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a guide to texas hip-hop
Megan Thee Stallion performs in Houston

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A Guide To Texas Hip-Hop: Definitive Releases, Artists & Events

From chopped & screwed to Megan Thee Stallion, Texas has grown from producing local rap celebrities to a state that superstars call home. Read on for a guide to the origins, trailblazers and ever-evolving styles that characterize Texas hip-hop.

GRAMMYs/Aug 24, 2023 - 03:59 pm

A large percentage of the globalization of hip-hop can be traced back to Texas. Nestled between the influential hubs of Los Angeles and New York, Texas has grown from being a state that produces local rap celebrities to one that superstars call home. 

Multiple cities within Texas’ borders have consistently churned out stars over the past few years, making it a unique and crucial player in making hip-hop mainstream. At its core, cities like Austin, Dallas, Houston and San Antonio are benefactors of a diverse cultural amalgamation. The rap communities that are prevalent today stand proudly on the work of those who came before. 

Yet one will never experience the same culture twice in any of Texas' cities. Our journey will take us deep into the innovative sounds and attitudes of Houston artists and music entrepreneurs. We'll shine a spotlight on the noteworthy talent that has emerged from Dallas and San Antonio since the early 2000s. Finally, we’ll take a tour of Austin, where the vibrant live music scene acts as a focal point for both local and regional accomplishments.

As we commemorate the 50th anniversary of hip-hop, it is only fitting to embark on an exploration of the impact that Texas’ rap scene has made over decades. Walk with us as we delve into its origins, celebrate the trailblazing figures who have contributed to its rise, and immerse ourselves in the ever-evolving themes and styles that have characterized this thriving musical movement.

Listen to the Spotify playlist below or visit Amazon Music, Pandora and Apple Music for an auditory accompaniment to this guide to the best of the Lonestar State.

A Brief History Of Texas Hip-Hop

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Houston was a hotbed for hip-hop talent with artists like Scarface, UGK (Underground Kingz), and Geto Boys gaining local and regional prominence. Their gritty and unapologetic lyrics delved into the harsh realities of life in urban Texas that resonated with audiences far beyond the state's borders.

Most aspiring artists in Houston faced a challenging landscape, though. Deprived of the advantages enjoyed by their counterparts in major music industry hubs like Atlanta, Los Angeles and New York, Texas’ hip-hop community was forced to take on a DIY ethos. Artists, label execs and managers took control of their own promotion, production, and distribution. Labels like James Prince's Rap-A-Lot Records, and OG Ron C and Michael “5000” Watts’ Swishahouse pioneered the path of autonomy long before the term "independent" became a status symbol. 

Texas hip-hop was again thrust onto the main stage again in the mid-2000s when artists such as Mike Jones, Slim Thug, and Paul Wall earned widespread recognition. Mike Jones made a massive impact with standout hits like "Back Then" and "Still Tippin'." These songs not only resonated with regional audiences but also cracked the Billboard Top 100, catapulting Mike Jones to national fame.

Paul Wall's 2005 album The People's Champ solidified his status as a newcomer to be respected. The album boasted four successful singles, including "Sittin' Sidewayz" featuring Big Pokey, "They Don't Know," "Girl," and the collaboration "Drive Slow" with Kanye West and GLC. Both "Sittin' Sidewayz" and "Girl" received RIAA gold certifications, selling over 500,000 copies each. 

Founded in the '90s the Screwed Up Click was a tight-knit collective of rappers, producers, and DJs who were dedicated  to representing Houston's unique rap scene. The group's members included artists like Big Hawk, Big Mello, Big Pokey, E.S.G., Lil' Keke, Fat Pat, Lil' Flip, Z-Ro, and many others. Each brought their own style and personality to the group, contributing to the diverse and rich brand of Texas rap.

The SUC's impact extended far beyond Houston, as DJ Screw's mixtapes began to circulate widely, gaining a loyal fan base across Texas and beyond. 

Tragically, DJ Screw's life was cut short in 2000 due to an accidental drug overdose, leaving a void in the rap community. In the years following DJ Screw's passing, many members of the S.U.C. enjoyed successful careers, both individually and collectively. Artists like Lil' Keke, Z-Ro and Lil' Flip achieved mainstream success while remaining deeply rooted in their Houston origins. The SUC's influence also extended to other cities and regions, with artists from all over the world incorporating chopped and screwed elements into their music.

When Texas Hip-Hop Became Mainstream

UGK has left an indelible mark on rap culture, shaping the genre with their unique style and lyrical prowess. As the pioneers of Texas hip-hop, the duo consisting of Bun B and the late Pimp C brought their distinctive Texas flavor to the forefront of the rap scene. 

A prime example of their impact can be found in their collaboration with Jay-Z on the song "Big Pimpin'." Released in 2000, its bouncy production and memorable verses, specifically Pimp C’s final verse, was a perfect blend of UGK's signature Southern drawl and vivid storytelling. "Big Pimpin'" not only expanded UGK's reach but also solidified Jay-Z's place as a crossover artist, bridging the gap between East and South.

Texas hip-hop was again thrust onto the main stage again in the mid-2000s when artists such as Mike Jones, Slim Thug, and Paul Wall earned widespread recognition. Mike Jones made a massive impact with standout hits like "Back Then" and "Still Tippin'." These songs not only resonated with regional audiences but also cracked the Billboard Top 100, catapulting Mike Jones to national fame. 

Paul Wall's 2005 album The People's Champ solidified his status as a newcomer to be respected. The album boasted four successful singles, including "Sittin' Sidewayz" featuring Big Pokey, "They Don't Know," "Girl," and the collaboration "Drive Slow" with Kanye West and GLC. Both "Sittin' Sidewayz" and "Girl" received RIAA gold certifications, selling over 500,000 copies each. 

