Photos: Justin Shin/Getty Images, Just Kidding Limited, Justin Shin/Getty Images, Victor Boyko/Getty Images for Miu Miu, Frank Hoensch/Redferns
Get To Know The Many Sounds Of Asian Pop: From The Philippines' BGYO To Hong Kong's Tyson Yoshi & Thai Singer Phum Viphurit
While many are likely familiar with big names in K-pop such as BTS, BLACKPINK and NCT 127, the Asian content has a plethora of equally exciting pop acts. Read on for 10 artists from China, Japan, Vietnam and beyond who are worthy of checking out.
In recent years, the music industry has made strides when it comes to giving artists of Asian descent a platform. At this year's Oscars, "Naatu Naatu" from the film RRR became the first Indian-Telugu language song to win Best Original Song. At Coachella, Diljit Dosanjh made history as the first South Asian artist to perform in Punjabi; BLACKPINK became the first-ever K-pop group to headline the iconic music festival.
Such achievements have been a long time coming. Asian musicians have long struggled in mainstream entertainment, often encountering stereotyping, exoticism and othering. Some studies have suggested that East Asian performers face more discrimination over their music-making, with many considering their style as less expressive than caucasian acts. And while much work has been done to change these views, more needs to be done.
Asian artists around the world have been responsible for some of the most exciting and eclectic music being released today. While many are likely familiar with names in K-pop such as BTS, BLACKPINK and rapper Jackson Wang, there are many other underrated pop artists from across Asia. From Korea, Thailand, Hong Kong, China, Japan to Vietnam, below are 10 artists worthy of checking out.
Car, The Garden
Since his debut in 2013, South Korean singer/songwriter Car, The Garden has been winning the hearts of audiences with his husky, soulful voice and feel-good songs. After releasing an EP and several singles under his previous stage name Mayson the Soul, the singer changed his name to Car, The Garden, which is an interpretation of his real name (his last name Cha is a homonym of "car" and his first name "Jung-won'' means garden).
His original songs can be heard on Korean television series and international films. "Romantic Sunday," which he wrote for the hit 2021 K-rom com series "Hometown Cha-Cha-Cha," similarly evokes feelings of being cheerful, happy and carefree. His latest single, "Home Sweet Home," was written for the acclaimed Canadian film Riceboy Sleeps, about a South Korean single mom who leaves her life behind for the Canadian suburbs to give her son a better life.
Chinese singer Lexie Liu has long been crossing cultural boundaries. Known for blending elements of electro-pop, cyberpunk, hip-hop and rock in her music, Liu also sings in English, Mandarin and Spanish. Liu incorporated Spanish into her debut studio album, The Happy Star, after hearing one of her songs on the Spanish Netflix series "Elite."
As an independent artist, Liu’s career could have ended up much differently. At 17, she placed fourth on the South Korean reality competition series "K-pop Star 5." Ultimately, she decided to leave behind a chance at becoming a K-pop idol for more freedom to write and produce her own songs.
Today, her cool girl and edgy style has moved beyond music. She’s since also become a darling in the fashion world, modeling and working with brands including Miu Miu, Chanel and Yves Saint Laurent.
While idol groups are popular in Japan and Korea, BGYO have been redefining what it means to be a boy band in the Philippines. The five member boy group was formed in 2018 after the Philippine commercial broadcast network ABS-CBN launched its Star Hunt Academy, a program meant to introduce Filipino talent to the international market. After training in a program similar to the K-pop trainee system in South Korea, BGYO made its official debut in 2021.
Dubbed the "Aces of P-pop," the group’s name is an acronym for "Becoming the change, Going further, You and I, Originally Filipino." The quintet mix elements of pop and R&B, and attribute their music and style to their Filipino roots. BGYO's lyrics focus on social issues relevant to youth such as self-love, empowerment and hope. Their debut single "The Light" made the group the fifth Filipino artist ever to appear on the Billboard Next Big Sound chart, debuting at No. 2. BGYO capped off their debut year with more than 10 million streams on Spotify and 12 million views on YouTube.
So!YoON!, born Hwang So-yoon, is an alt-pop singer, songwriter and guitarist known for her powerful, raspy vocals. Before embarking on a solo career, she founded the band SE SO NEON at the age 18 — which became one of South Korea’s most acclaimed indie groups for their blend of rock riffs, R&B sounds and airy synths.
Earlier this year, So!YoON! released her sophomore studio album Episode1: Love which explores themes of love, desire and self-reflection. Lead single"Smoke Sprite" features BTS rapper RM. Set over the grainy wash of grungy guitars, the sensual song follows two lovers calling out to one another in the gap between dreams and reality. The track is effortlessly cool, and perfectly describes So!YoON!’s unique sound and style.
PRETZELLE is a Thai pop girl group that’s quickly taking the T-pop genre into the international market. The quartet's name is inspired by the infinity shape of the pretzel because it symbolizes happiness and enjoyment.
This past January, PRETZELLE released the assertive and confident love song "U R MINE," which sees members fiercely devoted to a romantic partner and not wanting outside competition for their affection. Members Inc, Ice, Aumaim and Grace all took part in the writing process, and enlisted Shin BongWon (known for working on "Ditto" by the K-pop group NewJeans) to mix the song. The song has since received more than 161 million streams overall on streaming platforms including YouTube, Apple Music, Spotify and TikTok.
