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5 Essential Hip-Hop Releases From The 2020s: Drake, Lil Baby, Ice Spice, 21 Savage & More

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5 Essential Hip-Hop Releases From The 2020s: Drake, Lil Baby, Ice Spice, 21 Savage & More

The 2020s swapped record sales for big personalities and artists with a penchant for virality. Read on for five crucial songs and albums that defined the decade.

GRAMMYs/Jul 31, 2023 - 06:58 pm

It’s only been three years into the new decade, but a new era of hip-hop artists have already made their mark on the ever-evolving genre. 

In the 2020s, social media platforms like TikTok have played a growing role in the trajectory of an artist's career. Social media has given artists like Finesse2tymes, Coi Leray, Baby Keem, Ice Spice, and others their first sign of momentum, and they have all ascended to stardom by following the same formula. 

The decade has also proven to be a golden age for female rap stars, with emerging talents like Latto, Megan Thee Stallion, Sexyy Red, GloRilla, and others adding to the femme-powered charge. Male artists including Lil Durk, Fivio Foreign, Lil Baby, and others have become the leading voices of their respective cities.

Meanwhile, now-veteran MC Drake remains one of the genre's biggest names and most consistent hit-makers. Rap supernovas J. Cole, Tyler, the Creator, and Kendrick Lamar have continued to flex their culture-shifting powers in the '20s, while the legacies of late artists Nipsey Hussle, Pop Smoke, DMX, PnB Rock, Takeoff, and others have been immortalized by musical dedications, video tributes, and posthumous projects supported by those that cherished their contributions.

Sounds and styles of other regions continue to meld with those of domestic hip-hop artists. Among the biggest cross-genre trends, afrobeat, reggaeton, and afro-swing hits like Travis Scott and Rosalia’s "TKN," J Hus and Drake’s collab "Who Told You," and Chris Brown and WizKid’s "Call Me Every Day" showcase hip-hop’s musical expansion. While the 2010s pointed to the boundless nature of rap music, the genre is as socially diverse as ever in the 2020s. 

From new flows, collabs, and incredible beats, hip-hop will undoubtedly continue to evolve over the next six and a half years. Read on for five releases that have defined the 2020s thus far.

Lil Baby - My Turn (2020)

Lil Baby has blossomed into one of the leading figures in Atlanta rap. He built up momentum with mixtapes Too Hard, Street Gospel, and his collaborative project with Gunna, Drip Harder. But Baby’s full ascension came with the delivery of My Turn, a culmination of his biggest street anthems and most conceptualized hits.

The 20-track project was filled with the year’s biggest trap records, which featured fellow rap stars Lil Uzi Vert, Moneybagg Yo, Future, Young Thug, Rylo Rodriguez, Lil Wayne, and 4 Pockets Full signee 42 Dugg. The album drew an all-star ensemble of beat makers too, with super-producer Hit-Boy, Murda Beatz, Tay Keith, Quay Global, Twysted Genius, and others lending a hand in the production. 

My Turn earned Lil Baby his first No.1 album and topped the charts in 10 countries. And along with major sales, the single "Bigger Picture" was nominated for two GRAMMY Awards in 2021 and introduced the world to the Quality Control Music rapper on a global scale. 

Tyler, the Creator - Call Me If You Get Lost (2021)

Tyler, the Creator took a sonic pivot on Flower Boy and 2019’s Igor, which earned the "See You Again" artist a broader audience and new hardware for his trophy collection. The two albums were deeply transient, personal bodies of work that showed Tyler’s artistry in ways previously unseen. 

He embraced a more alternative sound that was led by harmony-driven romantic tales, punk-ish "f–you" records, and occasional flashes of the Tyler of old. But 2021’s Call Me If You Get Lost ( (hosted by legendary music executive DJ Drama) was the full return of Tyler, the MC. Although it had been years since the California-based artist showcased his lyrical prowess on a full-length project, his skills never faltered.

Tyler regained his distinct delivery from 2013’s Wolf and his older works. He flaunted his riches on the braggadocio-fueled "Runitup" and "Lemonhead," explored romanticism on "Wusyaname," and addressed his rise from unknown artist to international fixture on "Massa." 

The sound of the project was largely crafted by Tyler himself with other contributions from producers Jay Versace, Madlib, and Jamie xx. The finished product was praised by critics and notched Tyler his second award for Best Rap Album at the 2022 GRAMMYs. And nearly two years after the album’s release, Tyler released a deluxe version of the album that featured eight additional songs with appearances from artists A$AP Rocky, YG, and Vince Staples. 

Kendrick Lamar - Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers (2022)

Before Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers, it had been five years since fans heard a full-length project from Kendrick Lamar. The Compton rapper took his time with the release of his fifth studio, which was a particularly sentimental one for the "DNA." artist. Not only did it mark his first project under his new creative collective PGLang, but it also closed the book on his time at Top Dawg Entertainment. 

