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Essential Hip-Hop Releases From The 2000s: T.I., Lil Wayne, Kid Cudi & More

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Essential Hip-Hop Releases From The 2000s: T.I., Lil Wayne, Kid Cudi & More

The 2000s saw the ascension of now-household names while holding space for established rappers to enter new phases. In celebration of the 50th anniversary of hip-hop, revisit 10 albums fron the 2000s that captured the genre's diversity and influence.

GRAMMYs/Jul 19, 2023 - 04:52 pm

Rap albums of the 1990s showcased diverse sides of the hip-hop landscape, broadening both the sound of the underground and hits of the mainstream. By the 2000s, reigning hip-hop artists were either reinventing themselves —  among them, Jay-Z, Nas, Snoop Dogg and Lil' Kim — or giving way for up-and-comers. 

The 2000s hip-hop held space for rappers entering different phases of their careers, from luxuriant to conscious. Most 2000s hip-hop soundtracked a rowdy decade-long party, where Timbaland became a sought-after beatmaker for his experimental sounds, and the Neptunes’ synthetic production made them dominate radio play. Rappers continued to retell their rags to riches stories, while celebrating the fruits of their labor. 

A creative streak permeated throughout the decade, creating new styles and geographical hotspots. While the East, West Coast and Midwest held down their rap enclaves, hip-hop’s core largely went below the Mason-Dixon line, giving cities such as New Orleans, Atlanta, Houston and Miami well-deserved respect in the game. 

In the 2000s, different sectors of entertainment wanted to cash in on hip-hop's ever-growing traction. Hood films of the ‘90s evolved into heists (Paid In Full), biopics (8 Mile) coming-of-age stories (ATL) and dance flicks (Honey), many which had rappers taking their first acting roles. These new faces of Hollywood were also even tapped to star in TV advertisements for the likes of Nike and Sprite, the latter which has championed hip-hop for over 35 years. At the same time, a diamond-encrusted bling redefined hip-hop style, and several artists helmed self-established streetwear brands. 

Most importantly, the music kept spinning, turning hip-hop into a free-for-all playground that grew more inclusive as the years rolled on. While hip-hop’s golden age had undoubtedly ended, the 2000s saw the ascension of now-household names whose music is now being reworked by Gen-Z rap and pop artists. Here are 10 albums that captured hip-hop’s growing diversity and influence in music in the first decade of the new millennium. 

Nelly - Country Grammar (2000)

The East vs. West Coast cataclysm took over in the late 1990s, but the Midwest waved its flag high in the Y2K era. St. Louis-raised Nelly unapologetically recited nursery rhymes and dished out heartland twang on his seminal debut Country Grammar. Bringing local culture to the masses, Country Grammar catapulted Nelly into megastardom, as the album topped the Billboard 200 in its first week.

Cornell Haynes Jr., Nelly would forgo his baseball dreams when"Country Grammar (Hot S—)" ran hip-hop airwaves. A consistent run of hits followed: party-starter "E.I.," the hoedown-worthy "Ride Wit Me," and the "The Jeffersons"-dedicated "Batter Up," which featured Nelly’s side project, St. Lunatics. The rapper’s commercial appeal made him an instant favorite for kids and club-goers, both who raved over Nelly’s sing-a-long music. Nelly gave the world a glimpse of his "derrty" character, solidifying him as an early 2000s rap mainstay. 

Missy Elliott - Miss E... So Addictive (2001)

If Missy Elliott's Supa Dupa Fly and Da Real World were the one-two punch of the late ‘90s, those releases were also a prelude to her most globally successful album. Elliott  sent her progressive sound out of the stratosphere on her third album Miss E… So Addictive. Hypnotic, authentic and brilliantly innovative , So Addictive imagined spaced-out hip-hop and R&B scenes that fans could revel in. 

Timbaland-produced lead single "Get Ur Freak On"—which heavily used elements of non-traditional Punjabi music Bhangra — burned up dancefloors worldwide and won a GRAMMY for Best Rap Solo Performance in 2002. The near-misandrist bedroom banger "One Minute Man" shamed weak male lovers while Elliott and Ludacris asserted their sexual dominance. 

So Addictive dropped just months before the death of Aaliyah, Elliott’s longtime friend and collaborator. Elliott later dedicated the downtempo ballad "Take Away" to the late 22-year-old. Elliott’s most experimental LP yet made her a powerhouse that never ran out of off-the-wall ideas.

Eminem - The Eminem Show (2002)

Already a superstar due to 1999’s The Slim Shady LP and 2000’s The Marshall Mathers LP, The Eminem Show gave the Detroit native the title of the highest-selling rapper of all-time. The album would even earn two GRAMMY Awards, one for Best Music Video ("Without Me") and another for Best Rap Album.

For his fourth studio album, the Real Slim Shady went rogue. Hip-hop needed "a little controversy," EM rapped on lead single "Without Me," offering the middle finger to sensationalized celebrities and political figures. Zany and comedic in nature, "Without Me" spoofed impressionable suburban kids and Electronic musician Moby. 

Yet The Eminem Show offered more than just shock value. On "White America," Eminem acknowledged that his commercial appeal was partially due to being a white rapper. He continued confronting his problematic childhood, troubled relationship with his mother and faults on the cathartic "Cleanin’ Out My Closet." 

