meta-scriptJ. Ivy Talks Making Music For Social Change, Leading With Love & The Importance Of Supporting Black Artists | GRAMMY.com
J. Ivy Talks Making Music For Social Change, Leading With Love & The Importance Of Supporting Black Artists

J. Ivy

Photo: Andre Wright Jr.

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J. Ivy Talks Making Music For Social Change, Leading With Love & The Importance Of Supporting Black Artists

"I feel like people will look back on 2020 … as being a benchmark in time, this being a moment where we saw change. My prayer, my hope and wish is that it's a positive change," the spoken word artist told us in a recent interview

GRAMMYs/Jun 14, 2020 - 09:24 pm

Spoken word artist, poet and author J. Ivy is, understandably so, a person who believes wholeheartedly in the power of words and the importance of using them intentionally. The Chicago native, who's also the president of the Recording Academy's Chicago Chapter, is committed to using his influence and platform to support other artists who are using their voices and gifts for positive social change.

With his weekly IGTV show, "The WORD," born out quarantine, he shares the mic with other artists to collaborate in a way that inspires both them and their listeners, while shining a spotlight on other poets and artists. His journey to where he is today is quite the music industry fable: He got his first big break performing on HBO's "Def Poetry" in the early '00s and soon after landed on Kanye West's 2004 debut album, The College Dropout, on which he delivered a powerful poem on "Never Let Me Down." Those impactful words, which still get him regular shout-outs on Twitter and Instagram to this day, would bring him back to the Def Poetry stage several times.

The Recording Academy recently caught up with J. Ivy to learn more about using music for social change, how the industry can better support Black artists, how non-Black individuals can stand with the Black community and the importance of voting.

How would you describe our current situation?

I feel like people will look back on 2020 in 20, 30, 50 or 100 years as being a benchmark in time, this being a moment where we saw change. My prayer, my hope and wish is that it's a positive change.

Being a Black man in America, you carry a certain fear, anxiety and stress, which every single day is ingrained in you. You've been taught how to survive. You have images that weigh on your subconscious of Black bodies being tortured and killed, oftentimes not captured by a camera phone. Cell phones are fairly new and camera phones even newer. So this is a new phenomenon that we're seeing where people are able to capture these images, but we've been going through this for decades, centuries. That pain, anxiety and trauma, that PTSD—it's ingrained in you. You feel it every single day, even when it's not at the front of your mind.

So I've been processing a lot of what's been going on. Things have been brought to the surface as far as what we're seeing with George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor. It's so many names. And we're absolutely at a point where it's a critical time.

Related: Houston Rappers Talk George Floyd's Musical & Community Legacy

How have you been coping with everything? And how are you feeling right now?

For me, being an artist, first and foremost, I take to the pen. I write about what's happening. I've been writing a lot of poetry. I've been journaling. I've been in a lot of conversations with thought leaders, with my wife who is an amazing thought leader, working on what we can do past the emotion and the hurt of it all. It's one thing to be hurt and be reminded of that hurt over and over again. But what are we doing for solutions? What are we doing to get to a space and time where we're not seeing these tragedies occur over and over again? How do we break this cycle of systemic racism? How do we break that down?

So, I've been writing and creating poetry, working on music and having conversations with a lot of people, working on organizing grassroots efforts that will help push new legislation and a new consciousness. A space where we get back to the village, where we get back to protecting ourselves, policing ourselves. It's been a lot of brainstorming and planning and working towards solutions. That's the biggest thing we need right now.

And it's super important that music is a focus because music is oftentimes the quickest way to get any message across to a large mass of people. So, what messaging are we putting in our music? What spirit, what energy are we putting in it? I think it's important when it comes to building within the music community, even not being able to collaborate and create together now, that when people get in front of that microphone, when they pull out that pen or voice memo, when they're documenting their creativity, their spirit, that they're doing it in a space that will help shift consciousness in a positive way.

It's been so long that folks like me have been stepped on and knees in necks and shot and brutalized and terrorized for so long. And we have a multitude of leaders, musicians and artists that can push positivity through. Not that positivity hasn't been in music, but that we're collectively putting messaging in the music that will shift consciousness. I think that's super important right now.