With major changes brewing, Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers was a masterful reflective body of work that mirrored Lamar’s journey in therapy. Themes surrounding alcoholism, grief, celebrity worship, infidelity and childhood trauma are sprinkled throughout the album. The conscious undertones were overlaid with richly-crafted beats by long-time collaborators DJ Dahi, J. Lbs, DJ Dahi, Sounwave, and Bekon, with additional contributions from Boi-1da, the Alchemist, and others.  

The album was led by three singles, "N95," "Die Hard," and "Silent Hill" featuring Kodak Black, which helped the album shoot to No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. It was the "Alright" artist’s fourth chart-topping project and went on to earn him Best Rap Album at the 65th GRAMMY Awards and re-established his dominance in the genre.

Drake and 21 Savage - Her Loss (2022)

When one of the South’s biggest stars links up with rap’s most consistent hitmaker, it’s bound to shake up the genre. And after collaborating on songs like "Sneakin," "Issa," Mr. Right Now" and others, that’s exactly what Drake and 21 Savage’s Her Loss managed to do. 

The collab came at a good time for 21 Savage, who was two years removed from Savage Mode II, and for Drake, who had just released the critically mixed dance album, Honestly, Nevermind. The 16-track album was riddled with street hits like "BackOutsideBoyz," "Rich Flex" and "Treacherous Twins."

For all the album’s peaks, controversy loomed over the project immediately after its release. On the song "Circo Loco," many fans claimed Drake dissed fellow rap star Megan Thee Stallion on the song with the lyrics, "This bitch lie 'bout gettin' shots but she still a stallion / She don't even get the joke, but she still smilin'." The story was picked up by several publications, and fan theories circulated for weeks following the album’s release. 

Still, the album topped Billboard 200 with more than 400,000 album-equivalent units, replacing Taylor Swift’s Midnights from the top spot. All tracks debuted on the Billboard Hot 100, with eight of them landing in the top 10. 

Ice Spice and Nicki Minaj - "Princess Diana" (2023)

Ice Spice’s "Munch (Feelin’ U)" had fans gravitating to the curly-haired Bronx native, who struck gold with the viral hit that left a new generation of men questioning whether they’re called strictly for pleasure or genuine affection. The sudden stardom opened doors for the "Bikini Bottom" MC. 

After landing on magazine covers and appearing at the illustrious Met Gala, she collaborated with her idol Nicki Minaj on the hit "Princess Diana." The song was the second track on Spice’s debut EP,  Like..?, but the addition of Minaj boosted her twerk-obsessed, oats-loving brand to new heights. 

With the success of "Princess Diana," the two artists collaborated again on the Barbie movie soundtrack song "Barber World (with Aqua)." The collabs only added to her series of Internet smashes, a list that includes records like "Boy’s a Liar Pt. 2" and "In Ha Mood." She still has a long way to go for her success to be proven substantial, but Spice has already established herself as the hottest commodity in the 2020s. 

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GRAMMY Rewind: Watch Baby Keem Celebrate "Family Ties" During Best Rap Performance Win In 2022
Baby Keem (left) at the 2022 GRAMMYs.

Photo: Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images

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GRAMMY Rewind: Watch Baby Keem Celebrate "Family Ties" During Best Rap Performance Win In 2022

Revisit the moment budding rapper Baby Keem won his first-ever gramophone for Best Rap Performance at the 2022 GRAMMY Awards for his Kendrick Lamar collab "Family Ties."

GRAMMYs/Feb 23, 2024 - 05:50 pm

For Baby Keem and Kendrick Lamar, The Melodic Blue was a family affair. The two cousins collaborated on three tracks from Keem's 2021 debut LP, "Range Brothers," "Vent," and "Family Ties." And in 2022, the latter helped the pair celebrate a GRAMMY victory.

In this episode of GRAMMY Rewind, turn the clock back to the night Baby Keem accepted Best Rap Performance for "Family Ties," marking the first GRAMMY win of his career.

"Wow, nothing could prepare me for this moment," Baby Keem said at the start of his speech.

He began listing praise for his "supporting system," including his family and "the women that raised me and shaped me to become the man I am."

Before heading off the stage, he acknowledged his team, who "helped shape everything we have going on behind the scenes," including Lamar. "Thank you everybody. This is a dream."

Baby Keem received four nominations in total at the 2022 GRAMMYs. He was also up for Best New Artist, Best Rap Song, and Album Of The Year as a featured artist on Kanye West's Donda.

Press play on the video above to watch Baby Keem's complete acceptance speech for Best Rap Performance at the 2022 GRAMMYs, and check back to GRAMMY.com for more new episodes of GRAMMY Rewind.