Since its debut in 2020, PRETZELLE’s music has also appeared on a number of original soundtracks, including the Thai TV drama "Love Revolution" and the Korean animation "Teteru." The group have also found a solid fanbase, fondly called Twist.
The frontwoman of the indie Korean rock band the Volunteers is also a singer/songwriter whose voice you may have heard on K-drama soundtracks. Baek Yerin's original ballad, "Here I am Again," was featured in "Crash Landing on You" and peaked at No. 6 on the Billboard K-pop Hot 100 chart. Known for her sweet and delicate vocals, Baek is credited with composing the majority of her songs, often touching on real life experiences.
She first debuted with major South Korean label JYP Entertainment as part of the duo 15& with singer Jamie (also known as Park Ji-min), and formed her own independent label, Blue Vinyl, in 2019. The 25-year-old writes in Korean and English, citing Amy Winehouse, Oasis and Rage Against The Machine as some of her biggest influences. Yerin has also written for artists including Chungha, Soyou and Yeonsoo.
Thai Indie singer/songwriter Phum Viphurit first rose to international fame in 2018 with the breezy summer song "Lover Boy," and has since garnered a loyal fanbase in his home country as well as South Korea, India, Japan and Hong Kong. Viphurit writes in English and blends elements of surf-rock, pop and neo-soul into his guitar riffs and melodies.
The 27-year-old moved to New Zealand at age 9, and then moved back to Thailand for university. Viphurit reached viral fame for his original and cover songs on YouTube, and signed to the indie label Rats Records. While Viphurit’s songs are often uplifting (such as 2022's "Welcome Change"), he has also been open about his own mental health struggles in songs like 2019’s "Hello Anxiety."
Fans of the "Full House" TV franchise may recognize Sexy Zone, the Japanese boy band that made a brief appearance on "Fuller House" in 2018. Yet Sexy Zone has been an active group since 2011, releasing eight studio albums and numerous No. 1 hits in Japan.
With a name inspired by Michael Jackson’s "sexiness" and bright and colorful concepts, Sexy Zone’s music can surely be compared to the catchy bubblegum pop hits often heard in K-pop. The members’ eye-catching costumes, synchronized choreography and charming personalities have helped the group garner a loyal fanbase, dubbed the Sexy Lovers.
Tyson Yoshi, born Ben Ching Tsun Yin, is one of Hong Kong’s best known hip-hop artists, amassing more than 46 million views on YouTube and more than 247,000 monthly listeners on Spotify, with streams from more than 100 countries. While ballads have often dominated the Hong Kong music scene, Yoshi represents a new kind of contemporary artist in his home city. His music melds elements of trap, pop, hip-hop and R&B, while he sings in Cantonese, Mandarin and English.
While Hong Kong society has typically favored more conservative styles and appearances, Yoshi stands out for his bleached colorful hair and tattoos. He's developed a fanbase for singing about wanting to be understood and tackling stereotypes, such as in "I Don’t Smoke & I Don’t Drink." When he started dabbling in songwriting in university, he took inspiration from artists including Avril Lavigne, Justin Bieber and pop-punk bands Sum 41 and Simple Plan.
MIN first gained popularity as part of the dance and music group St.31, eventually becoming one of Vietnam’s top female soloists. She found success with her 2017 mid-tempo pop single "Có em chờ" with rapper MR.A. Later that year, her EDM-inspired track "Ghen" featuring ERIK from the V-pop boy band MONSTAR.
MIN’s profile continued to grow internationally after Vietnamese-American singer Thuy asked her to sing Vietnamese lyrics on a remix of her viral single "girls like me don’t cry." On collaborating with MIN, Thuy wrote on YouTube that it’s "so important to me to show two badass Vietnamese women from opposite ends of the globe TOGETHER."
Photo: Timothy Norris/Getty Images
Listen: Celebrate AAPI Month 2021 With This Playlist Featuring Artists Of Asian & Pacific Islander Descent
While the AAPI experience is far more vast than four letters can hold, AAPI Heritage Month provides ample opportunity to explore the infinite reaches of what Asian, Asian-American and Pacific Islander art can be—and this playlist can be your soundtrack
The experience of being Asian-American and/or of Pacific Islander descent cannot be contained in a word, phrase or corporate slogan. Each universe contains innumerable micro-universes; under a microscope, even more realms of identity and feeling emerge.
That said, it is incumbent on each of us to recognize and appreciate the contributions of AAPI (Asian American and Pacific Islander) artists, even though the dialogue and introspection the term entails is astronomically larger than four letters can hold.
GRAMMY.com is proud to curate a playlist for Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month 2021. Uncontained by genre or racial identity within the Asian and Pacific Islander diasporas, the result is a sonic tour through wildly divergent genres: pop, jazz, classical and beyond. We've also compiled quotes from artists as well as Recording Academy staffers who self-identify as AAPI.
The aim of this playlist is not to artificially string together artists based on their appearance or perceived racial descent; rather, it is to demonstrate how artists within the AAPI world have enriched more styles of music than we can count.