Read: #SayHerName: Alicia Keys, Lizzo, Janet Jackson, Janelle Monáe And More Honor Breonna Taylor On Her Birthday, Demand Justice

What are you saying to the people? People are listening. What side of history are you going to decide to stand on? I have a quote that says, "Silence is my violence. It hurts to bite my tongue." We can't be silent right now. In our music, we can't avoid those uncomfortable situations, those uncomfortable conversations. It's gone on too long. A lot of people are comfortable in their bubbles. Everybody wants to be comfortable. But how can you be when you have others that are subjected to so much pain and trauma?

I've always been a strong believer that we are one village, no matter race or creed. And it's time that we weed out the bad. And those that have been silent, we need you now more than ever. We need people to step up. We need you to be voices for the collective, for the community, for our country because it's gone on for too long. And silence, it's like a finger on the trigger. It's important that we speak up.

I'd love to talk a bit more about some of the solutions that you see. What are some essential steps for making positive, long-term change?

Again, the messaging in the music. And we need to create very strong efforts to make sure we're getting the right legislation passed. We need to make sure we're voting for strong leadership, for folks that will protect and serve the common good of every citizen in this country. People being vocal, even about citizenship. Black folks are often overlooked as citizens. We're not afforded the same rights, so we need everybody speaking up. We need to police the police. We need to police those that are in office and make sure that they are being just and they're being fair so we can get to a space of equality by being fair and good-hearted people.

With the police that are currently working, there have been talks about having community review boards for those police. If you have one complaint, two complaints, you go in front of this review board and the community decides if you need to stay on the payroll. We're paying you to work for us, so there shouldn't be an officer like [Derek] Chauvin on the force who's had 18 complaints. 18 complaints but you're still out in the community you fear ... Let's have a review board and make sure that we are in full consciousness of who's patrolling our streets.

Related: Rihanna, Meek Mill, Billie Eilish, Migos & More Call For Police Reform In New York Now

I've been using my platform as a poet. I have a show that I do ... It's called "THE WORD: poetry and conversation," and I do it every Wednesday at 7 p.m. [CDT]. Usually, I have a guest on every week ... I started the show in the midst of the quarantine, I wanted to have an outlet, to have some relief. I'm an unemployed artist right now and I haven't worked for three months at this point. [There are] countless people like me who are struggling and figuring out what are we going to do to keep income coming in. It's tough. So, I said, "Let me start this and have an outlet where I can shine a light on amazing, talented, gifted friends of mine who do a lot of amazing work with their art."

The other night I decided to just open it up ... The show is usually an hour ... We went for almost seven hours last night ... There was so many moving moments and so much great dialogue. I hopped on at 7 [p.m.] feeling extremely tired, hurt, devastated, not knowing how I'm going to get through the show. Something I didn't want to do turned into almost seven hours of just upliftment. That heaviness that I felt in the beginning of the show, in light of everything that's still going on, I felt better. We all had a space and a platform to heal and to find some joy in the midst of all of this chaos. And it showed me the power of the word. That's why I called it "THE WORD," because there's so much power, so much energy in our words. It just reminded me of what we can do when we exert the right energy, and we can collectively come together because we're not alone.

I want to see people using their art to help heal. I want to see more of that collectively across the music industry. We need so much healing and our voices, our music, our words can help to do that. So I would just beg and plead with anybody who has a voice, that has a gift of music, to use your music for that cause, for good.

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What is the role of art and music in fostering social change and racial justice?

I think it's really tapping in. When any creator creates, as a writer, you tap in deep inside and you follow your heart. You follow those love signals that allow you to verbalize and communicate what it is your spirit is telling you at the moment. So as artists, if we could all just really look deep inside, and really reconnect to the source of who we are as human beings, where we're spiritual beings having a human experience. And if we create from that space of love, healing and justice, what we'll create will be medicine for the soul. It'll be medicine for our country. It'll be a huge healing source that'll allow us to pick ourselves up and hopefully hit a reset button.