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Songbook: The Ultimate Guide To Rihanna's Reign, From Her Record-Breaking Hits To Unforgettable Collabs
(L-R) Rihanna in 2023, 2006 and 2010.

Photos: Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Roc Nation, Greetsia Tent/WireImage, Kevin Mazur/WireImage

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Songbook: The Ultimate Guide To Rihanna's Reign, From Her Record-Breaking Hits To Unforgettable Collabs

As the world eagerly awaits Rihanna's musical comeback, GRAMMY.com takes a deep dive into the superstar's catalog and celebrates her evolution from teen idol to beloved icon.

GRAMMYs/Feb 20, 2024 - 06:37 pm

A chance meeting changed Rihanna's life.

The singer was just 15 years old when she met producer Evan Rogers, who was vacationing with his wife in Barbados. Rogers recognized Rihanna's potential, and invited her to an audition in his hotel suite. 

Shortly after her 16th birthday, Rihanna left her home country for the U.S. to record a demo, which included her breakthrough hit "Pon de Replay." The demo found its way into Jay-Z's hands, and Hov signed the teen artist to Def Jam and the label expedited her 2005 debut album, aptly titled Music of the Sun.

"When I left Barbados, I didn't look back," Rihanna told Entertainment Weekly in 2007. "I wanted to do what I had to do [to succeed], even if it meant moving to America." 

Twenty years later, Rihanna is a renowned entertainer-turned-mogul. She has sold over 40 million albums worldwide, garnered over 12 billion Spotify streams, achieved 14 Billboard Hot 100 chart-toppers, and won nine GRAMMY Awards. Even her business ventures have been a massive success, as her Fenty Beauty brand is worth $2.8 billion.

Though it's been close to a decade since Rihanna's last studio album, 2016's ANTI, she reminded the world of her reign with her 2023 Super Bowl halftime show — which also marked her first time taking the stage in five years. Performing hit after hit while unveiling a baby bump, her 13-minute set became one of the most-watched halftime shows of all time with over 121 million viewers. 

In honor of Rihanna's 36th birthday on Feb. 20, GRAMMY.com is revisiting the monstrous hits, ambitious projects, brow-raising visuals, and iconic collabs that propelled her to international stardom — and why it's all put her in a league of her own.

A New Island Girl In Town

True to her Carribean heritage, Rihanna's dancehall-inspired debut single "Pon de Replay" earned the then 17-year-old Barbados native her first entry on the Hot 100 at an impressive No. 2. Her official introduction to the world also hit No. 1 on the Billboard Dance Club Songs chart; she boasts 33 on the tally, second behind only the Queen of Pop herself, Madonna.

Follow-up single "If It's Lovin' That You Want" stalled at No. 36 on the Hot 100, but still whetted fans' appetite — as did her debut album, Music of the Sun, which is mostly comprised of dance-pop and dancehall tracks with hints of R&B (like "Willing to Wait"). Plus, her reimagining of Dawn Penn's 1994 reggae classic "You Don't Love Me (No, No, No)" is still so fun to listen to after all these years.

A mere eight months later, Rihanna's sophomore effort, 2006's A Girl Like Me, arrived to an eager audience. Defying the sophomore slump, she celebrated her first No. 1 with the ubiquitous lead single "SOS," which famously samples Soft Cell's 1981 hit, "Tainted Love." While A Girl Like Me is filled with high-energy, danceable tracks (including the nostalgic "Break It Off" with Sean Paul), Rihanna's second single was the melodramatic ballad "Unfaithful." 

Penned by then-labelmate Ne-Yo, "Unfaithful" peaked at No. 6 on the Hot 100. More importantly, it showed a different side to Rihanna, proving that she could channel deep emotion when the performance calls for it. It also marked Rihanna's first time veering away from her "girl next door" image, as the song's subject matter deals with infidelity.

A Girl Like Me contains many fan favorites, from the laid-back "We Ride" to standouts "Dem Haters" and "Kisses Don't Lie." The latter is a reggae-rock hybrid that sounds like a catalyst for some of Rihanna's edgier tunes like "Breakin' Dishes" from 2007's Good Girl Gone Bad era. Touching ballads"Final Goodbye" and "A Million Miles Away" showcase her voice beautifully, foreshadowing later big-vocal numbers like "Love on the Brain."

An Icon In The Making

Rihanna was a familiar face by 2007, but with the arrival of her third studio album, Good Girl Gone Bad, she graduated from cookie-cutter pop star to bonafide icon.

Produced by Tricky Stewart, the LP's juggernaut lead single "Umbrella" featuring Jay-Z skyrocketed to No. 1 in 17 countries. Between striking images of Rihanna's silver-painted silhouette in the accompanying video and the now-iconic "ella-ella, eh, eh, eh" hook, "Umbrella" thrust the then 19-year-old into another stratosphere. Her confident delivery also commanded attention in a way fans and critics hadn't heard before.

