meta-scriptDyana Williams On Why Black Music Month Is Not Just A Celebration, But A Call For Respect | GRAMMY.com
Dyana Williams

Dyana Williams 

Photo: Caliph Gamble

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Dyana Williams On Why Black Music Month Is Not Just A Celebration, But A Call For Respect

The radio legend and Black Music Month co-founder tells GRAMMY.com about the plight to make the month official and who she admires in music’s new generation

GRAMMYs/Jun 10, 2021 - 01:02 am

Black music is the foundation of the music industry, and Dyana Williams isn’t going to let you forget it. Born in the Motown era, the music journalist and veteran radio personality’s musical love affair began by listening to predominantly Black, New York-based radio stations like WABC and WWRL. The Bronx native started building the blocks of her legend status in the early ‘70s, beginning with her first radio gig at Washington D.C.’s 96.3 WHUR in 1973, where she fused her love for jazz with R&B and reggae. When she moved to WRQX-FM in 1978, she made history by becoming the first Black woman rock DJ.

At that time, radio personalities were non-existent, and Williams had to program music she did not feel belonged to her. "I distinctly remember my first show at WRQX: five hours of playing music that was not culturally mine,” she tells GRAMMY.com over Zoom. “I knew some of it, like James Taylor and Carly Simon, because obviously, I listened to the radio growing up."

The job, Williams says, made her more well-rounded as a DJ in the industry, but she wanted to do something to amplify Black music. Williams’ yearning led to the birth of Black Music Month in 1979. Co-founded with radio DJ Ed Wright and her former husband, Philadelphia soul legend Kenny Gamble, the month is meant to be a vibrant celebration of all the genres that thread America’s cultural fabric. But the month also educates and provides resources for those wanting to learn more about Black people’s impact on the industry, which has led to Williams serving on the board of Nashville’s National Museum of African American Music.

"Black music should be celebrated every single day, but it's a concentrated period of time for us to observe the legacy, and mothers and fathers, many of whom never got paid properly or recognized or credited for their contributions," Williams continues, noting that Black music educators, writers and journalists should be celebrated, too. "It is an economic engine for America to the tune of not a million or several million, but billions of dollars."

At the end of the day, Williams just wants credit where it’s due. "[Music] is one of our greatest exports. That's how we need to look at it,” she says. “I want us to be celebrated. I want us to be respected. I want us to get what we rightfully deserve."

GRAMMY.com spoke to Dyana Williams about the origins of Black Music Month and why Black creators still deserve a big chunk of the industry’s money pie.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

What are your thoughts on how the new generation, including myself, are interpreting Black Music Month? 

I love them. My core business is artist development and media coaching. So I work with a lot of young artists. That's how I saw your Saweetie article in Harper’s Bazaar. I was working with her around that time. I have great regard for artists like Elaine, Joyce Wrice, Masego, Giveon, Lucky Daye, who I worked with as well. Jazmine Sullivan, one of my clients from Philly. I met her when she was a little girl and now she is all grown up and she is bringing it, okay?

We missed her voice so much.

She needed a break. Sometimes it can be daunting, the industry and the expectations and all of that stuff. I'm a huge H.E.R. lover, I was listening to "Damage" last night. H.E.R. to me, [is] very important because she's a musician as well. She's a songwriter, producer, just [won] an Oscar. She's going to be a GOAT probably before it's all over. But she represents the finest of what young people are doing and [how they are] paying homage. I love the artists of this time that recognize what transpired before them. Now there’s some artists who have no reference. They have no foundation. And probably we'll just hear about them for a quick flash and then they're gone. I'm interested in the artists that are going to have —like with H.E.R.—a legacy that they will be able to leave for the next generation.

What was it like being on the radio in the ‘70s? It’s not as prevalent anymore because of streaming. 

Well, my experience in the '70s was heavenly. To have the opportunity to program music was a wonderful opportunity for me to learn matching sounds and vibes and energy. Plus, I interviewed everybody, and I was on the radio in the nation's capital when it was Chocolate City—so any and everybody that came in to perform at Howard [University] and at the Capital Centre. One of the big first concerts I MC’ed was in the Capital Centre, it was Curtis Mayfield. I mean, major acts. I MC'ed Earth, Wind & Fire. Richard Pryor was their opening act. It was wonderful because I got an opportunity to not just play the music, but to speak with the people who were creating all of this innovation. At that time in the ’70s, we had a lot of bands: the Ohio Players, Parliament-Funkadelic. It was exciting for me. I was a young girl. I was 19. 

I know you went to Philly in 1980. Was it just a next career move?

No, actually I fell in love with Kenny Gamble. [Laughs.] Initially, when I left BLS to go on maternity leave with our first son Caliph Gamble, I moved back to DC for a period of time and then moved to Philadelphia full time in 1980. At that time, I was blessed to hold down a spot at WDAS, which is the heritage station and very similar to WBLS in New York in terms of the adult contemporary format. Not only did we play the current music of the day, but we were entrenched in the community. And for me, that's everything. I'm the radio personality who’d go to the senior citizens’ home, the daycare center, the church, wherever I was invited in the community to talk about music. I would always do and still do to this day.

Even before Black Music Month was formed, I read that you initially co-founded the Black Music Association chapter in Philadelphia, is that correct?

Well, here we go. The Black Music Association was founded by my ex, Kenny Gamble. We were a couple, we lived together so I became a member of the local chapter and I was in the leadership. However, it is Gamble’s conception. We went to the White House for the first Black Music Month event on June 7th 1979. We sat with President Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn.

But years later, I was producing a celebration[ for] Black Music Month [in June]. I wrote to Bill Clinton: "Can you hold some similar events?" The White House said, "Well, we see that President Carter hosted the Black Music Association. We know that you were his guests." But he unintentionally did not write a presidential proclamation, which would've meant that every president following him would have done similarly.

What was your reaction when you heard that news?

It was official to us because we were the creators. For all those years, there were activities around the country. We celebrated it in Philly. So, when I got that piece of information from the White House, I was blown away and shocked. But as far as the American government and American presidents are concerned, it did not become official until I was asked by the White House to go get legislation. I remember I called Gamble: "Can you believe this?" It just gave a higher level of official recognition or celebration. It's just like Juneteenth. Black folks have been celebrating Juneteenth for a long time, but now it's becoming more in vogue and more well known.

