meta-scriptDanielle Ponder's Powerful Song Of Reckoning: How The Singer/Songwriter Melds The Personal & Historical On "Manhunt" Theme |
Danielle Ponder's Powerful Song Of Reckoning
Danielle Ponder performs during 2023 Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival

Photo: Erika Goldring/Getty Images


Danielle Ponder's Powerful Song Of Reckoning: How The Singer/Songwriter Melds The Personal & Historical On "Manhunt" Theme

Former public defender Danielle Ponder is known for her deeply emotive R&B. Her latest release is the theme for AppleTV+ historical thriller "Manhunt." Ponder unpacks music's power to connect and heal — whether that's on stage or on the silver screen.

GRAMMYs/Mar 18, 2024 - 07:32 pm

Danielle Ponder has an intriguing and eminently re-tellable origin story —  a many-forked path that winds through the courtroom and to the global stage. 

The Rochester, New York artist began her career as a public defender, later changing lanes to become a R&B and soul singer/songwriter. Most recently, Ponder is the composer and singer of "Egún." The theme song for the buzzy AppleTV+ historical thriller "Manhunt," "Egún" — which means "ancestor" in Yoruba — is as haunting as it is catchy. Its reverb-drenched, clap-driven refrain of "you can’t keep running" is an irresistible singalong about the inevitability of historical reckoning. 

It’s a perfect fit for a miniseries about the race to capture Lincoln’s assassin John Wilkes Booth, and a thematic branching out for Ponder, who specializes in woozy, soul-baring songs about individual heartbreak. Of course, from Ponder’s perspective, it’s all part of the same whole. 

"If my heart has been broken because of a man, or my heart has been broken because of experiencing racism, I'm still just sharing my life," she tells "But I don't got no man to cry about, so that has opened up a lot of space to cry about the government." 

After listening to her talk about the many-forked path Ponder has taken  — from being discouraged from listening to secular music by her pastor father, to performing in a family band, to leaving her career as a public defender, recording her solo album Some Of Us Are Brave and touring the globe with artists including Trombone Shorty — the question that lingers, thrillingly, is where else she’ll go. Ponder spoke with about the power of music to restore fuller humanity to incarcerated people, the joys of live performance and solo composition, and the hip-hop legend who encouraged her to focus wholeheartedly on music. 

This interview has been edited for clarity.

As a former public defender, you have a very specific and elegantly synthesized belief about how music could contribute to actual criminal justice. How did you develop that philosophy, and how does it inform your work today?

When people ask me about being a public defender versus being a musician, there's two kinds of themes that I see. I think both require the art of storytelling, the ability to tell someone's story in a way that a listener is hearing you, and not only hearing you, but empathizing. And then when I say empathizing, it brings me to the second piece of it. I think music has such a beautiful way of placing us in someone's world. I use the example of Alanis Morissette, because that song, "You Oughta Know" — I heard it when I was 16, and, child, I thought I was going through a breakup! That song just made me feel. She articulated emotions in a way I couldn't even understand at that age, but I immediately can empathize with the pain she was going through.

We need that empathy so much in our criminal justice system. It's so easy to other people, to call people defendants, to call them perpetrators, and not see their humanity. When I was working in the criminal justice system, representing over 100 people in a day sometimes, you can lose faith in humanity, because you see those people being treated terribly, being dehumanized consistently. 

But then I got to play shows on the weekend, and I saw the best of us. I think about how we capture the energy of empathy that we feel in music, and apply that to other parts of our lives. Specifically, when it comes to criminal justice reform, how do we also hear those stories, and as human beings be able to connect with where a person is, or where a person was in their life?

You and your band performed at Attica Correctional Facility, where your brother was incarcerated at the time. Would you talk about that for a little bit? As soon as I heard the story, I wondered if you’d consider following in Johnny Cash’s footsteps with a live album recorded at a prison. 

I'm still trying to get my own footing, but I know that part of my work has to be highlighting not only criminal justice reform, but the people behind the stories. Being involved with people who are incarcerated is a beautiful way to do that. I do have some things that I'm working on right now that involve me working in a prison and I'm really excited about that. 

