meta-scriptWhy Hip-Hop Heavyweight D-Nice Is Headlining DC Jazz Fest 2021: "To Me, Jazz Is Infused In All Music" | GRAMMY.com
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Why Hip-Hop Heavyweight D-Nice Is Headlining DC Jazz Fest 2021: "To Me, Jazz Is Infused In All Music"

The DJ and rapper famous for "Call Me D-Nice" is about to headline DC Jazz Fest on September 5, sharing the stage with some of the genre's leading lights. What compels a hip-hop legend to headline the largest jazz festival in our nation's capital?

GRAMMYs/Sep 4, 2021 - 01:27 am

Ask almost anybody in the burgeoning crossover jazz sphere about the barriers between jazz and rap, and they'll glow about how they're evaporating before our ears. Kassa Overall once called the two "from the same tree as far as where they come from, which is Black music in America." Jon Batiste recently opined to GRAMMY.com, "I don't even think genre exists." 

While D-Nice doesn't take the unity of the two genres quite that far, he can attest to their connections: He's headlining the biggest jazz festival in our nation's capital on Sunday, September 5.

"Growing up, we used to look for jazz records to sample, and jazz records always had the best grooves to them," the rapper, DJ and producer famous for solo hits like "Call Me D-Nice"—as well as hard-hitting works with KRS-One and DJ Scott La Rock as Boogie Down Productions—tells GRAMMY.com. "That's part of the way my set is: I'm blending in a lot of those kinds of records, but I'm also blending in songs that were inspired by jazz as well." 

During his headlining set—where he'll step on the same stage as bandleader Maria Schneider, pianist Orrin Evans, violinist Regina Carter and other cream-of-the-crop musicians—expect exactly what D-Nice promises. There will be hints of straight-ahead bebop—he namedrops Thelonious Monk and Dizzy GIllespie—but also music that bears those artists' inescapable influence.

Read on for an interview with D-Nice about what listeners can expect at his DC Jazz Fest appearance, the intersection of jazz and hip-hop and why he's making the most authentic music of his life right now.

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How does it feel to be headlining DC Jazz Fest this weekend? It seems like a distinct honor.

To be honest with you, it's been an overwhelming experience just to play the music that I love and to have people receive it as well as they've been receiving it. Whether it was virtually or looking forward to this Sunday, obviously—D.C. is one of my favorite places to be—but just sharing music the way I was able to throughout the last two years, it's going to be great doing this live.

What's your connection to the jazz lineage? How does this music emotionally speak to you?

To me, jazz is infused in all music. Being a hip-hop artist, growing up, we used to look for jazz records to sample, and jazz records always had the best grooves to them. When you go back and listen to Thelonious Monk, we sampled those records. That's part of the way my set is: I'm blending in a lot of those kinds of records, but I'm also blending in songs that were inspired by jazz as well.

Whether it's A Tribe Called Quest or anything that DJ Premier produced, I'm kind of infusing that with songs that have heavy horns in them that were jazz-influenced, like Stevie Wonder. It should be a very interesting set.

Read More: "Loops Of Funk Over Hardcore Beats": 30 Years Of A Tribe Called Quest's Debut, 'People's Instinctive Travels And The Paths Of Rhythm'

The longer I work as a music journalist, the more genre distinctions seem blurry or even meaningless. Is there that much of a difference between jazz and hip-hop?

I mean, of course, there's a difference, but it just depends on the artist. I was looking at a video clip of Shock G from Digital Underground and he was breaking down the way certain rappers would rhyme. The way Biggie flowed—I can't remember exactly how he described it—but the way the flow was, it was like someone playing trumpet. 

To me, it was just brilliant, because we've all been inspired by jazz music. Like, Miles DavisBitches BrewHeavy D sampled that. Those records that have that groove to them have always been an important part of hip-hop production. I do understand what you're saying that the lines have been blurred a bit, but the influence is what it is. It starts there.

You mentioned your musical output over the last two years. What has this period been like for you?

Obviously, I've been doing my Club Quarantine [Instagram Live series]. But going back even before [that], I was always traveling the road, DJing and playing big venues, whether I was in Vegas or Atlantic City or Miami. Private events for everyone from former president Barack [Obama] to GRAMMY events. When the world was forced to pause for a minute, we couldn't do any of those things. 

I feel like I found myself musically—being able to play what I wanted to hear and not what I thought people wanted to party to.

Was that a big motivator in the past? Making music that would make a crowd turn up above all?

Oh, yeah. Before, you're kind of promoter-driven. It just depends on the night. At times, I would have to play EDM because it was an EDM night. That high-energy, Vegas-style DJing. Or, if I played private events—whether it was a Spotify or GRAMMY event—I would have to play a lot of new music, [like] Billie Eilish. So, I knew all of those records.

But over the last two years of this quarantine, I was able to just play the music that I loved. There was no audience in front of me, yet there was an audience listening to me. What I loved was what resonated with the world. So even on Sunday coming up in D.C., it's going to be heavy jazz, but I'm tying in songs that feel like when you have Dizzy Gillespie on a Stevie record. That's the jazz influence.

I learned to just play from my heart instead of what people wanted to hear, and it just makes my events that much more exciting.

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A black-and-white photo of pioneering rap group Run-DMC
Run-DMC

Photo: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

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'Run-DMC' At 40: The Debut Album That Paved The Way For Hip-Hop's Future

Forty years ago, Run-DMC released their groundbreaking self-titled album, which would undeniably change the course of hip-hop. Here's how three guys from Queens, New York, defined what it meant to be "old school" with a record that remains influential.