"Sing for the Moment,"  which interpolated 1973 Aerosmith classic "Dream On," garnered more radio play while harkening back to Eminem's impoverished upbringing and rocky start to fatherhood. As Eminem was just six years into his career, The Eminem Show was a lightning rod in a continued streak as a polarizing artist.

Clipse - Lord Willin’ (2003)

Missy Elliott wasn’t the only Virgina-bred rapper who reigned during the 2000s. Virginia Beach rhymesayers Pusha T and No Malice, known jointly as Clipse, rode high on their major label debut Lord Willin’. An early act on the Neptunes’ record label Star Trak Entertainment, Lord Willin’ predestined the legacy of the twin brothers.

Bars of fury flew throughout the regional statement album, ensuring that lunchroom tables would never be the same when lead single "Grindin’" released. The song’s table-beating and locker-slamming nature recalled high school cypher nostalgia, while Clipse boasted of their hustle mentality. 

Pharrell Williams (one half of the Neptunes) acted as Clipse’s hype man with adlibs and memorable hooks throughout the album. Faith Evans belted on "Ma, I Don’t Love Her," where Clipse pleaded for their significant other to avoid messy dating gossip. Club banger and MTV favorite "When’s the Last Time" still brought the wordplay, as Pusha T cleverly referenced a legendary 1980s crooner ("What did it, the whip appeal or my baby face?").

Both in the zone, Clipse made their mixtape rap flair a crossover smash. The brothers, who would shut down ComplexCon for the LP’s 20th anniversary, continue to salute their groundbreaking debut during rare performances, the next being IQ/BBQ in Queens.

50 Cent - Get Rich or Die Tryin' (2003)

Queens titan and Eminem protégé 50 Cent brought hip-hop to its knees with his 2003 debut, daring critics to test his gangsta. Get Rich Or Die Tryin’ debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, just three years after 50 Cent recovered from being shot nine times. Over 19 tracks, the G-Unit frontman retold his story of victim to villain. 

The former Jam Master Jay protégé kicks down the door on "What Up Gangsta," and denies being anyone’s Superman ("They say I walk around like I got a S on my chest / Nah, that's a semi-auto and a vest on my chest."). He keeps his enemies close and depicts near-death experiences on "Many Men (Wish Death)." The rapper showed his affectionate side on "21 Questions," where he probes his partner’s loyalty. He flosses his extravagant lifestyle on the steel pan-tinged "P.I.M.P.," which was customary to blinged-out artists of the 2000s. 

The album’s biggest single, "In Da Club," made a resurgence when 50 Cent was a surprise guest during the Dr. Dre-curated Super Bowl LVI halftime show in 2022. 50’s brief spot during the performance paid homage to his "In Da Club" music video, where his bold entry into hip-hop paved the way for his East Coast rap successors to reclaim the streets.

Outkast - Speakerboxxx/The Love Below (2003)

Atlanta rap forerunners Outkast brought quintessential funk to their fourth studio album. Released as a double album — where Big Boi’s Speakerboxxx boomed and André 3000 opened up his innermost romanticism on The Love Below  — each record highlighted the duo’s individualism. 

Big Boi gave a masterclass in rhyme and flow on Speakerboxxx, exuding a warmth that made songs like "The Way You Move," "Bowtie" and "The Rooster" playlist selections for summertime gatherings for years to come. The nightmarish "Bust" featuring fellow ATL emcee Killer Mike references a mid-’70s era George Clinton. The electronic production on "Tomb of the Boom" is the perfect freestyle backdrop for Boi to trade verses with  rap trio Konkrete, fellow Dungeon Family member Big Gipp and Ludacris.

3000 demonstrated his multi-hyphenate chops, acting as singer/-songwriter, rapper, producer and maestro on The Love Below. He falls into lustful temptation on the Prince-inspired "Spread" before finding his close-to-perfect match ("Prototype"). An Outkast reunion takes place on the soulful "Roses," where 3000 wails about a snobby "Caroline." Karaoke staple "Hey Ya!" invented whimsical and now-classic lines like "What’s cooler than being cool? (Ice Cold)" and "shake it like a Polaroid picture." 

Speakerboxxx / The Love Below preceded Outkast’s 2006 musical film Idlewild, which reinterpreted select songs, and the album scored three GRAMMY Awards in 2004, including the coveted Album of the Year. By 2004, Outkast approached their hiatus, which has continued albeit a brief music festival run in 2016.

T.I. - King (2006)

Titled after the rapper’s fifth child, King made a statement that T.I. had the "top spot," as declared on DJ Toomp-produced lead single "What You Know" (which also won a GRAMMY Award for Best Rap Performance in 2007). The album was a perfect cross-promotion with T.I.’s acting debut in the comedy-drama ATL, which arrived in theaters just days after the release of King.

T.I. recruited top hip-hop producers from all coasts to bring their best to his fourth studio album. The effort paid off, as Alabama’s Kevin "Khao" Cates reimagined Crystal Waters’ 1991 deep house anthem "Gypsy Woman (She's Homeless)" on "Why You Wanna." Bronx-born superproducer Swizz Beatz brought out the sirens on the marching band sounds of "Get It." The piano-laden "Goodlife" featuring Common was courtesy of the Neptunes, with Pharrell Williams providing the song’s hook. 

