meta-scriptPARADISE RISING: How 88rising's New Label Is Pushing Filipino Music And Culture To The Forefront | GRAMMY.com
PARADISE RISING: How 88rising's New Label Is Pushing Filipino Music And Culture To The Forefront

Kiana V

Photo Courtesy of 88rising

 
 

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PARADISE RISING: How 88rising's New Label Is Pushing Filipino Music And Culture To The Forefront

GRAMMY.com caught up with 88rising founder Sean Miyashiro and Filipino artists Kiana V and Leila Alcasid to talk about how PARADISE RISING is spotlighting the blossoming music scene in the Philippines

GRAMMYs/Aug 30, 2020 - 06:00 pm

From the start, 88rising was always a passion project, with founder Sean Miyashiro at the forefront of a dream. In 2015, he started the company, which takes its name from the Chinese symbol for "double luck and fortune," hoping to create a label that could represent and showcase the talent of underground Asian artists. Fast-forward five years later, and 88rising has become a global brand, bridging the gap between Eastern and Western pop culture and representing some of the most fervent Asian acts in the music industry. But was it really "double luck" that propelled them to the top?

Regularly collecting millions of views per video on their YouTube channel, 88rising has launched multiple newcomers into superstardom, in turn creating a space for Asian rappers, singers and artists to thrive in music. The company's roster includes Rich Brian, the Indonesian-Chinese rapper/singer behind the 2016 viral song and video "Dat $tick"; Chinese hip-hop quartet Higher Brothers, who have been revered for bypassing several censorship regulations in their homeland with their lyrics; and Indonesian R&B songbird NIKI, who, at 21, has opened for Taylor Swift, Halsey and other major stars on tour. 

88rising artists have also secured high-profile collaborations with some of the biggest names from the East and West, including Hong Kong-native rapper and K-pop idol Jackson Wang, Korean rock/pop group DAY6 and former EXO member Kris Wu as well as rap giants likes 21 Savage, Playboi Carti and Wu-Tang Clan member Ghostface Killah.

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Both the artists and the mass media company itself have grown cult-like followings via their groundbreaking music and the globally inclusive multimedia world they've created, which collectively celebrate Asian and Asian-American culture and identity. 88rising's annual Head In The Clouds Festival, dubbed the "Asian Coachella" by Rolling Stone, emphasizes the importance of representation, one of Miyashiro's main goals behind the label. (Head In The Clouds was due to debut in Jakarta, Indonesia, this past March before it was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 88rising was scheduled to host its Double Happiness event series at this year's Coachella before the festival was postponed in June.)

"88rising is a culture that people want to get behind," Miyashiro explains to GRAMMY.com via email. "It's the type of movement that makes people wanna get tattoos of the logo on their bodies. That doesn't just happen to any media company or record label. We mean something intangible to people."

Now, the collective is expanding into Southeast Asia with the launch of its new sister label, PARADISE RISING. 

In July 2020, 88rising partnered with Globe Telecom, the Philippines' biggest telecommunications company, to create PARADISE RISING, a label focused on highlighting Filipino artists and culture. The imprint's inaugural mixtape, semilucent, released last month (July 31), spotlights the rising artists putting the island country on the music map, including Jason Dhakal, Leila Alcasid, Massiah, Fern., and Kiana V. Collectively, semilucent embodies the individual artists' Filipino heritage and culture.

GRAMMY.com caught up with 88rising founder Sean Miyashiro and Filipino artists Kiana V and Leila Alcasid to talk about how PARADISE RISING is spotlighting the blossoming music scene in the Philippines, the rising influence of Asian artists in R&B and hip-hop, and the ongoing journey toward "true Asian representation in pop culture."

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How did 88rising start?

Sean Miyashiro: 88rising started with a small dream in a parking lot in the Bronx. That's what makes it so crazy. We had no idea what we would become. We're still a small team, and it's always been DIY for us. Being small and scrappy has allowed us holistic creative control of our brand, our vision and our future. We put out things into the world that we believe in. 

You have a very wide array of artists who are given the freedom to express themselves as they see fit. Has this always been your vision with the label?

Miyashiro: We're all family. We provide our artists the space and creative freedom to do what they want. At the end of the day, what we want is the same: to make dope music while trailblazing the way towards a future with true Asian representation in pop culture. 