Less than half a decade later in Dallas, Dorrough made waves with his breakout single "Ice Cream Paint Job," which earned multiple accolades. The song peaked at No. 5 on Billboard's Hot Rap Songs chart in 2009, cementing Dorrough's place as a rising star nationally. Beyond its chart success, "Ice Cream Paint Job" also became a cultural staple that inspired a slew of spinoff freestyles — the most notable coming from Lil Wayne and his iconic mixtape No Ceilings.  

GRAMMY-winning Artists like Megan Thee Stallion and Travis Scott have kept Texas in the spotlight. In 2019, Megan made a significant impact with her ability to balance empowering lyricism with entertainment. Her hits like “Body” and “Cash S—” took over airwaves around the world, earning her widespread adoration, multiple awards, and a massive global fan base. Moreover, Megan and Beyonce’s “Savage Remix” propelled them to become the first women to win a GRAMMY for Best Rap Song in 2021. 

Originally from Missouri City, Texas, Scott blended various musical genres to create a distinctive sound that has attracted artists like Drake, Future, and more. His albums, including Rodeo, Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight, and ASTROWORLD received critical acclaim and commercial success. Scott’s elaborate live performances and ability to transcend traditional boundaries earned him a cult-like following and cemented his status as a top-tier artist internationally. 

Dallas-dwelling Nigerian American Tobe Nwigwe has carved an indelible niche within the industry with his extraordinary blend of hip-hop, soul, and gospel influences. His dynamic songs transcend conventional boundaries, fusing socially conscious lyrics with captivating melodies. Not to mention, his music videos are visual feasts characterized by vibrant aesthetics and compelling storytelling. For his efforts, Nwigwe was nominated for BestNew Artist at the 2023 GRAMMYs.

Major Promoters, Events & Festivals In Texas Hip-Hop

During the early 2010s, Austin-based concert promoters like ScoreMore Shows took the lead in organizing multi-city tours in Texas that featured then-up-and-coming artists such as J. Cole, Wiz Khalifa, and Big Sean. These tours provided budding rap artists with a precious chance to open for more established acts, gaining exposure and experience. 

In addition to ScoreMore, C3 Presents used and continues to use its Austin City Limits Festival to attract hundreds of thousands of attendees from across the country. 2014’s festival saw an unofficial farewell performance from Outkast — a show that many fans had been waiting years to see. In 2017, Jay-Z brought out hits spanning across his 20+ year career, demonstrating why he’s one of the most decorated GRAMMY winners. 

Every March, thousands of artists and fans from around the globe flock to Austin for SXSW, ready to experience a week’s worth of emerging talent. In 2009, Kid Cudi’s profile grew during Kanye West's Fader Fort show, where West shared the stage with his G.O.O.D. Music signees like Common, Consequence, and Erykah Badu. But it was Kudi who stole the spotlight. His vocals had been featured on West’s then-latest album, 808s & Heartbreak. Cudi mesmerized the audience with renditions of "Day 'N' Nite" and "Welcome To Heartbreak."

Odd Future arrived at the week-long festival in 2011 as one of the most talked about artists slated to perform. This momentum was fueled by their recent appearance on a Billboard cover and a performance on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon. The group commenced their Austin journey with a notable showcase at the mtvU Woodies. Odd Future’s popularity grew exponentially following their electrifying performance at the Fader Fort and several other showcases throughout the week. 

Iconic venues like the Mohawk, Antone's, Emos and Empire Control Room in Austin have become bustling centers for nurturing local hip-hop talent. The House of Blues in revered grounds for Houstonians, offering aspiring artists a coveted platform to showcase their talents and break into the music scene. Elsewhere in the city, Warehouse Live held one of Drake’s earliest concerts in 2009; he returned five years later for an intimate performance during Houston Appreciation Week. Dallas takes pride in venues like Trees, which have played a pivotal role in supporting and fostering emerging artists. San Antonio's Paper Tiger (formerly known as White Rabbit) has also been instrumental in providing a nurturing space for the city's up-and-comers. 

Because of Texas' variety of venues and festivals, the next generation of superstars found fertile ground to establish themselves, build fan bases, and keep Texas as a contributor to rap’s globalization.

Rising Artists In Texas Hip-Hop

As the state’s rap legacy thrives, a wave of talented artists emerges, poised and prepared to embrace the heritage bestowed upon them by their predecessors. There are frontrunners believed to be the next big sensation in every town, each of whom sits on the brink of stardom.

Maxo Kream: Hailing from Houston, Maxo Kream gained recognition for his raw and unfiltered portrayal of street life and the harsh realities of his upbringing. With a unique blend of Southern rap and trap influences, Kream often draws from personal experiences, reflecting on his past struggles and triumphs. His breakthrough came with the release of his 2018 mixtape Punken, which garnered critical acclaim. 

Monaleo: Monaleo's 2020 debut epitomized the essence of Texas. The Houston resident's infectious breakout track "Beating Down Yo Block," reverberated with unabashed energy. The song's clever use of samples from Yungstar, a fellow Houstonian, and his song "Knockin' Pictures Off The Wall" added a nostalgic touch. In 2023, she released her debut Where the Flowers Don’t Die

Magna Carda: Led by charismatic vocalist Megz Kelli and masterful producer Dougie Do as the, Austin's Magna Carda’s music transcends state lines. Kelli's vocals and soul-stirring storytelling blend seamlessly with Do's finely honed beats, creating a mesmerizing concoction of jazz, hip-hop, and neo-soul. Their performances are an immersive experience, captivating audiences from all walks of life. Their magnetic presence has earned them a devoted following across the country. 

That Mexican OT: Hailing from Houston, That Mexican OT showcases an impeccable blend of his Mexican heritage and the Southern flair that characterizes his hometown. Notably, he joined forces with the renowned Houston legend Paul Wall for a collaborative 2023 song "Johnny Dang." 

Riders Against the Storm: Composed of husband-and-wife duo Chaka and Qi Dada, Austin-based Riders Against the Storm (RAS) embraces themes of social justice, empowerment, and unity, resonating deeply with their diverse audience. Beyond their artistic contributions, RAS has been dedicated to community engagement and advocacy. They have actively supported various charitable causes, mentoring young artists, and using their platform to uplift marginalized voices.