Picks From Recording Academy Staff Members Of AAPI Descent
Kobukuro — "Winding Road"
Golden — "Hate Everything"
Lee Hong Gi — "Still"
"I love that this month gives us an additional platform to celebrate the APIDA community. The Asian American experience is filled with a lot of complexity and richness, so I'm grateful we've been able to shed some light on that through food, music and art, history, advocacy, and a heightened sense of community. Always excited to keep the energy going beyond this month!" —Taylor Kimiko Saucedo, Project Manager of Ticketing and Event Operations, Production Department
BTS — "Butter"
Stray Kids — "Back Door"
Eric Nam — "Honestly"
Radwimps — "Nandemonaiya"
Pierre Fitz — "T'lah Berubah"
Gabe Bondoc — "Filler"
"I'm so appreciative of our community and all those who support it, in and out of this month. My Philippine culture has always been a part of me, and while I always try to bring it out in everything that I do, this month I feel more welcomed to show it! During this month, I'd also love to encourage everyone to support local Asian businesses; not only have they been affected by COVID, but also the Asian injustice acts happening throughout the world." —Thea Marvic A. Domingo, Executive Office Coordinator
Rina Sawayama — "Bad Friend"
Mitski — "Your Best American Girl"
Yuna — "Dance Like Nobody's Watching"
H.E.R. — "Focus"
Suzuki Saint — "Sunday"
Japanese Breakfast — "Be Sweet"
"To be honest, I am used to AAPI Month being ignored by non-AAPI entities, so it's been a little strange to see so much about it this year. I'm getting promotional emails from companies highlighting AAPI-owned products, etc. I have a feeling the increased celebration of AAPI month is unfortunately tied to the rise in hate crimes targeting AAPI people, and so I have mixed feelings about it—not about the month itself, but about non-AAPI folks suddenly acknowledging it when they haven't before." —Jane Kim, Coordinator
Crush + Pink Sweat$ — "I Wanna Be Yours"
DPR Live — "Cheese & Wine"
Phum Viphurit — "Lover Boy"
NIKI — "Indigo"
Rich Brian — "Kids"
"I'm glad that many people have been promoting Asian American culture this month! From the food and languages to more serious issues such as discrimination and #StopAsianHate, it's been an enlightening few weeks." —Chris Chhoeun, Accountant, Business Affairs
Quotes From Artists Of AAPI Descent
Joey Alexander — "Under The Sun"
"While it's often customary in Asian culture to remain silent when faced with adversity, it is encouraging to see how all the Asian communities have banded together to speak out against the violence that's been inflicted on our elders, brothers and sisters, not just recently but systematically because of how we look. I am hopeful for a future of harmony where there is an open dialogue about our cultural differences and how as humans, we are all seeking peace, happiness and prosperity." —Joey Alexander
Vijay Iyer Trio — "Children of Flint"
"It's not that any particular album is political, but at almost any moment in my musical life, I'm listening to what's happening outside and that is informing what I do, why I do it and with whom I do it. And for whom I do it. The first two pieces on the album [2021's Uneasy] are probably the most 'political.' But it's more like each of them was serving a specific purpose—serving a specific cause. And by serving, I mean literally serving. Trying to support an existing movement on the ground." —Vijay Iyer, speaking to GRAMMY.com in 2021
Bhi Bhiman — "Magic Carpet Ride"
"I'm happy to see it. I think it's important for the younger generation of kids—Asian kids, but maybe more importantly, non-Asian kids—to see that we are just a normal part of the country. We don't need special sections for our movies on Netflix or a temporary showcase on corporate retail websites. We just wish to be treated with the same respect as our European-American counterparts in real-life situations. We want to be judged on the content of our character, not the color of our skin. But there are some strong stereotypes in America about Asians, and in my case, Indians. My parents are from Sri Lanka, which floats on the edge of the Indian subcontinent. As a musician, I'm often on the wrong end of conscious and unconscious bias, unfortunately. The plight of the perpetual foreigner is that our superpower is invisibility in plain sight. It can be challenging, especially when I know I am one of the best out there at what I do. But I love seeing people embracing their heritage and culture and having pride in it. I see the world changing and stereotypes fading away, which is good news for the next generation." —Bhi Bhiman
Yo-Yo Ma — "Amazing Grace (Prelude)"
"I value the perspective that time can give as well as different disciplines. We can look at ourselves biologically. If we look at ourselves genetically, the huge chasms in racial-ethnic differences become minuscule." —Yo-Yo Ma, speaking to GRAMMY.com in 2021
Jihye Lee — "Struggle Gives You Strength"
"I sincerely appreciate the many organizations celebrating AAPI Month. I am thrilled to see some of the Asian musicians getting special exposure, including myself. I am beyond thankful for the support. Although I am aware all the actions come from genuine intention, I still want to be seen just as a composer. I hear the name Toshiko Akiyoshi as a comparison just because of my ethnicity. Even though I have tremendous respect toward her, I don't think it's my music that reminds them of Toshiko but my look—and I am not even Japanese. Maybe people want to name the same skin color of musicians they know as a nice and kind gesture, just like I hear 'Ni hao' on the street—and I am not Chinese. I am an Asian female composer, but when it comes to music, I wish my music to be heard without any preconception and wish to have AAPI support focused on our works—not on being Asian itself. We are in the middle of making changes, and I hope these efforts lead us to a world that doesn't need the word AAPI." —Jihye Lee
Jen Shyu — "Lament for Breonna Taylor"
"I'm an artist who really embraces my ancestry. I go deep into it. That's my path. But I know how frustrating it must be for other Asian artists who people might expect that of them. They just want to make music, you know? It's just being the other. I've never let it stop me because I'm so hard-headed. I just go forward." —Jen Shyu, speaking to GRAMMY.com in 2021.
