Photo: Patrick O’Brien Smith
Kassa Overall Breaks The Mold And Embraces Absurdity On New Album 'Animals'
Kassa Overall was put on the map due to a reductive narrative equation: "jazz plus rap plus mental health equals me." On his new album, 'ANIMALS,' the unclassifiable artist simply asks listeners, "What does it sound like to you?"
Kassa Overall holds his phone aloft, and rolls his eyes back in his head.
He's playing the intro to his track "Going Up," featuring Lil B, Shabazz Palaces and Francis and the Lights, which had dropped that day. A cello drone gives way to a strange woodblock part; a chopped-up drum solo jaws at everything — then it's as if Ableton freezes. Flanked by synths and sequencers, Overall seizes in his chair, as if he's being sucked into a black hole.
"You know the part where Neo gets kicked out of the Matrix?" the GRAMMY-nominated rapper, drummer and producer tells GRAMMY.com via Zoom. "It's like that, but when you get spit out, you actually get spit out in the bush in Africa."
That 20-second intro took Overall a long time to get right, but it's one of his favorite moments on his new album, ANIMALS — which arrived May 26 on Overall's new home, Warp Records.
The conversation has turned to the concept of absurdity — a helpful lens through which to view Overall's art. It sure beats the one that hamstrung him in the past, when he did interview after interview after interview about the intersection of jazz and rap — with mental health thrown in for good measure.
"I've talked about this for two albums now," he told GRAMMY.com in 2021 with a hint of exhaustion. "I ran that cycle in my head. I'm not so much trying to prove the point anymore that these things can go together. I just want to make the dopest s—."
The joy of ANIMALS is not in that genre fusion, but Overall's swelling boldness and vividness as an artist — as well as its novel fusion of seemingly disparate collaborators. Try to find another record where you'll find jazz-adjacent pianists Vijay Iyer and Kris Davis next to singular rappers like Danny Brown and Lil B.
"The reason the jazz world feels a little bit dry and s— is because there's not really the space for absurdity," Overall says. "Somebody like Louis Armstrong or Dizzy Gillespie — a third of them was Lil B and Danny Brown energy. That's why it was fire."
On ANIMALS, Overall rose to the energetic occasion. The album is consumed with subjects like his uneasy relationship with ambition, and his relationship with his growing audience. On tracks like lead single "Ready to Ball," the Nick Hakim and Theo Croker-featuring "Make My Way Back Home," and the Vijay Iyer-assisted "The Score Was Made," Overall has bigger fish to fry — than where rap does or doesn't connect with jazz.
Read on for an interview with Overall about his latest career moves, bucking tired narratives and using collaborators as instruments — much like a certain embattled rap innovator.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
I was just thinking about the SHADES series yesterday, actually. I was thinking about the process of making that versus making a solo record, and I realized they're actually a lot more connected than people might think.
When I make my own music, the process of it is still sample chopping — whether I'm chopping up original music, or chopping up some Nirvana, you know what I mean? Oftentimes, my original music includes collaging from other sources.
The SHADES thing was like me going, Let me actually deal with the sample practice. I missed the idea of taking some s— and flipping it. So, that was really a lot of fun.
I think SHADES 3, the third in the trilogy, was kind of a new direction for me, because I started actually using drum machines. The series started with more of me on the laptop, locked down in COVID, chopping up this and chopping of that. For this one, I had an actual studio behind me.
The lockdown is over, so I'm not so much in the headphones. So, if you listen to SHADES 3, it's more house tracks and s— like that. For me, it was just a good experiment. Although I made beats and used sample sequences, I never really got into step sequences, and those kinds of drum machines.
I'm a novice at that; I'm brand new at that. So, that's been a lot of fun.
The last time I interviewed you, you seemed to be trying to wrestle out of the reductive narrative around your music. You're dealing with more important subjects on ANIMALS. Where are you at in your career, through the lenses of public messaging and your signing to Warp?
Thank you for pointing that out first, because that'll allow me to not have to repeat things I'm tired of repeating.
Just to recap what you're saying, historically, jazz and rap often equals corny. I've never wanted to be corny, and I don't think I've ever been corny. It just happens to be the things that I say — where I come from. It's not so much like, I'm gonna do this.
And then the mental health s— is more like, I've just gotten comfortable talking about my life. Just like with any writer — you could be a writer for years, but it could become years until you become comfortable talking about your perspective and your ideas. If I'm just talking about the things that affect me a lot, that has to be a part of it. You can't not talk about it, but it was more like, I want to get past that.
I think that putting the album out on Warp is a bit of messaging in itself, because I've been making this music that I don't consider to be that weird. My music is not weird compared to Aphex Twin or Squarepusher, you know what I mean?
It's a fresh take on electronics and organics, you know what I mean? It's unique, but it's not that weird. I came up through the industry I came up in. So, I'm trying to get booked in jazz clubs and play jazz festivals, and they're looking at me like, "Not under my banner!"
If you listen to the state of jazz, or different playlists on the various streaming platforms, they sound a lot different than when I first started putting music out. People were like, "Whoa, what is this? Is this your pop product? This is your pop album, right? How's your pop s— going?"
That's what my homies used to say — my jazz friends. "He plays good — like, he's a killing drummer, but he's also got this pop s— he do."