So 2000 was when the bill passed?

To be recognized by Congress and the American people is right, but I had been petitioning for several years. I had even written an op-ed, in Billboard, about why it was significant for us to celebrate it. So yeah, several years of me knocking on congressmen and senators’ doors. I knew nothing about the process of lobbying. So I became a natural lobbyist, just passionate about the music and the cause. And at that point, it was significant for me to get the president to acknowledge us. Not just because of the cultural dynamics, but the economic value and potency of our music. We don't tend to think of it in those terms, but the reality is Black music is big business.

It's still the No. 1 genre and is literally keeping the industry afloat.

Girl, the No. 1 genre in the world. As you know, Bianca, Black music is hip-hop. It’s the music that they thought would go away, and we are about to celebrate 50 years of hip-hop.

Isn't that something? A genre that was once shunned has transformed to be the pillar of what so many artists look to for success. 

Well, the reality is Black music is for everyone. While it is created by Black people, it is a universal language overstood by billions. I have traveled to most of the continents: South America, Asia, Africa, Europe. Europeans know more about our music than we do in many cases. They're very well-versed in the history [of it]. We sometimes as Black folks take it for granted because it's our natural asset and gift. But the reality is that Black music has always been an inspiration, a source of influence for countless musicians. Come on, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, all those major white rock groups.

There’s also the country and the EDM scene, which has become a huge power player that’s built on the backs of Chicago house. 

We are the wellspring, we are the resource and then it is imitated and appropriated. We, the people who create it, are not righteously compensated. This is also one of my issues that we need to address because it's foul. Let's take rock and roll. No, Alan Freed, you did not invent the DJ. You were one of the DJs that played it, but the reality was there were Black DJs playing Little Richard, Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry, Sister Rosetta Tharpe. These are the mothers and fathers of rock music, period. And then you have white artists.

The prime example being Elvis Presley. Even those hip shakes came from us.

A lot of his songs were written by Black people. Clearly, you can look at him and see that he was biting on Little Richard. But they don't want to acknowledge it. And then it is our responsibility to say it. My thing is, don't try to take credit for something that you did not create. I want to make sure that in that process, the songwriters, the producers, the engineers, the people who make the music, are credited, acknowledged and compensated. That's critical and part of the issue of what's missing in today's modern music industry.

I'm so glad that you brought that up because it’s important to have those conversations about what's going on behind the scenes. 

And it's not even an adequate piece of the pie. I don't know if you've ever seen, Bianca, what artists get from streaming? It's like a percentage of a penny.

It's super dismal.

But meanwhile, billions of dollars are being generated by these streaming companies. And the creators of the music are simply not being [compensated]. I'm in The Recording Academy as a member, I'm a past president of the Philly chapter. And part of our advocacy has been to change the antiquated copyright laws that do not serve today's music industry. So we've had some level of success. I really think, Bianca, they need me to go in there and get that s**t fixed.

You'll set them right, for sure.

Exactly. And I'm an OG at this point. Even when I was younger, I was fearless in my convictions, and I respect everybody's right to their opinions. I saw somebody write a comment on social media the other day: "Well, we need white music month." My attitude was like, "Well, white music month is just about every month but June." I was listening to Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young the other day. And Steely Dan and Michael Franks. I love white music too. But my agenda is to elevate and recognize the forgotten, the deserving of the legacy foundation people. Just to your point, we're the flavor.

We add the salt.

I mean, we are it girl. We the hot sauce, the salt and the pepper.

One Year After #TheShowMustBePaused, Where Do We Stand? Black Music Industry Leaders Discuss

Crowd dancing at GRAMMY Museum's Hip-Hop Block Party
Attendees dance on the Ray Charles Terrace at the GRAMMY Museum

Photo: Randy Shropshire

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7 Ways The GRAMMY Museum’s Hip-Hop Block Party Celebrated Culture & Community

On June 6, the GRAMMY Museum honored Black Music Month with a vibrant, museum-wide soirée featuring dancers, musicians, and a fashion show.

GRAMMYs/Jun 11, 2024 - 01:32 pm

Most days of the week, the GRAMMY Museum closes at 6 p.m. But on Thursday, June 6, its doors were open well into the night. As some people filtered through them, others clustered around two rollerskate-clad dancers who synchronized to Aaliyah’s "Try Again" on the sidewalk outside the museum at L.A. Live. 

This was Richard "Swoop" Whitebear, the professional who choreographed the mononymous singer’s "Try Again" music video, and Alicia Reason, a skate coach and performing artist operating at the intersection of professional dance and roller skating. Their fluid movements drew a crowd outside the GRAMMY Museum’s inaugural Hip-Hop Block Party. 

The after-hours soiree, which ran to 11:30 p.m., is one of the larger events that the five-story archive of GRAMMY Award history and winners has ever hosted. Although the Hip-Hop Block Party honored Black Music Month, observed each June, its concept can be traced back to October 2023, when the museum launched "Hip-Hop America: The Mixtape Exhibit" in celebration of the genre’s 50th anniversary. 

"The idea for [the party] came from the energy of the exhibit, which celebrates five decades of hip-hop. I was lucky to be a part of curating the exhibit and hosting its opening night, and that experience fueled my passion for continuing to share the story of hip-hop and its journey across cultures," says Schyler O’Neal, the Museum’s Manager of Education & Community Engagement. 

A grant from L.A.’s Department of Cultural Affairs enabled O’Neal and colleagues to coordinate the one-night-only affair, billed as an opportunity to "experience the pulse of hip-hop culture like never before." Across nine interdisciplinary art demos, activations, and pop-ups encompassing mediums ranging from photography to live music and dance, the GRAMMY Museum made good on this promise while providing a platform to compelling California-grown creatives. 

"Our goal was to shine a spotlight on local talent across the hip-hop spectrum: DJs, MCs, dancers, fashionistas, and photographers. We brought together an awesome lineup to represent the culture," O’Neal tells GRAMMY.com.  

Many spirited, community-building moments colored the evening. Read on for a snapshot of some of its most memorable.  

Uraelb Pays Homage To Hip-Hop’s Past, Celebrates Its Present & Embodies Its Future 

"I’m setting the tone at 8 pm," Uraelb proclaimed in an Instagram post ahead of the Hip-Hop Block Party. That’s precisely what the L.A. native did when he took the stage at the Clive Davis Theater for the evening’s first vocal performance. Flanked by a drummer, bassist, pianist and two supporting vocalists, UrealB opened with a performance of his original song, "Brace Face."  

