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'Black Gold' At 50: How Nina Simone Refracted The Black Experience Through Reinterpreted Songs

Nina Simone in 1970

Photo by David Redfern/Redferns

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'Black Gold' At 50: How Nina Simone Refracted The Black Experience Through Reinterpreted Songs

The High Priestess of Soul took songs from Appalachia and the musical "Hair" and charged them with civil-rights poignancy

GRAMMYs/Jun 11, 2020 - 09:13 pm

When Black lives and needs are highlighted on the world stage, contrarians tend to crawl out of the woodwork in response. "Why can’t we celebrate White History Month?" they ask each February. "Don’t all lives matter?" they ask the rest of the year. This line of questioning is nothing new. More than 50 years ago, Nina Simone offered a rejoinder to bad-faith ideas of reverse inclusivity while onstage at Philharmonic Hall (now David Geffen Hall) in New York City.

"[This next song] is not addressed primarily to white people,” the singer-songwriter deadpanned. "It does not put you down in any way; it simply ignores you." The crowd burst into laughter, but Simone wasn’t joking: "My people need all the love and inspiration that they can get." Simone then laid into "To Be Young, Gifted and Black," a song meant to elevate and encourage Black intellects. "We must begin to tell our young / There’s a world waiting for you,” she appealed, abetted by the male vocal duo the Swordsmen.

That version of "Young, Gifted and Black"—which she co-wrote with lyricist Weldon Irvine in memory of "A Raisin In The Sun" playwright Lorraine Hansberry—appears at the end of Black Gold, Simone's album pulled from that 1969 concert. It was nominated for a Best R&B Vocal Performance, Female at the 13th Annual GRAMMY Awards and turns 50 this year. Aside from that song, the live album consists of canon-crossing covers Simone curated to refract her own meaning, such as "Black is the Colour of My True Love’s Hair," "Ain’t Got No, I Got Life," and "Who Knows Where the Time Goes?"

These songs are not typically associated with social issues; respectively, they’re an Appalachian folk song, a Sandy Denny tune and two cuts from the musical "Hair." But true to her skill as an interpreter, Simone turned these apolitical songs into unlikely vehicles for radical self-expression. "This is a quest that’s just begun," she sang on "To Be Young, Gifted and Black," but Simone was in the center of her own personal and political struggle that dovetailed with the nationwide struggle for racial equality. 

Four years earlier, she'd hollered her incendiary classic "Mississippi Goddamin front of 10,000 people near the end of the Selma to Montgomery March. Just one year prior, Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated on a hotel balcony. "We can’t afford any more losses," Simone said shakily while performing "Why? (The King of Love Is Dead)" three days after Dr. King’s murder at Westbury Music Fair. Her voice grew tremulous: "Oh my god, they’re shooting us down one by one."

"As the civil rights movement really swung into high gear, she swung into high gear with it," Simone’s musical director and accompanist Al Schackman said in the 2015 documentary What Happened, Miss Simone? "To me, we are the most beautiful creatures in the whole world, Black people," she stated in an interview clip shown in the film. "My job is to make them more curious about where they came from, and their own identity, and pride in that identity. That’s why I try to make [my songs] as powerful as possible—mostly just to make them curious about themselves."

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Black Gold shows how Simone not only made her songs powerful, but others' as well. She doesn’t offer specifics about her choice to open with "Black is the Colour of My True Love’s Hair," a traditional ballad that can be traced back to Scotland. But given the themes interwoven throughout the rest of the album—and its cover, in which Simone proudly sports an Afro—it's arguable she meant to cast natural hair as a crown of beauty. Simone wasn’t always magnanimous about this topic.

"You used to be talking about being natural and wearing natural hairstyles," Simone tartly told a Philadelphia audience in 1979, chiding Black women for making what she considered to be stereotypically Caucasian fashion choices. "Now you’re straightening your hair, rouging your cheeks and dressing out of Vogue."

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Simone didn’t only address the topic of hair—she reinterpreted songs from "Hair." In 1968, when the musical first hit Broadway, she picked up on "Ain’t Got No" and "I Got Life" and she added them to her repertoire. Her mash-up of those two "Hair" tracks, one a lament ("Ain’t got no mother, ain’t got no culture / Ain’t got no friends, ain’t got no schoolin'") and the other an affirmation ("Got my hair, got my head / Got my brains, got my ears") is charged with connotations of Black oppression and liberation. 

The resulting "Ain’t Got No, I Got Life," which originally appeared on 1968’s ‘Nuff Said!, was a major hit in the United Kingdom and the Netherlands. The following year, the 5th Dimension’s "Medley: Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In (The Flesh Failures)" would embed "Hair" further into public consciousness. But Simone, as usual, was ahead of her time: "I did that tune ‘Ain’t Got No’ just when the show came out," she said on a promotional interview LP that accompanied Black Gold. "Long before ‘Aquarius’ and all of that."