I have an album coming out. It was supposed to be out, but the quarantine happened; everything just changed. I have a song called "Change The World," which features Tarrey Torae, my wife; she's a singer-songwriter. I discovered a lot more relevance in the song in the past couple [of] days. I'm watching what's going on, and it wasn't even a song I was considering to be a first single or anything like that. But yesterday, I was like, "Man, I need to get this song out immediately because of the message that's in the music."

It really speaks to us being one. I have a line that says, "Those people over there, those ain't strangers / They're beautiful reflections of who we are." We put these divides up so much and I think, again, if we look inside, if we tap in and we create from a space that is led by love, the music we'll create will heal so many people.

Read: How Queer Rappers Are Defining The Next Generation Of Chicago Hip-Hop

What do you think that the music community at large can do to support Black lives and Black artists?

My first thought is there needs to be a fair distribution of wealth. Often, with artists across the board, but especially with Black artists, the splits aren't right. We're glorified in a sense that people love our music ... Our music is loved and appreciated by so many. We understand the role record labels and distributors play when it comes to getting music out there into the marketplace, but be fair in those splits. Make sure those artists can continue to thrive, because often it feels like an assembly line ... People aren't asking for a lot. Just asking for things to be fair, for folks to get what they worked very hard for. And we're making you money, so help me help you, I'll help you help me.

And make sure the music industry is tapping into artists that will push a positive message. We see a negative message that is constantly pushed. Not all music that's pushed is negative, but there's a lot of life-changing, soul-stirring music that will invoke positive change that is overlooked and not promoted. And there are a lot of artists on the ground doing great work, but there's a certain element that the industry continues to support music that promotes violence, misogynistic behavior and things that aren't necessarily lifting us up. We need music that's going to inspire us. And there are a lot of amazing artists that are creating music in that vein.

And no matter what side, because people's reality is reality ... There are other sides, but we only show one side of the coin. Let us see the full picture. We're very diverse. There isn't one kind of Black person. We come in many shades, colors, sizes, with many different thought patterns, styles and creativity. It should all be shown.

Read: Take Action: Want To Support Protesters And Black Lives Matter Groups? Here's How

What can well-intentioned listeners and music consumers do to discover and support Black artists who aren't rising to the Top 40 on Billboard?

It's such a different world musically, as far as the distribution of music and streaming. We fought for the Music Monetization Act and the Fair Play Fair Pay Act. With streaming, it's tough on artists because where we weren't getting fair pay before, the pie has gotten smaller and it's gotten tougher. So for the consumers, I would say do all you can to support artists across the board, not just those in the Top 100.

Normally, I would say make sure you're going out to that shows. If there's a livestream show, make sure that you go on and support. Make sure you're telling your friends about these amazing artists that touch your soul and move your spirit. Buy their product. Make sure you're doing all you can to support them and keep them lifted because it's tough being an artist.

The consumer can support artists' dreams. Artists are living their dream, they're given everything they can to flourish and to share their art and their gift and their voice. Make sure you're subscribing to their YouTube, following them on social media and putting money in their pocket. Become music ambassadors for the artists you love and make sure people are knowledgeable of those artists so that they don't disappear. It's a hard world. We'll be in love with an artist one minute, then here comes the next beautiful, shiny thing and we forget about that last shiny thing and they're left struggling. So we can just continue to support those artists and make sure they have a platform that will sustain their livelihood and their creativity.

Listen: Sean Ardoin On Addressing Racism In His Powerful New Song & Video "What Do You See"

What do you think non-Black individuals can be doing right now to support the Black community?

Well, first and foremost, reach out to your Black family, friends and those that you love. Check on them, see how they are feeling, be a support system. Again, don't be silent. We see it in the streets right now. I think we could all encompass the energy of the positive protests and apply that to our day-to-day. We know it's not your sole responsibility, but if you can help with speaking up, if you can help with encouraging people to have those review boards for the police, if you can create efforts that will get people out to vote for the right people. If you can, again, support artists and those that are making positive change.

Most importantly, it's not being silent, not sitting back [and] seeing harm come to your fellow citizen and being shut off to that just because they don't "look like you." That's why we have to continue to break down the divides. A lot of my white brothers and sisters have been hitting me up, checking on me and, man, that goes such a long way. 