Your work doesn't resemble any pop music I've ever heard.
Nah, nah, But there's a drum machine of sorts. There's a clap that's not organic. There's vocals. [Laughs.] It's pop!
The first time I noticed was when I did a guest mix for BBC, which came through Tom Ravenscroft. He got hip to the album through Bandcamp; he had no idea who I am or what I am.
That's how I started even doing the SHADES stuff — when I got the opportunity to do guest mixes, I would do remixes to kind of double down. It's like a double word score of like, Yo, he's doing some extra-different s—.
So, they were like, "Producer Kassa Overall does a guest mix." And I noticed that it's the way you present something; people are listening to it differently. If I present an album as a jazz drummer, then it's some pop s— where I'm trying to sing or something.
But then when it's presented as a producer thing, people are automatically like, "Oh, word. This is, like, electronic music. It's cool. We know where to put this."
My biggest influences are unique artists — unique people who made things that are kind of their own genre, whether it be Thom Yorke, Radiohead, Björk. Even Kanye; at a point, it was rebranding the whole idea. Like, "I'm a producer — no, I'm a rapper!" "You have a gangster image!" "No, I'm wearing skinny jeans and a pink polo!"
Then, even someone like John Coltrane, somebody like Bob Marley — obviously, these are the biggest artists in their fields, but they're also people [where] whatever they're making, you didn't really know what it was before it kind of popped in.
So, I would rather people hear my music and not think it's a jazz-rap collage. What if you don't relate it to anything else? What does it sound like to you?
The thing about the last album with Brownswood [Recordings, 2020's I THINK I'M GOOD]: I was like, "Bro, so many songs I'm making that y'all are considering to be B-sides would work well next to a Frank Ocean or James Blake record."
Maybe it's a little too poppy for Brownswood's audience, but f— Brownswood's audience, you know what I mean? But there's a million people over here that don't even know what a Nord or a Rhodes is, and they f— with what I'm doing.
So I think that's the frustration I've dealt with. I'm just a dude making songs about my life. That's all it is.
Kassa Overall. Photo: Patrick O'Brien Smith
Was it a difficult process to find a post-Brownswood home that was conducive to what you want to do?
No, it was very easy. And shouts to Brownswood; I'm not saying "F— Brownswood." That's the homies. [Label founder] Gilles Peterson is still a big supporter of what I'm doing. I'm just saying moreso my image and branding — if you want to make it seem like I'm this organic Afro-bop type, it's not gonna really sell. My s— is way too sad boy.
Somebody from Warp hit me up after I THINK I'M GOOD came out and asked me to make some beats for Danny Brown. Actually, they asked me if I had some beats. I was like, "Bro, give me two weeks," and I made three beats for Danny Brown; he picked two of them.
And then, that same A&R came back around and was like, "Yo, I think you should touch some other tracks on the album and 'Kass out' the whole album." So, I added all sorts of little drums and vocal throws — different things to give my little texture.
I ended up working on four joints total on Danny's next record — and fully producing one, which is one of the singles, but it sounds like a Kass kind of thing. So, that relationship started, and we chop it up on music stuff regularly.
When I started getting ready to shop for my next record, it was kind of like, "Y'all want to do it?" and [Warp] was like "Hell yeah."
I could have signed somewhere else and gotten more money, but the branding would be the same "What is this?" type of thing. I think Warp has the history of electronic music, and they have artists there now — it tells a story of what I'm doing, in a good way. I fit into the thing.
You came up in the jazz scene, and your relationship with ambition weighs heavily on ANIMALS. What is it about that world that lends itself to a hyper-competitive, rise-and-grind spirit?
I think it's the displacement of a cultural home. I understand what you're talking about — jazz, self-help, motivational. There's so many connector cables there, and I'm guilty of it all.
As a jazz musician, you have to learn how to practice. Like, I'm gonna practice all day, and the gigs are gonna come, and you're damn near doing, like, affirmations, and then you go sit in at Smalls. It's not like a doctor goes to school, and then applies, and it's an actual, visible track, The music thing is very pie-in-the-sky.
If you think about self-help as its own branding and industry, a lot of jazz musicians are susceptible to that kind of rhetoric. Because it's like, this person is huge, this person has nothing, and they're almost equally talented. One of them grinds his ass off; the other one drinks.
The other thing — this might be a little darker, a shadow thing — is one thing that happened with jazz is colleges. Once jazz became this academia thing, that's the student industry. That means you have jazz musicians turning to students as a means of sustainment.
That's not really the culture of the music. The music isn't really rise-and-grind. The culture is not even about success. People like Jimmy Heath expressed this to me: it wasn't popular.
It's popular now, or it looks like it. A Love Supreme is this huge thing, right? But if you listen to Elvin Jones interviews and stuff, he talks about playing in these clubs, and there's, like, six people there. Four of them are waiters, and people were not trying to hear that noise.
The idea is that you're going to choose this music that's not really designed for mass appeal, but the motivation is mass appeal. It's kind of a conflicting direction. That's not to say it can't work; there's a lot of people making it work.
But we're all screwed a little bit. It might not just be a jazz musician thing, and it might not just be a musician thing, but we're all kind of in this place of Work, work, work, work, work, work, work, work, and who works the most wins.