He created a culture of artist participation by encouraging the crowd to smile and later, to sing along to his buttery-smooth rendition of OutKast’s "So Fresh, So Clean." From there, UraelB’s "homage to hip-hop" crossed coasts and generations, culminating in a pumped-up cover of Kendrick Lamar’s "King Kunta."  

"If I leave you with anything, I want to leave you with a deep appreciation for hip-hop," he said before closing with another one of his own productions, "Groovy." 

Uraelb first performed at the GRAMMY Museum as part of its educational program INDUSTRY SESSIONS. "[Uraelb] made such an impression during that class that we said, ‘we’ve gotta have him come perform at one of our events,’" O’Neal said just before the activation started.

Over the years, INDUSTRY SESSIONS — open to creatives 18 years and older — and the GRAMMY Museum’s other music education programs, have attracted a host of talent, including Giveon and Billie Eilish.  

Larry "Ruin" Combs Krumps to MJ’s "They Don’t Care About Us" 

To celebrate hip-hop’s history and culture is to appreciate dance’s inextricability from the music — and vice versa. On the Ray Charles Terrace, professional krumper Larry "Ruin" Combs nodded to South Central L.A., where krumping was born, in an impassioned performance to Michael Jackson’s "They Don’t Care About Us." 

A powerful medium of self-expression, krumping is a street dance that evolved from clowning, another style of dance with roots in African and Caribbean culture. Krumping is characterized by sharp, quick, and vigorous movements, like chest pops, stomps, and arm swings, used to convey emotion. Krumpers have historically turned to the art form to release negative or charged emotions and to navigate difficult experiences and circumstances.

Hence the title of the dance special that Combs is crafting, "The ‘e’ in ‘Krump’ is silent." 

"A lot of what Krump presents is very emotional; you see it, you don’t hear it," a nearly breathless Combs told the event co-host Leslie "Big Lez" Segar. "That’s what the format of the show is going to be like — various types of music that tug at your emotions, from good to bad."

While additional details about the forthcoming special are limited, those interested can follow Combs — who has notably performed on "America’s Got Talent" and the season finale of "So You Think You Can Dance." 

Cross Colours & Black Design Collective Dress For Success 

The GRAMMY Museum's attention to curating an event that celebrated the whole of hip-hop culture was especially apparent in the block party’s inclusion of a fashion show.

Cross Colours — a clothing brand launched in 1989 by Carl Jones, who studied fashion at the Otis Parson School of Design and Trade Technical College in L.A. — dressed local models from the Black Design Collective, a group of accomplished fashion industry professionals of color. The collective's goals include amplifying the influence of and creating opportunities for a global community of Black apparel, accessory and costume designers. 

Their partnership paved the way to a striking fashion show, during which more than five models circled the museum’s third floor, donning a variety of garments ranging from T-shirts with brightly-hued graphic designs to overalls.

NANA Shows Off His Lyrical Muscle — And A Different Strain Of Hip-Hop 

Crenshaw resident NANA contrasted the polished, funk-soul of Uraelb’s activation with a squeaky-clean spitting session. And while the storyteller’s quick tongue and lyrical muscle translated to a well-practiced performance that would have made anyone in attendance think he rehearsed for days pre-show, NANA had only 24 hours’ notice.  

As host O’Neal told it during a brief Q&A at the event, his request for NANA to take the stage at the block party ("I need your energy there!" he recalled telling NANA) came while the rapper was in the middle of a studio session. About a day later, NANA was holding a microphone in the Clive Davis Theater. 

NANA, who credited Nas, Jay-Z, Tupac, Kendrick Lamar, and Snoop Dogg among those on his "long list" of inspirations, is notably featured in the "Rap City Experience" section of the GRAMMY Museum’s "Hip-Hop America: The Mixtape Exhibit," to which he contributed freestyles. 

Five Decades Of Hip-Hop Are On Display  

What’s better than a birthday cake? Try a 5,000-square-foot exhibit that traces hip-hop from its humble beginnings in the Bronx and New York City to the GRAMMY stage. On Oct. 7, 2023, the GRAMMY Museum opened "Hip-Hop America: The Mixtape Exhibit," in honor of hip-hop’s 50th anniversary. Offering a focused, expansive (and tactile) look at the genre’s history and profound influence, the exhibit features a "sonic playground" complete with five interactive stations for DJing, rapping, and sampling.  

A retrospective educational journey, "Hip-Hop America" canvasses hip-hop scenes, sounds, and fashion across generations. Take, for example, the Notorious B.I.G.’s iconic red leather pea jacket, displayed in the same showcase as Migos’ embroidered blazers. The must-see exhibit exploring hip-hop’s long, rich, and still evolving history runs through Sept. 4. 

Learn more: Inside The GRAMMY Museum’s New Exhibit, "Hip-Hop America": From Dapper Dan To Tupac’s Notes

Hip-Hop Universal Provides A Formidable Finale 

Segar and Swoop, who worked with O’Neal to curate the evening’s dance performances, assembled what can only be described as a mic drop of a finale to the block party’s activations: Hip Hop Universal. The ensemble of five professional dancers and choreographers included Swoop, Robert "Rautu" Harris, Leon "No Realer" Spann, Marlyn Ortiz, and Ronnie "Futuristic Astaire" Willis.  

Some of their individual choreography and dance credits include an array of megastars, from Madonna, Taylor Swift, and Usher, to Britney Spears, Dr. Dre, and the Backstreet Boys. Over the course of their collaborative performance, which alternated between group dances and solos, Hip-Hop Universal made minutes feel like seconds — a testament to their rapturous synergy and individual expertise. 

Unity On The Dancefloor

At the heart of hip-hop — a genre in which artists pride themselves on representing their cities, perhaps more so than in any other genre of music — is community. That sense of community was apparent even through the schedule of programming. Activations occurred one at a time, in succession. This structure created a sense of togetherness; attendees collectively enjoyed a given activation and made their way to the next one together.  

The spirit of community imbued both the block party’s schedule and the content of its activations, but it was perhaps most visible on The Ray Charles Terrace. There, near the end of the evening, as the crowd awaited the final activation (and even afterwards), nearly all in attendance could be found dancing in the crisp, open air to beats spun by DJ R-Tistic. 

