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2024 GRAMMYs: How The New Best African Music Performance GRAMMY Category Is A Massive Win For The World

At the 2024 GRAMMYs, African music will be elevated via the newly announced Best African Music Performance GRAMMY category. GRAMMY.com sat down with industry leaders from the African music community to discuss the impact of this major development.

GRAMMYs/Aug 2, 2023 - 08:04 pm

Harvey Mason jr. didn't just visit Africa — he was transformed by it.

In 2022, the Recording Academy CEO visited a number of African countries, where he met with leaders in the local music communities and intently listened to what each had to say.

"Mind-bending. Game-changing. Eye-opening," Mason jr. said of his trips to Africa. "There's so much music, so much creativity over there. Africa is the birthplace of, well, everything, but definitely music."

Accordingly, the universe of sounds coming out of the African continent can't be boiled down to just those having an international impact today, like Afrobeats or Amapiano. No, every corner of Africa is a fount of brilliant musical offerings. So it's incumbent on the Recording Academy, the world's leading community of music professionals, to reflect the momentum happening across Africa.

With this as the engine, the Recording Academy has revealed a thrilling new GRAMMY category in time for the 2024 GRAMMYs: Best African Music Performance.

Announced in tandem with two other exciting, new GRAMMY categories, including Best Alternative Jazz Album and Best Pop Dance Recording, the category elevates all flavors of African music — from Afrobeats to kizomba to Ghanaian drill to South African hip-hop — without regard to borders. Musical excellence from anywhere and everywhere in Africa will be carefully considered in this progressive category. 

While this development is a forward-thinking expansion for the Recording Academy, the GRAMMYs, and the international music industry as a whole, the new Best African Music Performance category is the "first step toward a much bigger, more fruitful journey ahead," Mason jr. tells GRAMMY.com. "And we're not done as an Academy: We're making sure that we represent music from that region fairly and accurately."

Read More: 2024 GRAMMYs: 4 Things To Know About The New Categories & Changes

To celebrate the new category, GRAMMY.com sat down with industry leaders — including Mason jr. — to discuss the story behind the brand-new Best African Music Performance GRAMMY category, its impact on the global music industry, and the future of African music.

These interviews were edited and condensed for clarity and brevity.

Photo Harvey Mason jr., CEO of the Recording Academy

*Harvey Mason jr. Photo: Emma McIntyre by Getty Images*

Harvey Mason jr. 
CEO, The Recording Academy

Harvey, you've spoken extensively about your recent travels to a number of African countries. I've got to imagine those trips informed the new Best African Music Performance category.

Absolutely. I've done three trips to Africa in the last year. I spent a lot of time listening to and hearing from the music community there. There's such a massive amount of talent and creativity in that region, and we're starting to see that penetrating the U.S. market and global market — with Afrobeats and Amapiano and other African genres becoming so popular, driving the sound, and dictating the creativity of artists that are not from that region. You're seeing collaborations and features happening around those genres, which are becoming so popular and are moving the music landscape.  

During my time there, I heard from the African music industry, and they all felt like they weren't being represented in our GRAMMY Awards process. It was an eye-opening experience to see the love and respect for the GRAMMYs and the Recording Academy from the continent of Africa. But it was also disheartening to think that they weren't being heard in our process. 

That's why I'm really excited about this new GRAMMY category. And I'm really looking forward to seeing what kind of submissions we get and what impact that has on the genres coming from Africa. 

It's great to see the Recording Academy's purview spanning the entire African continent — not just popular sounds like Afrobeats or Afro Pop. 

It was important for us to make sure we tried to include as many genres as possible, knowing that we were not going to be able to put all the genres being created across the continent.  

We can't cover every genre as much as we'd like to and as much as they deserve to be recognized, so this is the first step toward a much bigger, more fruitful journey ahead. And we're not done as an Academy: We're making sure that we represent music from that region fairly and accurately. 

Read More: Love Burna Boy & Wizkid? Listen To These 5 African Genres 

Can you tell me about the deliberations behind the scenes at the Recording Academy that led to the creation of the Best African Music Performance GRAMMY category? 

Deliberations were pretty brief and succinct. Everybody acknowledged the importance of the music coming from that region, and everyone was supportive of the idea. The conversation really centered mostly around the nomenclature — what we were going to call the category — and how we were going to ensure that we represented all the different music that's coming from the region fairly, accurately and inclusively. 

Once we realized we couldn't cover everything, we tried to find the sweet spot for making sure that the category was named properly and fairly and in a way that would invite participation from as many people as possible. 

Where would you like to see the Recording Academy go from here, as per its embrace of African music from across the continent? 

I'd love to see the Academy continue to make sure that we're respecting all music, not just Western music. And I'd like to see us continue to evolve as we have been these past three years: remaining fluid and accommodating, quickly and swiftly, as new genres and new markets emerge. 

We need to go deeper and in more detail within different genres of music. We know there are multiple different types of music — hundreds of genres, in fact — coming from Africa and from all 54 countries on the continent. I'd love to see us be able to honor even more music from Africa and other areas of the world. 

The future of the Recording Academy is going to build on equity. We're not just honoring music breaking in our country — we're celebrating music from around the world. 

Read More: 7 Incredible Sets From AfroNation Miami: WizKid, Uncle Waffles, Black Sherif & More 

Ghazi

*Ghazi. Photo: Jessica Chou* 

Ghazi 
CEO/Founder, EMPIRE 

Tell me about the deliberations behind the scenes at the Recording Academy that led to the creation of the Best African Music Performance category.  

When we first had Shawn Thwaites, [the Recording Academy's] genre manager for Global Music & African Music, at our EMPIRE headquarters in San Francisco, we discussed the potential for this category to come to life. Not only has African music exploded on a commercial level, which warrants recognition, but on a cultural level, its impact has been immeasurable. Behind the scenes, we focused on sharing information with the Recording Academy that would be valuable to their committee deciding on this category, the consumption and the growth, specifically in North America.  

One could spend several lifetimes exploring the diversity of African music. How do you begin to boil all those sounds down to a small list of nominees?  

I think we'll see expanded categories in African music in the years to come, but this is a great start toward recognizing the merits and impact of African music. In the meantime, we look forward to working with the Recording Academy in putting together programming to help educate the current membership on the nuances and history of African music.  

This new GRAMMY category shows how the Recording Academy is truly a global entity with a global mission to support all music creators and professionals. Where would you like to see the Recording Academy go from here in its global mission to support the international music community? 

