meta-scriptDreamville Festival 2020 Is Officially Canceled Due To COVID-19 | GRAMMY.com
J. Cole

J. Cole

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Dreamville Festival 2020 Is Officially Canceled Due To COVID-19

The second annual music festival from J. Cole's Dreamville Records squad and friends was first postponed from April until August, and will now have to wait until 2021

GRAMMYs/May 19, 2020 - 02:27 am

Dreamville Festival has announced they are canceling their 2020 event due to public safety concerns caused by coronavirus. The second annual edition of the one-day music fest, hosted by J. Cole and his talent-filled Dreamville Records, was originally slated to take place on April 6 at Dorothea Dix Park in Raleigh, N.C., but was rescheduled to Aug. 29 after the pandemic struck the U.S.

Like countless other events that were set to take place this year, it will now have to wait until 2021. Dreamville says all 2020 ticket holders will be receive refunds soon.

Selena XXV - Veinticinco Años Tribute Concert Canceled Due To COVID-19

"After much deliberation and careful monitoring of the current situation, we have decided to cancel Dreamville Festival 2020. Although we originally hoped it would be possible to bring you the festival this August, the ongoing uncertainty regarding the COVID-19 pandemic has made this timeline no longer possible. This decision has been extremely difficult to make, but the safety of our fans, artists, and staff is always our top priority, and nothing will ever take precedence over your well-being," the organizers wrote in a statement shared across their social channels and on the fest's website.

The message also shared details on refunds, noting that all tickets purchased online will automatically be refunded to the original payment method, beginning this week. Fans who bought physical tickets from official points of purchase can request a refund here.

"Thank you for your patience and understanding as we navigate this. Please stay safe, healthy, and sane so we can reunite with you in 2021," the statement added.

Watch: J.I.D Talks Lollapalooza Debut, Working With J. Cole & Dreamville, New Music & More

According to Pitchfork, the debut Dreamville fest also faced unforeseen setbacks; it was originally set for Sept. 15, 2018 at Dorothea Dix Park but was pushed to April 6, 2019, due to Hurricane Florence. The 2019 event featured performances from Dreamville head Cole and labelmates J.I.D, BAS and Ari Lennox, as well as SZA, Big Sean, 21 Savage, 6LACK, Rapsody, Nelly and other heavy-hitters in hip-hop and R&B.

No artists have been revealed yet for the second edition of the fest.

The Dreamville squad earned their first two collective GRAMMY nominations at the most recent 62nd GRAMMY Awards; for Best Rap Album for the collaborative Revenge Of The Dreamers III and Best Rap Performance for one of its singles, "Down Bad." Cole earned a total of five nods, including for his work on that project, and took him his first GRAMMY win for his feature on 21 Savage's "A Lot."

Dreamville's Lute Drops New Single And Video, "GED (Gettin Every Dolla)"

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

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

Photo: Austin Hargrave

interview

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. 

25 Years Of Backstreet Boys' "I Want It That Way": 10 Covers By Ed Sheeran, Lil Uzi Vert & More

"Bridgerton" Season 3
"Bridgerton" Season 3

Photo: Netflix

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"Bridgerton" Composer Kris Bowers & Vitamin String Quartet Continue To Make Classical Music Pop For Season 3

The Netflix show returns for its third season on May 16. Composer Kris Bowers, alongside the Vitamin String Quartet and other artists, masterfully reimagines modern pop with a classical twist, including a Taylor Swift hit.

GRAMMYs/May 16, 2024 - 02:31 pm

No one is arguing that “Bridgerton” is realistic or even particularly historically accurate — in fact, leaning into anachronisms is the point. Entering its third season, which premieres on May 16, the pulpy Netflix show based on a series of romance novels by Julia Quinn — often classified as “bodice rippers” — mixes modern life ideas with Regency-era social rules.

