Photo: Jamie Crawford Walker
Buju Banton's Untold Stories: The Dancehall Legend Shares Tales Behind 10 Of His Biggest Songs
'Born For Greatness' is the latest entry in Buju Banton’s 30-plus year career. In a wide-ranging interview, Banton reflects on 10 important songs in his ongoing musical odyssey.
When Buju Banton emerged on Jamaica’s dancehall scene in the early 1990s, his ferocious vocals were seemingly incongruous to his youth and slim build, which set him apart from his colleagues. So too did his flurry of early hits: "Bogle," "Batty Rider," "Big It Up," and "Champion." But the precocious teenage sensation also offered serious commentary on such hits as "How Massa God World A Run" and "Deportee."
Thirty years later, Banton continues to defy expectations. His latest album, Born For Greatness, melds reggae and dancehall with elements of R&B, jazz flourishes, crunching rock guitars, even a spirited gospel-tinged closer. "I don’t want anyone to put I in a bubble and say I should only make music like this or like that," Banton tells GRAMMY.com. "Let me be free to create and express the way I feel because I am sure there is someone out there who feels the same way."
Banton has been expressing himself since he was young. Born Mark Myrie, the youngest of 15 children born to a street vendor mother in a poor area of West Kingston, Banton is a descendant of the Maroons, Africans who defeated Jamaica’s British colonizers then retreated to the island’s mountainous interior, where they established communities of free Black people. Buju is a Maroon word for breadfruit and banton refers to a revered storyteller, a name Mark adopted in tribute to the deejay Burro Banton, whom he admired as a child.
Banton began toasting at just 12 years old and, by the early ‘90s, was so popular that the Prime Minister PJ Patterson was among his fans. Patterson missed Banton’s performance at Jamaica’s Reggae Sunsplash 1993 but still desired to see him live. Buju’s close friend/mentor and lovers rock king Beres Hammond granted the Prime Minister’s wish, giving a portion of his set to Buju, then joining him to deliver their hit duet "Who Say." When asked about the Jamaican leader’s request at the time, Buju paused and simply said, "the next prime minister shall know me, too."
Buju released his first album for a major US label, Voice of Jamaica, in August 1993. He followed with 1995’s ‘Til Shiloh, one of reggae/dancehall’s most celebrated and influential releases. Throughout his career, Buju has vacillated between the frenetic dancehall of his youth and the roots reggae associated with the Rastafari way of life that he later adopted.
Buju’s career abruptly stopped on Dec. 10, 2009 when he was arrested at his South Florida home for conspiracy to possess cocaine with intent to distribute. He was briefly released on bail that January and allowed to headline his fundraising concert for his mounting legal costs, which also featured Shaggy, Sean Paul, and Stephen and Damian Marley. A few weeks later, Buju’s Before The Dawn won the GRAMMY Award for Best Reggae Album — though the artist couldn’t attend the ceremony because his trial reconvened the following day. He was found guilty and sentenced to 10 years in a Florida prison.
In December 2018 Buju emerged a free man and returned to Jamaica. Four months later, he headlined his Long Walk to Freedom concert at Kingston’s National Stadium where he drew over 32,000 fans. His first release post-confinement, Upside Down 2020, was also nominated for a GRAMMY Award.
Banton produced the majority of Born For Greatness alongside Jermaine Reid, Stephen Marley and DJ Khaled. On the album’s cover Buju is clad in black leather and adorned with gold jewelry including chunky rings and a thick-linked gold chain wrapped around his head, a provocative image intended to evoke a discussion around mental enslavement.
"The rings are the faces of Frederick Douglas, Harriet Tubman, and the freedom fighters who fought to free us from the chains around our mind because they were adamant in their resolve of freeing the people," Buju explains.
With Born For Greatness the latest entry in Buju’s 30 plus year career, he recently spoke with GRAMMY.com reflecting on 10 songs that span his ongoing musical odyssey.
"Love Mi Browning,"Mr Mention (1991)
Over a bubbling organ riff, Buju declares his love for a Black woman with a light complexion (referred to as a browning in Jamaican parlance). Some listeners perceived the song as Buju expressing a preference for lighter skinned women; the ensuing controversy propelled "Love Mi Browning" to No. 1 in Jamaica and increased the popularity of the captivating, coarse-voiced deejay who recorded it.
"I went to (Kingston’s) Penthouse Records where I met up with (brothers) producers Tony and Dave Kelly, Stumpy the engineer and (singer) Wayne Wonder. We started making music and Dave Kelly wrote "Love Mi Browning" about his then-girlfriend. We started working the song and it just became natural," Banton says.