88rising has collaborated with many artists who are already so successful in the East, including Jackson Wang and Kang Daniel. How do these collaborations come to fruition? Do you think this helps blur the lines that might exist between artists from the West and the East?

Miyashiro: Everything that happens has been serendipitous and natural. We never force anything, but when we see an opportunity, we put our whole hearts behind it. And in the process, if it brings more people together, then we've done our job—and more.

Read: K-Pop Phenom Eric Nam Talks New Mini-Album 'The Other Side' And Life As One Of Korea's Biggest Stars

What prompted the creation of PARADISE RISING? 

Miyashiro: It really just made sense for us. The synergy with Globe was there. With their local expertise paired with 88rising's global infrastructure, PARADISE RISING brings talented emerging Asian artists to the forefront of global youth culture. We're just continuing to do what we do best. 

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The label's debut EP, semilucent, highlights the broad diversity of Filipino artists and styles. Is there something about the Philippines, in particular, that led you to explore the artists and music from there? 

Miyashiro: The Philippines has such a vibrant music culture, and there are so many young talented artists who are emerging. We want to amplify this on a global scale. 

What parts of your Filipino culture and heritage do you bring into your music, lyrics and songwriting?

Kiana V: I'd say being a Filipino, we're very passionate people, and you hear that in our music; [whether it's] songs that are lively, our ballads or in our folk music, the vulnerability stands out. That's something I definitely bring into my music. 

Leila Alcasid: I always pay attention to my process; Filipinos always want to give every part of themselves. The way that this translates in music is that we're very vulnerable. If you look at the music that we listen to, it's really all to do with digging deep and having music that relates to the human condition ... I guess I'm trying to be as vulnerable as possible, trying to open myself up. 

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Who are your biggest musical influences?

Kiana V: I was always drawn to Solange. When she was able to break away and do her own thing, I followed her immediately. I'm a huge fan of her storytelling and her way of writing. I grew up listening to a lot of Brandy, JoJo and Aaliyah, too. [Laughs.] Oh my God, I'm such a millennial. A lot of R&B and jazz artists. I'd say those are my main musical influences. 

Alcasid: Different aspects of my music are informed by different artists. Norah Jones, a lot of Nelly Furtado, that's an example of who I look to on how to approach my vocals. I'm not a belter, I'm a lot more relaxed when I sing, and I think that was heavily influenced by those artists. From 88rising, I am so inspired by NIKI. I think she is such a talented writer. Her lyrics are so witty, but they're also incredibly poetic; I'm a huge fan. 

Between 2017 to now, which is the bulk of when I started learning how to write songs and figuring out what my sound was, I started listening to a lot of Korean music. There was a point when I was obsessed with BTS, and I feel like my love for BTS was a big part of why I attempted to string a narrative through everything in my first EP. A lot of their work is very narrative-heavy, and I was inspired by that. I wanted to do that for my EP, and it kind of even happened and continued in "Clouds," my song on semilucent.

Read: BTS Talk Inspiration Behind "Dynamite," New Album, Gratitude For ARMY & More

The sounds on semilucent are mainly R&B and hip-hop. Can you speak a bit on the rising influence of Asian artists in this space? 

Kiana V: R&B and hip-hop has been a growing sound in the Asian community. I believe it's always been there. With technology and social media, people have been given a space to grow their own platforms, and these talented artists are finally being able to shine in their own space. As far as evolution is concerned, I think there's just room for so much growth and a burst of more and more artists.

Alcasid: There's such a huge collective of people here [in the Philippines] that focus on those sounds. I wasn't very aware of the hip-hop scene here, but as I've been here longer, I'm noticing that the one thing they're really informed by is politics. I feel like on one end, it can be a bit risky. But on the other, it's a way to express yourself in a way that's very honest and runs historical. 

I learned a lot about how Filipinos are approaching hip-hop through my boyfriend, who's a rapper here. It's been interesting to see what inspires hip-hop and how they're influenced by the West. They're tying in the sounds of the West, but it's still authentically them as possible ... In all different parts of Asia, we're influenced by the West and what's already been done, but you can identify the styles and the way in which they're transformed to become inherently Asian. 

What does the future look like for 88rising and PARADISE RISING? 

Miyashiro: We have a few super-exciting [artist] signings on the way and more mixtape drops incoming. 

