How Issa Rae Created A Platform Where Black Music And Art Could Thrive

Issa Rae

Photo: Amanda Edwards/Getty Images


How Issa Rae Created A Platform Where Black Music And Art Could Thrive

Over the past five years, Issa Rae has inspired a generation of Black creatives to push their vision beyond a singular pursuit

GRAMMYs/Mar 9, 2021 - 09:40 am

Ahead of Issa Rae's appearance at the Inaugural Black Music Collective GRAMMY Week Celebration during GRAMMY Week 2021, explores how her work in music supervision brings more diversity to the landscape.

Issa Rae may have one of Hollywood’s greatest underdog stories, but now the actor, writer and producer has her eye on the music industry.

While Rae is not a recording artist herself, her work with music supervision on her creative projects has shown that her influence on music is pivotal in bringing more opportunities for Black artists. Rae’s biggest move into the music industry yet is her label partnership with Atlantic Records, Raedio. The label will serve as an "audio everywhere company," and in an interview with Variety, Rae said Raedio will allow her to continue to "work within the music industry and audio entertainment space."

Perhaps this step into the industry is largely thanks to "Insecure," her Peabody Award-winning show that follows the life of Issa Dee, a woman in her late 20s navigating the complexities of relationships and life in Los Angeles. The sounds of the HBO comedy-drama, which is coming up on its fifth and final season, place an emphasis on under-the-radar, Black, independent, and Los Angeles-based artists. This has crafted the opportunity at possible mainstream breakout successes for numerous emerging music creators. 

Rising West Coast rap duo Blimes and Gab's single "Feelin' It" appeared on season four’s "Lowkey Distant" episode. After the episode aired, they felt the feature would bring them more exposure. "People are still reaching out to us and congratulating us and stuff, so it's been really, really dope," Gab told May of last year. “I can't wait to see how [the show] catapults us.” 

Simultaneously, the show has embraced music as a genuine way to introduce audiences to Black and brown L.A.s’ present-day sound. "Issa deserves a ton of the credit for creating a platform for all of these artists to have a place to expose their music," "Insecure" music supervisor Kier Lehman told Variety. "But also putting all of this music in the context of this show and the setting — the location helps to give a deeper connection for the fans."

Rae has highlighted South Central Los Angeles, the show’s primary location and an area of the city that historically hasn’t always had positive representation on screen, in a refreshing way.

Read: Mogul Moment: How Quincy Jones Became An Architect Of Black Music

No episode brought the essence of Issa Dee’s L.A. like season four episode "Lowkey Movin’ On." While the season situated Rae’s character Issa Dee in the midst of brewing tension with best friend Molly, Issa was concurrently preoccupied with organizing a block party in reverence to the Inglewood and South Central communities, two areas historically underserved but that continue to breed notable artists— R&B singer Syd and rapper D Smoke to name some. The block party becomes a space where music helps bring the community together. Compton’s Vince Staples makes an appearance as the artist who stepped in as block party headliner after Schoolboy Q pulled out of the gig. The season also boasts an appearance from Inglewood’s SiR. Past seasons pay homage to L.A. sounds as well. In season two, 1500 or Nothin performed a cover of “Girl” by The Internet in the fourth episode of Insecure, perhaps being one of the most coveted performance moments on the show. 

Another one of Rae’s important contributions to the industry is her effort to showcase women creators, specifically Black women. Before becoming a household name on "Insecure," Rae created the web series "The Mis-Adventures of Awkward Black Girl." In the series, she starred as J, a woman who navigated her love life and the microaggressions of being one of the few Black employees in a rigid office setting. In the show, Rae made music a part of the character, too. Sharing the same oddities as Issa Dee on Insecure, J would often vent her frustrations through rhyme, cathartically imagining herself in freestyle battles and writing diss tracks against coworkers.

