Photo: Micaiah Carter
Aminé Talks New Album 'Limbo,' Portland Protests And Black Lives Matter
GRAMMY.com spoke with the 26-year-old rapper about taking his time on his sophomore album, his love for Kobe Bryant and finding peace in not always knowing what's next
As fans hungrily devour Limbo, his newly released sophomore album, Aminé can finally breathe a sigh of relief. Over two years in the making, the LP marks his official follow-up to his 2017 debut, Good For You. After generating a promising buzz, starting with his 2016 summer smash, "Caroline," Aminé released a placeholder mixtape, OnePointFive, in 2018. In between, he took his time to carefully craft Limbo.
"I couldn't have made the same album if I'd only had six months to make it," the 26-year-old rapper told GRAMMY.com just a few days after he released Limbo. "It meant a lot to me, so I gave every song the time and care that it deserved."
Limbo comes full circle for Aminé in several ways. The album is a mature sophomore project—it features tributes to his mother as well as his icon from his hoop-dream days, Kobe Bryant—yet pines for simpler days when he wasn't expected to have everything figured out. The album features familiar faces, including Charlie Wilson, Injury Reserve, J.I.D, Vince Staples, slowthai, Summer Walker and Young Thug.
Limbo also arrives as thousands of protestors have demonstrated in the streets of Aminé's hometown of Portland for more than two consecutive months in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd in May. Born to Ethiopian and Eritrean parents, the rapper shares his experience as a Black man who grew up in the predominantly white city, which was once a Northwestern epicenter for segregation and deep-seated racism.
"For a city to be so liberal, it was so racist—the way I was brought up," he reflects. "It's the place where I grew up and I love it to death, but it's also a place that never made me feel like I was welcome."
GRAMMY.com spoke with Aminé about taking his time on Limbo, supporting the Black Lives Matter protests in Portland and finding peace in not always knowing what's next.
Congratulations on releasing Limbo! You've been working on this album since before you dropped OnePointFive in 2018. How does it feel now that your new album is finally out?
It was a bit nerve-racking, 'cause it's like your baby. But it feels really, really good. It kind of feels like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders.
Why did this album take two years to release?
I think that's just where I was at in my life. The platinum plaques and gold albums are really cool, but I had certain artistic places that I knew I hadn't gone yet, and there were still certain things I wanted to achieve. And I knew I wanted to make a more mature album. Not to discredit my past work, but they are fairly different. I just feel like, I'm 26 now, I'm a bit older, and I'm trying to make an album that will last 20, 30 years from now.
There are several Kobe Bryant references on Limbo. Did you ever get to meet him? Or was he just a big role model for you?
No, I never even got to meet him. He was just somebody I looked up to. I didn't pursue music my whole life—I pursued basketball. He was just someone where, I never knew a life without him, which is what that ["Kobe"] skit is kind of about.
There are also lots of references to Portland on the album. Being from Portland, are you surprised by how many people have showed up to support the Black Lives Matter movement there? Or do you think the protests have been a long time coming for the city?
I'm generally not surprised because Portland is liberal. It's literally the definition [of] liberal. Everyone in that city has a Black Lives Matter post in front of their lawn; they support the movement, and they've said that for years. But the history of [Portland] is kind of hypocritical.
For a city to be so liberal, it was so racist—the way I was brought up. So for me, Portland is just like the South. Growing up there, it never felt welcoming for anyone who was Black or any sort of minority or was an immigrant. Them [protesting] is a beautiful thing—I love the protesting. But it's also like, I'm not gonna send my Black family or Black friends out there to protest. Because if they're beating up white people, what do you think they're gonna do to us?
Them protesting is what they should've done 20, 30 years ago. So I guess it is a long time coming. But the problem is, the people that are protesting are the same people that are moving the Black people out of Portland neighborhoods and gentrifying the hell out of the city. So my love for Portland is like a bittersweet relationship … It's the place where I grew up and I love it to death, but it's also a place that never made me feel like I was welcome.
Have you been involved in the Portland efforts at all, whether through protesting or donating?
In Portland, I've only really helped my friends and spread the word. For me, there's a lot of other places and Black people that I can support, whether it's feeding the Black people in Portland or supporting Black businesses; I've given money to Black businesses in Portland.
I love your song "Mama" on Limbo. Does your mom like it?
