Photo: Courtesy of Parkwood Entertainment.
5 Takeaways From Beyoncé's New Album 'Renaissance'
Beyoncé's seventh album, 'RENAISSANCE,' pays tribute to the LGBTQIA+ roots of club culture — and one very special family member.
When Beyoncé released the club-ready single "BREAK MY SOUL" as the first taste of her seventh album, RENAISSANCE, fans prepared for a summer of booty shaking. Now that the album has officially dropped — despite leaking a few days early — the dancing has commenced.
With collaborators like Nile Rodgers, Grace Jones, Green Velvet and Nigerian singer Tems, it's clear that Beyoncé has spent the last few years immersed in the escapism of dance music's Black pioneers. As she said herself upon announcing RENAISSANCE, her inspiration for the album was similar to that of club culture: "My intention was to create a safe place, a place without judgment."
Dubbed "act i," RENAISSANCE is the first installment of a "three-act project," as Beyoncé revealed on her website the day before the album's release. If these 16 songs are any indication, Queen Bey has only just begun her dance-floor quest.
Here are five key details to know about Beyoncé's bold new album, RENAISSANCE.
The Album Is A Tribute To Her "Godmother" And The Pioneers Of Club Culture
Beyoncé called her late cousin Jonny, who was her mother's nephew, her uncle. He died of HIV-related complications, Beyoncé revealed when she paid tribute to him while accepting GLAAD's Vanguard Award in 2019. She dedicated the album to him and her family, showing pictures of her with her kids and her mother with Jonny.
"A big thank you to my Uncle Jonny," she wrote in the acknowledgements that appear on her website and on physical versions of RENAISSANCE. "He was my godmother and the first person to expose me to a lot of the music and culture that serve as inspiration for this album."
She continued, "Thank you to all of the pioneers who originate culture, to all of the fallen angels whose contributions have gone unrecognized for far too long. This is a celebration for you."
The album features contributions from several LGBTQIA+ artists that are acclaimed in the world of dance music, including Big Freedia, Kevin Aviance and Moi Renee. Honey Dijon, a transgender producer who worked on "COZY" and "ALIEN SUPERSTAR," called the RENAISSANCE experience "life changing."
"Your elegance, beauty, talent, work ethic, and vision is truly inspirational," Dijon wrote in a Facebook post. "To share my Chicago house music roots and black queer and trans culture with you and the world is profound and emotional. I am honored, humbled, delirious with joy, and proud."
RENAISSANCE Emulates A DJ Set
The songs on RENAISSANCE track at speeds from 92 to 136 beats per minute, a tempo range that's aimed straight at the dance floor. And many of the songs sample several other tracks within a few minutes in the way that a DJ set might be structured.
"PURE/HONEY," for example, samples the bassline from Chicago house classic "Mystery of Love" as well as vocals and stabs from three ballroom anthems: Kevin Aviance's "Cunty" (1999), "Miss Honey" (1992) by drag icon Moi Renee and MikeQ featuring Kevin JZ Prodigy's "Feels Like" (2011).
Further, Beyoncé has released a cappella and instrumental versions of "BREAK MY SOUL" on her YouTube channel — a move that signals that she's open to DJs everywhere using them as tools to create unofficial remixes in their sets.
Beyoncé Is The Drug On RENAISSANCE
The album drips with metaphors on how Beyoncé is the only intoxicant you need to get high. "You know love is my weakness," she sings in the opening song, "I'M THAT GIRL." "Don't need drugs for some freak s—/ I'm just high all the time, I'm out of my mind/ I'm tweakin'..."
On "AMERICA HAS A PROBLEM" — which samples beats from Atlanta rapper Kilo Ali's 1990 song "America Has a Problem (Cocaine)" — she compares herself to the drug, rapping, "Your ex-dealer dope, but it ain't crack enough/ I'm supplying my man, I'm in demand soon as I land."
You Can't Hear Him, But JAY-Z Is There
Beyoncé has collaborated with JAY-Z on several of her albums, but it would be easy to miss his contribution to RENAISSANCE. Though you won't hear the rapper's voice this time around, you'll still hear some JAY-Z lyrics: he's a co-writer on "AMERICA HAS A PROBLEM."
In the album's dedication, she calls him her "beautiful husband and muse, noting that he "held me down during those late nights in the studio." Sounds like the couple's collective creativity is still in full effect.
She's Leaning More Into Her Own Vocal Production
Beyoncé's deep involvement in her album production processes is routinely overlooked, but she serves as her own vocal producer for RENAISSANCE — in addition to her writing and producer credits.
"Sometimes it takes a year for me to personally search through thousands of sounds to find just the right kick or snare," she told Harper's Bazaar in 2021. "One chorus can have up to 200 stacked harmonies. Still, there's nothing like the amount of love, passion, and healing that I feel in the recording studio. After 31 years, it feels just as exciting as it did when I was 9 years old."
Will the next two acts in Beyoncé's musical story remain on the dance floor, or will the star explore new directions? With no announced timeline for the rest of the project, fans will just have to wait and see — but in the meantime, keep dancing.
Photo: Leon Bennett/Getty Images for Netflix
For Questlove, "A GRAMMY Salute To 50 Years Of Hip-Hop" Is Crucial For Rap's Legacy
When Questlove worked on the Hip-Hop 50 revue at the 2023 GRAMMYs, the experience was so stressful that he lost two teeth. But he didn't balk at the opportunity to co-produce a two-hour special; the task was too important.
Today, Public Enemy's 1988 album It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back is correctly viewed as a watershed not just for hip-hop, but all of music. But when Questlove's father overheard him playing it, it didn't even sound like music to him.
"He happened to pass my room while 'Night of the Living Baseheads' came on and he had a look of disgust and dismay, like he caught me watching porn," the artist born Ahmir Thompson tells GRAMMY.com. "He literally was like, 'Dude, when you were three, I was playing you Charlie Parker records, and I was playing you real singers and real arrangers, and this is what you call music? All those years I wasted on private school and jazz classes. This is what you like?'
"I couldn't explain to him: 'Dad, you don't understand. Your entire boring-ass record collection downstairs is now being redefined in this very album. Everything you've ever played is in this record,'" he says. "If my dad — who was relatively cool and hip, but just getting older — couldn't understand it, then I know there's a world of people out there that are really just like, whatever."
That nagging reality has powered him ever since — whether he's co-leading three-time GRAMMY winners the Roots, authoring books and liner notes, or directing Oscar-winning films.
And that path led straight to Questlove's role as a executive producer for "A GRAMMY Salute To 50 Years Of Hip-Hop," which will air Sunday, Dec. 10, from 8:30 to 10:30 p.m. ET and 8:00 to 10:00 p.m. PT on the CBS Television Network, and stream live and on demand on Paramount+.
Questlove makes no bones about it: working on that 12-minute Hip-Hop 50 revue at the 2023 GRAMMYs was taxing. So taxing, in fact, that he lost two teeth due to the psychological pressure. But he soldiered on, and the result is an inspiring rush of a two-hour special.