Going back to Attica, that was my favorite show. I play a lot of shows, but there’s something really beautiful and painful about seeing talented people in cages. There was a man who had been there since 1976, serving a life sentence. He plays the saxophone so beautifully, and as a society we’ve made it so the worst thing he has ever done has defined his life. We had people join us on stage, they rapped, and sang, and played the keyboards, and knowing that this is talent that the world may never see? The rate at which the U.S. incarcerates people, one of them could be our next Billie Holiday, or our next Miles Davis

The other piece was watching the guards and the incarcerated men react to the music equally. In the beginning of the show, the guards were really trying to just keep it together, but eventually, they started clapping along with the music, and it was beautiful to watch. Those lines between guard and inmate begin to fade, and two groups of people who have been institutionalized in many ways, connect and clap on the same beat. That's why art is important — it breaks down the walls that we build up. And it's our most ancient way of connecting. We need that more than ever right now.  

You’re well-known for your deeply personal songwriting, often about romantic relationships. "Egún" is quite different, it’s got a historical theme, and a significant invocation of ancestors. What’s the story of how you wrote this song — did it exist before you were approached to work on something for the series?  

The music already existed; it was a riff I wrote in law school, but the lyrics really came when [series creator and showrunner] Monica Beletsky spoke to me about one of the witnesses at the trial, who was a Black woman, Mary Sims. [Sims had formerly been enslaved by Dr. Samuel Mudd, who was tried as a co-conspirator with Booth.] I wanted to write something from that angle, from that character. I knew I could connect to that, but I needed it to go somewhere a little deeper. For me, that was to think of all of the people who lost their lives to the most horrific institution that this country has known, and that we fight for freedom — we are persistent in our fight not only for ourselves and for our children, but for those who have died under slavery. 

The song was much bigger than saying "we're gonna catch you for killing Lincoln." It was saying that a reckoning will always come; I wanted it to send a message that liberation is going to happen, and as dark as our world can feel, we have made great strides. I wanted it to feel like the ancestors will literally haunt you. You can't run away from it, you can't hide. When I think about people who spend so much time attacking trans folks or attacking Black folks, I just think that hate is living in your heart, how is it serving you?

It’s a fascinating song, because it’s so personal while mapping to something much bigger, thematically. This is such an extraordinary moment for personal and confessional songwriting, particularly among female artists. Who are the artists you respect and look up to in that cohort alongside you? 

Jamila Woods is such a great writer — she was a poet earlier. I'm always jealous of the songwriters who used to be poets, they’re so good at writing and they can also sing. I just did a project with Adi Oasis, too. I love her work, and this song that we've done, "Dumpalltheguns." Brandi Carlile is obviously the GOAT of songwriting. These are just a few in my rotation — there's so many people who I really admire, whose songs I listen to and feel like Oh, my God, why didn't I write that?

Along those lines, how do you discover music that’s new, or just new to you? A number of your influences are — and I mean this as a compliment to them — weirdo British eccentrics, but I know that you listened to very little secular music in your childhood. How did other genres of music and artists like Pink Floyd and Portishead come into your life?

It really started with Columbia House — I owe them like $10,000. My dad backed off of his no secular music rule when I was 16 years old. So I just went ham, and bought a lot of hip-hop, artists like Lauryn Hill, KRS-One, and Jay-Z. But I also bought Alanis Morissette and Pearl Jam. Through my love of alternative and hip-hop, I discovered trip-hop, which to me, is like the child of those two genres. That's how I became a Portishead fan. Pink Floyd is a band I discovered later in life, probably in my college years. It may just be because everyone had that damn poster on their wall. 

Trip-hop evokes so much emotion, and it's cinematic, and that's the type of music I love. I just live for emotion. I want to feel something deeply when I hear music, I want to get goosebumps! There's times when I just want to party, but mostly, I want to cry. I want to feel something really deep, and that's what I want my music to do for people.

So where are you now, as a songwriter? Are you writing your second album at this point? 

I am in it. I just came back from some sessions in London, and am going to do some sessions here — I was working on music this morning. 

A lot of space has opened up for what they would call political music — I don't love that title. Because it's just my life. You know, if I talk about heartbreak, or my heart has been broken because of a man or my heart has been broken because of experiencing racism I'm still just sharing my life. But I don't got no man to cry about. So that has opened up a lot of space to cry about the government. 

That interest in provoking emotional responses, and the cinematic quality of your own work, are such strong throughlines across your early material, and you’ve brought it with you on songs like "Egún." What draws you to creating songs so suited to TV or film?