Read: How The Police Used The Cabaret Card Law To Discriminate Against Black Jazz Artists And Musicians

I mean, America needs to apologize. America has never officially said, "You know what? We did wrong by you. You worked and built this country for free. Here's reparations." Maybe it's free healthcare, maybe it's free education, something that will allow us to lift up. You hurt us for so long and it's like, "Man, slavery was so long ago. Why you tripping?" That's the attitude we get. It's like, "No, we're still feeling the effects."

People need to recognize that white privilege is real. It's not cool to ignore that people have had a leg up for hundreds of years ... But in the midst of still trying to fight for equality, we're dealing with all the brutality and the racism. To my white family out there, be conscious. Don't ignore it, don't have a blind eye or a deaf ear to what's happening. Be aware, be conscious and do what you can to fight those injustices. We've done so much for this country. It's about time some of that starts to come back around to us, so we can all be happy and live a fair, peaceful life.

I noticed you've been posting a lot about voting on your social media, which is super important right now. How can people support getting people out to vote? And how can they make sure that they're voting for the right people?

I think all of us kind of focus on the Presidential election. We've all just kind of directed our attention, that's if we vote, towards the President, and we need to continue to educate ourselves about the local issues. I think we're all waking up to the fact that on the ground locally is where the real change can and will happen. So we need to educate ourselves about who is running. We need to vet everybody; they need to be vetted by the community. The entire community needs to be aware of who we are potentially putting into an office.

If they have some ill background or some twisted views, we need to make sure we're putting the word out and let people know that they don't belong in a space of leadership. We can't have people who are going to protect those causing injustice. So education is the biggest thing. I think if we get into a practice of doing it, it will become less and less overwhelming. It'll just become a commonality.

We need to continue to educate ourselves about those local officials and be activists. Get out there and make sure you are using your voice. And make sure we're educating the younger folk who are coming up, who aren't of voting age, so they're learning the importance of voting at a younger age [and] how their voice is important. And their research and educating themselves is important when it comes to selecting those that we choose to put in power.

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

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

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

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

GRAMMYs/Feb 20, 2024 - 06:37 pm

A chance meeting changed Rihanna's life.

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

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

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

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

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

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

A New Island Girl In Town

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

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

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

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

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

An Icon In The Making

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Partygoer's Dream

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An Unapologetic Queen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An In-Demand Collaborator

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An Artist Fully Realized

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

24 Songs Turning 20: Listen To 2004's Bangers, From "Yeah!" To "Since U Been Gone"
(L-R) Lil Jon, Usher, and Ludacris perform at Madison Square Garden in 2004.

Photo: Frank Micelotta/Getty Images

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24 Songs Turning 20: Listen To 2004's Bangers, From "Yeah!" To "Since U Been Gone"

Ready to feel old? Put on this playlist of hits that made 2004 a year of belt-along jams and unforgettable hooks, including Daddy Yankee's "Gasolina" and Ashlee Simpson's "Pieces Of Me."

GRAMMYs/Jan 8, 2024 - 04:20 pm

A quick Google search of "top 2004 songs" can be summarized simply: What a time to be alive.

While it was arguably the year of Usher — who scored four Billboard Hot 100 chart-toppers in 2004, including the year's biggest song, the Lil Jon- and Ludacris-assisted "Yeah!" — there were countless hits that have aged impeccably. Even 20 years later, there isn't a dance floor or karaoke bar that wouldn't go wild for J-Kwon's "Tipsy" or Kelly Clarkson's "Since U Been Gone."

Whether you were jamming to them on your iPod Mini or ripping them off of Limewire, revisit 24 tracks that made an impact — and still serve up the vibes 20 years later.

Listen on Spotify, Amazon Music, or Apple Music below.

Living Legends: Chicago's Robert Lamm On Songwriting and Longevity
Robert Lamm (center front) with Chicago.

