Photo: Jérémy Paul Bali
Aluna On New Album 'Renaissance' & Making Dance Music Inclusive Again
"If it's good enough to be appropriated, then it's good enough to be listened to in its original form and by the original creators," Aluna recently told GRAMMY.com in a powerful interview
British singer/songwriter/DJ/producer Aluna broke onto the global dance scene in 2013 as half of AlunaGeorge. Together, the U.K. dance duo headlined festivals and delivered infectious dancefloor burners like "I'm In Control," "I Remember" and a stellar cover of Montell Jordan's "This Is How We Do It" and notable features with Disclosure (2014's "White Noise"), Flume (2016's "Innocence") and other big names in dance.
Now, Aluna is in control as a solo artist and reclaiming her space as a Black woman in dance music. The now-massive genre has straight White men at its center, even though it was created by Black, brown and queer people in response to the racist disco backlash of 1979. With her debut solo album, Renaissance, released Aug. 28, she explores the roots of dance music, brings in messages of equality and empowerment and takes listeners through a journey of emotions and rhythms from dusk 'til dawn.
The "Warrior" artist has truly found her voice—not just within owning the creative control of her music, but in her online presence with weekly Aluna's Room DJ livestreams and curated playlists. In both spaces, she explores what dance music really means, highlighting producers of color and bringing in reggaetón, dancehall, Afro-fusion and more infectious rhythms of the world, questioning the media and industry's focus on White electronic DJ/producers.
In an open letter to the dance music community posted to her Instagram in June, Aluna directly calls out racism in dance and asks for more inclusive genre categorization. "When I started looking at all the challenges I face being a Black woman making dance I realized I wanted to do more than just create a space for myself—I want all black people to know that the genre of Dance is their heritage and they should feel included and encouraged to create under that banner by expanding the genre to be culturally and racially inclusive," she wrote with the post.
Ahead of Renaissance's release, we chatted with Aluna to learn more about her vision and creative process for the epic new project, as well as her mission to create a more inclusive dance music space.
I can't say that in the writing studio I had an agenda, I generally don't, but what I need to say, happens. So, I needed to sing about what it's like being a Black woman and a woman of color trying to get paid in the world. Often, my go-to is a way to create an aspirational, celebratory moment and "Get Paid" is a celebration of us getting paid. Sometimes we do get paid, but we just want more of it, we want it consistently, we want it fairly and we want it to match our worth and our contributions.
Princess Nokia is outspoken in so many different ways. She's basically the epitome of woman power, but she also stands for LGBTQIA+ rights. And she's an activist in such an eloquent way that I really wanted her input in this song to complete the picture. And we did an interpolation of a classic Jamaican dancehall song ["Heads High" by Mr. Vegas from 1998]. I've been listening to "Banana" by Jada Kingdom and I had that in my DJ set, and I was like, "Oh, she is going to finish this puzzle. She's the last piece of the puzzle to make the full, beautiful picture." When she sent in her verse, I was so emotional because it's powerful, but it's so beautiful and sexy as well. And that's so important to me in music—your flow's got to be down, along with the beauty, the melody and the words.
Like "Get Paid," "Body Pump" is such a bop, I've had it on repeat. Could you take us through the creative process of "Body Pump"—did it start with the beat, the lyrics, a concept? And how did it evolve?
Well, me and Josh [Lloyd-Watson of Jungle, who co-produced the track with her] are two really strong heads in the studio, so we spent a good few hours bumping heads, it was pretty funny. We had our egos all up in the space, we had our own ideas. It was really towards the end of the evening when we started to get going. And we started from scratch. We'd listened to a lot of music, and we were like, "No, we can't work with anything that's already started." We started to build this song, and I was like, "We're getting somewhere." We were really collaborating on every sound, every instrument, every bit of vocal, he had me shouting stuff into the mic, he was like, "Louder! Louder!" I was like, "Oh my God, this is so scary!" [Laughs.]
Then the computer crashed and we fully lost the whole song. At the time, I was six or seven months pregnant, and I was not having any time wasted. So, I was like, "I'm going to get you a bottle of wine, and I'm going to use my memory to take you through, step by step, rebuilding the entire song from scratch." And he was like, "Oh my God, I'm so happy that you are down. So many artists would have just given up and gone home." I was like, "Hell no, I'll live here, mother*er. I'm not going anywhere until this song is back."
I knew there was something about it. And some magic might get added from us redoing it. That part at the end where it goes off, the really fast clapping and stuff, came out as a mistake and we were like, "Oh wait, what happened? Let's keep it." It was a really, really fun experience.
Was it one of the first songs you worked on for the album or where did that process begin? Where was the starting point for you with the larger album?
That was in July  and I'd started working in February. I don't know what the first song is that I wrote. One of the earliest ones was "Off Guard" and "Whistle" from the album. And you can hear how open I was at that stage. When I started writing, because I'm a very versatile artist, I was like, "I can make anything. Yay. Let's go." And I did make anything, I made everything. For this record, there was 50 songs. And then I was like, "No, I'm going to make a dance record. That's what I'm going to do." I started to move in a particular direction.