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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

Photo: Courtesy Coco Jones

interview

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

Westside Gunn On How Virgil Abloh & "Coming To The End" Of His Rap Career Inspired 'And Then You Pray For Me'
Westside Gunn

Photo: Prolifickid

interview

Westside Gunn On How Virgil Abloh & "Coming To The End" Of His Rap Career Inspired 'And Then You Pray For Me'

A self-proclaimed "super-vet" of the rap world, Westside Gunn knows his time as a rapper is nearing its finale — but first, he wants to "give you a journey" with his new album, 'And Then You Pray For Me.'

GRAMMYs/Oct 18, 2023 - 02:07 pm

When Westside Gunn refers to himself as "the king of the underground," it's not hyperbole. The veteran rapper has spent the last decade-plus providing hip-hop with a streetwise, neo-boom-bap style that echoes heavily in the music of today. And as the founder of independent hip-hop label Griselda (and its related rap collective), Gunn's influence is felt through stars like his brother, Conway the Machine, his cousin, Benny the Butcher, and the enigmatic Mach-Hommy. 

But Gunn considers himself more a curator than a musician. He is obsessed with fashion and high art, more prone to mention going to see opera or buying a painting than jumping into a rhyme cipher.

All of Westside Gunn's obsessions come together on his new album And Then You Pray For Me. The rapper is positioning the project as a sequel to his 2020 LP Pray For Paris, which was inspired by Gunn attending a Paris Fashion Week runway show as a guest of the late Virgil Abloh. Abloh was the art director for both albums, which feature figures from iconic artworks laden with Gunn's signature chains; And Then You Pray For Me uses both the Mona Lisa and Caravaggio's The Entombment of Christ

While the 21-track album features plenty of Gunn's trademark neo-boom-bap sounds, he updates things a bit by including some songs that have a trap music influence. It contains stellar guest turns from old friends like Conway, Benny, Stove God Cooks, Rome Streetz, and Boldy James. But there are also surprising appearances from artists you might not normally associate with Griselda — Jeezy, Rick Ross, Denzel Curry, and Ty Dolla $ign.

Gunn has recently referred to And Then You Pray For Me as his last album, but don't expect him to slow down. He's making movies, planning big moves in the fashion world, and continuing to guide the careers of other artists. 

GRAMMY.com caught up with Gunn as he was, naturally, shopping in New York City's SoHo neighborhood ("I'm over here on Mercer [Street], so it's Lanvin, Balenciaga, Marni, Bape — it's all right here," he boasts). We discussed his creative pairing with Abloh, why he's really a curator at heart, and his views on underground rap's evolution over the past decade. 

The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Not to start on a super serious note, but as I was preparing for this conversation, I realized that we just passed the 17-year anniversary of the murder of your cousin, rapper Machine Gun Blak. If he could see you now, and if he could hear the new album, what do you think he might say?

First of all, he'd be all on [the album]. But he'd be super proud, man. Even when he's not here, he's one of my biggest fans, I feel like. His energy is Westside Gunn. Westside Gunn is a perfect example of Machine Gun Blak — just the raw, the grittiness. The grimy part of Westside Gunn, that's Machine Gun Blak. That's his spirit.

But I think he would love this album. It's a great piece of work. It's my favorite that I ever worked on. Out of all my projects ever, this is the most fun I ever had making one. 

Does it feel like it's been 17 years since he died?

Nah. It doesn't seem like 17 years, honestly. And it's crazy because I just went to his grave site. I remember [the day he died] like it was yesterday. I vividly remember that day — what was going on, what I was doing, where I was going, everything.

Where were you when you found out? 

See, back in those days, that's when we were still in the streets. So I was just about to go make a move. I was talking to him on the phone, and I was like, "I'll hit you when I get over to Atlanta." Because at that time, I was making moves. That's before all of this. It's the things I rap about now. When you hear the lyrics, these are those days. 

He called me, and it was a situation. He was talking about it, and I was like, "Sorry to cut you off, but I gotta go handle this. When I get there, I'll hit you back so we can finish talking about it."

At that time I was still catching the Greyhound from Alabama to Atlanta. But it was crazy because I missed the bus, and I never miss the bus. So I was on my way back to the house in Alabama, and my grandma called me.  

This era of your career, which this album is a cap to, began in 2012 when you realized you had to step up and be an artist because Conway The Machine had gotten shot and you weren't sure he'd be able to rap anymore. I've always been curious about your state of mind at that moment.

