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Chance the Rapper
All You Need Is Happy Thoughts: Chance The Rapper & Collaborators Reflect On 'Coloring Book' At 5
To celebrate the fifth anniversary of 'Coloring Book' and his new 'Magnificent Coloring World' concert film, Chance the Rapper and some of his collaborators spoke with GRAMMY.com about the making and ever-evolving legacy of his groundbreaking 2016 mixtape
There was once a time when Chance the Rapper's career dealt with questions: Where was his life headed? Was God even present in it? Was he becoming the man he was supposed to be? For Chance, his breakout mixtapes 10 Day (2012) and, mainly, Acid Rap (2013) are the summation of those thoughts; still, the answers to those big life questions would come in the months leading to 2016.
An angel named Kensli, his firstborn daughter, entered Chance's life in September 2015, reigniting his relationship with the church and making the manifestations he laced in his rhymes feel so much more obtainable. His lyrics were now full of guarantees, not just goals. On his 2015 single "Angels," he asserted himself as the "blueprint to a real man," and on Kanye West's "Ultralight Beam," he pledged to do a "good-ass job" with his third mixtape, firmly cementing his GRAMMY aspirations on wax. Those promises, driven by his faith, led him to Coloring Book.
On Coloring Book, his third solo mixtape, Chance took a literal leap of faith, introducing elements of gospel music into his art and expanding his artistic reach via A-list collaborations with Kanye West, Lil Wayne, Justin Bieber, Jay Electronica, gospel legend Kirk Franklin and others. The approach paid off: Released in May 2016, Coloring Book ushered in Chance's mainstream breakthrough and marked a turning point for the music industry as a whole. The mixtape became the first streaming-exclusive album to chart on the Billboard 200, peaking at No. 8, as well as the first streaming-only album to win a GRAMMY, including GRAMMY wins for Best Rap Album and Best Rap Performance ("No Problem") at the 59th GRAMMY Awards in 2017; Chance also won the GRAMMY for Best New Artist that same night.
On the road to Coloring Book, Chance the Rapper found God, found his calling as the world's best dad, and found his face all over his Chicago hometown. The groundbreaking mixtape has since led him to the release of Magnificent Coloring World, his new concert film premiering today (Aug. 13) and screening exclusively across AMC movie theaters nationwide. The film chronicles a secret concert Chance filmed in Chicago in 2017 following his historic GRAMMY run.
To celebrate the fifth anniversary of Coloring Book, as well as the release of his coinciding Magnificent Coloring World concert film, GRAMMY.com spoke with Chance the Rapper and some of the collaborators behind the mixtape, including executive producer Peter CottonTale, longtime collaborators Nico Segal and Nate Fox, Kirk Franklin, and others, about the making and ever-evolving legacy of Coloring Book.
The Tide After Surf
Nico Segal, formerly known as Donnie Trumpet, pushed the envelope on Surf, his 2015 album with the Social Experiment, a collaborative group featuring Chance the Rapper, Peter CottonTale, Greg Landfair Jr., and Nate Fox. The album introduced Chance to Chicago Recording Company (CRC), a recording studio in Chicago where he would eventually record and piece together the majority of Coloring Book in early 2016. Where 2013's Acid Rap saw Chance link with the likes of Action Bronson and Childish Gambino, Surf turned it up a notch, introducing him to Busta Rhymes, J. Cole, and the endless possibilities of collaboration.
Nate Fox (Producer/writer): I tend to think about Coloring Book from its very, very beginnings while we were still making Surf. There was a nice crossover, as far as when we were working on Surf and the things we were doing in between. I don't feel like there was any real notable date or thing that happened where we said, "OK, this is the direct start of Coloring Book," because it just kind of flowed really nicely from Surf and all the records that we did in between. And then all of a sudden, we were like, "Are we working on an album?"
Chance the Rapper: Surf was where we started using CRC [studios in Chicago] and doing live recordings of choir and band. For all of my projects, 80% of the projects get completed in the last three weeks; that's how I work. But Coloring Book was based on that live sound, studio recording feel, and with Surf, that was something we figured out toward the end. So there was a time of air mattresses, flying back and forth to different studios to go pick up sessions that we'd left places and trying to piece everything together in this very hectic way. And Coloring Book, from its inception, was like, "I want big choirs, I want the band to be on it, I want to have big features." That was something we never really did on Acid Rap or 10 Day, even though they had big features for me at the time. But it wasn't until Surf that we were like, "I think we can get whoever we want on this: J. Cole, Big Sean, Erykah Badu, Busta Rhymes."
Nico Segal (Producer/writer): There was some music I can remember that had been made in the Surf era and just didn't fit or just didn't get finished and then ended up being a part of Coloring Book. The main one I can think of is "Drown," which was a beat that I made initially with Noname, and it was made, I'm pretty sure, before Surf. You can kind of tell by even the title "Drown." Chance ended up working on it and really wanted to include it in the story. You never really know how you're going to end up using it. And sometimes, it's really clear, and sometimes it just takes more time. It's actually a really freeing thought, because sometimes in music, it can be really intimidating to be like, "OK, I'm working on this song, or these collections of songs. This is the album, this is it, this is all I can do. This is all it'll ever be."
Chance: A lot of my confidence in being able to get big artists came from working with Nico on Surf and saying that I wanted to get somebody on the song or him saying it. On Coloring Book, I was like, "Oh, there's no way that I'm not going to have Jay Electronica." I just had this new confidence at that time to reach out to people and keep hitting them back over and over again and fly out to some city.
Segal: I think Chance was just naturally also better at what he does by the time we made Coloring Book. I think that's true for all of us—we were all just better musicians and better producers. Not that Surf was like the exercise to get to Coloring Book. But I think with every project, you learn a ton about yourself and about making music in general, and I think it was just a natural progression.