GRAMMYs/Mar 27, 2024 - 03:49 pm

"You don't know that people are going to 40 years later call you up and say, ‘Can you talk about this record from 40 years ago?’"

That was Cory Robbins, former president of Profile Records, reaction to speaking to Grammy.com about one of the first albums his then-fledgling label released. Run-DMC’s self-titled debut made its way into the world four decades ago this week on March 27, 1984 and established the group, in Robbins’ words, "the Beatles of hip-hop." 

Rarely in music, or anything else, is there a clear demarcation between old and new. Styles change gradually, and artistic movements usually get contextualized, and often even named, after they’ve already passed from the scene. But Run-DMC the album, and the singles that led up to it, were a definitive breaking point. Rap before it instantly, and eternally, became “old school.” And three guys from Hollis, Queens — Joseph "Run" Simmons, Jason "Jam Master Jay" Mizell, Darryl "D.M.C." McDaniels — helped turn a burgeoning genre on its head.

What exactly was different about Run-DMC? Some of the answers can be glimpsed by a look at the record’s opening song. "Hard Times" is a cover of a Kurtis Blow track from his 1980 debut album. The connection makes sense. Kurtis and Run’s older brother Russell Simmons met in college, and Russell quickly became the rapper’s manager. That led to Run working as Kurtis’ DJ. Larry Smith, who produced Run-DMC, even played on Kurtis’ original version of the song.

But despite those tie-ins, the two takes on "Hard Times" are night and day. Kurtis Blow’s is exactly what rap music was in its earliest recorded form: a full band playing something familiar (in this case, a James Brown-esque groove, bridge and percussion breakdown inclusive.)

What Run-DMC does with it is entirely different. The song is stripped down to its bare essence. There’s a drum machine, a sole repeated keyboard stab, vocals, and… well, that’s about it. No solos, no guitar, no band at all. Run and DMC are trading off lines in an aggressive near-shout. It’s simple and ruthlessly effective, a throwback to the then-fading culture of live park jams. But it was so starkly different from other rap recordings of the time, which were pretty much all in the style of Blow’s record, that it felt new and vital.

"Production-wise, Sugar Hill [the record label that released many key early rap singles] built themselves on the model of Motown, which is to say, they had their own production studios and they had a house band and they recorded on the premises," explains Bill Adler, who handled PR for Run-DMC and other key rap acts at the time.

"They made magnificent records, but that’s not how rap was performed in parks," he continues. "It’s not how it was performed live by the kids who were actually making the music."

Run-DMC’s musical aesthetic was, in some ways, a lucky accident. Larry Smith, the musician who produced the album, had worked with a band previously. In fact, the reason two of the songs on the album bear the subtitle "Krush Groove" is because the drum patterns are taken from his band Orange Krush’s song “Action.”

Read more: Essential Hip-Hop Releases From The 1970s: Kurtis Blow, Grandmaster Flash, Sugarhill Gang & More

But by the time sessions for Run-DMC came around, the money had run out and, despite his desire to have the music done by a full band, Smith was forced to go without them and rely on a drum machine. 

His artistic partner on the production side was Russell Simmons. Simmons, who has been accused over the past seven years of numerous instances of sexual assault dating back decades, was back in 1983-4 the person providing the creative vision to match Smith’s musical knowledge.

Orange Krush’s drummer Trevor Gale remembered the dynamic like this (as quoted in Geoff Edgers’ Walk This Way: Run-DMC, Aerosmith, and the Song that Changed American Music Forever): “Larry was the guy who said, 'Play four bars, stop on the fifth bar, come back in on the fourth beat of the fifth bar.' Russell was the guy that was there that said, ‘I don’t like how that feels. Make it sound like mashed potato with gravy on it.’”

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It wasn’t just the music that set Run-DMC apart from its predecessors. Their look was also starkly different, and that influenced everything about the group, including the way their audience viewed them.

Most of the first generation of recorded rappers were, Bill Adler remembers, influenced visually by either Michael Jackson or George Clinton and Parliament-Funkadelic. Run-DMC was different.

"Their fashion sense was very street oriented," Adler explains. "And that was something that emanated from Jam Master Jay. Jason just always had a ton of style. He got a lot of his sartorial style from his older brother, Marvin Thompson. Jay looked up to his older brother and kind of dressed the way that Marvin did, including the Stetson hat. 

"When Run and D told Russ, Jason is going to be our deejay, Russell got one look at Jay and said, ‘Okay, from now on, you guys are going to dress like him.’"

Run, DMC, and Jay looked like their audience. That not only set them apart from the costumed likes of Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, it also cemented the group’s relationship with their listeners. 

"When you saw Run-DMC, you didn’t see celebrity. You saw yourself," DMC said in the group’s recent docuseries

Read more: 20 Iconic Hip-Hop Style Moments: From Run-D.M.C. To Runways

Another thing that set Run-DMC (the album) and Run-DMC (the group) apart from what came before was the fact that they released a cohesive rap album. Nine songs that all belonged together, not just a collection of already-released singles and some novelties. Rappers had released albums prior to Run-DMC, but that’s exactly what they were: hits and some other stuff — sung love ballads or rock and roll covers, or other experiments rightfully near-forgotten.