Yeah. [Laughs.] My mom loves it. She cried the first time she heard it, which was cool.
What made you want to write a song for your mom?
I had been trying to write a song for my mother, to be honest with you, for years. I tried to put it on Good For You. I tried to put it on OnePointFive. But you only really get one shot at making that kind of song, so I cut those songs because I didn't feel like they were good enough. This was the first time I had made one that felt really perfect. The beat was so joyful and soulful, I was like, "We have to put this on this album."
The features on Limbo seem very full circle. For example, you collaborate with Young Thug and team up with Injury Reserve and Charlie Wilson again. Was that intentional?
I didn't really plan them out, it was more so like I was a big fan of all of these features. Like J.I.D, he wanted me to send him the beat to "Roots" for a while, and I wouldn't text it to him because the music meant so much to me that I wanted him to record his verse in person. So seven months later, he pulled up and recorded his verse, just 'cause he's my homie and he knew how much this album meant to me.
Were most of these collaborations recorded pre-quarantine then?
Yeah, all of these songs were made like a year and a half ago. There's been like 50 different versions of them. I've treated this project like it's the highest of importance. It meant a lot to me, so I gave every song the time and care that it deserved … I couldn't have made the same album if I'd only had six months to make it. Songs like "Roots," there's a line that people really love right now where I say, "Eritrea, Ethiopia, Habesha utopia." I didn't add that line until a year later. Things like that, making the perfect verse, takes a lot of time.
Where were some of the places you recorded Limbo?
All over the place! We recorded with slowthai in London. We recorded with Vince [Staples] in L.A. We recorded "Easy" with Summer Walker in Jamaica. We recorded "Compensating" and "Can't Decide" and "My Reality" and "Shimmy" in Toronto. We recorded in Portland, too; we did "Pressure In My Palms" there.
I know you direct most of your music videos, and I've read that you're interested in film. If your career were in "limbo" or you wanted to try another artistic outlet, what might that be?
Definitely movies and TV shows … I've had a couple ideas for a couple years now, so it's just about trying to maneuver it in the right way. I think being on "Insecure" this past year was a great start for my acting debut. I'm just trying to be selective with the things I do because I wanna do as well in film as I do in music. It just takes time, but hopefully we reach those levels in the next coming years.
Where did the name Limbo come from?
It was just really where I've been at in my life. I think a lot of people expect rappers, artists and just anyone who's put on a pedestal to have all the answers. Limbo was a title that I felt was a perfect definition of where I'm at personally in my life and to let fans know that I'm literally in limbo—like, I don't know what the fk I'm doing. I'm still growing up and I'm still just figuring it out.
Here Are The Nominees For Best R&B Album At The 2024 GRAMMYs
The five nominees for Best R&B Album highlight how women are driving the category. With entries from Coco Jones, Victoria Monét, Summer Walker, Emily King and Babyface — whose album features all female singers — R&B is putting ladies first.
The roster of the Best R&B Album nominees at the 2024 GRAMMYs makes it abundantly clear that women are driving the category for the 66th GRAMMY Awards.
Coco Jones and Victoria Monét took back control over their careers and scored their biggest hits yet, while Summer Walker and Emily King turned their pain into art that resonates. Babyface — who helped define the '90s as one of the most in-demand songwriters — released his first full-length record in seven years, Girls Night Out.
Since 1995, only 12 female artists have won Best R&B Album with Alicia Keys receiving the honor three times. This year, female artists are taking center stage in the category. From Babyface championing some of today's most promising female R&B vocalists, to Monét and Jones finding their unique voices and King and Walker's beautiful solace in heartbreak, it's anyone's game.
Ahead of the 2024 GRAMMYs on Feb. 4, 2024, get to know the five nominees for Best R&B Album.
Babyface - Girls Night Out
R&B legend and 11-time GRAMMY winner Babyface didn't set out to make a sequel to 1996's beloved Waiting to Exhale's soundtrack — which boasts vocal contributions from Whitney Houston, Brandy, Toni Braxton, Mary J. Blige, TLC, and Aretha Franklin, to name a few.
Still, his 2022 album Girls Night Out drew plenty of comparisons to the now-iconic OST due to its all-female lineup. The record features some of the leading ladies from R&B's new class, including Ari Lennox, Muni Long, Kehlani, Queen Naija, and fellow nominee Coco Jones (more on her later). His "Keeps on Fallin'" collab with Ella Mai received a nod for Best Traditional R&B Performance at the 2023 GRAMMYs.