Even then I was still in-the-streets Gunn. We was working so hard, man. I was acting as his manager and investing my bread, my time. I really wanted Conway to be the biggest artist in the world. Unfortunately, when he got shot, it was a devastating blow.

Of course, that's my brother. That's the number one thing. And it was also like, the streets is crazy. I thought, I'm a smart guy. If I just put in my effort, I could really make this happen. At that time, I was really in the streets, and I felt like the [other] rappers weren't. It was like, you're really rapping about us

It was that kind of mentality — that if I come in this game, can't nobody touch me, because I'm as real as it comes. I just put my hustle skills from the streets into this, and it all worked out. 

During the heyday of that era of Griselda, you guys released a flood of projects — dozens and dozens of mixtapes and albums. 

It was a flood. It was the craziest flood since No Limit [Records].

What was a typical day like for you when all that was going on, circa the mid-2010s?

Just being at [producer] Daringer's house. Getting high, eating f—in' Franco's pizza, drinking Loganberry, and Daringer cooking the craziest beats you ever heard in your life. The rest is history. Just having fun, man. Everybody had they hustles. Believe it or not, even Daringer was hustling! We from Buffalo, man.

You've always been someone who understood the importance of branding. Even on early Griselda projects, you'd promote GxFR [Griselda by Fashion Rebels, Gunn's clothing line at the time]. 

Yeah, because that's the thing: Griselda Records comes from Griselda by Fashion Rebels. I had the clothing brand first. I was already doing a clothing line and it was just like, What am I going to name this record company?

I've always been into fashion. I actually do more fashion-related things than hip-hop-related things. I'm a true designer. I've been designing since I was a kid, and that's the thing that I want to get into more. 

I've been rhyming since '12. That's over a decade. If we're looking at NBA years, NFL years, I'm already a super-vet. I'm not trying to be one of them dudes that went from averaging 40 a game to now I'm averaging five, looking crazy and old. 

I know when to gracefully bow out. And I know I'm coming to the end. I don't want to keep rapping forever about the same things, because in my life I'm maturing. I'm doing other things. I'm collecting art. I'm going to see operas. 

But it's not the end right now. Right now, I just want to give people the best music. And I also want to let people in. I've been doing these [YouTube] episodes for this album where I've been letting people into my life for the first time in my career. Everybody has been loving it. 

For the first time, people are actually getting to see the inside of Westside Gunn's life. I think that's one of the things that I lacked on, was letting people in. If I would have let people in a long time ago, I'd be way bigger. But everything is about time, and I'm not tripping.

Before I hang up the mic, I still want to kind of give you a journey with the music. This new project, it's a super different vibe. I've never made an album sound like this. It's the perfect art piece that I could have possibly created.

It's just the space I'm in in life. It comes with maturity — traveling the world, kids getting older, things like that. You can hear the music has matured. It's still raw though. That's the thing about me. I'm still gonna give you that Griselda Westside Gunn. That's never gonna change. I'm not going too far out of context. 

For this album, you've introduced the alter ego "Super Flygod." What does that name mean? 

Listen, man, Super Flygod right now is talking to you with a ponytail. I'm on another level. Super Flygod is what I've always been, but times 10. I'm super bougie. I love five-star meals. I love five-star hotels. I love wearing $10,000 outfits. I love getting massages. I love smelling good. I love just looking good. That's Super Flygod. 

It's just a different energy. It's something the game never seen before. I did the unthinkable at least 100 times already. I'm still doing it. 

What was it like for you to see Conductor Williams — a producer who has worked with Gunn and Griselda for many years — land a single on a Drake album?

Beautiful. That's what we do it for. He did exactly what he was supposed to do, and that's be on the No. 1 album in the world. He deserves all of that. That's what we're in this game for — to be able to leave a legacy and take care of our babies. So for him to be on the No. 1 album, that's a super blessing. 

That's the thing about Conductor — it's just gonna be the beginning. He's on my new album a few times. So he's gonna have a hell of a month. It's the biggest month of his life. Business is booming for Conductor. 

You've used the word "curation" a lot over the course of your career, and especially in regards to this album. What does that word mean to Westside Gunn?