The transformative era also birthed the gritty "Shut Up and Drive," on which Rihanna channels her inner rock star. The next two singles cracked the top 10: an affectionate duet with Ne-Yo,  "Hate That I Love You," which showed off Rihanna's softer side, and the party-starting, Michael Jackson-sampling "Don't Stop the Music," which cemented her place in the digital era. 

The melancholy "Rehab" is a clever metaphor for lost love, co-written by Timbaland and Justin Timberlake. Despite being Good Girl Gone Bad's lowest-charting single, Timberlake heralded the song as "the bridge for her to be accepted as an adult in the music industry."

Good Girl Gone Bad remains Rihanna's best-selling album and marks her greatest reinvention as she adopted a more rebellious sound. She also won her first GRAMMY in 2008 (Best Rap/Sung Collaboration for "Umbrella") and scored four other nominations, including Record Of The Year. The album's reissue spawned two more No. 1s: "Take a Bow" and "Disturbia," the latter of which acts like a prelude to Rated R, which saw Rihanna exploring darker themes.

Nine months before the release of 2009's Rated R, Rihanna was assaulted by then-boyfriend Chris Brown. On the deeply personal album, she translated her pain into art. Through lead single "Russian Roulette" and bitingly catchy anthems "Stupid in Love," "Fire Bomb," "Photographs," "Cold Case Love," and "The Last Song," Rihanna explored her angst and confusion.

But to focus solely on the domestic violence incident undermines Rihanna's artistic vision. 

Following three multi-platinum albums in a three-year span, Rihanna's rebranding as a rebel at heart reached its apex. The singer had grown in leaps and bounds while taking musical risks, even penning nine of Rated R's 13 tracks (she had no writing credits on Good Girl Gone Bad).

The road to Rihanna's most badass anthems — including "Bitch Better Have My Money" — can be traced back to Rated R. Case in point: Her bravado is loud and clear on "Hard," "Wait Your Turn," and "G4L." On "Rockstar 101," which features legendary rocker Slash, Rihanna declares her power: "Six inch walker/ Big sh— talker/ I never play the victim/ I'd rather be a stalker."

Badgal RiRi returned to her dancehall roots on her fifth No. 1 "Rude Boy," which offsets the album's harrowing motif. Final single "Te Amo" didn't chart, but garnered a great deal of attention as the Latin-infused Stargate production depicts Rihanna being enticed by a female love interest. 

Rated R showcased Rihanna's undeniable star power, and allowed her to shed her good-girl image once and for all.

A Partygoer's Dream

Following the career-pivoting Rated R, 2010's Loud offered a welcome return to the West Indian artist's earlier sound. The album feels like one big celebration of life, as evidenced by Rihanna's fire-engine red hair and No. 1 singles "Only Girl (In the World)" and "What's My Name?" (the latter of which was Rih's first collaboration with Drake).

Best described as "Don't Stop the Music" 2.0, the effervescent "Only Girl" marked her eminent return to the dance floor and took home a GRAMMY for Best Dance Recording in 2011. While "What's My Name?" may not outshine Rih and Drizzy's other collabs — including 2011's "Take Care" or 2016's "Work" — the second she sings, "Hey, boy, I really wanna see if you can go downtown with a girl like me," it's impossible not to whine your waist to the riddim.

Easily one of Rihanna's most overlooked hits, "Cheers (Drink to That)" is built around an unexpected sample of Avril Lavigne's 2002 hit "I'm With You," but it works surprisingly well as a party anthem. That same carefree spirit can be heard in the feminist track "Raining Men," which features Nicki Minaj — their first of two collabs, as they joined forces again for "Fly," the final single off the rapper's iconic Pink Friday album. 

A playful ode to sadomasochism and bondage, "S&M" contains some of Rihanna's most provocative lyrics: "Sticks and stones may break my bones/ But chains and whips excite me," she declares on the chorus. 

Banned in 11 countries upon its release, the accompanying video features Rihanna tied up in pink rope, dancing with a blowup doll, and donning a Playboy bunny-esque costume as damning newsreels about herself flash across the screen. But Rihanna's love of kink made her an even bigger star: "S&M" produced a remix with Britney Spears and earned Rihanna her 10th No. 1 single. With this feat, she became the youngest artist to attain the most chart-toppers in a five-year span.

On "Man Down," Rihanna's patois is in full effect as she takes listeners through a gripping tale about murdering her abuser. "What started out as a simple altercation/ Turned into a real sticky situation," she laments in the opening verse, amplified by siren noises in the background. There's something so satisfying about Rihanna's Bajan accent as she unfurls "Rum-pum-pum-pum" repeatedly over an intensifying reggae beat that would make Sister Nancy and Bob Marley proud.