"Off Guard" and "Whistle" are from the pre-directional part of the album, but I wanted to include them, because for me, an album is really a journey with a main story to it. [On Renaissance,] the main story is a dance story. For me, when you go to the club, you have this really specific period of time that you dance for. But you also have the side room where you are with a friend or a sexy partner or something, when you add that moment to your experience, you get that full spectrum. It's like the house party and you had your dance for a moment, and then we found the room upstairs where everyone was smoking and drinking and chilling and you were like, "This is amazing too." So, those songs were on the album as well. And then, it's book-ended with, I don't know, a psychedelic. I mean, it's definitely 6:00 a.m., anywhere in the world, at the end of the record. And the beginning is maybe 9:00 a.m., but it's the start of the day, the other end.
I do remember the first song I wrote. I wrote "I've Been Starting To Love All The Things I Hate" [the album's first track] way before I started to write this album. It was just a piano piece on a voice message. Then, I expanded it into a full song.
If you had about 50 songs to choose from, was it hard to cut them? What was the process of getting it down to an album, to 14 tracks?
Picking the songs took almost as long as writing them. Oh, it's agonizing. I have these full on spreadsheets and diagrams. I printed out the names of all the songs and cut them out and put them on cards so that I could mix and match. It was lots of that. Because it's a sauce, it's a big sauce and it has to have all the right ingredients in there and you can't have any missing ingredients.
Do you think you would do a B-sides or maybe sprinkle out some of the other songs after the album in some of the format?
There were some choice songs that didn't get on record. Sometimes, they were songs that would stand alone better—this is a single, a song that doesn't play well with others. There were also a few songs that were in that vein of something already on the album. So, let's not have two of them.
The album is coming out in just under a month. You've put out a bunch of music in the past, but this is your debut solo project. How are you feeling about offering that up to the world?
I'm curious to see what environment it's going to come out in. We just don't know from month to month what world we're living in. I mean, I had never planned to tour the album immediately upon releasing it. I wanted to let people sit with the music for a little while before I went on the road. But with that not on the horizon, I'm glad that I created the album in a way that I did, because it's not rave from start to finish—it will take you to that raving point and bring you back down again. So, it's really good for being in the house or being in the car and in all the environments that we're living in at the moment, which is cool.
I also feel, because everyone's indoors a lot of the time, they'll be able to listen in a less distracted environment, which for me is always a bonus, because people might listen to the lyrics, which would be fun. I don't expect people to listen to lyrics, but if they do then they'll enjoy them.
When you were working on this project and decided you wanted to make a dance album, what caused that shift?
Well, there had been lots of messages coming my way that weren't getting through the sleek barrier of fear and trepidation that I had. As a featured artist in dance, I'd kind of been a guest in that genre. I saw it as a very White genre and as a Black person, I didn't feel invited. I didn't feel like I could take that genre and do what I wanted with it as an uninvited person.
But I had been in situations where I'd seen one or two Black girls in the crowd when I was guesting on a White peer's festival show that I was jumping on to. So, I would see them. And at my shows, I would see a few Black girls waiting right to the end where I play all my dance records for AlunaGeorge. And I was like, "Okay, well, there's that." The final piece was discovering the history of dance and realizing that my feeling of being uninvited didn't make any sense. It was completely ridiculous. I still felt uncomfortable and like I was going to be doing something that nobody really wanted, but that's never really stopping me from doing anything. So, I went ahead and did it, I just needed a little bit of ammunition.
It's the proof that the feelings that you're feeling—that it wasn't just you.
The feelings that I was feeling were based on a reality that was a lie, which, quite honestly, made me angry. It made me angry that I had to feel uncomfortable doing something that was part of my heritage and that it had held me back even for a second. And then I was like, "Quick, hurry up." Which then took me a year and a half.
View this post on Instagram
When I started looking at all the challenges I face being a black woman making dance I realized I wanted to do more than just create a space for myself - I want all black people to know that the genre of Dance is their heritage and they should feel included and encouraged to create under that banner by expanding the genre to be culturally and racially inclusive Read and share this post if you wanna see the same future for our community
On that note, in June, you posted your powerful open letter to the dance music community. Can you speak to what the response from within the music community so far has felt like for you?
The response has been one of curiosity. I've had quite a few different executives and people in the inner circle of DSPs [digital service providers], curious about what to do. So, that's been good. It's nice to have curiosity. I think action is going to be—I'm a big believer in embracing the chaos. I think that we need to—and we probably will—go through a period of chaos when it comes to the genre.
What I'm calling for is to shake the genre up. I'm not expecting the dust to settle for a little while. So, there's lots of different conversations about what is dance, what genres of dance have been left out of the genre, which ones should now be included, which ones are more mainstream, which ones are underground. Is electronic the main sound of dance anymore, regardless of how it's being categorized in reality? Is electronic actually a sub-genre as opposed to the main body of dance music?
All these questions are really, really fun to be asking because if I was going to invent a world, a world that is exciting and fresh and ever-changing, I don't think I would put White, straight men at the center of that world. I don't even think a White straight man would create that world. Those are the people that maybe run things, but we're talking about parties, we're talking about dancing, we're talking about culture, we're talking about unity, we're talking about festivals. When in history has a White straight man been the catalyst for that type of cross-cultural, open sexuality, joyful getting together? It just needs to be reflective of the activity of partying, dancing, unity, expression and things like that.