"The thing that really motivated me — Look, man, roll up your sleeves and run through this mud — was like, if there ever was going to be a hip-hop time capsule, a lot of the participants in this show are somewhere between the ages of 20 and 60, and everybody's still kind of in their prime," he says.
"So that way,” Questlove continues, “in 2030, 2040, 2050, when our great, great, great, great grandkids are born and they want to look up someone, this'll probably be one of the top five things they look up. And I wanted to be a part of that."
Read on for a rangey interview with Questlove about his role in "A GRAMMY Salute To 50 Years of Hip-Hop," in all its dimensions.
Explore More Of "A GRAMMY Salute to 50 Years of Hip-Hop"
This interview has been edited for clarity.
What can you tell me about your involvement in "A GRAMMY Salute To 50 Years Of Hip-Hop"?
I could be the guy that complains and complains and complains and complains: Man, I wish somebody would dah, dah, dah. Man, somebody needs to dah, dah, dah. And then the universe the whole time is poking you in the stomach like a dog. You think you're going to be drumming for life — like, that's your job.
So I went through this period where I just hated the lay of the land. And now people are like, "Well, the door is open if you want to come and see if you could change it." And for me, it was just important to.
And at first, I was really skeptical about this because even when I was an artist, my peers all the time would — I say in air quotes jokingly, but it's like, man, I know they're serious — they would just call me a suit. Whenever someone's called a suit in a sitcom or it is like, that's always the bad guy. Or especially for me that's known for all this artistry.
But for me, it's like, I can either just sit on the sidelines and watch this thing slowly kind of go in a direction that I don't want it to go. And often with the history of Black music in America, we're innovating this stuff, but we're really not behind the scenes in power positions to control it or to decide what direction it is. And it's a lot of heartbreaking and hard work.
After the success of the thing that we did in March — that 12-minute revue thing — I'll be honest with you. For 12 minutes that was like going through damn near, and I'm not even using hyperbolic statements by saying, coming out within an inch of my life.
When that moment was literally over and I was on the airplane landing back in New York, two of my teeth fell out. That's the level of stress I was [under]. Imagine landing in JFK and I got to rush to "The Tonight Show," but then it's like, Oh, wait, what's happening? Oh God, no! My teeth are falling out! And going to emergency surgery. My whole takeaway was like: Never again.
So of course when they hit me in July, "Hey, remember that 12 minute thing you did? You want to do the two-hour version of it?" I was like, "Hell no." And of course I hell noed for three weeks and it's like, "All right, I'll do it, but I'll just be a name on it. I ain't doing nothing." And then it went from that to like, "All right, what do you need me to do?"
What I will say is it's a two-hour show in which you got to figure out how to tell [the story of] hip-hop's 50-year totality — its origins, its peak period, its first moments of breaking new ground, the moment it went global around the world. You got to figure out a way to tell this story in two-hour interstitials and be all-inclusive.
It was just as stressful, even up until four hours ago. I'll just basically say that my teeth didn't fall out, thank God. And it was worth everything, because it's really a beautiful moment.
Sorry for that 12-hour answer, but that's just how my life rolls.
It was a great answer. What was your specific role behind the scenes?
So, [part of] my actual division of labor thing was finding people to help facilitate music. This is a genre in which maybe the first six years of the art form, there was no such thing as an instrumental. "Or, "Hey, J.Period, can you recreate 'Check Out My Melody' by Eric B. & Rakim with no vocals in it?"
Finding the right people to do the music, sometimes I'd have to do it myself. And a lot of people in hip-hop have been super burnt. Super burnt. And I mean, that's putting it lightly.
And so you're giving these impassioned, Jerry Maguire, help-me-help-you speeches. The amount of times I was like, "Look, I really want you to reconsider your answer. This is our legacy we're talking about."
I'm using terms that a lot of these people, frankly, are hearing for the first time, Because like I've said in past interviews, hip-hop started as outlaw music. No one thought it was going to be a thing. So there's a whole generation that had to lay out the red carpet, just so that the next generation could benefit from it while we disposed of them.
But then that next generation gets disposed of, and then here comes my generation. And then the next thing, you wake up and it's like, "Oh, we're not relevant anymore," and dah, dah, dah.
And I'm trying to convince people, "Wait, you don't understand. Now we have a seat at the table. Now we get to control. All that we talked about, we need to control our destiny, and this is our culture." And there was a lot of that. And some people [were like], "All right, I'll do it for you." [To which I said,] "No, no, don't do it for me. Do it for the culture."
But then there were also people like, "Man, never again. F— all that." And there was also, "Hey, why wasn't I asked?" and all that stuff. So in these two hours, you're going to see eight to nine segments in which we try to wisely cover every base.
This is the "Lyricist" section, and this is the "Down South" section. And ["Ladies First"] is all about the ladies. And this is for those that passed away. And this is for the club bangers. And this is for music outside of America. And this is for the left-of-center alternative hip-hop.
Yes, we wanted to include everybody, but this is network television. And at that, you only get eight to 12 minutes at a time. So that's even hard. "Hey, why can't I do my chorus and my verse?" "Look, man, you got 32 seconds." If you've ever seen those "Tom and Jerry" cartoons where they're juggling plates in a kitchen — like 30 at a time — I don't recommend that to anybody.
But we got through it. I want everyone to feel proud of where hip-hop has come, because to be nine years old and to get on punishment for hip-hop — you know what I mean? I come from that generation. You've got to pay a price to live this culture.
And now it's established. So that's why I got involved. So there was a lot I had to do. A lot of calls, a lot of begging, a lot of arrangements, a lot of talking to people about clearing their samples, to call up publishing companies: "Look, it's just a four-second segment. It's just one drum roll. Can you please overlook it just for the sake of it?"
The amount of times I had to give those speeches. So yeah, that's what I had to do.
And that's just me. It's nine of us. So there's lighting directions, and choreography, and wardrobe, and dealing with clearance — like FCC, and, "They can't say that." And, "All right, which one of us is going to try to call Snoop to ask him that sort of thing?"
And the amount of Zooms that we were on at five in the morning in the Maldives or halfway around the world.
There must be some component of this process where you recognize that there could never be a perfect two-hour special. There could never be a perfect 200-hour special. There must be something freeing about realizing that nothing can be comprehensive when you're dealing with a cultural ocean like this.
[At one point], I had to take a hip-hop break. And the first thing that I did a week later, after recuperating, was I went on YouTube and I just watched every award show I remember watching — like prime Soul Train Awards back in '87, '88, '89, the years that Michael Jackson was killing the GRAMMYs.
Award shows were so magical to me, when I was a kid. There was a period just between five to maybe 15 or 16 in which I religiously watched that stuff, and you just take it for granted.
