meta-scriptHit-Boy On Producing Big Sean's 'Detroit 2' And Nas' 'King's Disease,' Carving His Own Path As An Artist | GRAMMY.com
Hit-Boy attends the 2020 GRAMMY Awards

Hit-Boy attends the 2020 GRAMMY Awards

Photo: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images for The Recording Academy

 

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Hit-Boy On Producing Big Sean's 'Detroit 2' And Nas' 'King's Disease,' Carving His Own Path As An Artist

The two-time GRAMMY-winning superproducer tells GRAMMY.com about his creative process behind some of the biggest hip-hop albums of 2020 and how he's paving a path as a rapper in his own right

GRAMMYs/Sep 6, 2020 - 04:19 am

Hit-Boy might be music's busiest person in 2020. Across a four-month timespan, the two-time GRAMMY-winning superproducer quarterbacked four of the biggest projects in rap this year. In May, he dropped the fourth and final installment of his The Chauncey Hollis Project solo series, followed by Also Known As Courtesy Of Half-A-Mil, his collaborative album with Dom Kennedy, in July. He followed up with King's Disease, the 13th album from rap icon Nas, in August, and Big Sean's fresh-out-the-oven Detroit 2, released Friday (Sept. 4)—both of which he executive-produced. 

But for Hit-Boy, it's just another day in the office.

"It's too many artists trying to tap in for me to just work on one thing at a time, but I still am able to give my focus," he tells GRAMMY.com on the eve of the release of Detroit 2. "It's like quantity and quality. I don't know how to explain it right now."

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With his mind on his music and his music on his mind, Hit-Boy is used to juggling a packed calendar in the studio. He's kept a 24/7-schedule since first breaking into the industry in the late 2000s. He's since become one of the go-to producers in the game, creating hits for everyone from Kanye West to Beyoncé to Mariah Carey. The versatile creative sees genre-hopping as a learning experience.

"I just get to learn more about different ways people make music," he says of his broad production style. "People in the pop world are totally different from people who make beats for Big Sean and JAY-Z … I honestly just like to learn, no matter what type of music it is."

Hit-Boy, who started off rapping before transitioning to making beats, is also busy carving his own lane as an artist. His new solo album, The Chauncey Hollis Project, and his team-up with Dom Kennedy, Also Known As, see him switching from behind the board as a producer to in front of the mic as a rapper. It's the latest progression in Hit-Boy's ever-evolving creative journey.

"I'm gonna just keep developing, just keep working, man," he says of his next steps. "It's a never-ending process for me."

GRAMMY.com caught up with Hit-Boy to talk about his creative process behind Big Sean's Detroit 2 and Nas' King's Disease, how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted his artistic approach and how he's paving a path as a rapper in his own right.

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You've worked with just about everyone in music, from Kanye West to Jennifer Lopez to Beyoncé. Do you ever get nervous or anxious when you work with a huge superstar?

Earlier in my career, yeah. I definitely used to get a little nervous, but I always just believed I had something, even if all of it wasn't great. I know I have something in the batch that was going to catch people's attention. That's the same method I take on now, but I've just advanced so much at just being a musician and locking in on making beats ... Now that I got that science figured out, I'm just on damn near autopilot right now. I'm just getting placement after placement.

It sounds like you're in high demand. How do you juggle it all? Are you working on multiple projects at once? Or do you stay exclusively focused on one album or one project from beginning to end?

It's too many artists trying to tap in for me to just work on one thing at a time, but I still am able to give my focus. Like with Nas' album, King's Disease, we made time for our sessions, made sure there wasn't too many people around and locked in. My relationship with [Big] Sean—I've got a bunch of stuff on Detroit 2. I was able to still be in the zone, working on his sh*t, then also do a Nas album in the middle of that, and then work on Polo G's album and work on all this other sh*t I got going.

I feel like my method is like: Get to the studio before people show up, make as many tight beats as I can, all type of styles. Then whoever comes through that day, I'm going to have at least one or two that's going to catch your ear ...

It comes from me having my label deal and more so trying to focus on, I feel like, what was too many things at one time, which was trying to be an artist myself, signing a bunch of artists, trying to be a hot producer, trying to produce for everybody at once. That was too much, but now ... I work with whoever comes in my realm and respects what I do ... It's like quantity and quality. I don't know how to explain it right now.

Read: Lil Mosey On The Staying Power of "Blueberry Faygo," Life As A Teen Rap Sensation And Getting The Co-Sign From President Barack Obama 

You recently executive-produced Nas' latest album, King's Disease. Can you talk about the creative and production process behind that album?

I mean, obviously he's Nas. You know what I'm saying? Certain people know me—I'm Hit-Boy. But it's like, let's remove that and let's just try to make songs, let's just try to make records ... You could still pop your sh*t and talk about what you want to, but at the same time, let's just make this as enjoyable as possible. When we was going in, we just was letting the room lead the way and the energy was taking us to every next piece of the puzzle.

I just knew that it was a high standard with this project. People was going to really click play on this, and if it was whack, they was gonna let me know. So for so many people I respect, like younger producers like Metro [Boomin], like Pi'erre [Bourne], Tay Keith, and then I got people like Timbaland, Swizz [Beatz] and all these OGs also reaching out [and] just showing respect—that just shows me [that] this hit the core of music lovers. People who really listening, they understanding this is really quality sh*t.

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You also executive-produced the new Big Sean album, Detroit 2. What sort of vibe or sound did you try to create on that album?

I just wanted everything to sound modern, even like some of the soulful [songs]. The song we dropped with [Nipsey Hussle], rest in peace, "Deep Reverence"—it's like a real throwback, Roc-A-Fella-ish sample vibe, but then the drums sound modern; they sound new. So I kinda kept that through the whole project. It's just remnants of music we enjoyed, but it's placed in a modern way, so definitely just trying to make sure it was just a fresh sound.

You mentioned a bunch of artists coming into your studio. Are you currently producing with artists in-person? Or are you working mostly virtually and remotely due to the COVID-19 pandemic?