This is an exciting time in music. Fans are able to access any genre of music from any region of the world at any time. With that, it's inevitable that we'll see large-scale growth in international music in the coming years. It'll be imperative for the Recording Academy to establish a footprint, large or small, on every continent to work side by side with growing music communities around the world and support these artists and creators.  

Tunde Ajaba-Ogundipe

*Tunde Ajaba-Ogundipe. Photo: Harvard Business School* 

Tunde Ajaba-Ogundipe 
GM, African strategy at Sony Music 
Co-founder, No Wahala

Tell me about the deliberations behind the scenes at the Recording Academy that led to the creation of the Best African Music Performance category.

With the Latin community as a reference, we knew that if we could assemble a group of like-minded folks to push the inclusion of diverse African music categories using a long-game strategy, we would be able to try, learn from the misses, optimize, and try again until we found ourselves reaching our goal. We successfully saw that change greenlighted, with the [Best World Music Album] category officially being renamed to [Best Global Music Album] [in 2020].

Throughout the process of appealing to the Recording Academy to have this category added, a key factor was finding like-minded individuals within the organization to form cultural bonds, exchange knowledge, and champion the goal as a unit. We formed think tanks with key allies across the African, American and U.K. music industries, like Angelique Kidjo, Don Jazzy, John Legend, Juls, Riggs Morales, Sevi Spanoudi, Joy Wayodi, and Falu.

After the inclusion of the [Best Global Music Album] category in 2020, we were able to gauge how to collectively push for more inclusion via African music categories. I am grateful that everyone really rallied together to reach the end goal.

In general, what does the international music industry need to do to elevate and honor the African music community and industry?

I always remain an optimist [regarding] African music continuing to influence the global pop scene. With recent waves of music dominance from the current generation of African stars, like Burna Boy, CKay, Oxlade, Black Coffee, etc., I've witnessed many in the industry [mistakenly believe] that similar waves of global recognition of African Music haven't occurred in the past across genres.

I think it means more because of the way music is consumed today and how the African music business — and the business overall — has evolved. It's a lot more challenging to break acts with the attention spans of listeners being more finite now than ever before. Yet, African labels are finding their way into the current landscape.

That said, we should recognize the African icons of the past generations, like Babatunde Olatunji, Sade Adu, Ali Farka Touré, Angélique Kidjo, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Seal, Sikiru Adepoju, Youssou N'Dour, RedOne, and more, for their wins across GRAMMY categories in the past. It's hard to imagine African music having this moment across the industry without those pioneers opening the doors in an era where it was harder than ever to gain a global audience. They still laid the groundwork, which inspired this generation — directly and indirectly.

[The Recording Academy has] always recognized the opportunities for amplification of African artists, songwriters and producers. I'm a direct witness to their advocacy, championing, and, in some cases, direct education in the past few years to ensure that gaps are bridged between African and diaspora communities and the organization. I'm excited to see the evolution that lies ahead for African music within the Recording Academy and beyond.

Shawn Thwaites

*Shawn Thwaites. Photo: Reid Fowler*

**Shawn Thwaites**
Project Manager, Awards, The Recording Academy 

Why is it important that the Recording Academy created the Best African Music Performance category?

African music has been a direct influence on America [and other countries]. The unique musical styles and traditions of Africa are too undiluted not to have its own category. Giving African music its own category would highlight and celebrate the diversity and richness of Africa. This is a great step forward! 

Can you tell me about the deliberations behind the scenes at the Recording Academy that led to the creation of the Best African Music Performance GRAMMY category? 

We met with African music leaders, including artists and executives, and had in-depth conversations on ideas like the name of the category. This collaboration and discussion was a valuable way to ensure that the category for African music was created and remains healthy.

**One could spend several lifetimes exploring the diversity of African music. How do you begin to boil all those sounds down to a small list of nominees?**

The Recording Academy is a peer membership organization. Tracks will be considered by the merit of a song among the voting membership, regardless of its country of origin. This process includes a listening component where screeners are carefully selected to screen the music. 

Our product eligibility period for the 2024 GRAMMYs is Oct. 1, 2022, through Sept. 15, 2023. Eligible tracks/singles include vocal and instrumental performances, with strong elements of African cultural significance that blend a stylistic intention, song structure, lyrical content and/or musical representation found in Africa and the African diaspora.

**In general, what does the international music industry need to do to elevate and honor the African music community and industry?**

By celebrating the diversity of African music, we can spread awareness through cultural exchange: more collaborations between artists of different genres and more artist relations between labels and executives in America. 

Where would you like to see the Recording Academy go from here in its global mission to support the international music community? 

By recognizing the talent and creativity of musicians from diverse backgrounds, the Recording Academy can promote greater understanding and create a more inclusive and diverse global music community. 

Rikki Stein

*Rikki Stein. Photo: Chantal Azari* 

Rikki Stein 
CEO, Kalakuta Sunrise LTD, a holding company for Knitting Factory Records and Partisan Records

Why is it important that the Recording Academy created the Best African Music Performance category?

Stein: I have long considered Africa as having a tremendous contribution to make in the world, which has yet to be seen and fully appreciated. One day, one day!

Meanwhile, the simplest and most easily accessible aspect of Africa's attributes is its cultural treasure, within which music takes pride of place. In clubs and venues throughout the world today, music from Africa is being enjoyed. Good reason, indeed, for including Best African Music Performance as a GRAMMY category!

One could spend several lifetimes exploring the diversity of African music. How do you begin to boil all those sounds down to a small list of nominees?

Stein: There are certainly a plethora of young [artists] vying for well-earned attention, but let's not forget the previous generation of artists whose music continues to delight fans across the globe.

As Fela Kuti's friend, manager and defender of his legacy, I derive great satisfaction, 25 years after his passing, from seeing the millions of monthly streams of his music. And when I look more deeply into where people are listening to his 50-album catalog, I discover it's everywhere! Khazakstan, Jakarta, Reykjavik, Osaka, as well as the more predictable U.S. and European destinations. So let's not forget the golden oldies!

In general, what does the international music industry need to do to elevate and honor the African music community and industry?

Stein: As a promoter of African music for over 50 years and having spent many of those years banging my head against a glass ceiling, I'm able to give a sigh of relief at seeing serious cracks appearing in that ludicrous structure which — who knows — may well even burst asunder and be no more!

So, let's big up the GRAMMYs and the Recording Academy for making this major contribution to its demise.

Juls

*Julian "Juls" Nicco-Annan. Photo: Dbcaptures*

Julian "Juls" Nicco-Annan 
Record producer, DJ and songwriter

Why is it important that the Recording Academy created the Best African Music Performance category?