When Herbie Hancock did Rockit back in 1983 with all those mechanical break dancers, I wonder the work and the headaches that it took to make that happen. The drummer from Guns N' Roses [was] missing while they had to do "Patience" at the American Music Awards — and Don Henley, of all people, was just on the sidelines like, "Does anyone know how to drum?"
Because the thing was, that was the year they decided, "You know what? This is going to be the first year in which we're going to ask artists to double down on stuff. So we're going to have Rihanna sing three songs, and we're going to have Chris do two songs. We're going to have Justin Timberlake. And then, suddenly, their absence now means that there's five major gaps open.
And they had 40 minutes left before they went to go live and I'm watching the producer make an announcement: "Ladies and gentlemen, something just happened. We can't get into it."
The level of viralness now on Instagram or Twitter is expected, but back then it was like, Oh, I wonder what happened? And they're just running up the aisles to Stevie Wonder, "Yo, can you [mimics rapid-fire, inaudible chatter]?"
And I'm looking at him, pondering: What the hell are they asking him? And then Stevie's getting up and doing it, and then, "Jonas Brothers, can you duh, duh, duh? Boyz II Men. Where's Al Green? Is Al Green here?" So literally, I'm watching them solve a headache in real time. And with 20 minutes left, backstage rehearsing, and we were really none the wiser.
I've seen that a few times. My very first GRAMMYs was when Luciano Pavarotti got sick and someone just randomly asked, "Hey, does anyone out there know the lyrics to 'Ave Maria'?" Aretha Franklin raised her hand, and we were all like, 'Wait, we mean the Italian version, like that 'Ave Maria.'" And she's like, "I do know the version."
We underestimated if Aretha Franklin from Detroit, Michigan knew how to sing something in Italian. And within a half hour she was on that stage and she killed that s—.
So it made me literally recapitulate every award show I ever watched.Now I'm watching with the analytical eye: I wonder what headaches it took to put that together? So, it changed me as a spectator and a participant.
I have a friend who's been a dedicated hip-hop fan his entire life. We were talking about the 50th anniversary of hip-hop. He questioned the entire enterprise, arguing that it's an arbitrary number that doesn't mean much to true rap fans. What does the 50th anniversary of hip-hop mean to you, personally?
Well, to me, it's important. There's an interlude that I put on the Things Fall Apart record. The album starts with an argument from [the 1990 film] Mo' Better Blues in which Denzel Washington and Wesley Snipes' jazz musician characters are arguing about just the disposability of the art form.
And it ends with a quote from Harry Allen saying that the thing about hip-hop is that most people think that it's disposable: Let me get what I can out this thing, and I'll throw them out the window. And on top of that, people don't even see it as art. And that really hit me in the gut, because I see the beauty of it.
This is kind of why I got into the game of: first it was with liner notes, and then with social media doing these mammoth history posts. And then it's like, Alright, well, let me write some books, because I'm afraid that no one's doing this level of critical thinking about this particular thing.
I know that the disdain and the dismissiveness that I got from some of hip-hop's participants does sort of stem from a place of ego being bruised. And it's righteous. It's righteous anger. But I also knew that if I sat on the sidelines, then it's like when I have grandkids and they Google this, and if it was a half-assed job, then that's my fault. And I definitely don't want to be the guy that talks, talks, complains, complains, without being a part of it.
So yeah, for the amount of people that prematurely died before the age of 30, and for the startling volume of people that have recently passed away in the last three years because of health issues, cardiac arrest, strokes, a lot of us are dying… You and I are talking right now, right when Norman Lear has passed away at the age of 101.
I just read that in The New York Times.
Dude, can you imagine "Tupac Shakur Dead at 103"? Can you imagine that for hip-hop?
It's a survival tool, because for a lot of us, that was the way out of poverty. It was vital for me. I couldn't just sit back and not watch one person behind the wheel. I have to be the designated driver. So, that's why it's important to celebrate that number.
And a big part of my convincing them was like when they were going to pass, like, "Nah, dog, I'm cool. I got a gig that night," I was like, "Dude, we're not going to do this for the 51st or the 52nd. And frankly, will we be here?" I will be 92 years old if it makes it to the 75th. You know what I mean?
The only person that got in my face was Latifah like, "Excuse me, I will be here for the 75th and I will be for the 100th. You don't know when I'm leaving." So I was like, "More power to you, Dana. All right, good. Queen Latifah will be here for the 100th."
What I'm gathering from what you're saying is that no matter what, it's important to have an organization of this prestige canonize this cultural force.
Oh, absolutely. And I know that oftentimes we play the game of public appearances for the gaze of the establishment. I don't want to get into that thing either: making performative celebrations just so that the mainstream can celebrate us.
I have to say that when you watch it, it really doesn't come off as compromised. This thing really looks good. That was the one thing that we laughed at in the group chat, like, "Man, we just went through Apocalypse Now, and are we all saying it was worth it?"
There are at least three people in my production thread that were sort of like, "Uh-huh, never again. I will never again subject myself." And one of them is dead serious. One of them started doing something the opposite, like, "Nah, I'm just doing classical music from now on. There's no stress there." But it was worth it. It was worth it to me.
Questlove in 2023. Photo: Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images
It looks to be a classy, expansive special. I'm excited for it to air.
The best part about it? So if you remember, to me, the star of the 12-minute version that we did at the GRAMMYs in March, was Jay-Z.
It was one of the things where it's like, "Hey, do we even ask Jay-Z?" And that's the one guy we decided ourselves, "Well, let's pass on him because number one, he's already performing with DJ Khaled, so we'll pass on him."
Jay-Z actually wound up being the star of that because he was a fan mouthing it in the audience, which to me was almost like better than us just doing a song with Jay-Z on stage. But the audience is the absolute star.
To see Chuck D smile — I've never seen Chuck D smile. As all these acts are coming out and Chuck D's like, singing <a href="https://www.grammy.com/news/sly-stone-velvet-underground-11-facts-about-grammy-legends">[Sly and the Family Stone's] "Everyday People," like Boston fans sing "Sweet Caroline" at Red Sox games. Who knew that Chuck D was so jovial about things? But that's with everyone in the audience watching, supporting each other.
So that to me is also an important thing because as audience members on stage, they're ripping it, but as audience members, they're supporting each other. And that, I think is the most important part, because a lot of my take was like, "Wow, I didn't know that dah, dah, dah was so supportive." Or, "Man, Nelly actually knows every Public Enemy lyric. Who knew?" There are a lot of "Who knew?" moments that will shock people for this show.
I'm so glad you brought that up. That was one of my favorite moments during the Hip-Hop 50 performance at the 2022 GRAMMYs. Jay-Z is a billionaire twice over and a global cultural figure, but we see him in the audience, grinning ear-to-ear like a little boy, doing finger guns in the air.
He's getting his life back. And it's important. Especially now, I'm all about joy. And it's not even just like this particular hip-hop figure celebrating his music.
