meta-script6 Things To Know About Charlie Puth, From His Unusual Inspirations To His Teaching Aspirations | GRAMMY.com
Charlie Puth At Sunday Brunch With... July 2023
Charlie Puth at the GRAMMY Museum's Sunday Brunch With... series in July 2023.

Photo: Courtesy of the Recording Academy/Photo by Rebecca Sapp, Getty Images 2023

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6 Things To Know About Charlie Puth, From His Unusual Inspirations To His Teaching Aspirations

On the heels of his last U.S. tour stop, Charlie Puth wowed fans at a special GRAMMY fundraising brunch in Los Angeles. Take a look at six takeaways from the intimate event.

GRAMMYs/Jul 20, 2023 - 07:45 pm

Just after Charlie Puth wrapped his North American tour on July 11, the pop hitmaker treated 150 fans to the ultimate fan experience: brunch with a side of Puth.

Part of The GRAMMY Museum's Sunday Brunch With… series, the event — a fundraiser for the organization's GRAMMY In The Schools program that was sponsored by City National Bank and Porsche — invited fans to enjoy a three-course brunch followed by an intimate 45-minute acoustic set from Puth. 

From the stage at his friend (and 17-time GRAMMY Award-winning mixer) Manny Marroquin's restaurant, VERSE LA in Toluca Lake, California, Puth told stories about his days at Berklee College Of Music and his journey to stardom. He also let attendees in on his songwriting process, performing some of his most beloved tracks in the process. 

For those who weren't able to make it to the sold-out event, here are six takeaways from Sunday Brunch With Charlie Puth.

He May Just Become A Music Teacher In The Future

Early on in the show, Puth made a point of shouting out one of his old Berklee professors from the stage. Turns out it was Prince Charles Alexander, a multi-GRAMMY Award winning mixer and engineer who has worked with Mary J. Blige, Destiny's Child, P. Diddy, Usher, and Aretha Franklin. 

Puth said he'd often pop into Alexander's office to run ideas by him, with Alexander offering up tips in return. Puth told the crowd he still thinks about Alexander's advice when he's making his own records all these years later, and shouted out not just his professor but all music educators, saying that he's a firm believer in the value of music in our schools. He even joked that he'd like to become a music teacher himself "if this whole music thing doesn't work out."

One Of His Songs Was Inspired By A Rainy Walk…

When Puth wrote "How Long" back in 2017, it was on a long walk. He was strutting around the town wondering why there weren't more tracks written at a perfect walking tempo when it started to rain. The sound of his feet combined with the wet concrete and suddenly, he told the crowd, "it was like the chords fell out of the sky." 

Puth then kicked into a smooth and resonant performance of the song — which sounded excellent on whatever sound system Marroquin installed in his restaurant — prompting one attendee to shout out in glee, "ooh, you better sing!"

…And Another Was Inspired By Ed Sheeran

Puth says he started writing "We Don't Talk Anymore" when he was on the road in Osaka, Japan. He'd fallen in love with the percussive guitar on Ed Sheeran's song "Bloodstream" and wanted to use that same sort of tone on his own track. 

Puth says he also wanted to write what he called "the worldliest sounding record," or "a record that would take me around the world." Given that "We Don't Talk Anymore" hit the top 10 in 20 different countries and the video has more than three billion views on YouTube to date, it's fair to say he did just that.

He Likes To Use "Light Switch" To Inspire Up-And-Coming Musicians

When the freshly signed Puth was first in LA in the early 2010s, a producer suggested they take his newly recorded tracks to a club, where they'd play them for the crowd and see what hit. It was a novel idea for Puth at the time, but something he's adapted a bit for the modern age, when he throws bits of songs and ideas up on his TikTok, hoping to see what flies. 

That's exactly how his 2022 hit "Light Switch" came to be: The simple percussive sound that you hear when you turn the lights on and off. 

In videos he's posted on TikTok, he's tried to show fans that, like that song, music can come from anywhere. "You don't need a multi-million dollar recording studio to make a record," he told the crowd, reminding everyone that Soulja Boy's "Crank That" was self-produced on the rapper's home computer before breaking big on social media. 

Anyone, Puth said, can make and release their own music, even if they're not currently in possession of the dream recording set-up. It's just about passion and perseverance, and a desire to make something new.

