Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images
Peppermint at Los Angeles Pride 2019
How Black Trans Artists Are Fighting To Achieve Racial Justice & Amplify Queer Voices
GRAMMY.com speaks with performers Neverending Nina, Peppermint and more about the ongoing Black Lives Matter movement—plus the myriad microaggressions they've faced within the music industry at large
Throughout the past month, one would be hard-pressed to not come across the worldwide uprising against racial injustice. A casual scroll through Twitter soon turns frightful upon seeing explicit videos of Black people being killed at the hands of police and the everyman. Or take a quick peek on Instagram, and you’ll discover colorful infographics that lead to educational resources.
In America, the publicized battle for equality dates all the way back to the civil rights movement in the mid-'50s. It continued with Black Lives Matter in 2013, as social media made it easier to share events of police brutality. Only now (due to the uneasiness of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic), the modern-day protests feel even more revolutionary.
But despite the nationwide assemblage to protect Black bodies, there has been an integral voice missing from the conversation. Among the overwhelming support for targeted Black cishet men and women, the cries from Black trans people have been predominantly silenced.
"It’s telling because Black Lives Matter was started by Black queer women," independent singer Neverending Nina tells GRAMMY.com. "Now, its leaders are sort of being co-opted by the normalcy of cishet imagery [that now represents the movement]. Don't forget that it has to include all Black lives; we can’t push [equality] if not."
The Black community is already marginalized as is, yet their queer, trans and non-binary members have historically been shut out from the conversation—or even fallen victim to it. In 2019, approximately 22 transgender people and gender non-conforming people were killed, according to a report from the Human Rights Campaign (HRC). A majority of those deaths happened to be Black transgender women.
On May 3, 28-year-old Nina Pop was reportedly stabbed to death in Sikeston, Mo. A few weeks later, 38-year-old Tony McDade was shot and killed by police in Tallahassee, Fla. On June 1 (ironically the start of Pride Month), graphic footage surfaced of Iyanna Dior being beaten inside and out of a convenience store in St. Paul, Minn. LBGTQ activists like Janet Mock spoke in outrage against the incident, with Dior ultimately surviving. The following week, two Black trans women—Philadelphia’s Dominique "Rem’Mie" Fells and Riah Milton of Liberty Township, Ohio—were killed within days of each other.
As these deaths fall under the radar, the queer roots of Black Lives Matter (as well as Pride Month) become more homogenized. Pride was birthed from the 1969 Stonewall protests, led by transgender activists of color Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson. Fast-forward to 2020, and it is now led by white faces, filtering the very essence of why it started in the first place.
"Here we are 50 years later since Stonewall," says Nina, "and we still don't have prominent Black trans voices at the head of these organizations that our ancestors put their bodies on the line for. When we do speak on that, it's a pushback from the same community that we’re fighting for."
The recent Black Lives Matter protests have stemmed from the killings of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor (whose name also succumbs to overshadowing due to her womanhood). Yet the stipulations for impartiality among Black people begin to quake when presented with trans issues. The violence-based attacks against them hasn’t faltered: HRC reports that 15 transgender or gender non-conforming people were fatally shot or killed in 2020 thus far.
"If it’s not a literal murder, it’s oppression. But that oppression has many effects," drag queen and RuPaul's Drag Race alum Peppermint tells GRAMMY.com. "It squeezes so many Black folks into this corner that doesn't allow space to recognize the queerness and womanness that’s among us. Black Lives Matter only seems to focus on the men who were so egregiously taken from us. There isn’t a strong enough cry about Sandra Bland or Breonna Taylor, in my opinion."
These ongoing deaths, whose numbers may be higher due to unconfirmed reports, lead to questions of how much Black trans people matter in comparison to cishet people within the same community. The conversation trickles into the music industry, as successful artists still deal with prejudice firsthand.
"I was biking home a few years ago at about three in the morning after leaving the bar. There were all these cops pulling over a guy on the side of the road," Kaycee Ortiz, a Black trans rapper recalls. "When I rode by I heard them yell something at me, but I had my headphones so I just kept going. The cop started following me and they were like, 'Yeah we know you a man like we know you’re a n*a.'"