As the Girls Night Out title suggests, Babyface takes a backseat and lets the women shine. While each lends their own signature style, the result is a cohesive body of work under Babyface's mentorship.
Despite having 125 Top 10 writer/producer credits to his name, the 64-year-old music veteran admitted to studying the current R&B landscape before joining forces with some of the genre's brightest and best. His homework is perhaps most reflected in "Game Over," "Don't Even Think About It," "G Wagon," and the title track.
"I needed to learn how people spoke and how melodies are different," Babyface told GRAMMY.com in early 2023. "I have a much clearer understanding of today's R&B because there is a difference, and it's not necessarily a difference that's any better or any worse. It's just a difference in terms of time, and that's what made the process enjoyable to me."
Coco Jones - What I Didn't Tell You (Deluxe)
Coco Jones is living proof that staying the course pays off. With co-signs from Janet Jackson and Beyoncé, Jones started recording demos at just 9 years old and released music independently for nearly a decade after parting ways with Disney in 2014.
Fast forward to 2023, a jam-packed year of exciting firsts for the former Disney Channel prodigy. The platinum-selling single "ICU" off Jones' debut EP, What I Didn't Tell You, became her first Billboard Hot 100 chart entry and first No. 1 on the Mainstream R&B/Hip Hop Airplay chart. Plus, the 25-year-old embarked on her first headlining tour, which kicked off on Aug. 5. And now, her first GRAMMY nomination.
Released in the second half of 2022, What I Didn't Tell You sees the Bel-Air star returning to music roots in a big way and leaning into her starpower with "Crazy for Me," "Spend It," "Headline," and the SWV-sampling "Double Back" emerging as standouts in addition to breakout hit "ICU."
In typical R&B fashion, What I Didn't Tell You takes listeners through the mixed bag of emotions brought on by love. But longtime fans may notice something's different this time around. For instance, lyrics like "This here is top shelf, I know you're thirsty / Run up a tab so you can get every drop of me" from "No Chaser" are delivered with a level of confidence that's only attained through real-life experiences.
The deluxe version of What I Didn't Tell You features four extra tracks, including her "Simple" duet with Babyface. With the 2024 GRAMMYs inching closer, Jones is clearly manifesting what could end up being her first-ever win. "That photo of Beyoncé, where she's holding several GRAMMYs — I put my face on there," she recently told the Los Angeles Times. "And then I zoomed in on a GRAMMY, and wrote Coco Jones."
Emily King - Special Occasion
"This year's gonna be about me / Never will I have another reason to doubt me," Emily King declares on "This Year," the opening track off her fifth studio album, Special Occasion.
The song itself sees King picking up the pieces of a broken heart, but on a larger scale, it's a sincere manifestation of good things to come.
All 11 tracks on Special Occasion embody the end of King's nearly 15-year relationship with Jeremy Most, who doubled as her longtime musical collaborator. As King told NPR, the record is more than a breakup album; it's a collection of "songs that project out into the future of who I want to be."
Born to jazz singers in New York City, King's talent caught the attention of Clive Davis at just 18 years old, landing a deal with the legendary executive's J Records. In 2008, her debut album, East Side Story, garnered a GRAMMY nomination for Best Contemporary R&B Album. Around the same time, King toured with John Legend, Alicia Keys, and Erykah Badu. However, the then-newcomer grew dissatisfied with the music that was supposed to represent her and J Records dropped her soon after. "I had made compromises creatively," King, now 38, told "CBS Mornings."
So, receiving another GRAMMY nod (her fourth in total) in a similar category for music that she's creating on her terms must feel full-circle and validating as an artist.
While cuts like "Bad Memory" and "Easy" evoke regret and sadness, there's also great moments of joy sprinkled across Special Occasion. "Brand-new kicks and my old Jeep / Windows down, catch the summer breeze / Music loud on the stereo / Cuties passing, wave hello," she croons.
In all the complexities and nuances heard throughout the sonic journey that is Special Occasion lies King's most honest work to date.
Victoria Monét - JAGUAR II
Victoria Monét is finally getting the spotlight she deserves. After years spent penning hit songs for artists like Ariana Grande, Chloe x Halle, and BLACKPINK, Monét's debut studio album, JAGUAR II, was met with much acclaim when it arrived on Aug. 25.