"This music should be put in the position where they're able to get access to the mainstream ear, because it is mainstream music… If it's good enough to be appropriated, then it's good enough to be listened to in its original form and by the original creators."
Can you give us an outline of what you called for in the letter?
I would like every platform and organization that categorizes music to reanalyze what they consider to be dance music. When they're considering that, they need to look at globally and culturally, what do people dance to? The answer is dancehall, afrobeat, reggaetón, house music and the sub genres of those as well. I think that'll go a long way in bringing people who make dance music around the world together, because at the moment it's really segregated. Really what it comes down to is the listener is being made to jump and go down the back alleys of these platforms. I consider this music to be mainstream dance music, they're not sub-sub-genres. They are sub-genres of dance, but they're not sub-sub-sub-sub-sub-sub-genres, which is where they're currently categorized.
This music should be put in the position where they're able to get access to the mainstream ear, because it is mainstream music. The evidence is in the pop songs that use those types of music as their complete fundamental foundation. The evidence is also in White producers using those beats to freshen the sound of dance music at the moment. If it's good enough to be appropriated, then it's good enough to be listened to in its original form and by the original creators.
If the dance community was happy to just live in a completely monocultured ecosystem of listening only to the Eurocentric ideal and accepted sound of dance music, then just copy it and copy it and copy it until dance music is no longer a relevant genre to anyone, then fine, but that's not what anyone wants.
What has it felt like for you so far to step out as a solo artist, and to be making your music for you and producing as well?
It's created many new dreams for me. Now, I have this dream that is feeling more and more tangible—basically, a festival/rave with Black gal ravers all over the place, not just one Black gal raver in a sea of White people, looking really out of place. I just think that would be so much fun.
View this post on Instagram
It’s been so exciting talking about this coalition over the weekend and am happy to finally share it with you guys, this is just the beginning! Big changes in the industry are in our sights so stick with us while we get to work. Swipe to the end for the full info. BLACK MUSIC MATTERS. BLACK LIVES MATTER. Real change begins now with @bma_coalition
Do you have a message for young Black women and girls who are wanting to share their voice and their vision in music, but not really sure where to start or how to do that in a way that feels safe to them?
It's difficult. I try to speak through my actions. I have made dance records as a Black woman, and some of the music has been received well because it fits into the traditional dance music sound. And we shall see how this record is received, but I don't care.
What do I say to young Black girls? They're needed and wanted, and their creative perspective, their creative juices and flavors are needed and wanted.
I really love your Dance Renaissance playlist on Spotify. Can you talk a bit about some of the artists you've featured on it?
I've got UNiiQU3, I've got Jayda G. I've got some original creators of dance music like Mr. Fingers and Larry Heard on there, because I wanted to mix a history with the current stuff. And Black Coffee, Azari, Rema, AJ Tracey and Cookiee Kawaii. Also, Skales—"Shake Body" is one of my favorite songs. This playlist was really what I was just performing in my DJ set that week. It was an exploration, I wanted to see what a Larry Heard track sounded like alongside a UNiiQU3 or TT The Artist or Jayda G. And I was exploring Black dance artists in general.
I have a huge collection. The next thing I want to do is make a global dance playlist that really captures the hottest new tracks from around the world. Because paying homage to history is really important, but one of the things that can happen is if you only do that, you miss out on the current moment and you can't make up for that later, because those people need support right now. We need to know how hot this new sh*t is.
And honestly, COVID has been a huge opportunity for me, for my crate-digging endeavors and more. It's really, really been amazing to think about changing the landscape of the way we consume dance music, so that all of these songs I've been enjoying as a DJ will get more recognition and more respect. And be celebrated in a way that will elevate them through to pop, which I think is really important for any artists working within a genre to be cared for in that way and have that motivation.
You're so right. At the end of the day, streaming playlists have so much power. The number of streams that come from some of those top Spotify playlists is wild. It really shows how much potential there is for shifting things and for, like you're doing, changing the conversation.
Right. That job has to be done very, very carefully if you're doing what I'm doing, because this Dance Renaissance playlist is my first attempt on working on something at the moment, which is much, much more curated as a DJ. And I think that's really important when I'm showing how jersey club, dancehall, house, techno and afrobeat can live together on the dancefloor.
The reason that I know that is because I'm a Black woman, but I'm also multicultural. So, I have all of these global influences in my blood. I work in harmony with myself, so I know there's a possibility for all those things to work in harmony. I apply that when I'm selecting my songs. I'm not someone who is just trying to elevate one genre of dance. I'm an ambassador of unity, really based on the simple idea that I'm trying to create the best quality.
For me, if I go to a club and there's only one type of music playing, I can't do it. I can do about half an hour, but I can't do monocultured anything. I'm just not that person. Myself and the future of our world is getting more and more multicultural. We can all be fighting against each other, but behind the fight, everyone's having sex and making babies, by the way. And they will multicultural. It's inevitable. I'm creating the music for those kids to feel comfortable listening to.
Photo: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic
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.
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."
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.
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."
Watch Lamar's full acceptance speech above, and check back at GRAMMY.com every Friday for more GRAMMY Rewind episodes.