First of all, that's my favorite thing to do on an album. Curation from me is me. I can curate for you, I can curate for MC Hammer. It's you, but it's me

When I curate a project, that's me naming every song, that's me picking every beat, that's me doing the sequence, that's me making the art cover, that's me doing the merch. You see what I'm saying? It's you, but it's me. All you're doing is showing up and rapping. That's all you gotta do.

Virgil Abloh is credited with art directing this album's cover. What did that mean, specifically? 

When I went out to Paris [for Paris Fashion Week in 2020], I really wasn't going to make music. I just felt the energy from Virgil having me out there. When I hit him and told him it was done, it was just like, "There's only one person that can do this cover." It had to be him. 

Virgil was an icon. So to have Virgil cooking up for you is already legendary. This don't happen to nobody from Buffalo, man. But when he was cooking, he was making me multiple pieces. At first, the idea was, I'm gonna do a trilogy [of Pray albums]. I was gonna have the Mona Lisa be the picture that represents all three of them together. I was thinking [of a] box set, with a Mona Lisa front and three different covers inside. 

Once he passed, it changed what I wanted to do with it. But we were already talking about dropping [a second Pray album]. We were already going to re-release the first shirts we did, and I was going to do new ones. But when [his death] happened, I put everything on a standstill and I didn't really know how I wanted to approach it again.

It was like, Damn, should I do the trilogy, or should I just make it a part two? I had different options. At the end of the day, it was just like, I think I'm just going to finish it up. I really want to give the people the work we created together before I throw in the towel. I felt it was only right. That's something that I want the world to always see and remember — what me and him cooked up together.

You say in your new YouTube documentary series that this new album will probably go over people's heads. What aspects of it do you think people might not get initially, or take a few years to catch up to?

The same reason why they're catching up now to the s— that I was doing five years ago, and everybody acts like it's new. I've always been ahead of my time. Always. I probably get copied off of the most in the industry. But you see that I've always gotten respect from everybody: from the Drakes, from the Tylers, the Rockys, Kendricks, Coles, anybody. I'm a one-of-one. It's never been seen before. 

The respect I get, it could be on a mainstream level, but then I could still be on an underground level. I can do something with an Estee Nack, but then turn around and do a song with Mary J. Blige. That's who Westside Gunn is. I got songs with everybody you can possibly think of, rhyming-wise or production-wise. All the legends, even our fallen legends. I can't even think of no other emcee that got a record with Sean Price, Prodigy, DMX, and MF DOOM. It's impossible to name another one. 

Westside Gunn is so cultured, people don't even understand. That's what I mean about [being] over people's heads. People still don't even get it. They're scratching their head, like, "How is this guy on [Kanye West's] Donda? How is this guy on [Travis Scott's] Utopia?"

There's a big part of underground rap now that can be traced directly to what Roc Marciano began doing in 2010, and what you guys started doing just a few years later. What do you think when you see a lot of your aesthetic from that time in the current underground scene?

The current underground scene, I'm loving it. Because you gotta think — at that time, like you said, it was only really Roc Marci, Action Bronson — a couple heads. That's in the space that we come from. Of course, we still had the J. Coles and Big Seans and all that, but that was another lane. We're in the same neighborhood, two different streets. 

But on our street, people on the block was Roc Marci and Action Bronson. Danny Brown, he lived on the block. People like that. When I came on the scene, that's all it was. But I took the bull by the horns. Like I said, I'm a hustler. I was still hustling in the street. I had a hustler mentality, and once I told myself I had to quit cold turkey, I never looked back. I just went extra hard. 

With the new heads, I'm proud of them. At the end of the day, I'm happy that I was able to be somebody that they could study. That they could see these vinyl deals or how this merch is played — I'm kind of like the blueprint. I'm not going to say I'm the king of the underground, but I'm the king of the underground.

Even though I'm the king of the underground, I'm still on Donda. I'm still on Utopia. I'm still making all these big songs and these big records. And even yesterday, we put up the Post Malone clip saying if he could work with anybody, it'd be me. 

I'm the one that put the most points on the board, in every way possible. But this is also showing the new heads, If I could work hard, I'm gonna be the next Roc Marci, I'm gonna be the next Action Bronson in that space.

What is the possibility of getting the original Griselda trio of you, your brother and your cousin back together for a project? 

That's coming in '24. You don't even you got to ask twice. That's already done, my brother. 