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Black Gold also features a cover of psychedelic folkies Fairport Convention's "Who Knows Where the Time Goes?" from their 1969 album Unhalfbricking. Sandy Denny wrote the wise-beyond-her-years ballad ("So come the storms of winter and then the birds in spring again / I have no fear of time / For who knows how my love grows?") when she was only 19; Simone was attracted to the song’s theme of self-examination.

"It’s a song not meant for me," she explained of "Who Knows Where the Time Goes?" on Come Together With Nina. "I sing it to make people reflect about their lives. I know what I’m doing and why I must do it. And so time does not exist for me as it does for most people."

Simone certainly didn’t live like most people following the release of Black Gold. In 1970, believing that "Mississippi Goddam" and its ilk hurt rather than helped her career, she fled what she later called the "United Snakes of America" for Barbados. Then, in 1974, she relocated to Liberia, where, as What Happened, Miss Simone? lays out, her daughter Lisa Simone alleged she experienced physical and mental abuse from her mother. In the mid-1980s, Simone lived in various European cities, where she experienced a brief career resurgence before her death in 2003 at age 70.

Black Gold remains a nexus point in Simone’s life and career—between her early innovations and later provocations, between her incisiveness as a songwriter and her genius as an interpreter. "There’s a great deal of rapport between the audience and myself that has been missing in so many of the previous albums," she said of Black Gold on Come Together With Nina, adding, "There’s a great deal of electricity in this album."

Without a handful of brilliantly chosen, left-field covers as a conducting agent, that current may never have been transferred, her alchemy unachieved. But as usual, Simone made black become gold.

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A Year In Alternative Jazz: 10 Albums To Understand The New GRAMMYs Category
Linda May Han Oh

Photo: Shervin Lainez

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A Year In Alternative Jazz: 10 Albums To Understand The New GRAMMYs Category

"Alternative jazz" may not be a bandied-about term in the jazz world, but it's a helpful lens to view the "genre-blending, envelope-pushing hybrid" that defines a new category at the 2024 GRAMMYs. Here are 10 albums from 2023 that rise to this definition.

GRAMMYs/Jan 9, 2024 - 02:47 pm

What, exactly, is "alternative jazz"? After that new category was announced ahead of the 2024 GRAMMYs nominations, inquiring minds wanted to know. The "alternative" descriptor is usually tied to rock, pop or dance — not typically jazz, which gets qualifiers like "out" or "avant-garde."

However, the introduction of the Best Alternative Jazz Album category does shoehorn anything into the lexicon. Rather, it commensurately clarifies and expands the boundaries of this global artform.

According to the Recording Academy, alternative jazz "may be defined as a genre-blending, envelope-pushing hybrid that mixes jazz (improvisation, interaction, harmony, rhythm, arrangements, composition, and style) with other genres… it may also include the contemporary production techniques/instrumentation associated with other genres."

And the 2024 GRAMMY nominees for Best Alternative Jazz Album live up to this dictum: Arooj Aftab, Vijay Iyer and Shahzad Ismaily's Love in Exile; Louis Cole's Quality Over Opinion; Kurt Elling, Charlie Hunter and SuperBlue's SuperBlue: The Iridescent Spree; Cory Henry's Live at the Piano; and Meshell Ndegeocello's The Omnichord Real Book.

Sure, these were the standard bearers of alternative jazz over the past year and change — as far as Recording Academy Membership is concerned. But these are only five albums; they amount to a cross section. With that in mind, read on for 10 additional albums from 2023 that fall under the umbrella of alternative jazz.

Allison Miller - Rivers in Our Veins

The supple and innovative drummer and composer Allison Miller often works in highly cerebral, conceptual spaces. After all, her last suite, Rivers in Our Veins, involves a jazz band, three dancers and video projections.

Therein, Miller chose one of the most universal themes out there: how rivers shape our lives and communities, and how we must act as their stewards. Featuring violinist Jenny Scheinman, trumpeter Jason Palmer, clarinetist Ben Goldberg, keyboardist and accordionist Carmen Staff, and upright bassist Todd SickafooseRivers in Our Veins homes in on the James, Delaware, Potomac, Hudson, and Susquehanna.

And just as these eastern U.S. waterways serve all walks of life, Rivers in Our Veins defies category. And it also blurs two crucial aspects of Miller's life and career.

"I get to marry my environmentalism and my activism with music," she told District Fray. "And it's still growing!

M.E.B. - That You Not Dare To Forget

The Prince of Darkness may have slipped away 32 years ago, but he's felt eerily omnipresent in the evolution of this music ever since.

In M.E.B. or "Miles Electric Band," an ensemble of Davis alumni and disciples underscore his unyielding spirit with That You Not Dare to Forget. The lineup is staggering: bassists Ron Carter, Marcus Miller, and Stanley Clarke; saxophonist Donald Harrison, guitarist John Scofield, a host of others.

How does That You Not Dare To Forget satisfy the definition of alternative jazz? Because like Davis' abstracted masterpieces, like Bitches Brew, On the Corner and the like, the music is amoebic, resistant to pigeonholing.