We started the Nas album before the pandemic hit. That's what's crazy: We named it King's Disease before we even knew about the corona. Giving us that time during the pandemic when it was super shut down, we got to really sit and just really produce the record like how we wanted to. That was a good thing.

I'm kinda doing it both ways. People been hitting me [up] crazy. I've been emailing stuff out, but we always get the better connection when it's in-person. Me and [Big] Sean, we worked on all our stuff just face-to-face. I'm cooking beats from scratch. We really just building it from the ground up, so it's always good to do it that way. But if you do have to email, there's nothing wrong with that either.

Read: DaBaby Talks 'BLAME IT ON BABY (DELUXE),' Black Lives Matter Remix Of "ROCKSTAR" And Rap's Obsession With Deluxe Albums

What do you lose and what do you gain from producing virtually and working remotely compared to working with someone in-person?

You just get more of a connection when you work in-person. You're able to get that instant feedback ... It just makes it easier to navigate. When you [send it], you're just kind of shooting blind and just hoping that the person connects with the beat you sent. It's just two different things. They both worked out for me, personally, I have to say. I feel like my best beats come when I'm just dolo, just vibing out, zoning out and just letting whatever come to me. But I also been tapping into just making a lot more beats with people, too. It's just all music at the end of the day.

Speaking of the pandemic, we've been in quarantine for a long time now. You're in and out of it in your studio. How has this pandemic and quarantine era impacted your creativity?

I honestly feel like I'm more creative than ever ... My son was born right when we went into quarantine, within a day or two. It's just been good for me to have his energy and be able to spend more time with him and not have to fly out [to] no places and doing even more than I'm already doing. I feel like it's just been a blessing for me, for real. It's just looking good, so I'm trying to keep the energy up.

In addition to your production work, you're also an artist. You're able to switch from behind the board as a producer to in front of the mic as a rapper. What kind of challenges come with that creative duality?

Man, it's kind of all just music to me ... Like sometimes, I might not even rap on my own beat; I get beats from other people. I'm able to just separate it that way. I'm not looking at it like, "Oh, I'm Hit-Boy. I'm about to make a song." I'm just like, "I'm about to say what needs to be said on [this beat]." Then when I make the beat, it kinda make me even more tapped in because I can get into the Hit-Boy bag and then just still give it that honest perspective.

What are you developing to carve a lane for yourself as Hit-Boy, the artist?

I'm just recording ... I put out The Chauncey Hollis Project. I did that in installments. I put out three songs at a time until it equaled 12 songs. That was just a moment for me, just being honest, just talking about my life, where I've been, where I'm going, what I'm on now. Just more of that, you know what I'm saying? More projects, more and more people featuring on my music now because I'm working with so many artists. They be hearing my sh*t. They like, "OK, I want to hop on this." I'm gonna just keep developing, just keep working, man. It's a never-ending process for me.

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As a producer, you're switching from producing harder rappers like Travis Scott and Clipse to pop stars like Ariana Grande and Selena Gomez. Creatively, what do you gain from jumping around genres like that?

I just get to learn more about different ways people make music. People in the pop world are totally different from people who make beats for Big Sean and JAY-Z and stuff like that, for the most part. There are some people that can hop in multiple lanes, but not everybody can do that. I honestly just like to learn, no matter what type of music it is.

What are some other genres that you are curious to explore that you haven't explored yet?

Like some hardcore rock 'n' roll sh*t. Who knows, man? Country, I haven't done no serious country records. I'm down to just try whatever, as long as it makes sense and I could still really feel the music.

We're almost at the end of the year, which is crazy to think about. What do you have left in the pipeline for 2020?

We've got, obviously tonight, that Big Sean, Detroit 2. Then I got an album with Benny The Butcher that's dropping; we got some dope features on that, some dope, soulful production. I feel like that was the thing with the Nas album. People saw I was producing that, they was like, "He known for club records and 'N****s in Paris.' But what can he give Nas?" 

And then once people heard it, it was like, "OK, we get it now." I feel like with the Benny project, it's going to be [an] even deeper thing. He's a new artist, so it's just a blank canvas to be able to paint something that could be something crazy.

Read: Aminé Talks New Album 'Limbo,' Portland Protests And Black Lives Matter

How do you compare working with newer artists like Benny The Butcher and superstars like Beyoncé and Kanye West?

They both hungry for this sh*t. Beyoncé, she work like a new artist, too. But Benny, he got some crazy, hungry—just really coming from the streets and coming from his background. For him, coming to the studio, he be like, "Man, this sh*t fly that we in the studio together." I feel the same way. He really taking advantage of the moment. When we in there, when I'm playing some sh*t, he understands what's going on. He just attacking everything with the highest intensity.

So we should keep an eye on Benny The Butcher is what you're saying.

One-thousand percent.

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You released the fourth and final installment of your The Chauncey Hollis Project solo series in May, followed by Also Known As Courtesy Of Half-A-Mil, your collab album with Dom Kennedy, in July. What do those two albums offer as separate entities?

The music I make with Dom has just got its own specific feeling. And I went for just soulful, just giving people an honest me on my project. That's what I always try to do on every song. But with [Also Known As], we always just kind of create a vibe, something that females can mess with, and then you can just ride to it ... We always just creating music. We always just recording ...

Those two albums put you directly in the artist seat. Where can we expect those two artist projects to go next?

Honestly, I can't even call it, bro, because I was just moving off instinct. When I decided to drop the first installment [of The Chauncey Hollis Project], the first three songs, it was the night before. I just had recorded the songs, started mixing them, and I was like, "Man, I want to drop this sh*t." I made the decision [to drop it] Wednesday, [then] dropped it Thursday ... 

I still got people hitting me, people DMing me daily, listening to The Chauncey Hollis Project, listening to [Also Known As], people in they ride playing it. It's like, "OK, we headed in the right direction." So I can't even call it, man. You never know how this thing is going to go. But I'm just going to continue to make the music that I feel, and hopefully people connect with it.

Go with the flow.

Yup. We one song, one project at a time.

Are you always thinking about music, 24/7?