'Let's Do A Good-Ass Job With Chance 3'
During the Coloring Book sessions, and while the rest of the world had no idea what Chance and his team were cooking up, the rapper made a promise on one of the most public platforms imaginable: a Kanye West album. On "Ultralight Beam," the opening track to West's 2016 album, The Life of Pablo, Chance raps, "I made 'Sunday Candy' / I'm never going to hell / I met Kanye West, I'm never going to fail / He said, 'Let's do a good-ass job with Chance 3 / I hear you gotta sell it to snatch the GRAMMY." Kanye, initially, wasn't too into Chance making such declarations, but Chano had a feeling about this one.
Chance: Having this confidence was a new thing. Acid Rap and 10 Day were a lot about me trying to figure out who I was. Acid Rap deals a lot [with] questions. And I had all these questions for if God is really gonna be there for me, if I'm gonna make it, if I am the type of person I say I am. And then Coloring Book is just a lot of answers. I'm making this decision to be in my kid's life. Beyond being in my kid's life, I'm gonna be a father, I'm gonna be committed to a philosophy of life through what Christ teaches us, and I'm gonna stand on this idea that I can speak things into existence. I rapped on Kanye's s right before it came out that I was working on these three GRAMMYs, and I was like, "If I keep rapping like that, and just saying s's gonna happen, that's just gonna happen." And it started happening.
Peter CottonTale (Executive producer): In our camp, sometimes we say, "Everything's made up." We create everything. [Chance has] always been claiming his existence or his manifestations in music … And not just through his rap music, but through his daily life, his actions. It just started to explode and flood out on Coloring Book.
Chance: Kanye didn't want me to say that [line] on that song. And I had to go back and forth with him about keeping my line on there. That whole experience of working on [Pablo] was very transformative for a lot of people around me, because I was 40% of the way done with Coloring Book. I was listening to a lot of gospel [then]. So, when I came to the camp, any time I got the aux cord, I was playing Fred Hammond or talking about something I read in the bible. It was a different vibe than what Kanye had hit me up for because I was coming off the heels of Acid Rap. So, I had this different vibe and energy, and it was very well received. Kanye was like, "I wanna have more gospel [moments] on this album," and people eventually started calling it a gospel album. Just being in a position to rap [with] the person who probably is the reason I became a rapper—to be able to produce and write and to be featured on the intro, the first real rap verse you hear on the album, was crazy to me. I was, at that time, speaking it into existence like, "Kanye gonna hit us up soon. You gonna be working with 'Ye soon." And when that happened, I had to keep doing that. I had to keep being like, "I'm gonna just say what's gonna happen."
Chance's Vision And The 17 Air Mattresses That Brought It To Life
The transition from Surf into Coloring Book was seamless, according to Chance's collaborators. Tracks like "Angels" and "Same Drugs" came together pretty early on into Coloring Book. But in the beginning months of 2016, once his vision began to solidify and he knew how distinctly he wanted to talk about faith, thanks to some inspiration from Kirk Franklin records and the world around him, Chance's team made CRC their new temporary home. Chance's daughter Kensli even got an air mattress for the process.
CottonTale: I feel like Coloring Book readjusted all of our sleep schedules permanently. Chance had a lot of family things that he was growing and maturing through. We might have been getting off tour or getting ready for a tour, or something of that sort. But man, it was a lot of figuring out, a lot of traveling. A lot of different studios and inspiration here and there, and then fighting through no inspiration here and there.
Chance: I think I had such a concrete idea of what I wanted to do with Coloring Book that I don't normally have from the jump of a project; I knew the colors of it. I knew the choir aspect. I knew how unapologetically I wanted to talk about this understanding that I had from the jump, from when I first made "Angels." I remember talking about being this blueprint to a real man.
Saba (Featured artist on "Angels"): Honestly, both of those projects [Acid Rap and Coloring Book] were crazy, and it always feels like extra attention. I'm sure his answer might be different, but for me, my job is to go in the studio and do the best that I can; that's what I feel like I did in both instances. You never know if songs are gonna be released or not, so a lot of times, it's not even worth it to think about extra attention and stuff like that because that's something that could just distract you from the job. I was just happy to be on both, honestly. At the time, those were two of the biggest things that I had done.
Fox: ["Same Drugs"] was such an important song, I'm sure to Chance but to all of us [as well]. It was so beautiful and it was a great example of what we see in Chance as a songwriter every time he touches the pen to the pad, because it's just such an undeniably perfectly written song. From his standpoint, it was very, very important to us that everything about the song and in the song's production matched and was at least equal. I knew we couldn't beat him on this one. But I knew we could at least do everything we could to try to equal what he was giving us.
Segal: He does have that level of intention, in all his words, and he does bring that to the music in general. He understands the full package better than … [most] artists. It's pressure, I guess, to make something on that level with somebody who really cares about the whole package.
Fox: We've never really had deeper conversations or specific conversations about Chance's vision, because he always does a great job of giving you the metaphor or the image that you need to get the job done. And it can be personal to you.
Chance: [Coloring Book] was a lot about my relationship with God, Chicago, choirs, and all this type of stuff. But the structure of it and the immediacy of it getting finished came because I became a father for the first time. I was 22. I was very, you know, just figuring s out still. After I had [Kensli], it made me get a lot more consistency and structure in my life, which was different from how I've been before that s. I'm still not perfect.
Kirk Franklin (Writer, producer and featured artist on "Finish Line/Drown"): Honestly, I am always humbled when someone tells me I inspired them to create greatness. I am just thankful that God allows me to borrow something from Him every now and then that blesses someone. I know it is not my own lyrics or melody that was the inspiration, but God's. Anytime I can point someone back to the Father, I'll take it.
Chance: It's crazy think to think about [how] my kid was sleeping on air mattresses at the studio. And we were really working hard on that at a time when she was an infant.
Fox: Around that time, we were working on an album for Grace Webber. And as soon as Nico recorded the horns on "All We Got," I was just so gassed ... We hadn't really made much of it yet. As soon as we sent it to Chance, he heard the horns and called us like, "The f* is this?" And then when he was like, "I'm gonna send this to Kanye…" And then Kanye sent us back this curve, bro. He sent us back the craziest MPC take. I don't know if he listened to a click or if he did it in headphones or if it was just really loud in the studio, it was madness. But we ended up comping a great couple sections, piecing it together.