Indeed, tunes like "Hail to the Real Chief" and "Bitches are Back" function as scratchy funk or psychedelic soul as much as they do the J-word, which Davis hated vociferously.

And above all, they're idiosyncratic to the bone — just as the big guy was, every second of his life and career.

Art Ensemble of Chicago - Sixth Decade - from Paris to Paris

The nuances and multiplicities of the Art Ensemble of Chicago cannot be summed up in a blurb: that's where books like Message to Our Folks and A Power Stronger Than Itself — about the AACM — come in.

But if you want an entryway into this bastion of creative improvisational music — that, unlike The Art Ensemble of Chicago and Associated Ensembles boxed set, isn't 18-plus hours long — Sixth Decade - from Paris to Paris will do in a pinch.

Recorded just a month before the pandemic struck, The Sixth Decade is a captivating looking-glass into this collective as it stands, with fearless co-founder Roscoe Mitchell flanked by younger leading lights, like Nicole Mitchell and Moor Mother.

Potent and urgent, engaging the heart as much as the cerebrum, this music sees the Art Ensemble still charting their course into the outer reaches. Here's to their next six decades.

Theo Croker - By The Way

By The Way may not be an album proper, but it's still an exemplar of alternative jazz.

The five-track EP finds outstanding trumpeter, vocalist, producer, and composer Croker revisiting tunes from across his discography, with UK singer/songwriter Ego Ella May weaving the proceedings with her supple, enveloping vocals.

Compositions like "Slowly" and "If I Could I Would" seem to hang just outside the reaches of jazz; it pulls on strings of neo soul and silky, progressive R&B.

Even the music video for "Slowly" is quietly innovative: in AI's breakthrough year, machine learning made beautifully, cosmically odd visuals for that percolating highlight.

Michael Blake - Dance of the Mystic Bliss

Even a cursory examination of Dance of the Mystic Bliss reveals it to be Pandora's box.

First off: revered tenor and soprano saxophonist Michael Blake's CV runs deep, from his lasting impression in New York's downtown scene to his legacy in John Lurie's Lounge Lizards.

And his new album is steeped in the long and storied history of jazz and strings, as well as Brazilian music and the sting of grief — Blake's mother's 2018 passing looms heavy in tunes like "Merle the Pearl." 

"Sure, for me, it's all about my mom, and there will be some things that were triggered. But when you're listening to it, you're going to have a completely different experience," Blake told LondonJazz in 2023.

"That's what I love about instrumental music," he continued. "That's what's so great about how jazz can transcend to this unbelievable spiritual level." Indeed, Dance of the Mystic Bliss can be communed with, with or without context, going in familiar or cold.

And that tends to be the instrumental music that truly lasts — the kind that gives you a cornucopia of references and sensations, either way.

Dinner Party - Enigmatic Society

Dinner Party's self-titled debut EP, from 2020 — and its attendant remix that year, Dinner Party: Dessert — introduced a mightily enticing supergroup to the world: Kamasi Washington, Robert Glasper, Terrace Martin, and 9th Wonder.

While the magnitude of talent there is unquestionable, the quartet were still finding their footing; when mixing potent Black American genres in a stew, sometimes the strong flavors can cancel each other out.

Enigmatic Society, their debut album, is a relaxed and concise triumph; each man has figured out how he can act as a quadrant for the whole.

And just as guests like Herbie Hancock and Snoop Dogg elevated Dinner Party: Dessert, colleagues like Phoelix and Ant Clemons ride this wave without disturbing its flow.

Wadada Leo Smith & Orange Wave Electric - Fire Illuminations

The octogenarian tumpeter, multi-instrumentalist and composer Wadada Leo Smith is a standard-bearer of the subset of jazz we call "creative music." And by the weighty, teeming sound of Fire Illuminations, it's clear he's not through surprising us.

Therein, Smith debuts his nine-piece Orange Wave Electric ensemble, which features three guitarists (Nels Cline, Brandon Ross, Lamar Smith) and two electric bassists (Bill Laswell and Melvin Gibbs).

In characteristically sagelike fashion, Smith described Fire Illuminations as "a ceremonial space where one's hearts and conscious can embrace for a brief period of unconditioned love where the artist and their music with the active observer becomes united."

And if you zoom in from that beatific view, you get a majestic slab of psychedelic hard rock — with dancing rhythms, guitar fireworks and Smith zigzagging across the canvas like Miles. 

Henry Threadgill - The Other One

Saxophonist, flutist and composer Henry Threadgill composed The Other One for the late, great Milfred Graves, the percussionist with a 360 degree vantage of the pulse of his instrument and how it related to heart, breath and hands.

If that sounds like a mouthful, this is a cerebral, sprawling and multifarious space: The Other One itself consists of one three-movement piece (titled Of Valence) and is part of a larger multimedia work.

To risk oversimplification, though, The Other One is a terrific example of where "jazz" and "classical" melt as helpful descriptors, and flow into each other like molten gold.

If you're skeptical of the limits and constraints of these hegemonic worlds, let Threadgill and his creative-music cohorts throughout history bulldoze them before your ears.