I don't want to live like that, and I find myself in that position at times. I'm going like, Something's got to give eventually. It's supposed to be more of a spiritual thing — a practice.
Kassa Overall. Photo: Patrick O'Brien Smith
You mentioned Kanye; I love the way he seemed to use collaborators as instruments on Donda. I get that same feeling from ANIMALS.
It's funny you say this. When I started working on this record — we're talking about 2019, even, some of these joints — I always pick a couple of albums to compete with. That's kind of one of my secrets. The last record was <a href="https://www.grammy.com/artists/calvin-broadus/14274">[Snoop Dogg's] Doggystyle and <a href="https://www.grammy.com/artists/2pac/7233">[2Pac's] All Eyez on Me. And this record was Dark Twisted Fantasy.
I haven't said this much in interviews, because I don't want to be like, "Kassa Overall drops album dedicated to Kanye!" [Laughs hard] But he was a huge influence on my process.
You have these long-ass songs. It's an open-ended beat. And however many minutes [into Dark Twisted Fantasy], Rick Ross comes in. Or you have Paul McCartney working on the melody. That was the inspiration behind this. If you listen close to a lot of the sonics, you'll hear, Oh, this is in conversation with that production process.
A musician like Kris Davis, for example. An absolute weirdo. You sit down and talk with her — so stoic. Who she is in itself is an anomaly. And then the music she makes is so unique.
Somebody like her would never cross paths with Danny Brown, who's equally strange. Even just his voice; he was a weirdo in his world. He was signed to G-Unit. He came up in Detroit, street rap adjacent, but when he popped off by kind of busting out of that and embracing more of the weirdo myths of his art. He's a standout in his own space.
I look at those two artists as people that actually have more in common than you would think. They're similar because they're very different in their own spaces. I think the world that Danny Brown lives in is better with Kris Davis in it. And I think the world that Kris Davis and Vijay Iyer are in is better with Lil B in it.
Photos: Miikka Skaffari/WireImage; Marcus Ingram/Getty Images; Gary Miller/Getty Images; Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images; Patrick O'Brien Smith; Courtesy of the artist
6 Artists Expanding The Boundaries Of Hip-Hop In 2023: Lil Yachty, McKinley Dixon, Princess Nokia & More
Jazz, psychedelic rock, ambient and more permeate the work of artists such as Kassa Overall and Decuma. As hip-hop turns 50, meet the artists who are continuing to push the genre's multifarious sounds.
DJ Kool Herc was messing with soul vocals and drum breaks when he invented what’s now known as the break beat — the very element that gave birth to the genre on Aug. 11, 1973.
Hip-hop was literally built off a sample. And in the decades since, the genre has thrived off those same omnivorous instincts, oftentimes to where even the terms "rap" and "hip-hop" don’t feel precise enough to describe the genre’s innovation and sheer diversity. (Five years before Kanye West declared rap the new rock ‘n’ roll to describe its popularity, Los Angeles rapper Open Mike Eagle wasn’t even satisfied with the word "indie" being tacked on to his brand of hip-hop: "That's too blanket of a term I think to really apply to what I attempt to do.")
As hip-hop turns 50, the artists behind some of its most exciting releases show that more than ever, the genre’s boundaries are porous — and that pushing boundaries remains in its DNA.
"I can’t claim to be super methodical with my genre blending. … My emotions just well up in me and spill out in whatever form my brain decides," Decuma once said. The rapper and producer was being modest.
2023’s let's play pretend offers the best possible explanation for his blend of hip-hop, ambient, and experimental genres, as if inspired by Xiu Xiu’s white-knuckle intensity: "I write ambient music because life feels like one long, dissonant drone," he raps in fourth track "basketball."
This genre-blending is how Decuma expresses, with admirable precision, the trauma that stems from physical, sexual and racial violence. It also underscores lyrics like, "I'm so alone with my secrets, and so I shared them with this f— stuffed tiger just so something can hear it." How it felt to be robbed of his innocence could not be made more explicit.
In September, Decuma will release a new album, titled feeding the world serpent.
On her 2023 album art school dropout, Jamee Cornelia created a relatable, modern-day soundtrack to the gig economy lifestyle. On "Campus Radio," Cornelia briefly pretends that she is a college radio disc jockey. Using her best late-night FM voice, she teases an interview with her school’s most promising musician, on "what it’s like to be a full-time student, a minimum wage cashier, and a touring musician."
Instead of just using her words, though, Cornelia uses her diverse artistic background — like when she was a videographer for her skate team, until "Odd Future happened and all my friends became rappers" — to depict what juggling those multiple hustles feels like. Sometimes, working the gig economy can feel like "Routine," where writing to-do lists for the week and month comes together as easily as her flow fits in the pocket. Other times, it's as grueling and cathartic as "Rock!," where crunchy hard rock guitars meet Three 6 Mafia-style club chants.
In sound and substance, Cornelia deftly creates a world where any small job (or genre, really) feels necessary to take on.
This GRAMMY-nominated bandleader, drummer, producer and rapper has already talked about how jazz and rap offer a more complete history of Black music in America than they do separately. He’s also explained why introducing rap sensibilities to jazz music makes sense in this modern age.