Chance: [Coloring Book producer] Francis [and the Lights] has this thing where he uses this plug-in, and basically he finessed it where he can choose the harmonies that he sings on top … One of my favorite places that it's used is on Kanye's vocal [on "All We Got"]. And that's how he started working with Francis so closely. I brought him to a session for "All We Got" and had him freestyle sing, while Francis [played] the chords over his vocals; that's what ends up becoming the "music is all we got" [in the song]. I just remember Kanye being so enamored with the sound and with what he could do with his different vocal inflections and what Francis would add as his other vocal harmonies. Just being in a session with somebody I looked up to so much ... It was just crazy.
CottonTale: Sometimes Chance would reach out to a feature or sometimes we'd be in a certain place and they pull up to us at the studio and we all catch a vibe. Sometimes we'd end up making some beats or chop it up in the studio with Francis, or Kanye just sends a verse. Any artist, any feature, I feel like they just came for it. It was almost like—I don't want to say the rap Olympics, but it was fun to watch people approach Chance's music, the music we were making, in different ways. Here are all different ideas from these different artists. Some that made it on the tape, some that didn't. That process was enlightening, to say the least.
Josephine Lee (President/artistic director of the Chicago Children's Choir, which featured on Coloring Book): It was exciting for all of us—kids and adults alike—to see this artist from Chicago with an extraordinary gift thriving. Our singers could relate to Chance, and they knew they would be part of a history-making experience through this project. We were so honored to embark on this work, and wanted to share our artistry in any way we could.
Chance: "Finish Line/Drown" just went through so many different iterations. That song literally had like 20,000 sessions. Eventually, T-Pain got on the song and made the chorus [with] Kirk Franklin [and] Noname. I think I recorded the verse for that [song] the day before it came out. A lot of stuff that's not industry standard when it comes to how you adjust an album to submit it to a streaming service, a lot of those rules didn't apply at the time for me. Just because we were doing it without a label and I was the person doing it, and I didn't have a deadline or anything.
Franklin: Man, it was such an honor to work with my little bro [Chance] on such an impactful song. Working with Chance isn't like work at all. We are both such creative individuals that there is a natural synergy there. I normally start with the lyrics and melodic line of the words to make sure that the lyrics can stand alone. However, Chance creates sonically, and seeing the sonics speak just as if they were their own lyrical story was amazing. Once the record was cut, I don't think any of us knew how far that song would go.
Lee: Peter CottonTale called to invite Chicago Children's Choir to take part in the recording. For "All We Got," "How Great" and "Finish Line," we had the music arranged, brought in the orchestra, and recorded the tracks with our singers. When we recorded "How Great," we were all living in this euphoric moment and feeling the power of our voices united for a great purpose. We knew this would be a showcase of the best of what Chicago youth has to offer. Chance was so joyful, and that energy is contagious.
Chance: For "Smoke Break," I got Future's verse literally at midnight right after I uploaded [Coloring Book], so I had to re-upload the album. A lot of last-minute things that came together fell into place, and it always makes me feel really good when I hear someone say the mixtape is perfect. Because it was something that was made with many imperfections and last-minute touches.
Fox: We had some really great talks as a group early on, and we had some moments of realization and really just recognizing how extremely blessed we were to find each other. We all come from different places and have a lot of different upbringings and different family histories. The fact that we were all able, as a group, to come together and recognize those things made us realize that anytime we were working on things together, there was a bigger purpose. It was always important to focus on that, so we never really paid attention to the other things or really had any expectations, either. I guess the expectation was always just to appease God. Ultimately, are we doing it right, you know? Man, if those things felt good, if those things felt right, then I think we were already proud before we put it out.
Release, Reception And Realizations
Coloring Book saw a big release week, and, as the crew recalls, Chance's face was nearly unavoidable thanks to a poster campaign marketing the mixtape. But those posters only showed a fraction of the impact that Coloring Book would ultimately leave. With its legacy still unfolding today, beyond its historic GRAMMY wins, Coloring Book now continues its momentous journey and ongoing evolution via the newly released, massive concert film, Magnificent Coloring World.
Chance: [When I think of the final tape], I think a lot about the cover art of the project. The cover art was done by this dude, Brandon Breaux. He was an accomplished Chicago painter when I met him as a kid, and he did my first couple of joints. I specifically think of the cover [when I first think of the tape] because he took one of the first pictures of me and my daughter Kensli. But I just think a lot about taking that picture with her and the pride on my face when I was looking at a person who's gonna exist after me and who's gonna have their own ideas and walk around with a very similar face, but a whole different set of experiences. He painted the picture and he would talk about the look on my face and the motivation on my face in the painting that he made. So I always just loved that picture.
Segal: In Chicago on release week, [we were] just completely flooded with his face and this beautiful image; it was a really special moment in the city. Chance was kind of this rising star, but I guess Coloring Book was kind of like, "No, no, he is risen." It was really like, "This dude is a big deal," big superstar-moment just seeing him everywhere and the wave of Coloring Book taking over the city.
Knox: I knew [Coloring Book] was going to be very special from some of the very first sessions I was in. I remember hearing "No Problem" for the first time and hearing Lil Wayne's and 2 Chainz's features and just losing my mind. I didn't think it was going to be as big as it was; I just knew people were going to really like it. But I never anticipated a nomination from any award ceremony. I didn't believe that an independent artist in 2016 was even in consideration for legit accolades, but Chance was the one that showed us you could do it.
Chance: I do remember being sad in the first couple of nights because I was receiving some negative tweets around it. There were a lot of people saying, "Oh my god, it's a f gospel album." That was the main conversation around it, like, "This dude tricked us and made a gospel project." That wasn't really my intention. I never wanted to make a gospel album. I like all my projects to talk about some realistic stuff, whatever I'm going through at the moment. Within 24 or 48 hours—I don't remember what it was or if it started receiving positive press, or if I started going outside and seeing actual people tell me how they felt about the project, but I remember at a certain point, just getting past that and feeling loved and well-received. A lot of people wrote about how it brought them back to church on Sunday when they were kids, or brought them closer to Jesus or their faith. And I just remember feeling like, "Damn."
