Photo: Jason Siegel
GRiZ Talks Pride, Snoop Dogg Collab, Detroit's Music Scene, Giving Back & More
"Be loud, be you, make some noise about it. And be of service to other people when they're in need," the DJ/producer said in a conversation with the Recording Academy
Funky-bass DJ/producer/saxophone player Grant Kwiecinski, better known as GRiZ, has been getting people grooving to his joyful brand of dance music for quite some time now. He self-released his first LP, End Of The World Party, in 2011 and, most recently, released his sixth album, Ride Waves, in April 2019. GRiZ's latest not only features his quintessential upbeat sound, but also an epic, somewhat unexpected list of collaborators, including Snoop Dogg, Matisyahu, Bootsy Collins and DRAM.
We caught up with GRiZ before he performed at the It Gets Better Project Pride party in Los Angeles to learn what Pride and being part of the LGBTQ+ means to him, among other topics. We also learned more about his career beginnings in Detroit, why giving back is so important to him, and the magic behind the collabs on Ride Waves.
The collaborators on Ride Waves are amazing. How did you choose this group going into the album?
I feel like I fell into some of these people's spaces. The Matisyahu thing, I stumbled into that because the bass player, this guy Stu Brooks who is music directing [our appearance at] Bonnaroo and SuperJam, he played with Matisyahu in their band. He's like, "We got to link you guys up." It's like, "Cool. Awesome. Yeah, that sounds great."
The Snoop Dogg thing, that was more calculated. As a kid, [I was] a major hip-hop fan.
I really love that track; what was it like working with Snoop? How did that collab manifest?
It was really, really trippy too, we got the collaboration and I got the vocals back from them. It was just the weirdest thing, it was like an email that had treasure inside of it. It was like, there's these vocals that are in this email and you open it up, it's like the briefcase in Pulp Fiction. You're like, "Oh my God."
Then working with DRAM was super awesome because I've been a huge fan of his since a few years ago; he's fresh on the scene right now. I had a chance to talk with him, talk through the collaboration with him and spin him the idea. When he sent back the work that he did on it, it just felt so right.
Sometimes you work with collaborators and stuff and you feel like you're forcing this thing to happen. You're like, "I don't know how these puzzle pieces are going to fit together but maybe we can make them work." In that case specifically [with DRAM], it felt like even before he had been involved with the song he was there from the beginning.
The Snoop Dogg feature, that's just like ... I don't know. When does he sound bad? That just doesn't exist. That's just not a thing.
That's so cool. So in terms of the creative process, it was like you had some ideas going into it but it all came together organically.
Yeah. Absolutely. I knew specifically the kind of thing that I really wanted to hear. For me it felt like a risk because I love the music that I make. Because I make music that works for me in my life. It's what I use as a point of celebration or things I like to rock out to. Or the music that I make is stuff that I use for a contemplative healing moment, as a point of catharsis for "this is how I'm feeling. I got to get this out."
Sometimes things feel really personal and it's hard to give somebody else, to let them hold the space. So hopefully they can represent the way you're feeling. Giving a sentimental gospel tune to Wiz Khalifa was like, I don't know man, maybe he's going to be like, "Is this about weed or something like that?" [Laughs.] That was another one of the songs that I don't feel like we really forced it too much with the features for this album. Things rolled along really nicely.
I don't think that anything ever goes exactly to plan, but that's probably for the best. Because the more you try and control a situation it just gets kinda fery-ish. It starts to lose personality.
You got to let it go and see what comes back to you. Everything that we let go and put feelers out for, that came back to us, ended up being the most natural and organic, and ended up creating the best vibe that we could never have planned on our own. I never planned to have Wiz Khalifa on the record. The way that that turned out, it couldn't have happened better.
"To me, Pride really represents bravery. To me that bravery is represented from this unabashed, "This is who I am. These are my personal needs and the things that we deserve as a community."
Can you speak to what Pride means to you?
If you look at it historically, it means one thing. Then I feel like what people were fighting for years ago is different in context to where it is today. But that's necessary because time changes and the needs of culture shifts too. But the basic need is still there.
To me, Pride really represents bravery. To me, that bravery is represented from this unabashed [feeling of]: "This is who I am. These are my personal needs and the things that we deserve as a community." To be brave enough in situations where you're being challenged against your beliefs by other people, to be able to meet those challenges with grace, and with strength, and not give up on how you feel. Not give up your position and the things that you need. Not shy away from the challenge and speak up for yourself.
Sometimes you run into situations where there's obvious hate or there's obviously awkward situations and you're like, "Man, maybe I don't want to make this awkward." You're like, "You know what? No. I need to stand up for the way that I feel about this. You can't be hateful around me or be bigoted around me." I'm not going to stand for that or I'm not going to shy away from holding my boyfriend's hand when I'm walking down the street just because I'm worried about what somebody might think. I want to normalize this.
I think the gay community has gained a lot of visibility over the past few years because of other people's bravery. At this point it's continuing to not shy away from expressing that personal sense of self. That's important.
I love that. And it's 50 years since the Stonewall Uprising, which is crazy.
Yeah. It was a group of people who were at the Stonewall Inn. There were police raids happening in New York at gay establishments. They were like, "You can't organize this way. This is illegal." Gay people would resist or not. If you're arrested or resist then it was like, all right, this has reached a climax point. The Gay Liberation Front was the foundation that was birthed out of that. It was birthed out of people standing up for themselves and being like, "You know what? Nah. I'm not going to go quietly. We're not going to let you arrest us and kick us out of our spot."
That's the spirit that we need to continue to hold onto. It's great to celebrate around it because that's awesome. If you can take something that has a really deep historical context, and something that has a lot of weight to it, and put fun behind it then you can normalize this thing. Maybe that's what's great about throwing a party and drinking and being with your friends. It's like, let's maybe make this whole being gay thing look really f*ing extra normal and fun. We can just secretly convince everybody that it's chill. [Laughs.] That would be nice.
Well, you have some great things planned for Pride, including a party here in L.A. this afternoon with It Gets Better. Do you want to talk about any of the specific things that you're getting involved in?
Yeah. I did a partnership with MeUndies, which is important to me because The Happy Hippie Foundation is a great charity. A portion of the profits from the MeUndies Pride underwear is going towards the foundation, whose charitable outreach is to create safe spaces for young people who are gay and have been kicked out of their homes or need to link up with other people in the LGBTQ+ community. They are the resource for that and without money they can't exist. We need to give them money; if you buy cool underwear then money will be given to charities so that if kids get put out on the street because their parents aren't cool with them being gay, then they have a place to go; that's the reality of this sh*t. If you're down with the cause go buy a pair of underwear and help out.
It's almost exactly two years since you wrote your moving HuffPost letter. Can you speak to what it was like sharing that and sharing that side of you that you hadn't before with your fans?
Sure. I think I needed to get to a point where I had a substantial career behind me because I didn't want to be defined by sexual orientation. Because I think that... it would kinda suck. I want to be defined by the things that I do—not who I decide to date.
At the time, I felt like this was in a good enough spot [to come out]. I was like, "Okay, cool. I've done my rounds and I'm cool with it on a personal level." I don't even see it as a thing. It's just what life is for me. Sometimes I get these reminders that I'm like, "Okay, cool. Not everybody thinks that that's normal." There's definitely a rift there. I think that it was important now that I reached this point where I was comfortable with myself, comfortable with the music and I was like, "All right, cool. I feel like this could help people."
After writing that op-ed I've talked with a lot of kids in the GRiZ fan space mostly. Then new kids outside of it that are like, "I don't really know you as a DJ nor do I really care but I really f with your story. I really f with you as a person because I feel similarly." It's important and hopefully it's maybe inspirational for other people who are like, "I don't know if I want to do that, to come out."
That was the Harvey Milk thing, it was like we need to have people come out and represent the community, because if we are all hiding it doesn't really help. We need this movement to grow. We need to be represented in public and that will help other people find the courage within themselves. Then it's like a domino effect, hopefully. Then you'll see this thing being normalized and hopefully less people will feel outcasted because of their feelings towards their own sexuality. Suicide rates would drop. People would be living healthier lifestyles. Drug use will hopefully go down, and depression, all that kind of stuff.
I saw so much great support from the queer community. I was so surprised to hear so many kids coming out of the woodworks and being like, "Wow, that's my story too. Thank you so much for sharing that. It's helped me come to terms with the way that I feel. Now I'm having these conversations with my family and my friends." That's helping. It helped a lot of people. For me it was reaffirming as well to feel like, "All right. Cool. We're out people. That's just it." It doesn't need to be some weirdo thing. It's like, "Yeah, I'm a gay person. So what?"
I'm sure it connected on a very personal level with so many of your fans. Did any of them reach out to you and come out to you, or anything like that?
Oh, yeah. I mean, there was a few kids that I was talking to on a more personal level. A lot of people were just like, "Yo, thank you so much. Awesome. That helps a lot," but there were a few Twitter DMs and a few Instagram DMs that I read through that I was like, "All right. Cool. I want to talk this person through it." People on some serious levels. "I've been struggling with this my entire life. Since you wrote this article I feel like I finally have a jumping off spot."