Photos: Miikka Skaffari/WireImage; Marcus Ingram/Getty Images; Gary Miller/Getty Images; Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images; Patrick O'Brien Smith; Courtesy of the artist
6 Artists Expanding The Boundaries Of Hip-Hop In 2023: Lil Yachty, McKinley Dixon, Princess Nokia & More
Jazz, psychedelic rock, ambient and more permeate the work of artists such as Kassa Overall and Decuma. As hip-hop turns 50, meet the artists who are continuing to push the genre's multifarious sounds.
DJ Kool Herc was messing with soul vocals and drum breaks when he invented what’s now known as the break beat — the very element that gave birth to the genre on Aug. 11, 1973.
Hip-hop was literally built off a sample. And in the decades since, the genre has thrived off those same omnivorous instincts, oftentimes to where even the terms "rap" and "hip-hop" don’t feel precise enough to describe the genre’s innovation and sheer diversity. (Five years before Kanye West declared rap the new rock ‘n’ roll to describe its popularity, Los Angeles rapper Open Mike Eagle wasn’t even satisfied with the word "indie" being tacked on to his brand of hip-hop: "That's too blanket of a term I think to really apply to what I attempt to do.")
As hip-hop turns 50, the artists behind some of its most exciting releases show that more than ever, the genre’s boundaries are porous — and that pushing boundaries remains in its DNA.
"I can’t claim to be super methodical with my genre blending. … My emotions just well up in me and spill out in whatever form my brain decides," Decuma once said. The rapper and producer was being modest.
2023’s let's play pretend offers the best possible explanation for his blend of hip-hop, ambient, and experimental genres, as if inspired by Xiu Xiu’s white-knuckle intensity: "I write ambient music because life feels like one long, dissonant drone," he raps in fourth track "basketball."
This genre-blending is how Decuma expresses, with admirable precision, the trauma that stems from physical, sexual and racial violence. It also underscores lyrics like, "I'm so alone with my secrets, and so I shared them with this f— stuffed tiger just so something can hear it." How it felt to be robbed of his innocence could not be made more explicit.
In September, Decuma will release a new album, titled feeding the world serpent.
On her 2023 album art school dropout, Jamee Cornelia created a relatable, modern-day soundtrack to the gig economy lifestyle. On "Campus Radio," Cornelia briefly pretends that she is a college radio disc jockey. Using her best late-night FM voice, she teases an interview with her school’s most promising musician, on "what it’s like to be a full-time student, a minimum wage cashier, and a touring musician."
Instead of just using her words, though, Cornelia uses her diverse artistic background — like when she was a videographer for her skate team, until "Odd Future happened and all my friends became rappers" — to depict what juggling those multiple hustles feels like. Sometimes, working the gig economy can feel like "Routine," where writing to-do lists for the week and month comes together as easily as her flow fits in the pocket. Other times, it's as grueling and cathartic as "Rock!," where crunchy hard rock guitars meet Three 6 Mafia-style club chants.
In sound and substance, Cornelia deftly creates a world where any small job (or genre, really) feels necessary to take on.
This GRAMMY-nominated bandleader, drummer, producer and rapper has already talked about how jazz and rap offer a more complete history of Black music in America than they do separately. He’s also explained why introducing rap sensibilities to jazz music makes sense in this modern age.
"Somebody like Louis Armstrong or Dizzy Gillespie — a third of them was Lil B and Danny Brown energy." That’s why it was fire," he told GRAMMY.com in May. But his latest, Animals, also shows how the relationship between jazz and rap can be mutually beneficial.
On "Ready to Ball," Kassa’s wry musings about the music industry ("I need a contract with a couple zips and a full fifth / just to tell the truth at the pulpit / that this is all just bulls—") is a grounding force, amid a searching piano and skipping percussion. Those few seconds feel instructive, showing how rap doesn’t always need to make tidy loops out of jazz’s improvisational nature, in order to thrive.
Prior to Let’s Start Here., two-time GRAMMY nominee Lil Yachty was already pushing hip-hop’s boundaries. While declaring himself the "King of Teens," the actual teen’s take on rap was initially irreverent, helping make the SoundCloud generation an easy target for classicists. It was only after his 2017 debut album, Teenage Emotions, that Yachty concerned himself with establishing goodwill within the genre — whether by mixtape-length tributes to Midwest hip-hop, or by writing and producing for City Girls, Drake and 21 Savage.
Yet according to Kevin "Coach K" Lee, co-founder of Lil Yachty’s label Quality Control, Let’s Start Here. is the album that Yachty has always wanted to make: A psychedelic rock coming-of-age journey, as inspired by Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, and with help from Chairlift, Mac DeMarco, and Unknown Mortal Orchestra, among others. "He had been wanting to make this album from the first day we signed him. But you know — coming as a hip-hop artist, you have to play the game," Coach K told Billboard.
Questlove said that he needed 24 hours to process Yachty's "departure record." But the explanation the Roots bandleader was looking for can be found in "WE SAW THE SUN!"’s outro, where Yachty samples painter Bob Ross. "Just let your imagination run wild," Ross says. "Let your heart be your guide."
In the early 2010s, McKinley Dixon had to perform with a live band in order to get stage time. Otherwise, his sets would get cut short, because music venues figured that "rappers are not seen to be as interesting unless they have a band," Dixon says.
These days, though, incorporating live instrumentation and taking inspiration from other genres is a vital part of McKinley's creative process and how he adds gravitas to his storytelling: "My music is me watching Death Note with Red Hot Chili Peppers playing over it," he told PAPER.
