meta-scriptHow Ben Wendel's 'All One' — A Locked-Down Sax-And-Bassoon Exploration — Was Nominated For A GRAMMY | GRAMMY.com
Ben Wendel
Ben Wendel

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How Ben Wendel's 'All One' — A Locked-Down Sax-And-Bassoon Exploration — Was Nominated For A GRAMMY

Desperate for a creative outlet during lockdown, Ben Wendel wove a tapestry of sax and bassoon, and invited famous guests along for the ride. The result, 'All One,' has been nominated for Best Contemporary Instrumental Album at the 2024 GRAMMYs.

GRAMMYs/Jan 11, 2024 - 02:41 pm

Regarding GRAMMY nominations, this isn't Ben Wendel's first rodeo. But this one's for an album he recorded chiefly by his lonesome, which adds even more monumentality to its title: All One.

Back in 2009, the saxophonist, bassoonist, and pianist received a GRAMMY nod as part of contemporary jazz heroes Kneebody — alongside keyboardist Adam Benjamin, trumpeter Shane Endsley, and bassist and drummer Nate Wood.

More than a decade later, thanks to a curious exercise during lockdown, he's been nominated again; this time, for Best Contemporary Instrumental Album. "It's unlikely I'll ever do something like that again," Wendell tells GRAMMY.com. "But I'm happy how it came out."

Which is a laudably low-key reaction, given this is the highest honor in all of music. But a glimmer of well-earned pride shines through.

"I definitely did the research: I think I can confidently say there is no other album that was done like this," Wendel reports with a smile. "I don't think you can find another album where you have 30-piece overdubbed saxophone, bassoon, orchestra, all played by one person. It doesn't exist.

"So, it's fun to just actually find some little corner of the musical universe that actually hasn't been done yet — which is virtually impossible, but I found a little corner."

Despite the title — which is apropos, as Wendel played every instrument — he chose to share this "corner" with some of the music's leading lights. These include
Cécile McLorin Salvant ("I Loves You, Porgy"), Terence Blanchard ("Wanderers") and, on "Throughout," Bill Frisell.

Read on for an interview with Wendel about how this sumptuous musical concoction came to be, the role the GRAMMYs have historically played in his life, and much more.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

Can you talk about when you were nominated for your first GRAMMY, with Kneebody?

Well, sadly, we didn't win. We lost to Yo-Yo Ma

That was really interesting, because that was an album I produced where we took the music of a relatively well-known composer, Charles Ives. We took his music and then we Kneebodied it and turned it into improvised pieces. Then it ended up in that category that doesn't exist anymore, called Classical Crossover.

I also produced an album by the piano player, Gerald Clayton

Huge fan.

Yeah, I produced his [2013] album Life Forum. That got a GRAMMY nomination, but for some reason, I don't get to count that one as a GRAMMY nomination. I don't know why. You know the rules.

Anyway, all that's to say that this one feels particularly special, because it's basically my first nomination as a leader. It feels good, dude.

Where does the Recording Academy fit into your universe and your conception of the music community?

For me, the GRAMMYs are a cultural touchstone. Even when I was 12 years old, I knew what the GRAMMYs were. I was watching those award shows, and it's kind of a meta thing for me. 

As an adult now — an actual professional musician and a NARAS member — I understand it from that perspective. So many of my friends are part of that community, and I really love what they do. I love Advocacy.

And then just on a more fanboy level, I can't believe I'm GRAMMY-nominated. The GRAMMY still carries so much weight.

My studio's in this building that has a great coffee shop. I'm friends with the barista. The barista is not a musician — knows nothing about music. I saw him last Friday and I got an espresso, and he is like, "How's your day been?" And I was like, "Man, I just found out I'm GRAMMY nominated." And he was like, "Dude." Everybody knows what that means.

And it's cool, because a lot of the time musicians are just misunderstood. When I hang with a lawyer or whatever, and they don't know anything about music, you have to explain what you do as a career.

But if you say you're GRAMMY-nominated, then it all clicks. Then they go, "Oh, I guess you're serious, then. You're not a waiter at a restaurant who plays guitar on the side."

My experience with the GRAMMYs has been both that macro view, the cultural viewpoint — and then now, more as an adult, that professional viewpoint, that community-based viewpoint.

I appreciated your reaction on social media. Some in the jazz community respond with faux-humility or humblebragging. But you were basically like, "This is really wonderful. Congratulations to all the nominees." No signs of toxic competitiveness.

What I'm about to say is true. I just think there's room for everybody, and this job is so rewarding, but it's really hard. It's such a waste of time not to support each other, or be jealous or be competitive. It's like, why?

