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Watch Backstage Interviews At Essence Fest 2022: Questlove, Sevyn Streeter, DreamDoll, D-Nice, Raekwon & More
Essence Fest 2022 may be a wrap, but the memories of this celebration of Black joy and creativity will resonate for life. Get a hint of the festival's magic via these exclusive backstage interviews with artists who performed.
It was majestic to witness such an explosion of Black joy, solidarity and creative expression at Essence Fest 2022, which occurred just before Independence Day at Caesars Superdome in one of the greatest music cities in the world — New Orleans, Louisiana.
But the power of those performances — by Nicki Minaj, the Isley Brothers, the Roots, Jazmine Sullivan, Janet Jackson, and so many other Black leading lights — goes hand-in-hand with their heartfelt candor backstage, when they picked up a mic to speak with GRAMMY.com.
Below, check out a selection of the artists GRAMMY.com spoke with at Essence Fest 2022. See you next year, New Orleans!
Photo: Al Pereira/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Nothing To F With: How 'Enter The Wu-Tang' Established One Of The Greatest Rap Groups Of All Time
In 1993, Staten Island's Wu-Tang Clan laid the ground for hardcore hip-hop acts to follow. Their weapon of choice: 'Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)' — a debut LP with an outsized impact on hip-hop and the trajectory of its members.
In the early 1990s, hip-hop was on the verge of being its broadest.
Hip-hop had grown far beyond its origins in the Bronx, as acts like Public Enemy, A Tribe Called Quest, and De La Soul drew listeners outside New York’s five boroughs. Elsewhere, a legion of MCs from L.A., the Bay, and the South were cementing their legacies.
Amidst the plethora of sonic riches of hip-hop's golden age, Staten Island’s Wu-Tang Clan stands out. Comprised of lyrical spartans GZA, Method Man, Raekwon, Masta Killah, Ghostface Killah, Inspectah Deck, later Cappadonna, U-God, master producer RZA, and the late, charismatic force Ol’ Dirty Bastard, the group laid the ground for hardcore hip-hop acts to follow.
Their weapon of choice: 1993’s Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) — which celebrates 30 years on Nov. 9. Enter The Wu-Tang sparked a new brand of hardcore, gritty street rap that transported listeners with its dark sonic landscape.
Filled with martial arts and comic book references, loogie-spitting posse cuts, and mystifying street tales, Enter The Wu-Tang drew audiences to the borough of "Shaolin." The album's darkly-brewed beats and mixes had an amateurish charm, but all nine tracks were laced with RZA’s early musical wizardry and ear for ominous, hard-hitting instrumentals.
For every musical or budgetary limitation, Enter The Wu-Tang boasted some of the best lyrical assaults the genre has ever heard. Now-classic songs like "Da Mystery of Chessboxin’" and "Protect Ya Neck" and conjured visions of the Shaolin streets, and added to New York’s stronghold on the genre.
Unlike the more socially conscious and jazz-influenced sounds of New York rap at the time, the influential album was marked with soundbites from kung-fu flicks and sped up soul samples with an eerie, grudgeful echoe. Among the gallery of inspiring cuts, "C.R.E.A.M. (Cash Rules Everything Around Me)" features a sample of the Charmels’ 1967 song "As Long As I’ve Got You."
Despite the group’s size, every member had a stand out moment on the project. And most, with the exception of Masta Killa, have several. Method Man goes full nuclear on his self-titled track, Raekwon and Ghostface show early flashes of their collaborative magic on "Can It All Be So Simple," and the infectious charm of Ol' Dirty Bastard runs wild on "Protect Ya Neck."
The album was off-kilter in design, but Wu-Tang carved a path for hard-edged acts to follow. The album even inspired New York instrumental soul group El Michels Affair, which released their own version of the album, Enter The 37th Chamber, in 2007 in echo of the legendary beats sampled on Wu-Tang's the classic project.
Since its release, Enter The Wu-Tang has sold more than 3 million records and landed on countless all-time best album rankings. As of June 2023, the album is at the No. 27 spot on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Of All Time list. For its relatively short length, Wu-Tang Clan's debut has had an outsized impact on hip-hop — both in terms of influence and the trajectory of its members.
With Enter The Wu-Tang and their subsequent releases, Wu-Tang cornered the rap market in the 1990s. Before Wu-Tang, there were no other notable rap acts from Staten Island. While Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan and the Bronx held most of the industry’s grip, Wu-Tang helped blaze the path for acts outside of those regions to flourish.