Whilst calling out his competition, the self-appointed King of the South came to the game with nothing left to prove.

Kanye West - Graduation (2007)

In 2007, Kanye West and 50 Cent went head-to-head over first week sales. The two were well into their respective careers, but the friendly rivalry went public, including a competitive Rolling Stone cover shot. 

But West would win the war, amassing 957,000 in first-week sales and earning the No. 1 spot on the Billboard 200 for his third studio album Graduation. Exploring more sonic ground, Graduation marked an end to West’s alt-rap heyday.

The Chicago-raised artist aired out his frustrations on "Stronger," which expertly sampled the 2001 Daft Punk single "Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger." The synthy and anthemic "I Wonder" finds West reaching his hip-hop dreams. The rapper gives a shout out to "Summertime Chi" and flaunts his riches on the head-knocking "Good Life." Barely escaping the clutches of a vengeful ex, "Flashing Lights" shows a more vulnerable West, who admits his relationship flaws. 

West’s final Graduation Bear era would earn him two GRAMMY Awards in 2008, in the categories of Best Rap Song ("Good Life") and Best Rap Album.

Lil Wayne - Tha Carter III (2008)

New Orleans lyricist Lil Wayne conquered mainstream hip-hop with his sixth studio album, Tha Carter III. In lieu of guest appearances and frequent mixtapes, Wayne challenged Jay-Z’s "best rapper alive" status while boasting features with some of R&B’s elite players. In fact, Wayne nabbed Jay-Z for  the chipmunk soul of "Mr. Carter," titled after the pair’s shared last name (no relation). 

The daring move paid off, as TC3 won GRAMMY Awards for Best Rap Album, Best Rap Solo Performance ("A Milli") and Best Rap Song ("Lollipop"). Hip-hop’s top hook singer of the mid-2000s, T-Pain, contributed his auto tuned vocals to the frenzied "Got Money." Bobby V’s absurd police car sounds coated "Mrs. Officer," where Weezy shows his affections for women in uniform. 

His agile rhyme schemes run rampant throughout the album, notably "Phone Home," where he proclaims "we are not the same, I am a martian." TC3 proved that Wayne was surely from another planet, and the rapper continues to demonstrate that he’s inimitable.

Kid Cudi -  Man on the Moon: The End of Day (2009)

Kanye West walked so Kid Cudi could run. Both hedonistic and conscious, the Cleveland rhymer marched to his own drum on Man on the Moon: The End of Day. Split into five acts, MOTM hazily conceptualized Cudi’s path to inner peace. 

Production that ranged from psychedelia to synth-pop also made the rapper distinct from his peers in the blog era of rap. Arguably the most memorable track, the diamond-certified "Pursuit of Happiness (Nightmare)" played as an electronic rap midnight jam session with collaborators MGMT and Ratatat. 

"Soundtrack 2 My Life" detailed Cudi’s mental health woes and the death of his father. The minimal ambience of "Day ‘N’ Night" saw Cudi taking shape as "The Lonely Stoner," who uses medication to escape depression. Despite Cudi’s bleak outlook on life, he gave space to his "wildest dreams" on "Enter Galactic (Love Connection, Pt. 1)," which later titled his 2022 Emmy-nominated animated Netflix special. 

MOTM gave way to a forward-thinking side of hip-hop, where rappers could ambitiously experiment with a multitude of genres. Cudi's fans include Travis Scott, Chance the Rapper and A$AP Rocky, each of whom followed Cudi's example in distinct ways.

Essential Hip-Hop Releases From The 1990s: Snoop Dogg, Digable Planets, Jay-Z & More

How 1994 Changed The Game For Hip-Hop
Notorious B.I.G. in Brooklyn, 1994

Photo: Clarence Davis/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images

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How 1994 Changed The Game For Hip-Hop

With debuts from major artists including Biggie and Outkast, to the apex of boom bap, the dominance of multi-producer albums, and the arrival of the South as an epicenter of hip-hop, 1994 was one of the most important years in the culture's history.

GRAMMYs/Feb 13, 2024 - 05:22 pm

While significant attention was devoted to the celebration of hip-hop in 2023 — an acknowledgement of what is widely acknowledged as its 50th anniversary — another important anniversary in hip-hop is happening this year as well. Specifically, it’s been 30 years since 1994, when a new generation entered the music industry and set the genre on a course that in many ways continues until today.

There are many ways to look at 1994: lists of great albums (here’s a top 50 to get you started); a look back at what fans and tastemakers were actually listening to at the time; the best overlooked obscurities. But the best way to really understand why a single 365 three decades ago had such an impact is to narrow our focus to look at the important debut albums released that year. 

An artist’s or group’s debut is their entry into the wider musical conversation, their first full statement about who they are and where in the landscape they see themselves. The debuts released in 1994 — which include the Notorious B.I.G.'s Ready to Die, Nas' Illmatic and Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik from Outkast — were notable not only in their own right, but because of the insight they give us into wider trends in rap.

Read on for some of the ways that 1994's debut records demonstrated what was happening in rap at the time, and showed us the way forward. 