"We received a lot of backlash, saying we were favoring women of lighter complexion, so I went back in the studio of my own volition and recorded ‘Love Black Woman,’ ("Wi nuh stop cry fi all Black woman/big up all de girls dem wid dark complexion"), which brought balance and silenced the negative energy that was on the surface."
"Deportees (Things Change)," Voice of Jamaica (1993)
Between 1990 and 2005, Jamaica received (proportionately) the largest number of Caribbean nationals deported from the U.S. Canada and the UK. Buju’s huge dancehall hit "Deportees," addresses individuals who had established good lives overseas — perhaps fueled by drug money or other illegal means — with little regard for the well-being of the family members they’d left back home.
His lyrics detail the dramatic changes that occur when these individuals are arrested and convicted: their luxurious lifestyles implode, and they are deported to the land of their birth. "Things change, now unu (you) see say life hard, you never used to send no money come ah yard/You wretch you, you spend the whole ah it abroad, squander your money now you're living like dog."
"I wrote the lyrics and (producer) Dave Kelly made the beat," Buju recalls. "Nowadays, everyone is just frolicking, singing about abstracts; back then, we had to sing about real issues. That was one of the songs that empowered many people, not just in the Caribbean region but throughout the world, to remember where they are coming from, strengthen the Diaspora and make sure they have something at home to fall back on because if you can’t grow where you are transplanted, you have to grow where you are planted."
"Murderer," 'Til Shiloh (1995)
At the height of Buju’s frenetic dancehall success, he dropped a forceful commentary, recorded on the classic 1980s Far East reggae riddim, which had great resonance in the dancehall but also appealed to fans that preferred the more cultural side of Jamaican music. "Murderer", initially released as a single in 1993, decried the island’s escalating violence that claimed the life of one of Buju’s close friends (Anthony "Panhead" Johnson).
"The song was written at a time when the murder rate exploded in Jamaica, everyone had an enemy, and one of our beloved entertainers got caught up in that drama," Buju proffers. "I was on tour in Japan when I got the news that Panhead was killed; I sat in the passageway of the hotel with Frankie Sly and Wayne Wonder and started writing ‘Murderer, blood is on your shoulder/kill I today you cannot kill I tomorrow.’ Jamaica gravitated towards the song’s realness; the sentiment that was expressed was one that we shared because ‘you can hide from man but not your conscience.’"
Thirty years after he wrote and recorded "Murderer" bloodshed in Jamaica, and throughout the world, remains out of control. "If you understand the political system that is in place, all these things are designed," Buju adds. "I try to guide the world with positivity, despite all the negativity in which my name has been typecast."
"Untold Stories," ‘Til Shiloh (1995)
Throughout ‘Til Shiloh — which means until kingdom come — Buju masterfully blends his boisterous dancehall foundation with Rastafarian roots reggae, Nyabinghi drumming and African choral chants, among other influences.
The album’s most surprising track, "Untold Stories," is a stunning, semi-acoustic ballad, with Buju’s visceral, supple sung vocals recounting the struggles of the poor in Jamaica, and all over the world: "I’m living while I’m living to the Father I will pray/only He knows how we get through everyday/will all the hike in the price arm and leg we have to pay while our leaders play." He goes on to instruct the youth to learn from his experiences, "when mama spend her last and send you to class, never you ever play, it’s a competitive world for low budget people, spending a dime while earning a nickel."
Buju was just 22 when he wrote and recorded "Untold Stories," the song’s heartfelt insights and his emotive delivery undoubtedly born of the hardships he and his family endured. "That song was the beginning of a transition in my life where I was exploring my creativity and where the Father wanted me to go in terms of the messages I must carry to the masses," Buju explains. "It was just perfect, a heaven-sent song, I have to say."
"Give I Strength" feat. Ras Shiloh, Inna Heights (1997)
As the title suggests, the superb "Give I Strength" is an invocation for the resilience to get through life’s obstacles, to "live out the greater part of my days." Ras Shiloh’s quivering, soulful tone is an ideal complement to Buju’s granular timbre as they trade verses over an exquisitely crafted reggae rhythm.
"Ras Shiloh was a young emerging talent, American born from Jamaican parents, and I fell in love with his dynamic voice the first time I heard it," Buju shares. "He’s a youth that love Rastafari. [Producer] Donovan Germain invited him to his Penthouse studios one day and he just came up with the perfect renditions to complement what I was saying.
"'Give I Strength' is so relevant in this time, before time and after time, because we all need the strength to be better individuals, so it was natural, pure," Banton says.