Linda May Han Oh - The Glass Hours

Jazz has an ocean of history with spoken word, but this fusion must be executed judiciously: again, these bold flavors can overwhelm each other. Except when they're in the hands of an artist as keen as Linda May Han Oh.

"I didn't want it to be an album with a lot of spoken word," the Malaysian Australian bassist and composer told LondonJazz, explaining that "Antiquity" is the only track on The Glass Hours to feature a recitation from the great vocalist Sara Serpa. "I just felt it was necessary for that particular piece, to explain a bit of the narrative more."

Elsewhere, Serpa's crystalline, wordless vocals are but one color swirling with the rest: tenor saxophonist Mark Turner, pianist Fabian Almazan, and drummer and electronicist Obed Calvaire.

Themed after "the fragility of time and life; exploring paradoxes seeded within our individual and societal values," The Glass Hours is Oh's most satisfying and well-rounded offering to date, ensconced in an iridescent atmosphere.

Charles Lloyd - Trios: Sacred Thread

You can't get too deep into jazz without bumping into the art of the trio — and the primacy of it. 

At 85, saxophonist and composer Charles Lloyd is currently smoking every younger iteration of himself on the horn; his exploratory fires are undimmed. So, for his latest project, he opted not just to just release a trio album, but a trio of trios.

Trios: Chapel features guitarist Bill Frisell and bassist Thomas Morgan; Trios: Ocean is augmented by guitarist Anthony Wilson and pianist Gerald Clayton; the final, Trios: Sacred Thread, contains guitarists Julian Lage and percussionist Zakir Hussain.

These are wildly different contexts for Lloyd, but they all meet at a meditative nexus. Drink it in as the curtains close on 2023, as you consider where all these virtuosic, forward-thinking musicians will venture to next — "alternative" or not.

Arooj Aftab, Vijay Iyer & Shahzad Ismaily On New Album 'Love In Exile,' Improvisation Versus Co-Construction And The Primacy Of The Pulse

GRAMMY Rewind: Kendrick Lamar Honors Hip-Hop's Greats While Accepting Best Rap Album GRAMMY For 'To Pimp a Butterfly' In 2016
Kendrick Lamar

Photo: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic

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GRAMMY Rewind: Kendrick Lamar Honors Hip-Hop's Greats While Accepting Best Rap Album GRAMMY For 'To Pimp a Butterfly' In 2016

Upon winning the GRAMMY for Best Rap Album for 'To Pimp a Butterfly,' Kendrick Lamar thanked those that helped him get to the stage, and the artists that blazed the trail for him.

GRAMMYs/Oct 13, 2023 - 06:01 pm

Updated Friday Oct. 13, 2023 to include info about Kendrick Lamar's most recent GRAMMY wins, as of the 2023 GRAMMYs.

A GRAMMY veteran these days, Kendrick Lamar has won 17 GRAMMYs and has received 47 GRAMMY nominations overall. A sizable chunk of his trophies came from the 58th annual GRAMMY Awards in 2016, when he walked away with five — including his first-ever win in the Best Rap Album category.

This installment of GRAMMY Rewind turns back the clock to 2016, revisiting Lamar's acceptance speech upon winning Best Rap Album for To Pimp A Butterfly. Though Lamar was alone on stage, he made it clear that he wouldn't be at the top of his game without the help of a broad support system. 

"First off, all glory to God, that's for sure," he said, kicking off a speech that went on to thank his parents, who he described as his "those who gave me the responsibility of knowing, of accepting the good with the bad."

Looking for more GRAMMYs news? The 2024 GRAMMY nominations are here!

He also extended his love and gratitude to his fiancée, Whitney Alford, and shouted out his Top Dawg Entertainment labelmates. Lamar specifically praised Top Dawg's CEO, Anthony Tiffith, for finding and developing raw talent that might not otherwise get the chance to pursue their musical dreams.

"We'd never forget that: Taking these kids out of the projects, out of Compton, and putting them right here on this stage, to be the best that they can be," Lamar — a Compton native himself — continued, leading into an impassioned conclusion spotlighting some of the cornerstone rap albums that came before To Pimp a Butterfly.

"Hip-hop. Ice Cube. This is for hip-hop," he said. "This is for Snoop Dogg, Doggystyle. This is for Illmatic, this is for Nas. We will live forever. Believe that."

To Pimp a Butterfly singles "Alright" and "These Walls" earned Lamar three more GRAMMYs that night, the former winning Best Rap Performance and Best Rap Song and the latter taking Best Rap/Sung Collaboration (the song features Bilal, Anna Wise and Thundercat). He also won Best Music Video for the remix of Taylor Swift's "Bad Blood." 

Lamar has since won Best Rap Album two more times, taking home the golden gramophone in 2018 for his blockbuster LP DAMN., and in 2023 for his bold fifth album, Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers.

Watch Lamar's full acceptance speech above, and check back at GRAMMY.com every Friday for more GRAMMY Rewind episodes. 