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GRAMMY Rewind: Kendrick Lamar Honors Hip-Hop's Greats While Accepting Best Rap Album GRAMMY For 'To Pimp a Butterfly' In 2016
Kendrick Lamar

Photo: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic

video

GRAMMY Rewind: Kendrick Lamar Honors Hip-Hop's Greats While Accepting Best Rap Album GRAMMY For 'To Pimp a Butterfly' In 2016

Upon winning the GRAMMY for Best Rap Album for 'To Pimp a Butterfly,' Kendrick Lamar thanked those that helped him get to the stage, and the artists that blazed the trail for him.

GRAMMYs/Oct 13, 2023 - 06:01 pm

Updated Friday Oct. 13, 2023 to include info about Kendrick Lamar's most recent GRAMMY wins, as of the 2023 GRAMMYs.

A GRAMMY veteran these days, Kendrick Lamar has won 17 GRAMMYs and has received 47 GRAMMY nominations overall. A sizable chunk of his trophies came from the 58th annual GRAMMY Awards in 2016, when he walked away with five — including his first-ever win in the Best Rap Album category.

This installment of GRAMMY Rewind turns back the clock to 2016, revisiting Lamar's acceptance speech upon winning Best Rap Album for To Pimp A Butterfly. Though Lamar was alone on stage, he made it clear that he wouldn't be at the top of his game without the help of a broad support system. 

"First off, all glory to God, that's for sure," he said, kicking off a speech that went on to thank his parents, who he described as his "those who gave me the responsibility of knowing, of accepting the good with the bad."

Looking for more GRAMMYs news? The 2024 GRAMMY nominations are here!

He also extended his love and gratitude to his fiancée, Whitney Alford, and shouted out his Top Dawg Entertainment labelmates. Lamar specifically praised Top Dawg's CEO, Anthony Tiffith, for finding and developing raw talent that might not otherwise get the chance to pursue their musical dreams.

"We'd never forget that: Taking these kids out of the projects, out of Compton, and putting them right here on this stage, to be the best that they can be," Lamar — a Compton native himself — continued, leading into an impassioned conclusion spotlighting some of the cornerstone rap albums that came before To Pimp a Butterfly.

"Hip-hop. Ice Cube. This is for hip-hop," he said. "This is for Snoop Dogg, Doggystyle. This is for Illmatic, this is for Nas. We will live forever. Believe that."

To Pimp a Butterfly singles "Alright" and "These Walls" earned Lamar three more GRAMMYs that night, the former winning Best Rap Performance and Best Rap Song and the latter taking Best Rap/Sung Collaboration (the song features Bilal, Anna Wise and Thundercat). He also won Best Music Video for the remix of Taylor Swift's "Bad Blood." 

Lamar has since won Best Rap Album two more times, taking home the golden gramophone in 2018 for his blockbuster LP DAMN., and in 2023 for his bold fifth album, Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers.

Watch Lamar's full acceptance speech above, and check back at GRAMMY.com every Friday for more GRAMMY Rewind episodes. 

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Lil Yachty Wants You To Be "Ready For Everything" At The Field Trip Tour
Lil Yachty performs at Rolling Loud Miami in July 2023.

Photo: Jason Koerner/Getty Images

interview

Lil Yachty Wants You To Be "Ready For Everything" At The Field Trip Tour

As Lil Yachty hits the road for his 42-date global tour, the rapper details how he'll be bringing his trippy album 'Let's Start Here' to life — and why he feels like his seven-year career is only just getting started.

GRAMMYs/Sep 25, 2023 - 06:11 pm

Fans first got to know Lil Yachty for his catchy, sing-songy tunes like "One Night" and "Minnesota," rap songs that sound like the rapper's once-signature red braids: bright and attention-getting. But as the man who once dubbed himself the "king of the teens" has now become a father in his (gasp!) mid-20s, his musical horizons have expanded. 

While Lil Boat is still making catchy tracks  (see his minute-and-a-half long earworm "Poland," released last fall), his latest album is something else entirely. Inspired by big statement LPs like Pink Floyd's 1973 classic Dark Side of the Moon, Lil Yachty's Let's Start Here is a psychedelic record created with members of Chairlift and MGMT, as well as Mac DeMarco, Alex G and a handful of other out-of-the-norm collaborators. While the style change may have been unexpected for many, it came out exactly as Yachty envisioned it.