Earlier in August, the 34-year-old set social media ablaze when she dropped the Y2K nostalgia-laced visuals for "On My Mama," the third single off JAGUAR II and her highest-charting single on the Billboard Hot 100 so far.
Ironically, the feel-good anthem was conceived while Monét experienced postpartum depression a couple months after welcoming her first child in 2021. "It came while I was in a place of disbelief in what I was actually saying. So it's almost like I had to speak it into existence," she told Apple Music 1.
For much of the sonic cohesion heard throughout JAGUAR II, Monét entrusted two-time GRAMMY winner D'Mile, who counts Beyoncé and JAY-Z, along with Bruno Mars and Anderson .Paak's Silk Sonic as collaborators. In its entirety, Monét’s record makes the perfect soundtrack for family reunions and cookouts. Songs like "Good Bye," "How Does It Make You Feel," and "Hollywood," which features Earth, Wind & Fire and Monét's two-year-old daughter Hazel's first laugh, are such ethereal nods to '70s music that it's easy to mistake the album for a time machine.
Monét's future looks brighter than ever, as evidenced by her sold-out debut headlining tour and celebratory deal with RCA Records.
"I feel really excited to just be able to share these parts of myself with the world, while not trying to put too much pressure on expectations, but of course I do want the accolades," she told GRAMMY.com in 2020. "I have GRAMMY dreams, I have award show performance dreams, I have world tour dreams. But really just being able to make music a career, and doing what I love — it’s a privilege."
Summer Walker - CLEAR 2: SOFT LIFE EP
Summer Walker's rise has been both fascinating and inspiring; she's come a long way since teaching herself to play guitar through YouTube tutorials and running her own cleaning business in her early 20s.
Her debut album, 2019's Over It, narrowly missed the top spot on the Billboard 200 chart but birthed her breakthrough hit, "Playing Games," whereas her 2021 sophomore effort, Still Over It, debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200. It also holds the record for the most streamed R&B album by a female artist since Beyoncé's Lemonade.
Fast forward a couple years later, and Walker is celebrating her first solo GRAMMY nomination thanks to her latest EP, CLEAR 2: SOFT LIFE — featuring production from Solange, Steve Lacy, Jay Versace, and John Carroll Kirby.
On the diaristic, neo soul-coded project, Walker is as raw, vulnerable, and introspective as ever. "Tired of seein' all these, all these / Spanish and these white bitches / Livin' they soft life with they feet kicked up," she sings in "Hardlife." Elsewhere, the spoken-word piece "Agayu’s Revelation" sees Walker taking accountability and prioritizing inner work over toxic relationships ("Stop workin' with people who are made of glass if you are made of steel").
One of the nine-track EP's highlights belongs to opener "To Summer, From Cole (Audio Hug)." On the track, which brought Walker to tears, J. Cole pens a heartfelt verse uplifting and affirming the mother of three. "I find it amazing the way that you juggle your kids, the biz, the fame / The bitches that's hatin', they sit around / Waitin' for you to fall off, like the album I'm makin,'" J. Cole raps over a minimalistic beat. "Between the hectic sounds of your precious baby crying / Do you clear your mind? Must be a lot goin' on."
"To Summer, From Cole" particularly stands out considering the singer's openness surrounding her social anxiety disorder and failed relationships, along with the fact that more Black women are breaking up with the strong Black woman archetype and embracing their "soft era" instead. As Walker noted to Apple Music, "I'm really loving life right now, enjoying this new outlook on life, loving the new me, loving my kids, and not letting life pass me by anymore." The "soft life" suits her well.
The 2024 GRAMMYs, officially known as the 66th GRAMMY Awards, returns to Los Angeles' Crypto.com Arena on Sunday, Feb. 4, 2024, and will broadcast live on the CBS Television Network and stream live and on-demand on Paramount+ at 8-11:30 p.m. ET/5-8:30 p.m. PT.
The Recording Academy and GRAMMY.com do not endorse any particular artist, submission or nominee over another. The results of the GRAMMY Awards, including winners and nominees, are solely dependent on the Recording Academy’s Voting Membership.