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19 Concerts And Events Celebrating The 50th Anniversary Of Hip-Hop
Inside 'The Book of HOV: A celebration of the life and work of Shawn "JAY-Z" Carter' at the Brooklyn Public Library

Photo: ANGELA WEISS/AFP via Getty Images

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19 Concerts And Events Celebrating The 50th Anniversary Of Hip-Hop

From block parties in Washington, D.C. to a weeklong celebration at Lincoln Center in Manhattan and a festival in Atlanta, read on for a list of 50th anniversary of hip-hop celebrations throughout the country.

GRAMMYs/Jul 24, 2023 - 02:44 pm

Hip-hop was born at a humble party that transformed into a definitive movement. On Aug. 11, 1973, Cindy Campbell asked her brother Clive (known by his stage name DJ Kool Herc) to DJ at a school fundraiser she organized. That event, held in a Bronx apartment building community room, gave way to not only a genre but a movement. Today, hip-hop has influenced politics, education, fashion, technology and pop culture worldwide.

This year marks hip-hop’s 50th anniversary, so naturally, a wide array of exhibits, block parties and concerts are being held across New York City’s five boroughs and throughout the nation that celebrate the genre’s impact. Here is a select list of events that will commemorate this groundbreaking movement and important milestone.

Masters Of The Mic: Hip-Hop 50 Tour

Various cities

June 30 - Oct. 14

A major element across Hip-Hop 50 events is to give legends their flowers, and Masters of The Mic: Hip-Hop 50 Tour is a gathering of some of the genre’s pioneers. Organized by Universal Attractions Agency (UAA), RAMP Entertainment Agency and Mahogany Entertainment, the tour will feature performances by Big Daddy Kane, Doug E. Fresh, KRS-One, Rakim, and Slick Rick. EPMD, Roxanne Shante, DJ Spinderella will also pop up at select cities.

"While the culture may have started in the Bronx, it resonates with everyone across the globe, and a heap of credit goes to Doug, Rick, Kane, KRS, and Rakim," says UAA’s Nick Szatmari (co-producer of the tour) in a press release, "who were the pioneers that brought it from the block to the billboards. You don’t have any of the iconic rappers of today without them standing on the foundation laid by the Masters of the Mic during the ‘80s and ‘90s." 

The trek kicked off on June 30 at Essence Fest and wraps in San Antonio on Oct. 14.

Real Rap: Hip-Hop Star Power on Screen

New York City

Jul 28 - Oct 21

Hip-hop’s influence goes beyond music, with some of the genre’s biggest stars going on to become equally successful actors. 

Queen's the Museum of the Moving Image will showcase hip-hop artists on film with screenings of Baby Boy, 8 Mile, Barbershop and Poetic Justice. The series, "Real Rap: Hip-Hop Star Power on Screen" will include special introductions, discussions, a spoken word showcase and a summer dance party.

Uptown Bounce

New York City

July 20, July 27, Aug. 3

The Uptown Bounce series — thrown by the Museum of the City of New York, El Museo del Barrio and The Africa Center — has taken place in Manhattan for the past 10 years.

For 2023’s iteration, the museums will celebrate their and hip-hop’s anniversaries at The Africa Center in Harlem. Spanning three different dates, the free summer block parties will include guests like DJ Birane for "Afrobeats and Hip-Hop" and DJ Misbehaviour for "I Love the '90s."

Hip Hop Til Infinity

New York City

July 26 - Sept. 16

Global entertainment company Mass Appeal, hybrid creative studio SUPERBIEN and  Sony Music Entertainment’s Certified platform joined forces to create the immersive exhibit "Hip Hop Til Infinity." 

On view at Hall des Lumières, New York City’s largest permanent center for custom-designed immersive art experiences, Hip Hop Til Infinity will take visitors on a journey through rap’s different eras and regions. It will include listening parties, live panels, artist meet and greets, virtual concerts and a metaverse integration.

"You wouldn’t expect to see hip-hop in a place like Hall des Lumieres," Jon Colclough, vice president of creative strategy at Mass Appeal, told Artnet News. "I don’t think people understand that hip-hop is a global phenomenon and not just music."

Artist’s Eye: Jamel Shabazz on Faces and Places, 1980–2023

New York City

July 27

Brooklyn-born photographer Jamel Shabazz has been documenting hip-hop culture and communities across all boroughs since the ‘80s. His new installation "Faces and Places, 1980–2023" at the Brooklyn Museum is a visual trip down memory lane. 

The exhibit runs through September, but on July 27 the artist will join curator Drew Sawyer for an intimate conversation about the significance of his work.

The Book of HOV

Brooklyn, New York

Ongoing

The Brooklyn Public Library recently debuted an immersive experience on one of the borough’s most legendary rappers, Jay-Z. Created by Roc Nation, The Book of HOV features "never-before-seen images, art and ephemera from the artist's archives, providing an unparalleled look at an extraordinary life and career."