"Somebody like Louis Armstrong or Dizzy Gillespie — a third of them was Lil B and Danny Brown energy." That’s why it was fire," he told GRAMMY.com in May. But his latest, Animals, also shows how the relationship between jazz and rap can be mutually beneficial.
On "Ready to Ball," Kassa’s wry musings about the music industry ("I need a contract with a couple zips and a full fifth / just to tell the truth at the pulpit / that this is all just bulls—") is a grounding force, amid a searching piano and skipping percussion. Those few seconds feel instructive, showing how rap doesn’t always need to make tidy loops out of jazz’s improvisational nature, in order to thrive.
Prior to Let’s Start Here., two-time GRAMMY nominee Lil Yachty was already pushing hip-hop’s boundaries. While declaring himself the "King of Teens," the actual teen’s take on rap was initially irreverent, helping make the SoundCloud generation an easy target for classicists. It was only after his 2017 debut album, Teenage Emotions, that Yachty concerned himself with establishing goodwill within the genre — whether by mixtape-length tributes to Midwest hip-hop, or by writing and producing for City Girls, Drake and 21 Savage.
Yet according to Kevin "Coach K" Lee, co-founder of Lil Yachty’s label Quality Control, Let’s Start Here. is the album that Yachty has always wanted to make: A psychedelic rock coming-of-age journey, as inspired by Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, and with help from Chairlift, Mac DeMarco, and Unknown Mortal Orchestra, among others. "He had been wanting to make this album from the first day we signed him. But you know — coming as a hip-hop artist, you have to play the game," Coach K told Billboard.
Questlove said that he needed 24 hours to process Yachty's "departure record." But the explanation the Roots bandleader was looking for can be found in "WE SAW THE SUN!"’s outro, where Yachty samples painter Bob Ross. "Just let your imagination run wild," Ross says. "Let your heart be your guide."
In the early 2010s, McKinley Dixon had to perform with a live band in order to get stage time. Otherwise, his sets would get cut short, because music venues figured that "rappers are not seen to be as interesting unless they have a band," Dixon says.
These days, though, incorporating live instrumentation and taking inspiration from other genres is a vital part of McKinley's creative process and how he adds gravitas to his storytelling: "My music is me watching Death Note with Red Hot Chili Peppers playing over it," he told PAPER.
Meanwhile, in "Sun, I Rise," Dixon features a wandering harp ambling over the song’s lush jazz-rap arrangement. "OG slap the back of my head / said ‘Stop f—ing around / You only fall when you think you smarter than those / shooting you down.’" Dixon raps. This underscores the journey ahead in his new album Beloved!, Paradise! Jazz!?, an exploration of how Black boys come of age amid forces that implore them to grow up even faster.
Seven years ago, right as Princess Nokia was establishing herself as a hip-hop artist to watch, she had genre-bending visions for her artistry that even startled The Guardian’s head rock and pop critic Alexis Petridis. "I will happily be GG Allin of the hip-hop world," she said, referencing the biggest degenerate punk music has seen.
The music references in her latest, 2023’s i love you but this is goodbye, aren’t nearly as hell-raising. But, with how the album shifts from pop-punk ("closure") to jungle ("complicated") and cyberpop ("the fool") in its first three tracks alone, expanding hip-hop’s boundaries remains how Princess Nokia celebrates her autonomy. That’s not just as an artist this time, but as a maturing woman learning that a romantic relationship was never meant to complete her. Even ‘90s R&B-rap throwback "happy" gets that point across, with how her hook interpolates "Clint Eastwood" by Gorillaz: "I’m useless, but not for long / the future is coming on."
Photo: Alexander Tamargo/Getty Images for E11EVEN
5 Takeaways From Travis Scott's New Album 'UTOPIA'
On the highly anticipated follow-up to 2018's blockbuster album 'ASTROWORLD,' Travis Scott's 'UTOPIA' turns triumph and tragedy into another euphoric world.
It's been a turbulent five-year journey for Travis Scott bridging the worlds of ASTROWORLD to UTOPIA.
Since the 2018 GRAMMY-nominated album solidified Scott as part of rap's A-list, he's endured the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. Amid working on the album (which he began teasing in 2020), his 2021 iteration of Astroworld Festival resulted in a crowd crush that killed 10.
Three months later, he welcomed his second child with Kylie Jenner. Earlier this year, the pair reportedly split; just weeks before UTOPIA's arrival, Scott was cleared of any criminal liability for the Astroworld Festival incident, but civil lawsuits remain to be sorted.
Expectations were already sky-high for Scott to maintain luminary status with his ASTROWORLD follow-up. But after he experienced tragedy and heartbreak alongside triumphs and joy, Scott had all eyes on him as UTOPIA arrived on July 28. Yet, the pressure didn't seem to faze the Houston-born rapper — UTOPIA creates another euphoric world for his loyal fans.
In honor of La Flame's star-studded fourth studio LP — which is loaded with 18 features across 19 tracks — here are five early takeaways surrounding UTOPIA.
CIRCUS MAXIMUS Is UTOPIA's Visual Companion
Fans didn't know what to expect with Scott's CIRCUS MAXIMUS, which hit select theaters mere hours prior to UTOPIA. The 76-minute film — which takes its name from a UTOPIA track — serves as more of a series of music videos centered around a conversation between the rapper and producer Rick Rubin.