From Lady Whistledown's tantalizing gossip columns to the complex romances of the Bridgerton siblings, the series grips viewers with its blend of historical drama and contemporary flair. One key note in that chord is classical music. Instead of using current tracks like some historical-contemporary-hybrids (most famously “A Knight’s Tale" in 2001), “Bridgerton” has mastered the art of the classical cover. 

Paired with original compositions by Kris Bowers, an Oscar winner and GRAMMY nominee — including one for Best Score Soundtrack For Visual Media for "Bridgerton" — the tone of the show is that of a heightened, classic world. Bowers, along with music supervisor Justin Kamps collaborates with the Vitamin String Quartet and other artists to create a full circle sonic landscape. They make the classical music in “Bridgerton” pop by re-recording, rearranging, and reimagining contemporary pop songs as classic pieces. 

Over three seasons, as well as with the spin off, “Queen Charlotte,” the team has included a mix of the newest songs as well as nostalgic favorites. This season features GAYLE’s “abcdefu,” which was released in 2022 as well as a cover of Pitbull, Ne-Yo, and Afrojack’s “Give Me Everything,” which was released in 2011, which can appease the full gamut of millennial and Gen Z viewers.  

Regency traditions 

The Regency period in which the show is based, spanned from 1811 to 1820, and was known as an era of elegance and refinement in British history.  In the first chunk of the 1800s, pop music included pieces by Beethoven, Liszt, Haydn, and Mendlesson (famous for the “Wedding March”). Waltzes were all the rage, and this “new” music was considered much more emotional and passionate than previous offerings. The romance of being swept away in a dance increased the thrill, and string quartets were highly popular. 

As seen throughout the series (and much like today), society placed a significant emphasis on social gatherings and music played a central role in these events. Balls, soirées, and intimate musical evenings were common, the perfect backdrop for orchestrating romance. 

In “Bridgerton," the show's modern portrayal of the Regency period occasionally features or references music from the time period, such as Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons,” which was written a century before the events in the show but was and is still a popular piece of classical music. The show frequently uses arrangements of classical songs in a slightly modern way, but most often, it underscores scenes with either classically arranged covers of pop songs or original music by Bowers. 

Contemporary music covers

Choosing between a cover or original music is a nuanced decision for the music team. The music team considers “whether or not, there's something that can, lyrically, even though we don't hear lyrics, speak to a moment really well,” said Bowers. Absent a cover by an outside band, Bowers arranges pop hits to suit the tone of the scene. He said, “when you're saying something with a song, you're making commentary on what's happening.” 

When they do outsource tracks, more often than not, these covers come from Los Angeles-based Vitamin String Quartet. VSQ is the new Mendlesson in that they have been the predominant wedding-march artist for nearly a decade, known for producing string renditions of highly eclectic mix of artists including Cardi B, Lana Del Rey, Björk, and Sigur Rós

They contributed four covers in season one, including Billie Elish's “bad guy” and Ariana Grande's “Thank U, Next,” about which Leo Flynn, VSQ Brand Manager at CMH Label Group said, “Talk about a great track changing the temperature of a room.” In season two, VSQ’s cover of Robyn's “Dancing on My Own” played under a dance scene. 

When we spoke to James Curtiss, Director of A&R at CMH, the song placements for season three were still a mystery. Curtiss shared, “When we finished that Taylor [Swift] record, we sent it right over to the people at ‘Bridgerton.’” 

[Spoiler alert:] Since then, we have learned Swift's “Snow on the Beach” will be featured in season three. This isn't the first time Swift's music has been featured in the show: Duomo’s cover of “Wildest Dreams” played under the honeymoon scenes in season one. 

Composer Bowers added his favorite cover of the season is in episode eight, the finale, but what title that is will be a surprise. The surprise of an “unexpected cover” as Bowers calls it is that when you “hear a song that you know, and have this strong indelible connection with it that is represented in this style that you typically don't feel like is for you. People get excited by having this music that they really love be elevated to this other level.” He said the familiarity makes “you feel connected to this time period, these characters, and these people in a different way.” 