He Likes To Blend Classical Riffs With Perfect Pop Melodies

When Puth started to write "Attention," it was with a little classical riff he was fooling around with on the piano. He decided to take the classical bars and throw them into a pop song, reminding the room that it's not all that uncommon. For instance, he said, Toni Wine and Carole Bayer Sager's "A Groovy Kind Of Love" contains the Rondo from Muzio Clementi's Sonatina, Opus 36, No. 5. In Puth's view, classical music and pop can live in perfect harmony, feeding off each other and building toward something even bigger than the sum of their parts.

He's Proof Of The Power Of Being Yourself

In 2012, at the height of "weight for the drop" style EDM hits, Puth felt discouraged as he was trying to break into music himself. As he recalled, he'd moved home to his parents house and was laser focused on the pop charts, tailoring his songs to whatever was No. 1 at the moment — but they were all getting turned down by labels. Finally, he said, an A&R person gave him a piece of advice, saying, essentially, "We've heard all this before. We want to hear something from you." 

That's how, on his way to record a dance track at some studio in LA, Puth decided to lay down a piano ballad instead. He says it was like "See You Again" fell into his lap and attributes its success to the fact that he wasn't trying to be anyone but himself. 

"See You Again changed my life," he told the brunch crowd, noting that he'll be proud and lucky if he gets to perform it for the rest of his life. As he played it live, the whole room joyfully sang along — hinting that Puth may have crafted a lifelong hit.

Behind The Scenes Of The Eras Tour: Taylor Swift's Opening Acts Unveil The Magic Of The Sensational Concert

Billie Eilish in Brooklyn, New York in May 2024
Billie Eilish at the 'HIT ME HARD AND SOFT' release party in Brooklyn, New York on May 15, 2024.

Photo: Arturo Holmes/Getty Images for ABA

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Billie Eilish Fully Embraces Herself On 'Hit Me Hard And Soft': 5 Takeaways From The New Album

On her third album, Billie Eilish returns to "the girl that I was" — and as a result, 'HIT ME HARD AND SOFT' celebrates all of the weird, sexual, beautiful, vulnerable parts of her artistry.

GRAMMYs/May 17, 2024 - 07:50 pm

Billie Eilish has never been one to shy away from her feelings. In fact, she doubles down on them.

Since her debut EP, 2017's Don't Smile At Me, the pop star has held listeners' hands as she guides them through the darkest pages of her diary. The EP found a teenage Eilish navigating heartbreak while her blockbuster debut album, WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO? — which swept the General Field Categories (Album Of The Year, Record Of The Year, Song Of The Year and Best New Artist) at the 2020 GRAMMYs — was a chilling and raw look into her depression-fueled nightmares. And 2021's Happier Than Ever had her confronting misogyny and the weight of fame.

She could have easily succumbed to the pop star pressures for her third studio album, HIT ME HARD AND SOFT, out today (May 17). Instead, she reverts to her sonic safe space: creating intimate melodies with her brother and day-one collaborator, FINNEAS. Only this time, the lyrics are more mature and the production is more ambitious.

"This whole process has felt like I'm coming back to the girl that I was. I've been grieving her," Eilish told Rolling Stone about how HIT ME HARD AND SOFT revisited elements of WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO? "I've been looking for her in everything, and it's almost like she got drowned by the world and the media. I don't remember when she went away."

Here are five takeaways from Billie Eilish's new album, HIT ME HARD AND SOFT, where Old Billie is resuscitated and comforted by New Billie. 

Heartbreaking Ballads Are Her Sweet Spot

Tenderness remains at Eilish's core, and it's beautifully highlighted on HIT ME HARD AND SOFT. Despite her love for eccentric electro-pop beats, ballads have always been the singer's strong suit. After she first displayed that in her debut single, 2015's "ocean eyes," Eilish won two GRAMMYs and an Oscar for her delicate Barbie soundtrack standout, "What Was I Made For?" — and the magic of her melancholic balladry returned on the new album.

HIT ME's album opener, "SKINNY," mimics the self-reflection of Happier Than Ever's "Getting Older" opener, where she painfully sings about Hollywood's body image standards. "People say I look happy just because I got skinny/ But the old me is still me and maybe the real me/ And I think she's pretty," she muses. 