Anybody who receives any success in this field deserves it, period. Because it's hard, and you don't have control over half of what happens to you.

If you become successful, yeah, sure — half of it is hard work. The other half, it's luck, it's timing. It's so many things out of your control. So you can't be mad at someone if they do well; you should be happy for them. That's how it should be.

And honestly, in the jazz community, for the most part, tends to be a very supportive community, and people try to lift each other up. But I hear you. The #blessedlife, faux-humility thing has always been a bit annoying. But no, I'm earnestly amazed, and I love it.

Between your two GRAMMY nominations, your career has had quite the trajectory. How would you boil that down for people?

I would say the trajectory is evolving from a sideman to a co-leader of Kneebody to a leader. I'm very much the tortoise versus the hare, in terms of my development as a musician and an artist. I just steadily work on it. I steadily try and I practice every day. I'm just steadily one step at a time kind of guy.

This is a milestone and an acknowledgement that I finally have gotten to this place where I am my own person as an artist, and have my own little universe that I've carved out.

What was your modus operandi for All One, as opposed to previous records? That germ, that spark of inspiration?

I mean, this is a pandemic album; It's just the classic thing. I was about a year into the pandemic — no end to the tunnel, still no idea when music was coming back, desperately wanting to do something creative.

Having this classical background of having played bassoon and my own studio rig, I just thought: Well, how about I just start experimenting with this idea of making these little mini- woodwind orchestras? Let me see what that would sound like.

The first one that I tried it on,I first did a little quintet thing, and I really liked the sound. Then around that time, I had become friends with the trumpeter, Randy Brecker; he lives on Long Island, and I just threw it out at him.

Legend!

I was like, "Man, would you be open to me writing a piece for you, and I'm going to lay out this little mini orchestra and you play over it?"

And he was totally into it. And even though that didn't end [up on the record] — I'm going to use that track on a different album — it was like the test pilot and it was amazing.

Then I thought: OK, this is what I'm doing for the next year. I'm going to just make an album. I'm going to reach out to different musicians I greatly admire and build fracks around them.

And I just did, one at a time. I think Cécile McLorin Salvant was the first person I called. I don't even remember where I was. She was in New York; I was somewhere else — Europe or L.A. I remember putting the phone on speakerphone and literally getting my sax out to determine what key she wanted to sing "I Loves You, Porgy" in.

We found the key, and it took me a couple of months to write that arrangement and record it. Then I sent it to her, and we were off to the races.

It was a really slow, curious process because it was done in this super non-traditional way of: it's all me. That's why it's called All One. It's just, like, these crazy, 30-piece wind orchestras.

And with each guest, there were all these interesting technical challenges to navigate. Sometimes they would overdub their parts, and then I would adjust the arrangements to bring out things that they had done spontaneously to make it sound as though it was planned.

Give me another tune — and guest — and break it down.

I was living in Amsterdam with my wife in the later half of the pandemic, and just by coincidence, José James and his wife Talia [Bilig, known professionally as Taali] were living there. That's how we met. It was just one of those things where I saw Talia do a post and I realized they're living in Amsterdam; I reached out.

So with José James, for example, I was like, "I want you to come over to the studio and I want you to sing 'Tenderly' completely a cappella, out of time, any way you want, any pacing you want, just sing it freely." So, that entire first half of that track before the sax solo — I arranged all of that to how he performed acapella.

In your mind, how do the saxophone and bassoon relate to each other?

It's more coincidence, man; I just happened to be lucky. I went to a public high school in Santa Monica; they just happened to have a really great music program.

I was playing sax in the marching band and the wind ensemble, and then they had an orchestra and they needed a bassoon player. I joined because I was just curious to have that experience. I knew nothing about the bassoon, and then I just stuck with it.

And the bassoon, as I am sure you would agree, has such a character to it. It's so classical sounding. It's so ancient sounding. So, the pairing of bassoon and sax for me is a really great combination, because it's new and old.

The sax is one of the youngest woodwind instruments in the history of instruments. It was only built in 1850. Meanwhile, the bassoon is literally a medieval instrument.

And it's just this fun combination, when you combine those sounds that are very complimentary, and you're able to get this interesting blend of an older orchestral sound. And then the sax brings this more modern sound to it; they work together really well.

Where do you feel you're at in your improvisatory evolution?

I'm in distillation mode now; I'm trying to get to the place where as I get older, I say less and less, and it means more and more.