"It felt future-forward, it felt different, it felt original, it felt fresh, it felt strong," he says. "I'm grateful for the response. It's nice to have people resonate with a body of work that you've worked so hard on and you care so deeply about."

Yachty's most recent release, a four-song single pack featuring the swirling "TESLA," brings him back to a more traditional hip-hop style — by Lil Boat standards, anyway. But even with the four new tracks sprinkled throughout the set list, he's still determined to share the sound and vibe of Let's Start Here with his listeners. 

The Field Trip Tour, which Lil Yachty kicked off in Washington, D.C. on Sept. 21, brings the album's trippy vision to the stage. The rapper recruited an all-women band for his latest trek, which includes Lea Grace Swinson and Romana R. Saintil on vocals, Monica Carter on drums, Téja Veal on bass, Quenequia Graves on guitar, and Kennedy Avery Smith on keys.

"My life is surrounded by women," Yachty explains. "I feel like they are the most important aspect to this world and that they don't get enough credit or shine — especially Black women."

GRAMMY.com caught up with Yachty as he was on his way to rehearsal to chat about the tour, the album, and what he learned from four old British guys.

You made your band auditions public by announcing them on social media, which is not the usual way of going about these things. When you had the auditions, what was it like? How many people showed up?

Hundreds of women came from all over. People sent in auditions online. It was so fun to hear so much music and see talent and meet so many different personalities. I felt like Simon Cowell.

Other than musical ability, what were you looking for?

It was nothing more than talent. There would be multiple people with extreme talent, so then it became your own creative spunk: what did you do that made me say, "Oh, okay. I like this. I like this"? I wanted a badass group.

What was behind the decision to put the call out for women only? 

My life is surrounded by women — my two assistants, my mother as a manager, a lot of my friends are women. Women really help me throughout my day. 

I just think that women are so powerful. I feel like they rule the world. They are the most important aspect to this world and they don't get enough credit or shine, especially black women. So that was my aura behind it. I just wanted to showcase that women can shred just as good as men. 

Is the band going to be performing on your older rap material as well, in addition to the album cuts? 

No. I'm not a big fan of rendition rap songs. I think the feeling is in the beat, the feeling is in the instrumentation. When you have to reconstruct it, the bounce gets lost a bit.

Tell me about the rehearsal process once you selected the band members. What was that like? 

They're all so talented, so they all learned it very quick. I gave [the music] to them early, and gave them the stems. When it was day one, they all knew the songs. Even my new guitarist that came in later than everyone, she came in knowing the music. 

The rehearsal project for this tour was a little different, because I'm reconstructing the whole album. I'm moving everything around and changing all the transitions and trying to make it trippy. So it's a process of me figuring out how I want to do things. But they're so talented and so smart, all I have to do is tell them what I want, and they'll do it instantly. 

Like yesterday, I wanted a solo on the end of a song called "The Alchemist." Because at the end of [the album version] is this [singer Brittany] Fousheé breakdown and she's singing in a falsetto. But I took her vocals off and I wanted a solo. And [a band member] was working through it yesterday and it wasn't quite there. But I'm on the way to rehearsal now, and I know when I walk in this room, it'll be done. It'll be crazy. So they all take it very serious and they care, and I love them so much. 

The festival shows you've done so far have had everyone in Bantu knot hairstyles, sometimes with face paint. Is that going to be the look for this tour? 

No, I don't think so.

What was the thinking behind that look? 

I was getting really deep into the world of '70s bands, '60s bands. Just unison: moving as one, looking like one, feeling like one. A family, a group, a team. You see us, we're all together. 

When you play rap shows, so much of what you're doing is keeping a high-energy mood—getting the crowd going, starting mosh pits. With the new songs, it's about a diversity of feelings. What was that like for you as a band leader? 

I'll tell you, it was not easy. I've been in this industry for seven years, and my shows have been high-energy for seven years. So the first time I went on a stage and performed Let's Start Here, I felt like, "Oh wow, they hate me. Do they hate this?" Plus I have in-ears, so I can't hear the crowd cheering. I don't perform with in-ears when I do rap shows. 

It took me some time to get used to the switch. Tyler, the Creator once had a talk with me and explained to me that, it's not that they don't f— with you, it's that they're taking it in. They're comprehending you. They're processing and enjoying it. That clicked in me and I got a better understanding of what's going on.