Cinematic music is emotional music, because the person who's writing the score is attempting to get you to feel something. They're very deliberate and intentional about it. The music can change what you feel is coming in the next scene, how you feel about the characters. It's shaping the story, and I am obsessed with getting people to feel things. 

When I first saw one of my songs synced to the "Manhunt" credits, I cried, because it just felt perfect. I was in court two years ago, and now I’m watching the credits — I just started screaming. It's a perfect marriage.

You’re composing and recording, and you’re a relentlessly touring musician. What does playing live do for you like as an artist?

I mean, it's my favorite thing to do. Being onstage is my sanctuary; it is where I am most present in my life, it's a meditation. When I hit that stage, I could be stressed, I could be sick, but something happens where I kind of forget about things, it's when I'm most fully present. 

Community is very important for me, I don't want to be sitting in my house, playing the guitar to myself. And going back to this ancient way of connecting, it’s bringing your music to the public square and playing for the village. I think the intention, the purpose of music is to build community. And when I'm performing on stage, I feel like the luckiest person that I get to do that, and that someone gives me a check after, is really insane.

I can't overstate how lucky I am to perform live. But I will tell you that you have to take time to be in the creative space. And so right now, I'm not performing that much, and I'm really thankful for the break, because I need to know what's next to say.

When you’re in that creative space, or squeezing in those moments while you’re on the road, how frequently do you play songs in progress for a live audience?

Well, "Roll The Credits," for example, I wrote that song on tour. I had and loved the music, and I was like, "Let's just perform the song tonight! I'll freestyle something." And then at the next show, some of those lyrics stuck, they were actually good! So I added some more – honestly, I wrote this song live on stage. By the fourth or fifth show, I had the lyrics. 

Usually, the music comes first and I usually write lyrics last, sometimes grudgingly. There's a song right now I'm ready to perform, and I have not finished writing it, but I'm wanting to perform it next Friday. So hopefully these lyrics will finish themselves.

Let’s bring this full-circle. When you were playing in that first band with your brother and cousins, what did you imagine the future would hold? 

Honestly, we thought we were gonna be the Jackson 5.

I love that. Kids don’t have limited ambitions, they don’t hide their light under a bushel, so they straightforwardly plan to be the literal king of pop music. Why not?

I'm trying to do that now. As you get older, you start downsizing your dreams — I did that. And then the universe showed me I didn't have to, because things were happening that were beyond what I could imagine. 

And so now…I don't want to put any limitations on myself because of my age, or because of how late I got into this. If I’d done that, I wouldn't have believed that I could write a theme song for a TV series, I would have been too scared to do it. So I'm working on transforming my thinking, because I could actually do all the things. 

Was there one particular moment when you realized you were going to return to that youthful energy and feeling to pivot entirely to being a professional musician? 

There were several little moments within the span of a few months, but one that sticks out was a Zoom call with Q-Tip. And he said, "I know about your work as a public defender, and you've been an activist for years, and it's time for you to be rewarded for your work." 

It gave me goosebumps when he said that. It gave me permission — I’d been wondering, should I leave this very important work to just do music? — but also that permission was coming from Q-Tip! He heard my music, and it gave me some validation. So that was one of the moments where I knew I’d be telling my boss, "Hey, man. I can't be here much longer."

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danielle ponder live 10 Must-See Acts At BottleRock 2023
Danielle Ponder

Photo: Rick Kern/WireImage


10 Must-See Acts At BottleRock 2023: Cimafunk, Christone "Kingfish" Ingram, Danielle Ponder & More

Ahead of the 2023 BottleRock festival in California’s Napa Valley, held May 26-28, preview some of the notable up-and-coming acts who will hit the festival’s four stages.

GRAMMYs/May 23, 2023 - 01:19 pm

Roughly 120,000 people will head to California's wine country May 26-28 for the 10th BottleRock festival, which  serves up music, food and libations at the Napa Valley Expo. BottleRock leans in on the food and beverage experience: on social media they refer to themselves as "a food festival with music playing in the background." 

On the festival’s culinary stage, headline musical acts join celebrity chefs and personalities for cooking demonstrations: at past festivals, Martha Stewart has chopped vegetables alongside Seattle rapper Macklemore, and Snoop Dogg has rolled sushi with Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto. More than a dozen wineries participate, as well as breweries and distilleries. The festival also features a silent disco, spa, pop-up live music jam sessions and art installations.