She continues: "When I was telling my manager about this she was like, 'You should have said something back.' But as a white woman, she wouldn't understand what I was going through in that situation. As a Black trans girl, they could have beat the crap out of me and it would have been my word against two men."
Black trans artists have to protect both their musical aspirations and personal livelihood as they try to make waves in an industry that doesn’t serve them. They are often placed in a box that is meant to cater to non-mainstream audiences in order to lessen the initial "shock" of their identity.
"We can’t say, 'My woman parts are gonna stay here and my Blackness is gonna go in first. Then I’ll leave my trans parts at the door.' There’s no separating the two," Neverending Nina says of the white, male-dominated music industry. "Because you're heteronormative, you’re gonna always lead with that and no one questions it. I'm just trying to get in this space so I can amplify my voice because I know I’m dope as fk. But I keep getting pushback from the gatekeepers where they say, 'You're talented but you’re trans. So I don't know how society is going to take that.'"
The death of Floyd resulted in a worldwide outcry, with the music industry itself also springing into action. June 2, better known as "Black Out Tuesday," saw a flood of record label executives, artists and others in the music space mobilizing to take a day to educate themselves on industry racism. While the cause (which was initially founded by Atlantic senior directors of marketing Brianna Agyemang and Jamila Thomas) had solid intentions, there wasn’t much clarity on specific steps companies would take to achieve equality for all members of the Black music community.
"I feel like 'Black Out Tuesday' came from a good place but it wasn't executed well. What did it do exactly?" Ortiz ponders. "If I'm Nicki Minaj or Drake, of course I can afford to go a day without promoting my music. But for some of us [independent artists], we’re scraping every day for exposure. I've seen people where a black square was the only thing they posted through this whole ordeal. It gave people an easy way out."
"There’s the fear that someone being out and proud could affect their career. And I think it's definitely better now than it ever was, but we still have further to go," says Peppermint. "There’s a tradition of finding obscure artists and turning them into a product on the conveyor belt. If you can do that with a Britney Spears, for instance, you can do that with a Shea Diamond or Kim Petras [Editor’s note: both artists identify as transgender]. It's definitely high time to just go ahead and put us next to all these other mainstream artists. We don't have to be independent to have an appeal."
From being turned down in music executive boardrooms to combating injustice within their community, Black trans people's endurance has become ingrained into their very being. But that permanence may have been avoided if more allies were on the frontlines. "You have to deal with the racism from the white people and the homophobia and transphobia from the Black people," says Ortiz.
"A lot of times when you hate something about yourself, you prosecute other people because you can't kill it in yourself. So you try to kill it in them." Despite being booked for various LGBTQ-friendly showcases on Chicago’s South Side, she doesn’t feel as acknowledged compared to other, "safer" performers: "There’s a scene in [FX’s Pose series] where they say Black trans women are at the bottom of the hill. Everything rolls down on us."
To constantly have to watch your back both on and off the stage grows tiring, no matter how hard you try to keep pushing. With the pandemic and protests occurring simultaneously, anxiety and burnout are now felt tenfold. Thus, the importance of self-care is crucial.
"The trans community has always been in survival mode. I think what’s included in that is trying to find things that replenish and uplift you," says Nina. "I was making a joke earlier like, 'Oh I've always lived in quarantine' because most of the time Black trans women have to come to terms with walking this journey for themselves. But with this shutdown, I had to turn within myself to figure out what other ways to enhance what I normally do. So that’s taking a walk around my neighborhood, listening to music and calling upon my creativeness."
Music is also a natural healer for Peppermint, who has been working on a new album. She's partnered with GLAAD and NYC Pride to launch the inaugural "Black Queer Town Hall," which took place from June 19-21 and helped raise awareness for queer melanated voices.
"I know there can be some guilt from putting out [your art] in a time when a lot of people are still going through a grieving process," Peppermint, who jokes about unapologetically enjoying an extra slice of pizza or fried chicken during quarantine, explains. "But it is important that we have something to look forward to. We should have the option to easily indulge in Black art in a way that we never had before and should also invite others who aren't Black to engage with it. We can celebrate [Lady Gaga’s new album] Chromatica and also celebrate Black artists, you know?"