Spread out over two floors in the library’s central branch — in addition to an installation on the building’s facade — The Book of HOV is exhibited as eight chapters that detail the GRAMMY winner’s rise to fame and success. Among the exhibit’s features is a replica of Baseline Studios, where Jay-Z recorded classic albums including The Blueprint and The Black Album.

Dance Party NYC: 50 Years of Hip-Hop

New York City

Aug. 5

The New York Public Library teamed up with New York City’s New Victory Theater for a special edition of Dance Party NYC. The free event will include dance lessons from New Victory Teaching Artists Olney Edmondson and Sun Kim, a sneaker design workshop, and sign-ups for NYPL’s special edition hip-hop library card. 

The same day, the NYPL is also hosting an event called The Rap Up. It will include panel discussions and hip-hop exhibits with VIBE magazine editor-in-chief Datwon Thomas, Wild Style director Charlie Ahearn, rap legend Fab 5 Freddy, streetwear designers 5001 Flavors and April Walker, and more.

Rock The Bells Festival

New York City

Aug. 5

The lineup for this year’s Rock The Bells Festival is jam-packed with artists who helped bring hip-hop to the world. 

"We’ve made it a priority to honor hip-hop culture! This is a celebration for artists who paved the way and the legions of fans around the world throughout hip-hop’s 50th anniversary year," said Rock The Bells President James Cuthbert in a press release. "The stage is set for the overdue acknowledgment and celebration of our culture and the fans who live and breathe it. This lineup represents icons and artists from various decades, cities and styles, ensuring fans have the best hip-hop experience possible." 

The festival indeed has an impressive list of icons, including Queen Latifah, De La Soul, Slick Rick, Salt-N-Pepa, Ludacris, Method Man & Redman, Swizz Beatz and plenty more.

BRIC Hip-Hop 50th Anniversary Weekend

New York City

Aug. 11-12

For the past 45 years, BRIC has been revered for being an inclusive institution that spotlights both eclectic newcomers and seasoned legends in hip-hop and R&B. The Brooklyn-based brand is most known for its BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn! Festival, which is New York’s longest-running free performing arts festival. To commemorate hip-hop’s 50th anniversary, the organizers are planning a fun-filled weekend that highlights community.

On Aug. 11, BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn! will throw a concert featuring jazz/alternative rap trio Digable Planets — who are celebrating the 30th anniversary of their debut Reachin’ (A New Refutation of Time and Space) — and Southern rapper Kari Faux. The following day, the institution will host a screening of 2002’s romantic comedy and love letter to hip-hop, Brown Sugar

"We're beyond thrilled to introduce BRIC hip-hop to the world through this weekend of programming and bring our communities together around a shared love of hip-hop culture," BRIC President Wes Jackson said in a press release. "We're committing ourselves to providing an evergreen home for the education, expression, and evolution of hip-hop not only this summer but for years to come."

Faawud: Jamaican Sound System Culture’s Official Hip-Hop 50th Celebration

New York City

Aug. 10

The roots of hip-hop are in reggae and dancehall, as DJ Kool Herc and Cindy Campbell are of Jamaican descent. Back in 1973, Herc and emcee Coke LaRock borrowed elements from Jamaican sound systems and toasters, thus birthing the sound of hip-hop. To commemorate the beauty of blending cultures, LL Cool J’s Rock the Bells, Live Nation’s Bowery Presents, Impulse Nation and the Jamaica Music Conference have announced Faawud: Jamaican Sound System Culture’s Official Hip-Hop 50th Celebration.

Taking place at New York City’s Webster Hall, the event will include a battle between a hip-hop emcee and a Jamaican toaster, an exhibit featuring various memorabilia (like audio components and posters) from the genres’ early days, and a panel with Herc, Grandmaster Kaz and Jamaican selector Danny Dread.

Hip-Hop’s 50th Birthday Jam

New York City

Aug. 11

The Bronx’s Universal Hip-Hop Museum is celebrating the genre’s birthplace with a block party. Held at Mill Pond Park, the free event will feature a Red Bull BC One open cypher, a "Rapmania" showcase and murals from Thrive Collective, an organization that provides arts, sports and mentorship opportunities at New York public schools.

Boom Bap Atlanta: Hip Hop 50 Fest

Atlanta, Georgia

Aug.  11-13

Boom Bap Atlanta is teaming with The Hype Magazine for a three-day festival held at the city’s Park Tavern and Piedmont Park. Hip Hop 50 Fest will occur in conjunction with the BeREGGAE Music & Arts Festival Weekend. 

The free experience at Piedmont Park will have a laidback picnic atmosphere with vendors and hip-hop blasting through the speakers. The ticketed experience at Park Tavern will have performances and conversations by artists and cultural influencers. The daily events are as follows: The Hype Magazine 21st Anniversary Party & The Grassroots Seminar on Aug. 11, a tribute to the Native Tongues on Aug. 12, and "Beats & Lyrics & Flow & Substance" event on Aug. 13.