"This is our first time doing this, and I think we gotta keep doing this," O’Neal remarked on the mic. The crowd’s response — a resounding cacophony of affirmative cheers and applause — was answer enough.

"Everyone, from the talent to the staff to the hundreds of guests, [were] getting down together with the electric slide. That's what it was all about: bringing folks together for a good time," he concluded.

Inside The GRAMMY Museum’s New Exhibit, "Hip-Hop America": From Dapper Dan To Tupac’s Notes 

Sabrina Carpenter
Sabrina Carpenter performing in 2024

Photo: Joseph Okpako/WireImage via Getty Images

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Sabrina Carpenter Releases New Single "Please Please Please": Everything We Know About Her New Album 'Short N' Sweet'

Sabrina Carpenter and her boyfriend are Bonnie and Clyde-style outlaws in the new video for "Please Please Please." Here's what we know about the album it belongs to, 'Short N' Sweet' — out Aug. 23.

GRAMMYs/Jun 7, 2024 - 05:27 pm

When Sabrina Carpenter announced her new album, Short n' Sweet, earlier this week, she also dangled a special treat in front of fans. "I also have a surprise coming for you on thursday night," she announced in an Instagram post, "so keep an eye out!!"

The surprise was a video for her new single, "Please Please Please," starring her boyfriend, Barry Keoghan. Directed by Bardia Zeinali, the clip is a high-octane rendering of Carpenter and Keoghan as a pair of bona fide outlaws, whose relationship rides a rollercoaster of criminality and incarceration.

The slinky track follows her viral hit "Espresso" from last spring — itself the lead single from Short n' Sweet. As the YouTube comments pour forth, flecked with adjectives like "obsessed" and "iconic," here's everything GRAMMY.com could dredge up about the forthcoming LP.

Short N' Sweet Will Be Released Aug. 23

Carpenter's been mum on many of the details of Short n' Sweet, but she did allow that the Jack Antonoff and Julian Bunetta-produced, 36-minute album willl be released Aug. 23.

"This project is quite special to me and i hope it'll be something special to you too," she wrote on said Instagram post; it's practically destined to soundtrack the dog days of summer as they fade to fall.

The Album Will Hop Between Genres

Speaking to Maya Hawke — who herself just released her third album, Chaos Angel in Interview Magazine, Carpenter discussed the contents of her next offering.

"I feel a lot freer and more excited about what I'm making now because I've realized that genre isn't necessarily the most important thing. It's about honesty and authenticity and whatever you gravitate towards," she stated. "There were a lot of genres in my last album, and I like to think I'll continue that throughout writing music."

Read more: Sabrina Carpenter's Big Year: The Pop Songstress Gushes On The Eras Tour, Her Christmas EP & More

The Title Is A Reference To Her Height

Speaking to Cosmopolitan about her opening slot on Taylor Swift's Eras Tour, Carpenter called performing those sets "a tall order."

"This is not even to sound like a pick-me, like when girls are like, 'I'm so small, I can't reach the top shelf' — I'm literally five feet tall," she said mirthfully. "So sometimes when I'm on that stage, it feels so huge that I just have to be larger than life in some capacity."

She's worked her height (or lack thereof) into the promotional machine behind
Short n' Sweet: billboards the country over say things like, "When I say I hate short people, Sabrina Carpenter is NEVER included."

We Have The Album Cover

On the cover of Short n' Sweet, the sunkissed singer looks over her shoulder with a kiss mark on her shoulder, against a striking azure sky, her blonde hair hanging down.

The Eras Tour Harkened A New One

As mentioned, Carpenter got the opening gig of a lifetime — warming up the Eras Tour across America, Australia and Asia. Speaking with Cosmo, she revealed the tour wasn't an end to itself, but a launching pad to new adventures.

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

"I'm starting to feel like I've outgrown the songs I'm singing [on The Eras Tour]," she explained, "which is always an exciting feeling because I think that means the next chapter is right around the corner." Behold: that chapter is now.

Everything We Know About Halsey's New Album: Listen To New Song "The End"

Photo of Lady Gaga performing during The Chromatica Ball in Stockholm, Sweden, in July 2022. Lady Gaga is wearing a pink costume pink head dress with goggles.
Lady Gaga performs during The Chromatica Ball in Stockholm, Sweden, in July 2022.

Photo: Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Live Nation

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Lady Gaga's Biggest Songs: 15 Tracks That Show Her Avant-Garde Pop Prowess

As fans relive the exhilarating spectacle of Lady Gaga's 2022 stadium tour with a new HBO Max concert film, 'GAGA CHROMATICA BALL,' jam out to 15 of her signature songs, from "Poker Face" to "Rain on Me."

GRAMMYs/May 23, 2024 - 07:29 pm

Nearly two years after bringing her 2020 album Chromatica to life with a sold-out stadium tour, Lady Gaga is bringing The Chromatical Ball to your living room. GAGA CHROMATICA BALL, an HBO Original special that premieres May 25 exclusively on MAX, will take Little Monsters into the mesmerizing, colorful world the 13-time GRAMMY winner crafted with her sixth studio set. 

The Chromatica Ball was a joyful cultural triumph as the world emerged from lockdown, hitting 20 stadiums across Europe, North America and Asia in the summer of 2022. While it was named after Chromatica and featured the majority of the dance-driven album's track list — including the smash Ariana Grande duet, "Rain On Me," and lead single "Stupid Love" — the tour was a celebration of the breadth of her acclaimed career as a whole, which has spanned decades, genres, styles, and entire industries. 

GAGA CHROMATICA BALL documents Lady Gaga's sold-out September 2022 show at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, which was one of the biggest venues on the tour. Showcasing a stage inspired by brutalist architecture and a set list stretching from the pop star's 2008 debut album, The Fame, to her Top Gun: Maverick track, "Hold My Hand," the film will also take fans inside the raw passion Gaga brings to each and every live show. 

In celebration of the concert film, GRAMMY.com revisits 15 of Gaga's most career-defining songs to date, from early hits like "Poker Face" to stunning deep cuts like Chromatica's "Free Woman."