I'm trying to work on that because it's a very common joke that as sax players, we just love to play a lot of notes. There's a famous story of Miles Davis asking John Coltrane to play less in his quintet. And John was like, "Well, I don't really know. What do you mean? How do I do that?" And apparently Miles, he said…

"Take the horn out of your mouth."

Yeah, exactly. You know that story.

A great guidepost, I would say, for me, would be Wayne Shorter. He had that amazing thing where he was childlike and also [exhibiting] Buddha-like mastery, all at once. So I think I'm at that place now, where I want to start playing less notes, see if I can do more with less.

10 Emerging Jazz Artists To Watch: Simon Moullier, Mali Obomsawin, Julieta Eugenio, Jeremy Dutton & More

Elliott Smith performing in 2000
Elliott Smith performing in 2000

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Why Elliott Smith's 'Roman Candle' Is A Watershed For Lo-Fi Indie Folk

Elliott Smith would make albums with more meat on the bone than the raw, handmade 1994 debut 'Roman Candle' — but quietly, it's a landmark release for crackly, intimate indie folk.

GRAMMYs/Jul 12, 2024 - 06:48 pm

Elliott Smith released five studio albums within his lifetime, and each is a worthy gateway. Bristling, sometimes harrowing folk? 1995's Elliott Smith. Sgt. Pepper's-scaled splendor? 2000's Figure 8, with 1998's XO as his Revolver. Want to split the difference? 1997's Either/Or.

Then, there's his raw, undiluted 1994 debut — released on Cavity Search, before he was even on Kill Rock Stars. That's Roman Candle, which turns 30 on July 14.

Like everything pre-XO, "studio album" is pretty much a misnomer; Roman Candle was recorded in the basement of the Victorian-style Portland house he shared with JJ Gonson, the manager of his then-band Heatmiser. Which — as Gonson admitted in the 2004 book Elliott Smith and the Big Nothing — "was not a pretty place."

"Lots of people had moved through that house, and the basement was piled high with abandoned stuff," he continued. "So he sort of carved out a little niche, set up a stool and a mic stand, and meticulously recorded the whole thing, going back and punching in tiny changes, sometimes a single word or chord."

While the homemade result is, arguably, Smith's least realized work, it has plenty of charm and intrigue on its own merits, especially in highlights like the shadowy title track and sweet-and-sour yet gorgeous "Condor Ave," which belongs on any list of his very best songs.

Even better, Roman Candle lays the blueprint for everything he'd accomplish in its wake — and stands tall as a watershed for lo-fi folk. Here are three reasons why.

The Sonics

Eventually, this voracious absorber of the rock canon would begin tinkering with tack pianos and mellotrons. But as early as Roman Candle, his core sound was cemented: panned, close-miked, harmonically complex acoustic guitars; double-tracked vocals; a hushed and spectral delivery.

Somewhat uncannily, cruddy equipment seemed to flatter Smith's aesthetic the best. "The wonderful breathy sound on Roman Candle is largely due to the quality of the mic, or lack of it," Gonson said in the book, characterizing his mic setup as "a little Radio Shack thing — the kind you used to get bundled with a tape recorder."

Part of his hushed approach may have been logistical. "He also sang quietly, perhaps so as not to be heard by all the people always coming and going upstairs, so you can hear every breath and string squeak." (A 2010 remaster by Larry Crane sanded down those harsh edges, in the hope that "the music would become more inviting and the sound would serve the songs better.)

The late Smith spawned a thousand imitators, all who learned that murmuring balladry into a tape recorder isn't a shortcut to magic — the easy way or hard way. (Celebrated artists like Phoebe Bridgers and Sufjan Stevens successfully assimilated his influence into their creative bank.)

But partly due to the blueprint of Roman Candle — a link in a chain with '80s lo-fi and the rest — this aesthetic proved desirable.

The Specificity

Many rookie songwriters throw out concrete details (highway numbers and pharmaceuticals, anyone?) as a shortcut to profundity. Smith's details always served the song, and the story.

"She took the Oldsmobile out past Condor Avenue," begins that titular song. "And she locked the car and slipped past into rhythmic quietude." This evocation of a totally unremarkable Portland street places the drama that ensues firmly in time and space.

"Drive All Over Town" conjures atmosphere from the get-go, too: "Two-dollar color pictures from a photo booth/ Dirty, stepped-on, lying out on the floor of their room." You can almost smell that image.

The Vulnerability

When Kill Rock Stars' Slim Moon first popped "Roman Candle" into a tour van's dashboard, he couldn't believe what he was hearing. "It completely blew my mind," he later said. "I have never heard music as heartwrenchingly, gut-checkingly honest, intimate, and wise — before or since."