Like, "How? Tell me more. Do you have any advice?" I ended up talking with a few kids. Then we did Camp Kulabunga. It gave me these tools to be able to talk about this with people, and understand on a therapeutic level how to be able to connect with people, and just have a conversation and continue a dialog that is soothing for struggling kids because I was one of those kids. I get that. Having that relatability aspect is so huge because a lot of people don't have that. I didn't have that when I was a kid. Growing up through this, there wasn't somebody I could just be like, "Hey, so tell me what that was like for you?" There just wasn't that. I didn't have that. There wasn't an example of this. I could ask my mom but she didn't f*ing know.
You spoke to it a little already, but what role has music played for you when you were going through the more challenging parts in your life? Was it always an outlet for you?
Yeah. That's always the safe space. Sometimes words don't do it, like trying to have a conversation with people. I need that emotional feeling of music. That's always been my therapy, having headphone space and listening to music loudly. I don't know what it is, it's just some physics of the sound and, I don't know, but it does it. I can tune the world out and just enjoy that. It can completely turn my day around, a good song. I don't know what it is but yeah, music is my safe space.
I think it is for a lot of people. I also think it's really cool when artists share their personal stories, too.
You know the body weight blankets? It's like that. It feels like a cuddle in music.
"When I can't relate and when I'm feeling awkward, when I'm feeling out of place, I will always be understood and I can always feel understood through music."
A sonic cuddle.
Yeah. That's like what it is. When I can't relate and when I'm feeling awkward, when I'm feeling out of place, I will always be understood and I can always feel understood through music.
When you make music, is that something that has always been important to you? To create upbeat, joyful music?
Sometimes it's like both, right? Sometimes I'm just feeling like I need to write a song that reminds me to put a smile on or sometimes I want to write a song that's going to make me feel happy. Or sometimes I'm feeling really good and I just want to write a really happy song. Sometimes I'm feeling really sh*t and I want to write a song so that I can just get it out, some crazy dubstep something or another and I can just rage for a second because I need that.
Most of the time I'm like, "I need music that's just going to make me feel really cool." It's like putting on a dope pair of clothes and new sneakers. You're like, "Yo, all right. Cool. That's my sh*t." That's my mood most of the time. Saxophone is the instrument that I play and funk is the rhythm that makes my heart beat so it always tends to land somewhere in there.
You grew up in Detroit, which is such a breeding ground for amazing underground music. How did growing up there influence what you listen to and the music you make?
I think the big thing for me, kind of the reason why I'm playing saxophone and doing this whole DJ thing, was there was just this underground movement, and it wasn't techno. This was after techno. There was the underground, alternative pre-EDM scene for kids in downtown Detroit. They would have people like Dan Deacon come through and do shows. It was just bizarro sh*t... It was this nebulous zone of people just trying to figure out what is cool.
There weren't real paid gigs. They would just have parties in their lofts. It was this collective of kids called the Scrummage Kids. They had this thing called Scrummage University that was like, we didn't go to college, we did that. It was really inspiring to see these kids. I was producing music since I was 14 but this was now in the performance space. I was like, "I didn't know you could play this music out to people."
I'd go down to Detroit and see these kids do this stuff, experiment and have fun, and just go way beyond. That really inspired me to just do whatever I wanted. It broke all the rules for what a performance space was so I was like, "Maybe I'll do a saxophone thing. Maybe it'll be like hip-hop beats but danceable."
Then at Michigan State University, during my time there, it gave me the platform to actually do this in a performance space. They're like, now we have parties in basements where guys and girls live. They're called co-ops. There's a bunch of hippies. This was before the DJ movement in America, really. We weren't doing the EDC thing, how it is now. We weren't doing the Marshmello thing. Skrillex hadn't been a thing yet. Dubstep hadn't come to America yet.
We were figuring out this weird thing and it was like this strange electronic music performance space. Where nobody really knew what we were doing but it was cool and it was ours. It was techno, it was indie dance, it was pre-dubstep, it was hip-hop, it was electronica. I was like, "Cool. I'm going to play my music and play saxophone, and it's going to be f*ing weird." That's where that inspiration started.
In terms of giving back to your community, you do a lot. You've done six years of GRiZMAS, right?
What are your thoughts on artists using their platform to speak up on getting involved in causes that are important to them? And what's your biggest driver in that sense right now?
I feel like it's your responsibility to do it, if you have a life that's easy. I have an easy life. I decide to work a lot. You know what I'm saying? I think it's a responsibility.
I see things in my world that are nice. If I want nice things I got to work for them or I've got to insert. If I want a nice education, I'm going to pay money and taxes or something and that's got to happen a certain way. If I want nice schools, and I want arts in education in schools, and I want to see these certain things well then I need to contribute to that, otherwise I'm just complaining about a problem. I don't want to be that kind of a person. I feel like it's my duty to contribute.
We have to do something. I have to do something. I support Seven Mile Music. They do really awesome work. They create after school music programs for kids who don't have music education during the school day. That's what we can do. This is our community and we just got to help. We got to help each other out. The entire world would be better if we could all just fucking pitch in. Just do a little bit of something. Maybe by doing that it will inspire other people to do something. I don't care what it is, just do something.
I feel that. It's a lot easier to complain, but…
It doesn't help anybody. People need help and if you're just complaining, those words aren't going to help feed people or add art to the world, or help create places where people can feel more mentally stable or have outlets for counseling. That doesn't help, us just sitting around saying, "Oh, I wish it was better." It's like, "Okay. [Laughs.] Do something and then let's party."
Photo: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic
A Guide To Southern California Hip-Hop: Definitive Releases, Artists & Subgenres From L.A. & Beyond
Hip-hop began in the Bronx, but many of the culture’s most unforgettable moments came from Southern California. In celebration of the 50th anniversary of hip-hop, take a trip through SoCal's rich hip-hop history — from N.W.A. and KDAY, to the Super Bowl.
"The sun rises in the East, but it sets in the West," raps Ice Cube on Westside Connection’s 1996 hit, "Bow Down." Indeed, hip-hop began in the Bronx, New York. But many of the culture’s most unforgettable moments have come from Southern California, a region where young Black and Brown people took to hip-hop soon after the Sugarhill Gang’s "Rapper’s Delight" blew up worldwide.
This guide chronicles some of the region’s many musical peaks, from commanding attention in the late ’80s, to virtually dominating the genre in the ’90s, and eliciting worldwide acclaim in the 21st century and beyond.
A Brief History Of Southern California Hip-Hop
Since the first L.A. hip-hop record in 1981, Disco Daddy and Captain Rapp’s "The Gigolo Rapp," Southern California has generated some of the biggest names in hip-hop history: Ice-T, Eazy-E, N.W.A., Ice Cube, Cypress Hill, Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, 2Pac, The Game…everyone knows who the kings of the West Coast are. That legacy has not only made the region a prideful one, but also led to assumptions that "gangsta rap" defines it.
But Southern California has yielded more artistic variety than just street politics, whether it’s poetic lyricists like Kendrick Lamar, brilliantly idiosyncratic producers like Madlib, bracing innovators like Freestyle Fellowship, or unabashedly good-time rappers like Tone-Loc and Tyga.
No matter the form, rap in Southern California is deeply rooted in bluesy funk, soul, and jazz. It’s a complex scene that's often divided by neighborhood affiliation and stylistic differences, yet united by a place everyone calls home. Artists in SoCal are unafraid to make soundtracks for dance floors and family cookouts as well as for cruising through L.A.’s freeway sprawl. That common touch is why the city’s brand of rap music resonates around the globe.
Southern California hip-hop has waxed and waned in national popularity, and its creative and commercial dominance in the 1990s and early aughts, thanks to massive hits such as Dr. Dre’s The Chronic and 2001 as well as 2Pac’s All Eyez on Me, continue to cast a long shadow over the culture. However, you’ll find highlights throughout the past four-plus decades, many of which are recounted here.
Key Moments In Southern California Hip-Hop
1983 - KDAY-FM Goes On The Air: When Texas radio programmer Greg Mack was hired by KDAY-FM 1580 AM in 1983, he decided to turn the station into the first rap station in the country. Early West Coast DJs like Dr. Dre and the KDAY Mixmasters — a group of jocks that included Tony G, Joe Cooley, DJ Aladdin, Battlecat, and others — made the station required listening for fans of the fledgling genre throughout the '80s and early '90s. Decades later, and after returning to 93.5 FM as an old-school hip-hop station, KDAY remains a point of pride for the local community.
1986 - Run-DMC’s Concert Sparks A Riot: While largely forgotten now, the events that unfolded during Run-D.M.C.’s ill-fated August 1986 concert at Long Beach Arena made national headlines. Local Crips and Bloods members fought each other in the stands, leading to injuries, arrests and a lasting stigma that rap shows were a magnet for thuggery. In its wake, city officials around the country barred artists from performing, and required massive insurance premiums for shows to take place. In December 1986, Run-DMC appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone to explain why hip-hop shouldn’t be associated with violence.
1989 - The F.B.I. Sends A Warning To N.W.A: On Aug. 1, 1989, the Federal Bureau of Investigation sent a letter to Priority Records, the distributor for N.W.A.’s Straight Outta Compton. "Advocating violence and assault is wrong," wrote the official in reference to the group’s protest song, "F— Tha Police." "I believe my views reflect the opinion of the entire law enforcement community." Ironically, the letter had a galvanizing effect when the group’s management leaked it to the press. Critics who were divided over the album’s merits rallied around N.W.A. as free-speech heroes, and it helped make the group one of the most important musical acts in America.