"Just Dance" (feat. Colby O'Donis), The Fame (2008)

Lady Gaga burst onto the scene in 2008 with a fully realized point of view and pop star persona, but her debut single actually wasn't an immediate smash on the charts. Instead, "Just Dance" served as the sleeper hit that kick-started Gaga's legendary career, landing at the precipice of the Billboard Hot 100 after a 22-week climb from its initial entry at No. 76 to the nascent pop star her very first No. 1 hit. 

A polished dance floor banger produced by RedOne and co-written with Akon, "Just Dance" perfectly crystallizes the dance-pop resurgence of the late 2000s that Gaga not only helped spearhead, but masterfully rode into the upper echelon of 21st century pop stardom. Notably, the song also earned Gaga the first GRAMMY nomination of her career for Best Dance Recording in 2009 — a full year before her debut album would announce itself as a major force at the 2010 ceremony.

"Poker Face," The Fame (2008)

If "Just Dance" set expectations sky high for the music Gaga had up her well-manicured sleeve, "Poker Face" majorly surpassed them — and subsequently, became one of the defining pop songs of the decade. With its relentless rhythm, sing-song  "Po-po-po-poker face, po-po-poker face" refrain, and winkingly naughty lyrics ("'Cause I'm bluffin' with my muffin," anybody?), the song proved Gaga knew how to expertly construct an earworm while delivering a high-concept visual spectacle in spades. 

"Poker Face" became the singer's second consecutive No. 1 single on the Hot 100, marking the first time a brand-new artist had accomplished the feat since Christina Aguilera's one-two punch of "Genie in a Bottle" and "What a Girl Wants" a full decade prior. By year's end, "Poker Face" had become top-selling single of 2009 across the globe, and the following year, it earned Gaga her first nods for both Song Of The Year and Record Of The Year at the 2010 GRAMMYs, with The Fame also being nominated for Album Of The Year.

Though the song and LP ultimately lost in the major categories, they respectively took home the golden gramophones for Best Dance Recording and Best Electronic Dance Album, officially making Gaga a GRAMMY-winning artist after less than two years in the industry. 

"The Fame," The Fame (2008)

While it was never released as an official single, the title track off Gaga's 2008 debut album serves as something of an early thesis statement for the avant garde star who so confidently declared, "POP MUSIC WILL NEVER BE LOWBROW" as she burst from New York City's underground scene to the global stage.

Gaga lays bare her ambitions with brazen clarity on the punchy electronic track, as she gushes over her single-minded love for "runway models, Cadillacs and liquor bottles" and sings, "Give me something I wanna be/ Retro glamor, Hollywood, yes we live for the fame/ Doin' it for the fame/ 'Cause we wanna live the life of the rich and famous." Later on the song's bridge, the pop star vows, "Don't ask me how or why/ But I'm gonna make it happen this time," and in retrospect, there's no denying Gaga accomplished everything she set out to achieve at the start of her career. 

"Bad Romance," The Fame Monster (2009)

The Fame heralded Gaga as the next big thing in pop music. But rather than spend a couple years fine-tuning her follow-up, the newly minted star decided to double down while the iron was red hot by reissuing the album as The Fame Monster, complete with eight new songs. And in doing so, she catapulted herself to superstar status with just five syllables: "Ra-ra-ah-ah-ahh." 

If the Gaga of "Just Dance" and "Poker Face" was a flashy striver fighting her way to the center of the cultural zeitgeist, "Bad Romance" presented Gaga as a high-fashion pop queen ready to turn her coronation into a victory lap. Not only did "Bad Romance" score Gaga her fifth consecutive top 5 hit on the Billboard 200, it also won her the GRAMMYs for Female Pop Solo Performance and Music Video/Short Form in 2011. (The Fame Monster, meanwhile, took home the golden gramophone for Pop Vocal Album — the first of Gaga's four nominations and counting in the category.)

"Telephone" (featuring Beyoncé), The Fame Monster (2009)

"Hello, hello, baby, you called, I can't hear a thing…" On its face, "Telephone" may sound like a garden variety electro-pop bop, but Gaga turned the track into an unforgettable club banger of the highest order by recruiting the one and only Beyoncé. The two superstars play off one another with panache as they shrug off responsibility and incessant calls from home in favor of giving into the music.

The single's murderous, Jonas Åkerlund-directed visual remains one of the most iconic in Gaga's storied visual history. Fourteen years after Gaga and Honey B drove off in the Pussy Wagon with the promise to never come back, Little Monsters and the Beyhive are still clamoring for a follow-up. Need proof? Just look at the internet frenzy Queen Bey caused when she appeared driving a similarly hued taxi in a teaser for the album that became COWBOY CARTER earlier this year.

"Born This Way," Born This Way (2011)

Almost from the moment she emerged onto the national consciousness, Gaga was considered a gay icon in the making, proudly advocating for the queer community — and in turn, cultivating a passionate, devoted LGBTQ+ fan base who worshiped at the feet of Mother Monster. So, naturally, she used her 2010 sophomore album to gift the masses with the Pride anthem of a generation

Drawing comparisons to Madonna's "Express Yourself," "Born This Way" became a defining hit of the 2010s and helped empower listeners from the clubs, to the streets, to the inside of the closet to embrace what makes them special and fearlessly declare, "Baby, I was born this way!" Additionally, the gay anthem holds the distinction of being the 1,000th No. 1 hit in the history of the Billboard Hot 100, as well as Gaga's first single to bow at the top of the chart upon its debut.

"Yoü And I," Born This Way (2011)

Though she would go on to explore the genre further in 2016's Joanne, Gaga pretty much perfected her interpretation of classic Americana with the country-rock stomp of "Yoü and I" in 2011. Released as the fourth single from Born This Way, the gutsy power ballad found the singer driving a muscle car right through the glitzy, electro-pop aesthetic of her past as she wailed, "This time I'm not leavin' without you" over a sample of Queen's "We Will Rock You" and an original electric guitar line by none other than Brian May himself.

The music video for "Yoü And I," meanwhile, was classically high-concept in the most Gaga of terms. It saw the star transform into a number of alter egos including Yüyi the mermaid and the snarling, chain-smoking Jo Calderone. Whether running through the Nebraska cornfields of the song's setting or being brought back to life a la bride of Frankenstein by future ex-fiancé Taylor Kinney, Gaga proved that she could make a visit to America's heartland as avant-garde as ever.