Flynn said, “There’s something about the past that’s inherently romantic,” and the use of VSQ songs “unites something from the past with what’s going on now.” Because classical music “feels very idealized and formal,” he said, “there’s all this history and mystique built into it.” 

Flynn also mentioned that “Bridgerton” fuses past and present on a “major storytelling scale” between the historically-inspired stories themselves, the “visual feast” of the show, and the music. Curtiss added that the “romantic nature of the string quartet” juxtaposed with pop songs helps viewers tie the feeling of going to a bar or club to the experience of hearing “the popular bangers of the day,” as he called Beethoven et al., at a ball in the Regency era. 

Original compositions

When the music needs to set a specific tone without taking the audience out of the action to try and name that tune, “Bridgerton” often uses original compositions by Bowers. Bowers said, “Looking at pop music for those things like rhythm and tempo and all that stuff also helps in moments where we want to have the score feel a little bit more modern and not as traditional.” He continued, “I’ll put something in the violas and the celli that have this kind of guitar and bass feeling to them even though we’re looking at it orchestrationally from a classical perspective.” He explained that “borrowing the rhythms or the way that parts interlock from pop music” makes it feel like a modern classical sound. 

Each character and couple has their own theme. Bowers explained that it was enjoyable to create themes that could fit both heartbreaking and celebratory moments. “The melodies are still the same even if the harmonic tone is changed,” he said.

Instrumental Pop In Visual Media

The “Bridgerton” style of using instrumentalized versions of pop songs is not unique. Famously, “Promising Young Woman” used a haunting version of Britney Spears’ “Toxic,” adapted by Anthony Willis, and “Westworld’s” Ramin Djawadi used adaptations of Radiohead among others. “Wednesday” featured a stirring string version of the Rolling Stones’ “Paint it Black.” The popularity of Vitamin String Quartet and other classical cover bands has not waned and, if anything, is becoming more of a mainstream staple.

As season three approaches, the unveiling of the time-spanning, romantic soundtrack is highly anticipated. Four episodes air May 16 and the second half of the season airs June 13, with original compositions by Kris Bowers and additional music by various artists, including Vitamin String Quartet, who will be taking over Pandora’s Classical Goes Pop in anticipation of their fall, “Bridgerton”-music-filled tour. 

Overall, to find the tone of the whole series, Bowers said, “Season three actually has a lot more lightness to it. (Showrunners) Shonda (Rhimes) and Jess (Brownell) really want to have a lot of fun this season so there's a little bit more of a playful, youthful quality to the music.” Whatever tunes make it into the season, they are sure to be a feast for the ears. 

Meet Usher Collaborator Pheelz, The Nigerian Producer & Singer Who Wants You To 'Pheelz Good

Chief Keef press photo 2024
Chief Keef

Photo: Casimir Spaulding

interview

Chief Keef On 'Almighty So 2,' His Long-Awaited Return To Chicago & Why He's "Better Now Than I Ever Was"

More than a decade in the making, Chief Keef unveiled the second installment of 'Almighty So.' The rapper details why the new album is not a sequel to his 2013 mixtape, but rather another symbol of his artistic evolution.

GRAMMYs/May 14, 2024 - 02:51 pm

Chief Keef fans have been awaiting a sequel to his influential mixtape Almighty So since he released it in 2013. The project came out in the midst of a magnificent and experimental run for Keef, when he was changing his style seemingly at will from Almighty's almost avant-garde soundscapes to woozy, autotuned melodies (Bang Pt. 2) to stoic street tales (Back From the Dead).

Keef, now 28, has been well aware of the anticipation for a follow-up to Almighty So, teasing the project since 2019. Five years later, it's finally here — but it might not quite be what fans were expecting.

In keeping with Keef's mercurial and exploratory artistic nature, Almighty So 2 has very little to do with its predecessor, save that comedian Michael Blackson does skits on both. In fact, Keef tells GRAMMY.com that the title of the project does not mean that he views it as a sequel to Almighty So.