While groups like Public Enemy, A Tribe Called Quest, N.W.A. and Run-D.M.C. are certainly influential, the star power within Wu-Tang is unique. Between the group’s debut and follow-up album Wu-Tang Forever — which was nominated for Best Rap Album at the 1998 GRAMMYs — GZA, Method Man, Raekwon, Ghostface Killah, Ol' Dirty Bastard, and others released critically acclaimed solo albums.
Method Man even received a Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group GRAMMY for Tical’s "I'll Be There For You/You're All I Need To Get By" at the 1995 GRAMMYs. Outside the accolades, Raekwon’s Only Built For Cuban Links and Ghostface’s Ironman lit up the New York streets in 1995, and GZA’s Liquid Swords remains one of the more acclaimed outings from the group’s more withdrawn characters.
While some were more commercially successful than others, they all added to the group's influence and arguably proved its distinction for best rap group of all time.
Method and New Jersey legend Redman brought their comedic chops to the big screen in How High. The pairing was like a hip-hop Cheech and Chong, and the film went on to become a cult weed movie classic. Like Meth, RZA and other members appeared in TV shows and films for decades.
In 1995, Wu-Tang Clan established the apparel brand Wu Wear, one of the first artist-inspired lines in music history. It opened the doors for hip-hop culture in retail, and inspired a global interest in Wu-Tang's simple, raw style. The group and the apparel line helped usher in the militant street style of the era, complete with baggy jeans, oversized t-shirts, Timberland boots, durags, gold fronts, sports jerseys, and puff jackets.
As the group grew in popularity, the members joined forces with business partner Oliver "Power" Grant and opened four Wu Wear stores across the country, including one on Victory Boulevard in Staten Island. The line was carried by retail giants such as Macy’s and renamed Wu-Tang Brand in 2008, and Grant discontinued the Wu-Wear line. But after RZA joined hands with Live Nation Merchandise, the brand was relaunched in 2017.
The cult interest in Wu-Tang's image continued. In 1999, Powers developed a video game centered on the group, called Wu-Tang: Shaolin Style. The 3D fighting game for PlayStation featured characters based on the group members’ stage personas and mirrored the martial arts themes in their music. They also provided voiceover work and music contributions to the four-player game.
Other artists followed Wu-Tang's blueprint in the decades since the group debuted. Acts like Mobb Deep, Nas, the Notorious B.I.G. and others adopted the hardcore rap style mastered by Wu-Tang — but none harnessed the same manpower or presence as the group over the decades. But the 2010s saw the re-emergence of rap supergroups.
In Harlem, the Diplomats and ASAP Mob captured the same collaborative and entrepreneurial spirit of Wu-Tang, but with a more varied musical approach. Out West, the Tyler, The Creator-led Odd Future surpassed the 11-member group in scale, but their work and impact haven’t matched that of the Staten Island collective.
The closest to mirror Wu-Tang was Pro Era, which adopted the classic, boom-bap sound of the '90s. The mega group also pursued an assortment of branding and entertainment ventures, and one of the group’s founders, Joey Bada$$, even played Inspectah Deck in the Hulu biographical series "Wu-Tang: An American Saga." The group’s presence also inspired future Staten Island products like Killarmy, G4 Boyz, and Cleotrapa.
Given the group’s accolades and cultural impact in the decades since their debut, it’s true: "Wu-Tang Clan ain’t nothing to f— with." Its members have redefined longevity in rap by continuing to have a hand on the pulse of popular culture, both in music, film, TV, and entertainment. Few other groups have matched their successes, and as the collective continues to etch its path, there’s no telling how many more barriers they will break.
Image courtesy of the Recording Academy
More Performers Added To "A GRAMMY Salute To 50 Years Of Hip-Hop" Live Concert Special: Public Enemy, Rick Ross, Tyga, D-Nice, Doug E. Fresh & More Announced
One of hip-hop's biggest nights will take place tonight (Wednesday, Nov. 8) at YouTube Theater in Inglewood, California. Tickets are available now. "A GRAMMY Salute To 50 Years Of Hip-Hop" will air Sunday, Dec. 10, on CBS and Paramount+.
The anticipation for tonight's "A GRAMMY Salute To 50 Years Of Hip-Hop" live concert special is buzzing as the lineup welcomes even more rap icons and emerging hip-hop artists to its existing group of star-studded performers. Public Enemy, Rick Ross, Tyga, D-Nice, Doug E. Fresh, Blaqbonez, Boosie Badazz, DJ Diamond Kuts, DJ Greg Street, DJ Trauma, and Kool DJ Red Alert have all been added to tonight's concert.