The current state of the world has forced society to amplify communities that were previously ignored, but Black trans people should not endure this fight alone. Fortunately, progress is steadily being made at the hands of allies. Two days after the Trump administration revoked nondiscrimination protections for transgenders seeking healthcare (which was announced on the four-year anniversary of Orlando’s Pulse nightclub shooting), thousands of protesters gathered in front of the Brooklyn Museum for a Black Trans Lives Matter rally.
Organized by NYC Anti-Violence Project director of communications Eliel Cruz, Brooklyn drag queen West Dakota and former Netflix queer content creator Fran Tirado had a simple request for attendees: wear all white. The dress code honored the NAACP's Silent Protest Parade in 1917, where approximately 10,000 demonstrators donned white as they rallied against Black violence.
The government also had a long-awaited call to action. On June 15, the Supreme Court ruled that sexual orientation and sexual identity are protected by the 1964 Civil Rights Act, forbidding discrimination in the workplace. The pledge for equality has also grown numerically: the Public Religion Research Institute cited that 62 percent of Americans support trans rights more now compared to their views five years ago.
While this increase should be applauded, the fight is far from over. Celebration cannot be fully embraced until all marginalized people are equal. "Now we know that the machine is actually dismantling," says Nina. "All of these things are going to get aired out. We have not been given chances for so long, and somebody still has to open that window."
Photo: Steve Granitz/WireImage
Black Sounds Beautiful: How Lil Nas X Turned The Industry On Its Head With "Old Town Road" And Beyond
In this episode of Black Sounds Beautiful, relive Lil Nas X's massive debut, "Old Town Road," and learn how he's since been an advocate for Black and LGBTQIA+ communities through his music and his platform.
Lil Nas X became a global sensation practically overnight, but it wasn't an accident.
The American singer and rapper — born Montero Lamar Hill — became fluent in music and pop culture at an early age, becoming a meme aficionado. His love for internet culture cultivated the perfect recipe for his debut single, "Old Town Road," to become one of the most viral hits in music history; the song also prompted a necessary conversation about the bounds of genre.
"Old Town Road" rose to the top of the Billboard Hot 100 chart, and still holds the record for most time spent at No. 1 at 19 weeks. The single later helped Lil Nas X snag two GRAMMY Awards for Best Pop/Duo Group Performance and Best Music Video. (To date, he's won 2 GRAMMYs and has received 11 nominations overall.)
Aside from his immense musical talent, Lil Nas X — who came out as gay on social media during his Hot 100 reign — has been a fierce champion for LGBTQIA+ and Black communities.
At just 24 years old, Lil Nas X has plenty more history-making and game-changing moves in store. As he revealed during his March 2023 campaign with Coach, "My next big chapter is coming."
Positive Vibes Only: Fena Gitu Shows Her Appreciation For What "Love Is" In This Intimate Performance
Kenyan Afropop singer Fena Gitu is grateful for everything — from God to her jewelry — in her latest single, "Love Is."
Kenyan singer Fena Gitu is grateful for the little things — down to her fake jewelry. And through an odyssey of gratitude, she's learned to love everyone, to create a more peaceful world.
In this episode of Positive Vibes Only, Gitu delivers a stripped-down performance of her new single, "Love Is," a musical expression of her appreciation for everything around her. For Gitu, loving is minimalistic — and that message is only made more clear from the simplistic setting of this keyboard-driven performance.
"For my God, I stand, give him all my praises/ That I get to live to see another day, yes/ For my fake gold diamond pieces/ I just really want to thank you, Jesus," Gitu declares. "God is love, and love is true/ Love is You."
"Love Is" is the lead single from Gitu's latest album, Love Art Lust, which arrived on June 2. "It's a journey in love. Love for yourself, love for others, and love for God," she explained in a press statement. On June 29, she will return to her hometown of Nairobi, Kenya for a special performance celebrating the album's release.
Press play on the video above to watch Fena Gitu's sentimental performance of "Love Is," and check back to GRAMMY.com for more new episodes of Positive Vibes Only.