"There were a few [rap] albums [at the time], but they were pretty crappy. They were usually just a bunch of singles thrown together," Cory Robbins recalls.

Not this album. It set a template that lasted for years: Some social commentary, some bragging, a song or two to show off the DJ. A balance of records aimed at the radio and at the hard-core fans. You can still see traces of Run-DMC in pretty much every rap album released today.

Listeners and critics reacted. The album got a four-star review in Rolling Stone with “the music…that backs these tracks is surprisingly varied, for all its bare bones” and an A minus from Robert Christgau who claimed “It's easily the canniest and most formally sustained rap album ever.” Just nine months after its release, Run-DMC was certified gold, the first rap LP ever to earn that honor. "Rock Box" also single-handedly invented rap-rock, thanks to Eddie Martinez’s loud guitars. 

There is another major way in which the record was revolutionary. The video for "Rock Box" was the first rap video to ever get into regular rotation on MTV and, the first true rap video ever played on the channel at all, period. Run-DMC’s rise to MTV fame represented a significant moment in breaking racial barriers in mainstream music broadcasting. 

"There’s no overstating the importance of that video," Adler tells me. vIt broke through the color line at MTV and opened the door to a cataclysmic change." 

"Everybody watched MTV forty years ago," Robbins agrees. "It was a phenomenal thing nationwide. Even if we got three or four plays a week of ‘Rock Box’ on MTV, that did move the needle."

All of this: the new musical style, the relatable image, the MTV pathbreaking, and the attendant critical love and huge sales (well over 10 times what their label head was expecting when he commissioned the album from a reluctant Russell Simmons — "I hoping it would sell thirty or forty thousand," Robbins says now): all of it contributed to making Run-DMC what it is: a game-changer.

"It was the first serious rap album," Robbins tells me. And while you could well accuse him of bias — the group making an album at all was his idea in the first place — he’s absolutely right. 

Run-DMC changed everything. It split the rap world into old school and new school, and things would never be the same.

Perhaps the record’s only flaw is one that wouldn’t be discovered for years. As we’re about to get off the phone, Robbins tells me about a mistake on the cover, one he didn’t notice until the record was printed and it was too late. 

There was something (Robbins doesn’t quite recall what) between Run and DMC in the cover photo. The art director didn’t like it and proceeded to airbrush it out. But he missed something. On the vinyl, if you look between the letters "M" and "C,", you can see DMC’s disembodied left hand, floating ghost-like in mid-air. While it was an oversight, it’s hard not to see this as a sign, a sort of premonition that the album itself would hang over all of hip-hop, with an influence that might be hard to see at first, but that never goes away. 

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A collage photo of African women rappers (Clockwise from top-left): Femi One, Deto Black, Nadfiav Nakai, Candy Bleakz, Rosa Ree, Sho Madjozi
(Clockwise from top-left): Femi One, Deto Black, Nadfiav Nakai, Candy Bleakz, Rosa Ree, Sho Madjozi

Photos: Kaka Empire Music Label; Dave Benett/Getty Images for Dion Lee x htown; Oupa Bopape/Gallo Images via Getty Images; Slevin Salau; Asam Visuals; Harold Feng/Getty Images

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10 Women In African Hip-Hop You Should Know: SGaWD, Nadai Nakai, Sho Madjozi & More

Women have been a part of African hip-hop since its onset, contributing to the genre’s foundation and evolution. These 10 female African rappers bring unique perspectives to hip-hop coming from Nigeria, Ghana and across the continent.

GRAMMYs/Mar 27, 2024 - 03:26 pm

African music has become increasingly mainstream, with Afrobeats gaining global popularity in recent years. As Burna Boy, Davido, Wizkid, and Tems have become household names, and the Recording Academy presented the inaugural Best African Music Performance award in 2024, all eyes are on Africa.

Hip-hop is a crucial thread running through Afrobeats, which also mixes traditional African rhythms with pop and dancehall. Hip-hop landed in Africa between the 1980s and 1990s, first in Senegal in 1985 and in South Africa the following decade. Over time, African hip-hop advanced from imitating American styles, to a focus on artists incorporating their own cultural experiences, languages, and social commentary.

The result was a distinctly African sound, present across the continent from West to East Africa. In Nigeria, the rap scene is almost mainstream with artists like Olamide earning a GRAMMY nomination for Best African Music Performance for his hit song with Asake; Tanzania has gained enormous respect on the international rap scene for its own "Bongo Flava." 

Women have been a part of African hip-hop since its onset, contributing to the genre’s foundation. Nazizi Hirji is known as the "First Lady of Kenyan Rap" for becoming the first successful female artist in her country at age 16. Mariam of the Malian duo Amadou and Mariam created a distinctive sound by fusing elements of hip-hop and traditional Malian music. 

Africa's hip-hop community is ever-evolving, and women are at the forefront. The following 10 African women rappers are bringing their unique voices, experiences and sounds to the scene.

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SGaWD

After leaving her career as a lawyer to pursue music, the Nigerian rapper SGaWD is beginning to make her mark on the scene. Fusing elements of hip-hop and Nigerian alté, SGaWD creates a sound without restrictions. 

She released her debut EP, Savage Bitch Juice, in 2021 and collaborated with fellow Nigerian artist Somadina on flirty lead single "Pop S—." In the second single "Rude," SGaWD detailed the nuances of her romantic and sexual experiences with men. She followed this with a slew of singles, including "INTERMISSION " and "Dump All Your Worries On The Dance Floor."