Nominated for Album Of The Year at the 2021 GRAMMYs, Loud is Rihanna's second most commercially successful LP — and for good reason. It was especially refreshing to see Rihanna emerge from one of the darkest periods of her life as exuberant as ever.

An Unapologetic Queen

Sonically and thematically, Talk That Talk doesn't break new ground, but Rih's DGAF attitude is front and center with plenty of sexual innuendos: Songs like "S&M" and "Rude Boy" seem pretty tame next to "Cockiness (Love It)," which features longtime friend-turned-boyfriend A$AP Rocky on its remix. "Suck my cockiness/ Lick my persuasion/ Eat my poison/ And swallow your pride down, down," she commands in the tantalizing chorus.

At just over a minute long, "Birthday Cake" leaves nothing to the imagination ("It's not even my birthday, but he wanna lick the icing off"). Rihanna controversially released a full-length version in the form of a remix with Chris Brown.

On an album that mostly sees Rihanna singing about her sexual fantasies, "We All Want Love" pulls back the curtain as it reveals her desire for true love: "And some say love ain't worth the buck/ But I'll give my last dime/ To have what I've only been dreaming about." 

Her longing continues in "Where Have You Been," which flaunts Rihanna's versatility, flipping Geoff Mack's 1959 country song "I've Been Everywhere" into an infectious EDM banger. Lead single "We Found Love" is undeniably the biggest hit to stem from the Talk That Talk era, spending 10 consecutive weeks atop the Hot 100. 

Boosting Calvin Harris' career, "We Found Love" presents one juxtaposition after the other: dark yet gleaming, euphoric yet sobering, fraught yet hopeful. Rihanna relies on more than just evocative lyrics to tell her story; accompanying synthesizers and alarm bells help to paint a picture as well. Met with controversy, its intense visuals portraying a drug-fueled, toxic relationship — and featuringwhat many speculated was a Chris Brown look-alike — earned RiRi a GRAMMY for Best Long Form Music Video in 2013.

Seven years into an already extraordinary career, 2012's Unapologetic became Rihanna's first album to debut at No. 1 on the all-genre Billboard 200 chart. Its lead single "Diamonds" resonated in an equally major way, giving Rih her 12th No. 1 on the Hot 100.

Written by Sia, the power ballad kicked off another exciting era for the Barbadian singer, who unleashes an impassioned vocal performance. One of Rihanna's most precious offerings to date, "Diamonds" emerged as a self-love mantra due to its uplifting "Shine bright like a diamond" chant.

Vocally, Rihanna's strength lies in her ability to evoke raw emotion à la "Stay." Featuring Mikky Ekko, the stripped-down, slow-burning piano ballad narrowly missed the top spot on the Hot 100 but gave Rihanna her 24th top 10 hit, surpassing Whitney Houston's record of 23 in 2013.

Her swagger is boisterous in "Phresh Out the Runway," "Jump," and strip club anthem "Pour It Up," but "Nobody's Business" really drives home the album's theme of being unbothered. Her decision to join forces with Chris Brown yet again perplexed fans and critics alike, though the track itself is an irresistible production that features a genius interpolation of Michael Jackson's "The Way You Make Me Feel."

Further down the track list, "Love Without Tragedy / Mother Mary" is as autobiographical as it gets, and further taps into Rihanna's emotionally vulnerable side. "Mr. Jesus, I'd love to be a queen/ But I'm from the left side of an island/ Never thought this many people would even know my name," she pleads in the seven-minute two-parter.

Unapologetic spawned fewer hit singles compared to Rihanna's previous efforts. Its win for Best Urban Contemporary Album at the 2014 GRAMMYs, however, proved that Rihanna's reign wasn't letting up anytime soon.

While recording her then-forthcoming album, ANTI, Rihanna delivered what is arguably the single most unapologetic moment of her career: "Bitch Better Have My Money." The backstory is almost inconceivable given Rihanna's awe-inspiring billionaire status, but in 2009, Rihanna faced bankruptcy due to her accountants mishandling her funds — and thus "Bitch" was born six years later in 2015.

With lyrics like "Your wife in the backseat of my brand new foreign car" over a cryptic-sounding trap beat and an accompanying video depicting kidnapping and torturing her debtors, "Bitch" is not for the faint-hearted. The one-off single is so quintessentially Rihanna that it notably kicked off her Super Bowl halftime show.

An In-Demand Collaborator

While bestowing hit after hit on her own, Rihanna generously lent her distinct voice to some of her biggest peers. 2008 marks one of the earliest instances of her Midas touch: She flirts with funk in Maroon 5's underappreciated "If I Never See Your Face Again" before hopping on T.I.'s "Live Your Life," which shot straight to No. 1 on the Hot 100.