They join previously announced performers 2 Chainz, T.I., Gunna, Too $hort, Latto, E-40, Big Daddy Kane, GloRilla, Three 6 Mafia, Cypress Hill, Jeezy, DJ Quik, MC Lyte, Roxanne Shanté, Warren G, YG, Digable Planets, Arrested Development, Spinderella, Black Sheep, Luniz, and many others who will perform at the live concert special celebrating hip-hop's legendary 50th anniversary. One of the biggest nights in hip-hop history, the concert and special will feature performances and reunions from GRAMMY-winning artists, hip-hop legends and much more, including a highly anticipated reunion from hip-hop icons DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince — aka Will Smith.
The "A GRAMMY Salute To 50 Years Of Hip-Hop" live concert will take place tonight (Wednesday, Nov. 8) at YouTube Theater at Hollywood Park in Inglewood, California. Tickets for the concert are open to the public and available now.
The "A GRAMMY Salute To 50 Years Of Hip-Hop" live concert special will then air on Sunday, Dec. 10, at 8:30 – 10:30 p.m. ET/PT on the CBS Television Network and stream live and on demand on Paramount+. This lively two-hour celebration will pay tribute to hip-hop's profound history, while showcasing its vibrant future and monumental impact around the world.
Full concert details are below:
Wednesday, Nov. 8, 2023 (tonight)
Doors: 6 p.m. PT
Concert: 7 p.m. PT
1011 Stadium Dr.
Inglewood, CA 90305
Full List Of Confirmed Performers:
BIG DADDY KANE
DE LA SOUL
DJ DIAMOND KUTS
DJ GREG STREET
DJ TRAUMA (HOUSE DJ)
DOUG E. FRESH
KOOL DJ RED ALERT
LL COOL J
THE LADY OF RAGE
THREE 6 MAFIA
WILL SMITH & DJ JAZZY JEFF
^Names in bold indicate newly added artists.
Stay tuned to GRAMMY.com for more news and updates about "A GRAMMY Salute to 50 Years of Hip-Hop."
A GRAMMY Salute to 50 Years of Hip-Hop is produced by Jesse Collins Entertainment. Jesse Collins, Shawn Gee, Dionne Harmon, Claudine Joseph, LL COOL J, Fatima Robinson, Jeannae Rouzan-Clay, and Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson for Two One Five Entertainment serve as executive producers and Marcelo Gama as director of the special.
Photo: ABC Photo Archives/Disney General Entertainment Content via Getty Images
9 Things We Learned From Sly Stone's New Memoir
The recently released 'Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)' reflects on Sly Stone's career and personal history with a focus on the late '60s through the 1980s.
Nearly 60 years into his career, Sly Stone remains thankful.
His recently released memoir, Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin), offers an earnest look into the life and music of the funk and soul giant.
"He's at the top of the pantheon for a certain part of rock ‘n’ roll and funk and soul, and should stay there," says Ben Greenman, who co-authored the memoir.
The book – which is the inaugural release on Questlove’s publishing imprint, AUWA Books – pulls its title from Sly and the Family Stone’s 1969 single of the same name.
"When I'm co-writing with somebody, they start to define the rhythm," says Greenman, who’s also co-written memoirs from Questlove, Brian Wilson, and George Clinton. "Sometimes I'll pitch a certain structure. Other times in the course of talking, they start to develop their own sense and rhythm of things and then you have to reflect that."
Thank You comes over 40 years since Stone released his final album, Ain’t But the One Way, and reflects on the musician’s career, along with surprising, little-known moments. To Greenman, Stone’s tales were reflective of his headspace in the late-1960s and throughout the ‘80s, when the artist was often preoccupied with a chaotic rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle.
Towards the midpoint of the book, Stone hilariously shared that he once loaned a Cadillac to Etta James, although the police later discovered that the vehicle was stolen.
"The assumption that I had is ‘Oh my God, you gave her this car and good faith and then it turned out it was stolen. How embarrassing, Greenman explains. "But the vibe I got was he probably knew, he just thought that the fake papers on it would hold. That story was so strange and weird and out of nowhere, but sort of representative of what it must have been [like] to be him at that time."
Despite certain points of misfortunes in Stone’s journey, including decades-long drug abuse, the Sly and the Family Stone frontman carried on as an prestigious musical act. To honor Stone’s legacy and Thank You, here are nine takeaways from the book.
Stone Started Out In A Family Group
Stone, born Sylvester Stewart, began in music as part of 1950s family gospel group the Stewart Four. The second of five children, the Pentacostal family got their start in church upon relocating from Denton, Texas to Vallejo, California. The siblings all learned an recited material by gospel pioneers Mahalia Jackson, the Soul Stirrers, Brother Joe May and the Swan Silvertones.
