creating the ethereal, melancholic sound known as sad sierreño.

With two albums under his belt, Cornejo makes his major label debut with Mirada, released on July 18 via Zaragoza Records / Interscope. The album features the wistful, sad sierreño sound that made Cornejo famous three years ago with "Está Dañada," a heart-wrenching ballad from his first LP, Alma Vacía (2021).

In the single, which has amassed over 270 million streams on Spotify, Ivan — then 17 — captivated listeners with powerful melodies accompanied by languid and nostalgic vocals, reciting verses filled with maturity beyond his years.

In Mirada, the Música Mexicana breakout star presents 12 solo songs inspired by summer nights, including singles "Aquí te Espero," "Donde Estás," "Baby Please," and "Intercambio Injusto." As with his previous productions, Cornejo makes heartbreak the central theme of his album while guitars and melodies reminiscent of alternative rock take center stage.

While the album doesn’t feature additional artists, Cornejo opened up to collaboration within the studio. The singer, used to collaborating solely with his producer, Frank Rio, encountered a challenge when bringing two additional creatives into the studio.

"The process for this new project was very different," Cornejo tells GRAMMY.com in a Zoom interview from Mexico City. "[Having other] creatives in the studio [resulted] a lot of learning. For example, my producer and I learned a lot from each other; we had constructive disagreements. We heard each other's opinions and learned a lot from this project."

The rising sad sierreño star discusses with GRAMMY.com the creative challenge of Mirada, the artistic boundaries he pushed along the way, the advantage behind bilingual songwriting, and the unexpected singer that influenced his lyrics.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

'Mirada' feels very personal, almost like a diary. How would you describe the album's overall theme and feeling?

While writing and recording this album, I wanted it to feel very personal, intimate, and gentle but with a little more uplifting sound.

I wanted the Mirada theme to feel like a nostalgic summer night. I want people to feel like they can play these songs on the beach, with friends, or alone in bed. I wanted it to feel a little euphoric.

The record showcases a blend of Latin and Anglo influences. Tracks like "Baby Please," "Dónde Estás," and "Aquí te espero" have a rock ballad feel. What inspired this fusion?

My influences come through a lot. I remember listening to my sister's and brother's music at eight while my parents would play classical regional Mexican music, like mariachi and corridos. As I grew up and started making music, it meshed into this sad sierreño and this funky Spanish alternative [genre].

The guitar is a staple in your sound. How did it become so central to your musical expression?

I started playing the guitar when I was about seven. I fell completely in love with the instrument. My mom tried to put me in violin classes, and I learned the instrument for a while, but the guitar kept winning me over. I kept learning more and more about the guitar, and around 12, I started learning songs by Radiohead, Arctic Monkeys and Tame Impala, and that's where my music emerged.

Mirada portrays the nostalgia around summer nights. How were those nights for you?

I spent it with my friends, making a bonfire and hanging out at the beach, pool, or jacuzzi.

Those nights when you just put your phone away and let the wind hit you and talk about your feelings, your thoughts are different, that kind of night.

What kind of music did you listen to on those summer nights?

Last summer, I listened to [Bad Bunny’s] Un Verano Sin Ti; [that album] was  No. 1 on my playlist.

The year before, I listened to just any vibey music, like Arctic Monkeys, Tame Impala, or Radiohead, when I was alone. Cigarettes After Sex, I listened to them a lot during the summer when I was going to sleep. I always put them on.

You say that each track on this album is pushing the boundaries of your art. In what aspect are you breaking those barriers?

I go back to my last two albums [Alma Vacía and 2022’s Dañado,] and I want to grow as an artist and musician every time I listen to them.

Every time we enter the studio, [my producer] Frank Rio and I try our best to push the limits for ourselves and keep growing as artists. Vocally, musically, instrumentally, [we're] trying our best to make things sound even better.

How do you achieve that? Do you take vocal references from singers you like? Instrumentally, how do you break patterns within the genre? 

Sometimes, when I feel something is missing from a song or I want to do something but don't know how to listen to a bunch of music that I think [is similar].

For example, each song on Mirada has a very different style. Depending on the style of the song, I’d listen to genres, styles, or certain ways that artists sing that match that song. Listening to those songs gives me ideas; it's like combining those ideas.

Vocally, for example, if I don't know how to sing a specific word or note, I listen to references and try to combine them in the best way possible.

Your lyrics show maturity beyond your years. Do you consider yourself an old soul?

Yes, I'm an old soul, for sure. When I was 7 years old, my brother would play Johnny Cash songs, and I was right behind him listening to them, downloading all the songs. I remember that for a while, I would go to sleep listening to Johnny Cash for an entire year.

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

Your song often references therapy sessions, and your fans even consider you the therapist of an entire generation. Do you feel that way?

I never realized my music had that effect. I would read comments saying, "Oh, he healed me" or, "I feel better now," or "he's my therapist, he's my comfort artist." That gave me a lot of joy because my music touched my fans in a very emotional way.

[Those comments] gave me the great idea of naming my [last] tour "Terapia." [Going to a concert] It's like you go to a therapist and you hear them. It all made sense. I hope my music is therapy for a lot of people.

Have you ever been to therapy yourself?

No, I have not. But... I should go. [Laughs.]

How do you articulate emotions clearly in your songs, especially without formal therapy experience?

I write about emotions that everyone goes through or has been through. And I try to write it in a way that sounds fresh and new. Also, melodies are very important because you can say something; depending on the melody, it can change your feelings. I try my best to make it hit the heart melodically and lyrically.

What about Spanish led you to express heartbreak in this language?

I was very inspired by Mexican music because there's something about the sound and the language that is very romantic. For example, there are some phrases in English that you might translate to Spanish, and they sound better in Spanish. Since my first language is English, I can translate them into Spanish and make them sound better and more emotional.

I try to write [songs first] in Spanish, but from time to time, when I get stuck, I start thinking in English. I try to think of just lyrics, and I'm like, okay, that's a cool lyric; how do I make it fit into this? And then, if it doesn't work, I'll try another one and another one until something works, or I get an idea in English, and it just works in Spanish.

[Being bilingual] gives you two perspectives, which helps a lot in the writing process.

What does it mean to you to represent Mexican American culture through your music?

It feels like you're put on a pedestal and have to be a role model. Being part of two cultures is a blessing, because you have two sides and perspectives. I'm very lucky to be here in Mexico and to learn about Mexican culture while still being from the United States and learning from American culture.

Did you feel you fit in when you were growing up?

No. At first, no. I was very shy.

Did music give you that sense of belonging?

Yeah, for sure. It gave me relief as I fit somewhere, and my voice was being heard. [It makes me feel] like I have support and people are [rooting for] me, and it helps me feel a bit understood.

As you enter your twenties and deal with growing fame, do you feel pressure being labeled as the voice of a generation?

I feel the pressure of being a role model, but it's a good kind of pressure. It helps me to make sure that I'm always giving my all. It's almost like motivation; I have to keep trying my best every time to be a role model.

It helps me to ensure that I'm always giving 100 percent and that it's like motivation, too. I have to keep trying my best each time to be a role model.

You sold out the mythical Houston Rodeo in April. How did singing to a crowd of 72,000 make you feel?

[Selena] and Johnny Cash are many of my favorite artists and artists that I look up to [have performed there]. It was a complete honor to play the Houston Rodeo and one of the scariest things I've ever done. [Laughs.]

It was scary at first. But when I realized that there were a good number of fans, I took out my in-ears, and I heard nearly the whole stadium singing back to me. It was such a beautiful and unforgettable night for me. It was a crazy experience.

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