Her summer anthem "Boy Toy" is a sexy and melodic blend of rap and R&B. Her comfort with sexuality goes beyond lyricism; the music video for "Boy Toy" shows her comfort and embrace of sexuality via wardrobe choices and choreography.

But it's not all sex; SGaWD is dedicated to organizing her community. In December 2023, she organized The Aquarium, a sonic experience that included performances from herself and other female rappers.

Lifesize Teddy

Mavins Records is known for producing back-to-back breakout stars — from Rema to Arya Starr — and fans now expect a new artist from them annually. When Lifesize Teddy was introduced to the scene, rapping as her alter ego PoisonBaby, she got deep. Her intro video dissected her relationship with her inner child and explored her roots in Port-Harcourt, Nigeria. 

After spending three years of artist development in the Mavin Records Academy, she started her music career, by releasing two EPs in the span of four months in 2023. Her self-titled debut EP was led by the single "Hypnotic," a flirty song of sexual freedom that merges hip-hop and Afrobeats. Her second EP, POISN, featured five songs with one featuring her fellow Mavins Records artist, Magixx.

She ended last year headlining different shows in Lagos’ Detty December and is a special guest on Ayra Starr World Tour. 

Eno Barony

Ghanaian rapper Eno Barony's name reflects her aura and essence: "Eno" is Twi for mother, and quite fittingly she is referred to as "The Mother of Rap" in Ghana. Raised by missionary parents, she uses her music to spread the message that women should not be silenced. 

She has been releasing music for over a decade, with singles "Tonga," "Megye Wo Boy", "The Best," "Touch the Body," and "Do Something" gaining mainstream attention on the continent. Eno Barony released her first album in 2020 and, the following year became the first female rapper to win Best Rapper at the Ghana Music Awards. 

Her most recent album, Ladies First, captures the nuances and complexity of being a woman in Ghana and serves as a form of resistance to patriarchy. Opening track "God Is a Woman," featuring Ghanaian singer/songwriter Efya, establishes the tone: Eno is "entering every lane" even though "it’s a man’s world and she entered without a passport". 

Eno Barony continually pours vulnerability into her music. On these lead singles; "Heavy Load" and  "Don’t Judge Me" she raps about accepting her body image and addresses the culture of unconstructive criticism in the music industry, respectively. Last month, she released a new single "Good Enough," a romantic and reflective tune.

Nadai Nakai

Hailing from both Zimbabwe and South Africa, Nadai Nakai has been a fixture in the African rap scene for over a decade. She was the first female rapper to win the Mixtape 101 competition on the hip-hop show, "Shiz Niz."   

A mentee of pioneering Kenyan hip-hop artist Nazizi, Nakai released her first single "Like Me" under Sid Records in September 2013. The rightfully braggadocious song detailed her many talents and skills, wrapped in clever lyricism. She continued to release a slew of singles, including "Naaa Meaan" (a collaboration with Casper Nyovest, a South African male rapper), which garnered over 1 million views. Her debut album, Nadai Naked, was an ode to women making liberating choices. 

Her hip-hop and R&B-inspired songs highlight her values of female free expression and strength. Her most recent single, "Back In," announced Nakai's return to the industry after grieving the death of her boyfriend, AKA. She plans to release a tribute EP dedicated to AKA.

Deela

Deela saw a hole in the Nigerian music industry that needed to be filled. Where were the women who talked and behaved like her, with brazen confidence and an unfiltered sense of expression? 

She started making music during the pandemic lockdown, releasing singles such as the raging "Bitch Boi" and trap track "Rolling Stones." Both tracks later appeared on her debut album, Done Deel. Deela's most popular single, "Get A Grip," shows the rapper is demanding autonomy while owning her promiscuity and single life.

Deela's experimental sound includes ventures into trap, drill and more. Her 2023 album Is This On? showcased this range via UK rap-inspired "Trapstar" and straight-up hip-hop track "Take That Up" featuring Flo Milli.

She hit the ground running in 2024, releasing a collaboration with Somadina titled "Lagos" and a love-themed EP, Love Is Wicked

Deto Black

Lagos-based rapper Deto Black is an artistic polymath who dabbles in modeling, acting and photography. Her music spans hip-hop, Afrobeats, rap, pop and rock, and is becoming known in the alté scene following her collaboration with Odunsi the Engine, Amaarae and Gigi Atlantis on "Body Count." Deto’s verse on the 2020 track is  sex-positive, and encourages listeners to follow her example. 

Deto released her debut EP, Yung Everything, in 2021 and followed with singles "Nu Bag" and "Just Like Deto." At the start of 2024, she released "It’s A No From Me" featuring Chi; its music video was directed by notable alté artist Cruel Santino.

Rosa Ree

Tanzanian rapper Rosa Ree addresses the nuances of womanhood in male-dominated spaces. She entered the scene in 2016 with the goal of proving her naysayers wrong, releasing the aggressive "One Time" to dispel any notions that a woman couldn't exist in hip-hop.

In her 2022 single "I’m Not Sorry," Rosa Ree dismisses criticism and asserts that she won’t be sorry for showing her true image or voice. She also explores the unique bond between mother and child in 2023's "Mama Omollo," further showcasing the multifaceted identities of women in music.