What is it like in the same show to go from the Let's Start Here material to the rap stuff? 

It's a relief, because that's going to my world. It's super easy for me. It's like flipping the switch and taking it to the moon.

Now that it's been the better part of a year since Let's Start Here came out, how are you feeling about it? What sense do you have of the reaction to it?

Since before it came out, when I was making it, I always felt so strongly because it was something that I felt inside. It felt future-forward, it felt different, it felt original, it felt fresh, it felt strong. 

I'm grateful for the response. It's nice. It's not what you do it for, but it is extra credit. It's nice to get that love and to have people resonate with a body of work that you've worked so hard on and you care so deeply about.

Have you felt peoples' reactions change over the past few months? 

Well, this is the first time when people are like, "Man, that album changed my life" or "It took me to a different place." People love my music — always have — but this reaction is, "Man, this album, man, it really took me there." 

It did what it was supposed to do, which was transcend people. If you are on that side of the world and you're into that type of stuff, it did its job, its course — the same course as Dark Side of the Moon, which is to take you on a journey, an experience. 

What was it about Dark Side that grabbed you? 

Everything. The cover, the sounds, the transitions, the vocals, the lyrics, the age of Pink Floyd when they made it. I could go on. I got into deep fascination. It was so many things. It's just pure talent.

**I've read that you studied Pink Floyd quite a bit, watching interviews and documentaries. What were some of the things you learned from that process and brought to Let's Start Here?**

So many things. The most important element was that I wanted to create a body of work that felt cohesive and that transcended people, and that was a fun experience that could take you away from life.

I was curious about the song ":(failure:(," where you give a speech about failing. What were your inspirations for that?

"Facebook Story" by Frank Ocean, which is about a girl who thought he was cheating on her because he wouldn't accept her on Facebook. It inspired me to talk about something. 

At first I wanted [":(failure:("] to be a poem, and I wanted my friend to say it. We tried it out, but his voice was so f—ing deep. And his poem was so dark — it was about death and s—. I was like, Damn, n—, lighten up. But then I was just like, you know what, I'll do it, and I'll speak about something very near and dear to me, which was failure. I felt like it would resonate with people more.

**The idea of time shows up on the album a lot, which is something it has in common with Dark Side of the Moon. You talk about running out of time. What are you running out of time to do?** 

Sometimes I feel like I'm growing so fast and getting so old, and maturing and evolving so quickly, and so many opportunities come into my life. You go on tour, and then you start working on an album, and you run out of time to do certain things. It's like, "Are we going to be together? If not, I have other things to do." 

I think that's where it comes from. I don't have all day to play around. Too many things to do. Then it transpires to feel like I'm running out of time.

I love "drive ME crazy!" I was wondering if there are any particular male/female duets that you looked at as a model when designing that song. 

Fleetwood Mac. Again, with all the inspirations for these songs, I still did my twist on them. So I don't want people to go and be like, "Oh, that sounds nothing like a Fleetwood Mac song." I wasn't trying to copy a Fleetwood Mac song. It just inspired me to make a song in that feeling, in that world.

When you began your career, you were the "king of the teens." Now you're a father in your mid-twenties. Who's your audience these days? Is it the people who were teens when you started your career, who are now in their 20s like you, or is it a new crop of teenagers? 

I think now it's from the 12-year-olds to the 40-year-olds. My last festival, I had 50-year-olds in my show. That was so amazing. In the front row, there was an 11-year-old asking for my sneakers, and then in the back, it was 50- and 60-year-olds. It was crazy. The age demographic is insane.

Whenever I'm leaving somewhere, I like to have the window down and see people. [At my last festival] these 60-year-olds were leaving. They're like, "Man, your album, we love it. That show was so great." And that's awesome, because I love [that my music can] touch everyone. 

You've been opening your recent shows with "the BLACK seminole." What does that phrase mean to you? How does it relate to the sound of the song and the rest of the lyrics?

It's saying, "I'm a warrior, I am a king, I am a sex symbol, I am everything good and bad with man, and I'm Black, unapologetically." That's what it's about. 

Any final thoughts about the tour? 

Just that it's an experience. You're not walking into a rinky-dink [show with] some DJ. This is going to be a show

I feel like it's the start of my career. I just want people to come in with an open mindset. Not expecting anything, ready for everything. 

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