"Small Axe" feat. King Stitt, Inna Heights (1997)
One of the earliest practitioners of the Jamaican art of deejaying (also known as toasting), the late Winston Sparkes, a.k.a. King Stitt, was pivotal in elevating the role of a sound system deejay into an attraction in his own right. One of the first deejays to have a hit record (1969’s "Fire Corner,") Stitt rarely recorded after the 1970s, but his inimitable toasting graces the rollicking ska track "Small Axe," featured on Buju’s 1998 GRAMMY-nominated album Inna Heights.
Buju’s first European tour in 1991 circuitously led him to record with Stitt. "I spent six weeks in Europe, I went to Germany, Austria and I knew nothing of making reggae music, I was making dancehall music," Buju reveals. "I came home with the intent to make reggae music. I booked time at Tuff Gong Studios with a group of musicians and said we are going to make live music and they said, ‘are you serious?’ I said ‘yeah, I want to make ska, rocksteady and reggae music.’"
That session netted "Hills and Valleys," "What A Mighty Dread" and"Small Axe." Banton continues, "Making ska was more important than just the instrumental; it provided an opportunity to tap into the richness of our musical culture and to work with a great man like King Stitt. Maybe it was the divine instruction I had to follow as a servant and I did."
"Pull It Up" feat. Beres Hammond, Unchained Spirit (2000)
Despite the very different lanes they occupy in Jamaican music, there’s an undeniable vocal chemistry between Buju Banton and Beres Hammond that has yielded many great singles, including their timeless celebration of the dancehall "Pull It Up." Over an irresistibly danceable reggae rhythm, Beres’s smoky sung descriptions of the dance, "Everywhere I look is pure skankin’, I see no statue around," are punctuated by Buju’s irrepressible, raspy ponderings, "Without di dancehall, a wha we woulda do? When reggae music call, you must answer, too."
Buju detailed their initial encounter: "I first met Beres at a studio in 1992. I was the guy they sent out to buy Guinness, lunch, I was just coming up and I had to pay my dues. One day, I asked Beres, 'Why do you drink so much Guinness?' He said, 'After it passes the heart, that’s when I really start to sing,'" Buju laughingly recalled. "He had a reservoir of knowledge that he was hungry to pass on to a young man like me who was hungry for knowledge where the music is concerned.
"I didn’t get an opportunity to work with him until I proved that I understood the rudiments of music. Then he welcomed me and ever since, we have communicated musically. It’s always a mystical communication with him: he sings, and I am able to feel what he’s singing about and communicate it to the next generation in layman’s terms."
"Driver A," Too Bad (2006)
Set to the sinewy, bass heavy pulse of Sly and Robbie’s Taxi riddim, Buju instructs his driver to "Drop this Arizona [ganja] round Albermarle [a road in Flatbush, Brooklyn]" cautioning him to "remember the damn speed limit because if you run into the feds, that is it."
The clever, detailed lyrics weave an engaging, sometimes humorous narrative and Buju’s gritty delivery is so authentic that "Driver A" was immediately referenced when news broke of his arrest, three years later. Buju says the song was inspired by the hustling he saw going on in America.
"When I come to America and see how the people live, in their day-to-day life, they have to hustle, they have to go hard, everybody has something going on," he says. "Some people can relate, and some can’t relate but it’s a song in ode to those who hustle. It doesn’t get better than that."
"Buried Alive," Upside Down (2020)
Since his release from prison, Buju has said little (directly) in his interviews or through his music about his time in confinement. "Buried Alive" is a powerful depiction of the fortitude required to survive such an ordeal. It’s essentially a rock song with a sputtering tempo, featuring an overlay of searing guitars that accompany Buju’s anguished vocals: "Buried alive but I’m still breathing, I don’t know what tomorrow may bring but I got a feeling/I am alive, there must be a reason, I was given one more chance, my heart is still beating," sings Buju.
"They planted a seed, and I was allowed to grow. And grow I did," Buju said regarding the song’s subject matter. "My captors expected me to be bitter, but I said, 'Father forgive them because they know not what they did.' My mission still continues, I have not done anything different than what I was doing before, which was making music and loving people."
When asked if he wrote songs during his imprisonment, Buju says. "I did what I had to do to stay alive, it was that simple. Whether it was writing songs, teaching, being a source of light in a place of darkness, I was doing what I had to because the Lord ordained that I had to be there."