"WILDFLOWER" cuts in the album's center like a knife to the chest. Eilish's comparisons to a lover's ex-girlfriend are devastating over a bare piano melody — the simplest production on the LP: "You say no one knows you so well/ But every time you touch me, I just wonder how she felt."

HIT ME Isn't Afraid To Get A Little Weird

What makes Eilish so intriguing is her effortless balance between misery and mischief. On lead single "LUNCH," the singer/songwriter taps into the playful attitude of WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO? smash "bad guy."

Over an upbeat and kooky production, she lets her carnal fantasies about devouring a woman run wild. The fantasies continue on "THE DINER," with Eilish stepping into the stalker mindset that may be inspired by her own life (she was granted a five-year restraining order against an alleged stalker last year). "I came in through the kitchen lookin' for something to eat/ I left a calling card so they would know that it was me," she winks on the chorus.

She Lays The "Whisper Singing" Criticism To Rest

Eilish's subdued voice has been chided as much as it's been lauded. She first gave naysayers the middle finger on Happier Than Ever's title track, nearly screaming in the song's latter half. On her latest album, she showcases her range even further, from bold belts to delicate falsettos.

The gauzy synths and vocal yearning of "BIRDS OF A FEATHER" is the perfect summer anthem, soundtracking the feeling of kissing your lover as the salty Los Angeles breeze runs through your hair. On the second half of "THE GREATEST," she unleashes a wail-filled fury. 

"HIT ME HARD AND SOFT was really the first time that I was aware of the things that I could do, the ways I could play with my voice, and actually did that," she recently told NPR Music. "That's one thing I feel very proud of with this album — my bravery, vocally."

Her Vulnerability Hasn't Waned

Eilish is quite the paradox, as her superpower is her emotional fragility. Her music has doubled as confessionals since the beginning of her career, and that relatable vulnerability threads HIT ME together. Despite its lighthearted nature, "LUNCH" marks the first time the singer has discussed her sexuality in a song.

"That song was actually part of what helped me become who I am, to be real," Eilish told  Rolling Stone of "LUNCH." "I wrote some of it before even doing anything with a girl, and then wrote the rest after. I've been in love with girls for my whole life, but I just didn't understand — until, last year, I realized I wanted my face in a vagina. I was never planning on talking about my sexuality ever, in a million years. It's really frustrating to me that it came up."

Then there's "SKINNY," which is a raw insight into how much social media's discussions of her body and fame affected her. "When I step off the stage, I'm a bird in a cage/ I'm a dog in a dog pound," she sings. "BLUE," the album's closer, finds Eilish accepting her state of post-breakup sorrow: "I'd like to mean it when I say I'm over you, but that's still not true."

FINNEAS Has Unlocked A New Production Level

FINNEAS — Eilish's brother, producer and confidant — has grown as much as his younger sister since they first began creating music together. He continues to challenge himself both lyrically and sonically to excitedly push Eilish to her creative limits. He explores a myriad of sounds on the album, with many playing like a two-for-one genre special. Named after Studio Ghibli's Spirited Away heroine, the glittery melody and thumping bassline on "CHIHIRO" transport you into an anime video game. 

The first half of "L'AMOUR DE MA VIE" is deceptively simple with its plucking acoustic guitar strings, but soon finds itself under the glare of a disco ball with Eilish's vocals funneled through a vocoder. "BITTERSUITE" is arguably the best reflection of Finneas' experimentation: it starts out with Daft Punk-esque synths before dragging itself across a grim, bass-heavy floor. Then, it crawls into cheeky elevator music territory before ending with an alien-like taunt.

HIT ME HARD AND SOFT is begging to be played live, as seen with fans' raucous reactions after the singer's listening parties at Brooklyn's Barclays Center and Los Angeles' Kia Forum. Fortunately for fans in North America, Australia and Europe, it won't be long before she brings the album to life — HIT ME HARD AND SOFT: THE TOUR  kicks off on Sept. 29 in Québec, Canada.

All Things Billie Eilish

Amy Winehouse performs "Rehab" during 2007 MTV Movie Awards
Amy Winehouse in 2007

Photo: Chris Polk/FilmMagic

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How Amy Winehouse's 'Back To Black' Changed Pop Music Forever

Ahead of the new Amy Winehouse biopic 'Back To Black,' reflect on the impact of the album of the same name. Read on for six ways the GRAMMY-winning LP charmed listeners and changed the sound of popular music.