"Marry The Night," Born This Way (2011)

Among Born This Way's litany of hits, "Marry the Night" is widely regarded among Little Monsters as something of a cult favorite. Though it didn't ascend quite as high up the charts as preceding singles like "Judas" or "The Edge of Glory," the track's music video might just be the most autobiographical visual the New York City native has ever released. 

As the fantastical clip opens on an unconscious Gaga lying prone in a hospital bed wearing "next season Calvin Klein" and custom Giuseppe Zanoti, the singer lays out her entire approach to her artistry. "When I look back on my life, it's not that I don't want to see things exactly as they happened, it's just that I prefer to remember them in an artistic way," she explained. "And truthfully, the lie of it all is much more honest because I invented it…

"It's sort of like my past is an unfinished painting," she continues. "And as the artist of that painting, I must fill in all the ugly holes and make it beautiful again. It's not that I've been dishonest; it's just that I loathe reality." Gaga's rejection of the ordinary in favor of artistic reinterpretation has given fans not only the creative explosion of "Marry the Night," but the entirety of the pop star's avant-garde oeuvre.

"The Lady Is a Tramp" (with Tony Bennett), Duets II (2011)

Smack dab in the middle of Gaga's Born This Way era, Tony Bennett invited Gaga to duet on his 2011 album, Duets II. The pair's charming, spunky rendition of the Rodgers and Hart classic "The Lady is a Tramp" not only opened the album, but it showcased an irrepressible chemistry between the two stars that led to two more collaborative full-length albums, 2014's Cheek to Cheek and 2021's Love For Sale — both of which won GRAMMYs for Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album. 

The song ultimately became something of a cheeky hallmark to how much Gaga and Bennett adored one another; even after they'd released an album full of jazz standards like Cole Porter's "Anything Goes" and Irving Berlin's "Cheek to Cheek," the young pop ingénue chose to sing "The Lady Is a Tramp" for Bennett's 90th birthday celebration at Radio City Music Hall, dedicating it to her friend as he beamed from the front row.

The pair's sweet friendship would continue on all the way until Bennett's death in 2023 following a years-long battle with Alzheimer's disease. In a heartfelt social media tribute, Gaga shared the impact of Bennett's friendship: "Sure he taught me about music, about showbiz life, but he also showed me how to keep my spirits high and my head screwed on straight."

"Applause," ARTPOP (2013)

She lives for the applause! For the lead single for her 2014 album ARTPOP, Gaga shined a spotlight back on the parasocial relationship and adoration that comes with fame. This time, though, the pop star demands listener participation rather than simple voyeurism as she belts, "Give me that thing that I love/ Put your hands up, make 'em touch!" 

In the song, Gaga also shares the complex philosophy behind the album's title ("Pop culture was in art, now art's in pop culture in me.") But between shouting out famed sculpturist Jeffrey Koons (whom she commissioned to create the iconic ARTPOP cover art) and referencing everything from Botticelli's The Birth of Venus to the pop iconography of Andy Warhol in the surrealist music video, Gaga's message was deceptively simple: She lives for the A-P-P-L-A-U-S-E, baby.

"Aura," ARTPOP (2013)

When it came time to present the highbrow themes of ARTPOP to the masses, Gaga chose to open the 2013 iTunes Festival with "Aura," a frenetic exploration of fame, celebrity, suppression and identity built over a skittering sonic palette inspired in equal parts by Middle Eastern music, spaghetti Westerns and mariachi.

Though she initially faced some backlash over accusations that she had appropriated the wearing of a Muslim burqa in the song's lyrics, "Aura" effectively set the stage for ARTPOP as a piece of sophisticated performance art unlike anything Gaga had created before — all while promising fans a glimpse "behind the curtain" at the girl underneath the camp and artistry. And though ARTPOP may have been more than a bit misunderstood at the time of its release, it arguably remains the boldest and bravest album in Gaga's manifold discography.

"Joanne," Joanne (2016)

Gaga found inspiration for her fifth studio album from the life and death of her late aunt (and namesake), Joanne Stefani Germanotta. The singer never met her relative, but Joanne's spirit was imbued throughout the album, from its homespun lyricism to its stripped-back sonic palette that found the singer exploring the sounds of country, soft rock and Americana.

Nowhere on the record is Gaga's profound connection to her aunt more evident than the title track, which she recorded two different versions of and released as the album's third and final single. "Take my hand, stay Joanne/ Heaven's not ready for you/ Every part of my aching heart/ Needs you more than the angels do," she sings softly over a spare piano line on "Joanne (Where Do You Think You're Goin'?)."

With its roots in her family tree, the song clearly holds a special place in Gaga's heart — especially considering she chose to mix it with "Million Reasons" for her performance at the 2018 GRAMMYs. (A full year later, she took home the GRAMMY for Best Pop Solo Performance in 2019 for the acoustic piano version.)

"Shallow" (with Bradley Cooper), A Star Is Born (2018)

"I can see myself in the movies/ With my picture in city lights," Gaga memorably sang in "The Fame." And a decade later, she manifested her dream into reality with a starring role in the 2018 remake of A Star Is Born

Opposite Bradley Cooper, the singer proved she had plenty of star quality on the silver screen on top of her status as a pop supernova. The movie musical's soundtrack was also dominated by Gaga's vulnerability and vocal abilities, fully giving herself over to the story of a star-crossed love that ends in superstardom and tragedy — particularly on the emotional keystone that is "Shallow." In fact, by the time she lets out her famous, guttural wail in the song's emotional bridge, it's easy to forget that "Shallow" is, in fact, a duet rather than a dazzling showcase of Gaga's chops. 

On top of being an essential touchstone in Gaga's canon, "Shallow" is also memorable for being the song that turned Mother Monster into an Oscar winner after she, co-writer Mark Ronson and the rest of their collaborators took home the trophy for Best Original Song at the 2019 Academy Awards. (The song also won a GRAMMY for Best Pop/Duo Group Performance that year.)

"I've worked hard for a long time," Gaga said through tears while accepting her Oscar. "And it's not about winning, but what it's about is not giving up. If you have a dream, fight for it. There's a discipline for passion, and it's not about how many times you get rejected or you fall down or you're beaten up. It's about how many times you stand up and are brave and you keep on going." 