The Future Of Texas Hip-Hop

No matter how popular its residents become, Texas will forever remain rooted in its humble beginnings. It’s inspiring to think that a community of rappers, DJs, executives, and producers turned a state that lacked immediate connections to major outlets into a global epicenter consistently birthing remarkable talent. 

But somewhere within the state’s lines is the next rap star who has yet to release their first song. Miles away, there’s a living legend who will never call another place home. The state will continue to adopt many and serve as a warm second home for out-of-town talent looking for a community dedicated to achieving notable status in hip-hop. 

Texas will undoubtedly remain revered and referenced in songs for decades to come due to the contributions of the aforementioned artists. While the future of its rap scene remains uncertain, whatever lies ahead will undoubtedly match the enormity of the state itself.

A Guide To Southern Hip-Hop: Definitive Releases, Artists & Subgenres From The Dirty South

NMIXX perform at KCON 2023 in Los Angeles.

Photo: CJ ENM

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KCON L.A. 2024 Returns: Get Ready With This Playlist Featuring NCT 127, Zerobaseone, ENHYPEN, Zico & More

The ultimate K-pop festival-convention returns to Los Angeles July 26-28, featuring a star-studded lineup with over 20 artists — including ENHYPEN, NCT 127, and Jeon Somi — interactive experiences, and unforgettable performances.

GRAMMYs/Jul 23, 2024 - 01:50 pm

Ever since it first began in 2012, KCON has been a delightful surprise for attendees. Turn right on the convention floor, you might receive a goodie bag filled with high-quality skin care products. Turn left, and you could stumble into the first-ever performance of a K-pop group in the U.S. All this happens before the main concert even begins at night.

Returning to the L.A. Convention Center and Crypto.com arena from July 26-28, this year’s hybrid South Korean pop culture festival-convention event will host over 20 artists. 

The line-up ranges from popular acts around like ENHYPEN and NCT 127 to '90s K-pop legends g.o.d and hip-hop icon Tiger JK (aka Drunken Tiger), plus burgeoning acts, including the newly formed seven-member girl group, IZNA, from the TV competition show I-LAND 2. KCON L.A. 2024 offers an array of musical exploration for anyone enraptured by the South Korean music scene. 

Read more: 11 Rookie K-Pop Acts To Know In 2024: NCT Wish, RIIZE, Kiss Of Life & More

After days of meet-and-greets, showcase performances, and a special KCON Stage, each night of this year's KCON will culminate in a full-blown concert that will air in South Korea as part of the M Countdown music show.

Whether you’re a fan of soloists like Taemin, Zico or Bibi, girl groups like Kep1er and NMIXX, or boy bands like Zerobaseone and TWS, this KCON is undoubtedly for you. There are also surprises for anyone intrigued by changing entertainment technology, like Apoki, a virtual singer designed as a bunny from outer space. 

While you may not (yet!) be a fan of all these artists, familiarize yourself with all that they have to offer with this playlist featuring some of their most popular and newest songs ahead of this year’s KCON L.A. 

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Ivan Cornejo press photo
Ivan Cornejo

Photo: Le3ay Studio

interview

On 'Mirada,' Ivan Cornejo Redefines The Sound Of Sad Sierreño And Helps Fans Heal Through Music

Ivan Cornejo has always found solace in music. With his new LP, 'Mirada,' he wants his fans to experience that sense of belonging: "I write about emotions that everyone goes through or has been through."

GRAMMYs/Jul 23, 2024 - 01:08 pm

Within the landscape of Música Mexicana, Ivan Cornejo is a rarity.

The 20-year-old California native stands out as one of the most intriguing acts in a genre represented by artists known for their flashy looks and music. Soft-spoken and warm, Cornejo's gentle demeanor effortlessly translates into his music and on-stage persona and musical productions.

Cornejo's songs and lyrics are far removed from the "corridos tumbados" that have taken over global charts. Fans have dubbed the Mexican American singer the "Gen Z therapist" because of his heartbreak-influenced lyrics and dexterity in creating the ethereal, melancholic sound known as sad sierreño.

With two albums under his belt, Cornejo makes his major label debut with Mirada, released on July 18 via Zaragoza Records / Interscope. The album features the wistful, sad sierreño sound that made Cornejo famous three years ago with "Está Dañada," a heart-wrenching ballad from his first LP, Alma Vacía (2021).

In the single, which has amassed over 270 million streams on Spotify, Ivan — then 17 — captivated listeners with powerful melodies accompanied by languid and nostalgic vocals, reciting verses filled with maturity beyond his years.

In Mirada, the Música Mexicana breakout star presents 12 solo songs inspired by summer nights, including singles "Aquí te Espero," "Donde Estás," "Baby Please," and "Intercambio Injusto." As with his previous productions, Cornejo makes heartbreak the central theme of his album while guitars and melodies reminiscent of alternative rock take center stage.

While the album doesn’t feature additional artists, Cornejo opened up to collaboration within the studio. The singer, used to collaborating solely with his producer, Frank Rio, encountered a challenge when bringing two additional creatives into the studio.

"The process for this new project was very different," Cornejo tells GRAMMY.com in a Zoom interview from Mexico City. "[Having other] creatives in the studio [resulted] a lot of learning. For example, my producer and I learned a lot from each other; we had constructive disagreements. We heard each other's opinions and learned a lot from this project."

The rising sad sierreño star discusses with GRAMMY.com the creative challenge of Mirada, the artistic boundaries he pushed along the way, the advantage behind bilingual songwriting, and the unexpected singer that influenced his lyrics.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

'Mirada' feels very personal, almost like a diary. How would you describe the album's overall theme and feeling?

While writing and recording this album, I wanted it to feel very personal, intimate, and gentle but with a little more uplifting sound.

I wanted the Mirada theme to feel like a nostalgic summer night. I want people to feel like they can play these songs on the beach, with friends, or alone in bed. I wanted it to feel a little euphoric.