That was another one of Smith's superpowers: even as he tiptoed to the precipice of self-pity here and there, he never, ever BSed the listener.

"I want to hurt him/ I want to give him pain," he seethes in the chorus of "Roman Candle, about his allegedly abusive stepfather. "I'm a roman candle/ My head is full of flames." A searing sensation, as if you and Smith share a nervous system.

He'd pull off that magic trick again and again throughout his brilliant, troubled career — and it all started on Roman Candle.

He's Gonna Make It All OK: An Oral History Of Elliott Smith's Darkly Beautiful Self-Titled Album

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Eminem performs at Michigan Central Station in June 2024.

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New Music Friday: Listen To New Releases From Katy Perry, Eminem, Nelly Furtado & More

As temperatures rise, chill out with these fresh tracks, albums, and collaborations from Nelly Furtado, One OK Rock, Uncle Kraker, and more, all released the week of July 12.

GRAMMYs/Jul 12, 2024 - 03:43 pm

As summer rolls on, more tracks from artists across all genres continue to drop, and we couldn't be more excited. With album releases from John Summit, HARDY, OneRepublic, and Cat Burns to fresh singles from collaborations including Alesso and Nate Smith, July 12 brings a handful of new music to enjoy.

As you stroll through the weekend, make sure to check out these nine musical projects:

Katy Perry — "Woman's World"

Serving as the lead single from 143, her first studio album since 2020, Katy Perry releases "Woman's World," a new pop track celebrating girl power and womanhood. Perry wrote the track alongside songwriter Chloe Angelides and producers Dr. Luke, Vaughn Oliver, Rocco Did It Again!, and Aaron Joseph.


Initially teasing the track through social media, the song drew attention from pop fans globally. The lead single from 143 marks both a comeback and a new era for the American Idol judge. "I set out to create a bold, exuberant, celebratory dance-pop album with the symbolic 143 numerical expression of love as a throughline message," Perry explains in a press statement.

Eminem — 'The Death of Slim Shady (Coup De Grâce)'

Guess who's back? Eminem returns with his twelfth studio album, The Death of Slim Shady (Coup De Grâce). The album appears to be his last project before retiring his notorious alter ego, Slim Shady.

A standout track on the album is "Guilty Conscience 2," a sequel to the 1999 collaboration with Dr. Dre. Leading up to the album release, Eminem dropped two singles, "Houdini" and "Tobey," featuring Big Sean and BabyTron. The album is both a blast from the past and a revived representation of the renowned Detroit-raised rapper.

Nelly Furtado — "Corazón"

Premiering the song at her Machaca Fest set, Nelly Furtado returns to music with "Corazón," the lead single off her new album 7. The track is an upbeat dance song with lyrics in both Spanish and English, along with drums and flutes that bring it to life. The track was two years in the making, according to Furtado on Instagram.

"The essence of the song is that we're just out here living and trying to do our best," Furtado told Vogue. "Even when we make mistakes, it's coming from the heart. When it comes from the heart, it's never a mistake."

7 is set to captivate both loyal fans and new listeners. Centered around the vibrant theme of community, Furtado felt an irresistible pull toward creating new music, inspired by the diverse communities around her. The spirited energy of the DJ community that breathes new life into her pop classics to this day and the passionate online community yearning for her return, spurred by her collaborations with Dom Dolla and Tove Lo and SG Lewis, have both played a crucial role in Furtado's renewed artistic journey.

Clairo — 'Charm'

Amidst the viral resurgence of her 2019 track "Bags" on TikTok, indie sensation Clairo unveils her eagerly anticipated third studio album, Charm. Co-produced with GRAMMY-nominated Leon Michels of El Michels Affair, this enchanting project underscores a striking blend of musical artistry and innovation.

"I want afterglowing, and when I call a car / Send me eyes with the knowing that I could pull it off," she sings in "Sexy To Someone," the lead single from the album. Putting introspective lyricism at the forefront of all her projects without sacrificing quality instrumentals, this album is no exception.

Alesso & Nate Smith — "I Like It"

In this genre-crossing collaboration, electronic artist Alesso joins forces with country singer Nate Smith on their new single, "I Like It." Though an unexpected blend of styles, the song blends elements from both artists' sounds, seamlessly combining country and dance as they proudly declare, they "like it like that."

With Alesso's electrifying instrumentals perfectly complementing Smith's spirited country vocals, the track captures the essence of summer in a song and is set to make waves throughout the season.