In 2009, Rihanna joined Jay-Z and Kanye West for the militant "Run This Town," sounding defiant as ever in the intro. She was called upon again for West's horn-laden "All of the Lights," flying solo on the hook followed by a star-studded choir that included Alicia Keys, John Legend, Fergie, and Elton John. Both larger-than-life productions won GRAMMYs for Best Rap/Sung Collaboration in 2010 and 2012, respectively.

In between joining forces with Hov and Ye, Rihanna assisted Eminem in "Love the Way You Lie," which struck a nerve with many for its gut-wrenching lyrics shedding a light on abusive relationships. (Rih recorded an equally moving sequel for her Loud album.) Three years later, the two confronted their inner demons in "The Monster," and their musical chemistry scored a GRAMMY in 2015 for Best Rap/Sung Collaboration.

Amid smash collabs, Rihanna and Coldplay's intricate "Princess of China" number gets lost in the shuffle, but it speaks to her charm as it's the band's first album (2011's Mylo Xyloto) to feature another artist. Another overlooked jam, her sultry "Can't Remember to Forget You" duet with Shakira sees both stars trade lines about struggling to let go of an undeserving lover.

On paper, a collaboration between Rihanna, Kanye West, and Sir Paul McCartney may seem strange, but the unlikely trio is further proof that opposites attract. Their "FourFiveSeconds" is a pop-folk hybrid with a universal message about carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders. It's yet another example of Rihanna's willingness to push past her comfort zone to create something unique.

A year later, Rihanna got listeners on their feet by way of the Taylor Swift-penned "This Is What You Came For" with Calvin Harris. Understated compared to the duo's previous megahits ("We Found Love" and "Where Have You Been"), Harris' signature DJing style and Rih's ethereal vocals are a perfect match.

In 2017, Rih, DJ Khaled and Bryson Tiller dropped the song of the summer with "Wild Thoughts," which heavily borrows from Carlos Santana's 1999 GRAMMY-winning "Maria Maria." It may be DJ Khaled's song, but RiRi owns it from the very moment she utters, "I don't know if you could take it/ Know you wanna see me nakey, nakey, naked." The bop reached No. 2 on the Hot 100.

She spits bars in Kendrick Lamar's "Loyalty" and "Lemon" with N.E.R.D., the latter of which comes close to rivaling your favorite rappers' verses: "You can catch me, Rih, in the new La Ferrar'/ And the truck behind me got arms/ Yeah, longer than LeBron/ Just waitin' for my thumb like The Fonz."

No matter what genre Rihanna touches or what artist she links up with, she brings her full self to each session whilst completely immersing herself into the music — taking on different personas to make the collab well worth it.

An Artist Fully Realized

With 13 No. 1s and twice as many top 10 hits under her belt, Rihanna set out to create timeless music instead of chasing a radio-friendly formula with her 2016 magnum opus, ANTI.

But that shift began with 2015's criminally underrated "American Oxygen." Her most political statement at the time, the goosebump-inducing lyrics detail Rihanna's journey as an immigrant, foreshadowing her then soon-to-be massive Fenty Beauty success. "We sweat for a nickel and a dime/ Turn it into an empire," she sings in the chorus.

Released four years after Unapologetic — her longest gap between albums at the time — ANTI illustrated Rihanna's greater desire for quality over quantity. "I needed the music to match my growth," she told Vogue in 2016 about the making of ANTI. "I didn't want to get caught up with anything the world liked, anything the radio liked, anything that I liked, that I've already heard. I just wanted it to be me."

The black-and-white, red paint-splattered album cover signals a rebirth, featuring a real-life image of Rihanna as a child. ANTI lives up to its name in its first 40 seconds, via opening track "Consideration." The minute she declares, "I got to do things my own way, darling," it's apparent that ANTI is not your average Rihanna album.

Lead single "Work" is the closest to pre-ANTI Rihanna on an album that defies expectations. But the dancehall masterpiece is one of a kind for Rih's refusal to water down the Jamaican patois (different from her native language of Bajan Creole) — proving that she is fully aware of her impact as one of the biggest Caribbean-born artists to make it in the U.S.

Many non-understanding listeners described it as "gibberish" at the time. Yet, the general public didn't seem to mind: About a month after its release, "Work" became Rihanna's 14th and longest-running chart-topper on the Hot 100. Weeks later, ANTI became her second LP to top the Billboard 200 chart. Subsequently, Rihanna held the No. 1 spots on the Billboard 200 and Hot 100 simultaneously, her second time achieving such an impressive feat.

Read More: How Rihanna's "Work" Reinvigorated Dancehall

ANTI is full of pleasant surprises that show off her artistry. Rihanna comes out of left field with the Prince-inspired "Kiss It Better," the album's second single, which sees the superstar falling back on addictive sex that "feels like crack" to justify a destructive relationship. "Same Ol' Mistakes" is a cover of psychedelic rock band Tame Impala's "New Person, Same Old Mistakes" — her first time remaking another artist's song for her own album since "You Don't Love Me (No, No, No)" on Music of the Sun. The Western-themed "Desperado" lends itself particularly well to covers by country artists, while the Dido-sampling "Never Ending" conveys the uncertainty she feels about entering a new relationship.