1997 - The Notorious B.I.G. Is Murdered In Los Angeles: When Brooklyn rap legend the Notorious B.I.G. was gunned down after leaving a Soul Train Music Awards afterparty at the on March 9, the public — correctly or not — viewed it as the culmination of an "East Coast vs. West Coast" rivalry between executives at Death Row Records and Biggie’s label Bad Boy Records, as well as retribution for Death Row superstar 2Pac’s murder in Las Vegas the previous fall. Biggie’s still-unsolved murder continues to cast a shadow over the L.A. rap scene, even though it is hardly the only hip-hop region where high-profile crimes have marred its reputation.
2011 - Odd Future Appears On "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon": Tyler, The Creator and Hodgy Beats’s rendition of "Sandwitches" alongside "Jimmy Fallon" backing band the Roots on Feb. 16, 2011 was a veritable youthquake. It not only made Odd Future one of the hottest groups in the country, but also served notice of that younger generation more influenced by online culture than street politics had officially arrived. Few who saw the viral video can forget the sight of Fallon giving Tyler a piggyback ride as Mos Def suddenly appeared out of nowhere, screaming in delight.
2011 – The West Coast Torch Is Passed to Kendrick Lamar: On Aug. 19, 2011, as Kendrick Lamar celebrated the release of his independent album Section.80 at the Fonda Theater (fka as The Music Box), the Game, Snoop Dogg, Warren G, and Kurupt emerged onto the stage. "You’ve got the torch now, you better run with it," said Snoop. Then the rappers embraced Lamar as he broke down in tears and the crowd chanted, "Kendrick! Kendrick!" In the years since the moment was captured on video, Lamar became one of the most important rappers of his generation.
2022 - Dr. Dre And Friends Perform At The Super Bowl Halftime Show: Held at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, Super Bowl LVI gave Dr. Dre the opportunity to reminisce on his historic career. As he performed classics like "Still D.R.E." and "The Next Episode" with guests like Snoop Dogg, Bronx R&B singer Mary J. Blige, Detroit rapper Eminem, Queens rapper 50 Cent, Compton rapper Kendrick Lamar, and Oxnard rap singer Anderson .Paak, Dre took viewers on a journey through old-school hip-hop lore and created a joyous tribute to the genre. The widely acclaimed show was subsequently honored three times at the 2022 Primetime Emmy Awards.
Definitive SoCal Hip-Hop Rappers
Ice-T: Los Angeles rapper Ice-T was arguably the first West Coast star who elicited respect from New York tastemakers as a peer and fellow pioneer. Inspired by Philly rapper Schoolly D, his breakthrough single, "6 in the Mornin’," is often cited as the first West Coast reality rap song (although some would argue that Toddy Tee’s "Batteram" precedes it).
His 1987 debut album, Rhyme Pays, was the first to carry a parental warning sticker. Ice-T faced censorship throughout his career, most dramatically when police unions and the NRA targeted him for "Cop Killer," his satirical track with his rock-rap group, Body Count. Now in his 60s and a familiar face on the TV series "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit," Ice-T remains a role model for artists who want to make a greater cultural impact than just music.
N.W.A.: As an alliance between DJ/producers Dr. Dre and DJ Yella and rappers Eazy-E, Ice Cube, and MC Ren (early member Arabian Prince left before Straight Outta Compton took off) — N.W.A impressed with their first single, "Dope Man." That led to a 1987 debut compilation for Eazy-E’s Ruthless camp, N.W.A and the Posse. Then, with tracks like "F— the Police," "Gangsta Gangsta," and the surprisingly upbeat radio hit "Express Yourself," Straight Outta Compton made them the most dangerous group in America, and a target of law enforcement as well as the FBI.
After a second album, efil4zaggaN, the group collapsed over financial disputes and interpersonal drama. That’s part of the N.W.A legend, too, as illustrated in the acclaimed, Oscar-nominated 2015 film, Straight Outta Compton.
Snoop Dogg: With his Modelo and Jack in the Box commercials airing nightly, Snoop Dogg is an ambassador for Southern California hip-hop. Discovered by Dr. Dre through Dre’s cousin, rapper/producer Warren G, he debuted with "Deep Cover," where he chanted in a sing-song voice, "’Cause it’s 1-8-7 on an undercover cop!" On his solo album, Doggystyle, he seemed to excel at hit singles like "Gin and Juice" that turned life into a never-ending party full of sticky weed and beautiful women.
In short, he personified how G-funk, a movement that once terrified the music industry, would be eventually mainstreamed into a party open to everyone. No matter one’s age or gender, everyone has a favorite Snoop track, whether it’s old-school favorites like "It Ain’t No Fun (If the Homies Can’t Have None)," club bangers like "Drop It Like It’s Hot," pop cameos like Katy Perry’s "California Gurls," or even bilingual Latin hits tracks like Banda MS’ "Qué Maldición."
Nipsey Hussle: At the time of his murder in 2019, Crenshaw rapper Nipsey Hussle seemed poised to break through to mainstream success. He represented a new era of Southern California rap defined by independent hustle, generational wealth from the ground up, savvy marketing stunts, and unapologetically street-oriented music.
Nipsey began his career in the mid-2000s, slowly rising through sundry mixtape appearances as well as features on albums by 2Pac, Snoop Dogg, and Glasses Malone. He earned national attention when he sold CD copies of his mixtape, Crenshaw, for $100 a pop; Jay-Z himself reportedly bought several. Tracks from his GRAMMY-nominated major label debut, 2018’s Victory Lap, seemed omnipresent at local sporting events. After his death, Nipsey appeared on a posthumous 2019 hit, "Racks in the Middle," with Compton rap singer Roddy Ricch.
Kendrick Lamar: Compton rapper Kendrick Lamar is the region’s crown prince, both blessed and burdened with sustaining West Coast rap tradition. While much of his music grapples with the weight of those expectations, he’s also been extraordinarily successful, scoring No. 1 hits like "Humble," global arena tours, and multi-platinum albums like good kid, m.A.A.d city and DAMN. The latter made him the first hip-hop artist to win the Pulitzer Prize.
One of the most influential and acclaimed artists of his generation, Lamar signifies a new openness among young artists to discussing mental health and self-care, all while dazzling listeners with conceptual complexity and thematic layers. Signed for years to Top Dawg Entertainment, Lamar recently has launched his own company, pgLang, with news about his direction forward still to come.
Cruical Hip-Hop Crews
Lench Mob: When Ice Cube broke from N.W.A. at the end of 1989, Lench Mob became his circle of friends as well as a production company and, eventually, a label imprint distributed by Priority Records.
Early members included Yo-Yo, who scored a major hit with Cube in 1991’s "You Can’t Play with My Yo-Yo." Then there was Da Lench Mob — Shorty, J-Dee, and T-Bone — and "Guerillas in the Mist." And after the 1992 L.A. riots sparked by the Rodney King verdict led to peace treaties among rival gangs in Watts, rapper Kam celebrated with his 1993 hit single, "Peace Treaty." Other associates include Inglewood rapper Mack 10, who scored gold-certified solo albums and joined with Cube and W.C. in the supergroup Westside Connection, and teenage South Central duo Kausion.
Soul Assassins: Originally formed as a publishing company for Cypress Hill as they created their classic self-titled 1991 debut, Soul Assassins eventually became an alliance of artists and one of the most underrated hit-making crews of the 1990s. Its members included House of Pain, authors of the deathless "Jump Around"; Funkdoobiest, who scored the 1993 hit "Bow Wow Wow"; and protégés like the Whooliganz, a duo made of future super-producer the Alchemist and future Hollywood actor Scott Caan; as well as Call O’ Da Wild, the Psycho Realm, and Self Scientific.
The crew’s releases espoused a dusty, psychedelic, and hardcore style distinct from the G-funk sound that defined the decade. In 1997, Cypress Hill producer DJ Muggs launched a series of Soul Assassins compilations that found him collaborating with the likes of Dr. Dre, Wu-Tang Clan’s RZA and GZA, and Mobb Deep.
Likwit Crew: Centered around Compton OG King Tee and Tha Alkaholiks members Tash, J-Ro, and E-Swift, Likwit Crew charted a hardcore middle path between the lyrical experimentations of the rappers associated with vaunted open-mic showcase Good Life Café, and the gangsta funk of Death Row.
Associated acts include Dilated Peoples, who scored at the dawn of the 2000s with the Alchemist-produced "Worst Comes to Worst" and the Kanye West-produced "This Way"; Xzibit, who released two solo albums before joining forces with Dr. Dre for 2000’s platinum-certified Restless; Defari, who released the underrated 1999 album Focused Daily; the Lootpack, and Phil Da Agony.
Project Blowed: For much of the late '90s and aughts, Project Blowed defined subterranean, avant-garde lyricism in Los Angeles. It was not only an event held in Leimert Park, but also a collective and a record label. Aceyalone, rapper and one-time member of pioneering group Freestyle Fellowship, and Abstract Rude — who was briefly signed to the Beastie Boys’ label Grand Royal — were two of its most prominent members. Others were Figures of Speech, which included future film director Ava DuVernay, Medusa the "gangsta goddess," and Volume 10, author of the 1993 hit, "Pistolgrip-Pump."
Odd Future: Formed in 2007, Odd Future became one of the most popular rap crews of their era. Their grungy skate-punk aesthetics, soulful introspection, and youthful fervor helped define the genre-agnostic quality of current hip-hop.