Tomoko Omura — "Revenge of the Rabbit"
"They're stories you can relate to, those folk tales. They've been told for a long time for reasons, right? Because we're humans at the end. Those children's folk songs and folk tales have lived so long because the messages are strong. I think it's a great way to connect us as humans." —Tomoko Omura, speaking to GRAMMY.com in 2021.
Min Xiao-Fen — "Annica (Impermanence)"
"This world is small, you know? People should be open-minded." —Min Xiao-Fen, speaking to GRAMMY.com in 2021.
More Artist Picks By Recording Academy Staff
Jay Som — "Tenderness"
Mxmtoon — "Creep"
Tyler Shaw — "North Star"
Steve Aoki feat. BTS — "Waste It On Me"
TOKiMONSTA — "Bibimbap"
Giraffage feat. Japanese Breakfast — "Maybes"
RayRay — "Outer Space"
Yaeji — "Raingurl"
Peggy Gou — "It Makes You Forget (Itgehane)"
"As a person of color myself, I know the struggle of feeling foreign or being 'othered' in my own home country. Yes, I am of two lineages, but I am as equally American as I am Mexican. I feel the plight of my AAPI brothers, sisters and nonbinary friends during this difficult, scary time. And while we are celebrating AAPI artists and cultures all month long, we must keep the conversation going all year long. #AAPIAllYear." —John Ochoa, Managing Editor of GRAMMY.com
Raveena — "Tweety"
Hayley Kiyoko — "Found My Friends"
—Jenn Velez, Editor of GRAMMY.com
ZHU ft. Yuna — "Sky Is Crying"
TOKiMONSTA ft. Yuna — "Don't Call Me"
Lastlings — "No Time"
Yaeji — "WAKING UP DOWN"
—Ana Monroy Yglesias, Editor of GRAMMY.com
Photo: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post via Getty Images
Bustin' Out With D.C. Go-Go: How DMV Hip-Hop Grew From A Unique Local Sound
When hip-hop emerged in Washington, D.C. and the surrounding areas of Maryland and Virginia, every song, album, and artist had a go-go reference. Read on for a comprensive guide to the genre and how go-go music influenced the many sounds of DMV hip-hop.
When hip-hop began to emerge in Washington, D.C. and the surrounding areas of Maryland and Virginia, every song, album, and artist had a go-go reference. Read on for a history of the genre and how it influenced the many sounds of DMV hip-hop.
In 1987, Salt-N-Pepa's "My Mic Sounds Nice" became an instant favorite in clubs and radio stations across America. Built around a sample of Grover Washington Jr.'s "Mister Magic," the go-go beats were a clear call to the other place producer Hurby "Luv" Bug the song’s producer, was a clear call – down I-95 in Washington, D.C.
Salt-N-Pepa weren't the only New York City based hip-hop act to incorporate go-go beats. In fact, the majority of club and radio friendly songs of the 1980s had some linkage to D.C.'s homegrown sound. Yet down in the capital city, D.C. clubs largely favored go-go over the emerging sounds of hip-hop — and that dissonance would give rise to a unique sonic palette in the city.
When hip-hop began to emerge in the DMV — the district. D.C. and the surrounding areas of Maryland and Virginia — every song, album, and artist had a go-go reference. As a result, DMV hip-hop had a unique musical center that differentiated it from hip-hop from other regions. The future of hip-hop in the DMV would be inextricably linked to go-go for the rest of time.
Bustin' Loose: Creating The D.C. Sound Of Go-Go
Before hip-hop, there was go-go. Known for its high-spirited live instrumentation and boisterous call and response, the post-funk, percussion-heavy music was born in the Black neighborhoods of a then-majority Black Washington, D.C. in the early to late 1970s. Heralded by young people, who created and innovated on the genre, the sound evolved into a movement.
Despite sharing a similar origin story to hip-hop, go-go was always the preferred sound of D.C. Go-go’s history predates that of hip-hop music by nearly 10 years.
By 1965, go-go’s self-professed godfather, Chuck Brown, fused what he had learned as a supporting guitarist for soul artists including Jerry Butler, and joined the Los Latinos band in 1965
Because of that band – and others – playful melodies, percussion and interactive performances, go-go spread throughout the city and its surrounding suburbs. Go-go became the voice of Chocolate City, a name given to the District of Columbia because of its abundance of Black residents.
Similar to many genres born from the call and response tradition, go-go needed a bandleader or, in its case, "a talker." And Chuck Brown emerged as the one to take the culture forward.