When Chance the Rapper comes out, again, I'm like, "Wow, [Cee] Knowledge from Digable Planets knows Chance?" And then I was like, "Well, they got kids, so of course I'm sure their kids play around the house." I'm doing all this analytical things like, "Wait, how do they know this song? And this is past their age range."
And that to me is the most telling part of this whole thing, to watch generational people get out of their actual zone and to find out that they're fans of — when GloRilla comes out, to watch [Digable Planets' Ladybug] Mecca mouth the lyrics. I was just like, "Oh, wow, OK."
That kind of puts to bed that stereotype that we only listen to the music in our realm. So, yeah, man — to me, that was the magic part of it all.
Credit: Paul Natkin/Getty Images
20 Iconic Hip-Hop Style Moments: From Run-D.M.C. To Runways
From Dapper Dan's iconic '80s creations to Kendrick Lamar's 2023 runway performance, hip-hop's influence and impact on style and fashion is undeniable. In honor of hip-hop's 50th anniversary, look back at the culture's enduring effect on fashion.
In the world of hip-hop, fashion is more than just clothing. It's a powerful means of self-expression, a cultural statement, and a reflection of the ever-evolving nature of the culture.
Since its origin in 1973, hip-hop has been synonymous with style — but the epochal music category known for breakbeats and lyrical flex also elevated, impacted, and revolutionized global fashion in a way no other genre ever has.
Real hip-hop heads know this. Before Cardi B was gracing the Met Gala in Mugler and award show red carpets in custom Schiaparelli, Dapper Dan was disassembling garment bags in his Harlem studio in the 1980s, tailoring legendary looks for rappers that would appear on famous album cover art. Crescendo moments like Kendrick Lamar’s performance at the Louis Vuitton Men’s Spring-Summer 2023 runway show in Paris in June 2022 didn’t happen without a storied trajectory toward the runway.
Big fashion moments in hip-hop have always captured the camera flash, but finding space to tell the bigger story of hip-hop’s connection and influence on fashion has not been without struggle. Journalist and author Sowmya Krishnamurphy said plenty of publishers passed on her anthology on the subject, Fashion Killa: How Hip-Hop Revolutionized High Fashion, and "the idea of hip hop fashion warranting 80,000 words."
"They didn't think it was big enough or culturally important," Krishnamurphy tells GRAMMY.com, "and of course, when I tell people that usually, the reaction is they're shocked."
Yet, at the 50 year anniversary, sands continue to shift swiftly. Last year exhibitions like the Fashion Institute of Technology’s Fresh, Fly, and Fabulous: Fifty Years of Hip-Hop Style popped up alongside notable publishing releases including journalist Vikki Tobak’s, Ice Cold. A Hip-Hop Jewelry Story. Tabak’s second published release covering hip-hop’s influence on style, following her 2018 title, Contact High: A Visual History of Hip-Hop.
"I wanted to go deeper into the history," Krishnamurphy continues. "The psychology, the sociology, all of these important factors that played a role in the rise of hip-hop and the rise of hip-hop fashion"
What do the next 50 years look like? "I would love to see a hip-hop brand, whether it be from an artist, a designer, creative director, somebody from the hip-hop space, become that next great American heritage brand," said Krishnamurphy.
In order to look forward we have to look back. In celebration of hip-hop’s 50 year legacy, GRAMMY.com examines iconic moments that have defined and inspired generations. From Tupac walking the runways at Versace to Gucci's inception-esque knockoff of Dapper Dan, these moments in hip-hop fashion showcase how artists have used clothing, jewelry, accessories, and personal style to shape the culture and leave an indelible mark on the world.
The cover art to Eric B and Rakim’s Paid in Full
Dapper Dan And Logomania: Luxury + High Fashion Streetwear
Dapper Dan, the legendary designer known as "the king of knock-offs," played a pivotal role in transforming luxury fashion into a symbol of empowerment and resistance for hip-hop stars, hustlers, and athletes starting in the 1980s. His Harlem boutique, famously open 24 hours a day, became a hub where high fashion collided with the grit of the streets.
Dapper Dan's customized, tailored outfits, crafted from deconstructed and transformed luxury items, often came with significantly higher price tags compared to ready-to-wear luxury fashion. A friend and favorite of artists like LL Cool J and Notorious B.I.G., Dapper Dan created iconic one-of-a-kind looks seen on artists like Eric B and Rakim’s on the cover of their Paid in Full album.
This fusion, marked by custom pieces emblazoned with designer logos, continues to influence hip-hop high fashion streetwear. His story — which began with endless raids by luxury houses like Fendi, who claimed copyright infringement — would come full circle with brands like Gucci later paying homage to his legacy.
Athleisure Takes Over
Hip-hop's intersection with sportswear gave rise to the "athleisure" trend in the 1980s and '90s, making tracksuits, sweatshirts, and sneakers everyday attire. This transformation was propelled by iconic figures such as Run-D.M.C. and their association with Adidas, as seen in photoshoots and music videos for tracks like "My Adidas."
LL Cool J. Photo: Paul Natkin/Getty Images
LL Cool J’s Kangol Hat
The Kangol hat holds a prominent place in hip-hop fashion, often associated with the genre's early days in the '80s and '90s. This popular headwear became a symbol of casual coolness, popularized by hip-hop pioneers like LL Cool J and Run-D.M.C. The simple, round shape and the Kangaroo logo on the front became instantly recognizable, making the Kangol an essential accessory that was synonymous with a laid-back, streetwise style.
Dr. Dre, comedian T.K. Kirkland, Eazy-E, and Too Short in 1989. Photo: Raymond Boyd/Getty Images
N.W.A & Sports Team Representation
Hip-hop, and notably N.W.A., played a significant role in popularizing sports team representation in fashion. The Los Angeles Raiders' gear became synonymous with West Coast hip-hop thanks to its association with the group's members Dr. Dre, Eazy-E, and Ice Cube, as well as MC Ren.
Slick Rick in 1991. Photo: Al Pereira/Getty Images/Michael Ochs Archives
Slick Rick’s Rings & Gold Chains
Slick Rick "The Ruler" has made a lasting impact on hip-hop jewelry and fashion with his kingly display of jewelry and wealth. His trendsetting signature look — a fistful of gold rings and a neck heavily layered with an array of opulent chains — exuded a sense of grandeur and self-confidence. Slick Rick's bold and flamboyant approach to jewelry and fashion remains a defining element of hip-hop's sartorial history, well documented in Tobak's Ice Cold.
Tupac Walks The Versace Runway Show
Tupac Shakur's runway appearance at the 1996 Versace runway show was a remarkable and unexpected moment in fashion history. The show was part of Milan Fashion Week, and Versace was known for pushing boundaries and embracing popular culture in their designs. In Fashion Killa, Krishnamurpy documents Shakur's introduction to Gianni Versace and his participation in the 1996 Milan runway show, where he walked arm-in-arm with Kadida Jones.