Onetime leader Tyler, the Creator is acclaimed for albums like 2019’s Igor and 2021’s Call Me If You Get Lost. The same goes for Frank Ocean and his two masterpieces, Channel Orange and Blonde. Other members include Earl Sweatshirt, Syd the Kyd — who went on to form the alternative soul group the Internet — Hodgy and Left Brain of Mellow Hype, and Jasper Dolphin, who later joined the Jackass franchise.
Essential SoCal Hip-Hop Releases
N.W.A. - Straight Outta Compton (1988): N.W.A’s landmark Straight Outta Compton is the product of three Compton musicians with years of experience in the L.A. hip-hop scene. Dr. Dre and DJ Yella spent three years as part of World Class Wreckin Cru, the mobile DJ unit and electro group led by Lonzo Williams. South Central native Ice Cube bounced around in various rap acts, notably the trio C.I.A. (Criminals in Action). MC Ren performed locally. The wild card was Eazy-E, a self-admitted drug dealer who didn’t have any musical experience until Dre asked him to rap Cube’s lyrics for "The Boyz-N-The Hood."
The Pharcyde - BizarreRideIIThePharcyde (1992): The Pharcyde’s debut album remains proof that Southern California hip-hop had more to offer than just gangsta rap. Produced by L.A. Jay, the album finds Romye, Imani, Slim Kid Tré, and Fat Lip embarking on a series of wacky, hilarious, and heart-rending adventures over crunchy samples from the likes of Quincy Jones and Jimi Hendrix. The tone ranges from the irreverence of "4 Better or 4 Worse" to the moving introspection of "Passin’ Me By" and "Otha Fish." BizarreRideIIThePharcyde was released a few weeks before Dr. Dre’s The Chronic.
Dr. Dre - The Chronic (1992): With The Chronic, Dr. Dre proved that rappers could make uncompromising, hardcore records and still succeed on the pop charts. Its first single, "Nuthin’ but a G Thang," was a sensation in rap circles and a major crossover hit, reaching the top five on the Billboard charts.
Dre collaborated with new voices like Snoop Doggy Dogg, Warren G, the Lady of Rage, RBX, Tha Dogg Pound — Kurupt and Daz, and singers Nate Dogg and Jewell, all of whom would define West Coast rap in the '90s. Meanwhile, his process of using musicians like Colin Wolfe to interpolate vintage funk sounds helped create what later became known as G-funk.
2Pac - All Eyez on Me (1996): 2Pac came of age as a rapper while living in Northern California's Marin County and Oakland, recording hit singles like "I Get Around" and "Keep Ya Head Up." But after signing to Death Row, he made a double album that posited Southern California as the center of West Coast hip-hop. Certified diamond by the RIAA, All Eyez on Me is an embarrassment of riches, packed with hit singles like "California Love'' and "2 of Amerikaz Most Wanted," beloved deep cuts like "Ambitionz Az a Rider," and collaborations with Method Man & Redman, Snoop Dogg, George Clinton, and many others. It’s a gangsta party that certified him as a rap legend.
Kendrick Lamar - good kid, m.A.A.d city (2012): Lamar’s first major-label album is not only a concept album about growing up in Compton, but also about a young person burdened by the gangsta legacy — for good and ill. His songs poke holes at long-held assumptions about how Black men in Los Angeles should handle life’s complications, from binge drinking in "Swimming Pools (Drank)" to navigating tensions between Crips and Bloods on "m.A.A.d city." His thoughts on spirituality and solitude on "Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe" reflect a new generation of Southern California rappers searching for inner peace while remaining true to their communities.
Notable SoCal Hip-Hop Labels
Ruthless: As the home of N.W.A, Eazy-E’s company hardly needs an introduction. Yet casual fans may not be familiar with the variety of acts that passed through the label in the '80s and '90s. In addition to documenting N.W.A’s tumultuous reign, it put out J.J. Fad’s pop smash "Supersonic," R&B singer Michel’le’s "No More Lies," and the D.O.C.’s platinum-certified 1989 debut, No One Can Do It Better — all in addition to solo projects from Eazy-E and MC Ren.
G-funk architects like Above the Law, Penthouse Players Clique, and Kokane spent time on the label, and it even found space for Jewish hip-hop group Blood of Abraham and an early version of Black Eyed Peas (then known as Atban Klann). Ruthless’ most famous post-N.W.A export is the Cleveland group Bone Thugs-n-Harmony, who sold millions with hits like "Thuggish Ruggish Bone" and "Tha Crossroads."
Delicious Vinyl: In the late '80s, Delicious Vinyl served as a contrast to the reality rap-focused Ruthless Records with pop-rap hits like Tone-Loc’s "Wild Thing," Young MC’s "Bust a Move," and Def Jef’s "Give It Here." Matt Dike, who co-founded the label with Michael Ross, was also a member of production team the Dust Brothers, who played a major role in Brooklyn transplants Beastie Boys’ 1989 masterwork, Paul’s Boutique.
The following decade, Delicious Vinyl’s roster expanded to innovators like the British acid-jazz combo Brand New Heavies, lyrically-minded L.A. quartet the Pharcyde, and New York unit Masta Ace Incorporated.
Death Row: Formed by Dr. Dre after he left N.W.A and Compton entrepreneur Suge Knight, Death Row was one of the most successful — and controversial — record labels of the 1990s. Beginning with Dre’s The Chronic, the label issued several albums that defined the era, like Snoop Dogg’s Doggystyle, the Above the Rim soundtrack, Tha Dogg Pound’s Dogg Food, and 2Pac’s All Eyez on Me.
Death Row began to fall apart after Dr. Dre left and 2Pac was murdered in 1996, and Suge Knight was imprisoned on parole violation charges in 1997. The company’s valuable catalog has since changed several hands, with Snoop Dogg and various partners taking control of it last year.
Stones Throw: Originally founded in San Jose, California by DJ/producer Peanut Butter Wolf, Stones Throw relocated to Los Angeles in 2000. That’s when the label hit its stride as a popular indie label, thanks in part to idiosyncratic producer Madlib, who helmed critically acclaimed albums like Quasimoto’s The Unseen and Madvillain’s Madvillainy.
Other Southern California artists who spent time on the roster include Madlib’s brother, rapper/producer Oh No; Oxnard musician Anderson .Paak and producer Knxwledge, together known as NxWorries; Detroit rapper/producer J Dilla, who made Donuts while living in L.A. before his 2006 death; street-rap trio Strong Arm Steady, and Orange County rapper/producer Jonwayne.
Top Dawg Entertainment: Thanks in part to GRAMMY-winning Compton rapper Kendrick Lamar — whose literary and conceptual songwriting pushed hip-hop music to new heights — Anthony "Top Dawg" Tiffith’s record label is a powerhouse in the music industry. Then there’s New Jersey’s SZA, whose blend of rap-styled flows and R&B vocals make her one of the most innovative of her era.
Other standout acts on Top Dawg include Carson rappers Schoolboy Q and Ab-Soul — who together with Lamar and Jay Rock form the group Black Hippy — Tennessee rapper/singer Isaiah Rashad, Inglewood alternative soul vocalist SiR, and Florida newcomer Doechii.
Subgenres Of SoCal Hip-Hop
Electro: When Southern California hip-hop emerged in the 1980s, the sound of electro dominated. Ice-T began his career with electro tracks like 1983’s "Cold-Wind Madness." Dr. Dre launched his career with the World Class Wreckin’ Cru, and his DJ prowess shined on their single, "Surgery." Pioneering DJ Egyptian Lover — a member of Mobile DJ unit Uncle Jamm’s Army — scored a national hit in 1984 with "Egypt, Egypt."
Other memorable cuts during this era, which lasted roughly from 1983 to the arrival of N.W.A. in the late '80s, include Captain Rapp and "Bad Times (I Can’t Stand It)," which featured production from Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis; Toddy Tee’s "Batteram," and Arabian Prince’s "Strange Life." Rap artists may have abandoned the sound, but it continues to inspire modern-day funk and electronic musicians like Dām Funk, Nite Jewel, and XL Middleton.
G-Funk: Since emerging around 1991 via productions from N.W.A’s Dr. Dre, DJ Quik, Cold 187um and DJ Pooh, G-funk has been the definitive Southern California rap sound — as key to the region’s identity as boom-bap is to New York and trap is to Atlanta. The bass-heavy, funky worm-driven, P-Funk-inspired sound has inspired decades of artists. At its peak in the mid-'90s, it was the sound of stars like Domino, Suga Free, and Warren G. But each new generation seems to find new twists on the sturdy formula, whether it’s The Game and Nipsey Hussle in the Aughts; or, in recent years, YG and G Perico.
Chicano Rap: While often overlooked by the media, Chicano rap — an umbrella term for Mexican Americans who make English and Spanglish-language rap — has deep roots in Southern California. West Coast OG Kid Frost began his career in the mid-'80s before landing a major hit in 1990 with "La Raza." He led a wave of Latin rappers in the early '90s that included A Lighter Shade of Brown ("On a Sunday Afternoon"), Mellow Man Ace ("Mentirosa"), A.L.T. and the Lost Civilization ("Tequila"), and Proper Dos ("Mexican Power").