One OK Rock — "Delusion:All"

Featured as the official theme song for the upcoming movie "Kingdom IV: Return of the Great General", Japanese rock band One Ok Rock releases "Delusion:All." The upbeat, cinematic track is the band's latest contribution to the "Kingdom" movie soundtrack series, following their 2019 song "Wasted Nights." 

"It's been a while since we wrote 'Wasted Nights' for the first series of 'Kingdom,' and we are very honored to be a part of the movie again," said vocalist Taka in a press statement. "We tried to reflect "the various conflicts going on in the world today and the modern society" in the song, while making it blend into the worldview of 'Kingdom.'"

Cat Burns — 'early twenties'

A love letter to her community and a deep dive into the intricacies of adulthood, Cat Burns presents her debut album, Early Twenties. Accompanying the album is a captivating short film directed by Libby Burke Wilde. The film tells the individual narratives of each character, touching on themes of mental health, relationships, and personal identity, mirroring the album's essence. 

With this well-rounded creative project, Burns showcases her full artistic prowess, making these releases a testament to her pioneering creative vision.

Uncle Kracker — 'Coffee & Beer'

Making a triumphant return to music after 12 years, Uncle Kracker breaks down the boundaries between genres once again with his latest album, Coffee & Beer. The 13-track album intertwines country, pop, and rock, offering a musical journey that ranges from high-spirited anthems to laid-back, mellow tracks. 

"I wanted to give my fans a soundtrack to summer and what's better than the balance of first coffee…then beer? Coffee & Beer is going to be a fun one. Cheers," Uncle Kracker said in a press statement.

Meridian Brothers — 'Mi Latinoamérica Sufre'

Drawing inspiration from the golden era of '70s Congolese rumba, Ghanaian highlife, and Nigerian afrobeat, the Meridian Brothers unveil Mi Latinoamérica Sufre. This concept album integrates the electric guitar into tropical Latin music in an innovative fashion. The album showcases a dynamic tapestry of sounds, blending cumbia, champeta, soukous, Brazilian tropicalia, and psychedelic rock, making it an exciting sonic journey.

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Lismar, S.Pri Noir, Ivorian Doll, Odumodublvc in collage
(From left) Lismar, S.Pri Noir, Ivorian Doll, Odumodublvck

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10 Artists Changing The Face Of Drill: Ivorian Doll, Bobby Tootact & More

While Cash Cobain and Ice Spice bring drill music even further into the mainstream, a new generation of artists are evolving the sound of the genre. From S.Pri Noir and 163Margs, to Lismar and Jay Hound, these 10 acts should be added to your playlist.

GRAMMYs/Jul 12, 2024 - 02:12 pm

Originating in the early 2010s on the southside of Chicago, the hip-hop subgenre drill has transcended borders to become a global phenomenon. 

Characterized by a menacing and dark energy, drill music sets itself apart from traditional rap and hip-hop through its violent, aggressive lyrics and undertones. Drill music incorporates slower, heavier beats that often blend distorted 808 basslines, dark synths, and trap-style hi-hats. 

The gritty, lawless sound pioneered by artists like King Louie, Chief Keef, G Herbo and GRAMMY-award winner Lil Durk remains at the core of the drill, and their influence is spreading into more mainstream acts. Artists such as Cash Cobain — whose melodic, sultry "Attitude" exemplifies sample drill and landed him at No. 25 on Billboard's Hot Rap Songs — and Ice Spice, whose bold and perky lyrics contrast drill beats. As a whole, these artists are proving that drill is more than just graphic and horrid lyrical stories; it can be fun and even make you feel like a baddie.  

Variations on drill music can be heard in regions such as South America, Africa, and Europe.  The controversial but incredibly popular UK drill, which was born in the south London neighborhood of Brixton, draws many aesthetic influences from Chicago drill while maintaining its own stylistic differences. Where Chicago drill is heavily influenced by trap music, UK drill can be seen as a type of British gangsta rap, or "road rap." Young UK artists like Digga D and Central Cee have taken over the genre, both scoring entries on the Billboard chart, and with Central landing features with Drake and Lil Baby.    

A new generation of drill rappers are continuing to evolve the sound of the genre by combining drill beats and lyrics with a wide range of influences. Read on to learn about 10 budding drill artists whose innovative sounds and diverse perspectives are evolving the global drill landscape. 

Kenzo B

When it comes to vocal adaptability, attention to detail, and charisma — Kenzo B has got it. The Bronx-born rapper has quickly risen in prominence in New York's drill music scene following  2022 singles "Bump It" and "The Realest," both of which showcased her raw energy and talent. 