CottonTale: The songs that I did were very, very Christian-based. They had a very gospel or inspirational foundation. I find it kind of scary to be in that space sometimes. But I feel like it was something I didn't expect. But it was something that I was hoping would open doors for people to express themselves, faith-wise, in the hip-hop arena. Kanye said it best: "If I talk about God, my record won't get played." When we won the GRAMMY, it made me feel like those tracks didn't go unheard. There were still people out there like us that listen and believe in God. It was a big eyeopener.
Segal: I often talk about how music is history, cataloguing people's thoughts and the times. Coloring Book was a huge pivotal moment in the music industry where streaming projects and mixtapes got a little bit more clout and a little bit more recognition. The formatting of a traditional album got reworked in everyone's eyes in this very legitimate way via the GRAMMY and via this award or this kind of recognition. I thought it was a really powerful moment in music history, and I was really proud to be part of it.
Chance: It was important to me because I went through this whole thing with Acid Rap where at the time ... streaming services weren't validated by the industry. And SoundCloud and YouTube were kind of considered a nuisance at the time. I was approached a bunch of different times by a bunch of different people that were telling me all I had to do was get an ISRC code, basically like a barcode, on it and sell one copy. And if I sold that one copy, then I'd be eligible. I don't know if it was being young and rebellious, or whatever it was, I was like, "F* that. I shouldn't have to change for you, you should have to change for me." And I kept that attitude. And also, I obviously didn't want to sign a deal, and I wanted to continue to be able to give people access to my music without having it be a whole thing where they have to pay money or do some sort of buying. And I feel like Coloring Book helped really usher in the new wave of DSPs being considered a real distribution platform or space where music that wasn't 100% bought and owned was eligible for a GRAMMY. I'm happy for added access to music.
Segal: I think that the concept was just new for the whole world. It wasn't just the GRAMMYs, it was everyone that was coming to terms with this streaming world and music just being released in a different way. It was something that really lived on the internet and you really had to be in the know. It changed everything. And now everyone is streaming their albums and doing big deals for streams. Obviously, now the GRAMMYs and other big platforms are recognizing music in this way and from this kind of place. So, I don't think we even had the framework or even the capacity to think of what was possible with this kind of thing, because the whole world was just not really ready for that kind of thing to happen. It takes people like Chance to make that stuff happen.
Segal: We're talking about a project that literally changed the rules. Chance is always doing that. The legacy is ever-changing and ever-growing, and Chance is gonna keep coming up with new rules to break and new ways of pioneering change in the music industry. Coloring Book was probably the biggest step.
Chance: We shot [Magnificent Coloring World] four years ago, and it was an extremely strenuous project. It was a lot, a lot of work. It really speaks to all the things that I learned in the last year making virtual concerts and learning about film. But it really speaks to my resolve and my perseverance, to be able to see it and bring it to life and work out the whole [partnership] with AMC. I'm so, so proud of what we were able to do four years ago, for the project to be in the state that it was [in] even before the edits. It speaks to how polished my team was at the time, and still is to this day, to be able to make stuff like that. There [are] a lot of things to be proud of.
CottonTale: It definitely was a hurdle to figure out how to get it out cinematically, and it worked. It's still enjoyable five years later in different forms. I'm at the screening hearing people sing along. It's such a big inspiration to see some of your work ... Imagine painting something five years ago, and then you put it on the wall and someone's like, "Yeah, that's good. We should make a frame around that."
Chance: When I think about [Coloring Book], I think about my whole life. I think about the fact that I was raised by a dad who was super present, and is still extremely involved in all aspects of my life: family, business, otherwise. I think about the fact that I was raised in a church. And even though I left, Jesus brought me back. I think about the fact that I didn't fold, like I didn't have to change who I was to be in a position to get an accolade like winning a GRAMMY. Coloring Book was the best example of God and teamwork. I say that in the film, too. It's just all these different people, literally hundreds of people, all putting so much time and effort into making it as close to perfect as possible. We all won that night.
CottonTale: I think [Coloring Book's] legacy is still unfolding, but it's changed a lot of lives, and it still proceeds to change a lot of lives. More and more, I hear that it inspired people to produce or inspired people to do certain things. I'm blessed that anything I've ever made or been part of has helped somebody.
Chance: I'm the sum of all my experiences. I wouldn't have been married if it wasn't for my daughter. I wouldn't have found God if it wasn't for my daughter. I wouldn't have won three GRAMMYs if it wasn't for my daughter. The coolest part about seeing [Magnificent Coloring World] was all these people: film critics, artists, publications, fans. They showed me a lot of love, and I could tell people were genuinely proud of the actual film. But none of them measured up to what I saw with my daughter. She was so engaged and so inquisitive about what was happening in the movie. [In the film], there's this whole part where we're talking about the studio and putting together the s*. And my daughter looked up to me and was like, "Wow, you did all this before I was born?" I was like, "No, I did all of this because you were born."
Photo: Jason Koerner/Getty Images
Lil Yachty Wants You To Be "Ready For Everything" At The Field Trip Tour
As Lil Yachty hits the road for his 42-date global tour, the rapper details how he'll be bringing his trippy album 'Let's Start Here' to life — and why he feels like his seven-year career is only just getting started.
Fans first got to know Lil Yachty for his catchy, sing-songy tunes like "One Night" and "Minnesota," rap songs that sound like the rapper's once-signature red braids: bright and attention-getting. But as the man who once dubbed himself the "king of the teens" has now become a father in his (gasp!) mid-20s, his musical horizons have expanded.