But beverages, food, art, and massages are not the headline act: Spread across four music stages, more than 20 musical artists perform each day. Post Malone and Smashing Pumpkins headline on Friday, Lizzo and Duran Duran on Saturday, and Red Hot Chili Peppers and Lil Nas X headline Sunday. Well-known marquee acts will play early-evening sets: Billy Strings and Bastille on Friday, Leon Bridges and Japanese Breakfast on Saturday, Wu-Tang Clan and the National on Sunday.

A handful of festival acts will also feature at BottleRock Presents  "after show" performances at venues in Napa, San Francisco and around the Bay Area May 23-28. Some of these after-show performances are sold out, but tickets are still available for Cautious Clay, Lucius, the Wrecks and several other acts. At the time of writing, three-day festival tickets are sold out but individual day tickets are still available.

In addition to the many big-name acts on the bill, noteworthy artists further down the roster will be performing from about noon onward. Representing pop, punk, blues, hip-hop, indie rock and more, the following 10 rising artists stand out for their originality, style, and approach.

Oke Junior

Oakland, California-born, Napa-raised Matthew Osivwemu raps under the name Oke Junior. He made music throughout middle school and high school: his song "Elmhurst" is a reference to Elmhurst Middle School in Oakland. 

An older brother mentored Osivwemu , encouraging his early musical pursuits and making sure  he was a student of the rap game. "The first time I rapped for him, I thought I was raw. He broke it down straight up and said ‘Man, that ain’t it. If you’re gonna rap, you gotta make sure it has meaning…don’t be out here just saying anything," Osivwemu said during a "Sway in the Morning" interview last year. 

In 2017, Oakland hyphy rapper Mistah F.A.B. spotted Osivwemu at open mic nights in Sacramento, and took the young rapper under his wing. In 2016, Oke Junior tweeted that he wished he could have performed at BottleRock, and then joined Too Short onstage in 2019. He’ll perform at 1 p.m. on the Truly Stage on Sunday.


Erik Alejandro Iglesias Rodríguez, a.k.a. Cimafunk, is a Cuban singer who performs funky Afro-Cuban music with a nine-piece band with an energetic intensity that has drawn comparisons to James Brown. 

For his 2021 album El Alimento he collaborated with Lupe Fiasco, CeeLo Green, and funk legend George Clinton, an experience he said was like "talking to a friend." The album was nominated for a GRAMMY Award for  Best Latin Rock or Alternative Album at the 2023 GRAMMY Awards.

Rodríguez grew up in a tight-knit community in Western Cuba, surrounded by music: Mexican music, Christian music, and salsa, mixed with African rhythms. "We had a big family. We were always dancing in the house and every Sunday, we were dancing– salsa and other types," Rodríguez told "Everybody loved music and we all listened to music the whole day. In any house, at some point, many types of music would be playing — Mexican music, reggaetón, Lionel Richie, or Michael Jackson, that was my fave."

Cimafunk performs at 4:15 p.m. Sunday on the Allianz stage.

Danielle Ponder

Ponder, a former public defender from Rochester, New York, is also a powerful R&B/soul singer who has performed on late-night talk shows and at festivals like Bonnaroo and Lollapalooza. Ponder was serious about her legal work, but was also making music on the side for several years She made the jump full-time to music after she turned 40.  

Released in 2022, Ponder's debut album Some of Us are Brave is filled with upbeat, spiritual bangers and chilled-out confessionals. The music often pulls way back, allowing Ponder the quiet space to convey to listeners that she feels their pain and their joy, and she wants to uplift them. The album's title track is a timely anthem for social justice: "all we want is to be ourselves … we don’t want problems," she sings. 

"We did an album and everything through law school. I just always felt like I didn't want to be struggling. I had this fear of financial instability, and so I just was like, I can't do music full time. But eventually it just pulled me," she told NPR

Ponder performs at 1:45 p.m. Saturday on the Jam Cellars stage.

Joey Valance & Brae

This Pennsylvania hip-hop duo, with their cocky, high energy Beastie Boys vibes and pop culture references to topics like Star Wars and fresh produce bring a heavy dose of prankster, '90s hip-hop style — but from a humorous, adolescent Gen Z perspective. Scroll to the bottom of their Spotify page and you’ll see this: "Who tf reads Spotify bios." 