The record showcases a blend of Latin and Anglo influences. Tracks like "Baby Please," "Dónde Estás," and "Aquí te espero" have a rock ballad feel. What inspired this fusion?

My influences come through a lot. I remember listening to my sister's and brother's music at eight while my parents would play classical regional Mexican music, like mariachi and corridos. As I grew up and started making music, it meshed into this sad sierreño and this funky Spanish alternative [genre].

The guitar is a staple in your sound. How did it become so central to your musical expression?

I started playing the guitar when I was about seven. I fell completely in love with the instrument. My mom tried to put me in violin classes, and I learned the instrument for a while, but the guitar kept winning me over. I kept learning more and more about the guitar, and around 12, I started learning songs by Radiohead, Arctic Monkeys and Tame Impala, and that's where my music emerged.

Mirada portrays the nostalgia around summer nights. How were those nights for you?

I spent it with my friends, making a bonfire and hanging out at the beach, pool, or jacuzzi.

Those nights when you just put your phone away and let the wind hit you and talk about your feelings, your thoughts are different, that kind of night.

What kind of music did you listen to on those summer nights?

Last summer, I listened to [Bad Bunny’s] Un Verano Sin Ti; [that album] was  No. 1 on my playlist.

The year before, I listened to just any vibey music, like Arctic Monkeys, Tame Impala, or Radiohead, when I was alone. Cigarettes After Sex, I listened to them a lot during the summer when I was going to sleep. I always put them on.

You say that each track on this album is pushing the boundaries of your art. In what aspect are you breaking those barriers?

I go back to my last two albums [Alma Vacía and 2022’s Dañado,] and I want to grow as an artist and musician every time I listen to them.

Every time we enter the studio, [my producer] Frank Rio and I try our best to push the limits for ourselves and keep growing as artists. Vocally, musically, instrumentally, [we're] trying our best to make things sound even better.

How do you achieve that? Do you take vocal references from singers you like? Instrumentally, how do you break patterns within the genre? 

Sometimes, when I feel something is missing from a song or I want to do something but don't know how to listen to a bunch of music that I think [is similar].

For example, each song on Mirada has a very different style. Depending on the style of the song, I’d listen to genres, styles, or certain ways that artists sing that match that song. Listening to those songs gives me ideas; it's like combining those ideas.

Vocally, for example, if I don't know how to sing a specific word or note, I listen to references and try to combine them in the best way possible.

Your lyrics show maturity beyond your years. Do you consider yourself an old soul?

Yes, I'm an old soul, for sure. When I was 7 years old, my brother would play Johnny Cash songs, and I was right behind him listening to them, downloading all the songs. I remember that for a while, I would go to sleep listening to Johnny Cash for an entire year.

Read more: Meet The Gen Z Women Claiming Space In The Regional Mexican Music Movement

Your song often references therapy sessions, and your fans even consider you the therapist of an entire generation. Do you feel that way?

I never realized my music had that effect. I would read comments saying, "Oh, he healed me" or, "I feel better now," or "he's my therapist, he's my comfort artist." That gave me a lot of joy because my music touched my fans in a very emotional way.

[Those comments] gave me the great idea of naming my [last] tour "Terapia." [Going to a concert] It's like you go to a therapist and you hear them. It all made sense. I hope my music is therapy for a lot of people.

Have you ever been to therapy yourself?

No, I have not. But... I should go. [Laughs.]

How do you articulate emotions clearly in your songs, especially without formal therapy experience?

I write about emotions that everyone goes through or has been through. And I try to write it in a way that sounds fresh and new. Also, melodies are very important because you can say something; depending on the melody, it can change your feelings. I try my best to make it hit the heart melodically and lyrically.

What about Spanish led you to express heartbreak in this language?

I was very inspired by Mexican music because there's something about the sound and the language that is very romantic. For example, there are some phrases in English that you might translate to Spanish, and they sound better in Spanish. Since my first language is English, I can translate them into Spanish and make them sound better and more emotional.

I try to write [songs first] in Spanish, but from time to time, when I get stuck, I start thinking in English. I try to think of just lyrics, and I'm like, okay, that's a cool lyric; how do I make it fit into this? And then, if it doesn't work, I'll try another one and another one until something works, or I get an idea in English, and it just works in Spanish.

[Being bilingual] gives you two perspectives, which helps a lot in the writing process.

What does it mean to you to represent Mexican American culture through your music?

It feels like you're put on a pedestal and have to be a role model. Being part of two cultures is a blessing, because you have two sides and perspectives. I'm very lucky to be here in Mexico and to learn about Mexican culture while still being from the United States and learning from American culture.

Did you feel you fit in when you were growing up?

No. At first, no. I was very shy.

Did music give you that sense of belonging?

Yeah, for sure. It gave me relief as I fit somewhere, and my voice was being heard. [It makes me feel] like I have support and people are [rooting for] me, and it helps me feel a bit understood.

As you enter your twenties and deal with growing fame, do you feel pressure being labeled as the voice of a generation?

I feel the pressure of being a role model, but it's a good kind of pressure. It helps me to make sure that I'm always giving my all. It's almost like motivation; I have to keep trying my best every time to be a role model.

It helps me to ensure that I'm always giving 100 percent and that it's like motivation, too. I have to keep trying my best each time to be a role model.

You sold out the mythical Houston Rodeo in April. How did singing to a crowd of 72,000 make you feel?

[Selena] and Johnny Cash are many of my favorite artists and artists that I look up to [have performed there]. It was a complete honor to play the Houston Rodeo and one of the scariest things I've ever done. [Laughs.]

It was scary at first. But when I realized that there were a good number of fans, I took out my in-ears, and I heard nearly the whole stadium singing back to me. It was such a beautiful and unforgettable night for me. It was a crazy experience.

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ATEEZ performs in Los Angeles
ATEEZ performs in Los Angeles

Photo: KQ Entertainment

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ATEEZ’s First U.S. Stadium Show Was A Triumph & Testament To Their Growth

During two performances at L.A.'s BMO Stadium, the fast-rising K-pop boy group dazzled audiences with drama, dance, and a deep appreciation for how far they've come.