"Let My People Go," Born For Greatness (2023)
Buju concludes his latest album with a rousing gospel-influenced cry for personal liberation and the freedom of his people. The title is taken from a refrain that echoes throughout "Go Down Moses," a centuries-old African American spiritual, originally written about the exodus of the ancient Jewish people from slavery in Egypt. "Let My People Go" is shouted in a call and response fashion throughout Buju’s song, written about present day atrocities: "The whole world is in bondage (let my people go), tell these tyrants to let go (let my people go) what remains they may not be able to salvage (let my people go), they shall be riot, and rooting, and raving, and ravaged (let my people go)."
"The message is needed now more than ever," Buju states. "Freedom is being eradicated every day and people are being herded. The whole world is in bondage and the only hope is the truth, so we remove the veil from our eyes so we can see everything and everyone for who they are. The truth shall make you free. We are tired of this perpetual struggle, we are tired of this physical existence, just let my people go."
Source Photo Courtesy of Jon Platt; Graphic Courtesy of the Recording Academy
Sony Music Publishing Chairman & CEO Jon Platt To Receive GRAMMY Salute To Industry Icons Honor At The Pre-GRAMMY Gala During GRAMMY Week 2024
Ahead of the 2024 GRAMMYs, the renowned Pre-GRAMMY gala, hosted by the Recording Academy and Clive Davis, returns Saturday, Feb. 3, where Sony Music Publishing Chairman and CEO Jon Platt will be honored as the 2024 GRAMMY Salute To Industry Icons honoree.
The Recording Academy’s GRAMMY Salute To Industry Icons honor celebrates the music industry's leading lights and biggest supporters. Ahead of the 2024 GRAMMYs, Sony Music Publishing Chairman and CEO Jon Platt will become the latest honoree.
The GRAMMY Salute To Industry Icons honor is awarded during the invitation-only Pre-GRAMMY Gala, an annual celebration hosted by the Recording Academy and music industry icon Clive Davis that takes place the night before the annual GRAMMY Awards. Held on Saturday, Feb. 3, 2024, and sponsored by Hilton, IBM and Mastercard, the Pre-GRAMMY Gala has become one of the music industry's most distinguished events for the innovative and influential creators and professionals it draws. Jon Platt is certainly among them.
"One of the most influential figures in the industry, Jon has consistently set the bar for leadership in music," Recording Academy CEO Harvey Mason jr. said in a statement. “His ongoing commitment to equity, his dedication to quality, and his advocacy for artists across all crafts and genres have been an inspiration to music leaders everywhere. We look forward to an incredible evening dedicated to honoring his incredible impact.”
“Jon Platt is one of the music industry’s most illustrious leaders and I am thrilled that he will be this year’s Salute to Industry Icons honoree,” Clive Davis said in a statement. “Jon’s longtime trailblazing commitment to supporting songwriters across the music spectrum as well as his staunch dedication to advocacy, diversity and equality in the music business are exemplary. Artists and the industry at large are fortunate to have his insight and passion at the helm.”
Since his appointment as Chairman and CEO of leading global music publisher Sony Music Publishing (“SMP”) in 2019, Platt has worked to revitalize the company’s Songwriters First mission. His efforts have focused on emphasizing service and transparency at every level, prioritizing equity, and reshaping the company’s administration services.
During Platt's tenure, Sony Music Publishing has strengthened both its legacy and its future, creating historic partnerships with songwriting legends like Bruce Springsteen, Paul Simon and Ashley Gorley; signing the next generation of superstars like Olivia Rodrigo, Jack Harlow, Latto, Anitta, Central Cee, Kane Brown, and the Kid LAROI; and delivering opportunities for DIY creators through a landmark deal with BeatStars.
Throughout his career, Platt advocated for fair compensation for songwriters. Under his direction, Sony Music Publishing has focused on improving the lives of songwriters by putting more money in songwriters’ pockets, and getting that money in their pockets sooner. In an increasingly global music business, the company has also expanded its leading presence internationally into India, Indonesia and Nigeria.
Reflecting Platt’s commitment to artist development and his long-held belief that it’s better to grow hits than to chase them, SMP has built out its services for songwriters and composers at every stage of their careers. Songwriters Forward — a global initiative — has seen SMP providing mental health and wellness support to its roster through the Songwriter Assistance Program. SMP’s Legacy Unrecouped Balance Program has offered new financial opportunities to legacy songwriters. And SMP has provided over $1 million in grants to working songwriters in collaboration with organizations such as the 100 Percenters, Songwriters of North America (SONA) and Nashville Songwriters Association International (NSAI).