The rapper-producers  — real names Joey Bertolino and Braedan Lugue — are longtime fans of early rap innovators like Biz Markie, Eric B. & Rakim and the Beastie Boys, but also EDM. They met at Penn State University and both credit their fathers with being big musical inspirations. The duo make most of their music in Valance’s bedroom. "He comes over and we just mess around until something fun comes out of it what we f—ing love," Valence told Ones To Watch

After gaining traction on TikTok, the duo performed their song "Double Jump" on the "Ellen DeGeneres Show" and won a $10,000 talent show grand prize. They now have more than 850,000 followers on TikTok. 

Joey Valance & Brae perform at 7:15 p.m. Sunday on the Truly Stage.

Maude Latour

The Sweden-born singer has an enviable breakout story In March 2020, during the early pandemic lockdown, Latour — who was a student at Columbia University — posted a video of herself singing "One More Weekend," an upbeat tune about college heartbreak, to TikTok, where it has since been viewed more than 455,000 times. A year later, Latour was applying to summer jobs when record labels approached her and she signed with Warner Records. Last summer, she performed at Lollapalooza on the same day as Metallica.

A child of journalists, Latour studied philosophy in college, and her songs explore a range of emotions tied to relationships, death, messy bedrooms, and existentialism. 

"I feel connected to this overpowering awareness of my mortality. It is what makes life beautiful. This is my ‘thank you’ to existence," she told Billboard.

Maude Latour performs at 2:45 p.m. Saturday on the Allianz Stage.

Thunderstorm Artis

Growing up in Oahu, Thunderstorm Kahekhili Artis played in a family band with his dad, Ron Artis, an artist and Motown session musician who, played with artists such as Michael Jackson, Van Halen and Stevie Wonder

After touring with his older brother Ron Artis II, Thunderstorm was invited to perform at the wedding of Crazy Rich Asians director Jon M. Chu, and was a finalist in the 2020 Spring season of "The Voice," where he performed renditions of "Blackbird" by the Beatles and songs from artists like Louis Armstrong

Thunderstorm has gone on to perform his blendings of folk, rock, soul and country music alongside artists like Jack Johnson and Booker T. He’s been known to play renditions of songs from artists such as David Bowie, Leonard Cohen and Elton John

Thunderstorm Artis performs at 12:15 p.m. Sunday on the Verizon stage.

Ayleen Valentine

The 21-year-old from Miami dropped out of Berklee College of Music in 2021 to pursue music full time. She combines guitar, piano, and saxophone with electronic beats to make moody dream pop. 

Valentine has said that she loves to watch videos of her favorite artists before she takes the stage, listing a who's who of famous rock stars that inspire her: "Thom Yorke of Radiohead. Mitski. I used to love Kanye — not so much anymore. James Blake. Axl Rose is very theatrical. Fiona Apple is cool and very scary."

Valentine released Tonight I Don't Exist, a seven-song EP of bedroom pop, last year, and more recently released a video for the song "Next Life" from that EP.

Ayleen Valentine performs at 12:30 p.m. Friday on the Jam Cellars Stage.  


The head-bobbing, dancing crowd and flashy, bright lights of a Meute show look almost exactly like any average club scene, but instead of a DJ and turntables and laptops, crowds see 11 people wearing marching band uniforms and holding brass instruments.

Like most brass bands, the 11-piece German brass collective Meute offers up lush harmonies and expressive horn solos backed by marching band percussion. But Meute is a "techno marching band," that aims to create a high-energy, hypnotic club vibe with marching band instruments. Meute founder and trumpet player Thomas Burhorn loved the ecstasy and intensity of going to raves, but thought it would be more interesting and exciting if there was a live band onstage instead of a DJ.

"We do interpretations…It’s a nice part of art, and a nice part of the history of music… when you can give the composition something new, when you can see it from another point of view, it’s a beautiful thing," Meute founder and trumpet player Thomas Burhorn told Variety.

The group toured 18 cities across North America last summer and performed at Goldenvoice’s Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival. 

Meute performs at 8:45 p.m. Saturday on the Allianz stage. 

The Alive

The members of The Alive are teenagers from Southern California, but they make music that sounds like a collage of '90s and early 2000s alternative rock.