GRAMMYs/Jul 22, 2024 - 04:51 pm

On July 20,  K-pop boy group ATEEZ stepped foot onto one of their largest stages yet for their first U.S. stadium show. The scene at Los Angeles’ open-air BMO Stadium was a far cry from the group's L.A. performance in 2019 — their first tour stop ever — at the petite Globe Theater, a former movie palace with a tenth of BMO’s capacity.

Even then, as a five-month-old rookie group, fans (called ATINYs) saw a remarkable promise in Hongjoong, Seonghwa, Yunho, Yeosang, San, Mingi, Wooyoung, and Jongho. In the years since, ATEEZ has developed a growing presence in the States, even being the subject of a first-of-its-kind GRAMMY Museum pop-up. If the BMO Stadium performance was any indication, ATEEZ have officially hit their stride.

Read more: Inside The GRAMMY Museum's ATEEZ & Xikers Pop-Up: 5 Things We Learned

The nearly sold-out July 20 show felt like a level up, and not just because of the size of the venue. "As we performed, I really felt like ATEEZ has grown so much," singer Yunho said near the end of the night. He’s not wrong: they’re undoubtedly more confident than ever. Perhaps that’s because the octet made history earlier this year as the first K-pop boy group to perform at Coachella. Regardless, ATEEZ's growth in both production and showmanship was palpable. 

If you missed ATEEZ’s two nights in L.A., don’t worry: K-pop’s resident pirate kings (more on that title later) have more up their billowy sleeves. In the spirit of their never-ending grind, the Towards the Light: Will to Power tour has nine more North American stops, including New York’s Citi Field. Read on to find out why you won’t want to miss these fast-rising K-pop idols.

The Members Are As Good Apart As Together

ATEEZ’s motto is "eight makes one team" for good reason. Individually, their talents and tastes are prismatic, yet complement each other perfectly — a fact that comes into startling clarity midway through the show, when the group breaks off into units and solos.

Equal parts erotic and controlled, trap banger "IT’S You" gives Yeosang, San, and Wooyoung room to deploy their enigmatic charms as a trio; ATEEZ’s purveyor of belted high notes, Jongho, dips into his deeper register on solo ballad "Everything"; diametric duo Hongjoong and Seonghwa spit fire about the rapport that arises from their differences on red-hot cypher "MATZ": "M-A-T-Z like allergy, we don’t really fit together / Yeah, yeah, but on stage, reacting to that synergy."

Then there’s the wistful "Youth" from dance class pals Yunho and Mingi. The two go way back — something they reminded audiences of by acting out a fictionalized version of a real phone call they shared the day before auditioning for KQ Entertainment. "Imagine us taking the stage together someday," Yunho said. "Sounds amazing, right?"  

Read more: ATEEZ Are Here To Win The Hearts Of K-Pop Fans

ATEEZ Know How To Turn Up The Drama

ATEEZ's lore runs deep. In their conceptual universe, what began as a swashbuckling tale of pirates in search of treasure evolved into an anarchic manifesto about toppling the world order. Recently, in a Wild West turn, they’ve been masquerading as cowboys dedicated to the daily hustle.

Every ATEEZ performance has a story; on this tour, the theme is light. But, as always in ATEEZ’s oeuvre, that light can’t exist without a darkness seeking to quash it. The way they convey this narrative — acting, stage decoration, extras — is a masterclass in drama, fit for the theater as much as a stadium. 

Watch: Global Spin: Watch Ateez Represent South Korea With Kinetic Performance Of "The Real"

They’re In Their Element Onstage

The success of ATEEZ’s storytelling is bolstered by the group’s unearthly stage presence. In that regard, Seonghwa led the pack, moving like a man possessed. Whether crawling on his knees, rolling his eyes back, or slinging a sword to symphonic backing, the lithe dancer never let the air-tight facade slip — except, of course, when it came time to offer a couple of warm words to fans.

Like Seonghwa, the rest are also shockingly versatile. San effortlessly switches between agile body rolls and thigh caresses in the dangerously sensual "Cyberpunk," then vigorously glides his arms through air at the climax of "Say My Name," a gesture that has only grown in power and potency over time.

ATINYs Do Their Best To Match ATEEZ’s Energy

"There [are] more than 20,000 singers in here," Hongjoong said as the lead-in to the soaring "Dance Like Butterfly Wings." "Can you show me your singing?" 

Sing they did: All night, the crowd brought an energy as fierce and passionate as ATEEZ, especially when barking at charismatic rapper Mingi, much to his apparent enjoyment.

But the single noisiest moment came during "Guerilla." At a certain point, Yunho shouted a  ferocious "Make some noise!" as a cue and ATINYs know it’s time to warm up their vocal chords; while Jongho belts some of his highest notes yet, fans roared "Break the wall!" at the top of their lungs, loud enough to rise above the stadium enclosure.

Fan chants and cheers are a mainstay of K-pop shows in South Korea, but due to differences in concert etiquette and language barriers, most don’t make their way overseas. ATEEZ and their fans broke that wall, and built a bridge in its place.

It’s A Full Circle Moment In Their Career

That ATEEZ chose to drop anchor in Los Angeles for their first U.S. stadium show feels especially momentous. The band has history in Southern California, having trained at L.A.-based dance studios Movement Lifestyle and Millenium Dance Center prior to their debut. ("Our second hometown!" San said during the show.)

"Even though it was six years ago, it feels like just yesterday," Hongjoong said in his encore speech. "It’s absolutely an honor to be right here, now, in such a big venue." 

That’s a short time to come as far as they have, without slowing pace. "But, you know, it doesn’t stop," Hongjoong continued. "We will keep going to the next step and the next step, with you. Let’s keep making moments to shine even brighter, together." And if these three hours are any indication, ATEEZ has a light that won’t soon be dimmed.