Photo: Robin Platzer/IMAGES/Getty Images
GRAMMY Rewind: Whitney Houston Admires Dolly Parton After "I Will Always Love You" Wins In 1994
Whitney Houston had the chance to thank Dolly Parton — who wrote "I Will Always Love You" — for "writing beautiful songs" during her acceptance speech for Best Pop Female Vocal Performance.
Nearly 50 years after its initial release, Dolly Parton's "I Will Always Love You" has been covered by thousands of musicians. But no other rendition compares to Whitney Houston's iconic 1992 cover for the Bodyguard soundtrack — and in 1994, the two shared a full-circle celebration of the song's massive success.
In this episode of GRAMMY Rewind, relive Houston's Best Female Pop Vocal Performance win for her version of "I Will Always Love You" at the 1994 GRAMMY Awards.
"Dolly, of course, coming from you, this is truly an honor. You wrote a beautiful song. Thank you so much for writing such beautiful songs," Houston said to Parton, who presented the award and originally released the recording (which she wrote herself) in 1974.
Houston praised Rickey Minor, her band, and David Foster, who helped Houston arrange the ballad. "All the songwriters and producers on The Bodyguard, BeBe [Winans], I love you," she added before performing an impromptu song to thank her team members at Arista Records.
"I love you, Mommy and Daddy — I wouldn't be here without you. And always first in my life, I thank my Father, Jesus Christ. Without them, I am nothing," Houston said. Before leaving the stage, Houston took a second to uplift her supporters. "To all the fans, I love you! Thank you, and God bless you!"
"I Will Always Love You" also took home Record Of The Year that night, and The Bodyguard won Album Of The Year — one of only four soundtracks to date to win the coveted award.
Press play on the video above to watch Whitney Houston accept her award for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance at the 36th Annual GRAMMY Awards, and check back to GRAMMY.com for more new episodes of GRAMMY Rewind.
Photos (L-R): Ethan Miller/WireImage, James Devaney/WireImage, Jeff Goode/Toronto Star via Getty Images, Kevin Kane/Getty Images for The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
Songbook: How Jay-Z Created The 'Blueprint' For Rap's Greatest Of All Time
From groundbreaking albums to star-studded collaborations, Jay-Z's discography has made the rap mogul one of the genre's biggest icons.
As Jay-Z declared in 2001's "Breathe Easy," few rappers stack up when it comes to his flow, consistency, stories, charisma, and trendsetting powers — and he's backed up his claims for three decades on.
The Brooklyn rapper has cranked out chart-topping hits and street anthems across classic albums like The Blueprint and The Black Album, and he's inspired generations of rappers to take on his pen-free approach to music. But long before becoming a hip-hop icon, the young Shawn Carter first honed his musical gifts by rapping over a boombox in his childhood home in Bed-Stuy's Marcy Projects.
Nicknamed "Jazzy" for his love of music, Jay-Z split his time between exploring his newfound passion and dealing crack cocaine as a teenager. After linking with childhood friend and then-mentor Jaz-O, he adopted the moniker "Jay-Z" in the late 1980s, and eventually captivated hip-hop fans on the posse cut "Show and Prove" from Big Daddy Kane's 1994 album Daddy's Home. That moment led to the eventual release of his own single, 1995's "In My Lifetime," and the years that followed served as the coronation of one of rap's biggest stars.
After being rejected from major record labels, Jay linked with fellow New Yorkers Damon "Dame" Dash and Kareem "Biggs" Burke to establish Roc-A-Fella Records in 1996. He soon went from being an up-and-coming artist selling burned CDs out of his car to producing multi-platinum singles and No. 1 albums.
His greatness has earned him 24 GRAMMYs to date — tied with Kanye West for the most of any rapper — and a spot in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. And with a billion-dollar business empire to match his acclaimed discography, Jay-Z has long been declared one of the greatest MCs ever.
As he continues his rap reign, revisit some of Hov's most illustrious career moments, from memorable performances to groundbreaking album releases and legacy-defining accolades.