Jon Platt’s career in the music business began in the mid-‘80s, when, as a DJ in his hometown of Denver, he was credited with breaking records from Public Enemy and Arrested Development in the Midwest. He brought the same passion for spotting hits-in-the-making to his career in music publishing, signing and collaborating with some of the biggest names in hip-hop and R&B, including Jay-Z, Beyoncé, Drake, Rihanna, Pharrell Williams and Usher. Platt is widely credited for elevating how hip-hop and R&B artists are respected and compensated as songwriters.
Platt has consistently shared his belief in building a music business every bit as diverse as the music it represents. He has increased diversity across senior leadership teams throughout his career, and supported the development of a pipeline of female executives with SMP’s global Women’s Leadership Program. His commitment to equity and inclusion extends to empowering the next generation of songwriters and composers with initiatives like SMP’s Screen Scoring Diversity Scholarship at the University of Southern California’s Thornton School of Music.
Platt previously served as chairman & CEO of Warner Chappell and led the company’s turnaround. He also spent 17 years at EMI Music Publishing, where he cemented his reputation for recognizing icons-in-the-making by signing Jay-Z on the release of his 1996 independent debut album, Reasonable Doubt.
Platt sits on the boards of Berklee College of Music, Songwriters Hall of Fame, Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, Motown Museum, Living Legends Foundation, and the National Music Publishers Association (NMPA), and his numerous recognitions include City of Hope’s prestigious Spirit of Life Award, SONA’s Warrior Award, NSAI’s President’s Keystone Award, SESAC’s Visionary Award, Billboard’s Power 100, Variety’s Variety500, and Morehouse College’s Candle Award. In 2005, he launched The Big Jon Platt Scholarship Program for college-bound students from his Denver community in Montbello.
Graphic courtesy of the Recording Academy
How To Watch "A GRAMMY Salute To 50 Years Of Hip-Hop": Air Date, Performers Lineup, Streaming Channel & More
Featuring exclusive performances and special tributes, "A GRAMMY Salute To 50 Years Of Hip-Hop" premieres Sunday, Dec. 10. Here's when, where and how to watch the star-studded live concert special.
The 50th anniversary of hip-hop may have happened this past summer, but the Recording Academy's ongoing celebration was just beginning. And it's about to reach its culmination with "A GRAMMY Salute To 50 Years Of Hip-Hop," a majestic, once-in-a-lifetime live concert special featuring rap's best and brightest — past and present.
Here's everything you need to know about where, when, how, and why to watch "A GRAMMY Salute To 50 Years Of Hip-Hop."
What Is "A GRAMMY Salute To 50 Years Of Hip-Hop" Celebrating?
"A GRAMMY Salute To 50 Years Of Hip-Hop" is celebrating the 50th anniversary of hip-hop, which took place in August.
Scholars may debate whether the genre's roots precede Aug. 11, 1973, when DJ Kool Herc debuted his "merry-go-round" technique of playing funk breaks back-to-back to a smattering of teenagers in the Bronx. But it's beyond doubt that this event was the spark to a flame that lit throughout the boroughs — inspiring DJs, breakdancers, graffiti artists, and, eventually, pioneering MCs like Coke La Rock and Cowboy.
In the ensuing decades, hip-hop has set the world on fire, swelling to become one of the foremost cultural phenomena on the planet. And "A GRAMMY Salute To 50 Years Of Hip-Hop" promises to pay homage to the breadth, depth and ongoing ripple effect of the genre and culture.
When Can I Watch "A GRAMMY Salute To 50 Years Of Hip-Hop"?
"A GRAMMY Salute To 50 Years Of Hip-Hop" will air Sunday, Dec. 10, starting at 8:30 p.m. ET/8 p.m. PT.
How Can I Watch "A GRAMMY Salute To 50 Years Of HipHop"?
"A GRAMMY Salute To 50 Years Of Hip-Hop" will air at the above time, at the above date, on the CBS Television Network and stream live and on demand on Paramount+.
Who Is Performing At "A GRAMMY Salute To 50 Years Of Hip-Hop"?
The two-hour live concert special will feature exclusive performances from hip-hop legends and GRAMMY-winning artists including Black Thought, Bun B, Common, De La Soul, Jermaine Dupri, J.J. Fad, Talib Kweli, the Lady Of Rage, LL Cool J, MC Sha-Rock, Monie Love, the Pharcyde, Queen Latifah, Questlove, Rakim, Remy Ma, Uncle Luke, and Yo-Yo.
Rap icons and next-gen hip-hop superstars like 2 Chainz, T.I., Gunna, Too $hort, Latto, E-40, Big Daddy Kane, GloRilla, Juvenile, Three 6 Mafia, Cypress Hill, Jeezy, DJ Quik, MC Lyte, Roxanne Shanté, Warren G, YG, Digable Planets, Arrested Development, Spinderella, Black Sheep, Luniz, and many more will also perform. Plus, hip-hop icons DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince will deliver a highly anticipated reunion on the stage.