"There's no connection at all," he asserts. Almighty So is his nickname, and one of his many alter egos; it stems from "Sosa," the Scarface-inspired nickname he's been using since the beginning of his career. The title, he says, "is not just a project that I dropped years ago. It's me. I'm still almighty."

Almighty So 2, released May 10, is indeed very different. It boasts a Keef who is nearly free of vocal doublings and ad libs, ready to let his voice clearly be heard on a wide range of subjects, including some introspective and emotional looks at himself, going all the way back to his childhood.

Several days before the project's release, GRAMMY.com caught up with Keef while he was at home in Los Angeles. Below, the Chicago-born rapper breaks down the album's lyrics and music, its most surprising guest appearance, how he views his own legacy, and his return to his hometown for the first time in over a decade.

This conversation has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

You've been talking about this record since 2019, and originally you were saying it's going to have a lot of melody. The album I heard is very different from that. Can you tell me how and why the vision changed?

I just wanted to do something I never did. A couple of songs is stuff that you probably would never hear me do.

What's different about those songs?

Just more rapping about real things instead of flexing or talking about cars and weed. I'm rapping about real stuff in my life — in life, period.

"Believe" is like that. 

Oh yeah, "Believe," I forgot about that. You really know these songs. Okay, that's dope.

I heard that song as being about wanting and trying to change. Can you tell me about writing that and deciding to open up a little bit?

When I was making that beat, it gave me that feeling of, let some stuff out. That's all.

There's a line on there that really grabbed me. You're talking about growing up and you say you had to be an "evil kid." The word "evil" really struck me. What do you mean by
"evil"?

Because I was always smart — brilliant, intelligent. My circumstances had to be different, though. There wasn't a way for me to really show…I had to do the streets thing. I had to be a gangbanger. I had to grow up doing all that stuff instead of my potential that I know that I have, that I'm using doing all this stuff like designing. I can do everything. Really, literally. I probably could fly a plane, too.

Before I get into my ideas about it, what's different about your rapping on this album?

I feel like I'm just old. I'm 28, I'm finna be 29 now, man. I'm not the same young boy that grew up in Chicago on 54th and 61st. I guess you can call it growth.

I still got some stuff on there like the regular Sosa — the turn up, the fight-in-the-club or whatever you want to call it. Jump around, mosh pit music. I still got that. 

I was thinking more about just the sound of your rapping. There was almost no doubling, almost no ad libs. Your voice is very clear. Can you tell me about that creative decision?

I haven't been doubling like that. I don't know why I stopped it. You're right, I wanted to be more clear. 

Once I do a song, if I didn't do the ad libs, it must have not needed ad libs. When I do ad libs, it's like, I gotta do these ad libs. And if a song doesn't have ad libs on it, probably I can't really say the stuff that I want to say on the ad libs, or I didn't know how to put it. So I just said, scratch the ad libs and it's good like that. It's perfect. You don't need it, or the doubles. 

You have two songs on this record, "Runner" and "1,2,3," where you do that Dipset thing of talking back to the vocal sample. Why'd you do that?

I grew up on Juelz [Santana] and Cam'ron and Jim Jones. On 61st, we was a clique called Dipset, which comes from them. That's where I come from, so that's what I know. I guess I'm still living that right there.

Tell me about making beats for this album. There was some sampling in there, which is something you haven't done too much of.

I started sampling in probably 2019, 2020, or something like that. A lot of my producer friends, even my rapper friends, be like, "I love the way you sample. Damn, how do you sample like that?" Even though sometimes, I'll just let a sample play — it won't even be a chopped-up sample. 

If you get a beat from someone else, do you go in and add stuff to it?

Yeah. I can't take a beat and not put my stuff on it. Because it might be a dope beat, but if I feel like it need a couple more snares or a snare roll or some extra high hats or a bridge, I'll add my stuff in.

The album has some introspective lyrics, but it's also very funny.

I want to have some fun with it. A lot of people just drop projects and be regular degular. I wanted to do different. 