"We’d grow up going surfing and skating. In the car, our parents would start playing music," singer and guitarist Bastian Evans told an interviewer. "I didn’t pay attention the first four or five years I was alive – but after a while, I started really listening to what was playing, and got a connection to some of the bands, especially Queens of the Stone Age. My dad would play it all the time in the morning, especially on the way to school."

The Alive have performed at Lollapalooza Chile and Ohana Fest, and opened up the main stage at BottleRock in 2021 and played an after-party show with fellow Laguna Beach musician Taylor Hawkins and his former side band Chevy Metal.

The Alive was named one of Stab Magazine’s "30 Under 30 Culture Shifters of Tomorrow" and has performed benefit concerts for the Surfrider Foundation, Surfers Against Sewage in England, Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii, and Save The Waves.

The Alive perform at 12:30 p.m. Sunday on the Jam Cellars Stage.

Christone "Kingfish" Ingram

When 24-year-old Christone "Kingfish" Ingram won the Best Contemporary Blues Album award at the 2022 GRAMMYs, he told the crowd, "For years I had to sit and watch the myth that young Black kids are not into the blues, and I just hope I can show the world something different."

His debut album, Kingfish, produced by Tom Hambridge, was released on Alligator Records in 2019, and earned him a nomination for Best Traditional Blues Album at the 62nd annual GRAMMY Awards.

Ingram grew up in Clarksdale, Mississippi, playing drums, bass, and guitar. He studied music at the Delta Blues Museum under Bill "Howl-N- Mad" Perry and Richard "Daddy Rich" Crisman, and was playing gigs around town by seventh grade. 

In 2014, he performed for Michelle Obama at the White House with the Delta Blues Museum band. Ingram joins a long legacy of artists to emerge from Clarksdale: John Lee Hooker, Ike Turner, Sam Cooke, Muddy Waters are just a few.

Christone "Kingfish" Ingram performs at 5:45 p.m, Sunday on the Allianz Stage.

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For The Record: A Tribe Called Quest 'The Low End Theory'

A Tribe Called Quest


For The Record: A Tribe Called Quest's Groundbreaking 'The Low End Theory' At 30

A 2021 GRAMMY Hall Of Fame inductee, 'The Low End Theory,' released in 1991, saw A Tribe Called Quest reinvent the wheel yet again, marrying the sounds of jazz and hip-hop and solidifying the group's artistic legacy

GRAMMYs/Feb 15, 2021 - 09:59 pm

In 1991, hip-hop was in a state of flux, and A Tribe Called Quest were searching for balance. Their 1990 debut album, People's Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm, propelled the Queens, New York, group to new heights. Tribe tempered the growing gangster rap movement with their own breed of hip-hop, one full of humor, life, positivity and a more lighthearted approach to making music. Their style positioned them more as a group who loved being musicians over utilizing their rhymes to vent about the doom and gloom enveloping their environment.

Tribe, along with groups like De La Soul, Jungle Brothers and Leaders of the New School, were a part of the DAISY ("Da Inner Sound, Y'all") age of hip-hop. (De La Soul coined the term on their 1989 debut album, 3 Feet High and Rising, in which they chanted the phrase several times throughout the project.) DAISY artists donned brighter clothing, used literal daisy imagery in their artwork, music videos and album covers, and punctuated their positive messages with poignancies on Afrocentricity. Even de facto A Tribe Called Quest leader Kamaal Fareed went by MC Love Child before he was given the name Q-Tip.

Intertwined with this bohemian take on hip-hop music, several DAISY artists, including Jungle Brothers, De La Soul and A Tribe Called Quest, were also part of the Native Tongues collective, a loose network of East Coast hip-hop artists. But even if you weren't down with Native Tongues, if your music was the antithesis of the exploding gangster rap style of the time, you tangentially became a part of the DAISY Age.

DAISY artists diverged from what most considered then to be the sonic norm for rap music, which was a rugged exterior revealing street hymns and conspiracy theories, along with stories of police brutality and gang wars. N.W.A's 1988 debut album Straight Outta Compton was mostly to thank, along with Public Enemy's 1988 album It Takes A Nation of Millions To Hold Us Back, a clarion call for the mobilization of Black people against the powers that be. It was raging against the machine at its best.