I am, man. That goes back to when I said I had my artist [deal] and I was working with Kanye and I was working with Beyoncé and JAY-Z. I had a point where I was like, "Man, I'm definitely not even taking no sessions if it's not Kanye, JAY-Z or Beyoncé." That's a crazy thing to be able to say within your lifetime. I'm not going to say it hurt me, but I feel like I should have been spreading my sound out a little bit more, especially with not having a tag and not having my brand all the way up where I needed it to be.

Now I feel like I've been playing catch-up. That's why I was able to do a bunch of songs on [Big] Sean's sh*t, do a bunch of sh*t on [Nas'] King's Disease, because I'm seeing the field different now. Once I catch that connection with an artist, it's over—we just tapping in. It's something about the type of grooves and the type of beats I'm making right now that makes people want to make songs, so [I'm] really trying to take this sh*t to a different level.

Meet The First-Time GRAMMY Nominee: "Suge" Producer Jetsonmade On Working With DaBaby & Hyping Up The Carolinas

Clipse perform onstage during the BET Hip Hop Awards 2022 at Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre on September 30, 2022 in Atlanta, Georgia
Clipse perform in 2022

Photo: Terence Rushin/Getty Images

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Everything We Know About Clipse's First Album In 15 Years: Pusha T And No Malice Rise Again

While there's no title or release date for the new Clipse album, brothers Pusha T and No Malice have teased the essence of the project.

GRAMMYs/Jun 21, 2024 - 06:02 pm

Legendary Virginia Beach rap duo Clipse have mostly been on ice since 2009's Til the Casket Drops — and that decade and a half off ends now.

The duo of brothers and rap phenoms Pusha T and No Malice (formerly known as Malice) are back with a new, John Legend-featuring song, "Birds Don't Sing," from a reunion project whose title has yet to be disclosed.

It's bracing to hear purveyors of witty, sneakily profound coke raps get real about the deaths of their parents: "Lost in emotion, mama's youngest/ Tryna navigate life without my compass," King Push raps at the outset. "Some experience death and feel numbness/ But not me, I felt it all and couldn't function.

It only gets realer from there: "You told me that you loved me, it was all in your tone/ 'I love my two sons' was the code to your phone," No Malice raps in his verse. If "Birds Don't Sing" is any indication, Clipse's first album in forever will be illuminating indeed.

We don't know much about the "Grindin'" hitmakers' reunion album, other than what Pusha T and No Malice revealed in a wide-ranging Vulture interview. But for hip-hop fans, the breadcrumbs they dropped are enticing indeed.

Read more: For The Record: How Clipse's Lord Willin' Established Virginia's Foothold In Rap

It Will Reflect The Clipse's Maturation

Pusha T is vocal about hating the Pharrell-produced Til The Casket Drops, which has always left their story hanging. They seem to be all in on this LP — one that's designed on their own terms.

"I think the album shows the supreme maturation of a rap duo," said Push. "I think this is where you get the difference between taste and filler. This music is curated. This is a high taste-level piece of work.

"You can only have that level of taste when you have the fundamentals down to a science," he continued. "I think it's been definitely missing. Then there's the competitive aspect." Added No Malice: "This is smart basketball. It's fundamentals."

Pharrell Williams Produced The Entire Album

Despite Pusha T's reservations about Til The Casket Drops, Pharrell Williams has been an integral part of the Clipse's operation since the beginning — and he returns to produce the new project.

"Pharrell producing everything is also an ode to the type of music and the type of albums we want to make," he added. "We still want to make full bodies of work. These are movies, man. These aren't just songs. This isn't just a collection of joints we went in and banged out."

Maturation Doesn't Mean Abandoning Coke Raps

As Pusha T points out in the interview — yes, they rap about selling coke, but to reduce it to that is to miss the point entirely.

"There's no way that you can listen to that level of storytelling and experience and just walk away just saying 'That's coke rap.'" No Malice says. "If you just want to say that it's just crack rap, then you can't even assess what's really being said or what's going on."

Indeed, what the Clipse staked their claim on isn't off the table. In fact, it's lined up and ready. 

Get Ready For A Bona Fide Clipse Era

As Pusha T stresses, this Clipse revisitation will come from multiple directions: "Appearances, touring, and a rap album of the year" are coming down the pike.

As more information about the forthcoming Clipse album flows in, keep GRAMMY.com bookmarked so you know the details — as these fraternal MCs join forces once more.

5 Takeaways From Pusha T's New Album It's Almost Dry

Prince performing in 2004
Prince performing at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony in 2004

Photo: Kevin Kane/WireImage via Getty Images

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7 Legendary Prince Performances You Can Watch Online In Honor Of 'Purple Rain'

Fans of the Purple One, unite: it's time to celebrate 40 years of 'Purple Rain.' Crank up these classic Prince performances in tribute to that epochal album, and beyond.

GRAMMYs/Jun 21, 2024 - 02:35 pm

Have we really been living in a Princeless world for eight years? It doesn't feel like it. With every passing year, Planet Earth feels more of the magnitude of the Purple One's unbelievable accomplishments. Which includes the sheer body of work he left behind: his rumored mountain of unreleased material aside, have you heard all 39 of the albums he did release?

Yes, Prince Rogers Nelson was an impressive triple threat, and we'll likely never see his like again. In pop and rock history, some were wizards in the studio, but lacked charisma onstage, or vice versa: Prince was equally as mindblowing in both frameworks.

His iconic, GRAMMY Hall of Fame-inducted 1984 album Purple Rain — a soundtrack to the equally classic film — turns 40 on June 25. Of course, crank up that album's highlights — like "Let's Go Crazy," "When Doves Cry," and the immortal title track — and spin out from there to his other classics, like Dirty Mind, 1999, and Sign o' the Times.

To get a full dose of Prince, though, you've got to raid YouTube for performance footage of the seven-time GRAMMY winner through the years. Here are seven clips you've got to see.

Capital Centre, Landover, Maryland (1984)

Feast your eyes on Prince, the year Purple Rain came out. With guitarist Wendy Melvoin, keyboardist Dr. Fink, drummer Bobby Z., flanking him, even suboptimal YouTube resolution can't smother the magic and beauty. Check out this killing performance of Purple Rain's "I Would Die 4 U," where Prince's moves burn up the stage, with Sheila E. as much a percussion juggernaut as ever.