Elsewhere on ANTI, Rihanna drunk dials an ex ("Higher"), compares smoking weed to her lover ("James Joint"), and chastises a guy for getting emotionally attached after their fling ("Needed Me"). The latter song contains one of Rihanna's most empowering lyrics: "Didn't they tell you that I was a savage?/ F— ya white horse and ya carriage," she asserts in the pre-chorus.

Her voice sounds stronger than ever on "Love on the Brain," a doo-wop ballad resembling Etta James. But Rihanna makes it her own thanks to the bluntness of lines like "It beats me black and blue but it f— me so good."

The deep cuts on ANTI aren't merely fillers, and even rival some of the album's biggest hits. For instance, "Sex with Me" is featured on the deluxe edition as a bonus track, but managed to crack the Hot 100 at No. 83 and reach No. 8 on the R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay chart. Furthermore, the deluxe edition consists of 16 tracks, half of which topped the Dance Club Songs chart — smashing the record (previously held by Katy Perry's Teenage Dream) for the most No. 1s from a single album.

Accolades aside, ANTI is proof that magic happens when an artist of Rihanna's caliber follows their own instincts in pursuit of creating a body of work — one that can outlast them and continue to inspire generations to come.

Ever since ANTI, Rihanna's devoted fanbase has been begging for a new album, with Rih playfully trolling them with responses like "I lost it" and Instagram captions that read, "Me listening to R9 by myself and refusing to release it."

Her much-awaited return to music came at the tail end of 2022. The hitmaker twice contributed to the GRAMMY-nominated Black Panther: Wakanda Forever soundtrack: "Born Again" and "Lift Me Up," the latter of which helped Rihanna score her first Oscar and Golden Globe nominations in 2022 and 2023, respectively. With the glorious "Lift Me Up," she found herself in the top 10 for the first time since 2017's "Wild Thoughts."

While the world is still anticipating her ninth studio album, Rihanna — now a mom of two boys — continues to make her own rules and move at her own pace. But as she's proven time and time again, it's always worth the wait.

The Rihanna Essentials: 15 Singles To Celebrate The Singer's Endless Pop Reign

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

Inside GRAMMY House's 2024 GRAMMYs Best New Artist Spotlight:  Victoria Monét, Ice Spice, Jelly Roll & More Share Tales About Their Road To The GRAMMYs
Tanya Trotter and Michael Trotter Jr. of The War And Treaty speak during the Best New Artist Spotlight

Photo: Jerod Harris/Getty Images for The Recording Academy

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Inside GRAMMY House's 2024 GRAMMYs Best New Artist Spotlight: Victoria Monét, Ice Spice, Jelly Roll & More Share Tales About Their Road To The GRAMMYs

Nominees for Best New Artist descended upon GRAMMY House on Feb. 3 for a panel discussion. From Noah Kahan almost deleting his hit song to Gracie Abrams' initial fear of performing, learn how the 2024 GRAMMY nominees arrived at Music's Biggest Night.

GRAMMYs/Feb 8, 2024 - 11:53 pm

In an era when nobody wants to be pigeonholed, diversity is an important facet when it comes to the musical cultural zeitgeist. Case in point: the 2024 GRAMMY Nominees for Best New Artist. 

At the 66th GRAMMY Awards, the General Field Category was a zig-zagging array of budding superstars who are the epitome of their respective genres. From the bopping club tracks of  Ice Spice, the smooth R&B of  Victoria Monét — who ultimately won the golden gramophone on Feb. 4 — or the unflinching discography of Jelly Roll, this year’s Best New Artist class represents every taste. 

As part of the Recording Academy’s GRAMMY House, presented by presented by Mastercard, that variety was on full display as seven of this year’s nominees descended onto the stage with moderator and Rolling Stone writer Brittany Spanos to muse about creativity, their respective journeys, and what the honor means to them. 

Read on for some of the most exciting insights from the Best New Artist Spotlight at GRAMMY House.

Noah Kahan Almost Deleted His Star-Making Song

For the singer/songwriter known for his ripped-from-the-heart "Stick Season," Noah Kahan said he was blown away when he found out about his Best New Artist nomination. "It’s the realization of a childhood dream," he said. "I’ve practiced my GRAMMY speech as a kid, and didn’t believe it was going to happen until the day it happened. It’s so special and beautiful, because no matter what I’ll be able to tell my grandkids I was nominated for a GRAMMY." 