TLC. Photo: Tim Roney/Getty Images
Women Embrace Oversized Styles
Oversized styles during the 1990s were not limited to menswear; many women in hip-hop during this time adopted a "tomboy" aesthetic. This trend was exemplified by artists like Aaliyah’s predilection for crop tops paired with oversized pants and outerwear (and iconic outfits like her well-remembered Tommy Hilfiger look.)
Many other female artists donned oversized, menswear-inspired looks, including TLC and their known love for matching outfits featuring baggy overalls, denim, and peeking boxer shorts and Missy Elliott's famous "trash bag" suit worn in her 1997 music video for "The Rain." Speaking to Elle Magazine two decades after the original video release Elliot told the magazine that it was a powerful symbol that helped mask her shyness, "I loved the idea of feeling like a hip hop Michelin woman."
Diddy Launches Sean John
Sean "Diddy" Combs’ launch of Sean John in 1998 was about more than just clothing. Following the success of other successful sportswear brands by music industry legends like Russell Simmons’ Phat Farm, Sean John further represented a lifestyle and a cultural movement. Inspired by his own fashion sensibilities, Diddy wanted to create elevated clothing that reflected the style and swagger of hip-hop. From tailored suits to sportswear, the brand was known for its bold designs and signature logo, and shared space with other successful brands like Jay-Z’s Rocawear and model Kimora Lee Simmons' brand Baby Phat.
Lil' Kim. Photo: Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images
Lil’ Kim Steals The Show
Lil' Kim’s daring and iconic styles found a kindred home at Versace with
In 1999, Lil' Kim made waves at the MTV Video Music Awards with her unforgettable appearance in a lavender jumpsuit designed by Donatella Versace. This iconic moment solidified her close relationship with the fashion designer, and their collaboration played a pivotal role in reshaping the landscape of hip-hop fashion, pushing boundaries and embracing bold, daring styles predating other newsworthy moments like J.Lo’s 2000 appearance in "The Dress" at the GRAMMY Awards.
Lil Wayne Popularizes "Bling Bling"
Juvenile & Lil Wayne's "Bling Bling" marked a culturally significant moment. Coined in the late 1990s by Cash Money Records, the term "bling bling" became synonymous with the excessive and flashy display of luxury jewelry. Lil Wayne and the wider Cash Money roster celebrated this opulent aesthetic, solidifying the link between hip-hop music and lavish jewelry. As a result, "bling" became a cornerstone of hip-hop's visual identity.
Jay-Z x Nike Air Force 1
In 2004, Jay-Z's partnership with Nike produced the iconic "Roc-A-Fella" Air Force 1 sneakers, a significant collaboration that helped bridge the worlds of hip-hop and sneaker culture. These limited-edition kicks in white and blue colorways featured the Roc-A-Fella Records logo on the heel and were highly coveted by fans. The collaboration exemplified how hip-hop artists could have a profound impact on sneaker culture and streetwear by putting a unique spin on classic designs. Hova's design lives on in limitless references to fresh white Nike kicks.
Daft Punk and Pharrell Williams. Photo: Mark Davis/WireImage
Pharrell Williams' Hat At The 2014 GRAMMYs
Pharrell Williams made a memorable red carpet appearance at the 2014 GRAMMY Awards in a distinctive and oversized brown hat. Designed by Vivienne Westwood, the hat quickly became the talk of the event and social media. A perfect blend of sartorial daring, Pharrell's hat complemented his red Adidas track jacket while accentuating his unique sense of style. An instant fashion moment, the look sparked innumerable memes and, likely, a renewed interest in headwear.
Kanye’s Rise & Fall At Adidas (2013-2022)
Much more than a "moment," the rise and eventual fall of Kanye’s relationship with Adidas, was as documented in a recent investigation by the New York Times. The story begins in 2013 when West and the German sportswear brand agreed to enter a partnership. The collaboration would sell billions of dollars worth of shoes, known as "Yeezys," until West’s anti-semitic, misogynistic, fat-phobic, and other problematic public comments forced the Adidas brand to break from the partnership amid public outrage.
Supreme Drops x Hip-Hop Greats
Supreme, with its limited drops, bold designs, and collaborations with artists like Nas and Wu-Tang Clan, stands as a modern embodiment of hip-hop's influence on streetwear. The brand's ability to create hype, long lines outside its stores, and exclusive artist partnerships underscores the enduring synergy between hip-hop and street fashion.
A model walks the runway at the Gucci Cruise 2018 show. Photo: Pietro D'Aprano/Getty Images
Gucci Pays "homage" to Dapper Dan
When Gucci released a collection in 2017 that seemingly copied Dapper Dan's distinctive style, (particularly one look that seemed to be a direct re-make of a jacket he had created for Olympian Dionne Dixon in the '80s), it triggered outrage and accusations of cultural theft. This incident sparked a conversation about the fashion industry's tendency to co-opt urban and streetwear styles without proper recognition, while also displaying flagrant symbols of racism through designs.
Eventually, spurred by public outrage, the controversy led to a collaboration between Gucci and Dapper Dan, a significant moment in luxury fashion's acknowledgement and celebration of the contributions of Black culture, including streetwear and hip-hop to high fashion. "Had Twitter not spotted the, "Diane Dixon" [jacket] walking down the Gucci runway and then amplified that conversation on social media... I don't think we would have had this incredible comeback," Sowmya Krishnamurphy says.
A$AP Rocky x DIOR
Self-proclaimed "Fashion Killa" A$AP Rocky is a true fashion aficionado. In 2016, the sartorially obsessed musician and rapper became one of the faces of Dior Homme’s fall/winter campaign shot by photographer Willy Vanderperre — an early example of Rocky's many high fashion collaborations with the luxury European brand.
A$AP Rocky's tailored style and impeccable taste for high fashion labels was eloquently enumerated in the track "Fashion Killa" from his 2013 debut album Long. Live. ASAP, which namedrops some 36 luxury fashion brands. The music video for "Fashion Killa" was co-directed by Virgil Abloh featuring a Supreme jersey-clad Fenty founder, Rihanna long before the two became one of music’s most powerful couples. The track became an anthem for hip-hop’s appreciation for high fashion (and serves as the title for Krishnamurphy’s recently published anthology).
Cardi B. Photo: Steve Granitz/WireImage
Cardi B Wears Vintage Mugler At The 2019 GRAMMYs
Cardi B has solidified her "it girl" fashion status in 2018 and 2019 with bold and captivating style choices and designer collaborations that consistently turn heads. Her 2019 GRAMMYs red carpet appearance in exaggerated vintage Mugler gown, and many custom couture Met Gala looks by designers including Jeremy Scott and Thom Browne that showcased her penchant for drama and extravagance.
But Cardi B's fashion influence extends beyond her penchant for custom high-end designer pieces (like her 2021 gold-masked Schiaparelli look, one of nine looks in an evening.) Her unique ability to blend couture glamour with urban chic (she's known for championing emerging designers and streetwear brands) fosters a sense of inclusivity and diversity, and makes her a true trendsetter.