Rosa Ree's 2024 single "In Too Deep" further showcased her introspective side by exploring themes of emotional hurt, betrayal and disappointment.

Candy Bleakz

Nigerian rapper Candy Bleakz fuses Afrobeats, amapiano and hip-hop, with heavy emphasis on street music. She started making music in 2019 and quickly began developing a community. Candy Bleakz collaborated with Zlatan and Naira Marley on "Owo Osu." 

Her resume now includes hits like "Baba Nla," "Kelegbe," "Virus", and "Kope." Her single "Won La" was even featured on the American TV series "Flatbush Misdemeanors." The most amazing thing about Candy Bleakz, though, is her courage to question the established quo and push for female representation in the infamously male-dominated street music scene.

She released her debut EP, Fire, in 2022 and raps proudly about her life and talent. On its breakout single, "Tikuku," she addresses her haters head-on. This song has garnered over 300,000 posts on TikTok going as far as eliciting a challenge in the Nigerian section of TikTok.

Candy Bleakz's second EP, Better Days, was released on March 22 and featured lead single "Para," a rap song featuring African drums, strings and chords. 

Femi One

At just 26 years old, Femi One is a renowned  Kenyan rapper and songwriter. Most of her songs are in Swahili and Sheng — a unique offering as many African rappers perform in a more universal language. 

Over the past five years, Femi One has released back-to-back singles, culminating in her 2019 debut EP XXV. " Two years later, her debut album, Greatness, further detailed her wild style and personality. Tracks like "Balance" are jam-packed with witty wordplay and hidden allusions. She also taps into her gospel roots on Greatness, thanking God for her career on "Adonai."

Her latest single, "B.A," is a pure Afrobeats song that invites listeners to lose themselves in the music and positive energy by throwing open the virtual club doors. 

Sho Madjozi

This South African rapper is known for her bold aesthetic, from her rainbow-coloured hair to her bright costumes. She released her first song, "Dumi Hi Phone," in 2017 and dropped her a genre-bending debut album the following year. Limpopo Champions League explores sounds from hip-hop to EDM.

Sho Madjozi has a quirky habit of writing songs about notable individuals. Her breakout single "John Cena," a tribute to the wrestler and actor, earned her the BET award for Best New International Act in 2019. She also collaborated with Sneakbo, Robot Boi and Matthew Otis on the hit amapiano song "Balotelli," which celebrated the renowned African soccer player. 

Sho Madjozi's music is entirely intertwined with her culture; she raps in the Bantu language Xitsonga and performs traditional dances such as xibelani wearing an adapted 

xibelani skirt. The xibelani (which translates to "hitting to the rhythm") dance is native to Tsonga women, and is performed by girls on special occasions as a celebration of their culture. Sho Madjozi's use of the dance and interpretation of its clothing helps shape her region’s cultural identity.

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Notorious B.I.G. Biggie Smalls in 1994
Notorious B.I.G. in Brooklyn, 1994

Photo: Clarence Davis/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images

feature

How 1994 Changed The Game For Hip-Hop

With debuts from major artists including Biggie and Outkast, to the apex of boom bap, the dominance of multi-producer albums, and the arrival of the South as an epicenter of hip-hop, 1994 was one of the most important years in the culture's history.

GRAMMYs/Feb 13, 2024 - 05:22 pm

While significant attention was devoted to the celebration of hip-hop in 2023 — an acknowledgement of what is widely acknowledged as its 50th anniversary — another important anniversary in hip-hop is happening this year as well. Specifically, it’s been 30 years since 1994, when a new generation entered the music industry and set the genre on a course that in many ways continues until today.

There are many ways to look at 1994: lists of great albums (here’s a top 50 to get you started); a look back at what fans and tastemakers were actually listening to at the time; the best overlooked obscurities. But the best way to really understand why a single 365 three decades ago had such an impact is to narrow our focus to look at the important debut albums released that year. 

An artist’s or group’s debut is their entry into the wider musical conversation, their first full statement about who they are and where in the landscape they see themselves. The debuts released in 1994 — which include the Notorious B.I.G.'s Ready to Die, Nas' Illmatic and Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik from Outkast — were notable not only in their own right, but because of the insight they give us into wider trends in rap.

Read on for some of the ways that 1994's debut records demonstrated what was happening in rap at the time, and showed us the way forward. 

Hip-Hop Became More Than Just An East & West Coast Thing

The debut albums that moved rap music in 1994 were geographically varied, which was important for a music scene that was still, from a national perspective, largely tied to the media centers at the coasts. Yes, there were New York artists (Biggie and Nas most notably, as well as O.C., Jeru the Damaja, the Beatnuts, and Keith Murray). The West Coast G-funk domination, which began in late 1992 with Dr. Dre’s The Chronic, continued with Dre’s step brother Warren G

But the huge number of important debuts from other places around the country in 1994 showed that rap music had developed mature scenes in multiple cities — scenes that fans from around the country were starting to pay significant attention to.

To begin with, there was Houston. The Geto Boys were arguably the first artists from the city to gain national attention (and controversy) several years prior. By 1994, the city’s scene had expanded enough to allow a variety of notable debuts, of wildly different styles, to make their way into the marketplace.