Of course, Cypress Hill are the most famed Chicano rap group of all, thanks to songs like "Latin Lingo." Later years brought acts such as NB Ridaz ("Down for Yours"), Lil Rob ("Summer Nights"), Lil One, and Mr. Knightowl. On their 1998 debut album, Latin fusion group Ozomatli, scored rap hits like "Super Bowl Sundae" and "Cut Chemist Suite."
Turntablism: Coined by Babu of the Beat Junkies as well as Dilated Peoples, turntablism refers to the art of scratching, mixing, and blending records. An international scene flourished in the '90s and early 2000s — with strongholds in Southern California and the San Francisco Bay Area — putting a much-needed spotlight back to DJs, the original creators of hip-hop before rappers took over. Turntablism produced standout artists like D-Styles, J Rocc, Cut Chemist from Jurassic 5, DJ Rob One, Faust & Shortee, and others.
BTS/Beats: "Beats" is a catch-all term for production that incorporates electronic music and rap instrumentals. L.A. producers like the late Ras G, Carlos Niño and Daedelus developed the sound throughout the aughts before it caught fire with the likes of Flying Lotus, TOKiMONSTA, and Knxwledge.
Two major touchstones are Madvillain’s Madvillainy — a one-off pairing between Oxnard producer Madlib and the late New York rapper MF DOOM — and Donuts, which Detroit producer J Dilla made while living in Los Angeles. Meanwhile, the dusty loops that many beat producers employ have inspired music by Earl Sweatshirt, rapper/singer Anderson .Paak, and others.
Rising Hip-Hop Artists From Southern California
03 Greedo: Watts rapper 03 Greedo became a cult sensation on the strength of projects like The Wolf of Grape Street and God Level, and a nakedly honest perspective on gang life augmented by a watery, Auto-Tuned voice. His trajectory stalled when he was imprisoned on trafficking charges in 2018. 03 Greedo was paroled earlier this year, and has said that he plans on making up for lost time.
Maxo: Max "Maxo" Allen parlayed underground notoriety into a major-label deal with Def Jam, which issued his Lil Big Man album in 2019. His second major-label effort, 2023’s Even God Has a Sense of Humor, stands out for his introspective writing, and his fearlessness in exploring life’s meaning and finding solace in family and lovers.
Navy Blue: Former skateboarder Sage "Navy Blue" Elsesser first drew attention with a cameo on Earl Sweatshirt’s lo-fi gem, Some Rap Songs. He subsequently built a following with independent solo albums that emphasized his spiritual-minded lyrics and lo-fi production. After signing to Def Jam, he released the acclaimed Ways of Knowing this year.
Essential Hip-Hop Releases From The 2010s: Ye, Cardi B, Kendrick Lamar & More
The 2010s saw an expanded media landscape that broadened the sound and impact of hip-hop at large. In continued celebration of the 50th anniversary of hip-hop, read on for 10 crucial songs and albums that defined the decade.
Few genres have evolved as remarkably as hip-hop over the past five decades, and the eerily recent, yet, distant 2010s saw the genre at its most progressive. Legendary acts and fresh-faced stars pushed rap’s cultural and musical bounds, opening a pathway for a new class of artists to emerge, and for overlooked regions to gain their deserved recognition.
With the expansion of hip-hop’s mediasphere, artists that would’ve been confined by their locale crossed the invisible barriers of rap music to establish themselves as mainstream success. Canada-born stars PartyNextDoor, The Weeknd and Drake took over rap the same way the Brits took over rock music in the 1960s, and it was made possible by the boundless nature (and unprecedented sonic access) of today’s rap fan.
The emergence of SoundCloud elevated lesser-known talents including Playboi Carti, Lil Uzi Vert, 21 Savage, the late Juice Wrld to superstardom at a rapid pace. The era also marked a sonic turn in the industry, which saw artists merge their styles with those of other regions. That’s why artists like Asap Rocky adopted elements of Houston’s chopped-and-screwed sound in his early discography, despite his Harlem origins.
Legacy acts like Jay-Z, Kanye West, Eminem, and Nicki Minaj continued their reign as rap heavyweights, with record sales and award wins showcasing their influence. The period also saw the emergence of hip-hop’s three horsemen – Drake, J. Cole and Kendrick Lamar – who carved their legacies with chart-topping hits and groundbreaking albums throughout the 2010s. Their contributions, as well as those from Future, Big Sean, Travis Scott, and Chance the Rapper, set the stage for the decade.
Read on for 10 of the most consequential releases of the 2010s.
Ye - My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (2010)
Just a year removed from interrupting Taylor Swift on stage during the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards, Kanye West, now known as Ye, produced arguably the best rap album of the decade, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.
It was a career turn that’s more familiar to rap fans in recent years, but the Chicago rapper snapped back with a glossy, epic-level album that was a culmination of his best work to that point — or maybe ever. From "Dark Fantasy" to "So Appalled" and "Gorgeous," West was at the peak of his lyrical powers, with the rapper-producer exchanging sharp-tongued lyrics with wordsmiths like Pusha T, CyHi The Prynce and Raekwon.
The album also set the stage for one of the best collaborations of the year, with West, Rihanna and Kid Cudi merging their creative powers to create the wondrously rhythmic, GRAMMY-winning hit, "All of The Lights. And Nicki Minaj fans still reference the star’s verse on "Monster," which saw the Jamaica Queens native rise above rap titans Jay-Z and Rick Ross on the smash-mouth track.
Wiz Khalifa -"Black and Yellow" (2010)
After making his name in the mixtape circuit with classic projects Kush & Orange Juice and Flight School, Wiz Khalifa’s mainstream breakthrough came in the form of 2010’s "Black and Yellow." The hit song bolstered the Pittsburgh rapper’s profile in time for his debut studio album, Rolling Papers, and put his hometown and Taylor Gang crew on the hip-hop map.
With the Pittsburgh Steelers making it to the Super Bowl in 2011, the Stargate-produced hit became the team’s unofficial anthem and spawned other remixes in the same vein. "Black & Yellow (G-Mix)" featuring Snoop Dogg, Juicy J, and T-Pain, Brooklyn rapper Fabolous honored the New York Yankees with "White and Navy" and Lil Wayne paid homage to the Green Bay Packers with "Green and Yellow."
The success of "Black and Yellow" opened the doors for Khalifa and his stable of Taylor Gang talent to flourish, namely artists like Ty Dolla $ign, Chevy Woods, and Three 6 Mafia legend Juicy J. The song also placed a brighter spotlight on Rostrum Records and recent signee Mac Miller, who was months removed from releasing his acclaimed K.I.D.S. mixtape and would later become a star before his unexpected death in 2018.
Chief Keef - "I Don’t Like" (2012)
The city of Chicago was set ablaze with the release of Chief Keef’s "I Don’t Like." The Young Chop-produced track popularized the city’s drill sound, which established a new influx of talent bred from the Windy City and a subgenre later adapted by UK and New York rappers like Fivio Foreign and the late Pop Smoke.
The impact of the street hit led to its inclusion on the G.O.O.D. Music compilation project, Cruel Summer, featuring artists Pusha T, Kanye West, Big Sean, and Jadakiss. "I Don’t Like" was later placed on Keef’s debut release, Finally Rich, helping further catapult the Chicago artist to mainstream notoriety. The song is still credited as the launching pad for the drill movement, with Keef viewed as the forefather of the subgenre as a whole.
Kendrick Lamar - Good Kid, M.A.A.D City (2012)
After the release of Lamar’s independent album Section.80, his second turn took more of a mainstream approach while chronicling his teenage years in the gang and crime-ridden streets of Compton. He enlisted artists like Drake for the flowy, Janet Jackson-sampling hit, "Poetic Justice," and drew in legends like Dr. Dre for "Compton" and Jay-Z for "Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe - Remix."
The multi-platinum project was produced by Dj Dahi, Sounwave, Hit-Boy, Scoop DeVille, Just Blaze, and others, who delivered atmospheric and tight-bass beats for Lamar’s narrative-driven concept album to flourish. Good Kid, M.A.A.D City earned Lamar four GRAMMY nominations at the 2014 GRAMMY Awards, including Album Of The Year. And while he didn’t take a gramophone home during that night, his major label made him the face of West Coast rap for years to come.
Future and Drake - What a Time to be Alive (2015)
After cranking out moderate hits like "Tony Montana" and "Never Satisfied," Drake and Future linked up for an Avengers-level collaboration, which culminated into 2015’s What a Time to be Alive.
The project came together after Drake met with Future in Atlanta for six days. Their first recording was "Digital Dash," and from there, the two artists merged their respective sounds together for a hyper-trap mixtape filled with hits like "Jumpman" and "Big Rings." On the production side, What a Time to be Alive was largely handled by executive producer Metro Boomin, who produced or co-produced eight of the project’s 11 songs, alongside fellow beatmakers Noah "40" Shebib, Allen Ritter, Southside, Boi-1da, and others.
The 2015 release also foreshadowed Future and Drake’s later collaborations. Future enlisted artists like fellow Atlanta rapper Young Thug for Super Slimey and Lil Uzi Vert for Pluto x Baby Pluto, and Drake linked up with 21 Savage for 2022’s Her Loss.
Rae Sremmurd - "Black Beatles" (2016)
After scoring hits like "No Flex Zone" and "No Type," brothers Swae Lee and Slim Jxmmi literally had the world in suspension with the 2016 hit "Black Beatles" featuring Gucci Mane. The "SremmLife 2" single sparked the viral mannequin challenge, which saw social media users stand frozen in time as a camera filmed their surroundings with their song playing in the background.