While Lil Boat is still making catchy tracks (see his minute-and-a-half long earworm "Poland," released last fall), his latest album is something else entirely. Inspired by big statement LPs like Pink Floyd's 1973 classic Dark Side of the Moon, Lil Yachty's Let's Start Here is a psychedelic record created with members of Chairlift and MGMT, as well as Mac DeMarco, Alex G and a handful of other out-of-the-norm collaborators. While the style change may have been unexpected for many, it came out exactly as Yachty envisioned it.
"It felt future-forward, it felt different, it felt original, it felt fresh, it felt strong," he says. "I'm grateful for the response. It's nice to have people resonate with a body of work that you've worked so hard on and you care so deeply about."
Yachty's most recent release, a four-song single pack featuring the swirling "TESLA," brings him back to a more traditional hip-hop style — by Lil Boat standards, anyway. But even with the four new tracks sprinkled throughout the set list, he's still determined to share the sound and vibe of Let's Start Here with his listeners.
The Field Trip Tour, which Lil Yachty kicked off in Washington, D.C. on Sept. 21, brings the album's trippy vision to the stage. The rapper recruited an all-women band for his latest trek, which includes Lea Grace Swinson and Romana R. Saintil on vocals, Monica Carter on drums, Téja Veal on bass, Quenequia Graves on guitar, and Kennedy Avery Smith on keys.
"My life is surrounded by women," Yachty explains. "I feel like they are the most important aspect to this world and that they don't get enough credit or shine — especially Black women."
GRAMMY.com caught up with Yachty as he was on his way to rehearsal to chat about the tour, the album, and what he learned from four old British guys.
You made your band auditions public by announcing them on social media, which is not the usual way of going about these things. When you had the auditions, what was it like? How many people showed up?
Hundreds of women came from all over. People sent in auditions online. It was so fun to hear so much music and see talent and meet so many different personalities. I felt like Simon Cowell.
Other than musical ability, what were you looking for?
It was nothing more than talent. There would be multiple people with extreme talent, so then it became your own creative spunk: what did you do that made me say, "Oh, okay. I like this. I like this"? I wanted a badass group.
What was behind the decision to put the call out for women only?
My life is surrounded by women — my two assistants, my mother as a manager, a lot of my friends are women. Women really help me throughout my day.
I just think that women are so powerful. I feel like they rule the world. They are the most important aspect to this world and they don't get enough credit or shine, especially black women. So that was my aura behind it. I just wanted to showcase that women can shred just as good as men.
Is the band going to be performing on your older rap material as well, in addition to the album cuts?
No. I'm not a big fan of rendition rap songs. I think the feeling is in the beat, the feeling is in the instrumentation. When you have to reconstruct it, the bounce gets lost a bit.
Tell me about the rehearsal process once you selected the band members. What was that like?
They're all so talented, so they all learned it very quick. I gave [the music] to them early, and gave them the stems. When it was day one, they all knew the songs. Even my new guitarist that came in later than everyone, she came in knowing the music.
The rehearsal project for this tour was a little different, because I'm reconstructing the whole album. I'm moving everything around and changing all the transitions and trying to make it trippy. So it's a process of me figuring out how I want to do things. But they're so talented and so smart, all I have to do is tell them what I want, and they'll do it instantly.
Like yesterday, I wanted a solo on the end of a song called "The Alchemist." Because at the end of [the album version] is this [singer Brittany] Fousheé breakdown and she's singing in a falsetto. But I took her vocals off and I wanted a solo. And [a band member] was working through it yesterday and it wasn't quite there. But I'm on the way to rehearsal now, and I know when I walk in this room, it'll be done. It'll be crazy. So they all take it very serious and they care, and I love them so much.
The festival shows you've done so far have had everyone in Bantu knot hairstyles, sometimes with face paint. Is that going to be the look for this tour?
No, I don't think so.
What was the thinking behind that look?
I was getting really deep into the world of '70s bands, '60s bands. Just unison: moving as one, looking like one, feeling like one. A family, a group, a team. You see us, we're all together.
When you play rap shows, so much of what you're doing is keeping a high-energy mood—getting the crowd going, starting mosh pits. With the new songs, it's about a diversity of feelings. What was that like for you as a band leader?
I'll tell you, it was not easy. I've been in this industry for seven years, and my shows have been high-energy for seven years. So the first time I went on a stage and performed Let's Start Here, I felt like, "Oh wow, they hate me. Do they hate this?" Plus I have in-ears, so I can't hear the crowd cheering. I don't perform with in-ears when I do rap shows.
It took me some time to get used to the switch. Tyler, the Creator once had a talk with me and explained to me that, it's not that they don't f— with you, it's that they're taking it in. They're comprehending you. They're processing and enjoying it. That clicked in me and I got a better understanding of what's going on.
What is it like in the same show to go from the Let's Start Here material to the rap stuff?
It's a relief, because that's going to my world. It's super easy for me. It's like flipping the switch and taking it to the moon.
Now that it's been the better part of a year since Let's Start Here came out, how are you feeling about it? What sense do you have of the reaction to it?
Since before it came out, when I was making it, I always felt so strongly because it was something that I felt inside. It felt future-forward, it felt different, it felt original, it felt fresh, it felt strong.
I'm grateful for the response. It's nice. It's not what you do it for, but it is extra credit. It's nice to get that love and to have people resonate with a body of work that you've worked so hard on and you care so deeply about.
Have you felt peoples' reactions change over the past few months?
Well, this is the first time when people are like, "Man, that album changed my life" or "It took me to a different place." People love my music — always have — but this reaction is, "Man, this album, man, it really took me there."
It did what it was supposed to do, which was transcend people. If you are on that side of the world and you're into that type of stuff, it did its job, its course — the same course as Dark Side of the Moon, which is to take you on a journey, an experience.
What was it about Dark Side that grabbed you?
Everything. The cover, the sounds, the transitions, the vocals, the lyrics, the age of Pink Floyd when they made it. I could go on. I got into deep fascination. It was so many things. It's just pure talent.
I've read that you studied Pink Floyd quite a bit, watching interviews and documentaries. What were some of the things you learned from that process and brought to Let's Start Here?