Meanwhile, in "Sun, I Rise," Dixon features a wandering harp ambling over the song’s lush jazz-rap arrangement. "OG slap the back of my head / said ‘Stop f—ing around / You only fall when you think you smarter than those / shooting you down.’" Dixon raps. This underscores the journey ahead in his new album Beloved!, Paradise! Jazz!?, an exploration of how Black boys come of age amid forces that implore them to grow up even faster.
Seven years ago, right as Princess Nokia was establishing herself as a hip-hop artist to watch, she had genre-bending visions for her artistry that even startled The Guardian’s head rock and pop critic Alexis Petridis. "I will happily be GG Allin of the hip-hop world," she said, referencing the biggest degenerate punk music has seen.
The music references in her latest, 2023’s i love you but this is goodbye, aren’t nearly as hell-raising. But, with how the album shifts from pop-punk ("closure") to jungle ("complicated") and cyberpop ("the fool") in its first three tracks alone, expanding hip-hop’s boundaries remains how Princess Nokia celebrates her autonomy. That’s not just as an artist this time, but as a maturing woman learning that a romantic relationship was never meant to complete her. Even ‘90s R&B-rap throwback "happy" gets that point across, with how her hook interpolates "Clint Eastwood" by Gorillaz: "I’m useless, but not for long / the future is coming on."
Photos: Alberto Tamargo; Xavi Torrent/WireImage; Gonzalo Marroquin/Getty Images for REVOLVE; Rachpoot Bauer-Griffin/GC Image; Scott Dudelson/Getty Images; Mike Lewis Photography/Redferns; Jim Bennett/WireImage; Jim Bennett/Getty Images
15 Must-Hear New Albums Out This Month: Janelle Monáe, King Krule, Killer Mike & More
From highly-anticipated debuts to long-awaited returns, check out 15 albums dropping this June from Kim Petras, Amaarae, Foo Fighters and many more.
June is an important moment in the year, as it brings us Pride Month, Black Music Month and Juneteenth. It also marks the official start of summer, where rising temperatures invite late afternoons enjoying good music — whether it’s outdoors at one of the season’s many festivals or in the comfort of your own home.
As for the good music, this month brings us plenty of new releases by queer artists, like Kim Petras' long-awaited debut, Feed The Beast, and the Aces’ I’ve Loved You For So Long. Black musicians have much on offer in June as well, including Janelle Monáe (who is also queer) The Age of Pleasure, house music DJ and producer Jayda G’s Guy, and Ghana-born singer Amaarae’s Fountain Baby. Last but not least, June also marks the return of both Foo Fighters and Lucinda Williams after life-altering events, and the ultimate release of Bob Dylan’s 2021 concert film soundtrack, Shadow Kingdom.
To inspire you further with their bold artistry and moving stories, GRAMMY.com compiled a guide to the 15 must-hear albums dropping June 2023.
Foo Fighters - But Here We Are
Release date: June 2
In dark times, humans often turn to art. Even if they have no answers for what the future holds, the transmuting power of expression reminds us that, sometimes, existing is enough. But Here We Are, Foo Fighters’ 11th studio album, does just that.
After "a year of staggering losses, personal introspection and bittersweet remembrances," as they state in their website — referring to the sudden loss of longtime drummer, Taylor Hawkins, and of frontman Dave Grohl’s mother, Virginia — they find both grievance and strength in what has been called "the first chapter of the band’s new life."
In support of this change, Foo Fighters have announced over 25 performances across the U.S. and Europe in the upcoming months. But Here We Are drops on June 2, and features ten new tracks, including promotional singles "Rescued," "Under You," "Show Me How," and "The Teacher."
Juan Wauters - Wandering Rebel
Release date: June 2
For most of his life, the Uruguay-born, New York-raised singer Juan Wauters was a rover — never for too long in one place. But as he sings on the upcoming titular track of his new album, Wandering Rebel, "During COVID I discovered/ that I like stability."
In a statement, Wauters reflected about moving back to his home country because of the pandemic, and the personal changes that came with it: "New York was the place I always came back to, but I never really had a 'home.' My parents left Uruguay, their home, when I was young. Now, [in Montevideo], I have a place to come home to, and people that are waiting for me."
The 12 songs on Wandering Rebel are defined as "candid reflections on subjects like career, romantic commitment, mental health, and the personal toll of touring," some of which can be seen through singles "Milanesa al Pan (ft. Zoe Gotusso)" and "Modus Operandi (ft. Frankie Cosmos)." As to not lose sight of his itinerant roots, Wauters will embark on a lengthy U.S. tour starting this month.
Bob Dylan - Shadow Kingdom
Release date: June 2
When the COVID-19 pandemic stalled Bob Dylan’s illustrious Never Ending Tour, he decided to baffle the world with something entirely different.
First released in 2021 as a concert film directed by Alma Har'el, Shadow Kingdom sees Dylan perform 14 tracks from the first half of his career in an acoustic, intimate atmosphere. In the setlist, "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue" from 1965’s Bringing It All Back Home marks the earliest composition to be featured, while "What Was It You Wanted" from 1989's Oh Mercy is the latest.