I think it is an amazing addition to the category, given the fact that Africa has a massive impact on music and culture worldwide. It's important for the roots of African culture and sounds to be showcased on a higher stage such as the GRAMMYs to show the world how powerful and influential our sound is. African pop music and culture have been on the steady rise for the last 15 years. It's great to see the GRAMMYs finally take the step to make this happen for us and the continent.

One could spend several lifetimes exploring the diversity of African music. How do you begin to boil all those sounds down to a small list of nominees?

This is where it gets tough. People love to look at West Africa and South Africa predominantly because currently, those sides of the continent are at the forefront.

But East Africa has given birth to some incredible talent. It's important for Africans to push forward to become Recording Academy members, so they can have a voice to push their talent. Experts from different sides of the continent have to advocate. Representation is so important.

In general, what does the international music industry need to do to elevate and honor the African music community and industry?

I think a bit more research into who has been shaping the sound over the last few years is important. Engaging with many who have been documenting the journey of the genre [is important] as well. An African GRAMMYs show would be incredible. Latin America has one, and it has been incredibly successful over the years. 

This new GRAMMY category shows how the Recording Academy is truly a global entity with a global mission to support all music creators and professionals. Where would you like to see the Recording Academy go from here in its global mission to support the international music community? 

We need more members and more seminars to educate the artists and management back home about the [GRAMMY Awards] process and actually explain things properly. There's a massive disconnect — that gap should be bridged.

What are some African music albums, songs or artists you're personally enjoying right now and would like to shout out?

At the moment, Davido dropped an incredible body of work, Timeless, with the hit record "Unavailable." Worlasi from Ghana dropped a very in-depth and incredible album called The.rap.y, which touches on social issues men and women face; very deep album. I released a single with South African sensation Ami Faku called "Terrified" and J Hus' new record, "Who Told You."

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Mobolaji Kareem

*Mobolaji Kareem. Photo courtesy of EMPIRE*

**Mobolaji Kareem**
Regional Head West Africa, EMPIRE

Why is it important that the Recording Academy created the Best African Music Performance category? 

Africa has a rich and vibrant history with 54 diverse countries. There are just as many, if not more, genres of music across the continent, so it's viable to have this category as a starting point that can help define the music coming from here. With this category, a lot more artists/songs … can now have their own stage to compete and be celebrated globally. 

In general, what does the international music industry need to do to elevate and honor the African music community and industry? 

The African music landscape has exploded globally and needs to continue to be exposed to the masses to help promote inclusivity and appreciation for the art.

Every mainstream music or sporting event, radio station, and beyond should have African music as part of the program to allow for maximum impact. African voices also need to be represented and involved in the decision-making, so this is a crucial step taken by the Recording Academy to give the music coming out of this continent the exposure and reach it deserves.

What are some African music albums, songs or artists you're personally enjoying right now and would like to shout out?  

Burna Boy - Love Damini
Asake -
Work of Art

Black Sherif -
The Villain I Never Was
Bad Boy Timz -
No Bad Boy, No Party

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Composite graphic with the logo for GRAMMY Go on the left with four photos in a grid on the right, featuring (clockwise from the top-left) CIRKUT, Victoria Monét, Recording Academy CEO Harvey Mason jr., and Janelle Monáe
Clockwise from the top-left: CIRKUT, Victoria Monét, Recording Academy CEO Harvey Mason jr., and Janelle Monáe

Graphic & Photos Courtesy of GRAMMY GO

news

Recording Academy & Coursera Partner To Launch GRAMMY GO Online Learning Initiative

Class is in session. As part of the Recording Academy's ongoing mission to empower music's next generation, GRAMMY Go offers digital content in specializations geared to help music industry professionals grow at every stage of their career.

GRAMMYs/Apr 17, 2024 - 05:01 pm

The Recording Academy has partnered with leading online learning platform Coursera on GRAMMY GO, a new online initiative to offer classes tailored for music creators and industry professionals.

This partnership empowers the next generation of the music community with practical, up-to-the moment digital content that provides wisdom for both emerging and established members of the industry. Continuing the Academy’s ongoing mission to serve all music people, courses cover a variety of specializations tailored to creative and professional growth. 

GRAMMY GO on Coursera includes courses taught by Recording Academy members, featuring GRAMMY winners and nominees and offers real-life lessons learners can put to work right away.

Starting today, enrollment is open for GRAMMY GO’s first Coursera specialization, "Building Your Audience for Music Professionals," taught by Joey Harris, international music/marketing executive and CEO of Joey Harris Inc. The course features Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee and five-time GRAMMY winner Jimmy Jam, 10-time GRAMMY nominee Janelle Monáe and three-time GRAMMY winner and the 2024 GRAMMYs Best New Artist Victoria Monét. This foundational specialization will help participants gain the skills, knowledge and confidence to build a strong brand presence and cultivate a devoted audience within the ever-changing music industry. 

The partnership’s second course, launching later this summer, aims to strengthen the technological and audio skills of a music producer. "Music Production: Crafting An Award-Worthy Song" will be taught by Carolyn Malachi, Howard University professor and GRAMMY nominee, and will include appearances by GRAMMY winner CIRKUT, three-time GRAMMY winner Hit-Boy, artist and celebrity vocal coach Stevie Mackey, five-time GRAMMY nominee and Recording Academy CEO Harvey Mason jr., and 15-time GRAMMY winner Judith Sherman. Pre-enrollment for "Music Production: Crafting An Award-Worthy Song" opens today.

"Whether it be through a GRAMMY Museum program, GRAMMY Camp or GRAMMY U, the GRAMMY organization is committed to helping music creators flourish, and the Recording Academy is proud to introduce our newest learning platform, GRAMMY GO, in partnership with Coursera," said Panos A. Panay, President of the Recording Academy. "A creator’s growth path is ongoing and these courses have been crafted to provide learners with the essential tools to grow in their professional and creative journeys."

"We are honored to welcome GRAMMY GO, our first entertainment partner, to the Coursera community," said Marni Baker Stein, Chief Content Officer at Coursera. "With these self-paced online specializations, aspiring music professionals all over the world have an incredible opportunity to learn directly from iconic artists and industry experts. Together with GRAMMY GO, we can empower tomorrow's pioneers of the music industry to explore their passion today."

GRAMMY GO also serves as the music community’s newest digital hub for career pathways and editorial content that provides industry insights for members of the industry; visit go.grammy.com for more. For information and enrollment, please visit the landing pages for "Building Your Audience for Music Professionals" and "Music Production: Crafting An Award-Worthy Song."