Read More: Living Legends: Sheila E. On Prince, Playing Salsa And Marching To The Beat Of Her Own Drum

Carrier Dome, Syracuse, New York (1985)

"Little Red Corvette," from 1982's 1999, has always been one of Prince's most magical pop songs — maybe the most magical? This performance in central New York state borders on definitive; bathed in violet and maroon, caped and cutting a rug, a 26-year-old Prince comes across as a force of divine talent.

Paisley Park, Minnesota (1999)

"I always laugh when people say he is doing a cover of this song… It's his song!" goes one YouTube commenter. That's absolutely right. Although "Nothing Compares 2 U" become an iconic hit through Sinead O'Connor's lens, it's bracing to hear the song's author nail its emotional thrust — as far fewer people have heard the original studio recording, on 1985's The Family — the sole album by the Prince-conceived and -led band of the same name.

Watch: Black Sounds Beautiful: Five Years After His Death, Prince’s Genius Remains Uncontainable

The Aladdin, Las Vegas (2002)

Let it be known that while Prince could shred with the best of them, he could equally hold down the pocket. This Vegas performance of "1+1+1=3," from 2001's The Rainbow Children, is a supremely funky workout — which also shows Prince's command as a bandleader, on top of the seeming dozens of other major musical roles he'd mastered by then.

Read More: Bobby Z. On Prince And The Revolution: Live & Why The Purple One Was Deeply Human

Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame Induction (2004)

Words can't describe Prince's universe-destroying solo over the Beatles' "While My Guitar Gently Weeps," in front of an all-star band of classic rockers including Jeff Lynne, Tom Petty, and George Harrison's son, Dhani. At song's end, Prince's guitar wails for a few more rounds, he tosses his Telecaster into the pit, and he struts offstage. We'll never see his like again.

Super Bowl Halftime Show (2007)

If you're the type of Super Bowl devotee who skips the Halftime Show, please — make time for Prince. When he digs into the trusty "Let's Go Crazy," it's hard not to follow suit. With fireworks blazing, and the Love Symbol brightly illumined, Prince arguably outshined the football game — as he tumbled through inspired cover after cover, by CCR, Dylan, and more. Naturally, he crescendoed with "Purple Rain," augmented by the drummers of the Marching 100.

Read More: Behind Diamonds and Pearls Super Deluxe Edition: A Fresh Look At Prince & The New Power Generation’s Creative Process

Coachella (2008)

At Coachella 2008, Prince offered a bounty of karaoke-style yet intriguing covers — of the B-52's ("Rock Lobster"), Sarah McLachlan ("Angel"), Santana ("Batuka"), and more. Chief among them was his eight-minute take on Radiohead's (in)famous first hit, "Creep," with a few quixotic twists, including flipping the personal pronoun I to a very Prince-like U.

"U wish U were special, / So do I," he yelps in the pre-chorus. Oh, Prince: to quote the radio-edited, de-vulgarized chorus of "Creep," you were so very special.

8 Ways Musicology Returned Prince To His Glory Days

Avril Lavigne Press Photo 2024
Avril Lavigne

Photo: Tyler Kenny

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15 Avril Lavigne Songs That Prove She's The "Motherf—in' Princess" Of Pop-Punk

As Avril Lavigne celebrates a major career milestone with the release of her new 'Greatest Hits' compilation, rock out to 15 of the pop-punk icon's signature songs, from "Complicated" to "Bite Me."

GRAMMYs/Jun 20, 2024 - 02:17 pm

"Hey, hey, you, you!" There's simply no debate: when it comes to the world of pop-punk, Avril Lavigne has always been the people's princess. Bursting onto the scene with her 2002 debut Let Go, the then-teen singer/songwriter was dubbed an overnight sensation with hits like "Complicated," "Sk8er Boi" and "I'm With You."She soon became one of the primary artists driving the pop-punk explosion of the 2000s — and remains one of the genre's primary legends more than 20 years later.

Lavigne's appeal went far beyond the mass of skaters and suburban kids who devoured her early music. Within months of Let Go's release, she had earned five GRAMMY nominations (tying fellow newcomer Norah Jones for the most nods of 2003) and a year later, she racked up three more. 

As pop-punk's first wave began to crest, the singer broadened her sights beyond the genre she'd helped pioneer, exploring everything from power pop to confessional alt-rock to Christian rock, as well as collaborations with artists as varied as Marilyn Manson and Nicki Minaj. And when pop-punk's second wave hit at the start of the 2020s, Lavigne made a triumphant return to the genre with 2022's Love Sux and the 20th anniversary reissue of Let Go

Now, she's set to release her first-ever Greatest Hits compilation on June 21, spanning more than two decades, seven albums and nearly two dozen hits on the Billboard Hot 100. To commemorate the album (and its coinciding Greatest Hits Tour), dive into 15 tracks that assert Lavigne's undeniable title as the "motherf—in princess" of pop-punk — from hits like "Sk8er Boi" to deep cuts like "Freak Out."

"Complicated," 'Let Go' (2002)

What better way to begin than with the song that started it all? Released as her debut single in the spring of 2002, "Complicated" declared a then-17-year-old Avril Lavigne as a major talent to watch.

Eventually, the pop-rock ode to teenaged authenticity became one of the biggest songs of the year, and led to her debut full-length, Let Go, becoming the third highest-selling LP of 2002 in the U.S. (It's since been certified 3x platinum by the RIAA and sold more than 16 million copies around the world.)

It's hard to overstate just how influential Lavigne's breakout year was, starting with "Complicated." The track peaked at No. 2 on the Hot 100, helping the newcomer earn nominations for Best New Artist, Song Of The Year, Best Female Pop Vocal Performance and Best Pop Vocal Album (for Let Go) at the 2003 GRAMMY Awards. Its runaway success also helped launch pop-punk's explosion into the mainstream, and the proliferation of artists and female-fronted bands that followed — from Paramore, Ashlee Simpson and Kelly Clarkson to Gen Z hitmakers like Olivia Rodrigo, Billie Eilish and Meet Me @ The Altar — are indebted to Lavigne's trailblazing success with the song.