2024 GRAMMY Nominations: See Miley Cyrus, Ice Spice, Noah Kahan, Kelsea Ballerini, & More Artists' Reactions
The 2024 GRAMMY nominations have been announced! Here’s how nominated artists from boygenius to Jelly Roll reacted on social media.
This afternoon, the highly anticipated 2024 GRAMMY nominations were announced, bringing loads of excitement to music enthusiasts.
After the announcements were made, nominated artists shared their reaction on social media. A series of appreciation posts flooded the timeline from the likes of first-time nominee Tyla, trend-charting rapper Coi Leray, country star Kelsea Ballerini, and more.
Dive into the social media celebration posts, while catching up on the full nominees list. Make sure to tune into the 2024 GRAMMY awards on Sunday, Feb. 4 at Crypto.com Arena in Los Angeles.
The 2024 GRAMMYs, officially known as the 66th GRAMMY Awards, will air live (8:00-11:30 PM, LIVE ET/5:00-8:30 PM, LIVE PT) on the CBS Television Network and will stream on Paramount+ (live and on demand for Paramount+ with SHOWTIME subscribers, or on demand for Paramount+ Essential subscribers the day after the special airs).
"On My Mama" singer/songwriter Victoria Monét shared pre-nomination nerves last night, comparing the feeling to the anticipation of draft day. Little did she know, she'd be one of the most nominated artists of the year. She received six nominations in total: Record Of The Year, Best New Artist, Best R&B Album, Best R&B Performance, Best Traditional R&B Performance, and Best R&B Song.
Whew I am so nervous 😭😭😭 it feels like draft day— Victoria Monét (@VictoriaMonet) November 10, 2023
After Coil Leray found out she was nominated for Best Rap Performance for "Players" and Best Pop Dance Recording for her feature with David Guetta (“Baby Don't Hurt Me"), the rapper took to X, formerly known as Twitter: "Wow I'm really Grammy Nominated ? That's crazy. Let me let this sink in real quick and I'll brb."
Wow I’m really Grammy Nominated ? That’s crazy. Let me let this sink in real quick and I’ll brb. 😱— Coi (@coi_leray) November 10, 2023
Miley Cyrus specifically highlighted the women in the music industry, while celebrating her fans and team:
Congratulations to all of this years Grammy nominees. Watching women rule the music industry makes me proud. It’s fun to be nominated & exciting to win but having my music LOVED around the world is the real trophy.— Miley Cyrus (@MileyCyrus) November 10, 2023
To my Smilers - I celebrate YOU today. Your joy is my bliss.… pic.twitter.com/SSLjVAsOUY
Afrobeats star Davido's latest album Timeless was nominated for Best Global Album, while also receiving nominations for Best African Music Performance and Best Global Music Performance.
3 nominations at the Grammys!! Delay is not Denial!! 🏆🌎— Davido (@davido) November 10, 2023
Americana musician Jason Isbell thanked The Recording Academy for the Best Americana Performance, Best American Roots Song, and Best Americana Album nominations.
Dang alright thank you @RecordingAcad 🙏🏼🙏🏼🙏🏼— Jason Isbell (@JasonIsbell) November 10, 2023
Rising artist Tyla, whose song "Water" was nominated for Best African Music Performance, posted a series of tweets capturing her immense shock:
NO WAYSSSSSS— Tyla (@Tyllaaaaaaa) November 10, 2023
Atlanta based R&B singer-songwriter, Summer Walker, shouted out all the "lover girls/boys" after CLEAR 2: SOFT LIFE EP was nominated for Best R&B Album.
Wow a Grammy nomination?? thank you to all my lover girls/boys— SUMMER WALKER (@IAMSUMMERWALKER) November 10, 2023
Country star Kelsea Ballerini shared a live-reaction video to her Best Country Album nomination.
Boygenius was nominated for Record Of The Year, Album Of The Year, Best Rock Performance, Best Rock Song, Best Alt Music Performance, Best Alternative Music Album, and Best Engineered Album, Non-Classical. The trio posted a photo of them hugging while staring at the TV displaying their nominations.
And despite writing GRAMMY-winning and GRAMMY-nominated hits for the likes of Kacey Musgraves and Julia Michaels (respectively), songwriters Shane McAnally and Justin Tranter were both shocked their names were included in the Songwriter Of The Year category — proving that a GRAMMY nomination is always magical, no matter how many times it happens.
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.'
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.
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.