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A collage photo of African women rappers (Clockwise from top-left): Femi One, Deto Black, Nadfiav Nakai, Candy Bleakz, Rosa Ree, Sho Madjozi
(Clockwise from top-left): Femi One, Deto Black, Nadfiav Nakai, Candy Bleakz, Rosa Ree, Sho Madjozi

Photos: Kaka Empire Music Label; Dave Benett/Getty Images for Dion Lee x htown; Oupa Bopape/Gallo Images via Getty Images; Slevin Salau; Asam Visuals; Harold Feng/Getty Images

list

10 Women In African Hip-Hop You Should Know: SGaWD, Nadai Nakai, Sho Madjozi & More

Women have been a part of African hip-hop since its onset, contributing to the genre’s foundation and evolution. These 10 female African rappers bring unique perspectives to hip-hop coming from Nigeria, Ghana and across the continent.

GRAMMYs/Mar 27, 2024 - 03:26 pm

African music has become increasingly mainstream, with Afrobeats gaining global popularity in recent years. As Burna Boy, Davido, Wizkid, and Tems have become household names, and the Recording Academy presented the inaugural Best African Music Performance award in 2024, all eyes are on Africa.

Hip-hop is a crucial thread running through Afrobeats, which also mixes traditional African rhythms with pop and dancehall. Hip-hop landed in Africa between the 1980s and 1990s, first in Senegal in 1985 and in South Africa the following decade. Over time, African hip-hop advanced from imitating American styles, to a focus on artists incorporating their own cultural experiences, languages, and social commentary.

The result was a distinctly African sound, present across the continent from West to East Africa. In Nigeria, the rap scene is almost mainstream with artists like Olamide earning a GRAMMY nomination for Best African Music Performance for his hit song with Asake; Tanzania has gained enormous respect on the international rap scene for its own "Bongo Flava." 

Women have been a part of African hip-hop since its onset, contributing to the genre’s foundation. Nazizi Hirji is known as the "First Lady of Kenyan Rap" for becoming the first successful female artist in her country at age 16. Mariam of the Malian duo Amadou and Mariam created a distinctive sound by fusing elements of hip-hop and traditional Malian music. 

Africa's hip-hop community is ever-evolving, and women are at the forefront. The following 10 African women rappers are bringing their unique voices, experiences and sounds to the scene.

Explore The Sounds Of Africa

SGaWD

After leaving her career as a lawyer to pursue music, the Nigerian rapper SGaWD is beginning to make her mark on the scene. Fusing elements of hip-hop and Nigerian alté, SGaWD creates a sound without restrictions. 

She released her debut EP, Savage Bitch Juice, in 2021 and collaborated with fellow Nigerian artist Somadina on flirty lead single "Pop S—." In the second single "Rude," SGaWD detailed the nuances of her romantic and sexual experiences with men. She followed this with a slew of singles, including "INTERMISSION " and "Dump All Your Worries On The Dance Floor."

Her summer anthem "Boy Toy" is a sexy and melodic blend of rap and R&B. Her comfort with sexuality goes beyond lyricism; the music video for "Boy Toy" shows her comfort and embrace of sexuality via wardrobe choices and choreography.

But it's not all sex; SGaWD is dedicated to organizing her community. In December 2023, she organized The Aquarium, a sonic experience that included performances from herself and other female rappers.

Lifesize Teddy

Mavins Records is known for producing back-to-back breakout stars — from Rema to Arya Starr — and fans now expect a new artist from them annually. When Lifesize Teddy was introduced to the scene, rapping as her alter ego PoisonBaby, she got deep. Her intro video dissected her relationship with her inner child and explored her roots in Port-Harcourt, Nigeria. 

After spending three years of artist development in the Mavin Records Academy, she started her music career, by releasing two EPs in the span of four months in 2023. Her self-titled debut EP was led by the single "Hypnotic," a flirty song of sexual freedom that merges hip-hop and Afrobeats. Her second EP, POISN, featured five songs with one featuring her fellow Mavins Records artist, Magixx.

She ended last year headlining different shows in Lagos’ Detty December and is a special guest on Ayra Starr World Tour. 

Eno Barony

Ghanaian rapper Eno Barony's name reflects her aura and essence: "Eno" is Twi for mother, and quite fittingly she is referred to as "The Mother of Rap" in Ghana. Raised by missionary parents, she uses her music to spread the message that women should not be silenced. 

She has been releasing music for over a decade, with singles "Tonga," "Megye Wo Boy", "The Best," "Touch the Body," and "Do Something" gaining mainstream attention on the continent. Eno Barony released her first album in 2020 and, the following year became the first female rapper to win Best Rapper at the Ghana Music Awards. 

Her most recent album, Ladies First, captures the nuances and complexity of being a woman in Ghana and serves as a form of resistance to patriarchy. Opening track "God Is a Woman," featuring Ghanaian singer/songwriter Efya, establishes the tone: Eno is "entering every lane" even though "it’s a man’s world and she entered without a passport". 

Eno Barony continually pours vulnerability into her music. On these lead singles; "Heavy Load" and  "Don’t Judge Me" she raps about accepting her body image and addresses the culture of unconstructive criticism in the music industry, respectively. Last month, she released a new single "Good Enough," a romantic and reflective tune.

Nadai Nakai

Hailing from both Zimbabwe and South Africa, Nadai Nakai has been a fixture in the African rap scene for over a decade. She was the first female rapper to win the Mixtape 101 competition on the hip-hop show, "Shiz Niz."   

A mentee of pioneering Kenyan hip-hop artist Nazizi, Nakai released her first single "Like Me" under Sid Records in September 2013. The rightfully braggadocious song detailed her many talents and skills, wrapped in clever lyricism. She continued to release a slew of singles, including "Naaa Meaan" (a collaboration with Casper Nyovest, a South African male rapper), which garnered over 1 million views. Her debut album, Nadai Naked, was an ode to women making liberating choices. 

Her hip-hop and R&B-inspired songs highlight her values of female free expression and strength. Her most recent single, "Back In," announced Nakai's return to the industry after grieving the death of her boyfriend, AKA. She plans to release a tribute EP dedicated to AKA.

Deela

Deela saw a hole in the Nigerian music industry that needed to be filled. Where were the women who talked and behaved like her, with brazen confidence and an unfiltered sense of expression? 

She started making music during the pandemic lockdown, releasing singles such as the raging "Bitch Boi" and trap track "Rolling Stones." Both tracks later appeared on her debut album, Done Deel. Deela's most popular single, "Get A Grip," shows the rapper is demanding autonomy while owning her promiscuity and single life.