Beyoncé & Jay-Z in Tiffany & Co.’s "About Love" campaign
The power duo graced Tiffany & Co.'s "About Love'' campaign in 2021, showcasing the iconic "Tiffany Yellow Diamond," a 128.54-carat yellow worn by Beyoncé alongside a tuxedo-clad Jay-Z. The campaign sparked controversy in several ways, with some viewers unable to reconcile the use of such a prominent and historically significant diamond, sourced at the hands of slavery, in a campaign that could be seen as commercializing and diluting the diamond's cultural and historical importance. Despite mixed reaction to the campaign, their stunning appearance celebrated love, adorned with Tiffany jewels and reinforced their status as a power couple in both music and fashion.
Kendrick Lamar Performs At Louis Vuitton
When Kendrick Lamar performed live at the Louis Vuitton Men’s spring-summer 2023 runway show in Paris in June 2022 following the passing of Louis Vuitton’s beloved creative director Virgil Abloh, he underscored the inextricable connection between music, fashion and Black American culture.
Lamar sat front row next to Naomi Campbell, adorned with a jeweled crown of thorns made from diamonds and white gold worth over $2 million, while he performed tracks including "Savior," "N95," and "Rich Spirit'' from his last album, Mr. Morale and the Big Steppers before ending with a repeated mantra, "Long live Virgil." A giant children’s toy racetrack erected in the Cour Carrée of the Louvre became a yellow brick road where models marched, clad in designer looks with bold, streetwear-inspired design details, some strapped with oversized wearable stereo systems.
Pharrell Succeeds Virgil Abloh At Louis Vuitton
Pharrell Williams' appointment as the creative director at Louis Vuitton for their men's wear division in 2023 emphasized hip-hop's enduring influence on global fashion. Pharrell succeeded Virgil Abloh, who was the first Black American to hold the position.
Pharrell's path to this prestigious role, marked by his 2004 and 2008 collaborations with Louis Vuitton, as well as the founding of his streetwear label Billionaire Boy’s Club in 2006 alongside Nigo, the founder of BAPE and Kenzo's current artistic director, highlights the growing diversity and acknowledgment of Black talent within high fashion.
Photo: Raymond Boyd/Getty Images
Why 1998 Was Hip-Hop's Most Mature Year: From The Rise Of The Underground To Artist Masterworks
From the release of 'The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill' and 'Aquemini,' to the proliferation of underground rap and the rise of regionalism, 1998 was hip-hop's sweet spot.
2023 has seen countless tributes to hip-hop, celebrating both its golden anniversary and the staying power of a genre that was vilified, underestimated, and branded a passing fad for decades. Nonetheless, while 50 is a major milestone, many believe hip-hop reached its peak decades ago.
At the tail end of the golden age of hip-hop, the genre reached a new level of maturity. Twenty-five years ago, hip-hop music demonstrated a wide variety of production styles and a diversity of perspectives. Further proving that 1998 was a high watermark for hip-hop, several important and stylistically distinct albums by Jay-Z, Black Star, A Tribe Called Quest and Outkast were even released on the same day.
This diversity of expression resulted in multiple commercially successful, distinct subgenres and niche audiences. The culture moved beyond the bi-coastal hostility that had culminated in the tragic murders of Tupac and Biggie, and the South asserted itself in a big way. The year’s versatility was demonstrated through the emergence of an underground scene that was critical of mainstream hip-hop’s consumerist mentality, but nonetheless thrived alongside commercially successful albums by both new and established artists.
Southern Hip-Hop Earns Respect
By 1998 groups beyond the East and West Coasts had started to gain national visibility — a hallmark of hip-hop's growing maturity.
While Outkast's Andre 3000 famously declared that "The South got somethin’ to say" in1995, the group didn't earn widespread respect and recognition until three years later. Released in September 1998, Aquemini, garnered near-universal praise — earning Outkast a notoriously rare five mics in The Source — and is still considered to be one of hip-hop’s greatest albums.
No other hip-hop group sounded like Outkast, and Southern flavor and slang pervaded the album (see the harmonica breakdown in "Rosa Parks"), but it was also the live instrumentation on tracks like "Liberation" and "SpottieOttieDopaliscious" that made the album so special.
Fellow ATLiens Goodie MOB, a group in the Dungeon Family collective, also released an album in '98. Like Aquemini, their sophomore effort Still Standing was produced largely by Organized Noize and featured a similar production style.
Outkast and Goodie MOB collaborated often in the 1990s: Aquemini’s "Liberation" only works because of the deeply soulful vocals of Goodie MOB’s Cee-Lo, and Still Standing’s "Black Ice" features one of Andre 3000’s most poetic and brilliant verses. While speaking to the many struggles of being young, Black and poor in the South, these two groups demonstrated how regional pride could be asserted in a more positive way, instead of spilling over into real-life violence; it was evidence of hip-hop’s maturity.
On the more commercial side, Atlanta rapper/producer Jermaine Dupri — who was already producing and writing songs for major R&B artists like Usher and Mariah Carey — released his debut album, resulting in one of the hits of the summer: the bouncy Jay-Z collaboration "Money Ain’t A Thang." New Orleans was also becoming an important locus of Southern hip-hop by 1998, with Master P’s No Limit Records releasing albums by Master P himself, Silkk the Shocker, C-Murder, Mystikal, and Snoop Dogg. Hits included "Make ‘Em Say Ugh" and "It Ain’t My Fault," both containing Mystikal’s distinctive high-pitched growling; his lightning-fast verse on the first song is truly something to behold. Also from Crescent City, Cash Money Records struck gold with Juvenile’s 400 Degreez and his booty-shaking anthem, "Back That Azz Up."
The Rise of Underground Hip-Hop
1998 was also the year "underground" hip-hop bubbled to the surface as a reaction to the genre’s crossover success. It was defined primarily by a critique of the presumed excessive consumerism of mainstream hip-hop, and a desire to return to the days when DJs, b-boys and graffiti artists were as important as rappers.
Turntablism was strongly associated with this style, as were cyphers — gatherings where rappers, b-boys and beatboxers would form a circle and engage in freestyle battles. The emergence of underground hip-hop was another sign that the genre was maturing as a whole; artists were no longer as worried about the ghettoization by the music industry and some felt that it had strayed too far from its marginalized roots.
The most significant underground hip-hop album of 1998 was Mos Def and Talib Kweli are Black Star, created by a young duo of Brooklyn MCs. Interestingly, it was released on the same day in September as Aquemini, as well as two other major albums of the year: Jay-Z’s Vol. 2…Hard Knock Life and A Tribe Called Quest’s The Love Movement — which although not an essential listen in their discography, did produce a hit with "Find A Way." Four major albums released on the same day was a testament to how far hip-hop had come.