Read More: Why 2002 Was The Year That Made Pop-Punk: Simple Plan, Good Charlotte & More On How "Messing Around And Being Ourselves" Became Mainstream

"Sk8er Boi," 'Let Go' (2002)

"He was a boy, she was a girl, can I make it any more obvious?" From those 15 words, Lavigne spun a pop-punk fairy tale for the ages.

If "Complicated" was an introduction to her talent, "Sk8er Boi" was the new star's real coronation as the reigning princess of the genre. Everything about Let Go's second single is nothing short of iconic, from the star-crossed love story between a skater destined for punk rock greatness and the ballet dancer who wasn't brave enough to love him, to the lip ring and striped tie Lavigne sported in the music video (the latter of which you can still purchase to this day from her official store). 

"Sk8er Boi" dispelled any notion that the teenage upstart would be a flash in the pan relegated to one-hit wonder status. In fact, the song notched Lavigne a second consecutive Top 10 hit on the Hot 100, and landed her a fifth GRAMMY nomination at the 2003 ceremony, for Best Female Rock Vocal Performance. But the cherry on top of it all? The eleventh hour twist in the track's bridge that the ballet dancer's loss was Avril's gain.

"My Happy Ending," 'Under My Skin' (2004)

After all the commercial success and critical acclaim showered on her in the wake of Let Go, Lavigne chose to forgo taking the easy road with another pop-infused mainstream win. Instead, she plunged into the darkness for 2004's Under My Skin, exploring post-grunge, nu metal and even hard rock influences on the punk-infused LP. The biggest hit from the album was second single "My Happy Ending," which became Lavigne's fourth No. 1 at Top 40 radio and spent four weeks in the Top 10 of the Hot 100, peaking even higher on the latter than "Sk8er Boi" had two years prior.

The downcast breakup anthem was the first time Lavigne put her broken heart on display ("All this time you were pretending/ So much for my happy ending," she lamented as the piano-driven verses swirled into a guitar-heavy chorus), and the result was an electric kiss-off delivered with equal parts anger, shock and a tinge of bitter sarcasm. 

The singer may not have gotten her happily ever after, but turning the doomed relationship into a scathing goodbye certainly earned her the last laugh: the song helped propel Under My Skin to becoming one of the top-selling albums of the year worldwide.

Read More: Loving Olivia Rodrigo's "Vampire"? Check Out 15 Songs By Alanis Morissette, Miley Cyrus & More That Reclaim The Breakup Narrative

"Girlfriend," 'The Best Damn Thing' (2007)

It wasn't all doom, gloom and angry tears on Under My Skin, however. Lavigne proved she was equally adept at bouncing back from a particularly disappointing Sk8er Boi with a devilish grin and a chip on her shoulder on the bouncing "He Wasn't."

While the brash ditty wasn't officially released as a single in the U.S. — instead being pushed to radio in Europe, the United Kingdom, Australia, and her native Canada — it quickly became a fan favorite from the album. Nearly 20 years on, the song and its rowdy music video (come for Avril wearing fairy wings and a bright pink tutu, stay for her shattering a camera with the butt of her guitar) rather perfectly encapsulate the singer's place as one of the rare female voices at the forefront of the second-wave post-grunge movement. 

"Freak Out," 'Under My Skin' (2004)

Giving authority figures the middle finger has long been a hallmark of Lavigne's brand, and nowhere is that more clear than on Under My Skin deep cut "Freak Out." "Try to tell me what I shouldn't do/ You should know by now I won't listen to you," she scowls before ratcheting up the lyrical drama on the booming chorus. 

The track's second verse serves as a veritable manifesto for an entire generation of emo kids, as Lavigne offers the following advice to her fans: "You don't always have to do everything right/ Stand up for yourself and put up a fight/ Walk around with your hands up in the air/ Like you don't care." When in doubt? "Just freak out, let it go."

In retrospect, Under My Skin is often rightfully credited as one of the defining albums of pop-punk's 2000s heyday. And it's clear Lavigne is proud of the album's impact on both her career and the genre she helped pioneer, considering four of its singles — including "Don't Tell Me" and "Nobody's Home" — are included in the 20 tracks featured on her upcoming Greatest Hits compilation.

"Girlfriend," 'The Best Damn Thing' (2007)

Lavigne turned the power pop up to 11 for her third album, 2007's The Best Damn Thing, and traded the myopic grunge of her previous era for a blast of sugar-coated, self-confident sass. Lead single "Girlfriend" let the singer unleash her inner pop-punk princess like never before, as she played a mean girl with a flirtatious streak who somehow made stealing another girl's man seem lovable.

The unabashed bop was the first time Lavigne proudly declared herself "the motherf—in' princess," and the song's relentless sing-song hook was so addictive that it became the star's first single to top the Hot 100. Lavigne broke several records with "Girlfriend," which became one of the best-selling songs of 2007 and the most-viewed YouTube video of 2008 — as well as the first to ever reach 100 million views on the platform. 

Still can't get enough of "Girlfriend"? Hardcore fans know that the official remix with Lil Mama might even outdo the fizzy perfection of the original. 

"The Best Damn Thing," 'The Best Damn Thing' (2007)

For the title track off The Best Damn Thing, Lavigne doubled down on the bright and bubbly persona she'd donned on "Girlfriend." In fact, the song's opening rallying cry of "Let me hear you say hey, hey, hey!" and a call-and-response bridge are so downright peppy that it seems almost hard to believe they came from the same artist who thrashed her way through Under My Skin.

Released as The Best Damn Thing's fourth and final single, the song of the same name is more melodic than its chart-topping predecessor, with Lavigne unapologetically laying out the type of treatment she expects from a man in cheerleader fashion ("Gimme an A! Always give me what I want!/ Gimme a V! Be very, very good to me!"). After all, a pop-punk princess deserves a Cinderella story of her own. 