Deela's experimental sound includes ventures into trap, drill and more. Her 2023 album Is This On? showcased this range via UK rap-inspired "Trapstar" and straight-up hip-hop track "Take That Up" featuring Flo Milli.

She hit the ground running in 2024, releasing a collaboration with Somadina titled "Lagos" and a love-themed EP, Love Is Wicked

Deto Black

Lagos-based rapper Deto Black is an artistic polymath who dabbles in modeling, acting and photography. Her music spans hip-hop, Afrobeats, rap, pop and rock, and is becoming known in the alté scene following her collaboration with Odunsi the Engine, Amaarae and Gigi Atlantis on "Body Count." Deto’s verse on the 2020 track is  sex-positive, and encourages listeners to follow her example. 

Deto released her debut EP, Yung Everything, in 2021 and followed with singles "Nu Bag" and "Just Like Deto." At the start of 2024, she released "It’s A No From Me" featuring Chi; its music video was directed by notable alté artist Cruel Santino.

Rosa Ree

Tanzanian rapper Rosa Ree addresses the nuances of womanhood in male-dominated spaces. She entered the scene in 2016 with the goal of proving her naysayers wrong, releasing the aggressive "One Time" to dispel any notions that a woman couldn't exist in hip-hop.

In her 2022 single "I’m Not Sorry," Rosa Ree dismisses criticism and asserts that she won’t be sorry for showing her true image or voice. She also explores the unique bond between mother and child in 2023's "Mama Omollo," further showcasing the multifaceted identities of women in music.

Rosa Ree's 2024 single "In Too Deep" further showcased her introspective side by exploring themes of emotional hurt, betrayal and disappointment.

Candy Bleakz

Nigerian rapper Candy Bleakz fuses Afrobeats, amapiano and hip-hop, with heavy emphasis on street music. She started making music in 2019 and quickly began developing a community. Candy Bleakz collaborated with Zlatan and Naira Marley on "Owo Osu." 

Her resume now includes hits like "Baba Nla," "Kelegbe," "Virus", and "Kope." Her single "Won La" was even featured on the American TV series "Flatbush Misdemeanors." The most amazing thing about Candy Bleakz, though, is her courage to question the established quo and push for female representation in the infamously male-dominated street music scene.

She released her debut EP, Fire, in 2022 and raps proudly about her life and talent. On its breakout single, "Tikuku," she addresses her haters head-on. This song has garnered over 300,000 posts on TikTok going as far as eliciting a challenge in the Nigerian section of TikTok.

Candy Bleakz's second EP, Better Days, was released on March 22 and featured lead single "Para," a rap song featuring African drums, strings and chords. 

Femi One

At just 26 years old, Femi One is a renowned  Kenyan rapper and songwriter. Most of her songs are in Swahili and Sheng — a unique offering as many African rappers perform in a more universal language. 

Over the past five years, Femi One has released back-to-back singles, culminating in her 2019 debut EP XXV. " Two years later, her debut album, Greatness, further detailed her wild style and personality. Tracks like "Balance" are jam-packed with witty wordplay and hidden allusions. She also taps into her gospel roots on Greatness, thanking God for her career on "Adonai."

Her latest single, "B.A," is a pure Afrobeats song that invites listeners to lose themselves in the music and positive energy by throwing open the virtual club doors. 

Sho Madjozi

This South African rapper is known for her bold aesthetic, from her rainbow-coloured hair to her bright costumes. She released her first song, "Dumi Hi Phone," in 2017 and dropped her a genre-bending debut album the following year. Limpopo Champions League explores sounds from hip-hop to EDM.

Sho Madjozi has a quirky habit of writing songs about notable individuals. Her breakout single "John Cena," a tribute to the wrestler and actor, earned her the BET award for Best New International Act in 2019. She also collaborated with Sneakbo, Robot Boi and Matthew Otis on the hit amapiano song "Balotelli," which celebrated the renowned African soccer player. 

Sho Madjozi's music is entirely intertwined with her culture; she raps in the Bantu language Xitsonga and performs traditional dances such as xibelani wearing an adapted 

xibelani skirt. The xibelani (which translates to "hitting to the rhythm") dance is native to Tsonga women, and is performed by girls on special occasions as a celebration of their culture. Sho Madjozi's use of the dance and interpretation of its clothing helps shape her region’s cultural identity.

11 Women Pushing Amapiano To Global Heights: Uncle Waffles, Nkosazana Daughter, & More

Amapiano artists Khanyisa, Boohle, Kamo Mphela, Uncle Waffles, DBN GOGO, Pabi Cooper
(Clockwise) Khanyisa, Boohle, Kamo Mphela, Uncle Waffles, DBN GOGO, Pabi Cooper

Photos: Fundokwakhe Majozi, Oupa Bopape/Gallo Images via Getty Images; Courtesy of the artist; Jerritt Clark/Getty Images for UnitedMasters; Oupa Bopape/Gallo Images via Getty Images; Leon Bennett/WireImage

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11 Women Pushing Amapiano To Global Heights: Uncle Waffles, Nkosazana Daughter, & More

While Tyla may have brought amapiano to 2024 GRAMMYs stage, a vast network of women are responsible for bringing the South African sound to the world. Get to know 11 of the artists at the forefront of amapiano music.

GRAMMYs/Mar 1, 2024 - 04:15 pm

After South African singer Tyla won the inaugural golden gramophone for Best African Music Performance at the 2024 GRAMMYs award show, many likely wondered why her international breakout single "Water" garnered such global appeal. 

Beyond the R&B sensibilities that made its sound approachable to Western audiences, what really drew crowds to "Water" was the vitality of South African dance and elements of amapiano — a subgenre of house and a child of kwaito, South Africa’s post-Apartheid freedom sound. Punctuated by amapiano’s log drums and insistent shakers, brought to life through the frantic backside movements of bacardi  and Tyla’s aquatic theater, "Water" used genre fusion to carry South African sound across global airwaves.

What’s more, Tyla is part of a vast network of women propelling amapiano to the world. Zimbabwean singer Sha Sha’s breakout in 2019 created a monumental shift in a genre that was largely the terrain of boys and men, and since then the amapiano scene has seen many other women follow in her wake. The likes of Mawhoo, Ami Faku, Bontle Smith, and Nobantu Vilakazi consistently emphasize the genre's soulful heart through dreamlike vocal work, grounding the very hits that have made amapiano the widespread phenomenon that it is today.