Who Is Appearing At "A GRAMMY Salute To 50 Years Of Hip-Hop"?
Two-time GRAMMY winner and nine-time GRAMMY nominee LL Cool J will guide fans through the "A GRAMMY Salute To 50 Years Of Hip-Hop" experience throughout the night. You can also expect presentations and appearances from Chloe Bailey, hip-hop-meets Broadway mastermind Lin-Manuel Miranda, Seth Rogen, Jennifer Hudson, Regina Hall, Machine Gun Kelly, and more.
What Can I Expect At "A GRAMMY Salute To 50 Years Of Hip-Hop"?
Spanning the past five decades of hip-hop history, "A GRAMMY Salute To 50 Years Of Hip-Hop" is the epitomic embodiment of the profound history of hip-hop. More than just a live concert special, the show will celebrate the infinite ways hip-hop has impacted and changed the world. Plus, with such a heavy-hitter performer lineup, hip-hop fans should expect plenty of surprises and deep dives into the rich evolution of rap music and culture.
The night will feature groundbreaking artists performing the songs that changed hip-hop forever. Expect to experience exclusive performances of such classics from all the influential eras of hip-hop, including T.I.'s "What You Know," 2Pac's "California Love," Three 6 Mafia's "Stay Fly," Cypress Hill's "How I Could Just Kill A Man," and many more.
"A GRAMMY Salute To 50 Years Of Hip-Hop" will also showcase some of the regional sounds and scenes that shaped the rap canon across the decades, including special segments celebrating Southern hip-hop featuring Jeezy, T.I., Bun B, Three 6 Mafia, Jermaine Dupri, and more; West Coast rap featuring Warren G, Tyga, Roddy Ricch, DJ Quik, Too $hort, E-40, and others; and the international rap scene featuring Akon, Blaqbonez and more.
Of course, hip-hop would not be where it is today without the influential women and female trailblazers who pioneered the genre and industry. For the past five decades, women have been essential to hip-hop, and "A GRAMMY Salute To 50 Years Of Hip-Hop" will pay tribute to the ladies who built — and continue to build — rap music and culture. The ladies of hip-hop will take centerstage with a special performance featuring an all-women cast of hip-hop greats performing empowering female anthems, including Queen Latifah & Monie Love performing "Ladies First," Roxanne Shanté delivering "Roxanne's Revenge," Latto holding it down for the next generation with "Put It On Da Floor," and more.
As one of the highlights of the night, hip-hop pioneers DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince will reunite for a highly anticipated performance featuring their greatest hits, which have since become some of the most celebrated songs in hip-hop history, including, "Brand New Funk," "Gettin' Jiggy Wit It," "Summertime," and more.
"A GRAMMY Salute To 50 Years Of Hip-Hop" will pay tribute to this quintessentially American art form like no other. Keep checking GRAMMY.com for more news and updates about "A GRAMMY Salute To 50 Years Of Hip-Hop" and the 50th anniversary of hip-hop, and make sure to tune in on Sunday, Dec. 10, starting at 8:30 p.m. ET/8 p.m. PT.
A GRAMMY Salute To 50 Years Of Hip-Hop is produced by Jesse Collins Entertainment. Jesse Collins, Shawn Gee, Dionne Harmon, Claudine Joseph, LL COOL J, Fatima Robinson, Jeannae Rouzan-Clay, and Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson for Two One Five Entertainment serve as executive producers and Marcelo Gama as director of the special.
— With additional reporting from John Ochoa
Photo: Jason Mendez/Getty Images
How Lin-Manuel Miranda Bridged The Worlds Of Broadway & Hip-Hop
"A GRAMMY Salute to 50 Years of Hip-Hop" airs Sunday, Dec. 10. During the two-hour live concert special, Miranda will offer an inside look at how and when he fell in love with hip-hop.
Lin-Manuel Miranda has consistently been between worlds.
Whether it was growing up spending the school year in Manhattan and summers in Puerto Rico; spending the early 2000s teaching seventh grade English by day while refining "In the Heights" at night; or translating parts of one of the most beloved musicals of all time into the language half of its characters would have actually spoken, Miranda has constantly been navigating a cultural and sonic divide.
But his most consistent bridging of worlds has been between Broadway and hip-hop, most notably via the groundbreaking "Hamilton." As someone equally well-versed in Sondheim and Biggie, Miranda is uniquely positioned to bring rapping to the stage, and vice-versa.