Stone’s parents, K.C. and Alpha, were multi-instrumentalists who noticed their children’s musical forte, and the Stewart Four signed a hyperlocal single deal with the Church of God in Christ, the Northern California Sunday School Dept. Released in 1956, Stone’s first-ever record "On The Battlefield / Walking In Jesus Name" was limited to roughly 100 copies.
Stone Influenced Herbie Hancock And Miles Davis
Sly and the Family Stone debuted in 1967 with A Whole New Thing, and the collective reinvented funk and progressive soul with follow-ups Dance to the Music, Life, Stand!, and their 1971 landmark There's a Riot Goin' On. Their 1973 album Fresh came at an auspicious time for Sly devotees.
Jazz greats Miles Davis and Herbie Hancock took notice of Stone's musicianship. The artist was a direct influence for Hancock’s seminal 1973 album Head Hunters, which includes a punchy jazz fusion cut named after Stone.
Stone recalls that in 1973, Columbia Records dropped multiple jazz acts, including Charles Mingus, Bill Evans and Keith Jarrett, in favor of rock and funk artists. Miles Davis was fascinated by the introductory Fresh track "In Time"; according to Stone, Davis was rumored to have replayed the song for his band to "work out the rhythms of it."
The Black Panther Party Took Offense To The Family Stone
Sly and the Family Stone almost ended before the group went mainstream. In the ‘60s, the Bay Area-based group were neighbors to the Oakland chapter of the Black Panther Party.
The organization protested the band’s for leaning into "what White America wanted," per Stone. The Panthers disdained the presence of white members Jerry Martini (saxophonist) and Greg Errico (drummer), pressuring Stone to get rid of the musicians.
Early BPP leader Eldridge Cleaver also wanted Stone to make a six-figure donation to the cause, which Stone refused. Stone condemned the Panthers’ defiance of laws and considered his group to be politically neutral.
Bob Marley And The Wailers Were Removed From The Family Stone’s 1973 Tour
In October 1973, Bob Marley and the Wailers began their first U.S. tour as a supporting act for Sly and the Family Stone. The 17-date tour ended after four shows for the reggae band, who had just released their seminal Catch A Fire.
From Stone’s perspective, the Wailers weren’t a "good match" for American crowds at the time, and Bunny Wailer was no longer performing with the group. Stone dismissed allegations that his group felt they were upstaged.
"They played slow. They had accents," Stone wrote about the Wailers, adding, "There was no offense on our part but we shipped them off."
"How was Bob a threat to Sly Stone?" Joe Higgs, in the 2017 Marley biography So Much Things to Say. People said they can’t hear us: our accent, they couldn’t understand; our rhythm, too slow. We weren’t happening. And our outfits were inappropriate. We were rebels."
Stone And Kathy Silva Had 20,000 Guests At Their Madison Square Garden Wedding
Stone’s marriage to actress-model Kathy Silva was arguably the first concert-turned-wedding. The couple wed on June 5, 1974 at Madison Square Garden. Plans were made in a rush, and guests who received invitations were asked to RSVP by May 31.
An audience of almost 20,000 (some who paid as little as $8.50) attended the wedding ceremony, which doubled as Sly and the Family Stone’s concert. The Temptations co-founder Eddie Kendricks performed first before Stone’s mother and niece, Lisa, gave religious acknowledgements.
Later, on the Starlight Roof at the Waldorf Astoria, champagne flowed and guests dug into a cake shaped like a vinyl record. A reception featured soul food and Japanese cuisine, honoring their Black and Hawaiian heritage.
The day after the special occasion, Stone discovered that wedding officiant Bishop B.R. Stewart wasn't registered in New York, but paperwork was hurried to the city clerk to make the marriage legally official.
Stone And Prince Almost Collaborated
Although Sly and the Family Stone disbanded in 1983, Stone had his eyes on up-and-coming artists. Stone was told that a young Prince was a "new version" of himself and peers Little Richard and Jimi Hendrix. Stone’s then-girlfriend (and now-manager) Arlene Hirschkowitz encouraged the artists to collaborate following a late-’80s meeting at L.A.’s Roxbury Club.
"I wasn't always on Prince, but that day I was," Stone wrote. "I told [Hirschkowitz] that I was excited about the idea and I meant it. But he never called."
Stone And George Clinton Were Close Friends
In the mid-’70s Sly and the Family Stone was a supporting act on the collective’s P-Funk Earth Tour. After the Family Stone disbanded in the ‘80s, Sly Stone reconnected with fellow funkateer George Clinton.