"Hawaiian Sophie" (1989)
A fresh-faced, hi-top faded Jay made one of his earliest appearances on wax with "Hawaiian Sophie." The 1989 record was a modest and playful hit by childhood friend Jaz-O, who let Jay contribute a few lines on the island-themed track.
Though Jay's presence was minor, he put a face to a relatively unknown name by popping up throughout the song's luau-style video. Years later, he gained the attention of legendary Brooklyn rapper Big Daddy Kane, who brought Jay on as a hype man before he broke out as a solo act and formed a more calculated, sharp-tongued lyrical style.
Reasonable Doubt (1996)
Taking inspiration from classic films like The Godfather and Goodfellas, Jay-Z showcased his lyrical potency and storytelling ability on his critically acclaimed debut, Reasonable Doubt, in mafioso fashion. The album was the manifesto of a 26-year-old street hustler, who looked to shed the deadly perils of the drug underworld to bask in the caviar and champagne lifestyle.
He shifted from the colorful, bombastic rap style of his early career to a snappier and grounded delivery on "Coming of Age," and the Biggie Smalls-assisted "Brooklyn's Finest," while still offering a slice of mainstream appeal on "Ain't No N—" featuring Foxy Brown. Legendary producers DJ Premier ("Fried or Foe"), DJ Clark Kent ("Cashmere Thoughts"), and Ski ("Dead Presidents II") helped lay the canvas for Jay-Z to illustrate his past experiences and impending accolades and riches.
The album was among his best releases in the '90s, and helped establish his foothold in the industry through the new millennium. While Reasonable Doubt didn't reach platinum status until six years after its 1996 release, the project elevated Jay's profile as an emerging MC with a penchant for vivid street tales and mainstream edge.
Vol. 2... Hard Knock Life (1998)
Jay-Z's third album is possibly the most impactful in his career. Not only did it notch his first GRAMMY (for Best Rap Album at the 1999 GRAMMYs), but it remains his best-selling album with more than 5 million copies sold. It also started an 11-album streak of No. 1 releases.
The project was a medley of pop-oriented singles such as "Can I Get A…" and club records like the piano-laced hit "Money, Cash, Hoes." It also offered street classics like "Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem)," which showcased his musical versatility and mainstream appeal.
Aside from the Stevie J-produced "Ride Or Die," Jay veered away from the Bad Boy production style of Vol. 2's predecessor, In My Lifetime, Vol. 1. He enlisted Ruff Ryders producer Swizz Beatz for "Coming of Age (Da Sequel)," and producers Timbaland, Jermaine Dupri, Irv Gotti, and Kid Capri were also tapped for the project, creating a lush palette of club bangers and records indicative of the shiny-suit era of late '90s hip-hop.
"Imaginary Players" (1997)
If it wasn't for Hov, rappers may still be drinking beer over champagne, rocking silver charms over platinum, and driving Range Rover 4.0 SEs instead of 4.6 HSEs. Not only did Jay shift the motor and champagne industry with his second album, but he altered the rap game, too. And "Imaginary Players" was proof.
The In My Life, Vol. 1 cut was a collective side-eye to frauds masked as street hustlers, and signaled Jay-Z's early trendsetting powers. The song didn't graze the Billboard charts as high as singles "Who You Wit," "The City Is Mine" and "(Always Be My) Sunshine," but it grew into a street anthem and blueprint for the real go-getters to shine among the fakes.
"Big Pimpin'" (1999)
For years, "Big Pimpin'" was the ultimate summer anthem. The single from Vol 3… Life and Times of S. Carter showcased Jay's ability to produce hit records with artists from other regions. It also laid the ground for future collaborations between Jay-Z and Timbaland, who went on to produce tracks like "Dirt Off Your Shoulder," "The Bounce," "Tom Ford," and others.
Music aside, the song's video is reflective of the flashy, big-budget era of the late 1990s and early 2000s. Shot during the Trinidad and Tobago Carnival, the video's yacht views, sand-filled beaches, and cigar smoke complimented the song's tropical sound and inspired listeners to wrap themselves in linen garments, kick back and enjoy the Caribbean breeze.