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Bellakath performs during Flow Fest 2023 in Mexico City
Bellakath performs during Flow Fest 2023 in Mexico City

Photo: Jaime Nogales

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7 Artists Bringing Reggaeton Mexa To The World: El Malilla, Bellakath & More

Pulling from the genre's underground roots in Puerto Rico, these fast-rising reggaeton Mexa artists infuse their own culture and grit into a globally-appealing sound.

GRAMMYs/Jul 22, 2024 - 01:21 pm

Música Mexicana isn't the only sound of Mexico that's blowing up; the country's artists are now starting to make their mark in reggaeton. Imbued with the essence, swagger, and lingo of Mexico, reggaeton Mexa is the next big Latin sound that's going global.

Originating in the Caribbean, reggaeton evolved from Panama’s reggae en español and Jamaican dancehall of the 1980s. Puerto Rican acts like DJ Playero and DJ Nelson shaped the sound of reggaeton in the island's underground scene during the '90s, while Daddy Yankee, Tego Calderón, Don Omar, and Ivy Queen pushed the genre into the mainstream at the dawn of the new millennium. 

Boricua acts Tainy, Bad Bunny, and Ozuna pushed reggaeton into the next decade, though Colombia also brought about the genre's second wind. J Balvin's success solidified Medellín as a reggaeton hotbed, spawning Maluma, Karol G, and Feid as global stars.

Learn more: The Sonic And Cultural Evolution Of Reggaeton In 10 Songs

In the 2020s, Mexico is becoming the next hub for reggaeton as artists who grew up listening to the Puerto Rican OGs  — as well as Mexican acts Ghetto Kids and Pablito Mix — are now putting their own stamp on the genre. In late 2022, Bellakath put a spotlight on reggaeton Mexa with her viral hit "Gatita"; the following year, Yng Lvcas took the sound to new heights with his "La Bebé" remix featuring Peso Pluma, which reached No. 11 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. 

Reggaeton Mexa pulls from the genre's underground roots in Puerto Rico, infusing its songs with Mexican culture and grit. Lyrics are full of Mexican slang that reflect life in the barrios.

"Reggaeton Mexa is reminiscent of the sounds of the '90s and 2000s from Puerto Rican DJs like Playero and Joe," El Mallila, one of the reggaeton Mexa leaders, tells GRAMMY.com. "The songs, the beats, and rhythms are more or less similar to that flow. The difference here is the Mexican jargon. Reggaeton Mexa is spicy. We play with Mexican profanities without being offensive."

The emerging genre has gained traction among the larger reggaeton community with Jowell y Randy, Maldy, and J Balvin recently featuring on their songs. Following the success of Yng Lvcas, Bellakath, and El Malilla, Mexican acts like Peso Pluma (who dedicated part of his Éxodo album to reggaeton) and pop star Kenia Os are embracing the wave. As the tide continues to rise for reggaeton Mexa, GRAMMY.com is highlighting seven of the sound's leading artists.

Yng Lvcas

Guadalajara, Jalisco native Yng Lvcas noted that no one around him could name a Mexican reggaeton artist, so he decided to fill that void.

An early encounter would make for auspicious beginnings. As he was signing a record contract with Warner early last year, Yng Lvcas crossed paths with Peso Pluma. The música Mexicana star's first foray in reggaeton was with Yng Lvcas and their global hit, a sensual remix of "La Bebé." Their collaboration became the first reggaeton song by Mexican artists to enter the Hot 100 chart.

Last October, Yng Lvcas released his album Super Estrellas to put a spotlight on more reggaeton Mexa acts. The LP included songs with El Malilla and El Bogueto. Puerto Rican OG Maldy later teamed up with Yng Lvcas for the hypnotic "Diviértete."

Bellakath

The first artist to get the global conversation started about reggaeton Mexa was Bellakath. After earning a law degree from the National Autonomous University of Mexico, the Mexico City native became a social media personality. Bellakath leveraged her following to start her music career, which exploded in late 2022 with the frisky "Gatita." The song went viral on TikTok and the music video has over 144 million views on YouTube.

In the male-dominated reggaeton Mexa scene, Bellakath is continuing to keep women on top. Last year, she released her debut album Kittyponeo with the hit "Reggaeton Champagne" featuring Dani Flow. After signing with Warner in May, Bellakath dropped "Sandunguea," which sampled the reggaeton classic "Mayor Que Yo" by Luny Tunes. On July 15, Bellakath released her second album, Sata 42, where she ventured into dembow music with artists from the Dominican Republic. 

Learn more: 5 Women Essential To Reggaeton: Ivy Queen, Natti Natasha, Karol G, Ms Nina & Mariah Angeliq

El Malilla

El Malilla proudly represents the chakalones (Mexican slang for "bad boys") in reggaeton Mexa. Hailing from Valle de Chalco, El Malilla remembers his first encounter with reggaeton as a teen came from the pirated CDs that were sold at the tianguis, or open-air markets.

Now, El Malilla is bringing Mexico's version of reggaeton to the forefront. He recently released his debut album ÑEROSTARS, which includes his viral hit "B de Bellako" with Yeyo. Back in May, Puerto Rican OGs Jowell y Randy jumped on a remix of the quirky banger. 

El Malilla also wants to make reggaeton Mexa more inclusive. Reggaeton has historically excluded LGBTQIA+ folks, though queer artists such as Young Miko, Villano Antillano, and La Cruz are changing that tune. On the Mexican front, El Malilla wanted to be an ally to his queer fans with the 2000-inspired "Rebote" music video, which was shot at the gay club Spartacus with Mexican drag queens. 

Within his album, El Malilla is also stretching the bounds of his artistry by exploring merengue in "Coronada" and experimenting with house music in "Todo Tiene Su Final." "ÑEROSTARS is a call to all the reggaeton Mexa artists to dare themselves to make new music and try different sounds," he says. "Don’t stay in your comfort zone just making perreo."

Yeri Mua

Veracruz native Yeri Mua is keeping a high heel firmly planted on the neck of the genre, holding it down for the women in reggaeton Mexa.