Brown, affectionately known as the Godfather of Go-Go, became the face of the genre. While a member of the band Los Latinos, Brown developed an awareness and love of the Latin percussion groves, prominent in the band’s repertoire. His incorporation of those grooves, along with James Brown influence, and African-inspired drum patterns combobulated into a distinctive sound. As the band would play, Brown would break the song down through segmented patches of percussion and call response, over time, this would become known as his signature.
Over time, the band’s name changed from Los Latinos to the Soul Searchers, signed to a national label and released their debut album, We The People, in 1972. The album’s title track ushered in a series of hits followed by "Blow Your Whistle" on their sophomore album Salt of the Earth, and "Bustin' Loose," a gold-charting 1979 single, which became a go-go classic. Alongside Experience United (E.U.), Rare Essence and Trouble Funk, the band laid the foundation for go-go’s success in the hip-hop age.
As hip-hop developed in the 1980s, Junkyard Band, a go-go band composed of Black youth, started to gain success on a local and national level. The group was featured in two films: 1983’s D.C. Cab and 1988’s Tougher Than Film. The latter film, directed by music producer Rick Rubin and starring Run D.M.C., was not the first time a Simmons has been involved with the go-go scene.
Fascination with go-go only grew, drawing interest beyond the DMV. Between 1983 and 1984, record executive Russell Simmons and artist Russell Simmons hired E.U. to play drums on two releases: "Party Time" by Kurtis Blow and "Slave to the Rhythm" by Grace Jones. In 1984, Chuck Brown & the Soul Searchers released "We Need Some Money," one of the first records to be described as Brown rapping. Two years later, Junkyard Band signed to Simmons and Rubin's Def Jam Recordings and released their debut LP, The Word/Sardines. Rubin, a penchant for the region’s sound, used the drums from "Drop the Bomb," the title track from Trouble Funk’s 1982 album on the Beastie Boys' 1986 debut, Licensed to Ill.
Rubin and Simmons were not the only ones interested in go-go. Spike Lee was exposed to go-go at the 9:30 Club. His first exposure, the reaction of Howard University students to EU’s performance of "Da Butt," resulted in the director hiring the band to produce a song for the soundtrack of his next film School Daze. The 1988 single achieved success on the pop and R&B Billboard charts.
Hip-Hop Begins To Show Up In D.C.
As the decade progressed, hip-hop and go-go continued to interact with each other, but their paths remained separate and parallel. Hip-hop was described as "bamma. Uncultured, uncool, some New York s—," by D.C. residents.
"Stone Cold Hustler" — the 1987 debut single from rapper D.C. Scorpio — was the first attempt at a combination of hip-hop and go-go. and changed perceptions about hip-hop in the region.
In 1988, D.C. Scorpio battled then-burgeoning local rapper Fat Rodney at Marty’s Chapter III, a music venue in Southeast D.C. (A further sign of hip-hop and go-go integration, Rodney also performed alongside popular go-go acts Rare Essence and Junkyard Bard at local venues.)
The duo represented two sides of the region’s burgeoning rap scene: Scorpio backed by a record label, Rodney backed by the streets.
"Bustin Out," Rodney's posthumous 1989 release, was the second attempt at the incorporation of hip-hop and go-go. Ultimately, the song succeeded at pushing D.C. hip-hop forward.
However, as D.C.’s national hip-hop standing rose, its national profile was severely hindered.
The record breaking number of homicides in D.C. resulted in a new classification for Chocolate City: murder capital. Then-Mayor Marion Barry was arrested in an FBI sting operation; the city became known as an "important node" in the drug transportation network along the East Coast.
Music followed suit. Shortly after Rodney’s death in 1989, Rare Essence oriented themselves towards predominant R&B sound. Junkyard Band took a hiatus from music. EU also adopted a heavy R&B sound.
Local Universities And Scenes Push Hip-Hop Forward
While some of the biggest names in go-go and hip-hop experienced a personality crisis, the seeds planted by early hip-hop adopters took root at D.C.'s many universities.
"Dusk till Dawn," a student radio show at the University of Maryland, featured music from local rappers. Asheru and Blue Black convened on the grounds of University of Virginia, eventually resulting in the formation of the Unspoken Heard collective, and later Seven Heads Entertainment. The campuses of Virginia State and Virginia Union universities served as the feeding groups for the Boogiemonsters, a hip-hop group composed of Mondo McCann, Vex Da Vortex, Myntric, and Yodared.
A few musicians from the go-go scene achieved some success at this time. In 1991, Stinky Dink released "One Track Mind" on Luke Records, a Miami-based record label started by Dr. Luke of 2 Live Crew. Sam The Beast, a rapper from Charlottesville, Virginia released "Knock Some Boots'' on Atlantic Records in the same year.
A hip-hop movement was also growing along the U Street Corridor. Venues like the Station of the Union bar in North West D.C., Kaffa House and Bar Nun became incubator spaces for emerging rappers.
Opus Akoben, a three member group composed of Kokyai, Sub Z, and Black Indian came into being in 1994; Kokyai and Sub-Z knew of each other through their involvement in the burgeoning hip-hop scene of the U Street Corridor. Black Indian, then a teenager, joined the group on an European tour, where they were well received.