Read more: A Guide To Texas Hip-Hop: Definitive Releases, Artists & Events

The Rap-A-Lot label that first brought the Geto Boys to the world’s attention branched out with Big Mike’s Somethin’ Serious and the Odd Squad’s Fadanuf Fa Erybody!! Both had bluesy, soulful sounds that were quickly becoming the label’s trademark — in no small part due to their main producers, N.O. Joe and Mike Dean. In addition, an entirely separate style centered around the slowed-down mixes of DJ Screw began to expand outside of the South Side with the debut release by Screwed Up Click member E.S.G.

There were also notable debut albums by artists and groups from Cleveland (Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, Creepin on ah Come Up), Oakland (Saafir and Casual), and of course Atlanta — more about that last one later.

1994 Saw The Pinnacle Of Boom-Bap

Popularized by KRS-One’s 1993 album Return of the Boom Bap, the term "boom bap" started as an onomatopoeic way of referring to the sound of a standard rap drum pattern — the "boom" of a kick drum on the downbeat, followed by the "bap" of a snare on the backbeat. 

The style that would grow to be associated with that name (though it was not much-used at the time) was at its apex in 1994. A handful of primarily East Coast producers and groups were beginning a new sonic conversation, using innovations like filtered bass lines while competing to see who could flip the now standard sample sources in ever-more creative ways. 

Most of the producers at the height of this style — DJ Premier, Buckwild, RZA, Large Professor, Pete Rock and the Beatnuts, to name a few — worked on notable debuts that year. Premier produced all of Jeru the Damaja’s The Sun Rises in the East. Buckwild helmed nearly the entirety of O.C.’s debut Word…Life. RZA was responsible for Method Man’s Tical. The Beatnuts took care of their own full-length Street Level. Easy Mo Bee and Premier both played a part in Biggie’s Ready to Die. And then there was Illmatic, which featured a veritable who’s who of production elites: Premier, L.E.S., Large Professor, Pete Rock, and Q-Tip.

The work the producers did on these records was some of the best of their respective careers. Even now, putting on tracks like O.C.’s "Time’s Up" (Buckwild), Jeru’s "Come Clean" (Premier), Meth’s "Bring the Pain" (RZA), Biggie’s "The What" (Easy Mo Bee), or Nas’ "The World Is Yours" (Pete Rock) will get heads nodding.

Major Releases Balanced Street Sounds & Commercial Appeal

"Rap is not pop/If you call it that, then stop," spit Q-Tip on 1991’s "Check the Rhime." Two years later, De La Soul were adamant that "It might blow up, but it won’t go pop." In 1994, the division between rap and pop — under attack at least since Biz Markie made something for the radio back in the ‘80s — began to collapse entirely thanks to the team of the Notorious B.I.G. and his label head and producer Sean "Puffy" Combs. 

Biggie was the hardcore rhymer who wanted to impress his peers while spitting about "Party & Bulls—." Puff was the businessman who wanted his artist to sell millions and be on the radio. The result of their yin-and-yang was Ready to Die, an album that perfectly balanced these ambitions. 

This template — hardcore songs like "Machine Gun Funk" for the die-hards, sing-a-longs like "Juicy" for the newly curious — is one that Big’s good friend Jay-Z would employ while climbing to his current iconic status. 

Solo Stars Broke Out Of Crews

One major thing that happened in 1994 is that new artists were created not out of whole cloth, but out of existing rap crews. Warren G exploded into stardom with his debut Regulate… G Funk Era. He came out of the Death Row Records axis — he was Dre’s stepbrother, and had been in a group with a pre-fame Snoop Dogg. Across the country, Method Man sprang out of the Wu-Tang collective and within a year had his own hit single with "I’ll Be There For You/You’re All I Need To Get By." 

Anyone who listened to the Odd Squad’s album could tell that there was a group member bound for solo success: Devin the Dude. Keith Murray popped out of the Def Squad. Casual came out of the Bay Area’s Hieroglyphics. 

Read more: A Guide To Bay Area Hip-Hop: Definitive Releases, Artists & Subgenres From Northern California

This would be the model for years to come: Create a group of artists and attempt, one by one, to break them out as stars. You could see it in Roc-a-fella, Ruff Ryders, and countless other crews towards the end of the ‘90s and the beginning of the new millennium.

Multi-Producer Albums Began To Dominate

Illmatic was not the first rap album to feature multiple prominent producers. However, it quickly became the most influential. The album’s near-universal critical acclaim — it earned a perfect five-mic score in The Source — meant that its strategy of gathering all of the top production talent together for one album would quickly become the standard. 

Within less than a decade, the production credits on major rap albums would begin to look nearly identical: names like the Neptunes, Timbaland, Premier, Kanye West, and the Trackmasters would pop up on album after album. By the time Jay-Z said he’d get you "bling like the Neptunes sound," it became de rigueur to have a Neptunes beat on your album, and to fill out the rest of the tracklist with other big names (and perhaps a few lesser-known ones to save money).

The South Got Something To Say

If there’s one city that can safely be said to be the center of rap music for the past decade or so, it’s Atlanta. While the ATL has had rappers of note since Shy-D and Raheem the Dream, it was a group that debuted in 1994 that really set the stage for the city’s takeover.

Outkast’s Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik was the work of two young, ambitious teenagers, along with the production collective Organized Noize. The group’s first video was directed by none other than Puffy. Biggie fell so in love with the city that he toyed with moving there

Outkast's debut album won Best New Artist and Best New Rap of the Year at the 1995 Source Awards, though the duo of André 3000 and Big Boi walked on stage to accept their award to a chorus of boos. The disrespect only pushed André to affirm the South's place on the rap map, famously telling the audience, "The South got something to say." 