Hip-Hop Became More Than Just An East & West Coast Thing

The debut albums that moved rap music in 1994 were geographically varied, which was important for a music scene that was still, from a national perspective, largely tied to the media centers at the coasts. Yes, there were New York artists (Biggie and Nas most notably, as well as O.C., Jeru the Damaja, the Beatnuts, and Keith Murray). The West Coast G-funk domination, which began in late 1992 with Dr. Dre’s The Chronic, continued with Dre’s step brother Warren G

But the huge number of important debuts from other places around the country in 1994 showed that rap music had developed mature scenes in multiple cities — scenes that fans from around the country were starting to pay significant attention to.

To begin with, there was Houston. The Geto Boys were arguably the first artists from the city to gain national attention (and controversy) several years prior. By 1994, the city’s scene had expanded enough to allow a variety of notable debuts, of wildly different styles, to make their way into the marketplace.

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

The Rap-A-Lot label that first brought the Geto Boys to the world’s attention branched out with Big Mike’s Somethin’ Serious and the Odd Squad’s Fadanuf Fa Erybody!! Both had bluesy, soulful sounds that were quickly becoming the label’s trademark — in no small part due to their main producers, N.O. Joe and Mike Dean. In addition, an entirely separate style centered around the slowed-down mixes of DJ Screw began to expand outside of the South Side with the debut release by Screwed Up Click member E.S.G.

There were also notable debut albums by artists and groups from Cleveland (Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, Creepin on ah Come Up), Oakland (Saafir and Casual), and of course Atlanta — more about that last one later.

1994 Saw The Pinnacle Of Boom-Bap

Popularized by KRS-One’s 1993 album Return of the Boom Bap, the term "boom bap" started as an onomatopoeic way of referring to the sound of a standard rap drum pattern — the "boom" of a kick drum on the downbeat, followed by the "bap" of a snare on the backbeat. 

The style that would grow to be associated with that name (though it was not much-used at the time) was at its apex in 1994. A handful of primarily East Coast producers and groups were beginning a new sonic conversation, using innovations like filtered bass lines while competing to see who could flip the now standard sample sources in ever-more creative ways. 

Most of the producers at the height of this style — DJ Premier, Buckwild, RZA, Large Professor, Pete Rock and the Beatnuts, to name a few — worked on notable debuts that year. Premier produced all of Jeru the Damaja’s The Sun Rises in the East. Buckwild helmed nearly the entirety of O.C.’s debut Word…Life. RZA was responsible for Method Man’s Tical. The Beatnuts took care of their own full-length Street Level. Easy Mo Bee and Premier both played a part in Biggie’s Ready to Die. And then there was Illmatic, which featured a veritable who’s who of production elites: Premier, L.E.S., Large Professor, Pete Rock, and Q-Tip.

The work the producers did on these records was some of the best of their respective careers. Even now, putting on tracks like O.C.’s "Time’s Up" (Buckwild), Jeru’s "Come Clean" (Premier), Meth’s "Bring the Pain" (RZA), Biggie’s "The What" (Easy Mo Bee), or Nas’ "The World Is Yours" (Pete Rock) will get heads nodding.

Major Releases Balanced Street Sounds & Commercial Appeal

"Rap is not pop/If you call it that, then stop," spit Q-Tip on 1991’s "Check the Rhime." Two years later, De La Soul were adamant that "It might blow up, but it won’t go pop." In 1994, the division between rap and pop — under attack at least since Biz Markie made something for the radio back in the ‘80s — began to collapse entirely thanks to the team of the Notorious B.I.G. and his label head and producer Sean "Puffy" Combs. 

Biggie was the hardcore rhymer who wanted to impress his peers while spitting about "Party & Bulls—." Puff was the businessman who wanted his artist to sell millions and be on the radio. The result of their yin-and-yang was Ready to Die, an album that perfectly balanced these ambitions. 

This template — hardcore songs like "Machine Gun Funk" for the die-hards, sing-a-longs like "Juicy" for the newly curious — is one that Big’s good friend Jay-Z would employ while climbing to his current iconic status. 

Solo Stars Broke Out Of Crews

One major thing that happened in 1994 is that new artists were created not out of whole cloth, but out of existing rap crews. Warren G exploded into stardom with his debut Regulate… G Funk Era. He came out of the Death Row Records axis — he was Dre’s stepbrother, and had been in a group with a pre-fame Snoop Dogg. Across the country, Method Man sprang out of the Wu-Tang collective and within a year had his own hit single with "I’ll Be There For You/You’re All I Need To Get By." 

Anyone who listened to the Odd Squad’s album could tell that there was a group member bound for solo success: Devin the Dude. Keith Murray popped out of the Def Squad. Casual came out of the Bay Area’s Hieroglyphics. 

Read more: A Guide To Bay Area Hip-Hop: Definitive Releases, Artists & Subgenres From Northern California

This would be the model for years to come: Create a group of artists and attempt, one by one, to break them out as stars. You could see it in Roc-a-fella, Ruff Ryders, and countless other crews towards the end of the ‘90s and the beginning of the new millennium.

Multi-Producer Albums Began To Dominate

Illmatic was not the first rap album to feature multiple prominent producers. However, it quickly became the most influential. The album’s near-universal critical acclaim — it earned a perfect five-mic score in The Source — meant that its strategy of gathering all of the top production talent together for one album would quickly become the standard. 