GRAMMYs/May 17, 2024 - 01:05 pm

When Amy Winehouse released Back To Black in October 2006, it was a sonic revelation. The beehive-wearing singer’s second full-length blended modern themes with the Shangri-Las sound, crafting something that seemed at once both effortlessly timeless and perfectly timed. 

Kicking off with smash single "Rehab" before blasting into swinging bangers like "Me & Mr. Jones," "Love Is A Losing Game," and "You Know I’m No Good," Black To Black has sold over 16 million copies worldwide to date and is the 12th best-selling record of all time in the United Kingdom. It was nominated for six GRAMMY Awards and won five: Record Of The Year, Song Of The Year, Best New Artist, Best Female Pop Vocal Performance, and Best Pop Vocal Album. 

Winehouse accepted her golden gramophones via remote link from London due to visa problems. At the time, Winehouse set the record for the most GRAMMYs won by a female British artist in a single year, though that record has since been broken by Adele, who won six in 2011.

Written in the wake of a break-up with on-again, off-again flame Blake Fielder-Civil, Black To Black explores heartbreak, grief, and infidelity, as well as substance abuse, isolation, and various traumas. Following her death in 2011, Back To Black became Winehouse’s most enduring legacy. It remains a revealingly soulful message in a bottle, floating forever on the waves. 

With the May 17 release of Sam Taylor-Johnson’s new (and questionably crafted) Winehouse biopic, also titled Back To Black, it's the perfect time to reflect on the album that not only charmed listeners but changed the state of a lot of popular music over the course of just 11 songs. Here are five ways that Back To Black influenced music today.

She Heralded The Arrival Of The Alt Pop Star

When Amy Winehouse hit the stage, people remarked on her big voice. She had classic, old-time torch singer pipes, like Sarah Vaughn or Etta Jones, capable of belting out odes to lost love, unrequited dreams, and crushing breakups. And while those types of singers had been around before Winehouse, they didn’t always get the chance — or grace required — to make their kind of music, with labels and producers often seeking work that was more poppy, hook-packed, or modern.

The success of Back To Black changed that, with artists like Duffy, Adele, and even Lady Gaga drawing more eyes in the wake of Winehouse’s overwhelming success. Both Duffy and Adele released their debut projects in 2007, the year after Back To Black, bringing their big, British sound to the masses. Amy Winehouse's look and sound showed other aspiring singers that they could be different and transgressive without losing appeal.

Before she signed to Interscope in 2007, "nobody knew who I was and I had no fans, no record label," Gaga told Rolling Stone in 2011. "Everybody, when they met me, said I wasn’t pretty enough or that my voice was too low or strange. They had nowhere to put me. And then I saw [Amy Winehouse] in Rolling Stone and I saw her live. I just remember thinking ‘well, they found somewhere to put Amy…’" 

If an artist like Winehouse — who was making records and rocking styles that seemed far outside the norm — could break through, then who’s to say someone else as bold or brassy wouldn’t do just as well? 

It Encouraged Other Torch Singers In The New Millenium

Back To Black might have sounded fun, with swinging cuts about saying "no" to rehab and being bad news that could seem lighthearted to the casual listener. Dig a little deeper, though, and it’s clear Winehouse is going through some real romantic tumult. 

Before Back To Black was released, Fielder-Civil had left Winehouse to get back together with an old girlfriend, and singer felt that she needed to create something good out of all those bad feelings. Songs like "Love Is A Losing Game" and "Tears Dry On Their Own" speak to her fragile emotional state during the making of the record, and to how much she missed Fielder-Civil. The two would later marry, though the couple divorced in 2009.

Today, young pop singers like Olivia Rodrigo, Taylor Swift, and Selena Gomez are lauded for their songs about breakups, boyfriends, and the emotional damage inflicted by callous lovers. While Winehouse certainly wasn’t the first to sing about a broken heart, she was undoubtedly one of the best.