"You've come a long way — is the house half empty or completely empty? How are the kids? I heard there was a tragedy," Rubin asks Scott at one point, but he takes the conversation in a different direction.
The Harmony Korine-directed movie features about half of the songs from UTOPIA and includes appearances from Sheck Wes, Yung Lean and James Blake. Scott goes from DJing a colorful dance party for "MODERN JAM" to smashing chairs and nearly burning down an ancient Italian racing stadium while "FE!N" rings off.
CIRCUS MAXIMUS also allows Scott to share his rather unexpected interpretation of what UTOPIA means inside his world. "UTOPIA is not all pretty," he says in the film. "It's how you balance the idea of confrontation."
Yeezus Rises Again
Scott and Kanye West have had a longstanding musical partnership, as Scott played an integral role behind-the-scenes of West's rebellious 2013 album, Yeezus. A decade later, West's fingerprints are all over UTOPIA — even without a vocal guest appearance.
West earned production credits on "MODERN JAM," "THANK GOD," "TELEKINESIS" and "GOD'S COUNTRY." The latter two were originally on the track list for 2021's Donda before Ye passed them off to Scott to bring across the finish line.
Elsewhere, "CIRCUS MAXIMUS" is essentially a "Black Skinhead" part two; it interpolates the rugged Yeezus standout, and it was co-produced by Noah Goldstein, Ye's audio engineer for most of his career.
Trav's most blunt pledge to Kanye came on "Skitzo," which calls back to West's alleged presidential bid for 2024. "I'm loyal, b—, I got Ye over Biden," Scott candidly raps.
Drake And Travis Scott Take Aim At Their Opps Once Again
Drake and Travis Scott have proven to be a winning combination in the past with diamond-certified smashes like "SICKO MODE," and they aimed to recreate that magic with "MELTDOWN."
Right out of the gate, Drake makes a fiery statement with bars seemingly addressing Pusha T — but he's really sniping his close friend Pharrell, mirroring his shots at Kanye West in his "SICKO MODE" verse.
"I melt down the chains that I bought from yo' boss," Drake raps in reference to a Skateboard P pendant he recently purchased at an auction from Pharrell. The 6 God goes on to diss Pharrell's new position as a creative director at Louis Vuitton and claims nobody's messing with the designer brand since the 2021 death of former head Virgil Abloh.
"Give a f— about all of that heritage s—/ Since V not around, the members done hung up the Louis/ They not even wearing that s—," he continues.
Scott joined Drake in the sinister "tensions rising" theme, subliminally dissing Wonka star Timothée Chalamet, who has reportedly been dating his ex Kylie Jenner. "Chocolate AP and chocolate the Vs (Vs), got the Willy Wonka factory/Burn a athlete like it's calories, find another flame hot as me, b—," Scott spits.
While "Meltdown" may not reach the same commercial heights as "SICKO MODE," it has certainly caused a stir on social media. "Drake went crazy… I love when dude starts gettin' chippy!" Hot 97's Ebro Darden wrote on Twitter. As another fan claimed, "Rap been boring. I gotta thank Drake honestly for wanting to get back in the ring."
Scott Finally Got His Dream Collab
Perhaps one of UTOPIA's buzziest cameos comes from Beyoncé, who appears on "DELRESTO (ECHOES)." It marks a full-circle moment for Scott, too, as he has long tried to manifest a collab with his fellow Houston native, publicly declaring his hopes for a Bey team-up to Complex in 2016. (Prior to UTOPIA's release, eagle-eyed fans noticed that the newspaper cover art for "DELRESTO (ECHOES)" had been incorporated as part of Bey's Renaissance Tour decor.)
As Bey continues to ride out her RENAISSANCE groove, Scott fits in well with his hypnotic flow. And in a rather surprising twist, Bon Iver's Justin Vernon rounds out the track by pouring in his ethereal vocals behind the triumphant Hit-Boy production.
While Bey does much of the heavy lifting on "DELRESTO (ECHOES)," Scott's verse still stands out as he declares he won't give up on a new love interest. "The starry nights, they start to fade (Come on)/ At times, for miles I see your face, yeah," Scott testifies, borrowing from Kanye's "Coldest Winter" flow.
"MODERN JAM" Is The Hit Fans Will Eventually Catch On To
Scott's Ragers normally rush to collide for a sweaty moshpit when his music comes on. But with the genre-bending UTOPIA track "MODERN JAM," La Flame's moving the crowd from the mosh pit to the dance floor.
According to Kanye West fan page Donda's Place, "MODERN JAM" is a 10-year-old alternate version of the raw beat that became Yeezus' "I Am A God." Travis expertly meshes the abrasiveness of Ye's hard-hitting 808s with a groovy baseline. And with production help from Daft Punk's Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo, the Teezo Touchdown-assisted track is a good bet to slow-burn its way to major chart success — even if it has a different feel than what Scott's fans are used to.
Since the beginning of Scott's career, he has been a trendsetter pushing the boundaries of what's considered mainstream hip-hop. He knows how to introduce foreign sonics in such a digestible way that it allows him to take creative risks and still thrive as a commercial titan — and UTOPIA is proof that he hasn't lost his Midas touch.