While artists of the DAISY Age discussed ways for Black people to find their own grooves and means to mobilize, albeit in a different way, Tribe and groups of their ilk were categorized under the "alternative hip-hop" subgenre, an industry move suggesting that discussions of anything other than gun talk were the exception, not the rule. They were all deemed "safe," nonviolent "alternatives," while also commanding a sound both parents and kids could mutually enjoy. It was a gift and a curse at the same time.

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It was a frustrating position for any critically acclaimed group paving their own path. Still, by the time A Tribe Called Quest got to work on The Low End Theory, they were more than ready to reinvent the wheel yet again. This would be the project that served as a reference point for A Tribe Called Quest as bastions of versatility. In order to prove that, they had to rework their whole style, right down to their image. There was also the added pressure of the sophomore slump. But that didn't faze lead producer Q-Tip in the least. Tribe weren't cocky—they were confident.

Tribe had a lot to prove on The Low End Theory while not coming off as tryhards. In 14 tracks, they had to somehow remove the stigmas attached to so many hip-hop artists at the time: You were either too street, too soft or too artsy, or you didn't understand a single instrument. Tribe aimed to strike that balance artfully.

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Inspired by the hard thuds checkered throughout Straight Outta Compton, Q-Tip opted for bass-heavy beats on Low End.  Album opener "Excursions" oozes with those steady basslines, as does "Buggin' Out," "Check The Rhime" and closer "Scenario."

Q-Tip made it a point to masterfully bring the sounds of jazz and bebop to boom bap, where, for the first time ever, the instruments were front and center. You could listen to any song on Low End and hear every layer as it's being played, a rarity in the sample-heavy world of hip-hop. With Tribe, you experienced the masterpiece in full totality, while also seeing every stroke of the paintbrush. And despite their claims of having the jazz on "Jazz (We've Got)," Tribe didn't sound like some jazz ensemble in hard-bottom shoes anywhere on Low End. This was pure hip-hop in a new iteration by a group determined to make a mark on their own terms.

But like Q-Tip says on "Rap Promoter ("Not too modest and not a lot of pride"), Tribe had to be bolder with their messaging this time around, while still maintaining their stance on peace and positivity. On "Excursions," an idyllic intro to that creative approach, Q-Tip makes it clear that Tribe is playing the long game in rap, in the right way, while still switching the sound up. He does the same on "Verses From The Abstract," in which he takes the reins on the group's collective messaging.

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This was also the moment, however, where Phife Dawg would step forward and do just enough posturing and bragging on the group's behalf. His presence was barely felt on Tribe's debut album since Phife's head wasn't all the way in the game until Q-Tip centered him. The yin to Q-Tip's yang, Phife was a 5-foot-3-inch sh*t-talker and bona fide comedian who helped the former not take the game too seriously. On "Buggin' Out," Phife is in the spotlight, and he keeps it going on "Butter" where he talks about pulling girls like "Flo" while simultaneously shining on his own for once.

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Low End is also full of music industry cautionary tales. On "Rap Promoter," Q-Tip waxes philosophically and questions why rap promoters will invite hip-hop heads to a wack show. Tribe then expose the ills of the biz on "Show Business," with the help of Brand Nubian and Diamond D, and continue that sentiment on "Check The Rhime" where Q-Tip births the now-infamous line, "Industry rule number four-thousand-and-eighty / Record company people are shady."

Tribe's storytelling is in clear view on "The Infamous Date Rape" and "Everything Is Fair," with the former carrying a real sentiment of exposing criminal acts. It's heavy without being too dark, while tracks like "What?" are light without being too whimsy. "Skypager" sees Tribe dissecting their many reasons for carrying a beeper. At face value, the concept would seem like a whole lot of nonsense about an inanimate piece of technology. But the song ultimately places the group alongside the same beeper-carrying drug dealers from whom the industry and the media attempted to forcibly disassociate them. While Tribe aim to show they are different and unfazed by fancy gadgets, "Skypager" still echoes their main message: We are all in this together.

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Then, of course, there's "Scenario." With the help of Leaders of the New School and the soon-to-be legend Busta Rhymes, the track is heavy on basslines, trash talk, braggadocio and bars. The perfect closer to the album, "Scenario" is so bullish and so energetic, it almost serves as a celebration of Tribe's accomplishment: the martini after a cinematic piece has wrapped.