Internet trends aside, the song was a massive hit that landed the group and Gucci Mane their first No. 1 song on the Billboard Hot 100. The Mike Will-produced track also pushed additional sales of the duo’s second album, which went from selling 30,000 equivalent units in the first week to eclipsing one million sales by November 2017.
Jay-Z - 4:44 (2017)
With a resume as stacked as Jay-Z’s, his claim as the greatest MC of all time was viable long before the release of 4:44. But the late-career release did more than just add to his illustrious discography; it was one of the most complete and transparent bodies of work Hova has ever produced.
On tracks like "Kill Jay-Z," the Brooklyn rapper stripped his ego-fueled moniker to give listeners a snapshot of his upbringing and past failures as Shawn Carter the man. He takes a step back to reflect on his mother’s sexuality on "Smile," and the challenges he faced in his marriage to Beyoncé on the title track.
While many viewed 4:44 as a response to Bey's Lemonade album, the project also touched on the importance of shared success on "Legacy" and the push for generational wealth on "The Story of O.J." 4:44 garnered three nominations at the 60th GRAMMY Awards, including Song Of The Year and Album Of The Year.
Migos - "Bad and Boujee" (2016)
During the 2017 Golden Globe Awards, rapper and Emmy-winning actor Donald Glover had a confession: Migos’ "Bad and Boujee" was the "best song ever." By then, the 2016 single was already a popular viral hit, with memes surrounding the lyrics "rain drop, drop top" bubbling up online. But Glover’s shoutout helped the G Koop and Metro Boomin-produced hit to reach the top spot on the Billboard Hot 100, a first for the Georgia-born rap group and featured artist Lil Uzi Vert.
"Bad and Boujee" established the Migos as the hottest rap group of the era, and spearheaded each member’s solo projects and business ventures. The multi-platinum single was even nominated for Best Rap Performance at the 2018 GRAMMY Award.
Drake - "God’s Plan" (2018)
With countless across the 2010s, it’s hard to choose which Drake record made the biggest splash during the era, but 2018’s "God’s Plan" has a case when it comes to global reach. Produced by Cardo, Young Exclusive, Boi-1da, and long-time collaborator Noah "40" Shebib, the GRAMMY-winning single topped the charts in 14 countries while posting record-setting streaming numbers.
Though the pop-trap hit was met with mixed reviews upon its release, "God’s Plan" shattered Apple Music and Spotify first-day streaming numbers with 14 million and 4.3 million, the most of any song that year on both platforms. By the first week, the song climbed to 82.4 million total streams.
"God’s Plan" was the lead single for Drake’s EP Scary Hours and fifth studio album Scorpion, and notched the Toronto artist Best Rap Song at the 2019 GRAMMYs. The song’s music video, which showed the rapper giving out a million dollars to people in Florida, also made waves online, amassing countless social media memes and over 1.5 billion views on YouTube as of July 2023.
Cardi B - Invasion of Privacy (2018)
The story of Cardi B, who rose from reality TV star to GRAMMY-winning artist, proved there could be more than one Queen ruling over the rap game. And her groundbreaking debut, Invasion of Privacy, inspired a new legion of women artists with dreams of occupying their own respective thrones.
With street anthems like "Bodak Yellow," "Bartier Cardi," and the reggaeton-inspired "I Like It" featuring J Balvin and Bad Bunny, Cardi showcased her knack for catchy hooks, sharp lyrics, and the colorful personality found beneath the brash, aggressive flow. Producers DJ Mustard, Allen Ritter, Benny Blanco, Boi-1da, and others elevated the project to album of the year consideration.
Along with winning Rap Album Of The Year at the 2019 GRAMMYs, Invasion of Privacy took the No. 1 spot on the Billboard 200 upon its release, making Cardi only the fifth female rapper to reach the top of the charts at the time. Even in the years after its release, the album continues to make history for the "WAP" artist, who became the first woman to have all of her album’s songs reach platinum status when Invasion of Privacy reached the milestone in 2022, according to Billboard.
Essential Hip-Hop Releases From The 1990s: Snoop Dogg, Digable Planets, Jay-Z & More
In the '90s, hip-hop officially left the underground for full commercial fanfare. During hip-hop's golden age, rappers were multifaceted in their flow and lyrics, creating music that is now legendary.
Three decades ago, hip-hop made a turn from the underground to commercial fanfare. The eclectic sensibilities of the 1980s created space for artists of all stripes, leading to the golden age of hip-hop, and releases that are now considered an integral part of the genre's canon. By the 1990s hip-hop was a chart-topping entity and enterprise, where artists were popularized through streetwear campaigns and brand deals.
In this decade, rappers were multifaceted in their flow and lyrics — whether rugged and hard-spitting, or poetic and fervently expressive. Artists like psychedelic hip-hop group De La Soul, salacious femcee Lil' Kim and Atlanta heavy-hitters Outkast expanded rap’s palette. Beats ranged from synthetic to weighty 808 drum patterns, all which redefined the genre’s 20-year presence.
Hip-hop chronicled truth and fantasy, providing listeners both deeply resonant and vividly divergent soundtrack whose influence continues to be felt. Decades later, records released in the 1990s are legend, and many of them appeared on the 65th GRAMMY Awards stage in a massive tribute to hip-hop.Here are 10 signature albums that bridged the golden age and the digital era of hip-hop.
De La Soul - De La Soul Is Dead (1991)
By 1991, conscious hip-hop pioneers De La Soul were over the "D.A.I.S.Y. Age" introduced on their seminal debut album 3 Feet High and Rising. The Long Island trio, composed of Posdnuos, Maseo and the late Trugoy the Dove jazzed up their sound on sophomore effort De La Soul Is Dead, marking a radical transition from hip-hop "hippies" to earnest rhymesayers.
Posdnous and Trugoy melded simple production (courtesy of Prince Paul) with complex bars on "Pease Porridge," and also explored the traumas of sexual molestation through metaphor on "Millie Pulled a Pistol on Santa." Although De La Soul Is Dead received mixed reviews, the LP was one of the first albums to earn a five-mic rating in hip-hop publication The Source. "Still progressing and proud of it, De La has successfully escaped being trapped in the sophomore jinx with grooves that are harder than a brick wall," the throwback review reads.
With De La Soul Is Dead, the group, whose back catalog just arrived on digital music services in March, evaded the dreaded sophomore slump and cemented their place in hip-hop history.
Snoop Dogg- Doggystyle (1993)
After Calvin Broadus — then performing under the moniker Snoop Doggy Dogg — released his breakthrough album Doggystyle, West Coast rap was never the same. Playing on inspirations from classic Blaxploitation films and early funk pioneers, Snoop kept his posture smooth while rhyming over beats from Dr. Dre (who also discovered the Long Beach native), and welcomed fellow then-newcomers like The Lady of Rage, Tha Dogg Pound, Warren G and RBX as features.
Giving listeners "just a small introduction to the G-Funk era," Snoop helped usher in a soul-laden gangsta rap sound that stood in distinct contrast to the East Coast’s grittiness and jazz influence. The iconic "Gin and Juice" and "Who Am I (What’s My Name?)" have long been summertime cookout staples, while the eerie "Murder Was the Case" preceded Snoop being acquitted of murder just three years later. Now a 16-time GRAMMY nominee, Doggystyle marked Snoop’s debut as a hip-hop elite.
A Tribe Called Quest - Midnight Marauders (1993)
Three albums into their career, A Tribe Called Quest didn’t let up on Midnight Marauders. The Queens-bred group, which included Q-Tip, the late Phife Dawg, Ali Shaheed Muhammad (and occasional member Jarobi White) flaunted their lyricism and expansive musical knowledge on the 1993 release, which was navigated by a robotic "tour guide."
Q-Tip and Phife’s wordplay is nimble throughout the album, but truly spotlighted on the Trugoy the Dove-assisted "Award Tour," the amorous "Electric Relaxation" and "The Chase, Pt. II." "8 Million Stories" and "Midnight" were solo moments for Phife Dawg and Q-Tip, respectively, each who had brushed up their penmanship since ATCQ’s 1991 reinvention on The Low End Theory. Both atmospheric and imaginative, Midnight Marauders showcased ATCQ’s range as a progressive hip-hop act.
Digable Planets - Blowout Comb (1994)
Jazz rap trio Digable Planets maintained their cool just one year after winning a GRAMMY Award for Best Rap Performance By A Duo Or Group. In 1994, Ishmael "Butter Fly" Butler, Mariana "Ladybug Mecca" Vieira and Craig "Doodlebug" Irving followed with Blowout Comb, their second and final studio album. With a minimalist approach, Digable Planets trekked through urban and Afrocentric themes soundtracked by live instrumentation and spoken word.
Emotionally stirring and thematic, "Black Ego" saw Digable Planets tackling economic injustices and Black nationalism with nods to Blaxploitation films Cleopatra Jones and Superfly. The group asserted their refusal to go commercial on laidback earworm "Jettin." Seventies slang and references to New York City boroughs floated throughout Blowout Comb, and although singles "9th Wonder (Blackitolism)" and "Dial 7 (Axioms of Creamy Spies)" didn’t chart, the album reintroduced Digable Planets in their most authentic form and reached No. 32 on the Billboard 200.