In fact, the Black Star album was an explicit critique of the type of consumerist mentality and sexually explicit/boasting lyrics Jay-Z employed on Hard Knock Life. Songs like "Definition" display Mos Def and Talib Kweli’s exceptional lyrical dexterity and clever references, while "Hater Players" draws a clear line in the sand between commercial hip-hop and the "real MCs." In the latter, Kweli raps: "We ain't havin’ that, reachin’ past the star status that you grabbin’ at/ My battle raps blast your ass back to your natural habitat."
Mos Def’s adaptation of Slick Rick’s "Children’s Story" is a clever screed about the lack of originality within mainstream hip-hop. "They jacked the beats, money came wit' ease, but son, he couldn't stop, it's like he had a disease. He jacked another and another, Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder." The song was a not-so-veiled reference to the production technique utilized by Puff Daddy, relying heavily on well-known samples of soul and R&B songs.
Black Star also distinguished itself from much of commercial rap of the time by uplifting, instead of denigrating, women. "Brown Skin Lady" is an ode to Black women throughout the African diaspora, presenting a clear contrast to the frequent use of the b-word on Hard Knock Life, particularly on one of its biggest hits, "Can I Get A…" Nonetheless, like many "conscious" rappers — notably, Common, who makes a guest appearance on this album — Black Star reflects the almost-universal homophobia in hip-hop at the time, particularly in Mos Def’s verse on "Re-Definition."
Despite Jay-Z’s distrust and demonization of women on Hard Knock Life — his third and most commercially successful record — no one can dispute his tremendous verbal prowess and flow, evident on tracks like "N— What, N— Who." And while he called out "gold diggers" in "Can I Get A…," he invited a female rapper (Amil) onto the song — leveling the playing field a bit.
Production-wise, Jay-Z’s use of the "Annie" theme for the title song was one of the most inspired choices in the genre’s history. The slick production of the album guaranteed it would be a home run; in retrospect, it heralded the future of commercial hip-hop’s sound.
Oher underground hip-hop artists were making big waves in 1998. Rawkus Records — which released the Black Star album — put out an important compilation, Lyricist Lounge, Volume 1, which featured performances by Mos Def, Talib Kweli, A Tribe Called Quest’s Q-Tip, and the L.A.-based Jurassic 5, who also released their debut album that year. Other West Coast underground artists who released debut albums in 1998 included the Bay Area-based Hieroglyphics and Rasco, and the L.A.-based Aceyalone and People Under the Stairs.
Debuts, Veterans And The Biggest Album Of The Year
1998 also saw the release of important debut albums by commercial hip-hop artists like DMX, Big Pun and Black Eyed Peas. Big Pun’s "Still Not A Player" was one of the biggest hits of the year, with his lyricism reminiscent of Biggie.
DMX had a particularly productive year, releasing two albums in 1998, It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot and Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of My Blood. That year, it was impossible to escape the melodic hook and chorus of "Ruff Ryders’ Anthem" ("Stop! Drop! Shut ‘em down, open up shop") from the first DMX album. DMX also contributed a memorable verse on the Lox’s hit "Money, Power, Respect," off the group’s debut album, released by Puffy’s Bad Boy.
Beyond the debut albums of 1998, a slew of established artists from various regions and representing myriad styles put out their third, fourth or fifth albums. East Coast artists with new albums included Beastie Boys, Method Man, Redman, Busta Rhymes, Queen Latifah, Gang Starr, Mc Lyte, and Public Enemy, who released a soundtrack album for Spike Lee’s He Got Game. On the West Coast, there were new albums by Cypress Hill, Ice Cube, and Digital Underground.
Notwithstanding the success of so many diverse hip-hop artists, no album achieved greater heights than Lauryn Hill’s masterful solo debut, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. To start, it won Album Of The Year at the 1999 GRAMMYs, a feat never before accomplished for a hip-hop artist, as well as four other golden gramophones. Hill wrote, arranged and produced the album herself, reportedly turning down offers for production help from both her former Fugees bandmate Wyclef Jean and her label, which suggested bringing in Wu-Tang Clan’s mastermind, RZA.
The album was somewhere between R&B and hip-hop (and in fact was nominated and won in R&B instead of rap categories), and right off the bat, the album showcases Hill’s considerable skill as both a rapper and singer. The dancehall-inflected "Lost Ones" takes on an aggressive stance, with Hill rapping in Jamaican patois and invoking phrases of religious retribution, but it’s followed by a neo-soul breakup ballad, "Ex-Factor," featuring Hill’s signature throaty vocals.
The other major hits on the album besides "Ex-Factor" were "Doo Wop (That Thing)" and "Everything Is Everything," which cemented Hill as one of the best lyricists in hip-hop. Twenty-five years later, the whole album holds up beautifully and features some incredible invited guests.
Perhaps it’s not a coincidence that the first hip-hop album to break the Album Of The Year barrier was released in 1998 — when the genre had reached what is arguably its creative apex. With the incredible stylistic and regional diversity of that year’s albums, hip-hop had succeeded beyond its founders’ wildest dreams.
Photo: KMazur/WireImage for New York Post
8 Ways Jay-Z's 'The Black Album' Changed The Hip-Hop Game
What was almost Jay-Z's final album turned into one of his most iconic. For its 20th anniversary, take a look at how 'The Black Album' altered the course of Jay-Z's career — and rap as a whole.
"From bricks to Billboards, from grams to Grammys," Jay-Z rhymes on "Dirt Off Your Shoulder," a prime example of how his eighth LP, The Black Album, is dominated by his rags-to-riches story. Released Nov. 14, 2003, The Black Album was, ironically, intended to be the rapper's final chapter. But the album's remarkable commercial and critical success — it sold 3.5 million copies in the States to become his sixth consecutive number one on the Billboard 200 — instead furthered his magnitude and influence, only continuing his legacy of one of rap's greats.
Boasting no fewer than 12 of the era's hottest producers (The Neptunes, Just Blaze, Timbaland, to name a few), The Black Album is a consistently strong, musically diverse, and remarkably honest listen, which firmly justifies all the self-lionizing. And not only does the album feature Jay-Z's signature tune, it also spawned arguably the most revered mash-up in music — and, among many other feats, inspired a generation of MCs with its slick lyrical flow and ground-breaking beats.
Twenty years on, take a look at eight ways in which Jay-Z's faux-farewell changed the hip-hop game.
It Spawned The Most Famous Mashup Album Ever
Jay-Z practically invited the DJ crowd to put their own spins on The Black Album toward the end of 2004 when he reissued the LP without any beats. Pete Rock, DJ Bazooka Joe, and original contributor 9th Wonder all accepted the challenge. But Danger Mouse, aka one half of soon-to-be chart-toppers Gnarls Barkley, had already taken it on, fusing the rapper's original rhymes with music from another colorful record, The Beatles' White Album.