"Rain On Me" (with Ariana Grande), Chromatica (2020)

Gaga's Chromatica era began with "Stupid Love" and its colorful, Power Rangers-chic video, but the star hit peak pop excellence by joining forces with Ariana Grande on the album's second single "Rain on Me." 

"I'd rather be dry but at least I'm alive/ Rain on me, rain, rain," the two superstars harmonized on the house-fueled disco fantasia's upbeat refrain, before letting the beat drop and giving in to the impulse to dance it out. Released in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, the track provided hope, joy and a message of hard-fought resilience at a scary, unpredictable and unprecedented time when it felt like the world was ending as we knew it.

The following year, Gaga and Grande won the GRAMMY for Best Pop/Duo Group Performance at the 2011 ceremony, becoming the first female collaborators to take home the award in GRAMMYs history. 

"Free Woman," Chromatica (2020)

"Free Woman" was a bit overlooked when it was released as Chromatica's fourth and final single in the spring of 2021, but the narrative Gaga shares on the jubilant track is central to her personal history and experiences in the music industry. Over a thumping Eurodance-leaning beat, she recounts the PTSD she suffered from after being sexually assaulted by an unnamed producer early in her career.

Gaga also offers a rallying cry for her beloved LGBTQ+ fan base on the song, particularly those in the trans community, as she belts, "This is my dance floor I fought for/ Ain't hard, that's what I'm livin' for…We own the downtown, hear our sound." Ultimately, that empowering lyric is a notion that encapsulates the overarching theme of Gaga's career thus far — one that fans around the world can revel in again and again with GAGA CHROMATICA BALL.

Explore The World Of Lady Gaga

Kid Cudi performs at Coachella 2024
Kid Cudi, whose music often discusses mental health, performs at Coachella 2024.

Photo: Theo Wargo/Getty Images for Coachella

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10 Times Hip-Hop Has Given A Voice To Mental Health: Eminem, J. Cole, Logic & More Speak Out

From the message of "The Message" to Joe Budden's vulnerable podcast and Jay-Z speaking about the importance of therapy, read on for moments in the history of hip-hop where mental health was at the forefront.

GRAMMYs/May 20, 2024 - 03:10 pm

In a world of braggadocio lyrics, where weakness is often looked down upon, hip-hop can often seem far from a safe place to discuss mental health. 

But underneath its rugged exterior, hip-hop culture and its artists have long been proponents of well-being and discussing the importance of taking care of one's mental health. Openness about these topics has grown in recent years, including a 2022 panel discussion around hip-hop and mental health, co-hosted by the GRAMMY Museum, the Recording Academy's Black Music Collective, and MusicCares in partnership with the Universal Hip-Hop Museum. 

"Artists are in a fight-or-flight mode when it comes to being in this game," said Eric Brooks, former VP of Marketing & Promotions at Priority Records who worked with NWA and Dr. Dre. "And there need to be strategies on how to deal with the inner battles that only happen in the mind and body."  

The panel only scratched the surface of the many times hip-hop culture has illuminated critical mental health issues that often remain hidden or under-discussed in the music industry. In recognition of Mental Health Awareness Month, read on for 10 times hip-hop has shone a light on mental health. 

J. Cole Apologized To Kendrick Lamar

A long-simmering beef between Drake and Kendrick Lamar was reignited in March 2024 when Metro Boomin' and Future released "Like That." The track featured a scathing verse from Kendrick, where he took aim at  Drake and J. Cole, and referenced the pair's collaborative song "First Person Shooter." 

The single begged for a response, and J. Cole, under what was presumably a significant amount of pressure, surprise-released his Might Delete Later. The album featured "7 Minute Drill," in which Cole calls Kendrick's To Pimp, A Butterfly boring. 

But the same week Cole's album came out, he apologized to Kendrick onstage at his Dreamville Fest, saying it didn't sit right with his spirit and that he "felt terrible" since it was released. Cole added that the song didn’t sit right with him spiritually and he was unable to sleep. Cole subsequently removed "7 Minute Drill" from streaming services. 

Strong debate followed about whether or not Cole should have removed the song. However, many heralded Cole’s maturity in the decision and said it was an important example of not doing things that don’t align with one's true emotions, and avoiding allowing others expectations of you weight down your own physical and mental health.

SiR Spoke Candidly About Depression & Sobriety

Although an R&B artist, TDE singer SiR is hip-hop adjacent, having collaborated with former labelmate Kendrick Lamar on tracks like "D'Evils" and "Hair Down." SiR recently spoke with GRAMMY.com about the troubles that followed him after the release of his 2019 album Chasing Summer.

"I was a full-blown addict, and it started from a string of depression [and] relationship issues and issues at home that I wasn't dealing with," SiR says. After the Los Angeles-based singer had hit rock bottom, he found the spark he needed to do something about it. His initial rehab stint was the first step on the road to change.  

"I was there for 21 days [in 2021]. [The] second time, I was there for two months and the third time wasn't technically rehab…I did personal therapy, and, man, [that] did wonders," he recalls. 

SiR also tackled the stigma many Black communities place on therapy and seeking help for mental health issues. "I would've never done something like that if I was in any other position, so I'm thankful for my issues because they led me to a lot of self-reflection and forgiveness," SiR says.

Big Sean Educated His Audience About Anxiety & Depression 

One of the biggest challenges in addressing anxiety and depression is the feeling that those issues must be kept under wraps.  In 2021, Big Sean and his mother released a series of videos in conjunction with Mental Health Awareness Month, in which the GRAMMY nominee opened up about his battles with depression and anxiety. 

In one of those videos, Sean and his mother discussed  the importance of sleep and circadian rhythms when managing depression and mental health issues. In an industry that prioritizes the grind, the hip-hop community often overlooks sleep — much to its detriment.

"Sleep is the most overlooked, disrespected aspect of our well-being," said Myra Anderson, Executive Director & President of the Sean Anderson Foundation and Big Sean's mother. "Even one day without good sleep can mess up your hormones severely." 

As a busy recording artist, Sean concurs that, for him, a lack of sleep contributes to challenges with anxiety. “If I’m not in the right mindset, I don’t get the right sleep,” says Sean in the mental health video series. “Then that anxiety rides high, and my thoughts are racing. I’m somebody that lives in my head.”