The three rappers were also involved in Freestyle Union, a cypher workshop hosted by hip-hop activist, educator and fellow emcee Toni Blackman and Monty Taft at the area's 9:30 Club. Founded in 1994, Freestyle Union was a creative space for emcees interested in the art of lyricism, activism, and storytelling.
For as much as conscious hip-hop was a cultural movement in D.C. and elsewhere, the city’s history with party-friendly and go-go inspired rap records was not entirely forgotten.
"The Water Dance," a 1994 single from DJ Flexx encapsulated that youthful spirit. The song quickly spread throughout the D.C. area, stretching outside the Mid-Atlantic to Atlanta and Philadelphia. Two years later, D.C. had another party anthem with DJ Kool’s "Let Me Clear My Throat" (its title taken from a line on Licensed to Ill), which topped dance charts in the United States and abroad.
DJ Kool was not the only D.C. area musician with a hit on the Billboard charts. Nonchalant, a rapper affiliated with the city’s open mic scenes found success with "5 O’Clock," a 1996 single from her debut album Until the Day, that charted on the Hot 100, R&B/Hip-Hop, and dance charts. The single was an amalgamation of producers from the scene along with production from DJ Young Guru, a regular of the scene and student at Howard University.
Silence Falls On The District As Major Labels Look Away
In the new millennium, hip-hop had begun its ascent into broader pop culture. And, finally, had begun to find its footholding in Chocolate City.
D.C. youth were determined to be heard on a national and international stage. And the labels were eager too. Union Records signed 3LG, a socially conscious hip-hop group. RCA Records signed Questionmark Asylum, a four member group. The Album, their debut release, was highly acclaimed with "Hey Lookaway" and "Get With You" as stand outs.
On the more aggressively criminalized front, by 1998, Tommy Boy Records signed Section 8 Mob, a D.C. hip-hop group founded in 1992 under the name Section.
By the spring of 2000, both movements were gaining steam.
Black Indian — a favorite of both conscious and street rappers — released Get 'Em Psyched!!, his debut album on MCA Records. Eventual U Street area legends Asheru & Blue Black's Soon Come was released in 2001 and was heralded as an underground hip-hop classic.
Small and independent record labels were cognizant of movements borne by day in many of the city’s hotbeds of rising crime and by night in the city’s opulent downtown nightclubs – oftentimes rivaling those in other rap capitals of the era.
Of note, Storm The Unpredictable, a local rapper who received a distribution deal with H2Pro/Orpheus/EMI, earned positive response for his 2003 album Amalgamation, but at that time, major record labels had shifted their interests towards burgeoning rap scenes in Atlanta, Houston, Memphis and more.
A New Wave Of Hip-Hop In D.C.
It wasn’t until the blog era of the mid-to late 2000s — an unprecedented period of online music discovery and exploration —that rappers from D.C. received another look from major record labels.
A return to the collegiate, intellectual vibe of the U Street corridor in the 1990s highlighted the era. The era’s hipster aesthetics placed D.C, rapper Wale in conversation with rappers from around the country. His 2006 release "Dig Dug," made in remembrance of Ronald "Dig Dug" Dixon, the lead percussionist of go-go group Northeast Grooves, was an auditory emblem of hometown pride and an early indicator of how he would incorporate go-go into hip-hop.
The success of "Dig Dug" began to change perceptions of D.C. as a hip-hop town, not a go-go town that engages in hip-hop. Local radio stations were bombarded with requests to play "Dig Dug" and Wale later received the D. C. Metro Breakthrough Artist of the Year Award at WKYS's Go-Go Awards.
At the top of the year, producer Mark Ronson hired Wale for his UK tour and placed Wale on a remix on Lily Allen’s "Smile." Ronson later brokered a production deal for the artist with his company Allido Records, produced Wale's 100 Miles & Running mixtape , and performed alongside him at the MTV Video Music Awards in 2007.The true pinnacle of his success was his 2008 deal with Interscope Records, which was the result of a war between Def Jam, Atlantic Records, and Epic Records. Wale was now the face of D.C. hip-hop.
Wale was not the only artist garnering attention for his musical innovations. Tabi Bonney, a D.C. native, received video play for "The Pocket," his debut single. Born in Togo, but raised in the District, his contribution to the local hip-hop scene was the introduction of Afro-funk elements, inspired by his father Itadi Bonney.
His presence opened go-go, a cultural production of Black D.C., to a global Black audience and brought another dimension to the regional sound. Like Wale, Bonney tapped the local and growing hip-hop culture to create music that felt truly like himself. "On Jupiter," a track from The Summer Years, a 2011 mixtapes, places him not only in conversation with his father’s musical legacy but his own.
In the early aughts, the U Street corridor continued to serve as an incubator for the region’s artists and musicians. Spaces like the Up and Up, an open mic that started at Bowie State University, but found a home at Liv Nightclub in D.C. became a third space for artists like Gods’illa. The Diamond District, a three person rap collective of XO, yU the 78er, and Oddisee appeared on the scene with "Streets Won’t Let Me Chill," and In The Ruff, their 2009 debut album.