It Created A Bit Of Ronsonmania

Though Mark Ronson was already a fairly successful artist and producer in his own right before he teamed with Winehouse to write and co-produce much of Back To Black, his cred was positively stratospheric after the album's release. Though portions of Back To Black were actually produced by Salaam Remi (who’d previously worked with Winehouse on Frank and who was reportedly working on a follow-up album with her at the time of her death), Ronson got the lion’s share of credit for the record’s sound — perhaps thanks to his his GRAMMY win for Best Pop Vocal Album. Winehouse would even go on to guest on his own Version record, which featured the singer's ever-popular cover of "Valerie."

In the years that followed, Ronson went on to not only produce and make his own funky, genre-bending records, but also to work with acts like Adele, ASAP Rocky, and Paul McCartney, all of whom seemingly wanted a little of the retro soul Ronson could bring. He got huge acclaim for the funk-pop boogie cut "Uptown Funk," which he wrote and released under his own name with help from Bruno Mars, and has pushed into film as well, writing and producing over-the-top tracks like A Star Is Born’s "Shallow" and Barbie’s "I’m Just Ken."  To date, he’s been nominated for 17 GRAMMY Awards, winning eight.

Ronson has always acknowledged Winehouse’s role in his success, as well, telling "BBC Breakfast" in 2010, "I've always been really candid about saying that Amy is the reason I am on the map. If it wasn't for the success of Back To Black, no one would have cared too much about Version."

Amy Showcased The Artist As An Individual

When the GRAMMY Museum hosted its "Beyond Black - The Style of Amy Winehouse" exhibit in 2020, Museum Curator and Director of Exhibitions Nicholas Vega called the singer's sartorial influence "undeniable." Whether it was her beehive, her bold eyeliner, or her fitted dresses, artists and fans had adopted elements of Winehouse’s Back To Black style into their own fashion repertoire. And though it’s the look we associate most with Winehouse, it was actually one she had truly developed while making the record, amping up her Frank-era low-slung jeans, tank tops, and polo shirts with darker eyeliner and much bigger hair, as well as flirty dresses, vibrant bras, and heels.

"Her stylist and friends were influential in helping her develop her look, but ultimately Amy took bits and pieces of trends and styles that she admired to create her own look," Vega told GRAMMY.com in 2020. While rock ‘n’ rollers have always leaned into genre-bending styles, Winehouse’s grit is notable in the pop world, where artists typically have a bit more of a sheen. These days, artists like Miley Cyrus, Billie Eillish, and Demi Lovato are willing to let their fans see a bit more of the grit — thanks, no doubt, to the doors Winehouse opened.

Winehouse also opened the door to the beauty salon and the tattoo studio, pushing boundaries with not just her 14 different vintage-inspired tattoos — which have become almost de rigeur these days in entertainment — but also with her signature beehive-like bouffant, which hadn’t really been seen on a popular artist since the ‘60s.It’s a frequent look for contemporary pop divas, popping up on artists like Ariana Grande, Lana Del Rey, and Dua Lipa.

The Dap-Kings Got The Flowers They Deserved

Six of Back To Black’s 11 songs, including "Rehab," got their "retro" sound via backing from the Dap-Kings, a Brooklyn-based soul act Ronson recruited for the project. 

While Winehouse’s lyrics were mostly laid down in London, the Dap-Kings did their parts in New York. Ronson told GRAMMY.com in 2023 that the Dap-Kings "brought ['Rehab'] to life," saying, "I felt like I was floating because I couldn’t believe anybody could still make that drum sound in 2006." Winehouse and the Dap-Kings met months later after the record was released, and recorded "Valerie." The band later backed Winehouse on her U.S. tour. 

Though the Dap-Kings were known in hip musical circles for their work with late-to-success soul sensation Sharon Jones, Back To Black’s immense success buoyed the listening public’s interest in soul music and the Dap-Kings' own profile (not to mention that of their label, Daptone Records).

"Soul music never went away and soul lovers never went away, but they’re just kind of closeted because they didn’t think it was commercially viable," Dap-Kings guitarist Binky Griptite said in the book It Ain't Retro: Daptone Records & The 21st Century Soul Revolution. "Then, when Amy’s record hit, all the undercover soul fans are like, I’m free. And then that’s when everybody’s like, Oh, there’s money in it now."