Hip Hop 50 Live at Yankee Stadium

New York City

Aug. 11

The Bronx’s Yankee Stadium will transform into an epic celebration of rap music with Hip-Hop 50 Live. Run-D.M.C., Lil Wayne, Snoop Dogg and Ice Cube will take over the legendary stadium. There will also be special performances, including a "Queens of Hip Hop" set with Eve, Lil Kim, Remy Ma, Trina and others. A "Pillars of Hip-Hop" set will feature rap trailblazers Kurtis Blow, Melle Mel, Roxanne Shante and more. 

"I am honored to hit the stage in the Bronx, the birthplace of Hip Hop and celebrate all of my heroes," said Rev Run in a press release. "Aug 11th is Hip Hop’s 50th birthday! So…’Up in the Bronx’ where it all started we will be celebrating this historic moment in history! I am honored to pay tribute to the culture that allowed this little shy kid from Queens to grow up and become The Mighty King of Rock! Thank you Hip Hop!!!" said D.M.C. in a press release.

Other performers include T.I., Fat Joe, Common, A$AP Ferg, EPMD, Ghostface Killah, Lupe Fiasco and Slick Rick. A DJ set will feature Clark Kent, Marley Marl, Mannie Fresh and Battlecat. 

National Museum of African American History and Culture Block Party

Washington, D.C.

August 12

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture's (NMAAHC) inaugural Hip-Hop Block Party saw 8,000 attendees in 2022. This year, they plan to make it even bigger for the genre’s special anniversary. NMAAHC will install an outdoor panel exhibition highlighting new hip-hop artifacts from the museum’s collection. Along with performances by DJs, artists and cultural influencers (not yet revealed), attendees can also participate in activities like graffiti art and breakdancing.

There will also be hip-hop-focused tours of NMAAHC’s galleries and the return of Club Café that will feature a rap-inspired menu. The free event will take place on the National Mall at the intersection of Madison Drive N.W. and 14th Street. 

Dallas 50th Anniversary of Hip Hop Celebration

Dallas, Texas

Aug. 12

Dallas has birthed some of rap’s most influential artists, including The D.O.C., Yella Beezy, Bobby Sessions, Dorrough and Post Malone. The city plans to honor its hip-hop scene with a free event taking place at Armoury D.E. Organized by local rapper Rakim Al Jabbaar and The Farmacy Family, it will include performances, DJ sets and appearances by Fat Pimp, Bobo Luciano, Kottonmouth Jesse and Pikahsso.

Rakim + Rapsody At Lincoln Center

New York City

Aug. 12

NYC’s Lincoln Center is planning an impressive string of events for its hip-hop week, which runs from Aug. 9-12. From a "Ladies of Hip-Hop Dance Collective" dance lesson to a silent disco hosted by DJ Spinna, there’s plenty for rap lovers of all ages to enjoy. 

One of the stand-out events is a free concert with Rakim and Rapsody at Damrosch Park. Rakim is a legendary MC who helped pave the way for technical rap metaphors, while Rapsody is one of the best storytellers of the millennial generation. This one will make for an exciting union of old-school and new-school generations.

Genius "IQ/BBQ"

New York City

Aug. 19

The Genius "IQ/BBQ" makes a grand return in August to Queen’s Knockdown Center. The day-long festivities include live hip-hop performances (the lineup is to be announced soon), DJ sets and ​​"lyric-inspired" dishes from New York City-centric food trucks.

The event is presented in partnership with Infiniti, Paco Rabanne, Patron El Alto, Paramount+ with Showtime's "The Chi." 

Hip Hop Forever 50th Anniversary Concert

New York City

Sept. 15

Hip-hop will take over New York City’s Madison Square Garden this fall for the Hip Hop Forever concert, hosted by local radio stations Hot 97 and WBLS-FM and curated by Funk Flex. 

The lineup includes rap mainstays (and NYC natives) Wu-Tang, as well as Mariah Carey and Mary J. Blige — two women who have masterfully blended rap with R&B and soul. Other acts include Sean Paul, Maxwell, Tyrese and EPMD.

ONE Musicfest

Atlanta

Oct. 28-29

Kendrick Lamar, Janet Jackson and Megan Thee Stallion will headline this year’s ONE Musicfest, taking place at Atlanta’s Piedmont Park. In honor of hip-hop's 50th anniversary, the festival will have a special stage featuring artists spanning generations including Nelly, KRS-One, Big Daddy Kane, Kid Capri, DJ Drama, 2 Live Crew’s Uncle Luke, Lady of Rage and Too $hort.

"To have the opportunity to host Kendrick Lamar, Janet Jackson, Megan Thee Stallion, Brent Faiyaz, and other iconic artists in the middle of Piedmont Park is a dream come true, especially on the 50th Anniversary of Hip Hop," founder J. Carter said in a statement. "It doesn’t get any better than this."

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Here's What Went Down At The 2023 Blues Music Awards In Memphis
Shemekia Copeland accepts an award at the 2023 Blues Music Awards in Memphis, Tennessee

Photo: Joseph Rosen

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Here's What Went Down At The 2023 Blues Music Awards In Memphis

A crowd of more than 1,100 filled the ballroom of the Renasant Convention Center in Memphis for a music-filled show. Here are four takeaways from the soulful evening.