"What the Hell," 'Goodbye Lullaby' (2011)

Riding high off the commercial success of The Best Damn Thing, Lavigne kicked off the rollout for her fourth studio album, 2011's Goodbye Lullaby, with "What the Hell," a playfully bratty banger that found her toying with a love interest and vowing, "All my life I've been good/ But now I'm thinking, 'What the hell!'"

Produced and co-written by pop impresarios Max Martin and Shellback, "What the Hell" melded Lavigne's snarky songwriting sensibilities and penchant for bucking authority with a catchy, singalong refrain. But the lead single actually proved to be something of an outlier on the pop-punk princess' fourth go-around, as the rest of the album utilized a stripped-back sonic palette to lay her heartbreak bare in the wake of divorcing Sum 41 frontman Deryck Whibley.

"Bad Reputation," 'Goodbye Lullaby' (2011)

Goodbye Lullaby may have been Lavigne's first foray into a more acoustic sound — complete with introspective lyrics and surprisingly sincere song titles like "I Love You" and "Everybody Hurts" — but she couldn't resist adding a little snarl to the album's softer, more sensitive proceedings. So for the deluxe edition of the album, she featured her take on Joan Jett's classic 1980 single "Bad Reputation" as a bonus track. 

Lavigne had originally recorded "Bad Reputation" for the soundtrack to the Japanese anime feature film One Piece Film: Z (it even reached the top 10 on Japan's Hot 100!). But she apparently liked the cover so much that it ended up on the track list of not one, but two of her albums, as the song was also included on 2013's Avril Lavigne.

"Here's to Never Growing Up," 'Avril Lavigne' (2013)

Even as she approached her thirties, Lavigne wasn't about to give up her spot as pop-rock's resident wild child. Case in point: "Here's to Never Growing Up," the lead single off her fifth album, 2013's Avril Lavigne. Over a peppy stomp-clap rhythm, the singer shouts out an undying love of Radiohead, dancing on bar tops and making late-night memories with your best friends as the boombox blares all your favorite songs.

There's a thread of bittersweet nostalgia running through the midtempo jam — one that's sure to pierce the heart of any millennial listening as Lavinge sings, "Say, won't you say 'forever'?/ Stay, if you stay forever/ Hey, we can stay forever young." It's not that the singer's refusing to acknowledge the cruel act of getting older on the track, she's just rebelling against the notion that adulthood should be a dreary slog of, you know, taxes and laundry and all of those lame adult responsibilities. 

"Rock N Roll," 'Avril Lavigne' (2013)

Lavigne once again put her middle finger to the sky and re-upped her rock star credentials on the appropriately titled "Rock N Roll," the second single off her self-titled album. The spirited singalong finds the singer reveling in her eternally bad attitude as she wails, "I don't care if I'm a misfit/ I like better than the hipster bulls–/ I am the motherf—in' princess/ You still love it."

Though "Rock N Roll" didn't make quite as much of an impact on the charts as some of the other hits on this list, it remains one of the most underrated bangers in her entire discography. Plus, the song gifted fans with the campy, comic book-inspired music video starring Lavinge, Danica McKellar, a drunk-driving Doberman and one very unlucky lobster as they race across a dystopian wasteland to save rock and roll from the clutches of an evil bear-shark. (Billy Zane shows up on a rocket-powered Segway at some point, too — just go with it.)

"Head Above Water," 'Head Above Water' (2019)

Proving that pop-punk doesn't always have to come with an in-your-face, "f— you!" attitude, Lavigne released "Head Above Water" — the lead single and title track to her 2019 album — five years into an often confusing, devastating and all-consuming battle with Lyme disease.

"One night I thought I was dying, and I had accepted that I was going to die," she revealed at the time of the song's unveiling. "My mom laid with me in bed and held me. I felt like I was drowning. Under my breath, I prayed, 'God, please help to keep my head above the water.' In that moment, the songwriting of this album began."

Lavigne taps into a truly admirable well of resilience and hope on the spiritual ballad as she sings, "Yeah, my life is what I'm fighting for/ Can't part the sea, can't reach the shore/ And my voice becomes the driving force/ I won't let this pull me overboard." Unlike anything that's come from the singer's catalog either before or since, "Head Above Water" remains a powerful testament to the beloved pop-punk princess' inner strength.

"Bite Me," 'Love Sux' (2022)

As the 2010s gave way to a new decade, pop-punk made a surprise resurgence in popularity while Lavigne was making major moves of her own; she left BMG after just one album to sign with Travis Barker's DTA Records in 2021 (about which she fittingly declared, "Let's f— s— up!"). Partnering with the blink-182 drummer sparked some serious magic in the studio, as her seventh studio album, 2022's Love Sux was a wildly entertaining return to her pop-punk roots after the emotional catharsis of Head Over Water.

On lead single "Bite Me," Lavigne effortlessly dusted off her crown and reclaimed her throne with an octave-jumping vocal performance. Along with proving she still has the chops, the singer simply sounds like she's having a hell of a lot of fun as she snaps back at an ex-flame who made the mistake of crossing her. Pop-punk's reigning princess? Try queen.

Read More: How 'Love Sux' Led Avril Lavigne To True Love, Her First Fangirl Moment And An Album Process That Was 'Just Stupid Fun'

"All I Wanted" feat. Mark Hoppus, 'Love Sux' (2022)

Lavigne collaborated with plenty of special guests on Love Sux, from blackbear (on love-drunk single "Love It When You Hate Me") to eventual tourmate Machine Gun Kelly (on delicious battle of the sexes "Bois Lie"), but no other duet on the album holds a candle to "All I Wanted" featuring blink-182's Mark Hoppus

The supercharged deep cut features the two trailblazers rocking out in a whirling dervish of escapist bliss, playing a sort of pop-punk Bonnie and Clyde as they bust out of the town they're stuck in. And in doing so, they proved they're more than happy to show the new kids at the rock show just how it's done.

"Breakaway," 'Let Go (20th Anniversary Edition)' (2022)

And finally, a proper celebration of Lavigne's status as pop-punk royalty wouldn't be complete without including the biggest song she ever gave to another artist. As the story goes, the singer/songwriter originally penned "Breakaway" for her debut album, but the hope-filled anthem didn't quite fit with the vibe of Let Go tracks like "Complicated," "Sk8er Boi," "Losing Grip," and "I'm With You." So instead, she gave it to a fresh-faced newcomer by the name of Kelly Clarkson, who had just come off of winning a little reality TV experiment called "American Idol." 