Bringing two pop cultural behemoths together for the first time, The Grey Album (see what he did there) inevitably became a sensation, with EMI's efforts to withhold its release only adding to all the hype. Both Hova and Paul McCartney, however, gave their blessing, with the former telling NPR, "I think it was a really strong album. I champion any form of creativity, and that was a genius idea to do it. And it sparked so many others like it."
It Put Several Key Names On The Map
Jay-Z was no stranger to giving future hip-hop heavyweights their big breaks; both Swizz Beats and Kanye West were virtual unknowns when they contributed to Vol. 2... Hard Knock Life and The Blueprint, respectively. And The Black Album was no different.
Production team The Buchanans, who'd later work with Lupe Fiasco, Amerie, and Dr. Dre, gained their first official credit on "What More Can I Say." John Legend was still a year away from GRAMMY-winning breakthrough Get Lifted when he co-wrote "Encore." And "Threat" helped rap professor (yes, that's a real thing) 9th Wonder to establish himself as a genuine hip-hop authority.
It Produced His Defining Track
Jay-Z had scored, and would go on to score, much bigger hits than "99 Problems." In fact, 24 of his solo singles have charted higher than its No. 30 peak on the Billboard Hot 100. And it isn't always considered to be his best, either: "Big Pimpin'," "Dead Presidents II," and "Where I'm From" all kept the Rick Rubin production out of the top three in Rolling Stone's recent all-time Hova list. Even so, "99 Problems" still has the clout of an undeniably defining tune.
It's been referenced by everyone from Iggy Azalea to Barack Obama. It gave Jay-Z the first of his four Best Rap Solo Performance GRAMMYs (Mark Romanek's controversial monochrome video also picked up four MTV VMAs). Its themes of racial profiling, police aggression, and gentrification led Jack White to hail it as the modern "story of America." And although Ice Cube said it first, it was undoubtedly Jay-Z who put "I got 99 problems, but a b— ain't one" firmly into the hip-hop lexicon.
It Birthed Rap-Rock's Greatest Crossover
Jay-Z certainly wasn't the first hip-hop act to forge an unlikely rock connection. Run-D.M.C. broke down barriers (literally) in the video for their iconic 1986 Aerosmith collaboration "Walk This Way." The '90s saw collabs from KRS-One and Crazy Town ("B-Boy 2000"), Method Man and Limp Bizkit ("N 2 Gether Now"), and Public Enemy & Anthrax ("Bring The Noise"), all of which were met with mixed results. However, the Jigga Man's EP with nu-metalers Linkin Park, 2004's Collision Course, was a different story.
Notching another Billboard 200 No. 1 for both artists, Collision Course proved that rap-rock could be both credible and commercially successful — which eventually helped pave the way for everyone from Lil Uzi Vert to Machine Gun Kelly. And The Black Album was a key part of their success.
Not only did Jay-Z think to do the team-up after seeing the various mash-ups The Black Album spawned, but three of Collision Course's six tracks stem from the LP: "Points of Authority/99 Problems/One Step Closer," "Dirt Off Your Shoulder/Lying From You," and the Best Rap/Sung Collaboration GRAMMY-winning "Numb/Encore."
It's Been Sampled Countless Times
The Black Album is built on samples, from the emphatic big beats of Billy Squier to Russell Crowe's dialog from Gladiator. But such is the recyclable nature of hip-hop, it's also been heavily sampled since its 2003 release, too.
"99 Problems" alone has been borrowed from or covered at least a recorded 79 times, perhaps most famously on Iggy Azalea's verse in "Problem," her No. 1 hit with Ariana Grande. T.I. brought "What More Can I Say" into the top 10 of the Hot 100 after lifting its vocal hook for "Bring Em Out." Hip-hop sibling duo Clipse appear to have been The Black Album's biggest fans, though, having taken lines from "Public Service Announcement" and "Threat" on "Number One Supplier" and "Where You Been," respectively.
It Pioneered The Hip-Hop Concert Movie
Long before his other half Beyoncé unleashed Homecoming, Jay-Z proved that the concert movie didn't need to be the sole preserve of white guitar acts. Five years after his collaborative Hard Knock Life tour was captured for posterity on Backstage, the rapper invited another camera crew to document what was supposed to be his live swansong. "The undisputed heavyweight champion of the world in hip-hop," welcomes ring announcer Michael Buffer at the start of Fade to Black. And Jay-Z more than justifies such a billing in a dazzling, star-studded set that leaves the 19,000-strong Madison Square Garden crowd hanging on his every word.
Just as compelling is the behind-the-scenes footage of The Black Album's inception, particularly Timbaland and Pharrell Williams' excitement at conjuring the perfect beats. From J. Cole (Forest Hills Drive: Homecoming) to Chance the Rapper (Magnificent Coloring World), a whole host of rappers have since followed suit.
It Allowed Jay-Z To Guide Other Superstars
The Black Album might not have been the studio goodbye purported at the time. But before returning with Kingdom Come in 2006, Jay-Z did spend the following three years adhering to The Black Album's retirement theme. The self-imposed hiatus allowed the rapper to explore other creative avenues, expand his brand, and – perhaps most significantly for fans of a certain Barbadian superstar – take the reins of the legendary Def Jam Recordings.
Yes, after being appointed to the position of CEO in 2004 by L.A. Reid, Jay-Z signed a then-unknown Rihanna to the label, reportedly responding to her audition with "There's only two ways out. Out the door after you sign this deal. Or through this window." Ne-Yo and Rick Ross were both also plucked from obscurity by the Jigga Man and sent on their paths to stardom during his three years in charge (Jay-Z remained with Def Jam as an artist until May 2009, when he left to concentrate on his own Roc Nation label.)
It Made Retirement A Marketing Tactic
Although Too Short and Master P had both previously reneged on their plans to call it quits, Jay-Z was the first rapper to truly harness the power of an early retirement. Frequently alluding to the news (see "I supposed to be number one on everybody's list/ We'll see what happens when I no longer exist" on "What More Can I Say"), The Black Album was also accompanied by the aforementioned concert film, a memoir (The Black Book), and ever the entrepreneur, even tie-in sneaker and mobile phones.
Hova insists that he really did believe he was bidding farewell at the time, but there's no denying that the announcement helped to both boost his coffers (The Black Album was his biggest selling 2000s release) and add to his mythology. 50 Cent, Waka Flocka Flame, and Lupe Fiasco are just a few of the major hip-hop names who've since made similar claims before quickly walking them back.
Since his return, Jay-Z has added to his legacy in a multitude of ways. He's released collaborative projects with West and Beyoncé; scored a further five solo number one LPs on the Billboard 200 (including The Black Album's unexpected follow-up, Kingdom Come); and added more than a dozen GRAMMYs to his awards haul. And we've not even mentioned the record-breaking world tours, film production credits, and various business interests (TIDAL, Roc Nation Sports) which have helped him become the world's wealthiest rapper with a staggering net worth of $2.5 billion at press time. While The Black Album would've been a remarkable finale, Jay-Z's decision to unretire remains his smartest yet.