The self-proclaimed "Queen of Bronx drill" continues to refine her rapid-fire rhymes while maintaining a fierce competitiveness, setting her apart in the male-dominated drill space. In April, Kenzo B teamed up with Harlem rapper Bianca Bonnie to drop their ultra-femme anthem "What You Talkin Bout?"

Wolfacejoeyy

Known for his sexy drill singalongs, Wolfacejoeyy is one of the most exciting rising rappers from NYC’s "forgotten borough," Staten Island. The 21-year-old seamlessly weaves hooky, charismatic rhymes into signature Staten-style instrumentals. On songs like the viral "cake" and "wya," Joeyy taps into an alter ego that teeters between hopeless romantic and relentless f—boy, backed with dynamic hats and a heavy bass.

His highly-anticipated 13-track debut album Valentino, dropped last month and includes a feature from R&B singer Reuben Aziz and production from "Power" actor Michael Rainey Jr., who raps as WhereIs22.

S.Pri Noir

Born to a Senegalese mother and father from Guinea-Bissau, S.Pri Noir is based in France. Despite rapping in French, hip-hop artist S.Pri Noir's music is slowly transcending borders — grabbing the attention of audiences worldwide. 

S.Pri Noir’s 2018 debut album Masque Blanc reached No. 18 on the Top Albums chart in France. Earlier this month, he delivered a thrilling freestyle on "On The Radar Radio," channeling his inner Cash Cobain. After a recent Instagram post, fans are speculating a potential collaboration between the two artists will drop soon.

S.Pri Noir represents the next big market in drill: Africa. Many budding artists in the genre, especially from Europe, are second or third-generation African immigrants.   

Ivorian Doll

German British rapper Ivorian Doll is making a name for herself in the UK drill scene. Boldly claiming the title "Queen of Drill," she's carving out a unique niche with explosive lyrics, drill-infused tension, and undeniable pop appeal. Each of her anthems is a potent cocktail of drama and attitude, highlighting her razor-sharp signature style that's firmly anchored in unfiltered, hard-hitting lyricism.

The 26-year-old rapper debuted in 2018 as part of a duo, dropping the infectious drill track "The Situation." Since embarking on her solo journey, she's continued to captivate audiences with standout releases like "Queen of Drill," "Daily Duppy" and the buzz-worthy song "Rumour." Her ascent in the drill scene exemplifies a fresh voice bringing new energy to the genre, blending cultural influences with raw talent and unapologetic star quality.

Bobby Tootact

Harlem rapper Bobby Tootact is known for remixing popular Afro-Caribbean songs  — from Afrobeats bangers such as Wizkid’s "Joro" to dancehall like Teejay’s "Drift" — into drill tracks with overtly rough lyrics. On 2023's "Real Facts" (produced by go-to mixer Lowkeymali‬), Bobby raps about gun violence while sampling Wizkid’s popular Afrobeats dance track "Ojuelegba."

As the child of Senegalese immigrants, Bobby's music reflects a fusion of his cultural heritage and his upbringing in Harlem. This combination allows him to create a distinctive musical identity that resonates with fans of multiple genres while merging two completely different musical worlds. 

163Margs

Blending gritty lyrics with infectious beats, Nottingham's very own 163Margs has struck a chord with listeners craving traditional UK drill music from a young artist. Margs, who debuted in 2023, has already collaborated with UK heavyweights like Digga D, Bandokay, and Blanco. His debut single "Hide and Seek" propelled him into the spotlight, showcasing his raw talent and captivating flow. 

At first listen, his 2024 single, "Barbies" can be confused as an ode to beautiful women, with lyrics like: "All of them Barbie pretty." Listeners later realize the song is actually about guns and street life. "The opps are wet and there's no disagreement / Ayy / fill up the wap / put teeth in."

Odumodublvck

Nigerian rapper and singer Odumodublvck is crafting a lane for himself with an alluring Afro-grime and Afro-drill sound. As a member of the hip-hop collective Anti World Gangstars, Odumodublvck creates high-energy music which features catchy, repetitive lyrics in Pidgin English and his Native Nigerian language (Igbo). 

His latest project, EZIOKWU, dropped in October 2023 and includes collaborations with acclaimed artists like Fireboy DML, Wale, and Amaarae — further cementing his position as a rising star in the evolving Nigerian music landscape.

Jay Hound

Jay Hound is an upcoming drill artist hailing from a section of Manhattan's Upper West Side neighborhood and catapulted into the spotlight via his 2023 single "UKRAINE." 