Photo: John Shearer/MTV VMAs 2021/Getty Images for MTV/ViacomCBS
10 Albums On Divorce & Heartache, From Fleetwood Mac's 'Rumours' To Kelly Clarkson's 'Chemistry'
Divorce albums have been a staple of the music industry for decades. Take a look at some of the most notable musings on a breaking heart, from Kacey Musgraves, Kanye West and more.
Divorce can be complicated, messy, and heartbreaking. But those feelings are prime fodder for songwriting — and it's something that artists of all genres have harnessed for decades.
Writing through the pain can serve many benefits for an artist. Marvin Gaye used Here, My Dear as a way to find closure in the aftermath of his divorce. Adele told Vogue that her recording process gave her somewhere to feel safe while recording 30, a raw account of the aftermath of her marriage ending. And Kelly Clarkson's new album, chemistry, finds her reclaiming herself, while fully taking stock of everything that happened in her marriage, good and bad.
As fans dive into chemistry, GRAMMY.com has compiled a list of 10 divorce albums from all walks of music. Whether you need to cry, vent, or maybe even laugh, there's a divorce album that has what you need.
Tammy Wynette, D-I-V-O-R-C-E (1968)
During her life, Tammy Wynette was a prolific country songwriter and singer, releasing numerous albums exploring all aspects of love. She was also deeply familiar with divorce, with five marriages throughout her adulthood.
The most intimate album on the topic is her bluntly titled 1968 project D-I-V-O-R-C-E, which explores how sensitive the topic was to speak about. The title track is a mournful tune about hiding a separation from her children, but also conveys the general difficulty of discussing the topic with anyone. Elsewhere on the album, "Kiss Away" is a longing ballad about wishing for a more tender resolution when words have failed.
Fleetwood Mac, Rumours (1977)
After recording 10 albums together, Fleetwood Mac were in disarray. During the recording of their eleventh record, the members of the band were going through affairs, divorces, and breakups, even some with each other. Against all odds, they created Rumours — and it became the band's most successful and iconic album.
The spectrum of emotions and sounds on the album is wide. "The Chain" is all fire and bombast, while the laidback acceptance of "Dreams" seeks to find peace in the storm. Fleetwood Mac sorted out their issues and are still going strong to this day, but their heartbreak created something special in Rumours.
Beck, Sea Change (2002)
Beck has had a prolific career, with 14 studio albums to his name. One of his most affecting is 2002's Sea Change, written in the aftermath of his engagement and nine-year relationship ending.
It's a deeply insular album, even by Beck's standards. Tracks like "Already Dead" are slow and mournful, while standout "It's All In Your Mind" finds him burrowing deep into his own thoughts to parse out how exactly he's feeling with his new life.
Open Mike Eagle, Anime, Trauma, and Divorce (2020)
Divorce isn't a topic that immediately brings laughter, but rapper Open Mike Eagle seemed to find humor in his personal story with his album Anime, Trauma, and Divorce. The album title gives a pretty good rundown of what inspired the project, and Mike's laidback rapping sells how silly the aftermath of pain can be.
"Sweatpants Spiderman" finds him trying to become a functional adult again, and discovering the various ailments of his aging body and thinner wallet that are getting in the way. The fed-up delivery on standout track "Wtf is Self Care" is a hilarious lesson on how learning to be kind to yourself post-breakup is harder than it sounds.
Carly Pearce, 29: Written In Stone (2021)
Heartbreak is a common topic in all genres, but country has some of the most profound narratives of sorrow. Carly Pearce added to that legacy with 29: Written in Stone, her 2021 album centered around her 29th year — a year that included both a marriage and a subsequent divorce.
The emotional whiplash of such a quick change can be felt all over the project, from an upbeat diss track like "Next Girl" to more poignant pieces like the title track, which finds Pearce reflecting on her tumultuous year. Her vulnerability resonated, as single "Never Wanted To Be That Girl" won Pearce her first GRAMMY, and her latest single, "What He Didn't Do," scored the singer her fourth No. 1 at country radio.
Kanye West, 808s & Heartbreak (2008)
Kanye West's fourth album 808s & Heartbreak came from a deep well of pain. Besides the end of his relationship, West was also in turmoil from the death of his mother, Donda. The result is one of the bleakest sounding records on this list — but also one of West's most impactful.
808s & Heartbreak is minimalistic, dark, and brooding, with a focus on somber strings and 808 drum loops (hence the album's title). West delivers most of his lyrics in a monotone drone through a thick layer of autotune, a stylistic choice that heightens the sense of loss. Besides being a testament to West's pain, the electronic sound pioneered on 808s & Heartbreak would serve as a foundational inspiration for the next several years of hip-hop.
Toni Braxton & Babyface, Love, Marriage, & Divorce (2014)
Toni Braxton and Babyface are two stalwarts of R&B in their own rights, and in 2014, the pair connected over their shared experiences going through divorce. Their bond sparked Love, Marriage, & Divorce, a GRAMMY-winning album that intended to capture the more universal feelings the life of a relationship conjures up.
Each artist has solo tracks on the record — Babyface wishing the best for his ex on "I Hope That You're Okay" and Braxton sharing her justified anger on "I Wish" and "I'd Rather Be Broke" — but where they shine is on their collaborations. The agonizing "Where Did We Go Wrong?" is heartbreaking, and the album ends with painful what-ifs in the soulful "The D Word."