2Pac - Me Against the World (1995)
With an awareness unrivaled by his contemporaries, Tupac Shakur's penultimate album, Me Against the World, exploredhis complexities. By March 1995, the rapper had served one month in prison on sexual abuse charges, and had used his previous year of freedom to record arguably the most poignant LP of his lifetime.
On the titular track, Shakur examined impoverished Black communities and morbid thoughts of mortality. A sample of Stevie Wonder’s "That Girl" textures "So Many Tears," where 2Pac vocalizes music industry woes, his depression and even predicts an early death. "Dear Mama," (which inspired the FX docuseries of the same name), was 2Pac’s dedication to mother and former Black Panther Party member Afeni Shakur; it became the third song by a rap act to be placed in the Library of Congress.
The latter song and Me Against the World would both earn Shakur his first GRAMMY nominations. While he didn't win, both are masterpieces that signaled the rapper’s coming-of-age.
Jay-Z - Reasonable Doubt (1996)
Jay-Z gave a solid lyrical offering on his 1996 debut. A landmark album on the now-defunct Roc-A-Fella Records, the 14-track Reasonable Doubt brought mafioso and luxury rap into the ring, as Jay-Z gave semi-autobiographical tales of street life.
On "Feelin’ It," the Brooklyn rapper boasts his riches and opulent lifestyle, while the Issac Hayes-sampling "Can I Live" explores the close calls that the hustle brings. Hov’s stream-of-conscious flow highlighted production from the likes of Ski Beatz, DJ Premier and Clark Kent.
Reasonable Doubt predicted Jay-Z’s thriving future without a doubt, as he’s since taken hip-hop’s throne as a coveted 24-time GRAMMY-winning artist (in addition to 88 nominations).
Lil’ Kim - Hard Core (1996)
Brooklynite Lil’ Kim carved out space for risque rap on her 1996 solo breakout Hard Core. Less than six months after the murder of her mentor the Notorious B.I.G., the former Junior M.A.F.I.A. member achieved solo commercial success for her provocative lyricism and appearance. Whereas many of her contemporaries adopted a more androgynous style, Lil’ Kim played up her sex appeal onstage and on record.
The raunchy "Big Momma Thang," which samples 1978 Sylvester deep cut "Was It Something That I Said," shows Lil Kim’s allyship with queer listeners. Lil’ Kim asserted her hood dominance on "No Time," while flaunting her affection for being classily "draped in diamonds and pearls." Although Hard Core was Moderately received, Lil’ Kim’s rap successors —Doja Cat, Megan Thee Stallion and Cardi B — would later speak highly of the Queen Bee’s NSFW magnetism. Nearly 30 years later, contemporary women in hip-hop continue to strive for Lil’ Kim’s unapologetic influence.
Missy Elliott - Supa Dupa Fly (1997)
Hip-hop hadn’t witnessed fly until Missy "Misdemeanor" Elliott stepped onto the scene. The Virginia-born rapper and singer/songwriter had once been a part of R&B group Sista before partnering with producer Timbaland. The two both wrote and produced almost the entirety of Aaliyah’s 1996 album One In A Million. By the late ‘90s, Elliott’s pen was in demand, giving her the confidence to share her unconventional sound and look as a solo act.
Her 1997 debut, Supa Dupa Fly, redefined what it meant to be a woman in rap. Over Timbaland's bass-thumping production, Elliott went full-on futuristic. She humorously teased her sexuality on the audacious "Sock It 2 Me," while the bouncy "The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)" sampled Memphis soul vocalist Ann Peebles with peculiar lyrics like "my finger waves these days, they fall like Humpty."
Two decades before being inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and receiving the Black Music Collective's Recording Academy Honors award, Elliott took the rap world by storm. Ahead of its time yet heralded, Supa Dupa Fly and Elliott’s one of a kind style showed the artist’s peers and successors how to be creative anomalies.
Outkast - Aquemini (1998)
The South had something to say on Outkast’s third album Aquemini. The duo of André 3000 and Big Boi asserted their southern charm and immaculate rhyme schemes on the 16-track album that catapulted them to stardom. As the two rappers perfected their individualism, Aquemini also showed 3000 and Big Boi seamlessly meshing their styles together.
More spacey than their sophomore album ATLiens, Outkast doubled up on their down home twang on the funky (but controversial) "Rosa Parks." The two questioned reality from dystopian technology on the surreal "Synthesizer" with P-Funk legend George Clinton. Listeners can visualize a juke joint scene on the reggae-tinged "SpottieOttieDopaliscious," where 3000 and Big Boi intertwine tales of a violent nightclub encounter and a cursed romance.
Aquemini ushered a turn in Dirty South hip-hop, where the region gained national respect for its storytelling, realism and unique flow.
Dr. Dre - 2001 (1999)
Super producer and rapper Dr. Dre brought out the all-stars on his 1999 sophomore solo album 2001. The LP reunited the now seven-time GRAMMY-winner with his prodigies Snoop Dogg, Eminem, Xzibit, Nate Dogg and Kurupt, while ushering in a new age of West Coast rap. Seven years after his groundbreaking debut album The Chronic, the former N.W.A. member was "Still D.R.E."
On the aforementioned track, written entirely by Jay-Z, Dr. Dre flexed his near 15-year impact in hip-hop. "The Watcher" detailed the Compton native reaching music industry plateaus despite paranoia of "a new era of gangstas." Strip club anthem "The Next Episode" harkened back to Dre and Snoop’s "Nuthin’ But A 'G' Thang," while "Let’s Get High" captured a raunchy house party. On 2001, now certified 6x platinum, Dr. Dre was at his most carefree while setting the bar high for a new generation of hip-hop.
Photos (L-R): Joseph Okpako/WireImage; Tim Mosenfelder/FilmMagic; Prince Williams/Wireimage; Vivien Killilea/Getty Images for Justin Combs Events; Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images
15 Must-Hear New Albums Out This Month: SZA, Neil Young, A Boogie Wit da Hoodie, NCT Dream & More
Rounding out the year, here are the can't-miss releases and massive new albums dropping in December 2022 from Weezer, Metro Boomin, NOFX, Jacquees, Ab-Soul, and many others.
And just like that, 2022 is almost done — but not before we get another round of must-hear albums. December's slate of releases is set to send the year out on a high note, with something for all tastes.
This month heralds much-anticipated returns from R&B innovator SZA, with S.O.S., and rap super-producer Metro Boomin, with the mysterious HEROES & VILLAINS. December's riches also include Bad MFs from West Coast hip-hop supergroup Mount Westmore, indie-rock lifers Weezer dropping SZNZ: Winter and a loaded, possibly final album from punk-rock misfits NOFX. There's also new-generation R&B (RINI’s Ultraviolet EP and Jacquees' Sincerely For You), dark techno (Terence Fixmer's Shifting Signals), soul-baring indie (Sophie Jamieson's Choosing), and much more.
Below, check out a guide to the 15 essential albums dropping just in time for the festive season. — Jack Tregoning
Contributed reporting by Ashlee Mitchell
SZA - S.O.S.
Release date: TBD
Five years after her GRAMMY-nominated debut album, Ctrl, it's about to be SZA season all over again. While details are still pending, the alternative R&B star is expected to drop her second album, S.O.S., this month, following the single "Shirt" and its teaser follow-up, "PSA".
In a revealing Billboard cover story, SZA spoke frankly about the pressure she feels to release the album while navigating the music industry and her fans' expectations. As always with SZA, the music itself speaks volumes, and the darkly seductive "Shirt" (accompanied by a music video co-starring SZA and Academy Award nominee LaKeith Stanfield in a riff on Bonnie and Clyde) suggests S.O.S. will be something to savor. — J.T.
Metro Boomin - HEROES & VILLAINS
Release date: December 2
To prepare fans for his new album, HEROES & VILLAINS, sought-after rap producer Metro Boomin went all-out on a short film starring his collaborators Young Thug and Gunna alongside celebrated actors Morgan Freeman and LaKeith Stanfield. Following that flex, the artist's first solo LP in four years is set to feature a who's who of rap, with an exact tracklist still to be announced.
Metro Boomin's previous album, 2018's Not All Heroes Wear Capes, featured the likes of Travis Scott, 21 Savage and Gucci Mane rapping over the producer's dark, trap-centric beats. This time around, he's keeping his cards close to his chest, slyly sharing a video of the studio sessions on his Instagram with the caption, "When the sequel is even better than the first." All will be revealed on Dec. 2. — J.T.
Neil Young - Harvest (50th Anniversary Edition)
Release date: December 2
This year marks the 50th anniversary of Neil Young's seminal folk-rock album Harvest, released to great acclaim in 1972. Featuring indelible songs like "Heart of Gold," "Old Man" and "The Needle and The Damage Done," Harvest was the best-selling album of that year in the US.
To celebrate the milestone, Young is releasing a special anniversary edition, available in either CD or vinyl box-set. Extras include a new two-hour documentary called Harvest Time, an official release of Young's BBC In Concert performance , and a hardcover book featuring never-before-seen photos and notes by legendary rock photographer Joel Bernstein. Consider this the festive gift for the Neil Young completist in your life. — J.T.
RINI - UltraViolet
Release date: December 2
After breaking out with his 2021 debut album, Constellations, RINI returns this month with the seven-track EP, Ultraviolet. The Filipino-Australian R&B talent, who now calls Los Angeles home, pairs his indelible voice with slinky, late-night production that pulls the listener close.