Everything from the skillful improvisations of dancing schoolgirls, to lively performances from women DJs and vocalists has allowed amapiano’s essence to be communicated clearly to the world. A vast web of women are pushing the genre both within and beyond South African borders; read on for a list of 11 influential women who are key in elevating amapiano to global heights.

DBN Gogo 

It’s not that controversial: everybody loves Gogo. Born in the city from which she derived her name, Durban, DBN Gogo has steadily become one of amapiano’s most sought-after acts. From her 2021 smash hit "Khuza Gogo" featuring amapiano stars such as the late Mpura, to later hits like "Possible," "Bambelela," and "Bells," Gogo has made a name for herself as a highly-dependable hitmaker and an equally compelling performer. It was her, of course, who created the viral dakiwe dance challenge, inspiring countless dance variations and solidifying her position as amapiano’s queen of cool.

Even while she has offered the genre mass mainstream appeal, DBN Gogo's personal projects reveal her lasting dedication to preserving amapiano’s authenticity. Her 2022 debut album, What’s Real, is a warm, rich body of work, while her newest EP Click Bait is a genre-diverse wonder that transcends the boundaries of ‘piano itself. 

Since her breakout years ago, she has not even remotely backed down, taking over multiple AfroNation stages yearly, performing at Coachella in 2022, and featuring twice on the GRAMMY-nominated Black Panther: Wakanda Forever soundtrack. Dropping the Shakes & Les-assisted "Funk 55" in 2023, a track that is still dominating South African nightlife as we speak, Gogo is on an unending mission to take the world by storm.

Nkosazana Daughter

With a spiritual sound and an angelic voice to match, it’s safe to say that Nkosazana Daughter is amapiano’s sweetheart. Breaking out via an Instagram Live with DJ Maphorisa and Mpura during lockdown, the 23-year-old has proved that her ethereal vocals can impart a distinct sense of purity to any song she features on. 

She has since voiced dreamy hit singles like "Dali Nguwe" and "Sofa Silahlane" with frequent collaborator Master KG, and worked with continental artists including Tanzania’s Harmonize and Nigerian Afropop stars Mr. Eazi, Omah Lay, and Young Jonn. Last year, she asserted herself in a big way, releasing her debut album Uthingo Le Nkosazana

"Uthingo," meaning "rainbow" in Zulu, communicated to the world the vast color and love she had to bring to the scene. Nkosazana Daughter called amapiano’s greats to her world, working with the likes of Kabza de Small, Maphorisa, and Sir Trill throughout the project as well as Master KG on the lead single, "Amaphutha." She has already started the year with a bang via her successful hit "Keneilwe," proving her determination to come into 2024 with an unrelenting force.

TXC

Tarynn Reid and Clair Hefke are the dj duo that have proved the importance of intentional performance while pushing ‘piano. The pair are known for mixing amapiano party hits while clad in matching sets; Clair often holds down the fort while Tarynn drives crowds wild with impassioned dance moves. 

The duo has become a symbol of amapiano’s global appeal, ruling the Piano People stage at AfroNation in Miami, closing Boiler Room’s Soulection stage in London, and taking on Qatar’s 2022 Fifa World Cup stage alongside acts like Lil Baby. What’s more, they have consistently shown dedication to growth, expanding their title from DJ duo to production duo, including producing their debut EP.

That release, 2022's A Fierce Piano is a rich collection of tracks featuring assists from some of the genre's smoothest vocalists: Daliwonga and Murumba Pitch. Following up with "Vuka Mawulele" and their latest single "Turn Off the Lights," TXC have shown that their future as creatives in amapiano is limitless. 

Babalwa M

While the amapiano scene is fraught with disagreements surrounding origins, dates, and pioneers, all unanimously agree that Babalwa M is the queen of private school amapiano. Known for its deeply jazzy, soulful approach to amapiano, "private school" is a distinct subgenre that Babalwa’s vocals have refined throughout the years alongside its king, producer Kelvin Momo.

Listening to the transcendental vocals laced through tracks like "Aluta Continua" from her debut album of the same name, it should come as no surprise that Soweto’s own Babalwa M found her voice through the church choir.

Babalwa M's most infamous contributions to the private school archive come in the form of collaborations with the aforementioned Momo. Her near-spiritual vocals on tracks like "Feza," "Sukakude" and, most recently, "Amalobolo" from his newest project, have made even the most surface level consumers invested in the beauty of private school. Coming off of the heels of her most recent track "Maye Maye," Babalwa M is determined to continue sharing the sublimity of private school with the world. 

Uncle Waffles

Nobody quite epitomizes amapiano’s globalization in the way that Uncle Waffles does. 

It all boils down to one fateful day: a DJ booked for a 2021 club night in Soweto was unable to make their set, so Uncle Waffles was called in. She played Young Stunna’s "Adiwele," gyrating with incomparable cool as she responded to the crowd’s impassioned cries. A video of her dancing at this set went viral, generating a dance challenge that can still be seen at club nights today and converting her into an overnight sensation. Suddenly, Swaziland’s own Uncle Waffles was juggling bookings from all over the world. 

Since then, the cosmos has become the limit  — she has shut down Coachella, sold out US and UK headlines shows, and received cosigns from Drake, Kelly Rowland, and Ciara. Waffles' hit single "Tanzania" was even featured in an amapiano-influenced set during multiple stops of Beyoncé’s Renaissance Tour. What’s more, she has proved that her talents transcend the stage with three projects in her catalog: Red Dragon, and 2023’s Asylum and Solace. 

With global hit singles "Yahyuppiyah" and "Peacock Revisit" from 2023, and her constant re-definition as a style icon, dancer, and creative director, Uncle Waffles continues to show the world that she cannot be confined to any one creative medium.

Chley

Slick-tongued Chley is widely understood as a secret weapon for any producer looking to cook up an amapiano anthem. Taking on music as recently as 2021, she’d already collaborated with prominent amapiano producers Mellow & Sleazy, Konke, and Musa Keys a year into her music career - voicing hits like "Kancane" and "M’nike." Chley was catapulted to a new level of fame once featured on Uncle Waffles’ "Yahyuppiyah," offering a rapid-fire verse that netizens all over the world fought hard to replicate.

Since then, she has featured on bangers such as "Vuma" with Felo Le Tee and Mellow & Sleazy, "Shu!" with Tanzania’s Diamond Platnumz, Gogo’s "Funk 55," and Ggoldie’s "Asambe." With a discography bound to make even the most conservative of listeners get up and dance, Chley is certainly one to watch in the midst of amapiano’s ever-evolving scene.