The Blueprint (2001)
Regarded as the best album in his catalog, 2001's The Blueprint encapsulated all of the elements that made Jay-Z a lyrical titan and fixture in music. Between the boundless braggadocio on "The Rules Back," the tales of chaotic romance on "Girls. Girls, Girls," and a snapshot of his uprising on "Blueprint ("Momma Loves Me"), the album captured it all.
While "The Takeover" sparked one of the era's most contentious rap beefs, and forced Queens rapper Nas to snap back with a poignant blow of his own in "Ether," the album was riddled with some of Jay's biggest records during the 2000s. Street anthems like "Izzo (H.O.V.A.)" had rap fans of all ages spelling out the song's title, and soul-stirring album cuts like "Song Cry" had listeners barely holding onto their tears.
The Black Album (2003)
Jay's eighth studio effort was pegged as the final one by the Brooklyn MC. And while he eventually returned for Kingdom Come three years later, 2003's The Black Album would've been the perfect end to an already historic rap career.
On "December 4th," Jay kicked off the album with a call back to his origins. "They say they never really miss you 'til you dead or you gone/ So on that note I'm leaving after this song/ See you ain't got to feel no way about Jay so long/ At least let me tell you why I'm this way, hold on."
Jay goes on to outline his successes on "What More Can I Say," then incites fans to level up their sexy on "Change Clothes." Between experimental records like the DJ Quik-produced "Justify My Thug" and the soulful "Lucifer," The Black Album is also filled with stadium-rocking anthems.
On "99 Problems," Jay raps over zingy guitar riffs for a bold track that's reminiscent of Run DMC and Aerosmith's 1986 smash "Walk This Way." Both songs were produced by Rick Rubin, who provided the rock-induced, bare-bones beat for Hov to unleash on snarky law enforcers and uninformed rap critics.
The Timbaland-produced "Dirt Off Your Shoulder" is a middle finger to the dream killers envious of others' success. The platinum-selling record even inspired Barack Obama to use a shoulder-brushing motion when running against then-rival Hillary Clinton during his 2008 Democratic nomination campaign.
After dropping a live album with The Roots and releasing two critically panned collaborations with R. Kelly, Jay made a creative pivot with Collision Course (EP). The rapper teamed up with Linkin Park for a hip-rock project that was inspired by Danger Mouse's The Grey Album, and mashed hits like "Jigga What, Jigga Who," "Dirt Off Your Shoulder," "Big Pimpin'" and with songs from Linkin Park's Meteora and Hybrid Theory releases.
The album received mixed reviews, but the project's lone single "Numb/Encore" won Best Rap/Sung Collaboration at the 48th GRAMMY Awards and helped the EP land a No. 1 spot on the Billboard 200.
"Empire State of Mind" (2009)
Fifteen years after Nas' "N.Y. State of Mind," Jay made his own dedication to New York City with "Empire State of Mind." The record is an ode to the city that shaped him, and the millions of other natives who, like him, hustled in various boroughs to get by (and have a closet full of New York Yankees hats).
The Alicia Keys-assisted track touched the hearts of New Yorkers everywhere, including Harlem and Brooklyn native Lil Mama, who notoriously hopped on stage with Keys and Jay during their performance at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards. The Blueprint 3 single took home two gramophones at the 53rd GRAMMY Awards for Best Rap-Sung Collaboration and Best Rap Song.
Watch the Throne (2011)
After teaming up on classic songs like "Never Let Me Down" and "Diamonds From Sierra Leone (Remix)," Jay and Kanye West came together for a full-length project in 2011. The two rap giants combined their musical genius for Watch the Throne, an explorative and enthralling body of work filled with genre-melding hits coated with top-tier production and memorable features.
Watch the Throne was an exercise in musical cohesion and set the bar for collab projects to follow, given the commercial success and critical reception it received upon its release. Jay served as the lyrical orator, while West was the sonic architect and more animated showman.
Between glossy trap songs like "H.A.M." and "N—s In Paris, and the pop-extravagance of "Lift Off," Jay and Kanye tell fervent tales of their ghetto origins on "Murder To Excellence," visions of their children's lives on "New Day," and give listeners soul-stirring jams like "The Joy" and "Otis." Each track was nourished from the well of Jay and Kanye's artistry, and done without either rapper leaving the other to dry.