Embracing the "awkward" quirks of viewers, Issa Dee’s rapper alter-ego landed its status as fan favorite while centering various female rappers in the score for Insecure, including Kari Faux, Rico Nasty and Sasha Go Hard. Furthering her love of women in rap, in 2019 it was announced that Rae was writing a new show about a fictional South Florida-based female rap crew trying to break into the industry under the working title "Rap Sht." Last month, Rae assembled a comedic team of writers (including The Read co-podcaster Kid Fury), landing an eight-episode series of Rap Sht on HBO Max with production going underway in the summer. Both hailing from Miami, JT and Yung Miami of City Girls will be making their debut as co-executive producers along with their label heads Kevin “Coach K” Lee and Pierre “P” Thomas of Quality Control Records.

Being a force in the ongoing rise of female rap while breaking new ground for women and independent artists, Rae’s hand in music is concurrent with her inclining progression in media. Evading local radio programming, avid millennial and Gen Z music listeners often flock to television and online playlists to curate their listening experience, an expertise that Rae perfected on Insecure. Now, Rae is making music discovery her next business venture aside from the show. Building connectivity with new artists, in 2020, Rae’s Raedio will be a hub for syncing music for film and television. Under Rae’s diverse entertainment corporation Hoorae Production Company (which also has television writing brand ColorCreative under its umbrella) Raedio’s current roster is led by singer TeaMarr and Atlanta-based rapper Yung Baby Tate.

Building an empire with creatives across media platforms, Rae’s myriad of efforts also shows a lasting impact in connecting with her audience. In a 2020 interview with Variety, Lehman spoke on Rae’s ascension in music: 

"There’s been a movement of modern alternative R&B music that we were able to champion and it all coincided [with making] the show a powerful place to come and discover that new music. The show is an outlet — a place to come if you like the sound that we’ve created. Labels and streaming companies need curators to give music context when it’s released and to help to bring in fans."

Over the past five years, Issa Rae’s star power has been ubiquitous with television and film as it has been with Black music. As fans await Rae’s next move, her range has proven to be undeniable, inspiring a generation of Black creatives not to limit their vision to a singular pursuit.

The Recording Academy Announces Inaugural Black Music Collective Event During GRAMMY Week 2021: John Legend, H.E.R., Quincy Jones, Janelle Monáe, Issa Rae And More Confirmed


GRAMMY SoundChecks With Gavin DeGraw

GRAMMYs/Dec 3, 2014 - 05:06 am

On Aug. 28 Nashville Chapter GRAMMY U members took part in GRAMMY SoundChecks with Gavin DeGraw. Approximately 30 students gathered at music venue City Hall and watched DeGraw play through some of the singles from earlier in his career along with "Cheated On Me" from his latest self-titled album.

In between songs, DeGraw conducted a question-and-answer session and inquired about the talents and goals of the students in attendance. He gave inside tips to the musicians present on how to make it in the industry and made sure that every question was answered before moving onto the next song.


Juan Gabriel named 2009 Latin Recording Academy Person Of The Year


Juan Gabriel named 2009 Latin Recording Academy Person Of The Year

Annual star-studded gala slated for Nov. 4 in Las Vegas during 10th Annual Latin GRAMMY Week celebration

GRAMMYs/May 15, 2017 - 01:36 pm

 Internationally renowned singer/songwriter/performer Juan Gabriel will be celebrated as the 2009 Latin Recording Academy Person of the Year, it was announced today by The Latin Recording Academy. Juan Gabriel, chosen for his professional accomplishments as well as his commitment to philanthropic efforts, will be recognized at a star-studded concert and black tie dinner on Nov. 4 at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, Nev. 

The "Celebration with Juan Gabriel" gala will be one of the most prestigious events held during Latin GRAMMY week, a celebration that culminates with the 10th Annual Latin GRAMMY Awards ceremony. The milestone telecast will be held at Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas on Nov. 5 and will be broadcast live on the Univision Television Network at 8 p.m. Eastern/7 p.m. Central. 

"As we celebrate this momentous decade of the Latin GRAMMYs, The Latin Recording Academy and its Board of Trustees take great pride in recognizing Juan Gabriel as an extraordinary entertainer who never has forgotten his roots, while at the same time having a global impact," said Latin Recording Academy President Gabriel Abaroa. "His influence on the music and culture of our era has been tremendous, and we welcome this opportunity to pay a fitting tribute to a voice that strongly resonates within our community.