With little-to-no prior information, the film originally premiered on livestream platform Veeps, and swiftly disappeared 48 hours after. On June 2, an official soundtrack release will revive the experience for all those who missed it.
Rancid - Tomorrow Never Comes
Release date: June 2
Breaking a six-year absence of new music, California’s boisterous Rancid are back. Tomorrow Never Comes, the band’s tenth album, proves that the verve from one of punk rock’s biggest acts in the mid-1990s is still alive.
Produced by longtime collaborator and Bad Religion guitarist Brett Gurewitz, the record holds 15 tracks, but runs just short of 29 minutes — Rancid’s briefest album yet. But judging by singles "Tomorrow Never Comes," "Don't Make Me Do It," and "Devil in Disguise," quick-paced or not, the quality remains the same.
Right after the release, Rancid will kick off an European tour for the rest of the month, before hitting Canada and a few cities in the U.S. starting September.
The Aces - I’ve Loved You For So Long
Release date: June 2
Pride month celebrations have just gotten the perfect soundtrack: I’ve Loved You For So Long, the Aces’ third studio album, comes out on June 2.
Preceded by the title track and singles "Girls Make Me Wanna Die," "Always Get This Way," and "Solo," the album marks the Utah quartet’s first release since 2020’s LP Under My Influence. According to a press release, I’ve Loved You For So Long is "rife with songs that celebrate their queer identities, juxtaposed by tracks that reflect on their early relationships with Mormonism."
The 11-track collection is also described as "a nostalgic look back at the formative experiences that shaped who they are as a band today, like pages straight from their diaries that will leave their listeners feeling seen and critics wanting more."
Janelle Monáe - The Age of Pleasure
Release date: June 9
Marking her return to music five years after 2018’s Dirty Computer, the chameleonic singer and actor Janelle Monáe ushers in The Age of Pleasure. Her fourth studio album features 14 tracks, including collaborations from Grace Jones, Amaarae, Seun Kuti, and others.
During an interview with Zane Lowe on Apple Music 1, Monáe said all the songs "were written from such an honest space," with the goal of being "so specific to this Pan-African crowd who are my friends. I want it to be a love letter to the diaspora."
If its two delightful singles "Float" and "Lipstick Lover" are any indication, it looks like Monáe has nailed her target — while also providing us a much-needed new era for the summer.
Amaarae - Fountain Baby
Release date: June 9
"Coming back after so long, I had a lot of time to think and reflect on what I wanted my message to be. Last time it was about confidence, this time it’s about love and faith," said Ghanaian-American singer Amaarae in a statement about her single, "Reckless & Sweet."
The mystifying track gives a taste of her upcoming sophomore album, Fountain Baby, set to release on June 9. Following her acclaimed 2020 debut The Angel You Don’t Know, the album also features last month’s cheeky "Co-Star," and points to an expansion of the singer’s avant-garde Afro-pop sound, as well as a celebration of Black women all over the world.
Jayda G - Guy
Release date: June 9
Canadian producer and DJ Jayda G was only 10 years old when she lost her father, William Richard Guy. However, his memories shaped her life in significant ways, and now she is ready to share them with the world through her upcoming studio album, Guy.
Through a press release, Jayda said that she wanted the album to be "a blend of storytelling, about the African American experience, death, grief, and understanding." The singer also added that "it’s about my dad and his story, and naturally in part my story, too, but it’s also about so many people who wanted more for themselves and went on a search to find that. This album is just so much for people who have been oppressed and who have not had easy lives."
The first single of the project, "Circle Back Around," features archival footage of Jayda and her father — an endearing portrait that ultimately delivers an uplifting message. As she explains further in the press release: "I think it’s just a testament that it’s never too late to look at yourself and try to understand why you are the way you are, and strive to be better. Understanding the Black man’s experience, Black people’s experience in terms of America, and rising above what society tells you you’re supposed to be."
King Krule - Space Heavy
Release date: June 9
British singer King Krule was inspired by "the space between" his London and Liverpool commutes — both places he considers home — to craft Space Heavy, his fourth studio album.
Written throughout 2020 to 2022, the record was produced by Dilip Harris, and recorded alongside bandmates Ignacio Salvadores, George Bass, James Wilson, and Jack Towell. In April, the hazy "Seaforth" was released as the album’s first single.
King Krule, whose real name is Archy Marshall, will soon embark on a summer tour spanning North America, Europe, and the UK. The first stop is in Minneapolis on July 21.
Killer Mike - Michael
Release date: June 16
It’s been more than a decade since Killer Mike released a solo album (2012’s R.A.P. Music), but June brings forward new, exciting material from the Atlanta rapper and member of Run the Jewels. Upcoming LP Michael is said to be his "most autobiographical" work so far, and features 14 tracks that depict "an origin story," according to a statement.
2022 singles "RUN" and "Talkin Dat S—!" are also included in the album, as well as this year’s "Don’t Let The Devil" and "Motherless" — whose two music videos form a short film paying homage to Mike’s late mother, Mama Niecy. The rapper is also set to perform a 19-stop tour in the U.S. this summer.
Home Is Where - the whaler
Release date: June 16
Florida emo band Home Is Where built a reputation for delivering catharsis through their gloomy lyrics and angry melodies. Their upcoming sophomore LP, the whaler, takes that up a notch: It was defined as a project about "getting used to things getting worse" in a press release.