"Holy Grail" (2013)
The same year Jay-Z and Justin Timberlake came together for the hit "Suit & Tie," the pair delivered another smash with "Holy Grail." The song's origins began in the sessions for Watch the Throne, but Hov feared it would get lost in the shuffle — so he decided to build 2013's Magna Carta… Holy Grail around the enthralling record.
An explosive track about the allure and destruction of fame, it became the lead single for MCHG, selling over 3 million copies and winning Best Rap/Sung Collaboration at the 2014 GRAMMYs. A year after its release, Billboard placed the record at No. 25 on the publication's Top 100 Hot Rap Songs of all-time list.
EVERYTHING IS LOVE (2018)
Prior to 2018, Jay-Z and his wife, Beyoncé, blessed fans with culture-shifting collaborations like "Crazy in Love," "03 Bonnie and Clyde," and "Drunk in Love." These songs prompted fans to call for a full-length project from the power duo, and after years of anticipation, the power couple delivered 2018's EVERYTHING IS LOVE.
The album came as a surprise to fans, with many jarred by the rumors surrounding Jay and Beyoncé's marriage following the release of Bey's searing 2016 project Lemonade (as well as Jay's honest response with 4:44 — more on that later). While the speculations and alleged drama continue to swirl online, the two stars came together for a nine-track album that gave listeners a behind-the-scenes look at life at the Carter residence.
Announced in the middle of their second On The Run stadium tour, EVERYTHING IS LOVE celebrated the power of black love and family life while exploring unadulterated extravagance. Like their past collaborations, Beyoncé's soothing, high-powered vocals helped elevate Jay's bars and artistry.
Together, they combined their collective powers for stories about rowdy tour stops and endless shopping sprees on "APES—" and "BOSS," and Beyoncé adorned the album with emotion-filled love ballads like "SUMMER." The couple even exchanged braggadocious rhymes about the strength of their union on "LOVEHAPPY," and the fun they have together outside the lines of celebrity on "HEARD ABOUT US" — proving they had not only weathered the storm, but came out stronger together.
Arguably one of Jay's most complete and honest bodies of work, 4:44 is a vivid look at the artist's triumphs and failures as Shawn Carter the man. On the opening track "Kill Jay Z," he sheds his ego-fueled moniker to reveal his early upbringing in Bed-Stuy on "Marcy Me," the discovery of his mother's sexuality on "Smile" and the issues surrounding his marriage on the title track.
While the late-career album was largely viewed as a response to Beyoncé's Lemonade album, 4:44 also painted a portrait of Black America, unveiled the pathway to generational wealth on "The Story of O.J.," and the value of shared successes on "Family Feud" and "Legacy."
The rapper veered from the commercial sound of Blueprint 3, and the gumbo of trap and luxury-soaked beats on Magna Carta… Holy Grail, to deliver deeply personal messages over No I.D.'s grounded, sample-heavy production.
The artist hasn't released another solo project since 4:44, but if it is in fact his last album, it's certainly a stellar way to close the door on a legendary music career. The 2017 release was praised by critics and garnered three nominations at the 60th GRAMMY Awards, including Song Of The Year and Album Of The Year.
"GOD DID" (2022)
On "GOD DID," Jay spit one of the best verses in his catalog. "I be speaking to the souls of men/ Those of them willing to die for the existence that this cold world has chose for them/ Kicking snow off a frozen Timb (woo)/ Back and forth on this turnpike, really took a toll on them." The MC detailed his journey across state lines to live out his street dreams, the drama and misfortunes that followed his tracks, and how he leveraged his powers to become one of the first rappers to reach billionaire status.
He encapsulated it all within a four-minute verse, closing out the track touching on his legacy — and proclaiming that he is in fact one of rap's all-time greats. "I just got a million off a sync/ Without risking a million years tryna get it out the sink (woo)/ Hov big/ They said they don't know me internationally, n—s on the road did/ I see a lot of Hov in Giggs/ Me and Meek could never beef, I freed that n—a from a whole bid/ Hov did/ Next time we have a discussion who the GOAT, you donkeys know this."