The success of Back To Black also seems to have firmly cemented the Dap-Kings in Ronson’s Rolodex, with the group’s drummer Homer Steinweiss, multi-instrumentalist Leon Michaels, trumpeter Dave Guy, and guitarist/producer Tom Brenneck appearing on many of his projects; the Dap-Kings' horns got prominent placement in "Uptown Funk."

Amy Exposed The Darker Side Of Overwhelming Success

Four years after Winehouse died, a documentary about her life was released. Asif Kapadia’s Amy became an instant rock-doc classic, detailing not only Winehouse’s upbringing, but also her struggles with fame and addiction. It won 30 awards after release, including Best Documentary Feature at the 88th Academy Awards and Best Music Film at the 58th GRAMMY Awards.

It also made a lot of people angry — not for how it portrayed Winehouse, but for how she was made to feel, whether by the British press or by people she considered close. The film documented Winehouse’s struggles with bulimia, self-harm, and depression, and left fans and artists alike feeling heartbroken all over again about the singer’s passing. 

The documentary also let fans in on what life was really like for Winehouse, and potentially for other artists in the public eye. British rapper Stormzy summed it up well in 2016 when he told i-D, "I saw the [documentary, Amy] – it got me flipping angry... [Amy’s story] struck a chord with me in the sense that, as a creative, it looks like on the outside, that it’s very ‘go studio, make a hit, go and perform it around the world, champagne in the club, loads of girls’. But the graft and the emotional strain of being a musician is very hard. No one ever sees that part." 

These days, perhaps because of Winehouse’s plight or documentaries like Amy, the music-loving population seems far more inclined to give their favorite singers a little grace, whether it’s advocating for the end of Britney Spears’ conservatorship or sympathizing with Demi Lovato’s personal struggles. Even the biggest pop stars are still people, and Amy really drove that point home.

We Only Said Goodbye With Words: Remembering Amy Winehouse 10 Years Later

New Kids On The Block Press Photo 2024
New Kids On The Block

Photo: Austin Hargrave

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New Kids On The Block's Joey McIntyre Shares His Favorite Career Moments With The Iconic Boy Band

From conquering the Apollo in the '80s to writing songs on NKOTB's celebratory new album 'Still Kids,' the group's Joey McIntyre reflects on a stellar 40-year career in pop music.

GRAMMYs/May 16, 2024 - 09:33 pm

Before Backstreet Boys and *NSYNC ruled the pop roost in the '90s, New Kids On The Block were busy building the boy band template that everyone later followed for international chart success and incredibly ardent fan followings. And it's a legacy they're continuing to celebrate nearly four decades later.

On May 17, NKOTB dropped Still Kids, the group's first new album in 11 years and eighth overall. Standouts such as "Magic," "Runaway," and the album's lead single "Kids" are every bit as light, joyful and catchy as early hits like "Step By Step" and "Hangin' Tough." But they sound more mature than they did as teenagers; their harmonies are stronger and sweeter, while the beats and production sounds more sophisticated and contemporary. Fellow '80s/'90s stars DJ Jazzy Jeff and Taylor Dayne also guest star on the album to help them lean into the nostalgia while still staying current. (Jazzy Jeff will also join them on the Magic Summer Tour, which will make stops around North America from June 14 through Aug. 25 and further continue the throwbacks with Paula Abdul as the third tourmate.)

Of course, it's not a total surprise that New Kids would want their new work to celebrate the old. The group — brothers Jordan and Jonathan Knight, Joey McIntyre, Donnie Wahlberg and Danny Wood — has sold over 80 million albums, has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and even an annual New Kids On The Block Day in Boston (for 35 years running!). Their fans, affectionately known as Blockheads, still come out in large numbers to see them perform; according to NKOTB's new label, BMG, they've sold over four million concert tickets since reuniting in 2007 after a 14-year hiatus.

But for McIntyre, the true career highlights aren't the major accolades — it's the moments that really saw NKOTB's talent, and love for one another, shine. In celebration of the release of Still Kids, McIntyre shared five of his most cherished memories from the group's meteoric pop career.

Hollywood Talent Nights At Lee School Before They Were Famous

Lee School is a public school in Dorchester — actually, very close to Jamaica Plain. We all grew up in different towns in Boston. The rest of the guys were from Dorchester and I was from Jamaica Plain, that was like our clubhouse. 