After being featured on the soundtrack to The Princess Diaries 2, "Breakaway" became the centerpiece and title track of Clarkson's 2004 sophomore album, which helped turn her into a bonafide superstar — and the rest, as they say, is history. 

Lavigne started performing the song live for the first time on her 2019 Head Above Water Tour, which naturally left fans clamoring for a studio version. Blessedly, the pop-punk icon gave them exactly what they wanted by revisiting "Breakaway" in the recording studio for the 20th anniversary edition of Let Go in 2022. She even reinstated her original lyrics in the opening stanza ("Grew up in a small town/ And when the snow would fall down/ I'd just stare out my window") for a personal touch that connected back to her roots in Greater Napanee, Ontario. 

Clarkson may have made the song famous, but the beating heart of "Breakaway" will always be Lavigne's story — one of a small-town girl who bet on herself, only to become a trailblazing artist whose legacy is forever cemented in the pop-punk history books. 

The State Of Pop-Punk: A Roundtable Unpacks The Genre's Past, Present And Future

Kehlani press photo
Kehlani

Photo: Mia André 

interview

Crashing Into The Present: How Kehlani Learned To Trust Their Instincts And Exist Loudly

"I want this next batch of music to feel like the most fiery parts of me," Kehlani says of her new album, 'Crash.' The singer/songwriter speaks with GRAMMY.com about embracing the moment and making an album she can headbang to.

GRAMMYs/Jun 20, 2024 - 01:07 pm

After finishing the first mixes of their new album, Kehlani knew exactly what she needed to do: head to Las Vegas. 

The L.A.-based, Oakland-born singer/songwriter had always identified with Sin City: "I’m full of juxtapositions," she tells GRAMMY.com. "Vegas is this crazy bright light city in the middle of a vacant desert that has weddings and also strippers." Fittingly, Kehlani harbored a very Vegas-like image in their head while creating Crash, a record built on blaring neon, glowing smoke, and the highest highs.

Crash drops June 21, and is Kehlani's fourth solo album. She burst onto the scene in 2009 as a member of teen sextet PopLyfe, but their 2014 debut solo mixtape Cloud 19 announced a far more complex character. Their debut full-length, SweetSexySavage, was released three years later to critical acclaim, with two more albums and a handful of platinum-certified singles following. As if that weren’t enough, Kehlani added acting, appearing in "The L Word: Generation Q" and a cameo in Creed III. 

And while Crash embodies the evolution and growth through all those experiences, the record builds a hyper-real language all their own. Beyond any sense of R&B or pop, soul or hip-hop, Crash finds Kehlani chasing passions that refuse to fit in any box, shifting multiple times within a track — refusing to focus on anything but the moment. 

"A crash isn't anything from the past. It isn't the anxiety of what's about to happen," she says. "It's the height of the moment. It's right now."

Nearing the release of Crash, Kehlani spoke with GRAMMY.com about finding inspiration from international music, getting their five-year-old to sing on the album, and their need to stage dive.

What’s it like living in Los Angeles after growing up in the Bay Area?

I moved to L.A. when I was about 17. I had already left the house. I left the house at 14, and by the time I was almost 18 it was the appropriate time for me to situate in a new place. L.A. and the Bay are like cousins. Do we have differences? Absolutely, things that are fundamental to us, but when you leave California, you can really see that we're just like a big family.

Had you been dreaming of L.A. as a place where you could pursue art? Were you already set on that goal?

It was the closest place that a young, very broke person could go and work in music. I'm sure there were other places with musical homes, musical cities, but if all I had to do was get on a $15 bus and go find someone to stay with in L.A., I was gonna do it for sure.

That’s the same ambition that I feel drives this new record, which is just so dense and full of surprises. That includes the lovely retro radio intro to "GrooveTheory," where you move from this ‘60s pop feel to the present. That’s such a smart way to foreground your evolution.

I think the second that we made that song and then turned it into ["GrooveTheory"], I was like, This feels like it encompasses where I'm headed, this whole new sound. 

Once that radio dials in and it comes in with R&B elements, it's producing where I'm headed, but also remembering that my core hasn't changed. Especially the energy of what I'm saying in the song, like, "I'm kind of crazy," it's introducing this energy difference on this album. I feel like that's the biggest change, and that's what's so prevalent in this whole rollout. Energetically, I'm on a whole different type of time.

You can sense it. 'Crash' feels really rooted in self-expression and personal growth, and when you listen to it as a whole, it really does seem like an evolution story. Beyond just the genre and style, how do you feel the way that you've expressed your true self has shifted over the years?

Thank you! That's been the feedback I've gotten from pretty much everyone who's listened, and I don't know what I expected, but it wasn't this. I have realized the public's understanding of me and the general consensus for so long, and I also realized how multi-faceted I am to people. 

People get really confused when I express all the sides of my personality. They’re either, like, "Okay, she makes really sweet love songs," or "We've seen you be political, we've seen you come out, we've seen you be a family member." And then there's a lot of people who are, like, "I feel like she's f—ing crazy. I've seen her in multiple relationships. I've seen her be angry. I've seen her get online and cuss people out." 

I want this next batch of music to feel like the most fiery parts of me. I want it to feel like the most present and energetic parts of me. I don't want anything to feel somber. I don't want anything to feel reminiscent. I think a lot of my albums in the past have been me looking back, and sitting in that feeling and detailing it. I just wanted [this album] to feel right here, right now, which is why the title came about. A crash isn't anything from the past. It isn't the anxiety of what's about to happen. It's the height of the moment. It's right now.

That’s unfortunately a story you hear too often about artists of color — that essentialization, where you can only be seen as one thing. R&B often gets hit with those same issues. Throughout your career you’ve stood up to those expectations, and "Better Not" on this album is such a good example of that. It’s a left turn, a stylistic contrast and an open conversation with the listener. You cleverly fuse that intentionality with a voice that’s stronger than ever.