Read more: A Guide To Southern Hip-Hop: Definitive Releases, Artists & Subgenres From The Dirty South

Outkast’s success meant that they kept on making innovative albums for several more years, as did other members of their Dungeon Family crew. This brought energy and attention to the city, as did the success of Jermain Dupri’s So So Def label. Then came the "snap" movement of the 2000s, and of course trap music, which had its roots in aughts-era Atlanta artists like T.I. and producers like Shawty Redd and DJ Toomp. 

But in the 2010s a new artist would make Atlanta explode, and he traced his lineage straight back to the Dungeon. Future is the first cousin of Organized Noize member Rico Wade, and was part of the so-called "second generation" of the Dungeon Family back when he went by "Meathead." His world-beating success over the past decade-plus has been a cornerstone in Atlanta’s rise to the top of the rap world. Young Thug, who has cited Future as an influence, has sparked a veritable ecosystem of sound-alikes and proteges, some of whom have themselves gone on to be major artists. 

Atlanta’s reign at the top of the rap world, some theorize, may finally be coming to an end, at least in part because of police pressure. But the city has had a decade-plus run as the de facto capital of rap, and that’s thanks in no small part to Outkast. 

Why 1998 Was Hip-Hop's Most Mature Year: From The Rise Of The Underground To Artist Masterworks

boygenius, Taylor Swift, Jack Antonoff at 2024 GRAMMYs
(L-R) boygenius, Taylor Swift and Jack Antonoff at the 2024 GRAMMYs.

Photo: Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for The Recording Academy

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10 Must-See Moments From The 2024 GRAMMYs: Taylor Swift Makes History, Billy Joel & Tracy Chapman Return, Boygenius Manifest Childhood Dreams

The 66th Annual GRAMMY Awards wrote another monumental chapter in music history with returns from legends like Celine Dion and wins by a promising new generation of artists like Victoria Monét.

GRAMMYs/Feb 5, 2024 - 08:35 pm

Just like that, another GRAMMYs has come and gone — but the 2024 telecast brought many moments that will be immortalized in pop culture history.

It was the evening of legends, as Billy Joel and Tracy Chapman returned to the stage for the first time in decades and Joni Mitchell made her debut with a performance of her 1966 classic, "Both Sides, Now." Stevie Wonder and Celine Dion honored greats, both those we've lost and those who are dominating today. And Meryl Streep had two memorable moments at the show, making a fashionably late entrance and getting a hilarious GRAMMY lesson from Mark Ronson.

But it was the younger generation of artists who ultimately dominated the show. Boygenius — the supergroup of Phoebe Bridgers, Lucy Dacus, and Julien Baker — won numerous awards in the Rock, Metal & Alternative Music Field. Billie Eilish and SZA scooped up a couple more golden gramophones, respectively, and Best New Artist winner Victoria Monét celebrated three wins in total, also winning Best R&B Album and Best Engineered Album, Non-Classical.

Taylor Swift built on the momentum of her colossal year with more GRAMMY records and an unexpected announcement of her next studio album.

Check out the full list of winners here, and take a look at our top 10 highlights from another show-stopping installment of the GRAMMYs below.

Boygenius Run To Accept Their First GRAMMY Award

Boygenius won the first trophy of their careers during the Premiere Ceremony, and they were so ecstatic they sprinted through the crowds to get to the stage.

"Oh my God, I want to throw up," Lucy Dacus said as the group accepted their Best Rock Performance trophy for "Not Strong Enough."

Even though the trio was over the moon, they weren't entirely shocked by their win: "We were delusional enough as kids to think this would happen to us one day," she continued. Phoebe Bridgers would sing at a local Guitar Center "in hopes of getting discovered," while Julien Baker dreamed of performing in stadiums as she played in multiple bands, and Dacus has been perfecting her acceptance speech for years.

Their hard work was manifested three times over, as the trio also won Best Rock Song for "Not Strong Enough" and Best Alternative Music Album for the record.

Killer Mike Makes A Clean Sweep

Killer Mike had the largest GRAMMY night of his career, winning all three of the Rap Categories for which he was nominated: Best Rap Performance and Best Rap Song for "SCIENTISTS & ENGINEERS," and Best Rap Album for MICHAEL.

"I'm from the Southeast, like DJ Paul, and I'm a Black man in America. As a kid, I had a dream to become a part of music, and that 9-year-old is very excited right now," he cheered. "I want to thank everyone who dares to believe art can change the world."

Minutes after his sweep, the LAPD detained the Run the Jewels rapper. However, he was released and still able to celebrate his achievements, Killer Mike's lawyer told Variety.

Miley Cyrus Finally Receives Her "Flowers"

Miley Cyrus entered the GRAMMYs with six nominations for her eighth studio album, Endless Summer Vacation. After she won Best Pop Solo Performance for "Flowers," she delivered a jubilant performance in celebration. "Started to cry, but then remembered, I just won my first GRAMMY!" she exclaimed at the song's bridge, throwing her hands in the air and joyfully jumping around the stage.

Cyrus' excitement brought a tangible energy to the performance, making for one of the night's most dynamic — and apparently one of Oprah Winfrey's favorites, as the camera caught the mogul dancing and singing along.

"Flowers" earned Cyrus a second GRAMMY later in the night, when the No. 1 hit was awarded Record Of The Year. 