Produced by Jack Shirley and containing 10 interconnected songs, the whaler "paints a bleak picture of a world in an endless state of collapse — of ruined utopias and desperate people faking normalcy — [but] there’s a humanity-affirming undercurrent throughout that screams to break free."
Ahead of the release, the band shared the lead single "yes! yes! a thousand times yes!," and is currently gearing up for a U.S. tour through the East Coast and Midwest in July and the West Coast in September.
Kim Petras - Feed the Beast
Release date: June 23
The much-awaited debut LP of German singer Kim Petras, Feed the Beast, finally has a birth date: June 23. After struggling with the leaking and eventual scrapping of would-have-been album Problématique, Petras compiled 15 tracks for this new effort — including last year’s mega hit "Unholy" featuring Sam Smith, which earned them both a GRAMMY Award for Best Pop Duo/Group Performance.
In an interview with Vice, the singer said Feed the Beast marks "a transition from being an independent artist to being at a major label now. Spearheaded by singles "If Jesus Was a Rockstar," "Brrr," and lead single "Alone" featuring Nicki Minaj, Petras will celebrate the release with a performance at NBC’s TODAY Citi Concert Series, as well as live sets at Governor’s Ball in NYC and Life is Beautiful Festival in Las Vegas.
Lunice - OPEN
Release date: June 23
Described as a project that "focuses on the natural human ability and behavior of intuition, instinct, openness, flexibility, and adaptation," and also as "a bizarre ride through the Montreal underground," OPEN is the sophomore album by Canadian producer and TNGHT member, Lunice.
Following up his 2017 acclaimed solo debut, CCCLX, the new record aims to be even more dynamic, with every track conceived to be performed live. Featuring collaborations with Cali Cartier, Zach Zoya, Yuki Dreams Again, DAGR and GRAMMY-winning producer DRTWRK, OPEN drops on June 23.
"No Commas," the pulsating first single off the project, sets the mood to the upcoming folly. "This track is the result of multiple natural occurrences where the melody, drums, and vocal performance coincidentally fit with each other in the moment of creation without any prior motive behind it," Lunice said in a statement. "I find these instinctual moments of creativity beautiful and inspiring."
Maisie Peters - The Good Witch
Release date: June 23
British singer/songwriter Maisie Peters calls herself The Good Witch — the "keeper of the keys and the holder of the cards" to her own universe, soon on display through her upcoming second album.
Written last year while she was on tour, Peters explains that its 15 tracks represent a time when she was "searching for balance between career highs and personal lows," a quality that can be seen through "Body Better," the album’s acutely honest lead single.
"This is my heart and soul, my blood on the page, the collection of stories that I’ve managed to capture in the past year," said Peters. "A true chronicle of my life in recent history, it is my own twisted version of a breakup album and it all draws upon the same couple of months’ worth of experiences and inspirations."
The singer is also set to tour 27 cities in the U.S. and Canada from August to October.
Lucinda Williams - Stories From a Rock n Roll Heart
Release date: June 30
Lucinda Williams is living proof that getting older doesn’t mean getting duller. The Americana legend just celebrated her 70th birthday in January — and the last three years of her life have been some of the most tumultuous yet.
In 2020, her Nashville home was damaged by a tornado. Then, came the COVID-19 pandemic. And lastly, a stroke that affected her ability to play the guitar, therefore changing the way she writes songs. But Williams didn’t let any of that stop her — Stories from a Rock n Roll Heart, her 15th studio album, comes out on June 30, and shows that she’s only getting better.
The project already has three singles out: "New York Comeback," "Stolen Moments," and "Where the Song Will Find Me," and counts on backing vocals from artists like Bruce Springsteen, Patti Scialfa, and Angel Olsen.
Photo: Rachel Kupfer
A Guide To Modern Funk For The Dance Floor: L'Imperatrice, Shiro Schwarz, Franc Moody, Say She She & Moniquea
James Brown changed the sound of popular music when he found the power of the one and unleashed the funk with "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag." Today, funk lives on in many forms, including these exciting bands from across the world.
It's rare that a genre can be traced back to a single artist or group, but for funk, that was James Brown. The Godfather of Soul coined the phrase and style of playing known as "on the one," where the first downbeat is emphasized, instead of the typical second and fourth beats in pop, soul and other styles. As David Cheal eloquently explains, playing on the one "left space for phrases and riffs, often syncopated around the beat, creating an intricate, interlocking grid which could go on and on." You know a funky bassline when you hear it; its fat chords beg your body to get up and groove.
Brown's 1965 classic, "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag," became one of the first funk hits, and has been endlessly sampled and covered over the years, along with his other groovy tracks. Of course, many other funk acts followed in the '60s, and the genre thrived in the '70s and '80s as the disco craze came and went, and the originators of hip-hop and house music created new music from funk and disco's strong, flexible bones built for dancing.
Legendary funk bassist Bootsy Collins learned the power of the one from playing in Brown's band, and brought it to George Clinton, who created P-funk, an expansive, Afrofuturistic, psychedelic exploration of funk with his various bands and projects, including Parliament-Funkadelic. Both Collins and Clinton remain active and funkin', and have offered their timeless grooves to collabs with younger artists, including Kali Uchis, Silk Sonic, and Omar Apollo; and Kendrick Lamar, Flying Lotus, and Thundercat, respectively.