Adele, 30 (2021)
Divorce is hard no matter the circumstances, but it gets even more complicated when children are involved. That was the reality for Adele, and it served as major inspiration for her fourth album, 30.
Like every album on this list, there's plenty of sorrow on the record, but what really sets it apart is just how honestly Adele grapples with the guilt of putting her son Angelo through turmoil as well. The album's GRAMMY-winning lead single "Easy On Me" addresses it in relation to her son, and standout track "I Drink Wine" is a full examination of the messy feelings she went through during her divorce.
Kacey Musgraves, star-crossed (2021)
As many of these albums prove, divorce triggers a hoard of emotions, from anger to sadness to eventual happiness. On star-crossed, Kacey Musgraves goes through it all.
There's the anthemic "breadwinner" about being better on her own, "camera roll" looking back on happier times with sorrow, and "hookup scene" about the confusion of adjusting back to single life. Star-crossed sees Musgraves continue to evolve sonically — incorporating more electronic sounds into her country roots — but ultimately, she comes out the other side at a place of renewed acceptance and growth.
Kelly Clarkson, chemistry (2023)
Kelly Clarkson's tenth album chemistry was born out of her 2020 divorce. In true Kelly fashion, she addresses the subject with thoughtful songwriting and a pop-rock vibe fans have adored for 20 years on.
Chemistry focuses not just on the pain of divorce, but on the tender feelings that many couples still have for each other even after the end. Tracks like "favorite kind of high" mirror the euphoria of love, juxtaposed with ballads like "me," in which Clarkson finds comfort in herself and her inner strength — an inspiring sentiment for anyone who has had their heart broken.
Photo: Al Pereira/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
10 Albums That Showcase The Deep Connection Between Hip-Hop And Jazz: De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest, Kendrick Lamar & More
Hip-hop and jazz are two branches of Black American music; their essences have always swirled together. Here are 10 albums that prove this.
Kassa Overall is tired of talking about the connections between jazz and rap. He had to do it when he released his last two albums, and he has to do it again regarding his latest one.
"They go together naturally," he once said. "They're from the same tree as far as where they come from, which is Black music in America. You don't have to over-mix them. It goes together already."
Expand this outward, and it applies to all Black American musics; it's not a stretch to connect gospel and blues, nor soul and R&B. Accordingly, jazz and rap contain much of the same DNA — from their rhythmic complexity to its improvisational component to its emphasis on the performer's personality.
Whether in sampling, the rhythmic backbone, or any number of other facets, jazz and rap have always been simpatico; just watch this video of the ‘40s and ‘50s vocal group the Jubilaries, which is billed as the “first rap song” and is currently circling TikTok. And as Overall points out to GRAMMY.com, even jazz greats like Louis Armstrong or Dizzy Gillespie had “Lil B and Danny Brown energy.”
De La Soul — 3 Feet High and Rising (1989)
Featuring samples by everyone from Johnny Cash to Hall and Oates to the Turtles, their playful, iridescent, psychedelic 1989 debut, 3 Feet High and Rising, is the perfect portal to who Robert Christgau called "radically unlike any rap you or anybody else has ever heard,"
3 Feet High and Rising consistently ranks on lists of the greatest hip-hop albums of all time. In 2010, the Library of Congress added it to the National Recording Registry.
A Tribe Called Quest — The Low End Theory (1991)
If one were to itemize the most prodigious jazz-rap acts, four-time GRAMMY nominees A Tribe Called Quest belong near the top of the list. Their unforgettable tunes; intricate, genre-blending approach; and Afrocentric POV, put them at the forefront of jazz-rap.
There are several worthy gateways to the legendary discography of Q-Tip, Phife Dawg, Ali Shaheed Muhammad, and Jarobi White,, like 1993's Midnight Marauders and 1996's Beats, Rhymes and Life.
But their 1991 album The Low End Theory, was a consolidation and a watershed. From "Buggin' Out" to "Check the "Rhime" to "Scenario" — featuring Busta Rhymes, Charlie Brown and Dinco D — The Low End Theory contains the essence of Tribe’s vibrant, inventive personality.
Dream Warriors — And Now the Legacy Begins (1991)
Representing Canada are Dream Warriors, whose And Now the Legacy Begins was a landmark for alternative hip-hop.
King Lou and Capital Q's 1991 debut eschewed tough-guy posturing in favor of potent imagination and playful wit. Christgau nailed it once again with his characterization: "West Indian daisy age from boogie-down Toronto."
Its single "My Definition of a Boombastic Jazz Style" samples "Soul Bossa Nova" by 28-time GRAMMY winner Quincy Jones — who, among all the other components of his legacy, is one of jazz's finest arrangers. The tune would go on to become the Austin Powers theme song; in that regard, too, Dream Warriors were ahead of their time.
The Pharcyde — Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde (1992)
All of Black American music was fair game to producer J-Swift; on the Pharcyde's classic debut Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde, he sampled jazzers like Donald Byrd and Roy Ayers alongside Marvin Gaye, Jimi Hendrix, Sly and the Family Stone, and more. Over these beds of music, Fatlip, SlimKid 3, Imani, and Bootie Brown spit comedic bars with blue humor aplenty.