Clinton owned a farm in Michigan, where he and Stone dabbled in recreational drugs in their downtime. The two closely worked together, with Stone co-writing "Catch a Keeper" for Clinton’s all-female group the Brides of Funkenstein, composed of four women who were previously Stone’s background vocalists. The song was later released by the P-Funk All-Stars, and the Funkenstein was shelved, but Stone also had a writing credit on 1981 Funkadelic album The Electric Spanking of War Babies ("Funk Gets Stronger").
As Stone’s collaboration with P-Funk continued, he noticed that bassist and vocalist Bootsy Collins replicated his style. "Sometimes when I was out walking people would call to me, ‘Bootsy! Bootsy!’ I didn’t mind it so much," Stone wrote.
Michael Jackson Offered To Return Sly Stone’s Catalog
Stone was friendly with the Jackson family, mainly vocalist and former Jackson 5 member, Jermaine, but it was Michael Jackson who upheld Stone’s music. In 1983, Jackson acquired the international rights to Sly and the Family Stone’s catalog. The acquisition was Jackson’s first under his publishing company, MIJAC Music, as Stone didn’t assume that the group’s old songs were of monetary value.
Shortly before his death, Jackson offered to return Stone’s catalog under an agreement that he would go to substance abuse rehab. Stone disagreed with Jackson’s terms, even being a no-show to a meeting that the King of Pop scheduled. Stone later tried to make amends by sending Jackson a letter, though Jackson never received it. Someone sold the letter as memorabilia.
In 2019, Stone closed a deal with MIJAC, allowing Stone to keep minority interest in the catalog and resume collecting on his music.
Sly Stone Was Honored With A Recording Academy Lifetime Achievement Award
The music of Sly and the Family Stone was featured in a tribute performance at the 2006 GRAMMYs. The Nile Rodgers-curated ceremony consisted of tribute performances from Joss Stone, John Legend, and Van Hunt ("Family Affair"), Maroon 5 ("Everyday People"), will.i.am ("Dance to the Music"), with Steven Tyler and Stone ending with "I Wanna Take You Higher." The live show was Stone’s first since 1987.
In 2017, Sly Stone was honored with the Recording Academy's Lifetime Achievement special merit award.
Photo: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic
GRAMMY Rewind: Kendrick Lamar Honors Hip-Hop's Greats While Accepting Best Rap Album GRAMMY For 'To Pimp a Butterfly' In 2016
Upon winning the GRAMMY for Best Rap Album for 'To Pimp a Butterfly,' Kendrick Lamar thanked those that helped him get to the stage, and the artists that blazed the trail for him.
Updated Friday Oct. 13, 2023 to include info about Kendrick Lamar's most recent GRAMMY wins, as of the 2023 GRAMMYs.
A GRAMMY veteran these days, Kendrick Lamar has won 17 GRAMMYs and has received 47 GRAMMY nominations overall. A sizable chunk of his trophies came from the 58th annual GRAMMY Awards in 2016, when he walked away with five — including his first-ever win in the Best Rap Album category.
This installment of GRAMMY Rewind turns back the clock to 2016, revisiting Lamar's acceptance speech upon winning Best Rap Album for To Pimp A Butterfly. Though Lamar was alone on stage, he made it clear that he wouldn't be at the top of his game without the help of a broad support system.
"First off, all glory to God, that's for sure," he said, kicking off a speech that went on to thank his parents, who he described as his "those who gave me the responsibility of knowing, of accepting the good with the bad."
He also extended his love and gratitude to his fiancée, Whitney Alford, and shouted out his Top Dawg Entertainment labelmates. Lamar specifically praised Top Dawg's CEO, Anthony Tiffith, for finding and developing raw talent that might not otherwise get the chance to pursue their musical dreams.
"We'd never forget that: Taking these kids out of the projects, out of Compton, and putting them right here on this stage, to be the best that they can be," Lamar — a Compton native himself — continued, leading into an impassioned conclusion spotlighting some of the cornerstone rap albums that came before To Pimp a Butterfly.
To Pimp a Butterfly singles "Alright" and "These Walls" earned Lamar three more GRAMMYs that night, the former winning Best Rap Performance and Best Rap Song and the latter taking Best Rap/Sung Collaboration (the song features Bilal, Anna Wise and Thundercat). He also won Best Music Video for the remix of Taylor Swift's "Bad Blood."
Watch Lamar's full acceptance speech above, and check back at GRAMMY.com every Friday for more GRAMMY Rewind episodes.