Like one song on the album, it takes four minutes to come on. It's just a beat and there's a skit playing of a dude in heaven talking. It's for car rides or trips. I don't know, I just wanted to do something different than what's regularly done all the time.

What's the connection between this album and the first Almighty So? Why call it Almighty So 2?

There's no connection at all. It's just, Almighty So, that's me. It's not just a project that I dropped years ago — it's me. I'm still Almighty So. I might not call myself that all the time, but it's forever me because when I did come out, it's something that I made and I stuck with it. 

It's just a name that everybody know. It's going to go down in the books. Forever, I'm Almighty So. I just had to do a number two, as in growth. It's the growth version of me.

I'm trying to display that I'm not the same 16, 17, 18-year-old that was running around Chicago with a gun on his hip. I'm far away in Los Angeles, California in a big, stupid-ass house with nine bathrooms and eight bedrooms. I got 12 cars outside my house, and they all mine. I don't have to have that gun on my hip. I ain't gotta watch my back all the time. 

I'm not the same. I'm a different guy. I feel like I'm better now than I ever was. I'm a better individual: the way I think, the way I talk. I'm more talkative now. At first, I wasn't even f—ing talking, bro. At first, you couldn't get me to say s— but a couple words.

When was the last time you listened to the first Almighty So?

I don't listen to that thing. Everybody else around me do. From friends to fans, everybody still listen to it, but I don't listen to it, barely ever. Every blue moon, I might end up playing it somehow. Because don't forget, I was listening to that s— nonstop when I made it. And I had to perform a lot of it too. So I know it by heart. I don't need to listen to it.

You have your first performance in Chicago in many years coming up at the Lyrical Lemonade Summer Smash in June. How are you feeling about it?

It's been a while, man. I ain't gonna lie, it's gonna be like I'm a tourist when I go there. 

It's been a long, long time. It's been like 11, 12 years since I touched the pavement in Chicago, or Illinois, period. I'm ready. I know it's going to be a big thing. A lot of new people probably think I'm a ghost. There probably be teachers like, "Yeah, he went to this school," [and the students will be like,] "No, no, he ain't real." 

So a lot of people are going to be excited, just knowing I'm from there and I ain't been there in so long. People that's not in even Chicago — all them surrounding cities gonna show up [too], because Sosa has not been home. And they know it's gonna be big.

Given what happened back in 2015, when the cops shut down your hologram's concert, are you worried that the authorities will be looking for an excuse to shut it down?

Hopefully they won't shut it down. I ain't been there in 11 years. I ain't done nothing to no-motherf—ing-body, man. I ain't in no cases, no RICOs, no murders, none of that s—. Leave me the f— alone, man. 

I've been chilling, making clothes and making music. Don't shut me down. And even if they did, I don't care. I'm going home. Back to L.A. I go. At least y'all know that I tried.

From the beginning of your career, you've had this association with the word "turbulence." You use Turbo as an alter ego.

[Laughs] How do you know all this? This is some Nardwuar s— right now, man.

When did that start? Do you remember the first time you were like, "Oh, that word, that's me?"

You said, when did it start? It's my alter egos I just make in my damn head. That's all. I'm versatile, so I never make the same sounding s—. Every song you listen to of mine, it's not going to be like, "That sounds like the last one I just played."  

I just got my alter egos, and I just make names. And then Turbulence, Turbo, that just came with one of my alter egos from 2017. Every other year I got a new name and a new ego.

Lately I haven't done it, though. I've been chilling, on some grown man ish. I feel like [making alter egos is] more the young Sosa. Like I said, this was in 2017 when I made that name. I haven't really been doing it lately. No new aliases.

You talked earlier about designing clothes and doing other creative stuff. When you're making art or graphics, or designing clothes, what feels the same as making music to you, and what feels different?

It's the exact same thing. S—, just like I make a beat, making a shirt takes the same creativity. It's just in a different form. Instead of melodies, you're using pictures and s—. You're drawing stuff. Instead of drawing that melody in FL Studio, you're drawing an angel for a shirt.