Within less than a decade, the production credits on major rap albums would begin to look nearly identical: names like the Neptunes, Timbaland, Premier, Kanye West, and the Trackmasters would pop up on album after album. By the time Jay-Z said he’d get you "bling like the Neptunes sound," it became de rigueur to have a Neptunes beat on your album, and to fill out the rest of the tracklist with other big names (and perhaps a few lesser-known ones to save money).

The South Got Something To Say

If there’s one city that can safely be said to be the center of rap music for the past decade or so, it’s Atlanta. While the ATL has had rappers of note since Shy-D and Raheem the Dream, it was a group that debuted in 1994 that really set the stage for the city’s takeover.

Outkast’s Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik was the work of two young, ambitious teenagers, along with the production collective Organized Noize. The group’s first video was directed by none other than Puffy. Biggie fell so in love with the city that he toyed with moving there

Outkast's debut album won Best New Artist and Best New Rap of the Year at the 1995 Source Awards, though the duo of André 3000 and Big Boi walked on stage to accept their award to a chorus of boos. The disrespect only pushed André to affirm the South's place on the rap map, famously telling the audience, "The South got something to say." 

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

Outkast’s success meant that they kept on making innovative albums for several more years, as did other members of their Dungeon Family crew. This brought energy and attention to the city, as did the success of Jermain Dupri’s So So Def label. Then came the "snap" movement of the 2000s, and of course trap music, which had its roots in aughts-era Atlanta artists like T.I. and producers like Shawty Redd and DJ Toomp. 

But in the 2010s a new artist would make Atlanta explode, and he traced his lineage straight back to the Dungeon. Future is the first cousin of Organized Noize member Rico Wade, and was part of the so-called "second generation" of the Dungeon Family back when he went by "Meathead." His world-beating success over the past decade-plus has been a cornerstone in Atlanta’s rise to the top of the rap world. Young Thug, who has cited Future as an influence, has sparked a veritable ecosystem of sound-alikes and proteges, some of whom have themselves gone on to be major artists. 

Atlanta’s reign at the top of the rap world, some theorize, may finally be coming to an end, at least in part because of police pressure. But the city has had a decade-plus run as the de facto capital of rap, and that’s thanks in no small part to Outkast. 

Why 1998 Was Hip-Hop's Most Mature Year: From The Rise Of The Underground To Artist Masterworks

How Native Tongues Expanded Hip-Hop With Eclectic Sounds & Vision
(From left) De La Soul, Monie Love & Queen Latifah, The Jungle Brothers, A Tribe Called Quest

Photos: David Corio/Redferns; Raymond Boyd/Getty Images; Al Pereira/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

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How Native Tongues Expanded Hip-Hop With Eclectic Sounds & Vision

In the late '80s and early '90s, the New York-based collective Native Tongues encouraged hip-hop to expand and shift. Their attitude had a significant impact on hip-hop and, later, mainstream pop.

GRAMMYs/Dec 12, 2023 - 08:40 pm

When people fondly refer back to hip-hop’s golden age, they are talking about hip-hop’s adolescence — an experimental era when no idea was too risky, no innovation too bold, no boundary too established to be broken. This period between the mid 1980s and mid '90s saw hip-hop’s elders transported into new directions as the culture transitioned into the capitalist mainstream.

It is impossible to document this golden era without acknowledging the contributions of the Native Tongues. The New York-based collective — whose core members included now household names such as the Jungle Brothers, A Tribe Called Quest, Queen Latifah, De La Soul and Monie Love — played a pivotal role in reshaping the cultural landscape of both hip-hop and jazz in the mainstream. As a whole, the Native Tongues opted for a more introspective and bohemian approach to their lyricism and melodies.

The Jungle Brothers’ Mike Gee, DJ Sammy B and Baby Bam led the wave with an Afrocentric philosophy. Their 1988 debut album Straight Out the Jungle, set the vanguard of fusing hip-hop with jazz elements. "Black is Black" is perfectly representative of the first tendrils of what would become the canonical Native Tongues sound: an almost whimsical approach to with race relations and social commentary in America, structured with a boom-bap drums and an impressive array of samples (Gil-Scott Heron, Prince, Kool & The Gang). At the opening beats, Q-Tip introduces himself, going "I’m from A Tribe Called Quest" — a harbinger of the yearslong future association as part of the most influential young collectives of the '90s.

Q-Tip and Ali Shaheed Muhammad of Tribe were classmates of the Jungle Brothers in the lower Manhattan high school Murray Bergtraum, and began collaborating as classmates. With additional members Jarobi White and the since departed Phife Dawg, the quartet — and occasional trio — had an impressive five album run: People's Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm (1989), The Low End Theory (1991), Midnight Marauders (1993), Beats, Rhymes and Life (1996), and The Love Movement (1998). Each release featured a panoply of inspired and progressive approaches to hip-hop, with lyrics and intricate rhyme schemes that ranged from pensive to cheekily adolescent; production drew influence from jazz, bossa nova, rock, and everything in between.

"Check the Rhime" of the classic Low End Theory is exemplary of their dexterity and appeal. Couplets that are deceptively laid back yet remarkably complex — seamlessly veering from discussing capitalism to general braggadocious flair — while the beat integrates everyone from Minnie Ripperton to a Scottish funk & R&B.