Through the grace of God, there was a lot going on for the people that wanted it. And these community people that just did it out of the goodness of their hearts and would set up a space for kids to come and number one, stay out of trouble, and number two, give it a shot and have a place to dance and sing and dream. 

We would have these Hollywood Talent Nights that [group creator] Maurice [Starr] would put on, and then there were other talent nights. I don't know how often they were, but even if there were three or four a year, maybe even less, it was something to work towards. And we would rehearse, if we weren't rehearsing at Jordan and John's [Knight's] house, in their basement, we would rehearse at the Lee School. 

In the basement of the Lee School, in the backstage, you would walk down the stairs and we'd perform in these little rooms. It was like dressing rooms. They had mirrors; it wasn't big mirrors, but they had mirrors for the waist up and that was a big deal. So we would perform there, and rehearse there, and it was exciting. We had a place to take chances and be inspired and have a ton of fun as well.

It started with the Lee School and then radio shows [on] WILD, the AM station, the only station that would think about playing us at the time — and it was like, How are we going to surprise them this time? There was a ferocity about it. 

Donnie [Wahlberg] is a born leader. Jordan would tell stories about how Donnie would get on the school bus and he'd run the show. He'd tell jokes, he'd rap, he'd make everyone feel good — it's just in his bones. I think we all had the fire, but there was definitely a ride or die vibe about every show we did. 

He worked at a sneaker store, so we'd save up and pool our money together for new outfits, and one time we came on with basketball warmups, those Patrick Ewing basketball warmups. We came on in sweatsuits. First of all, I was freakin' five feet tall, so I was swimming in everything that we had, but we'd come on and for our number we'd sing whatever, and at the perfect moment we'd rip off the sweatsuits and have red glitter suits on. We'd just try to win the crowd over every time.

I think we still have that spirit. We never want to rest on our laurels, we want to surprise people, otherwise it's just not worth it. We've been lucky enough to do what we love to do.

Performing At The Apollo Theater In 1988

We've been able to celebrate that a lot over the years. It really is, in so many ways, the pinnacle for the history of R&B and black music and soulful music, but also rock and roll. The world knew that if you could make it there and survive the Apollo, then you had what it takes to at least give it a shot in the music business.

And we were in that world. In Boston, we played for all-Black audiences. We loved R&B music. That's what we grew up on, so we weren't really necessarily fish out of water because, although we were very excited, and of course had lots of nerves, we'd been hustling as a bunch of young kids for a few years.

We got a chance to perform at the Apollo by literally pounding the pavement. And it was one of those days where Maurice was taking us around, and we were going to people's offices with a boombox, playing music and singing and dancing. And these people, even if they didn't like us, they were impressed. They couldn't argue with the guts that we had and the passion. 

The guy who ran the Apollo — I'm blanking on his last name, his first name was Al — he would host those nights, and we saw him on the street. Maurice was like, "Hey, Al! We want to come up!" So we came up and performed three songs in his office — it wasn't a very big office, either — and he said, "We'll have you down."

We weren't in the competition, we were a special guest, because I think it was on a Wednesday and they had a live night, and then they had a TV show [Showtime at the Apollo]. So we did the live night first, and then we did the TV show and they just went crazy for us. I was a little too young to be in tears, but the rest of the guys, we went up to the dressing room and everybody was in tears. 

We would hang out at the Apollo. The basement in the Apollo, man, you'd have Heavy D and Chuck D and Kool Moe Dee — you know, all the Ds! I just finished one of RuPaul's books… I met RuPaul in the stairwell of the Apollo Theater. He was going up and I was going down and we looked up at each other: "Hey, how you doin'?"

This was a long time ago but, you know, it was just a special place. Back then you had to connect in person. Now we have social media. It's wonderful, you can connect. You can DM people and suddenly connect with your heroes or collaborators and it's great, but back then, you had to be in the place. And that's what the Apollo represented for us. So we were just like kids in a candy store.

Getting Their First Tour Bus

There's nothing like jumping on your first tour bus. Our first manager, Mary Alford, had a two-door Mustang, I would have to sit on somebody's lap in the front seat, and then three dudes would be stuck in the back, and she'd be driving. The big splurge was getting a bigger four-door car to drive down to New York for those trips. We'd still be mashed up. 