With the increased visibility of the media and savviness of Internet culture, artists of this era were marketed as being from The DMV. An abbreviation that stands for the District, Maryland, and Virginia. The origins of the name are highly contested.
According to The Washington Post, the DMV moniker has three origin stories. The first states the moniker was created by 20 Bello, a local rapper who ran the-now defunct website DMV Underground; the second says local promoter Dre All Day in the Paint created the term in 1995, and local radio stations and DJs picked it up from him; the third story says local rap group Target Squad made the term as a sign of unity amongst the regional rap community. Regardless of which story rings true, the term like "The Dirty South '' for rappers under the Mason Dixon Line, consolidated rappers from D.C. and its surrounding areas, to be able to compete against other established hip-hop scenes.
Right before the start of the 2010s, Wale released Attention Deficit,his debut studio album. With singles such as "Chillin" with Lady Gaga, "World Tour" with Jazmine Sullivan, and "Pretty Girls" with Gucci Mane and Weensy of Backyard Band, a go-go band, Wale was on his way towards being a national success. That year, he earned a coveted position on the XXL Freshmen Class.
If 2009 was the year of hipster rap in D.C, 2010 belonged to the streets. It had been decades since the city’s underground had a visible presence in hip-hop, and the coming of Fat Trel felt like an opportune time for them to be heard. A native of Northeast D.C, Trel drew from several rap lineages: gangsta rap, battle rap, and lyricism rappers like Scarface. His witted delivery made him stand out amongst his peers.
His 2010 mixtape No Secrets netted singles "Cremate Em" and "Patron In My Cup" (which samples DJ Class’ Baltimore club hit "I’m The S—") . Produced by The Board Administration, an independent record label started by Wale and marketing executive Greg Harrison, No Secrets became one of the most popular mixtapes in the region. Further, the association aligned Wale with the renaissance of street hip-hop in the D.C. In return, Fat Trel and his group The Slutty Boyz had the backing of an up and coming star.
Born and raised in Southeast D.C., Shy Glizzy's authenticity and unabashed descriptions of the intricacies of the neighborhood made him a rapper to watch out for. He entered entered the hip-hop scene in 2011 with No Brain, and was named by Complex as "10 New DMV Rappers To Watch Out For" in 2012.
Yet it was "3Milli", a 2012 diss track towards Chief Keef, that placed him on a national stage. He also dissed Fat Trel on "Disrespect the Tech," a 2012 release which resulted in a years long beef between the two rappers.
As decade hit its midpoint, Fat Trel left The Board Administration to join Wale at Maybach Music Group, a record label imprint founded by Rick Ross. Wale left Introscope to sign with MMG in 2011. Shy Glizzy was selected to be a part of the XXL Freshmen Class for 2015. Yet it was 2014 that served as a changing of the guard for hip-hop in the DMV.
Under the noise of Wale’s success, a new crop of unconventional rappers had emerged. Logic, a biracial rapper, born tin Rockville, Maryland, had been steadily growing his profile online. When he signed to Def Jam Recordings in 2013, he had accumulated millions of views on YouTube, critically received mixtapes, and a spot on the XXL Freshmen Class of 2013. Logic represented a new generation of rappers born and raised in the DMV, who drew from external influences in their music, not local.
Another who used the Internet to avert regional perceptions was Rico Nasty. In 2016, she began to upload songs on SoundCloud and YouTube. Within months, the songs received millions of views and garnered her placements on series like "Insecure" and multiple best-of lists.
Her music, self described as "sugar trap,"is equal parts soft, vulnerable, poetic, and vengeful, aggressive, frantic, and rough, with influences from Avril Lavigne and Joan Jett. Early tracks like "Smack A Bitch" and "Poppin" indicated her expressive range as an artist. The incorporation of alter egos and her domineering stage presence granted her entry into the fashion world, where she walked for Gypsy Sport, and participated in Volume 2 of Rihanna’s Savage X Fenty fashion show. 2019’s Anger Management, her surprise collaborative mixtape with frequent collaborator Kenny Beats, made several best-of lists.
As hip-hop in the DMV enters a new decade, and hip-hop celebrates its 50th anniversary, one thing is certain: D.C. is a hip-hop town.
Musicians like Beau Young Prince, who emerged during the mid to late 2010s, are starting to hit their stride in the 2020s. "Let Go," his song on the Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse soundtrack, garnered him a GRAMMY nomination. Cordae's first album, Lost Boy, received two GRAMMY nominations.
Xanman, a 23-year-old rapper, whose extended family played with Chuck Brown and Roberta Flack, is racking up millions of venus on YouTube and selling out shows. Xanman’s energy is matched by his counterparts NoCap and YungManny. Another musician who appeared in the 2010s, but found a second wind in the 2010s is Maryland rapper Foggieraw. His interpolation of Alicia Keys’ "You Don’t Know My Name" on his song titled "Psalm 62," has caught the attention of the artists and racked millions of views on Instagram and TikTok. The Prince George County rapper has received praise from Anderson. Paak and SZA, as well being featured in Spotify’s Frequency campaign: a program that spotlights regional sounds and their rappers.