So many things. The most important element was that I wanted to create a body of work that felt cohesive and that transcended people, and that was a fun experience that could take you away from life.
I was curious about the song ":(failure:(," where you give a speech about failing. What were your inspirations for that?
At first I wanted [":(failure:("] to be a poem, and I wanted my friend to say it. We tried it out, but his voice was so f—ing deep. And his poem was so dark — it was about death and s—. I was like, Damn, n—, lighten up. But then I was just like, you know what, I'll do it, and I'll speak about something very near and dear to me, which was failure. I felt like it would resonate with people more.
Sometimes I feel like I'm growing so fast and getting so old, and maturing and evolving so quickly, and so many opportunities come into my life. You go on tour, and then you start working on an album, and you run out of time to do certain things. It's like, "Are we going to be together? If not, I have other things to do."
I think that's where it comes from. I don't have all day to play around. Too many things to do. Then it transpires to feel like I'm running out of time.
I love "drive ME crazy!" I was wondering if there are any particular male/female duets that you looked at as a model when designing that song.
Fleetwood Mac. Again, with all the inspirations for these songs, I still did my twist on them. So I don't want people to go and be like, "Oh, that sounds nothing like a Fleetwood Mac song." I wasn't trying to copy a Fleetwood Mac song. It just inspired me to make a song in that feeling, in that world.
When you began your career, you were the "king of the teens." Now you're a father in your mid-twenties. Who's your audience these days? Is it the people who were teens when you started your career, who are now in their 20s like you, or is it a new crop of teenagers?
I think now it's from the 12-year-olds to the 40-year-olds. My last festival, I had 50-year-olds in my show. That was so amazing. In the front row, there was an 11-year-old asking for my sneakers, and then in the back, it was 50- and 60-year-olds. It was crazy. The age demographic is insane.
Whenever I'm leaving somewhere, I like to have the window down and see people. [At my last festival] these 60-year-olds were leaving. They're like, "Man, your album, we love it. That show was so great." And that's awesome, because I love [that my music can] touch everyone.
You've been opening your recent shows with "the BLACK seminole." What does that phrase mean to you? How does it relate to the sound of the song and the rest of the lyrics?
It's saying, "I'm a warrior, I am a king, I am a sex symbol, I am everything good and bad with man, and I'm Black, unapologetically." That's what it's about.
Any final thoughts about the tour?
Just that it's an experience. You're not walking into a rinky-dink [show with] some DJ. This is going to be a show.
I feel like it's the start of my career. I just want people to come in with an open mindset. Not expecting anything, ready for everything.
Image courtesy of the GRAMMY Museum
GRAMMY Museum To Celebrate 50 Years Of Hip-Hop With 'Hip-Hop America: The Mixtape Exhibit' Opening Oct. 7
The new exhibit honors the 50th anniversary of hip-hop through an expansive and interactive exploration that features artifacts from legendary artists including the Notorious B.I.G., Tupac Shakur, LL Cool J, and more.
The GRAMMY Museum is celebrating the 50th anniversary of hip-hop this fall with the newly announced Hip-Hop America: The Mixtape Exhibit, an immersive, interactive, 5,000-square foot experience celebrating the multifaceted world of hip-hop and the global impact and influence of the genre and culture. Launching Saturday, Oct. 7, and running through Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2024, the exhibit will feature expansive exhibits exploring hip-hop music, dance, graffiti, fashion, business, activism, and history as well as artifacts from hip-hop pioneers like Tupac Shakur, the Notorious B.I.G., LL Cool J, and many more.
Additionally, the exhibit features a one-of-a-kind Sonic Playground, featuring five interactive stations that invite visitors of all ages to partake in DJing, rapping and sampling, all essential elements comprising hip-hop culture. Additional virtual and in-person education and community engagement programs will be announced at a later date.
Exploring the countless ways hip-hop music and culture has dominated popular culture over the last 50 years, Hip-Hop America: The Mixtape Exhibit was curated by a team of four co-curators who bring a deep knowledge of hip-hop, academic rigor and creativity to the project. They include:
Felicia Angeja Viator, associate professor of history, San Francisco State University, author of ‘To Live And Defy In LA: How Gangsta Rap Changed America,’ and one of the first women DJs in the Bay Area hip-hop scene
Adam Bradley, Professor of English and founding director of the Laboratory for Race and Popular Culture (the RAP Lab) at UCLA, and co-editor of ‘The Anthology of Rap’
Jason King, Dean, USC Thornton School of Music and former chair of the Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music at NYU
Dan Charnas, Associate Arts Professor, NYU Clive Davis Institute of Music, and author of ‘Dilla Time: The Life And Afterlife Of The Hip-Hop Producer Who Reinvented Rhythm’
The co-curators worked in conjunction with GRAMMY Museum Chief Curator and Vice President of Curatorial Affairs Jasen Emmons as well as a 20-member Advisory Board.
Hip-Hop America: The Mixtape Exhibit is an educational journey through several key themes:
Innovation: Explore how hip-hop artists have innovatively used technology, from transforming turntables into musical instruments to pioneering sampling techniques.
Sounds of Hip-Hop: Experience the diverse sounds of hip-hop in four themed studios, showcasing the evolution of production, the intersection of hip-hop and car culture, the craft of hip-hop lyrics, and the influence of R&B.
Fashion: Dive into the world of hip-hop fashion, featuring iconic clothing, jewelry and style.
Regionalism: Discover 14 hip-hop scenes across the United States, showcasing the importance of local and regional contributions.
Entrepreneurialism: Learn about the transformation of hip-hop from a back-to-school party in the Bronx to a multi-billion-dollar global industry.
Media: Discover the role of media in shaping hip-hop's development, from radio stations to pioneering shows like "Yo! MTV Raps."
Community: Explore how hip-hop has brought people together over the last 50 years, with an interactive ‘Hip-Hop America’ playlist featuring 200 songs that trace the genre's evolution.