A collaboration with his Sweepers labelmate Jay5ive, the track features deep and vibrating bass, and garnered over seven million views on YouTube and nearly 30 million streams on Spotify. He even released an Afro-drill version of the song, which deconstructs the grittiness of the original drill track for a more light and playful dance sound. 

Lismar

Dominican singer/songwriter Lismar is dominating the Dominican urban music scene with her contemporary hip-hop and drill rap. Gaining recognition on the Puerto Rican platform Freestyle Mania, Lismar's creativity and distinctive sound of which infuses both Latin and hip-hop music has earned her a growing fan base and a deal with Roc Nation.

In her new released tracks "Delincuente Con Traje" and "BZRP Music Session #60," she captivates listeners with her powerful flow and impactful lyrics that translate to "I look calm / but I was raised on the corner" and "If they close the door / I knock down the window." The rapper dropped her latest single "Mi Primer Concierto," a softer record that seamlessly integrates her Dominican heritage with rap.

Dee Billz

New York-based rapper, Dee Billz, combines bold and unapologetic lyrics while also toying with a Jersey club sound in his 2023 breakout hit "Thootie." The single took the internet by storm and racked up more than a million views across TikTok and YouTube.  

Last year, the drill artist collaborated with fellow New Yorker rapper’s Kyle Richh, Jenn Carter, and Tata to release "Stomp Stomp," a single that reimagines Soulja Boy's "Crank That" in a drill style. 

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Four members of Destiny's Child in 2000
Destiny's Child

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5 Reasons Why 'The Writing's On The Wall' Is Destiny's Child's Defining Album

From its embrace of experimental R&B production and memorable music videos, to its GRAMMY-winning empowering songs, 'The Writing’s On the Wall' remains a touchstone for fans of Destiny's Child.

GRAMMYs/Jul 12, 2024 - 02:07 pm

In 1997, all-female R&B groups were thriving: TLC already had seven Top 10 hits on the Billboard Hot 100, En Vogue had numerous platinum singles, and Xscape reached No. 1 more than once. Soon, a quartet of teenagers would burst upon the scene and leave an indelible impact.

While Destiny’s Child are now canonical in the world of '90s and early aughts R&B, the group initially experienced spotty success. Their 1997 debut single, "No, No, No (Part 2)" peaked at No. 3 on Billboard’s Hot 100 and was certified platinum. Yet their eponymous album, released in February 1998, only hit No. 67. Their follow up single, "With Me," also failed to set the charts ablaze. 

Destiny’s Child's underwhelming chart performances could’ve easily derailed the budding group. Fortunately, the four ambitious girls from Texas had other plans. 

Beyoncé Knowles, Kelly Rowland, LaTavia Roberson, and Le Toya Luckett were determined not to become one hit wonders, and quickly went back into the studio to record their sophomore album. Released on July 14, 1999, The Writing’s On the Wall became Destiny’s Child’s highest selling album and spawned some of their most iconic songs — one of which led to the group's first GRAMMY win. Not only did the album establish Destiny's Child as a household name, but it fine tuned the R&B girl group concept to perfection.

"We had no idea that The Writing's on the Wall would be as big a record as it was. Especially worldwide," Beyoncé said in a 2006 Guardian interview.

In celebration of the iconic album's 25th anniversary, read on for five reasons why The Writing’s On the Wall is the defining album of Destiny’s Child’s career.

Its Members Took Creative Control

On their debut album, Destiny’s Child tapped into the neo soul trend popularized by the likes of D’Angelo, Erykah Badu, and Maxwell — artists in their early-to-mid twenties with a maturity the teen quartet didn’t yet have. The references and creative direction clashed with the reality of the group members being so young.

"It was a neo-soul record and we were 15 years old. It was way too mature for us," Beyoncé tol the Guardian.

Heading back into the studio, the girls made sure to eradicate any misalignments and put more of themselves into their sophomore album. In an interview with MTV, the members said The Writing’s On the Wall had a fresher, more youthful vibe because "it comes from us." The quartet's fingerprints are all over the 16 track album: Each member co-wrote at least 50 percent of the album. 

"Even at the time, Beyoncé would produce a lot of their background vocals, and she was a leader even at a young age," Xscape's Kandi Burruss said in a Vice interview, reflecting on her work as a songwriter and producer on The Writing's On the Wall. This heightened presence enabled the group to develop lyrics that boldly reflected their opinions and youthful energy. In turn, The Writing's On the Wall netted a run of iconic hit singles.