Miranda will expound on this best-of-both-worlds mindset during a special segment on the once-in-a-lifetime "A GRAMMY Salute To 50 Years Of Hip-Hop" live concert special in which he'll give both musical theater and rap fans an inside look at how and when he fell in love with hip-hop. Airing Sunday, Dec. 10, at 8:30 p.m. ET/8:00 p.m. PT on the CBS Television Network and streaming live and on demand on Paramount+, "A GRAMMY Salute To 50 Years Of Hip-Hop" features exclusive performances from Public Enemy, Rick Ross, 2 Chainz, T.I., Gunna, Tyga, Too $hort, Latto, E-40, Big Daddy Kane, GloRilla, Three 6 Mafia, a highly anticipated reunion from hip-hop pioneers DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince, and many more. The two-hour special celebrates the impactful history of hip-hop and showcases the genre's monumental cultural influence around the world.
Below are five of the ways Lin-Manuel Miranda has bridged Broadway and hip-hop culture.
Convincing Stephen Sondheim That Rap Is The Future Of Musical Theater
Yes, musical theater's Shakespeare was aware of rap before he met Miranda. His character of the Witch in "Into the Woods" — originally brought to life by Bernadette Peters — spits some rhymes (he respectfully called his efforts an "imitation" of the genre).
But in his 2011 memoir/book of lyrics Look, I Made a Hat, Sondheim revealed that Miranda was the one musical theater composer who might show others how to incorporate rap into the art form.
"I was never able to find another appropriate use for the technique [after 'Into the Woods'], or perhaps I didn't have the imagination to," he wrote. "Miranda does. Rap is a natural language for him and he is a master of the form, but enough of a traditionalist to know the way he can utilize its theatrical potential: he is already experimenting with it in a piece about Alexander Hamilton. This strikes me as a classic example of the way art moves forward: the blending of two conventional styles into something wholly original… It's one pathway to the future."
Starting Freestyle Love Supreme
"Anthony would come in and distract us, 'Let's rap about our day!' . . . And we would just freestyle," Miranda recalled years later on "The Tonight Show." Soon, Veneziale had a second idea: they should do that in front of people. Thus, Freestyle Love Supreme was born.
The idea was simple: it was a mash-up (again with the bridge-building) between an improv troupe and a rap cipher. The extended crew of regulars and special guests eventually grew to include talents like "Hamilton" standouts Daveed Diggs and Christopher Jackson, and even Wayne Brady. The idea became so successful that FLS had its own Broadway show and Vegas residency, with Miranda still popping up frequently as a special guest.
Making The Hamilton Mixtape
Miranda teamed up with Questlove to make "Hamilton" even more hip-hop with The Hamilton Mixtape. The project features not just covers of "Hamilton" songs by well-known pop artists, which would have been noteworthy enough.
But more importantly for our concerns, it has a number of hip-hop reinterpretations of numbers from the show. Check out, for example, "Immigrants (We Get the Job Done)," by K'naan, Snow Tha Product, Riz MC, and Residente, which turns one line from the musical into an absolute banger.
The project also features Nas, the Roots, Joell Ortiz, Busta Rhymes, Dave East, and many more. To make the whole thing even more hip-hop, it's mixed together by an actual mixtape DJ, J.Period. You can listen to him discuss his role here.
Appearing On The Cover Of Complex With Chance The Rapper
By mid-2016, there were few rappers on the planet more perfectly positioned between success and innovation than Chance the Rapper. The Chicago emcee captured tastemakers with his exquisite 2013 mixtape Acid Rap, before jumping into the mainstream with the May 2016 release of Coloring Book. But before all that, he was just a kid who loved going to poetry open mics.
So it made a certain kind of sense when Complex decided to pair him with Miranda for their June/July 2016 cover story. The two had a ton in common (and Chance, it turned out, was a huge "Hamilton fan" who would soon cover "Dear Theodosia" for The Hamilton Mixtape). But even more than their conversation, it was the mere fact of its public existence that ended up drawing Broadway and hip-hop a little bit closer together than they had been before that issue hit the stands.
We saved the best — and most obvious — for last. Hamilton more than lived up to the potential to theatricalize rap that Sondheim saw in it. It showed that rapping could be a key, perhaps the key, part of a major musical, and that show could not only be great, but also be a giant, world-beating, Disney+-streaming hit.