Highlights from Hip-Hop America: The Mixtape Exhibit include:
The Notorious B.I.G.'s iconic 5001 Flavors custom red leather peacoat he wore in Junior M.A.F.I.A.'s music video "Players Anthem"
Kurtis Blow's original handwritten lyrics for his 1980 hit single, "The Breaks," the first gold-certified rap song
Tupac Shakur's handwritten essay "Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death," circa 1992
Two outfits designed by Dapper Dan, Harlem fashion icon: 1) a half-length black leather jacket worn by Melle Mel (Melvin Glover, b. 1961) in performance at the 1985 GRAMMY Awards; and a black-and-yellow leather bucket hat and jacket worn by New York hip-hop artist Busy Bee (David James Parker)
Egyptian Lover's gold Roland 808, the beat-making tool
LL Cool J's red Kangol bucket hat
Hip-Hop America: The Mixtape Exhibit is a key event taking place as the world is celebrating 50 years of hip-hop this year. The origins of hip-hop can be traced back to Aug. 11, 1973, when DJ Kool Herc DJed a birthday party inside the recreation room of an apartment building located on 1520 Sedgwick Avenue in the South Bronx, New York City. This history-making date marks the birth of hip-hop and is the reason why we're celebrating hip-hop's 50th anniversary this year. The 50th anniversary of hip-hop means artists, fans, and the music industry at-large are celebrating the momentous milestone via hip-hop concerts, exhibits, tours, documentaries, podcasts, and more around the globe across 2023.
Visit the GRAMMY Museum website for more information regarding advanced ticket reservations for Hip-Hop America: The Mixtape Exhibit.
Photo: Kevin Winter/Getty Images
5 Takeaways From Quavo's New Album 'Rocket Power'
Five years after his first solo release, Quavo's 'Rocket Power' explores loss, faith, and memories of the artist's late nephew Takeoff — a poignant tribute that marks a new creative plane for the Georgia-born artist.
Tragedy struck the hip-hop world in November 2022 when Migos star Takeoff was killed during an early morning shootout in Houston. Among the hardest hit by the loss was one-third of the famed trio and his uncle Quavo, who witnessed the shooting and sat by Takeoff's side as he passed outside a nearby bowling alley.
Since Takeoff's death, Quavo has largely stepped away from public view. He first resurfaced with an emotional tribute to his late nephew, "Without You," in January, sporadically releasing four more singles in subsequent months. But on Aug. 18, Quavo delivered his biggest tribute yet: the aptly titled album, Rocket Power, which explores the emotional scars that have formed nearly a year after Takeoff's passing.
Arriving nearly five years after his debut solo album, 2018's Quavo Huncho, Rocket Power is a welcomed sign of Quavo's artistic maturation. The 32-year-old rapper melds his effortless melodicism and hit-making powers to create a cohesive body of work filled with soul-stirring jams and ear-catching trap bangers.
To welcome Huncho's newest solo effort, we compiled five early takeaways from the 18-track project Rocket Power.
The Album Honors Takeoff's Life From Childhood To The GRAMMY Stage
From the intro "Fueled Up" to the album's closing track, Rocket Power points to the life and legacy of Takeoff, who's featured on songs "Patty Cake" and "Back Where It Begins." On songs like "Hold Me," Quavo details the misery and emotional pain he and others have faced in the months following Takeoff's unexpected death: "I just need you to hold me/ Listen and feel my heart closely." Quavo also points to other instrumental figures in his life, asking them to come to his aid in moments of darkness.
On the title track, "Rocket Power," Quavo acknowledges the gut-wrenching thoughts and vulnerability he's experienced in this time of grief, and the toll it's placed on both him and his family. "Thinking about my nephew while I'm rolling some trees/ Mama said she's crying, and she's crying in her sleep."
While references to Takeoff's passing are sprinkled throughout the project, "Patty Cake" gifts Migos fans a welcomed look back at the two artist's influence and chemistry. And for many, hearing Taekoff's voice on the interlude "Narkedo Speaks" (which is pulled from a Drink Champs interview) reflects the kind of figure he was in rap: "I ain't even have a plan B, I made myself not have a plan B on purpose/Just so I can fulfill my plan A."
Limited Features Magnify Takeoff Tribute
Rocket Power only includes five features, a vast difference from Quavo's debut album, which boasted features on over half of its 19 tracks.
Among the artists featured on the project — which includes Future, Young Thug, Hunxho and BabyDrill — the most significant moments come from the artist the album honors. With Takeoff's presence on "Patty Cake" and "Back Where It Begins," the songs flash to his often understated talents and role as the Migos' lyrical foreman. It also points to how instrumental he was in Quavo's life, as the rapper touches on their past memories growing up in Lawrenceville, Georgia.
With fewer features, Quavo's vision for Rocket Power pierces through more vividly, and the project's more intimate and conceptualized moments reach their apex. While stars like Young Thug and Future elevate tracks like "Focused" and "Back Where It Begins," songs like "11.11" and "Not Done Yet" would lose much of its emotional fuel with another artist's presence.
Rumors Aside, Offset And Quavo's Relationship Appears To Be On The Upswing
It's hard to ignore Offset's absence on Rocket Power. He's not featured nor mentioned throughout much of the album, but "11.11" provided fans with some clarity on the status of their relationship.
Following the 2022 release of Quavo and Takeoff's collaborative album, Only Built For Infinity Links (which was released just weeks before Takeoff's passing), rumors about a falling out between Quavo and Offset emerged. The two first alleviated reports of their feud — including that they fought backstage at the 2023 GRAMMYs — by reuniting for a performance at the 2023 BET Awards in June.
And nearly two months after their reunion, Quavo further suggests he and Offset are in a better place on "11.11": "5:30 Huncho and Set get up early, and go out and go get that bag together (Set)/ Who the f— gonna put us together, can't nobody put this s— back together/ So stay the f— out of the middle, lil fella/ We always goin' be that/ We fam forever (Migos)."