However, Kahan’s dream nearly didn’t come to fruition due to an initial fear of rejection. "I put a verse on TikTok and thought I was going to delete it that nobody liked it," Kahan of "Stick Season." Planning to delete it, Kahan said he ate an edible and forgot; the song subsequently went viral. 

"I wrote the first verse and chorus in 20 minutes, while the second verse took me three months," he told the audience at GRAMMY House. "There were a lot of rewrites, stepping away from TikTok. But one night at a show in Syracuse, everybody was suddenly singing and I knew it was going to be special." 

Gracie Abrams Was Initially "Horrified At The Idea Of Performing"

While she may have had a stint opening for Taylor Swift’s blockbuster Era’s tour, it wasn’t too long ago that singer/songwriter Gracie Abrams found the idea of playing shows a terrifying prospect. 

"I was horrified at the idea of performing," Abrams said. "Up until a few years ago, I had never sung in a room that wasn’t my bedroom. I originally turned to music to be alone, and not to experience community."

Abrams' successes have changed her. "Everyone needs that kind of space, and it’s been really magical to connect in a room full of people that way. Now I have such gratitude for live music in a way that I didn’t before," she told GRAMMY House attendees. 

Of course she’s taken pointers from her aforementioned Eras headliner along the way. "When I see Taylor fill the stadiums she does with such force, power and joy, there’s something about it that feels lighter in the studio, I’ve been really lucky to learn from the best in the past year."

Coco Jones Rebuilt Her Career From The Ground Up

A showbusiness veteran who got her start as a young Disney star, first-time nominee Coco Jones noted that despite her initial acting success, she made a conscious effort to become a more authentic artist. 

"I went through years of uncertainty," she admitted to Spanos. "When you’re a child star, it was fine but I had no dignity. You can’t really control much. I had to find out who I was: have fun, meet people, fall in love, fall out of love, and that’s what gave me the stories to share [in my music]."

As a result, Jones snagged five GRAMMY nominations, and took home the golden gramophone for Best R&B Performance for "ICU." 

Every new level of success inspires me to dream bigger," she said. "At one point, my dreams got so tiny and believable. But I want to dream things that are unbelievable."

The War And Treaty Learned To Be Vulnerable 

For many years, the country-folk outfit The War and Treaty (composed of couple Michael Trotter Jr. and Tanya Trotter) drove around in a van playing tiny gigs. "Just eight years ago we’d be performing for three people in a coffee shop,"  said Tanya. "So when we started, we always were very closed in our writing process."

However, as they became more successful, they began to become a bit more vulnerable when it comes to their artistry. "When we decided to open ourselves up to working with other songwriters," she continued. 

"It’s scary, because I’m sensitive about my art," said Michael.  "I had one song I was banking on, it’s the greatest song ever and I’m giving them the best that I got. And I go to the bathroom, come back, and they changed my entire song." However, he soon realized that was part of the process. "You have to realize it’s for the better."

Victoria Monét's Creative Evolution Took Patience

When the R&B star Monét was growing up, she was initially inspired by the music her parents listened to. "I’d listen to artists like Earth, Wind and Fire (with their) arrangements, live musicianship, lyrics and feeling," she told the Best New Artist Spotlight audience. "And then I became really obsessed with Destiny’s Child, Aaliyah, TLC, Janet Jackson and Sade." 

It’s those artists who lit a musical fire and led Monét to seven GRAMMY nominations and a range of hit singles, including "Hollywood" and "How Does It Make You Feel."  

"I want to make sure I’m living life to have experiences to write about," she said. "Life is a writing session, one long writing session, and you get to record it when you get in the studio."

Ice Spice Took Taylor Swift’s Advice To Heart

Perhaps the biggest cheers of the panel went to breakout artist Ice Spice who, along with her Best New Artist nod, snagged a total of four GRAMMY nominations including Best Rap Song with Nicki Minaj for "Barbie World."  

"As an artist overall, I’m always working on my craft," she said. "I’ve been surprising myself a little bit, especially working on my new album. I have some interesting sounds I haven’t really done before."

But it was a bit of inspiration from Taylor Swift that helped her look at her career in a new way. "One of the best pieces of advice Taylor gave me was to keep making music. She said, ‘As long as you keep making music, everything’s going to work out.’"

Jelly Roll Uses Genre-Defying Music As Therapy 

When it comes to splicing together disparate genres into a cohesive sound, there’s no better example than Jelly Roll, the dynamic country artist currently riding high with his powerful and unflinching anthem, "Need a Favor." 

"I learned every trick I had from hip-hop," he said. "It taught me so much when it comes to storytelling and not being afraid to tell your truth."

Jelly Roll also noted he uses the marketing savvy of hip-hop artists when it comes to his own career. "When it comes to volume, I want to release music as a rapper, I want to write music like a country writer, and I want to tour like a rock and roll star."

2024 GRAMMY Nominations: See The Full Winners & Nominees List