GRAMMYs/May 24, 2023 - 09:33 pm

For more than four decades — even during the pandemic — the Memphis-based Blues Foundation has annually recognized the genre's best, including such GRAMMY-winning luminaries as B.B. King, Buddy Guy, and Stevie Ray Vaughan.

On May 11, the foundation presented the 44th Annual Blues Music Awards, featuring a host of blues mainstays — as well as younger artists who combine the various strains of the blues with diverse strands of Americana.

A crowd of more than 1,100 filled the ballroom of the Renasant Convention Center in Memphis for a music-filled show that packed 25 awards and more than a dozen musical performances into a deceptively tight five-hour show.

Here are four takeaways from this year's Blues Music Awards:

Big Winners Were Touched By Tribulations

This was the second in-person BMA ceremony following two years of virtual presentations due to COVID. But while the pandemic has abated, illness still loomed over some of the night's wins.

Tommy Castro, who won B.B. King Entertainer of the Year for the second year in a row — and whose band is, ironically, called the Painkillers — missed the ceremony because he was recuperating from back surgery. His award was accepted by his frequent collaborator, Deanna Bogart, also a winner for Best Instrumentalist - Horns.

BMA regular John Németh, who recently survived a bout with a jaw tumor, was thankful just to be alive to accept his two awards on the night, one for best instrumentalist-harmonica and another for Best Traditional Blues Album for the aptly-titled May be the Last Time, a collaboration with Elvin Bishop and others that was recorded two weeks before his cancer surgery.

"I had no idea if I was going to be able to make it here tonight, but I did," said Nemeth to a round of applause. "I want to thank the Blues Foundation, I want to thank their HART Fund, and I want to thank everybody who donate to my GoFundMe to help me get a brand-new jawbone so I can play some more harmonica."

Repeat Winners Ruled The Night

A lot of familiar names were called out from the stage. In addition to Nemeth, Buddy Guy (Album of the Year and Contemporary Blues Album) and blues rock up-and-comer Albert Castiglia (Blues Rock Album and Blues Rock Artist) each won two awards on the night. 

Meanwhile, Castro led the way among artists winning categories for consecutive years, including Albert Castiglia (Blues Rock Artist), Danielle Nicole (Instrumentalist Bass), Curtis Salgado (Soul Blues Male Artist) and Sue Foley (Traditional Blues Female Artist).

Perhaps most impressive though was GRAMMY-winning blues guitarist Christone "Kingfish" Ingram, who won Contemporary Blues Male Artist for an impressive fourth year in a row. 

While ccepting the award, a humble Ingram said he hadn't prepared anything to say because he didn't expect to win. Right then, he thanked his fellow nominees, and returned to the stage for an acoustic set that showcased his strong, assured vocals as much as his adroit fretwork.

Hill Country Blues Are Alive And Well

The night before the BMAs, the Blues Foundation held a ceremony at the Halloran Centre in downtown Memphis to induct a new class into the Blues Hall of Fame.

This included departed greats Esther Phillips, Carey Bell, Snooky Pryor, Fenton Robinson, Josh White, and Junior Kimbrough, the late Holly Springs bluesman who helped pioneer what has become the North Mississippi Hill Country style.

At the BMAs, the sound made famous by Kimbrough and his close contemporary, the late R.L. Burnside, proved to be alive and well.

R.L.'s grandson, GRAMMY winner Cedric Burnside, who holds an impressive 10 BMAs, was, scheduled to perform but, for whatever reason, missed his slot.

His uncle Duwayne Burnside, who has written and played with his father, Kimbrough, and the North Mississippi Allstars, among others, carried the torch. He played an acoustic set of hill country classics backed by R.L.'s longtime guitarist Kenny Brown.

Young Artists Made Their Mark

Veteran blues artists dominated this year's BMAs, but a handful of young performers broke through at the show as well, wowing the audience with their performances.

McComb, Mississippi's Mr. Sipp (aka, Casto Coleman) returned to close out the night with a gospel-infused closing set that brought the crowd to their feet.

Two more former emerging artist winners also provided show highlights: GRAMMY-nominated band Southern Avenue rocked the house with an inspired acoustic stage mini set, featuring a trio of female voices.

Meanwhile, Detroit's Annika Chambers and her musical partner Paul DesLauriers delivered a high-energy segment that fused rock and soul into their blues.

Joining these up-and-comers was this year's Emerging Artist winner, 22-year-old St. Louis native Dylan Triplett.

A prodigy blessed with a four-and-a-half octave vocal range, Triplett took the stage early with his band to play R&B-inflected selections from his debut album, Who Is He? When his name was called for his award, he acknowledged his faith and thanked his parents — including his father, saxophone player Art Pollard.

Clearly, the blues are alive and well — and the 2023 Blues Music Awards remain a critical part of this magnificent musical sphere.

Fresh Off His GRAMMY Win For '662,' Young Bluesman Christone "Kingfish" Ingram Is Just Getting Started