Tracy Chapman Makes A Rare Appearance

Luke Combs breathed a second life into Tracy Chapman's "Fast Car" when he released a cover of the track in April 2023. He quickly climbed to the top of the Billboard charts and received a nomination for Best Country Solo Performance at this year's show. Of course, it called for a special celebration — one that was meaningful for both Combs and GRAMMYs viewers.

Chapman joined the country star on stage for her first televised performance since 2015, trading off verses with Combs as he adoringly mouthed the words. The duet also marked Chapman's first appearance on the GRAMMY stage in 20 years, as she last performed "Give Me One Reason" at the 2004 GRAMMYs. (It also marked her second time singing "Fast Car" on the GRAMMYs stage; she performed it in 1989, the same year the song won Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female and Chapman took home three awards total, including Best New Artist.)

Naturally, Chapman's return earned a standing ovation from the crowd. As Combs fittingly put it in an Instagram post thanking the Recording Academy for the opportunity, it was a "truly remarkable moment."

Read More: 2024 GRAMMY Nominations: See The Full Winners & Nominees List

Joni Mitchell Takes The GRAMMY Stage For The First Time At 80

In one of the most emotional parts of the night, Joni Mitchell performed on the GRAMMYs stage for the first time in her nearly 60-year career.

Accompanied by Brandi Carlile — who referred to Mitchell as "the matriarch of imagination" before the performance — Lucius, SistaStrings, Allison Russell, Blake Mills, and Jacob Collier, Mitchell sang a touching rendition of "Both Sides Now."

"Joni is one of the most influential and emotionally generous creators in human history," Carlile  added in her introduction. "Joni just turned 80, my friends, but we all know she's timeless!"

Mitchell also won her 10th golden gramophone at the 2024 GRAMMYs, as her live album Joni Mitchell at Newport was awarded Best Folk Album at the Premiere Ceremony.

Stevie Wonder Salutes The Late Tony Bennett, Duetted By His Hologram

Another heartfelt moment came during this year's In Memoriam segment, when Stevie Wonder memorialized his friend, Tony Bennett, who passed away from Alzheimer's disease in 2023.

"Tony, I'm going to miss you forever. I love you always, and God bless that He allowed us to have you in this time and space in our lives," Wonder proclaimed. Thanks to a hologram of Bennett, the two singers could duet "For Once in My Life" one last time.

This year's tribute also saw Annie Lennox covering Sinéad O'Connor's "Nothing Compares 2 U," Jon Batiste's medley of Bill Withers' hits, and Fantasia's reimagining of Tina Turner's "Proud Mary."

Meryl Streep Gets Educated On Album Vs. Record And Single

Meryl Streep joined Mark Ronson — who happens to be her son-in-law — to announce the Record Of The Year winner, which sparked a funny interaction between the two when Streep thought she was announcing Album Of The Year.

"A record is an album!" Streep confidently declared, only for Ronson to give a quick 101 on the difference between Record, Song, and Album Of The Year.

"It's a really important award, and it's an award that recognizes everything that goes into making a great record — the producers, the recording engineer, and the artist, and all their contributions," Ronson explained of Record Of The Year.

"It's the Everything Award! It's the best," Streep smiled.

Celine Dion Surprises The World With A Special Cameo

Before the GRAMMYs commenced, producer Ben Winston told viewers they would be in for a treat because of a surprise presenter for the final award of the night, Album Of The Year. "They are an absolute global icon. I think jaws will drop to the floor. People will be on their feet," he shared.

It was none other than Celine Dion, who has largely been out of the limelight after her stiff person syndrome diagnosis.

"When I say that I'm happy to be here, I really mean it with my heart," Dion said. "It gives me great joy to present a GRAMMY award that two legends, Diana Ross and Sting, presented to me 27 years ago."

Dion is referring to her Album Of The Year win at the 39th GRAMMY Awards in 1997, when her smash LP Falling Into You won the honor. 

Taylor Swift Breaks The Record For Most AOTY Wins

It was a historic night for Taylor Swift in more ways than one.

She began the evening by winning her 13th GRAMMY for Best Pop Vocal Album for Midnights. To commemorate the milestone (13 is her lucky number), Swift announced her 11th studio album, The Tortured Poets Department, arriving on April 19.

She ended the evening with a coveted fourth Album Of The Year win, which made Swift the artist with the most AOTY nods in GRAMMY history.

"I would love to tell you this is the best moment of my life, but I feel this happy when I finish a song or crack the code to a bridge that I love or when I'm shot listing a music video or when I'm rehearsing with my dancers or my band or getting ready to go to Tokyo to play a show," she said. "The award is the work. All I want to do is keep being able to do this."

Billy Joel Serves Double GRAMMY Duty

After Swift's momentous win, Billy Joel ended the ceremony with a feel-good performance of his 1980 single, "You May Be Right." Along with being a rousing show closer, it was also his second performance of the night; Joel performed his newest offering, "Turn the Lights Back On," before Album Of The Year was announced.

Joel's performances included three firsts: It was the debut live rendition of "Turn the Lights Back On," his first release since 2007, and the performances marked his first time playing on the GRAMMYs stage in more than two decades. It was a fitting finale for a history-making show, one that beautifully celebrated icons of the past, present and future.

A Timeline Of Taylor Swift's GRAMMYs History, From Skipping Senior Prom To Setting A Record With 'Midnights'