Over the course of his 30-year career, Juan Gabriel has sold more than 100 million albums and has performed to sold-out audiences throughout the world. He has produced more than 100 albums for more than 50 artists including Paul Anka, Lola Beltran, Rocío Dúrcal, and Lucha Villa among many others. Additionally, Juan Gabriel has written more than 1,500 songs, which have been covered by such artists as Marc Anthony, Raúl Di Blasio, Ana Gabriel, Angelica María, Lucia Mendez, Estela Nuñez, and Son Del Son. In 1986, Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley declared Oct. 5 "The Day of Juan Gabriel." The '90s saw his induction into Billboard's Latin Music Hall of Fame and he joined La Opinion's Tributo Nacional Lifetime Achievement Award recipients list. 

At the age of 13, Juan Gabriel was already writing his own songs and in 1971 recorded his first hit, "No Tengo Dinero," which landed him a recording contract with RCA. Over the next 14 years, he established himself as Mexico's leading singer/songwriter, composing in diverse styles such as rancheras, ballads, pop, disco, and mariachi, which resulted in an incredible list of hits ("Hasta Que Te Conocí," "Siempre En Mi Mente," "Querida," "Inocente Pobre Amigo," "Abrázame Muy Fuerte," "Amor Eterno," "El Noa Noa," and "Insensible") not only for himself  but for many leading Latin artists. In 1990, Juan Gabriel became the only non-classical singer/songwriter to perform at the Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City and the album release of that concert, Juan Gabriel En Vivo Desde El Palacio De Bellas Artes, broke sales records and established his iconic status. 

After a hiatus from recording, Juan Gabriel released such albums as Gracias Por Esperar, Juntos Otra Vez, Abrázame Muy Fuerte, Los Gabriel…Para Ti, Juan Gabriel Con La Banda…El Recodo, and El Mexico Que Se Nos Fue, which were all certified gold and/or platinum by the RIAA. In 1996, to commemorate his 25th anniversary in the music industry, BMG released a retrospective set of CDs entitled 25 Aniversario, Solos, Duetos, y Versiones Especiales, comprised appropriately of 25 discs.   

In addition to his numerous accolades and career successes, Juan Gabriel has been a compassionate and generous philanthropist. He has donated all proceeds from approximately 10 performances a year to his favorite children's foster homes, and proceeds from fan photo-ops go to support Mexican orphans. In 1987, he founded Semjase, an orphanage for approximately 120 children, which also serves as a music school with music, recreation and video game rooms. Today, he continues to personally fund the school he opened more than 22 years ago.   

Juan Gabriel will have the distinction of becoming the 10th Latin Recording Academy Person of the Year honoree, and joins a list of artists such as Gloria Estefan, Gilberto Gil, Juan Luis Guerra, Julio Iglesias, Ricky Martin, and Carlos Santana among others who have been recognized. 

For information on purchasing tickets or tables to The Latin Recording Academy Person of the Year tribute to Juan Gabriel, please contact The Latin Recording Academy ticketing office at 310.314.8281 or

Set List Bonus: Bumbershoot 2013
Grizzled Mighty perform at Bumbershoot on Sept. 1

Photo: The Recording Academy


Set List Bonus: Bumbershoot 2013

GRAMMYs/Dec 3, 2014 - 04:22 am

Welcome to The Set List. Here you'll find the latest concert recaps for many of your favorite, or maybe not so favorite, artists. Our bloggers will do their best to provide you with every detail of the show, from which songs were on the set list to what the artist was wearing to which out-of-control fan made a scene. Hey, it'll be like you were there. And if you like what you read, we'll even let you know where you can catch the artist on tour. Feel free to drop us a comment and let us know your concert experience. Oh, and rock on.

By Alexa Zaske

This past Labor Day weekend meant one thing for many folks in Seattle: Bumbershoot, a three-decade-old music and arts event that consumed the area surrounding the Space Needle from Aug. 31–Sept. 2. Amid attendees wandering around dressed as zombies and participating in festival-planned flash mobs to Michael Jackson's "Thriller," this year the focus was on music from the Pacific Northwest region — from the soulful sounds of Allen Stone and legendary female rockers Heart, to the highly-awaited return of Death Cab For Cutie performing their 2003 hit album Transatlanticism in its entirety.