The Low End Theory was somewhat of a swan song for A Tribe Called Quest in more ways than one. It was their diversion from the Native Tongues and the DAISY Age scenes, especially after the group signed to Russell Simmons' Rush Artist Management, under manager Chris Lighty, a move that would take their message to a bigger, more mainstream hip-hop audience. However, the album was also a farewell to the pigeonholed style and sound they were wedged into the first time around. After The Low End Theory, A Tribe Called Quest could fly, and the sky was the limit.

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Photo: Darren Gerrish/WireImage/Getty Images


Q-Tip, Mahalia, Maya Jane Coles & More To Play Coachella Valley's New 4xFAR Festival

The brand-new event will throw its inaugural two-day event on Jan. 18–19, 2020, with an eclectic musical lineup and outdoor adventure-centric programming

GRAMMYs/Oct 30, 2019 - 11:52 pm

Today, 4xFAR became the newest music festival set in the pastel desert landscape of Coachella Valley, Calif. The brand-new event will throw its inaugural two-day event on Jan. 18–19, 2020, with an eclectic musical lineup headlined by GRAMMY winners Anderson .Paak & The Free Nationals, Mark Ronson and Q-Tip, who are billed together, plus indie-rockers Young The Giant.

4xFAR will also help concertgoers take advantage of the beautiful natural surroundings, with outdoor activities like nature photography workshops, mountain biking, slacklining and yoga.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Join us for 2-days of music and adventure at <a href=";ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#4xFAR</a> Festival presented by <a href="">@LandRoverUSA</a> . An experience for people with a passion for exploring the unknown. Limited GA + VIP passes on sale now. <br><br>For tickets + more information visit: <a href=""></a> <a href=""></a></p>&mdash; 4xFAR Music &amp; Adventure Festival (@4xFARfestival) <a href="">October 30, 2019</a></blockquote><script async src="" charset="utf-8"></script>

Other performers announced for the fest include psych-rockers Kurt Vile & The Violators, GRAMMY-nominated electro-pop duo SOFI TUKKER, Femme House founder LP Giobbi, who has been opening for the later act's R.I.P. Shame Tour, and house and techno queen Maya Jane Coles.

Long Beach-based surf rock outfit Tijuana Panthers, British alt-R&B powerhouse Mahalia and U.K. alt-rock duo Chappaqua Wrestling will also bring flavor to the rich musical offering. The fest states that more acts will be added.

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"4xFAR is set to be the first experience of its kind in lifestyle focused entertainment—an intimate, celebratory adventure where guests can taste the cross pollinated nectar of music, art, adventure and culture in a gorgeous oasis under the desert sky. I'm elated to be in the mix as music curator!" 4xFAR music curator and KCRW host Garth Trinidad said.

Other special guests include big-wave surfer Laird Hamilton and Olympic volleyball player Gabby Reece—quite the power couple—who will be participating in the "series of daily panel conversations and experiential classes centered around wellness and pushing physical boundaries," as the press release states.

Los Angeles-based muralist James Goldcrown, whose colorful hearts you may have seen scrawled across buildings in L.A., Miami and New York, will be bringing his vibrant art to the festival grounds. The event is being produced by Corso Agency, who has curated experiences at big fests including Coachella, EDC, Outside Lands. 

Tickets are on sale now on the event's website.

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Photo: Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images


Q-Tip Takes On Role At Kennedy Center To "Institutionalize Hip-Hop"

The smooth voice from A Tribe Called Quest seeks to bolster the culture and art of hip-hop in new artistic director position for the Kennedy Center

GRAMMYs/Oct 10, 2017 - 05:13 am

Hip-hop culture has emerged as perhaps the most prolific, disruptive and important movement of the last 50 years. Now, the Kennedy Center has recognized this by naming A Tribe Called Quest co-founder Q-Tip as the first-ever artistic director for hip-hop culture.

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"I think it's a great opportunity for this country in a lot of different ways," Q-Tip told NPR. "It would be great to see the Mormon family from Utah running into a family from Harlem, African-American family, and they both are looking at something or sharing something about hip-hop whether it be like a Tupac display or a Grandmaster Flash DJ mix, and they see that they have something in common. The church of the arts, it's a great idea."

Q-Tip performed recently for a special one-night only show with Jason Moran to usher in the hip-hop era at the Kennedy Center. With Tip now in the creative driver's seat, there's no limit to how the arts organization can honor hip-hop music and culture.

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