De La Soul rounded out the core groups at the heart of Native Tongues. The Long Island-based trio — Kelvin "Posdnuos" Mercer, Vincent "Maseo" Mason Jr, and the late Dave "Trugoy The Dove" Joliceur — played with a colorful and eclectic approach to their jazz tinged sound and visuals (their debut album declared it the age of the DA.I.S.Y. (Da Inner Sound, Y'all) ). De La Soul were unafraid to lean into a sense of whimsy with songs like "Transmitting Live  from Mars," which sampled the Turtles while integrating a looped French lesson. Unfortunately the result would be precarious: the Turtles sued and won for using their sample, setting a dangerous precedent for the industry.

It would not be the end of De La Soul's legal troubles in the industry. Due to negotiations and disputes with Tommy Boy Records, most of De La Soul’s discography was not available on streaming and younger generations. That is, until March 2023, when De La Soul regained the rights to their releases under the label.

Rounding out the Native Tongues are Newark's Queen Latifah and London’s Monie Love (the only non-New Yorkers in the core crew). Each artist is a pioneer  in not just hip-hop’s consciousness space, but leaders for women in the industry. Latifah and Love’s "Ladies First" is an example of their dual function in the collective as chroniclers of both women's and Black issues. The hit record confronted feminist themes and women’s liberation with punch, verve, and dizzying rhyme patterns; the music video addressed trans-continental Black struggles including the plight of South African racial apartheid. The song was an embodiment of the Native Tongues spirit.

There was never an official dissolution to the Native Tongues; rather, fractures, regroupings and  internal conflicts that stopped the collective's momentum in the mid-'90s. Combined with the rise of Bad Boy Records and a new style of hip-hop star.

Yet as the years progressed, there would be multiple extended members that would be affiliated with the Native Tongues movement — Black Sheep, Black Star, Brand Nubian, the Beatnuts, Leaders of the New School, the incomparable J Dilla — showcasing the impact the Native Tongues’ craft and approach had on '90s hip hop. That influence extends to present day, with popular artists such as Tyler, the Creator and Pharrell  crediting the Tongues’ renegade spirit in their own journeys as individuals, rappers, and producers.

The Native Tongues shifted the myopic perspectives of what people believed hip-hop could, would and should be; their influence encouraged hip-hop to expand, shift and impact the mainstream pop world. The collective's legacy remains as a reminder to ignore narrow-minded criticisms of hip-hop culture (and sound) as a single narrative.

6 Highlights From "A GRAMMY Salute To 50 Years Of Hip-Hop": Performances From DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince, Queen Latifah, Common & More

How DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince Created The Ultimate Prototype For The Producer/Rapper Duo
DJ Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince performing at "A GRAMMY Salute To 50 Years Of Hip-Hop."

Photo: Sonja Flemming/CBS via Getty Images

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How DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince Created The Ultimate Prototype For The Producer/Rapper Duo

Ahead of their much-anticipated reunion on the CBS special "A GRAMMY Salute to 50 Years of Hip-Hop," take a look at the groundbreaking ways DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince bolstered the power of the hip-hop duo.

GRAMMYs/Dec 8, 2023 - 05:12 pm

There were plenty of rapper/DJ duos before DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince. Most notably, T La Rock & Jazzy Jay released the influential 1984 single "It's Yours," Def Jam's first release as a rap label run by Rick Rubin and Russell Simmons. There was Mantronix, consisting of MC Tee and producer Kurtis Mantronik, who had their first hit with "Fresh Is the Word" a year later. Well before that, '70s hip-hop pioneer Kool Herc was a DJ known for getting the party started with rhymer Coke La Rock.

But the Philadelphia duo of Jeffrey Townes and Will Smith went beyond their predecessors in several important ways, and set up a prototype of the rapper/DJ — or, as music-making techniques changed, rapper/producer — combination that would explode in the years following their success.

By the time Jeff and Will (and their third member, beatboxer Ready Rock C) released their first single in 1986, duos were a thing in pop music: Soft Cell, Erasure, Eurythmics. The prominence of musical pairs would continue to grow over the next few years, largely because of technology. 

As a 1987 Philadelphia Inquirer article headlined "Pop’s New Dynamic Duos" pointed out, "The electronic age has yielded not only a new kind of music, via synthesizers, sequencers, drum machines, digital audio computers, hardware and software, but it has also spawned a new kind of group: duos in which one [person] sings and the other pushes buttons."

This division of labor — one person on music and one on lyrics — worked perfectly in hip-hop, a genre that came out of parties where a DJ spun records and someone on a mic hyped up the crowd. But when it came to DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince, unlike some of their predecessors, it was clear they were a team: Not only were they co-billed, but the DJ's name came first. 

That's largely because Jeff was the virtuoso. While Will had the movie-star chemistry and funny stories, Jeff was the music obsessive and the innovative record-spinner who implemented new techniques — most notably, the robotic-sounding "transformer" scratch, which Will takes credit for naming in his 2021 memoir. 