G.Herbo's "PTSD" Addressed The Impact Of Street Violence

Eastside Chicago's G. Herbo is an artist vital to the city's drill music scene. On "PTSD," the title track of his 2020 album, Herbo raps about his struggles coping with violence and loss. 

"I can't sleep 'cause it's a war zone in my head / My killers good, they know I'm hands-on with the bread / A million dollars ahead, I'm still angry and seeing red / How the f*ck I'm 'posed to have fun? All my n— dead."  

The lyrics echoed the realities of what G. Herbo grew up seeing in O-Block, considered by many to be one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in Chicago. But it wasn't just a song title; G. Herbo was diagnosed with PTSD in 2019 and began therapy to manage it, showing that even rap's most hardened have opened themselves up to professional help. 

"I'm so glad that I did go to therapy," G. Herbo told GRAMMY.com in July 2020. "I'm glad that I did take that leap of faith to just go talk to somebody about my situation and just my thoughts and get 'em to a person with an unbiased opinion." 

Joe Budden Opens Up About His Darkest Times 

In 2017, on the "Grass Routes Podcast," rapper-turned-podcaster Joe Budden opened up about multiple suicide attempts and his lifelong battle with depression. 

"For me, there have been times where I've actually attempted suicide," Budden shared. "As open as I've been when it comes to mental health, it wasn't until retirement from rapping that I was able to dive into some of the things the fans have seen." 

Never one to shy away from rapping about his mental health struggles, Budden songs like "Whatever It Takes" peel back the layers on an artist fighting his demons: "See, I'm depressed lately, but nobody understands / That I'm depressed lately, I'm sorta feelin repressed lately." 

Budden continued to be a champion for mental health that year, including on his former Complex show "Everyday Struggle," where Budden broke down while discussing the suicide death of fellow rapper Styles P's daughter. 

In recent years, Budden has uses his wildly popular "The Joe Budden Podcast" as a tool to discuss his own struggles and raise awareness of mental health issues. 

Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five Broadcast A Serious "Message"

Hip-hop culture has long used rap as a tool to highlight mental health and the everyday struggles of its community. Released in 1982, Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five's "The Message" is an early, effective example of vulnerability in hip-hop.

"The Message" described the mental health impacts of poverty and inner-city struggle, describing desperate feelings and calling for support in underserved communities: "I can't take the smell, can't take the noise / Got no money to move out, I guess I got no choice." Perhaps the most recognizable lyric comes from Melle Mel, who raps, "Don't push me cause I'm close to the edge/I'm trying not to lose my head." 

Eminem Got Honest About Depression While In Rehab

On "Reaching Out," Queen and Paul Rodgers sing "Lately I've been hard to reach / I've been too long on my own / everybody has a private world where they can be alone." These lyrics were sampled on the intro to Eminem's 2009 single "Beautiful," a raw tale of the rapper's struggles with depression. Half of the song was written while Eminem was in rehab, including lyrics like "I'm just so f—king depressed/I just can't seem to get out this slump." 

The lyrics pierced the core of Eminem's audience, who were able to see the parallels between the struggles of a rap superstar and their own issues. The song reached the Top 20 of the Billboard Hot 100 and was nominated for a Best Rap Solo Performance GRAMMY Award. In an interview with MTV about the song, Eminem said it was an important outlet for him at a challenging time. 

But it was far from the first time Eminem has discussed mental health. One of the earliest examples was in his song "Stan," where Eminem rapped from the perspective of an obsessed fan who ended up killing himself and his wife after Eminem failed to respond to his fan mail. In a 2000 interview, Eminem told MTV that he wrote the song to warn fans not to take his lyrics literally. 

Logic Sparked Change With A Number

One of the most impactful moments hip-hop has seen regarding mental health and sparking change was when Logic released his song "1-800-273-8255" in 2017. The record, named after the real National Suicide Lifeline Prevention phone number, which is now 988, hit the top three on the US Billboard Hot 100.

Following the song's release, the British Medical Journal released a study sharing data that showed the song contributed to a 27 percent increase in calls to the prevention hotline that year and may have even contributed to an actual reduction in deaths by suicide. 

Logic's single further proved that rap music's impact extends well beyond charts and sales. "1-800-273-8255" highlighted the connection artists have with their fans, as well as the ways music can be a tool to cope with challenges like mental health and suicidal thoughts. 

Kid Cudi Opened Up About Suicidal Urges 

Cleveland's own Kid Cudi has never shied away from putting his emotions on record, rapping vividly throughout his career about his struggles with mental health. Cudi records, like the hit single "Pursuit of Happiness," are brutally honest about trying to find happiness in a world filled with trials and tribulations. 

In a 2022 interview with Esquire, Cudi recalled checking himself into rehab in 2016 for depression and suicidal urges. He had been using drugs to manage the weight of his stardom and even suffered a stroke while in rehab. "Everything was f—ed," Cudi said. 

Cudi took a break to develop stability, returning to the spotlight with the 2018 project Kids See Ghosts in collaboration with Kanye West.. Today, Cudi and his music remain pillars of strength for those facing similar challenges.   

Jay-Z Detailed The Importance Of Therapy & Getting Out Of "Survival Mode"

In 2017, Jay-Z released his critically acclaimed thirteenth studio album. 4:44 was packed with lessons on family, mental health, and personal growth.

An interview with the New York Times, Jay-Z discussed how helpful therapy had been to him. Therapy helped the rap superstar in his interactions with other people — something that had been hardened growing up as a black man in Marcy Projects. "I grew so much from the experience," he told the Times.

"I think the most important thing I got is that everything is connected. Every emotion is connected, and it comes from somewhere. I understand that, instead of reacting to that with anger, I can provide a softer landing and maybe, 'Aw, man, is you O.K.? You're in this space where you're hurting, and you think I see you, so you don't want me to look at you. And you don't want me to see you,'" he said. "You don't want me to see your pain."

The album also unpacked Jay-Z's infidelity. "I'll f— up a good thing if you let me," he raps on "Family Feud." In the same interview, Jay-Z shared that growing up in the hood put him into "survival mode," impacting his abilities to be a good partner and husband earlier in life. 

"You shut down all emotions. So even with women, you gonna shut down emotionally, so you can't connect," he reflected. "In my case, like it's, it's deep. And then all the things happen from there: infidelity." 

"I Made My ADHD Into My Strength": Understanding The Link Between Rap & Neurodivergence