In the 1980s, electro-funk was born when artists like Afrika Bambaataa, Man Parrish, and Egyptian Lover began making futuristic beats with the Roland TR-808 drum machine — often with robotic vocals distorted through a talk box. A key distinguishing factor of electro-funk is a de-emphasis on vocals, with more phrases than choruses and verses. The sound influenced contemporaneous hip-hop, funk and electronica, along with acts around the globe, while current acts like Chromeo, DJ Stingray, and even Egyptian Lover himself keep electro-funk alive and well.
Today, funk lives in many places, with its heavy bass and syncopated grooves finding way into many nooks and crannies of music. There's nu-disco and boogie funk, nodding back to disco bands with soaring vocals and dance floor-designed instrumentation. G-funk continues to influence Los Angeles hip-hop, with innovative artists like Dam-Funk and Channel Tres bringing the funk and G-funk, into electro territory. Funk and disco-centered '70s revival is definitely having a moment, with acts like Ghost Funk Orchestra and Parcels, while its sparkly sprinklings can be heard in pop from Dua Lipa, Doja Cat, and, in full "Soul Train" character, Silk Sonic. There are also acts making dreamy, atmospheric music with a solid dose of funk, such as Khruangbin’s global sonic collage.
There are many bands that play heavily with funk, creating lush grooves designed to get you moving. Read on for a taste of five current modern funk and nu-disco artists making band-led uptempo funk built for the dance floor. Be sure to press play on the Spotify playlist above, and check out GRAMMY.com's playlist on Apple Music, Amazon Music and Pandora.
Say She She
Aptly self-described as "discodelic soul," Brooklyn-based seven-piece Say She She make dreamy, operatic funk, led by singer-songwriters Nya Gazelle Brown, Piya Malik and Sabrina Mileo Cunningham. Their '70s girl group-inspired vocal harmonies echo, sooth and enchant as they cover poignant topics with feminist flair.
While they’ve been active in the New York scene for a few years, they’ve gained wider acclaim for the irresistible music they began releasing this year, including their debut album, Prism. Their 2022 debut single "Forget Me Not" is an ode to ground-breaking New York art collective Guerilla Girls, and "Norma" is their protest anthem in response to the news that Roe vs. Wade could be (and was) overturned. The band name is a nod to funk legend Nile Rodgers, from the "Le freak, c'est chi" exclamation in Chic's legendary tune "Le Freak."
Moniquea's unique voice oozes confidence, yet invites you in to dance with her to the super funky boogie rhythms. The Pasadena, California artist was raised on funk music; her mom was in a cover band that would play classics like Aretha Franklin’s "Get It Right" and Gladys Knight’s "Love Overboard." Moniquea released her first boogie funk track at 20 and, in 2011, met local producer XL Middelton — a bonafide purveyor of funk. She's been a star artist on his MoFunk Records ever since, and they've collabed on countless tracks, channeling West Coast energy with a heavy dose of G-funk, sunny lyrics and upbeat, roller disco-ready rhythms.
Her latest release is an upbeat nod to classic West Coast funk, produced by Middleton, and follows her February 2022 groovy, collab-filled album, On Repeat.
Shiro Schwarz is a Mexico City-based duo, consisting of Pammela Rojas and Rafael Marfil, who helped establish a modern funk scene in the richly creative Mexican metropolis. On "Electrify" — originally released in 2016 on Fat Beats Records and reissued in 2021 by MoFunk — Shiro Schwarz's vocals playfully contrast each other, floating over an insistent, upbeat bassline and an '80s throwback electro-funk rhythm with synth flourishes.
Their music manages to be both nostalgic and futuristic — and impossible to sit still to. 2021 single "Be Kind" is sweet, mellow and groovy, perfect chic lounge funk. Shiro Schwarz’s latest track, the joyfully nostalgic "Hey DJ," is a collab with funkstress Saucy Lady and U-Key.
L'Impératrice (the empress in French) are a six-piece Parisian group serving an infectiously joyful blend of French pop, nu-disco, funk and psychedelia. Flore Benguigui's vocals are light and dreamy, yet commanding of your attention, while lyrics have a feminist touch.
During their energetic live sets, L'Impératrice members Charles de Boisseguin and Hagni Gwon (keys), David Gaugué (bass), Achille Trocellier (guitar), and Tom Daveau (drums) deliver extended instrumental jam sessions to expand and connect their music. Gaugué emphasizes the thick funky bass, and Benguigui jumps around the stage while sounding like an angel. L’Impératrice’s latest album, 2021’s Tako Tsubo, is a sunny, playful French disco journey.
Franc Moody's bio fittingly describes their music as "a soul funk and cosmic disco sound." The London outfit was birthed by friends Ned Franc and Jon Moody in the early 2010s, when they were living together and throwing parties in North London's warehouse scene. In 2017, the group grew to six members, including singer and multi-instrumentalist Amber-Simone.
Their music feels at home with other electro-pop bands like fellow Londoners Jungle and Aussie act Parcels. While much of it is upbeat and euphoric, Franc Moody also dips into the more chilled, dreamy realm, such as the vibey, sultry title track from their recently released Into the Ether.