Read more: Destiny's Child's Debut Album At 25: How A Neo-Soul Album From Teens Spawned R&B Legends

It Pushed R&B Forward 

Like its predecessor, The Writing’s On the Wall is very much an R&B album. However, Beyoncé's father Mathew Knowles — who still managed the group at the time — brought in producers who weren’t afraid to experiment. The result was a more commercial album that fused classic R&B with pop influences, creating a sound that was simultaneously contemporary and timeless.

Kevin "She'kspere" Briggs and Burrus (who would go on to co-write and produce TLC’s "No Scrubs") contributed to five of the album's tracks, shaping its overall sound and differentiating it from Destiny’s Child. The duo kept a few elements from the group’s debut effort, including the sing-rapping heard on "Bug A Boo" and "Hey Ladies." With syncopated beats, thumping basslines, and their knack for writing catchy hooks, Briggs and Burrus created R&B records with the perfect blend of chart-friendly accessibility.

On the Missy Elliott produced "Confessions," synthesizers, drum machines, and electronic garbling were layered to create a lush, futuristic backdrop. Further subverting the classic R&B ballad, Elliott paired what sounds like a cabasa to match Beyonce’s cadence throughout the verses which gives her laidback vocals an almost robotic feel. In addition to producing, Elliott’s velvety vocals also appear quite prominently on the chorus, adding to the track’s sonic tapestry.

GRAMMY-winner Rodney Jerkins was tapped to produce "Say My Name." The original beat Jerkins used was two-step garage, a subgenre of UK garage. No one else liked the sound, so he completely revamped the track into the GRAMMY-winning anthem we know today. Jerkins melded funk-inspired guitar and a call and response approach, then modernized them with a shimmery, polished production. This helped "Say My Name" become the group’s most listened to song on Spotify with over 840 million streams. Jerkins has even gone on record to say this is his favorite song he’s produced to date.

Read more: "Say My Name" 20 Years Later: Why The Destiny's Child Staple Is Still On Everyone's Lips

Its Music Videos Praised Black Culture

"For me, it is about amplifying the beauty in all of us," Beyoncé said in a 2019 interview with Elle when asked about the importance of representation. Even before her solo work, the importance of spotlighting Black culture was evident in Destiny's Child's music videos.

In "Bills, Bills, Bills," we see the group play the role of hair stylists in a salon which is an obvious nod to Beyoncé's mother’s longstanding relationship with all things hair. Near the end of "Bug a Boo," the members change into their version of majorette costumes and dance in front of a marching band. Majorettes and marching bands have a vibrant legacy within HBCUs; almost 20 years after this video premiered, Beyoncé revisited this very concept for her 2018 Coachella performance. 

It Delivered Mainstream Success 

The Writing’s On the Wall was a hit across the charts. The group earned their first No. 1 singles on Billboard’s Hot 100 with "Bills, Bills, Bills" and "Say My Name." Promotions for the latter also reinvigorated album sales and helped shift another 157,000 copies (an impressive 15 percent increase from their first-week sales). The fourth and final single, "Jumpin’, Jumpin’" was released during the summer of 2000 and became one of the most played songs on the radio that year.

Songs from the album were nominated at both the 42nd and 43rd GRAMMY Awards. Destiny’s Child took home their first golden gramophone at the 2001 GRAMMYs, winning Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals for "Say My Name." The single also won Best R&B Song and  was nominated for Record Of The Year. 

With 14 nominations, Destiny’s Child remain the most nominated girl group in GRAMMY history. With worldwide sales of 13 million, The Writing’s On the Wall is also the fourth best-selling girl group album of all time.

It Expanded The Concept Of "Girl Power"

The Writing’s On the Wall was much more than catchy, radio-friendly tunes. Lyrically and in production, the album reintroduced Destiny’s Child as the architects for their own lives. The tongue-in-cheek Godfather-inspired intro tees up each song with a commandment for their partners and, at times, for themselves.

Often misconstrued as a gold digger anthem,"Bills, Bills, Bills" empowers a woman to confront a lover who's financially taking advantage of her. This is a far cry from the theme of a young woman focused on finding love — a common theme on Destiny's Child —  and puts their confidence on full display. "So Good" is a sassy, uplifting anthem which explicitly addresses haters with pointed lyrics like "For all the people ‘round us that have been negative/Look at us now/See how we live." Destiny's Child was sending a clear message: they’re going to be fine regardless of what others say. 

And when the group became tabloid fodder due to unexpected lineup changes, "So Good" took on a new meaning for persevering through hard times. While there are some songs with morally questionable lyrics — we’re looking at you ‘"Confessions" — the consistent message of embracing one’s self-worth and independence is clear. 

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