Ahead of Ultraviolet, RINI has released the singles "Haunt Me" and "Selfish," featuring GRAMMY-winning rapper BEAM, which pair his themes of love and longing with gauzy, head-nodding beats. "I want to be able to show the world and myself that I'm growing, not just in music, but as a person," RINI told Uproxx in May. On Ultraviolet, which also features the slick bedroom jams "Something to Feel" and "Your Eyes," that evolution is evident. — J.T.
NOFX - Double Album
Release date: December 2
SoCal punk veterans NOFX have always kept up a prolific output, and this month the band returns with their 15th LP, Double Album. Following last year's Single Album, the conveniently titled Double Album features 10 new songs with perfectly NOFX titles like "Punk Rock Cliché" and "Is It Too Soon if Time Is Relative?" Lead single "Darby Crashing Your Party" showcases the band at their hard-riffing, rowdy best, with frontman Fat Mike clearly relishing lyrical volleys like, "A middle-class clown waging lower class war/A Beverly Hillbilly peeled off the floor."
In a statement announcing the new album, Fat Mike revealed the songs were recorded at the same time as Single Album, then finished off later. "I think it's a very enjoyable album, and maybe our funniest," he added. It could also be NOFX's parting gift — responding to a fan’s Instagram comment, Fat Mike announced that 2023 will be the band's "last year" after an "amazing run." — J.T.
Terence Fixmer - Shifting Signals
Release date: December 2
French producer Terence Fixmer has been one of the most intriguing figures in the electronic music scene for well over a decade. Over six past solo albums, numerous EPs and standalone releases, Fixmer has perfected a dark, gritty sound that melds techno with the looser industrial spirit of electronic body music (EBM).
Fixmer's seventh album, Shifting Signals, continues in that vein while allowing for new textures to creep in. "On each album I aim for something different but I retain the core sound, which is always there and often dark and melancholic," the producer wrote in a statement. "Sometimes the balance tips slightly and on this album, I'm striving to be freer and open myself up more to melody."
That openness to different modes is showcased on the atmospheric, piano-led "Synthetic Minds," which evokes a John Carpenter film score, while fellow singles "Corne de Brume" and "No Latitude for Errors" are built for heady techno dance floors. — J.T.
Sophie Jamieson - Choosing
Release date: December 2
On her debut album, Choosing, London-based singer-songwriter Sophie Jamieson doesn't shy from difficult or uncomfortable emotions. Lead single, "Sink" lays bare her push-pull relationship with alcohol over a lulling bed of piano and drums. That theme of emotional vulnerability carries through the LP's 11 songs, which foreground Jamieson's enchanting voice and plain-spoken lyrics.
"The title of this album is so important," Jamieson wrote in a statement. "Without it, this might sound like another record about self-destruction and pain, but at heart, it's about hope, and finding strength. It's about finding the light at the end of the tunnel and crawling towards it." Choosing arrives via Bella Union, the tastemaking label led by Simon Raymonde, formerly of Scottish dream pop band Cocteau Twins. — J.T.
White Lung - Premonition
Release date: December 2
Canadian punk rockers White Lung weren't expecting to take six years to follow up 2016's celebrated Paradise. As the story goes, the band got together in their hometown of Vancouver in 2017, expecting to rip out their final album before parting ways. In the studio, frontwoman Mish Barber-Way discovered she was pregnant with her first child — which, along with a global pandemic and another child, put the album plans on ice.
Fast forward to 2022, and White Lung's fifth and final album, Premonition, is finally here. With all that extra time to marinate, Premonition is a thrilling return from the trio, mining deeper themes with the same raucous, kick-down-the-door energy that fans expect. The album opens furiously with "Hysteric", and also features the singles "Date Night" and "Tomorrow," which match Barber-Way's impassioned vocals with muscular punk-rock riffing.
"We felt like this record was the right endpoint and we are happy the songs will finally be released," the band wrote in a statement. — J.T.
A Boogie Wit da Hoodie - Me vs. Myself
Release date: December 9
New York's A Boogie wit da Hoodie has been steadily hyping the release of his fourth album, Me Vs Myself, throughout 2022. Originally scheduled for November, the album will drop this month, right in time for A Boogie's hometown album launch at the iconic Apollo Theater in Harlem.
Me Vs Myself was preceded by a pair of singles, "Take Shots," featuring Tory Lanez, and "Ballin," which both showcase the rapper's supremely confident flow and wavy beats. While the full tracklist is not yet confirmed, A Boogie's previous album, ARTIST 2.0, covered the R&B and rap spectrum with guests like Summer Walker, Khalid, Young Thug and Lil Uzi Vert, without pulling focus from the main star. The rapper has already lined up dates for the Me Vs Myself tour stretching into 2023, so it's a great time to bet on A Boogie. — J.T.
Mount Westmore - Snoop, Cube, 40, $hort
Release date: December 9
When living legends Snoop Dogg, E-40, Too Short and Ice Cube formed the supergroup Mount Westmore, West Coast rap heads took notice. After several hints that a collaborative album was coming, Mount Westmore made the surprise decision to release their debut, Bad MFs, exclusively as an NFT via the blockchain-based platform Gala Music.
The album arrives on streaming services this month under a new title, Snoop, Cube, 40, $hort, featuring additional songs not included on the NFT version. A spirit of loose fun and ride-or-die friendship carries through all the singles released so far, including the swaggering "Bad MFs" and the bass-heavy, light-hearted "Big Subwoofer." As Snoop put it to HotNewHipHop, "You bring the legends of the West Coast together, something great will always happen." — J.T.
Leland Whitty - Anyhow
Release date: December 9
Best known as a member of Toronto-based jazz ensemble BADBADNOTGOOD, Leland Whitty is a true multi-instrumentalist. On his seven-track solo release, Anyhow, Whitty oversaw all production and composition, moving deftly between guitar, synthesizer, woodwinds and strings.
Following his scores for indie films Disappearance at Clifton Hill and Learn to Swim, Whitty was inspired to combine cinematic composition with rock and jazz instrumentation in his own project. Lead single "Awake" perfectly strikes that balance with twinkling keys, mournful strings and an insistent drum beat, while follow-up "Glass Moon" conjures a similarly beguiling mood. Members of BADBADNOTGOOD and Whitty's musician brother also joined the studio sessions, making Anyhow a family affair. — J.T.
Jacquees - Sincerely For You
Release date: December 16
On "Say Yea", the sultry bedroom anthem he dropped back in May, Jacquees croons, "Girl, you overdue for some romantic s—." That simple line is something of a mission statement for the R&B casanova, whose third album, Sincerely For You, drops this month.
The LP features "Say Yea" alongside 16 more R&B jams, including singles "Tipsy," which captures the singer's blurry plea to a lover, and the smoothly boastful "Still That." Elsewhere, Sincerely For You offers up guest turns from Future (who also executive produced the album), 21 Savage and Tory Lanez, plus the R&B dream team of 6lack and Summer Walker on "Tell Me It's Over." On his socials, Jacquees dedicated the album to "everybody who been there for me along the way" and promised to deliver only "real R&B." — J.T.
Ab-Soul - Herbert
Release date: December 16
Six hard-won years after his last album, the divisive, conspiracy theory-heavy Do What Thou Wilt., Ab-Soul has found his drive again. The rapper from Carson, California returns this month with a deeply personal album that shares his birth name, Herbert.
Ab-Soul's new outlook was previewed in lead single "Do Better," which reckons with the scars of his past and looks to the future with powerful clarity. The next single, "Gang'Nem," featuring Houston rapper FRE$H and produced by fellow Top Dawg Entertainment mainstay Sounwave, also revisits his upbringing and pays respect to L.A. street culture over a woozy, hard-hitting beat.
For fans of Ab-Soul's dense lyrical style and gravelly flow, Herbert is an eagerly-anticipated return to the rap limelight. — J.T.
NCT DREAM - Candy
Release date: December 19
NCT Dream, the youngest sub-group of Neo Culture Technology (NCT), has seen exponential growth since they rebranded as a fixed unit in 2020. The septet is set to release a winter special EP called Candy on Dec. 19. The mini-album's six tracks, include lead single "Candy," which was originally performed by H.O.T. in 1996. The album will be the first holiday release for any NCT sub-group, following a slew of successful releases from NCT Dream this year.
The group released their second studio album, Glitch, in March 2022, followed by their repackaged Beatbox in May. Their first feature film, NCT Dream The Movie: In a Dream, released worldwide on Nov. 30 and Dec. 3 and documents the opening days of their tour in Seoul. The group will finish their tour in Japan by February 2023. — Ashlee Mitchell
Weezer - SZNZ: Winter
Release date: December 21
This has been a remarkably good year to be a Weezer fan. Always pleasingly prolific, in 2022 the band decided to release a four-EP series under the name SZNZ, each timed to coincide with a new season.
Following Spring, Summer and Autumn editions, SZNZ: Winter arrives just in time for peak coziness. While the complete tracklist is not yet known, Weezer performed the EP in full for an intimate crowd at the Troubadour in Los Angeles (using their favored alias Goat Punishment), with new highlights including "I Want A Dog" and "The One That Got Away."
While frontman Rivers Cuomo has described SZNZ: Winter as having a sad vibe that suits snowed-in days, you can always count on Weezer to cut the melancholy with some power-pop verve. — J.T.