Mua started out doing makeup tutorials on YouTube and later grew a massive social media following. Last year, she launched her music career on Uzielito Mix's reggaeton romp "Línea del Perreo," which has over 103 million streams on Spotify. In songs like "Chupon," Mua brings a fierce femininity to reggaeton Mexa while flipping the genre's explicit lyrics from a woman's perspective. In April, Kenia Os tapped Mua and Ghetto Kids for her reggaeton Mexa banger "Mamita Rica." With a laugh, Os told GRAMMY.com at the time, "[Mua] sounds very sexy and makes noises like meowing. It felt very great to work with her." Last month, Mua signed a record contract with Sony Music México.

El Bogueto

Alongside El Malilla, El Bogueto is one of the OGs of reggaeton Mexa. The Nezahualcóyotl native has scored a number of hits since 2021, including "Tu Favo" and "G Low Kitty," which has nearly 60 million streams on Spotify.

The title of El Bogueto's 2023 debut album Reggaetoñerito is an amalgamation of the words reggaetonero and ñero, which is Mexican slang for a person from the hood. El Bogueto has continued to rack up millions of streams with his LP, which include hits like the freaky reggaeton romp "Piripituchy" and "Dale Bogueto." In May, J Balvin gave his co-sign to El Bogueto and the reggaeton Mexa scene when he jumped on an all-star remix of "G Low Kitty."

Yeyo

Among the artists on this list, Yeyo is the freshest one on the reggaeton Mexa scene, but he's fast becoming one of the genre's brightest stars and the go-to artist for a hit collaboration. The Zacatepec, Morelos native is a protege of Ghetto Kids' Luis Díaz, who also serves as his manager.

Yeyo's playful and infectious flow as a Mexican reggaetonero has translated into million of streams in songs like "B de Bellako" with El Malilla and "Mami Chakalosa" alongside Bellakath. He has also flexed a romantic side to his distinct voice in Ghetto Kids' recent hit "En El Ghetto #5 (La Discoteca)." Yeyo has also shined on the electronica-leaning reggaeton of "Maldad" and the sensual "Tentación."

Uzielito Mix

Many of the songs mentioned in this list wouldn't have been possible without Uzielito Mix. Following in the footsteps of Ghetto Kids and Pablito Mix, the Mexico City-based producer has become the backbone of the sound of reggaeton Mexa. Uzielito Mix produced Yeri Mua's hits like "Línea del Perreo" and "Brattiputy." He also co-produced El Bogueto and El Mallila's "G Low Kitty" with DJ Rockwell, which J Balvin later hopped on. 

In his stellar collaborations, Uzielito Mix is known for uniting many of the reggaeton Mexa stars. He continues to push the sound of the genre into the future like in the spooky "Espantan" remix with El Bogueto, Alnz G, Dani Flow, and Tensec. In 2022, Bad Bunny tapped Uzielito Mix to open his World's Hottest Tour stops in Mexico City. 

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Rubén Albarrán of Café Tacvba performs  in New York City in 1997
Rubén Albarrán of Café Tacvba performs in New York City

Photo: Bill Tompkins/Getty Images

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Revisiting 'Re': How Café Tacvba’s 1994 Masterpiece Changed Mexican Music Forever

Released on July 22, 'Re' saw the experimental rock en español group tackle themes of identity, death and national pride over a sprawling double album. On its 30th anniversary, consider Café Tacvba's landmark for Mexican rock opus.

GRAMMYs/Jul 22, 2024 - 01:09 pm

Let’s not bury the lede here: Café Tacvba’s Re is one of the pantheon rock albums in the Spanish language. And arguably one of the greatest rock albums in any language. 

Since its release 30 years ago on July 22, it’s been held up as one of the most ambitious and eclectic albums of its time, elevating the standard by which almost every rock en español band would be held to ever since — including its own creators. As a song cycle, Re is a whirlwind, with genre exercises and mini-suites scattered seemingly at random. Many pop critics liken its sonic diversity to the Beatles’ White Album, which is true if you’re just counting musical styles. But whereas the Fab Four were indulging their personalities within the group context, Café Tacvba conveyed solidarity in putting together an almost sui generis collection of madcap melodies. 

As a whole, Re was a great leap forward for Latin American rock music, and a landmark for Mexican music in general.

It's important to consider the context of Café Tacvba in 1994. Despite its large population and long history as a Latin American cultural center, Mexico City lagged in establishing serious rock acts aside from outliers such as El Tri. Part of this is due to the politics of the age — including the Mexican government’s notorious crackdown on public rock concerts after several clashes between rock fans and police during the '70s — leaving the majority of Mexican rock bands resigned to playing in shady, underground clubs. 

However, the 1980s saw the birth of BMG’s "Rock de tu Idioma" marketing blitz, and Mexican record companies finally began to put efforts into finding a national equivalent to South American-born stadium bands like Soda Stereo and Los Enanitos Verdes. On their second album, El Circo, Madilta Vecindad brought Mexico City to the forefront of the modern rock en español movement with their innovative mix of rock n’roll and ska crossed with pachuco subculture. Other bands that emerged around this time — from the gothic Caifanes (whom the band is currently touring with across the United States) to the arena rockers Maná — began building large audiences across the continent, but the scene still lacked a singular act that could elevate Mexican rock to the forefront. 

Read more: Revisiting 'El Nervio Del Volcán' At 30: How Caifanes' Final Album Became A Classic In Latin American Rock

Enter los Tacvbos. Aligning based on their shared passion for English new wave music, Café Tacvba was formed in the late '80s by college friends Rubén Albarrán and Joselo Rangel, who would serve as vocalist and guitarist, respectively. In time, they were joined by Joselo’s brother (and bassist) Quique and the multi-instrumentalist Emmanuel "Meme" de Real, choosing to name their band after a historic Mexico City café. Café Tacvba spent the late '80s evolving from a college garage band into one of Mexico’s most exciting live acts. After the release of their seminal 1992 self-titled debut — a frantic collection of ska-punk mayhem and colorful pop songs — expectations were high that the band could deliver a follow-up that would mirror their electric live show. What the band delivered would end up altering the entire scene completely. 