And Jeff was the one who proved his hip-hop bona fides by defeating all comers and being crowned the best DJ in the land at the 1986 New Music Seminar. It's a scene that rightfully opens up the very first episode of Smith's new podcast, a good indication of exactly how important that battle was to Will, Jeff and the entire hip-hop world at the time. (You can listen to Jeff's winning routines here).

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Putting Jeff's name first in the pairing made sense in a number of ways: not only was he unimpeachably credentialed and respected, but the order itself was also a nod to the DJ's primacy in the origins of hip-hop, and in the group's home city of Philly. Whether all of those ideas were consciously considered in how they named themselves or not, they were all there in how the duo was considered.

The equality of members was emphasized from the very beginning in their music, too. Sure, their first single was the wacky, I Dream of Jeannie theme-quoting story-song "Girls Ain't Nothing But Trouble." But their second was a tribute to "The Magnificent Jazzy Jeff."

They kept that balance throughout their early career as a group. Their second album, He's the DJ, I'm the Rapper, had it throughout — in its title, and especially in its songs.

The record marked another pivotal moment for rap, as it was the genre's first double album. The first two sides had plenty of Will's stories ("Parents Just Don't Understand"; "A Nightmare on My Street"), but sides C and D — billed as a "Bonus Scratch Album" — belonged almost entirely to Jeff.

Whether it was Will and Jeff's success, the overall prominence of duos across genres, or just something in the water, within a few years of DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince getting their start, co-billed DJ/emcee duos were pretty much everywhere. There was Eric B & Rakim, whose first single came out the same year as Will and Jeff's, and Cash Money & Marvelous, who released their first single one year later. 

We also can't forget L.A.'s entry into the sweepstakes, Rodney-O & Joe Cooley, whose 1987 single "Everlasting Bass" was the city's pre-gangsta rap anthem. X-Clan compatriots Unique & Dashan came out in 1989 and, like Rodney-O and Cooley, billed the rapper first. DJ Chuck Chillout & Kool Chip had limited releases as a team — one single and one album to follow it up — but they made an impact regardless. By the dawn of the 1990s, the equally billed DJ/rapper duo was a hip-hop trope. 

It was a format that would morph over the years. First, into groups like Gang Starr, which consisted of a rapper and a DJ/producer subsumed under a single entity name. Later, into MF DOOM's album-length producer collaborations like Madvillainy (Madlib) and The Mouse and the Mask (Danger Mouse). And even today, into rapper/producer pairings like Drake and Noah "40" Shebib, 21 Savage and Metro Boomin, or The Alchemist and essentially everybody in the world

Without DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince, the world might not have paid so much attention to all of these efforts. If there's one thing that Jeff and Will showed us, it's that in rap music or anywhere else, there's real power in teamwork.

DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince will reunite as part of "A GRAMMY Salute To 50 Years Of Hip-Hop," which will air Sunday, Dec. 10, from 8:30 to 10:30 p.m. ET and 8 to 10 p.m. PT. Tune in on the CBS Television Network, and stream live and on demand on Paramount+.

How To Watch "A GRAMMY Salute To 50 Years Of Hip-Hop": Air Date, Performers Lineup, Streaming Channel & More
"A GRAMMY Salute To 50 Years Of Hip-Hop” premieres Sunday, Dec. 10, at 8:30 p.m. ET/8 p.m. PT, airing on the CBS Television Network and streaming live and on demand on Paramount+.

Graphic courtesy of the Recording Academy

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How To Watch "A GRAMMY Salute To 50 Years Of Hip-Hop": Air Date, Performers Lineup, Streaming Channel & More

Featuring exclusive performances and special tributes, "A GRAMMY Salute To 50 Years Of Hip-Hop" premieres Sunday, Dec. 10. Here's when, where and how to watch the star-studded live concert special.

GRAMMYs/Dec 7, 2023 - 01:36 am

The 50th anniversary of hip-hop may have happened this past summer, but the Recording Academy's ongoing celebration was just beginning. And it's about to reach its culmination with "A GRAMMY Salute To 50 Years Of Hip-Hop," a majestic, once-in-a-lifetime live concert special featuring rap's best and brightest — past and present.

Here's everything you need to know about where, when, how, and why to watch "A GRAMMY Salute To 50 Years Of Hip-Hop."

What Is "A GRAMMY Salute To 50 Years Of Hip-Hop" Celebrating?

"A GRAMMY Salute To 50 Years Of Hip-Hop" is celebrating the 50th anniversary of hip-hop, which took place in August.

Scholars may debate whether the genre's roots precede Aug. 11, 1973, when DJ Kool Herc debuted his "merry-go-round" technique of playing funk breaks back-to-back to a smattering of teenagers in the Bronx. But it's beyond doubt that this event was the spark to a flame that lit throughout the boroughs — inspiring DJs, breakdancers, graffiti artists, and, eventually, pioneering MCs like Coke La Rock and Cowboy.

In the ensuing decades, hip-hop has set the world on fire, swelling to become one of the foremost cultural phenomena on the planet. And "A GRAMMY Salute To 50 Years Of Hip-Hop" promises to pay homage to the breadth, depth and ongoing ripple effect of the genre and culture.

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When Can I Watch "A GRAMMY Salute To 50 Years Of Hip-Hop"?