"I'm so slick that they need to call me, "Grease"/ 'Cause I slips and I slides When I rides on the beast" Imani raps in "Oh S—," in a representative moment. "Imani and your mom, sittin' in a tree/ K-I-S-S (I-N-G)."
All in all, the madcap, infectious Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde is a pivotal entry in the jazz-rap pantheon. One reviewer put it best: "[It] reaffirms every positive stereotype you've ever heard about hip-hop while simultaneously exploding every negative myth."
Digable Planets — Reachin' (A New Refutation of Time and Space) (1993)
Digable Planets' Ishmael Butler once chalked up the prevalent jazz samples on their debut as such: "I just went and got the records that I had around me," he said. "And a lot of those were my dad's s—. which was lots of jazz." It fits Digable Planets like a glove.
"Rebirth of Slick (Cool Like Dat)" contains multiple elements of Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers' "Stretching"; "Escapism (Gettin' Free" incorporates the hook from Herbie Hancock's "Watermelon Man"; and "It's Good to Be Here" samples Grant Green's "Samba de Orpheus. Throughout Reachin', Butler, Craig Irving and Mary Ann Viera proselytize Black liberation in a multiplicity of forms.
Pitchfork nailed it when it declared, "Reachin' is an album about freedom — from convention, from oppression, from the limits imposed by the space-time continuum."
Gang Starr — Daily Operation (1992)
In the realm of Gang Starr, spiritual consciousness and street poetry coalesce. Given that jazz trucks in both concepts, it's a natural ingredient for DJ Premier and Guru's finest work.
One of their first masterpieces, Daily Operation, contains some of jazz's greatest minds within its grooves. "The Place Where We Dwell" samples the Cannonball Adderley Quintet's "Fun"; Charles Mingus' "II B.S" is on "I'm the Man"; the late piano magician Ahmad Jamal's "Ghetto Child" pops up on "The Illest Brother."
Throughout their career, DJ Premier and Guru only honed their relaxed chemistry; jazz elements help give their music a natural swing and sway. (Their musical partnership continues to this day; Gang Starr is releasing music this very week.)
The Roots — Things Fall Apart (1999)
Three-time GRAMMY winners The Roots' genius blend of live instrumentation and conscious bars launched them far past any "jazz-rap" conversation and into mainstream culture, via their role as the house band on "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon."
Elements of limbic, angular jazz can be found throughout their discography, but their major label debut Do You Want More?!!!??! might be the most effective entryway into their blend of jazz and rap. ("Silent Treatment" features a bona fide jazz singer as a guest, Cassandra Wilson.)
Whether it’s the burbling "Distortion to Static," or the jazz-fusion-y "I Remain Calm," or the knockabout "Essaywhuman?!!!??!", venture forth into the Roots' discography; they're a hub of so many spokes of Black American music.
Madlib — Shades of Blue (2003)
As jazz-rap connections go, Madlib's Shades of Blue is one of the most pointed and direct.
Therein, he raids the Blue Note Records vault and remixes luminaries from Wayne Shorter ("Footprints") to Bobby Hutcherson ("Montara") to Ronnie Foster ("Mystic Brew," flipped into "Mystic Bounce"). In the medley "Peace/Dolphin Dance," Horace Silver and Herbie Hencock's titular works meet in the ether.
Elsewhere, Shades of Blue offers new interpretations of Blue Note classics by Madlib's fictional ensembles Yesterday's New Quintet, Morgan Adams Quartet Plus Two, Sound Direction, and the Joe McDuphrey Experience — all of whom are just Madlib playing every instrument.
In recent years, Blue Note has been hurtling forward with a slew of inspired new signings — some veterans, some newcomers. Through that lens, Shades of Blue provides a kaleidoscopic view of the storied jazz repository's past while paving the way for its future.
Kendrick Lamar — To Pimp a Butterfly (2015)
While hip-hop has had a direct line to jazz for decades — as evidenced by previous entries on this list — Lamar solidified and codified it for the 21st century in this sequence of teeming, ambitious songs about Black culture, mental health and institutional racism.
"Kendrick reached a certain level with his rap that allowed him to move like a horn player," Overall told Tidal in 2020. And regarding Lamar’s present and future jazz-rap comminglings, Overall adds, "He opened up the floodgates of creative possibilities."
Kassa Overall — Animals (2023)
The pieces of Overall's brilliance have been there from the beginning, but never had he combined them to more thrilling effect than on Animals — where jazz musicians like pianists Kris Davis and Vijay Iyer commingle with rappers like Danny Brown and Lil B.
"I would rather people hear my music and not think it's a jazz-rap collage," Overall once told GRAMMY.com. "What if you don't relate it to anything else? What does it sound like to you?"
When it comes to the gonzo Danny Brown and Wiki collaboration "Clock Ticking," the Theo Croker-assisted "The Lava is Calm," and the inspired meltdown of "Going Up," featuring Lil B, Shabazz Palaces and Francis & the Lights — this music sounds like nothing else.
Over the decades, Black American musicians have swirled together jazz and rap into a cyclone of innovation, heart and brilliance — and there’s seemingly no limit to the iterations it can take on.