You know, just to know you are literally going on the road for the first time. I'm 15, the other guys are, like, 18, 19, and there's really nothing cooler. But we were very emotional for a lot of reasons. For having a chance to do our thing and saying goodbye to our family, our hometown, knowing this is part of making it. So it was pretty cool. 

Working With New Edition

Before I was even in the New Kids, the New Edition album with "Cool It Now" was my [favorite] album. The fact that they were from Boston was amazing, a massive bonus, and we were all, just, goo goo ga ga any time we could meet them or think we could meet them. 

So over the years we would touch base, and then we got to sing together on our album The Block in 2008. But then a couple years ago we did a big mashup performance on the AMAs and I cried like a baby, like, three times. I cried on the phone with Donnie just thinking about it as we started rehearsals. Then I cried afterwards. 

A couple days later was Thanksgiving. We went around the table and talked about what we were grateful for, and the tears just came to my eyes. I couldn't think of anything better to be more thankful for than to work with your heroes. They've just been so gracious, so gracious, over the years. And from where they came and how they really set the standard for us. They really did. 

You don't realize it until the more you live and the more you are in this business. To have people walk the walk and talk the talk, and then be kind and supportive at the same time, it's very cool. Just to be friends with those guys is a dream.

Making Still Kids

You want to give the people what they're looking for and also surprise them at the same time, and I think this album has a good combination. I feel great about the fact that I ended up co-writing half of the album. I've just been writing more, so that was important to me. And I've been lucky enough to write for the group over the years, but this felt a little different. I think it takes guts to stretch and grow with the group, within the dynamics of the group. It's not easy but we've always said, "Let's go, let's give it a shot."

So this was a good combo, this album. It's new, we're definitely harking back to the good old days, but it definitely reflects that we're not 18 anymore. But I think they're that spirit. 

As we get older, we're always reaching back. We want to have that fire and that curiosity we had as kids. We don't want to let the cynicism of life pull us down and at the same time, all that fuels the writing and the expression. So it's exciting to feel good about an album that has the right balance. 

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GRAMMY Museum Hip-Hop Block Party

Image courtesy of the Recording Academy

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GRAMMY Museum Announces Hip-Hop Block Party On June 6: What To Know About The Museum Takeover For Black Music Month

Inspired by the GRAMMY Museum's 'Hip-Hop America: The Mixtape Exhibit,' this celebratory event ignites the Museum with an array of interdisciplinary arts and experiences. Get all the details here.

GRAMMYs/May 16, 2024 - 08:51 pm

The 50th anniversary of hip-hop may have come and gone — but the celebration is far from over.

On June 6, experience the potency of hip-hop culture like never before, at the GRAMMY Museum's Hip-Hop Block Party.

The event will take place on site at the GRAMMY Museum, located on 800 W Olympic Boulevard in Los Angeles, California.

This follows in the footsteps of the GRAMMY Museum's 'Hip-Hop America: The Mixtape Exhibit,' — an expansive series of historical hip-hop eexhibit running until Sept. 24, 2024.

The GRAMMY Museum's Hip-Hop Block Party will introduce an exciting array of interdisciplinary arts and experiences, immersing new audiences in the power of hip-hop. This will include:

  • Dynamic dance showcases lead by Leslie "Big Lez" Segar and Richard "Swoop" Whitebear

  • A cutting-edge fashion show featuring Cross Colours and the Black Design Collective

  • A captivating Sight & Sound photo gallery presented by Alvin Allure & Entertain the Angels and Corentin Villemeur

  • Riveting live performances by UraelB, Nilla Allin, and Xian Bell, and vibes curated by DJ R-Tistic on the ones and twos

As such, every floor of the GRAMMY Museum will be activated, and transformed into a living canvas of artistic expression.

The Hip-Hop Block Party will celebrate and empower local artists and businesses, creating an unforgettable celebration of creativity, community and culture in celebration of Black Music Month. This event is made possible in part by a grant from the City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs.

So don't miss the block party on June 6, at the GRAMMY Museum — and keep checking GRAMMY.com for all things commemorating the enduring power of hip-hop!

GRAMMY.com's 50th Anniversary Of Hip-Hop Coverage: A Recap