Quavo Leans Further Into His Faith
Throughout the album, Quavo points to his faith as a source of emotional strength and how it's tethered his family together in the wake of recent tragedy. On "Not Done Yet," the artist raps, "Giving it all I got, don't know what God got for me (God)/ Holding my head up high, I hope y'all really proud of me (High)."
While the "Lost" rapper has never shied away from his faith, Rocket Power is the most Quavo has ever melded it into his music. As much as it's a snapshot of his current mental state, the religious references point to the new creative plane Quavo is currently on.
Quavo Is A Legitimate Solo Star
Following Quavo Huncho, some hip-hop fans questioned Quavo's ability to carry an album as a solo artist. But if there were any doubts, drop them. He's unquestionably a star capable of carrying on his own.
While Quavo is credited for his infectious hooks and street hits, Rocket Power proves he can effectively draw from his life experiences and transfer those emotions to create gut-wrenching records. It also proves he can effectively pair these kinds of records together into a larger conceptual project, and expand his artistry beyond his melodic mastery.
Throughout the album, Quavo firmly commands each of the 18 tracks. He delivers a harmonious (and effective) mix of stadium-level anthems, emotion-fueled sentiments, and hard-hitting trap songs — proving that he'll not only continue the legacy he and Takeoff built together, but continue to evolve creatively on his own.
Photo: Simone Joyner/Getty Images
New Music Friday: Listen To New Songs From Travis Scott, Britney Spears, NewJeans & More
July 21 marks a big day of new music releases, including star-studded collaborations like Travis Scott, Bad Bunny and The Weeknd's "K-POP" and a new EP from NewJeans. Hear some of the biggest new songs on GRAMMY.com.
Like so many New Music Fridays before it, July 21 brought a cornucopia of fresh and unique sounds from all over the map.
Want to hear Travis Scott, Bad Bunny and the Weeknd get mellow and psychedelic? Raring to hear the latest dispatch from a One Direction member? Want a taste of A$AP Rocky's long-awaited next album? Is a Britney-shaped chunk missing from your musical life? Want to hear the future of K-pop?
To these and other questions, this slew of tunes will provide answers. In the below roundup, hurtle into the weekend with wildly divergent sounds from some of music's top acts — many with sizable GRAMMY legacies.
Travis Scott, Bad Bunny, The Weeknd — "K-POP"
A week before nine-time GRAMMY nominee Travis Scott's Utopia livestream event at the Pyramids of Giza in Egypt on July 28 — which will debut his new studio album of the same name — he dropped his sixth collaboration with four-time GRAMMY winner the Weeknd.
"K-POP," the album's lead single, is rounded out by three-time GRAMMY winner Bad Bunny, in his first collab with Scott. This triple-threat track has a stony, smoldering feel, with luxurious production from Boi-1da, among others — and it's elevated by its panoramic, transportive video.
ZAYN — "Love Like This"
The former One Direction member continues his solo legacy with "Love Like This," his first new single since 2021.
Therein, ZAYN extols the virtues of throwing caution to the wind when it comes to infatuation: "Everything is on the line, but I would rather be dead/If it's gonna mean a life that's lived without you, baby," he sings. "I think I gotta take that risk/ 'cause I cannot go back."
In the video, ZAYN putters around on a motorcycle on a gorgeous day. Previously signed to RCA, the singer recently moved to Mercury Records; could "Love Like This" be the ramp-up to a new album? If so, "Love Like This" offers a tantalizing taste of what's to come.
will.i.am, Britney Spears — "MIND YOUR BUSINESS"
After the termination of her conservatorship, GRAMMY winner Britney Spears dipped a toe back into her music career in 2022 with "Hold Me Closer," a duet with Elton John that includes elements of "Tiny Dancer," "The One" and "Don't Go Breaking My Heart."
Now, she's back in earnest with "MIND YOUR BUSINESS," a sassy, pulsing, electronic duet with seven-time GRAMMY winner will.i.am of Black Eyed Peas fame. The track marks the pair's fourth team-up, and first since 2014's "It Should Be Easy" from Spears' Brtiney Jean.
NewJeans — "ETA"
GRAMMY.com called NewJeans one of 10 K-Pop rookie girl groups to watch in 2023, and keeping ears on them has paid off. On July 21, they released their new EP, Get Up, to critical acclaim: NME declared that "no one can hold a candle to K-pop's rising wonder girls."
Concurrently with the release of Get Up, they released a joyous, iPhone-shot music video to its effervescent single, "ETA," in which a group of girls find a friend's boyfriend making moves on another lady.
Chris Stapleton — "White Horse"
Chris Stapleton's last album, 2020's Starting Over, helped the country crooner make a clean sweep at the 2022 GRAMMYs. At that ceremony, he won golden gramophones for Best Country Solo Performance ("You Should Probably Leave"), Best Country Song ("Cold") and Best Country Album ("Starting Over").
On Nov. 10, the eight-time GRAMMY winner will release his next LP, Higher. As he revealed the news on July 21, Stapleton also unveiled a majestic rocker of a single, "White Horse." "If you want a cowboy on a white horse/ Ridin' off into the sunset," he sings thunderously, "If that's the kinda love you wanna wait for/ Hold on tight, girl, I ain't there yet."
A$AP Rocky — "RIOT (Rowdy Pipe'n)"
For his latest track, A$AP Rocky dropped a stylish, charming short film for Beats depicting a harried diaper run (a fitting narrative for the new dad, soon to be dad of two, with partner Rihanna). That only contains a minute of the song, though; it's worth luxuriating in the whole thing.
To an uneasy, lumbering beat, Rocky extols a lifestyle to die for ("My wife is erotic/ I'm smokin' exotic/My whip is exotic") as well as his unparalleled connections ("I just call designers up, I free ninety-nine it").
Backed by 13-time GRAMMY winner Pharrell, "RIOT (Rowdy Pipe'n)" is said to be the first single from A$AP Rocky's long-awaited fourth album, Don't Be Dumb; if the quality of the track is any indication, it'll be worth the long haul.