In the past, I have had moments where I would make the song and [start recording], and there would be so many versions of each song on different microphones, recorded in different places.

"Let me try vocal production. Let me try to go back and work with this version again." I went back and did vocal production with Oak Felder, who did all the vocal production on SweetSexySavage. When I come back to some of my favorite vocal production moments, it was moments like "Distraction" or "Advice" or "Escape" — songs on my very first album — and I wanted to get that feeling again. Where it's lush where it needs to be, but also that I really mean what I'm saying. 

That started with the approach in the songwriting. Once I had the songs and I had to go back and deliver them, I had enough time to listen and listen, to learn the songs and identify with them. We would make music all day and then go out, and we would be in this sprinter van on the way to going out, and, like, bang, the songs we just made, the energy was just different. It allowed me to be present in a different way where my voice is able to show up like that.

Learn more: R&B Isn't Dead: Listen To 51 Songs By Summer Walker, Josh Levi & More Artists Who Are Pushing The Genre Forward

Which again ties perfectly to crashing into the present. As someone from South Africa, I love that the other guests that you included represent different cultural viewpoints. You worked with Young Miko from Puerto Rico, Omah Lay from Nigeria. Having that musical dialogue is so powerful.

We had so many conversations about how America's in the backseat often when it comes to music. We have our moments, and it's fantastic, like Beyoncé’s Cowboy Carter. There's a culture that is super American, that is Black, that historically needs to be dived into. It needs to be shown that we do have something here. 

So many people that don't speak Spanish bang Bad Bunny all day. Amapiano’s taking over; Tyla’s going up. It's really not here. So that wasn't a conscious choice. It's just what we've all been listening to, what we've been loving.

Read more: 11 Women Pushing Amapiano To Global Heights: Uncle Waffles, Nkosazana Daughter, & More

Speaking of guests, I wanted to ask about your daughter, whose voice is on "Deep." Was she just in the studio and you got her singing?

So those vocals on that, that’s actually my little sister and my goddaughter. And [my daughter] was in the room and she started singing along. She has perfect pitch; she's always freestyling or singing or making something up. 

I was like, "You want to just go sing on it?" What's on there is her first take. Literally. She did it the first time, all the way through, perfectly. I was like, "Well, that's it, guys. I can retire." 

That track is so lush. It feels so alive. Were you working with a full band?

[Producer] Jack Rochon, who I did a lot of the music with, he just is a freaking genius music whiz. Honestly, he's one of the most humble people that I know, and deserves credit for how amazing a lot of this album is.

Talking about touchstones, there's a Prince energy to the title track. Did you have any new inspirations or influences for this record?

Thank you! My main focus for this album came from going on tour for my last one and making such a pretty, sweet, intimate album, and then playing some of the biggest venues of my career. At some point I had to rearrange the setlist to add in a lot of the album before that one, because it was just more energy on the stage. By week two of tour, the setlist had completely changed. I knew that I was playing venues on this next tour that I've dreamt about, places that I can't fathom that I'm playing, like Barclays Center. 

I do a lot of things for, like, my inner child, and this is such a move for my inner child. Like, You're about to go play Barclays. Do you want to look back and say, ‘I rocked out and played Barclays’? I'm a person who headbangs on stage. I stage dive. I wanted to create an album that would ring through a venue like that. I want people to be engaged again. I'm not looking for the lighters and the somber, holding each other — which will occur regardless, because it's a me show. 

But I really wanted people to be in their bodies, and their heart’s exploding and the ground’s shaking. So that's what we accomplished. I wanted to have fun. This album is so fun to me. It’s a place of fire in my heart.

It took me a second to get the word play on "Eight." I loved the track, and then suddenly I was like, 'Oh… I knew there was something raunchy going on here.'

[*Laughs.*] "Eight" was super fun, and shoutout to the boys that I did it with, because they made it everything for me. 

I didn't come up with the wordplay. My boys did. Like, "This is how you talk!" I was like, "It is! This is perfect." Once I got in to fix things, add things, add my own spin, and finish writing, my favorite part was that it sounds like a Brandy song. She's my favorite.

I also wanted to ask about the Nina Sky sample on "After Hours."

That was mine. I was like, "What can we flip that when it comes on, my generation loses their mind?" And for me, every single time that Nina Sky comes on in the club, everybody's like "Woo!" And then you see how many songs were made from that same sample, and they're all songs that make us lose our minds. 

I went into the room with the producers, and I was like, "So, I want to flip this, but I want you to make it to where it doesn't become one of those where the whole thing is just a sample."

Similarly, "Lose My Wife" balances breeziness with high emotional stakes. Is finding a balance like that just natural for someone so capable of juxtaposition?

The second that we established that [the record] felt like Vegas, I knew what components were missing from the energy of how I feel the second my car crosses the line into the city of Las Vegas. I knew I was missing that feeling of the next morning when you realize you went on this high and you come down. I wanted to create these scenarios that weren't necessarily applicable to me, but captured that emotion. I've been there before, and I want people to be like, Damn, I've been there before. I know this feeling. 

I recorded that song at 4 in the morning with a sinus infection. The second that we finished it, everybody was like, "You can never re-sing that. Don't try to make another version, you're not gonna be able to sound like that again." All the chatter in the background of that song is really everybody who was in the studio that stayed up to just hang out. We had the tequila out, it was perfect. That was probably one of my favorite moments of making the album.

It takes a while as an artist to reach a place where you can capture those moments. You said before that people try to figure you out, and I mean this in the best possible way, but it feels like now you don’t care if they can’t figure you out.

I don't give a f—anymore, yeah. And that was a very important thing for me to learn. I used to care so much, and I would spend so much time explaining myself online, in music, in interviews, on stage. I realized that you're damned if you do, damned if you don't. 

I've been so forward-facing with my heart my entire career that I've left a lot of room for people to consistently pedestal me and then critique me, for people to want to tear me down. I realized I'm just being present, here, existing loudly in front of a billion people, and whichever way that goes is how the cookies gonna crumble. Me giving a f—? I'm the only one it's affecting at this point, for sure.

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