It's the exact same thing. Even the colors. The colors are like the EQ on the beat or on the song — it brings out the light in the stuff. 

So yeah, it's actually the same thing to me. And I've been doing this same s—. All the clothing, the beats, I've been doing the exact same thing that I'm doing now since 2008. How many years is that? That's a long time.

Like the Glory Boys logo: I made that logo in late 2009. I was what, 13, 14? I was doing this s— since I was 10, 11. It started when my momma bought me a computer. She bought me a computer when I was like 6. And then I was doing unbelievable things, unimaginable things. 

When I was doing that, I knew that this is my calling. Like, you real good with computers, if you're not good with nothing else. Anything with a screen, I could do it my sleep. If I show you the s— I can do, you'd be like, what in the f—? I'm talking coding — I can code some s— up. Your mind would be blown.

One of the things that does connect this album to the first Almighty So is you have Michael Blackson come back. Why?

Because he was on the first one. I'm just like, I got a skit or two for him. I got a couple of different skits from a couple different people. I got Fabo from D4L on there. He's on "Almighty" the song, talking. I got Donterio from my city, a funny dude I mess with. He be like, "On baby, on baby" — he famous for saying that. 

I got Michael Blackson. I wanted to make it fun and funny, so it ain't just like you're riding around listening to regular music. I wanted to make it a type of movie, but just in the music form. 

One of the guest appearances that really got my attention was Tierra Whack. I thought she was great.

Yeah, me and Tierra, we're real friends and we talk. And I love the way she do everything, so I had to put her on my s—, man. Just on some random s— — like, they won't expect no damn Tierra Whack, you know? So I had to do that. And I got my little weird ways, I'll tell you that.

I wouldn't have guessed she would be on this album.

Yeah, I know you wouldn't. Nobody would. Chief Keef and Tierra Whack? How and where and when? I wanted her to do something different than what she do. I was like, "I got this song I want you to do, but it ain't nothing like you always do. It's different." And she's like, "Hell yeah, come on, let's do it." That's my dog, for real for real.

A lot of critics talk about how influential you are. Are you aware of people saying that stuff about you?

Everywhere! If I had 500 M's every time [I heard that], I'd be Jeff Bezos. The f—? I think I'd probably be bigger. I would be more rich!

I be hearing that a lot, though, man. I be tired of hearing that s—. I be like, we know. Me, you, and God know that. It's okay. Let people do what they do, man. I was a big fan of Gucci [Mane] and Lil Wayne. Still am. So if I got people who love me like that, s—, man. 

I used to get mad about it, but I don't give a f—. I'm a big fan of those two boys I just said. Even to this day, we still ride around listening to the old Gucci. If you get in our car and we on tour, all you going to hear is Gucci Mane from 2006, 7, 8, and 9, 2010, 2011. And we still even sometimes take our raps [from that]. The old Lil Wayne, I still even rap like that. If you listen to "Jesus," I got his flow — some Lil Wayne, the old Wayne, inspiration. So I guess I inspire, the way they inspire me.

Are you still determined to change your style frequently? That used to be a thing about you: every year you'd have a whole new approach to music.

You hip, bro. You smart as hell, I ain't gonna lie. That's why I'm talking to you like I am. But anyway, you're right, I don't necessarily. 

How I am, though, I never do the same s—, like I told you. You'll never say, "This sounds exactly the same as the other one." I probably got, like, two songs [that sound alike], and that's just if I'm messing with the same producer. 

So I can't say that every year I take that approach. But I guess every day I take that approach, or any time I pick up the damn microphone. I'm just trying to think, I want to do something different, or at least try.

Do you think of yourself primarily as a rapper? A producer? A person who's good with computers?

What I say is I got angles like Kurt. You know Kurt Angle? Jack of all trades. 

Call me Jack, don't call me Sosa. I guess I got a new alias today — we made one.

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