The DMV’s rap scene has evolved on the back of underground-to-mainstream hits that have either raised consciousness or the roof, plus celebrated street-earned wealth or platinum-selling success. Whether the up and coming artists are old to the DMV and new to the general public, there is a wealth of diversity in hip-hop coming out of the District, Maryland, and Virgina.
Press Play On GRAMMY U Mixtape: Ghosted Monthly Member Playlist
The GRAMMY U Mixtape is a monthly, genre-spanning playlist from our talented members. This month, we’ve crafted the perfect mix of tunes with introspective lyrics for a cozy fall day, especially if you’re spooked from your last relationship.
Did you know that among all of GRAMMY U’s members, songwriting and performance is one of the most sought after fields of study? We want to create a space to hear what these creators are making today.
The GRAMMY U Mixtape, now available for your listening pleasure, highlights the creations and fresh ideas that members are bringing to this industry directly on the Recording Academy's Spotify, Amazon Music and Apple Music pages. Our goal is to celebrate GRAMMY U members, as well as the time and effort they put into making original music — from the songwriting process to the final production of the track.
Each month, we accept submissions and feature 15 to 25 songs that match that month’s theme. This month, we’ve crafted the perfect mix of fall-ready introspective tunes — a perfect soundtrack if you’re spooked from your last relationship.
Want to be featured on the next playlist? Submit your songs today! We are currently accepting submissions for songs of all genres for consideration for our November playlist. Whether you write pop, rock, hip-hop, jazz, or classical, we want to hear from you. Music must be written and/or produced by the member (an original song) and you must be able to submit a Spotify, Apple Music and/or Amazon Music link to the song. Artists must be a GRAMMY U member to submit.
About GRAMMY U:
GRAMMY U is a program that connects aspiring professionals and creatives ages 18-29 with the music industry's brightest and most talented minds. We provide a community for emerging professionals and creatives in addition to various opportunities and tools necessary to start a career in music. Throughout the program year, events and initiatives touch on all facets of the industry, including business, technology, and the creative process.
As part of the Recording Academy's mission to ensure the recorded arts remain a thriving part of our shared cultural heritage, GRAMMY U establishes the necessary foundation for music’s next generation to flourish.
Not a member, but want to submit to our playlist? Apply for GRAMMY U Membership here.
Former GRAMMY U Reps Heather Howard and Sophie Griffiths contributed to this article.
Photo: BIGHIT MUSIC
Everything We Know About Jung Kook’s New Album ‘Golden’: Release Date, Album Cover, Tracklist & More
BTS member Jung Kook announced his debut full-length solo album. 'GOLDEN' will drop on Nov. 3; here's everything we know about the K-pop release.
The latest member of K-pop juggernaut BTS has announced a new solo album. Due Nov. 3, Jung Kook's GOLDEN is his first full-length solo release.
The youngest member of the GRAMMY-nominated septet, Jung Kook has long stood out for his creativity in vocals, dancing, and rap skills. In recent years, he's made a distinctive impact via tracks like 2018’s "Euphoria" and 2020's "Still With You," and collaborations with artists like Latto and Charlie Puth. Along with music, he has also expanded his brand presence by venturing into fashion, including a campaign with Calvin Klein.
GOLDEN will include Jung Kook's recent collaboration with Jack Harlow, a catchy pop track with melodies heavily influenced by 2000s-era boy bands.
Jung Kook's debut album follows BTS' hiatus for mandatory Korean military service. For BTS fans — known as ARMY — GOLDEN is a highly anticipated addition to the ensemble's universe.
Although details on GOLDEN are sparse, read more on everything we know about Jung Kook's debut solo album.
GOLDEN Comes Out Exactly One Month After Being Announced
Mark your calendars! Jung Kook is dropping GOLDEN on Nov. 3, exactly a month after announcing it on Oct. 3.
The Album Cover Hasn't Been Unveiled
While the official cover for GOLDEN hasn't been unveiled, the album announcement featured a green background with a golden border and GOLDEN centered in bold. The album announcement photo is a different, much more reserved vibe in comparison to Jung Kook's associated press images. In the latter, the singer is set against a futuristic background in a Y2K-era outfit.
GOLDEN Has A Significant Meaning
The title of the album refers to Jung Kook's moniker the "Golden Maknae," which was gifted by bandmate RM. The Korean phrase maknae means "golden youngest" and, at 26 years old, Jung Kook is the baby brother of the group.
The album is "inspired by the golden moments of Jung Kook, the Golden Maknae of BTS and a solo artist," according to a press release. Given Jung Kook's versatility and skill, his forthcoming album will certainly mark him as a gold star.
The Tracklist Is Still Being Teased
The album will feature 11 songs, including already-released singles "Seven (ft. Latto)," which hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100.
Jung Kook's Jack Harlow collab will also be on the record; the song and No. 3 on UK Official Chart, along with "3D" feat. Jack Harlow, which topped the iTunes Top Song chart in 100 countries/regions.
Pre-Orders Are Already Underway
For fans hoping to get their hands on the album, pre-orders for digital and physical copies begin at Oct.3. at 10 p.m. ET.
Fans Should Expect Upcoming Performances
According to BIGHIT Music, Jung Kook will be making special performances and appearances throughout the album’s release.