Kamo Mphela

Kamo Mphela burst onto the scene after one too many videos of her dancing went viral — an expected outcome for a girl who consistently danced and MCed at block parties on the streets of Joburg. Her rise to fame fatefully coincided with amapiano’s nationwide popularization, allowing the multi-talented dancer to latch on to the township sound and never let it go. 

She soon jumped on tracks like "Sandton" alongside Kabza and Maphorisa in 2019 and "Amanikiniki" with Major League DJz in 2021, then released her own tracks "Percy Tau" and "Nkulunkulu" on her debut EP the same year. She’s since released smash hits, featured on the Wakanda Forever soundtrack, and offered a thrilling performance ahead of Davido at London’s O2 arena.

Throughout her career, Kamo Mphela has redefined the role of the dancer in amapiano’s landscape, not confining herself to the sidelines but instead positioning dance as a central component of any amapiano performance worth its salt. This radical ethic has allowed her to become widely regarded as one of amapino’s most notable performers, and she consistently ensures that her music embodies this weighty title. Her 2023 singles "HANNAH MONTANA" and "Dalie" came with expert dances — the latter with a viral dance challenge that has kept the song at a steady position on South African charts. 

Boohle

Hailing from the Vosloorus township of Johannesburg, Buhle Manyathi is all about soul. Kicking off her career as part of a gospel troupe in 2016, she later transitioned to Afro house and amapiano, releasing a multi-genre debut album, Izibongo, in 2020 and EP Sfikile in 2021. It was only a matter of time before she became the vocalist behind some of ‘piano’s biggest hits, voicing "Mama" with Josiah de Disciple (and its gorgeous Afro house remix from De Capo), "Siyathandana" alongside rapper Cassper Nyovest, and the glorious "Ngixolele," produced by Busta 929. 

Several top charting positions and awards later, she came out with arguably her most global single, "Hamba Wena" alongside Deep London. Igniting a global dance challenge created by South African steppers Hope Ramafalo and Hlongi Mash, "Hamba Wena" captivated the globe  and reasserted Boohle’s seemingly endless ability to produce ‘piano anthems.

Lady Du

Music was always in the cards for Lady Du, but it was amapiano in particular that changed the scope of her career. Reared in a family of influential DJs and producers, she kicked off her career as a Hip-Hop DJ before pivoting completely into ‘piano. 

Dropping both "Catalia" and "Woza" in 2021 — both with production from ‘piano pioneer Mr JazziQ — Lady Du suddenly had 2 gigantic hits under her belt, the latter becoming one of the biggest songs in the early days of amapiano’s globalization.

She has since offered roaring vocals on Busta and Mpura’s "Umsebenzi Wethu," hard-hitting rap on 9numba and TOSS’ "uMlando," and Mzansi flare on international features such as "I Did It" with Nigeria’s Niniola. 

Lady Du reaffirmed her centrality in the scene in 2023, dropping her debut album Song is Queen and later, the Megadrumz-produced single "Tjina." The percussion-heavy tune quickly turned global club nights upside down, secured high positions on South Africa’s streaming charts, and emphasized Lady Du’s centrality in amapiano’s sprawling ecosystem.

Pabi Cooper

or Pritori princess Pabi Cooper, winning is easy. Hailing from South Africa’s administrative capital Pretoria, Pabi broke out as a 21-year-old with the party-starting "Isphithiphithi," a hit produced by Busta 929 in 2021.

2022's "Banyana Ke Bafana" was a widely popular hit, propelled by irresistible verses from the Pritori trifecta of Pabi, vocalist Ch’cco, and rapper Focalistic. Her debut EP, Cooperville, introduced audiences to a vast world of her making, with soulful numbers like "MAMA," alongside more street-centric jams like "Waga Bietjie" and "Angeke." 

Today, Cooper has solidified herself as a symbol of youth power, mesmerizing South African crowds through her concert series Cooper FC and snagging a BET nomination in 2023 for Best New International Act. She also carries her hometown on her back wherever she goes; last year saw her release "Jukulyn" alongside Pretoria’s Jelly Babie, a track dedicated to a township of the same name and rooted in the city’s bouncy, infectious sound bacardi. 

Khanyisa

Khanyisa may have started off her career as a social media influencer, but she has seamlessly evolved into an amapiano star. Performing covers and skits to the millions of followers she amassed on TikTok, Khanyisa wielded relatability and humor as her social media superpowers. 

It wasn’t until her irresistible breakout "Bheka Mina Ngedwa" with Lady Du and her official debut "Ungangi Bambi" in 2021, both delivered with the same vitality that offered her acclaim online, that Khanyisa formally secured popularity within the amapiano space.

Since, Khanyisa has featured on popular tracks such as "Vuka Mawulele" with TxC and the  danceable "Zula Zula" with Villosoul. In 2023, she proved her role as an undeniable hitmaker, releasing the log drum heavy "SUKA" and "NGIMOJA" with producer of the year Tyler ICU. With her successful pivot to musical fame, it is clear that Khanyisa’s future as a player in amapiano is incredibly bright. 

10 Alté Artists To Know: Odunsi (The Engine), TeeZee, Lady Donli & More

Billy Joel Freddy Wexler
Photo: Lester Cohen/Getty Images for The Recording Academy

(L-R) Billy Joel, Freddy Wexler

interview

Freddy Wexler On Helping Billy Joel "Turn The Lights Back On" — At The 2024 GRAMMYs And Beyond

"Part of what was so beautiful for me to see on GRAMMY night was the respect and adoration that people of all ages and from all genres have for Billy Joel," Wexler says of Joel's 2024 GRAMMYs performance of their co-written "Turn The Lights Back On."

GRAMMYs/Feb 26, 2024 - 09:11 pm

They say to not meet your heroes. But when Freddy Wexler — a lifelong Billy Joel fan — did just that, it was as if Joel walked straight out of his record collection.

"I think the truth is none of it is that surprising," the 37-year-old songwriter and producer tells GRAMMY.com. "That's the best part. From his music, I would've thought this is a humble, brilliant everyman who probably walks around with a very grounded perspective, and that's exactly who he is."

That groundedness made possible "Turn the Lights Back On" — the hit comeback single they co-wrote, and Wexler co-produced; Joel performed a resplendent version at the 2024 GRAMMYs with Laufey. Joel hadn't released a pop album since 1993's River of Dreams; for him to return to the throne would take an awfully demonstrative song, true to his life.

"I think it's a very raw, honest, real perspective that is true to Billy," Wexler explains. "I think it's the first time we've heard him acknowledge mistakes and regret in quite this way."