"A GRAMMY Salute To 50 Years Of Hip-Hop" will air Sunday, Dec. 10, starting at 8:30 p.m. ET/8 p.m. PT.

How Can I Watch "A GRAMMY Salute To 50 Years Of HipHop"?

"A GRAMMY Salute To 50 Years Of Hip-Hop" will air at the above time, at the above date, on the CBS Television Network and stream live and on demand on Paramount+.

Who Is Performing At "A GRAMMY Salute To 50 Years Of Hip-Hop"?

The two-hour live concert special will feature exclusive performances from hip-hop legends and GRAMMY-winning artists including Black Thought, Bun B, Common, De La Soul, Jermaine Dupri, J.J. Fad, Talib Kweli, the Lady Of Rage, LL Cool J, MC Sha-Rock, Monie Love, the Pharcyde, Queen Latifah, Questlove, Rakim, Remy Ma, Uncle Luke, and Yo-Yo.

Rap icons and next-gen hip-hop superstars like 2 Chainz, T.I., Gunna, Too $hort, Latto, E-40, Big Daddy Kane, GloRilla, Juvenile, Three 6 Mafia, Cypress Hill, Jeezy, DJ Quik, MC Lyte, Roxanne Shanté, Warren G, YG, Digable Planets, Arrested Development, Spinderella, Black Sheep, Luniz, and many more will also perform. Plus, hip-hop icons DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince will deliver a highly anticipated reunion on the stage.

View the full performer lineup to date.

See More: Watch Backstage Interviews From "A GRAMMY Salute To 50 Years Of Hip-Hop" Featuring LL Cool J, Questlove, Warren G & E-40, And Many More

Who Is Appearing At "A GRAMMY Salute To 50 Years Of Hip-Hop"?

Two-time GRAMMY winner and nine-time GRAMMY nominee LL Cool J will guide fans through the "A GRAMMY Salute To 50 Years Of Hip-Hop" experience throughout the night. You can also expect presentations and appearances from Chloe Bailey, hip-hop-meets Broadway mastermind Lin-Manuel Miranda, Seth Rogen, Jennifer Hudson, Regina Hall, Machine Gun Kelly, and more.

What Can I Expect At "A GRAMMY Salute To 50 Years Of Hip-Hop"?

Spanning the past five decades of hip-hop history, "A GRAMMY Salute To 50 Years Of Hip-Hop" is the epitomic embodiment of the profound history of hip-hop. More than just a live concert special, the show will celebrate the infinite ways hip-hop has impacted and changed the world. Plus, with such a heavy-hitter performer lineup, hip-hop fans should expect plenty of surprises and deep dives into the rich evolution of rap music and culture.

The night will feature groundbreaking artists performing the songs that changed hip-hop forever. Expect to experience exclusive performances of such classics from all the influential eras of hip-hop, including T.I.'s "What You Know," 2Pac's "California Love," Three 6 Mafia's "Stay Fly," Cypress Hill's "How I Could Just Kill A Man," and many more.

Read More: 50 Artists Who Changed Rap: Jay-Z, The Notorious B.I.G., Dr. Dre, Nicki Minaj, Kendrick Lamar, Eminem & More

"A GRAMMY Salute To 50 Years Of Hip-Hop" will also showcase some of the regional sounds and scenes that shaped the rap canon across the decades, including special segments celebrating Southern hip-hop featuring Jeezy, T.I., Bun B, Three 6 Mafia, Jermaine Dupri, and more; West Coast rap featuring Warren G, Tyga, Roddy Ricch, DJ Quik, Too $hort, E-40, and others; and the international rap scene featuring Akon, Blaqbonez and more.

Of course, hip-hop would not be where it is today without the influential women and female trailblazers who pioneered the genre and industry. For the past five decades, women have been essential to hip-hop, and "A GRAMMY Salute To 50 Years Of Hip-Hop" will pay tribute to the ladies who built — and continue to build — rap music and culture. The ladies of hip-hop will take centerstage with a special performance featuring an all-women cast of hip-hop greats performing empowering female anthems, including Queen Latifah & Monie Love performing "Ladies First," Roxanne Shanté delivering "Roxanne's Revenge," Latto holding it down for the next generation with "Put It On Da Floor," and more.

As one of the highlights of the night, hip-hop pioneers DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince will reunite for a highly anticipated performance featuring their greatest hits, which have since become some of the most celebrated songs in hip-hop history, including, "Brand New Funk," "Gettin' Jiggy Wit It," "Summertime," and more.

"A GRAMMY Salute To 50 Years Of Hip-Hop" will pay tribute to this quintessentially American art form like no other. Keep checking GRAMMY.com for more news and updates about "A GRAMMY Salute To 50 Years Of Hip-Hop" and the 50th anniversary of hip-hop, and make sure to tune in on Sunday, Dec. 10, starting at 8:30 p.m. ET/8 p.m. PT.

A GRAMMY Salute To 50 Years Of Hip-Hop is produced by Jesse Collins Entertainment. Jesse Collins, Shawn Gee, Dionne Harmon, Claudine Joseph, LL COOL J, Fatima Robinson, Jeannae Rouzan-Clay, and Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson for Two One Five Entertainment serve as executive producers and Marcelo Gama as director of the special.

*— With additional reporting from John Ochoa*

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