The festival started off on day one with performances by synth-pop group the Flavr Blue, hip-hop artist Grynch, rapper Nacho Picasso, psychedelic pop group Beat Connection, lively rapper/writer George Watsky, hip-hop group the Physics, and (my personal favorite), punk/dance band !!! (Chk Chk Chk). Also performing on day one was Seattle folk singer/songwriter Kris Orlowski, who was accompanied by the Passenger String Quartet. As always, Orlowski's songs were catchy and endearing yet brilliant and honest.

Day one came to a scorching finale with a full set from GRAMMY-nominated rock group Heart. Kicking off with their Top 20 hit "Barracuda," the set spanned three decades of songs, including "Heartless," "Magic Man" and "What About Love?" It became a gathering of Seattle rock greats when, during Heart's final song, Pearl Jam guitarist Mike McCready joined for 1976's "Crazy On You."

Day two got off to an early start with performances from eccentric Seattle group Kithkin and Seattle ladies Mary Lambert and Shelby Earl, who were accompanied by the band Le Wrens. My highlight of the day was the Grizzled Mighty — a duo with a bigger sound than most family sized bands. Drummer Whitney Petty, whose stage presence and skills make for an exciting performance, was balanced out by the easy listening of guitarist and lead singer Ryan Granger.

Then the long-awaited moment finally fell upon Seattle when, after wrapping a long-awaited tour with the Postal Service, singer/songwriter Ben Gibbard returned to Seattle to represent another great success of the Pacific Northwest — Death Cab For Cutie. The band celebrated the 10-year anniversary of their album Transatlanticism by performing it from front to back. While a majority of attendees opted to watch the set from an air-conditioned arena, some of us recognized the uniqueness of this experience and enjoyed the entire set lying in the grass where the entire performance was streamed. 

Monday was the day for soul and folk. Local blues/R&B group Hot Bodies In Motion have been making their way through the Seattle scene with songs such as "Old Habits," "That Darkness" and "The Pulse." Their set was lively and enticing to people who have seen them multiple times or never at all.

My other highlights of the festival included the Maldives, who delivered a fun performance with the perfect amount of satirical humor and folk. They represent the increasing number of Pacific Northwest bands who consist of many members playing different sounds while still managing to stay cohesive and simple. I embraced the return of folk/pop duo Ivan & Alyosha with open arms and later closed my festival experience with local favorite Stone.

For music fans in Seattle and beyond, the annual Bumbershoot festival is a must-attend.

(Alexa Zaske is the Chapter Assistant for The Recording Academy Pacific Northwest Chapter. She's a music enthusiast and obsessed with the local Seattle scene.)

Neil Portnow Addresses Diversity & Inclusion, Looks Ahead During Speech At 2019 GRAMMYs

Neil Portnow and Jimmy Jam

Photo: Michael Kovac/Getty Images


Neil Portnow Addresses Diversity & Inclusion, Looks Ahead During Speech At 2019 GRAMMYs

Jimmy Jam helps celebrate the outgoing President/CEO of the Recording Academy on the 61st GRAMMY Awards

GRAMMYs/Feb 11, 2019 - 10:58 am

As Neil Portnow's tenure as Recording Academy President/CEO draws to its end, five-time GRAMMY winner Jimmy Jam paid tribute to his friend and walked us through a brief overview of some of the Academy's major recent achievements, including the invaluable work of MusiCares, the GRAMMY Museum, Advocacy and more.

Portnow delivered a brief speech, acknowledging the need to continue to focus on issues of diversity and inclusion in the music industry. He also seized the golden opportunity to say the words he's always wanted to say on the GRAMMY stage, saying, "I'd like to thank the Academy," showing his gratitude and respect for the staff, elected leaders and music community he's worked with during his career at the Recording Academy. "We can be so proud of what we’ve all accomplished together," Portnow added.

"As I finish out my term leading this great organization, my heart and soul are filled with gratitude, pride, for the opportunity and unequal experience," he continued. "Please know that my commitment to all the good that we do will carry on as we turn the page on the next chapter of the storied history of this phenomenal institution."

Full Winners List: 61st GRAMMY Awards