Re is impactful and unique for many reasons, the first and most immediate being its adventurous studio production. Working again with rock en español superproducer Gustavo Santaolalla, Café Tacvba decided against continuing with the ska-punk foundations of El Circo and their own debut and embraced their own eclecticism. You can hear it from the jump with the huapango-via-jarana opening chords of "El Aparato," a sound previously unheard of on a pop record. Within its three-and-a-half minute runtime are layers of percussion and synthesizers complemented by glorious indigenous chants and one of Albarrán’s greatest vocals, rising and falling as the song demands. The movement in the final 45 seconds is ethereal, with its sheer sonic force sounding more apropos for the end of the world than the beginning of a double album.  

Santaolalla revealed to Rolling Stone that he challenged the band, who responded with two batches of new songs for a sprawling double disc. Re is where a song like the sophisti-funk of "El Ciclón" is followed by two minutes of unadulterated thrash in "El Borrego." "24 Horas," meanwhile, mixes Beach Boys harmonies, Latin American lounge music, and post-punk beats. And that’s not even getting to the pure WTF of "El Puñal y El Corazón," with its multiple sections finding the middle ground between Pedro Infante and the Beatles, albeit with a merengue coda thrown in. 

Perhaps the best testament to Santaolalla's production is "El Baile y El Salon," Re’s most popular song (and frequent concert encore for the band). It’s one of a string of great duets from Albarrán and Meme, perhaps the most earnest song in the band’s catalog with sweetly sincere lyrics. Santaolalla lets the music aid the storytelling: Meme’s vocals ride against stomping percussion and a grooving bass line, while Albarrán sings against a wave of synthesizers. In lesser hands, the song would be an easy paint-by-numbers arena rock anthem. Thankfully, Café Tacvba leaned into their own indulgences, and came out with something immortal.

Another important theme across Re is the band’s sense of discovery for their home country. Indeed, one of Café Tacvba’s intentions for Re was to showcase the sounds that they heard while touring through Mexico in support of their debut album. As Albarrán told the podcast "La Vida Circular," the band wanted to deepen their relationship with traditional Mexican music and infuse it with the punk, metal, and funk rock that they were already experimenting with.

The most striking example comes in the form of lead single "La Ingrata." With a bouncy rhythm and tweaked time signature inspired by norteño, the song is a common tale of desperation and heartbreak  with a spiteful edge bled over from Café Tacvba’s punk roots. The fan favorite is also one of the band’s most influential songs, as it presaged a number bands combining norteño and alternative music — from Tijuana’s Nortec Collective at the turn of the century, to the contemporary corridos tumblados resurgence. Café Tacvba decided to stop performing the song in concert in 2017, due in part to the harsh lyrics about its female subject, and the escalating waves of violence against women within Mexico during this period. Albarrán noted around that time that "We were very young when it was composed and we were not as sensitive to this problem as we all are now."

Re did not sell well in Mexico upon release, though the band fermented interest during a sold out tour of Chile and Argentina. This, along with exposure from the recent launch of MTV in Mexico, was the major catalyst for the album’s fortunes taking an upturn. As the Mexican music listening public soon gathered, Re had something for everyone: From the smooth bolero of "Esa Noche," the frenetic banda of "El Fin de la Infancia," and the glittery Mexican pop of "Las Flores." Lyrically the band was speaking to its compadres, most notably on "El Metro," a bizarre short story of a lovelorn man trapped inside the Mexico City subway.

Despite its madcap sound and unabashed orgullo Mexicano, Re’s deepest theme is about the cyclical nature of life. There’s an obvious hint to it within the album art’s spiral conch shell, and more allusions in the song title "El Ciclón" and the reflexivity of "Pez" and "Verde," which bleed in-and-out of each other.

But dig deeper and the album is rife with references to life, death, rebirth, and natural law. "Ixtepec" sounds like a buoyant pop number but is really a cryptic tale about Death coming to collect his bounty, underlined with the refrain that "life is a cycle." Multiple songs, including "Trópico de Cáncer" and closer "El Balcón," reference reclamation of their birth land from the conquistadors, with the former song in particular telling a heartbreaking story of a civil engineer encountering the ecological damage to which he’s complicit. And there’s also the understated elegance of "El Tlatoani del Barrio," which recounts a love story in a pre-Columbian world soundtracked by Indigenous chants and a disco boogie.

Unlike many bands in a similar position, Café Tacvba never tried to replicate the magic of Re. Their next release was the covers album Alalancha de Éxitos, itself born out of their label’s reaction about Re’s lack of commercial hits (this bet paid off; the album was nominated for Best Latin Rock/Alternative Performance at the 40th GRAMMY Awards). Their visionary, hyper-experimental 1999 release Revés/Yo Soy, solidified their critical standing by winning a Latin GRAMMY for Best Rock Album and earning a GRAMMY nod. Today, it's a cult item currently unavailable on any streaming service due to label in-fighting.

After the turn of the century came Cuatro Caminos, a much more traditional sounding rock album, which led them to new critical and commercial heights, including their only GRAMMY win for Best Latin Rock/Alternative Album, and their career ever since has seen them find their groove as the thinking person’s favorite Mexican rock band. But within their exceptional catalog, Re remains a glorious outlier.

Even if Café Tacvba had never released another record after Re, their legacy would have remained secure. Re was among the major catalysts for the second wave of Mexican alterna-rock, which saw the likes of Julieta Venegas and Kinky elevating the genre with new sounds and perspectives. All modern rock owes a debt to the freewheeling spirit of Re, and the album’s continued influence and critical accolades are proof-positive of that. 

In a sense, it’s almost poetic that Café Tacvba — a band formed through their shared idolization of David Bowie, the Clash, and the Cure — ended up proving to be as essential and venerable to rock history as any of their influences.

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