Specifically, Joel's return highlights his regret over spending three decades mostly on the bench, largely absent from the pop scene. As Joel wonders aloud in the stirring, arpeggiated chorus, "Is there still time for forgiveness?"

"Forgiveness" is a curious word. Why would the five-time GRAMMY winner and 23-time nominee possibly need to seek forgiveness? Regardless — as the song goes — he's "tryin' to find the magic/ That we lost somehow." The song's message — an attempt to recapture a lost essence — transcends Joel's personal headspace, connecting with a universal longing and nostalgia.

Read on for an interview with Wexler about the impact of "Turn the Lights Back On," why he thinks Joel took such an extended sabbatical, the prospect of more new music, and much more.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

**You did a great interview with Rolling Stone ahead of the 2024 GRAMMYs. Now, we're on the other side of it; you got to see how it went down on the telecast, and resonated with the audience and world. What was that like?**

It's why I make music — to hopefully make people feel something. This song has really resonated in such a big way. More than looking at its commercial success on the charts or on radio, which has been awesome to see, the comments on Instagram and YouTube have been the most rewarding part of it.

Why do you think it resonated? Beyond the king picking up his crown again?

I don't think the song is trying to be anything it's not. I think it's a very raw, honest, real perspective that is true to Billy. I think it's the first time we've heard him acknowledge mistakes and regret in quite this way. And to hear him do it in a hopeful way where he's asking, "Is it too late for forgiveness?" is just very moving, I think.

Forgiveness? That's interesting. What would any of us need to forgive him?

He has said in other interviews, "Sometimes people say they have no regrets at the end of their life." And he said, "I don't think that's possible. If you've lived a full life, of course you have regrets." He has said that he has many things he wishes he would've done differently. This is an opportunity to express that.

I think what's interesting about the song is it has found meaning in various ways with various people and listeners. Some people imagine Billy is singing to former lovers or friends. Other people imagine Billy is singing to his fans asking, "Did I wait too long to record again?" Other people wonder if Billy is singing to the songwriting Gods and muses. Did I wait too long to write again?

In Israel, where the song was number one — or is number one, I haven't checked today — I think the song's taken on the meaning of just wanting things to be normal, wanting hostages to come home and turn the lights back on. So, you never know where a song is going to resonate, but I think that Billy just found his own meaning with it.

You know the discography front to back. What lines can you draw from "Turn the Lights Back On" to past works?

I think it draws on various pieces of his catalog, right? "She's Always a Woman" has a sort of piano arpeggio in the chorus. To me, it feels like a natural progression. It feels like, on the one hand, it's a new song. On the other, it could have come out right after River of Dreams. To me, it just kind of feels natural.

**Back when you spoke with Rolling Stone, you said you couldn't wait to hear "Turn the Lights Back On" at Madison Square Garden. How'd it sound?**

Amazing. Billy is a consummate live performer. I think he's one of the few artists where everything is better live, and everything is always a little bit different each time it's played live.

It's been really cool to watch Billy and the band continue to change and improve the song and the song's dynamics for the show. He told me tonight that tomorrow night in Tampa, I think they're going to try to play with the key of the song, potentially — try it a half a step higher.

Those are the sort of things I think great artists do, right? It's different from being on a certain type of tour where every single song is the same, the set list is the same, the key is the same, the arrangements are the same.

With Billy, there's a lot of feeling and, "Hey, why don't we try it this way? Let's play it a little faster. Let's play it a little slower. Let's try it in a different key." I just think that's super cool. You have to be a really good musician to just do that on the fly.

What have you learned from him that applies to your music making, writ large?

I've learned so much from him. As Olivia Rodrigo said to us at GRAMMY rehearsals, "He's the blueprint when it comes to songwriting."

He has helped raise the bar for me when it comes to melodies and lyrics, but the thing I keep coming back to is he's reminded me that even the greatest artists and songwriters ever sometimes forget how great they are. I think we need to be careful not to give that inner voice and inner critic too much power.

Can you talk about how the music video came to be?

Well, I had a dream that Billy was singing the opening two lines of the song, but it was a 25-year-old version of Billy. It was arresting.

When I woke up, I sort of had the vision for the video, which was one set, an empty venue of some kind, and four Billy Joels. The Billy Joel that really exists today, but then three Billys from three iconic eras where each Billy would seamlessly pick up the song where the other left off.

The idea behind that was to sort of accentuate the question of the song — did I wait too long to turn the lights back on?

And so, to kind of take us through time and through all these years, I teamed up with an amazing co-director, Warren Fu, who's done everything from Dua Lipa to Daft Punk, and an artificial intelligence company called Deep Voodoo to make that vision possible.

What I'm driven by is the opportunity to create conversations, cultural moments, things that make people feel something. What was cool here is as scary as AI is — and I think it is scary in many ways — we were able to give an example of how you can use it in a positive way to execute a creative artistic vision that previously would've been impossible to execute.

Yeah, so I'm pleased with it and I'm thankful that Billy did a video. He didn't have to do one, but he liked the idea of it. He felt it was different, and I think he was moved by it as well.

What do you think is the next step here?

It's been a really rewarding process. And Billy is open-minded, which is really cool for an artist of that level, who's not a new artist by any stretch. To actually be described as being in a place in his life where he's open-minded, means anything is possible. I could tell you that I would love there to be more music.

I'd love to get your honest appraisal. And I know you're not him. But his last pop album was released 31 years ago. In that long interim, what do you think was going on with him, creatively?

Look, I'm not Billy Joel, but I think there were a number of factors going on with him. Somewhere along the way, I think he stopped having fun with music, which is the reason he got into it, or which is a big part of the reason he got into it. When it stopped being fun, I don't think he really wanted to do it anymore.

Another piece to it is that Billy is a perfectionist, and that perfectionism is evident in the caliber of his songwriting. Having always written 100 percent of his songs, Billy at some point probably found that process to be painstaking, to try to hit that bar where he's probably wondering in his head, What would Beethoven think of this? What would Leonard Bernstein think of this?

I think part of what was different here was that, perhaps, there was something liberating about "Turn the Lights Back On" being a seed that was brought to Billy. In this way, he could be a little disconnected from it, where maybe he didn't have to have the self-imposed pressure that he would if it was an idea that he'd been trying to finish for a while.

Ironically, he still made it. Well, there's no "ironically," but I think that's it. There's something to that.

Billy Joel's Biggest Songs: 15 Tracks That Best Showcase The Piano Man's Storytelling And Pop Hooks