Its quotations and interpolations of classic rap songs served multiple purposes. They were in-jokes for the rap fans in the audience, an acknowledgement that this theater guy was one of us. They also provided Easter eggs for the Broadway set, a hope that maybe one day they would figure out that it wasn't originally Alexander Hamilton who described himself by saying, "I'm only 19, but my mind is old" or Thomas Jefferson who boasted, "If you don't know, now you know."
Photo: Mynxii White
5 Songs To Get Into Health, Ahead Of New Album 'Rat Wars'
The experimental rock landscape is a far different place than it was in 2015, but HEALTH's range, imagination and songwriting acumen have helped them endure. Ahead of 'RAT WARS,' here are five key tracks by the electronic/noise stalwarts.
If you want to make heavy, intense music of any stripe, there's a balancing act when it comes to ferocity.
There's no ceiling nor vanishing point for how wild and crazy your creations can get; there's no gold standard for "heaviest music." HEALTH understand that's not even a goal worth pursuing — and that creating something truly unsettling might mean embracing gentility — even pop instincts.
As their bassist, John Famiglietti, once pointed out, HEALTH's dictum is to create "relevant music that sounds new" — plain and simple. And in a statement from the band, they declared they wanted their vocals to "have an even, unaffected feel. A softness, like a Zombies melody, or even a Gregorian chant.
"We aren't just interested in being a noisy screaming band," they continued, and that bears out across their core discography, as well as their DISCO remix series. And the Angelenos' new album, RAT WARS, marks another step in their captivating evolution.
Described in press materials as "The Downward Spiral for people with at least two monitors and a vitamin D deficiency," songs like "DEMIGODS," "HATEFUL" and "SICKO" feel more full-blooded than ever — and this was an act that seemed to come out of the gate fully formed.
Here's a quick look at five HEALTH songs to know — focusing on the core catalog, and leaving aside the (very rewarding) DISCO series, as that's a can of worms deserving of its own article.
"Crimewave" (HEALTH, 2007)
Back on the cusp of the Obama years, HEALTH got wind in the sails via a Crystal Castles remix of their song "Crimewave," from their self-titled debut.
As such, that defunct duo (as to why they disbanded, you can Google it) played an critical role in HEALTH's rise — but Castles or no Castles, HEALTH remains a rewarding, thrillingly alien listen 15 years later.
And along with other key tracks like "Triceratops," "Crimewave" easily passes muster as a calling-card HEALTH track; you have pulverizing rhythms, an eerily docile vocal, and the threat of the whole enterprise detonating before your ears.
"Nice Girls" (GET COLOR, 2009)
A cemented HEALTH's second album, GET COLOR, developed on their earlier ideas masterfully — the songs felt more like songs this time around. Plus, a splash of snake venom in the production rendered their bite even more debilitating.
Highlights are all over the place, from "Die Slow" to "Death+" and beyond, but "Nice Girls" might be the centerpiece.
My Bloody Valentine is over-cited when it comes to swirling, abstracted music, but here, the comparison fits: it's like Kevin Shields with a serrated edge, commensurately tranquil and destabilizing.
"Stonefist" (DEATH MAGIC, 2015)
DEATH MAGIC leaned heavier into pure dance than HEALTH had previously; by selecting that tool in their toolbox, they honed their range of influences and moods into a fine point.
Where other HEALTH songs might butter you up and then deliver the K.O., DEATH MAGIC opts to grind you into dust like a diesel engine; the atmospheric yet unsparing "Stonefist" is Exhibit A for this approach
Founding member Jupiter Keyes left after DEATH MAGIC, but the crew soldiered on as a three-piece.
"No God in Thunderdome" (Grand Theft Auto Online: Arena War OST, 2019)
Despite not appearing on a proper HEALTH album, but in a "Grand Theft Auto" game, "No God in Thunderdome" threatens to be their time-capsule song.
As with their other career highlights, the track thrives on simplicities layered on simplicities until they form an entirely new beast; their blend between warped pop and outré everything is perfectly proportional here.
"Feel Nothing" (VOL. 4 :: SLAVES OF FEAR, 2019)
As HEALTH have continued their creative ascent, their embrace of pop has only swelled.
And "Feel Nothing," from their first post-Keyes album VOL 4 :: SLAVES OF FEAR, shows that tiptoeing up to that precipice doesn't compromise their essential chaos and aural extremism.
Not that it's a linear path to alternate-universe airwaves — RAT WARS brings the darkness and heaviness from entirely new directions. But "Feel Nothing" illuminates a path they could embark on if they wanted.
But as always, it's not that simple; with this long-running act, you'll get jostled to and fro on the journey, but the destination is more than worth it. What might that be in the long run? HEALTH only knows.