Photo:Joshua Helms/ Gallery Films

interview

Living Legends: Chicago's Robert Lamm On Songwriting and Longevity

Following decades of hits and holiday cheer, Robert Lamm discusses Chicago's evolution and their festive new Christmas album featuring Dolly Parton.

GRAMMYs/Dec 18, 2023 - 04:51 pm

As one of the longest-running and biggest selling bands in music history, GRAMMY-winners Chicago have staked a claim as the ultimate “rock band with horns” since their debut album was released over a half-century ago.

Since those early days and throughout a run of instantly-recognizable songs from “25 or 6 to 4” to “You’re the Inspiration” and “If You Leave Me Now” (which won the GRAMMY for Best Pop Vocal Performance By A Duo, Group Or Chorus at the 19th Annual Awards Ceremony), vocalist and songwriter Robert Lamm has remained an unchanging frontman in an ever-changing lineup.

It’s an ongoing legacy that continues this holiday season with their latest album Greatest Christmas Hits which extrapolates Lamm and company’s penchant for recording seasonal tunes accented by their unique sound, a creative kick that began in 1998 with Chicago XXV: The Christmas Album.

Along with holiday hallmarks like “Winter Wonderland,” the new album also features guest artists like Dolly Parton who joins in with the band on the Paul McCartney staple "Wonderful Christmas Time.”

Lamm spoke to GRAMMY.com about their long legacy, songwriting and choosing the right seasonal songs to give their personal spin.

You and the band recently performed on the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. Would that rank up there as one of the more unique places you've performed?

Well, there was a circus venue in Paris, and it was a very fancy night for some reason. I guess Chicago had made an impression in Paris, so one day they called us to play in a big top [tent] there. It was quite beautiful and strange.

Do unique spaces make performing more fun, or are you 'on guard' because you're out of your element?

Actually, it wasn't upsetting or scary or anything like that. It was curious, but then we got down to business.

I think the tendency is to group all of your songs together. As a result, a chronology is lost on people. They forget that "Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is" was the first song you recorded for your debut album. Did that feel like being the first batter of a baseball game scoring a home run?

Well, thank you. Yes, I feel that way. In the early days when we were first recording, a lot of the songs were songs that I had written, and I had no idea what was going to happen with them. We did have a great producer in James William Guercio and most of us had not ever been in a recording studio, so that was the most nervous thing for everybody. It was in a seriously good studio in New York and he had to show us where to stand and what instruments should be put here and there. So it was that kind of thing, all very new.

It was almost like the songs were secondary to figuring out how to do this and record. So thankfully it turned out fine. A number of songs from that first album became popular and for a recent performance, we brought out a lot of songs which were on that first album; we never played most of them for most of our career. We pulled them out to examine them; songs that were very strange rock songs.

When you look back at your peers from the early days, not too many are still touring or recording.

Or still alive.

That must give you a unique perspective on music, success and the industry?

I think we feel mostly very lucky. Obviously 55 years into a career where we really never stopped, the thing that changed was the various people who have come into the band and left for one reason or another. 

That was always something we had to figure out how to do, for someone to come in and be a drummer, bass player or singer even. Being open to learning the repertoire, which obviously throughout every year got larger and larger and larger. That was something we had to learn how to do again. We've done a lot of learning over the years [Laughs].

I know you have lectured at NYU and Stanford University about songwriting. Is there one big lesson you'd give to aspiring songwriters?

Wow, I'm making this up now as we speak, but I think that you have to believe in what you're writing. You have to like it, or love it. I've always tried to not repeat myself ever in writing songs, whether it's the lyrics or the musical structure. 

I have always said, "Don't repeat what you're doing." I've always thought that writing a song is like learning something completely different than I've ever done. Writing the song, I've learned something. It might be a small thing, or it might be a big thing. 

I love writing songs. I didn't know I was going to be a songwriter, I was just a guy in a rock band. For a long time I thought that's what I was. But I'm a songwriter.

So as a songwriter, what are you looking for when you choose to cover a Christmas song? There are millions to choose from, as evidence in your new Greatest Christmas Hits album.

There are millions of bad Christmas songs [Laughs]. I have to like it, the guys in the band have to like it. Like when we did "The Christmas Song," Mel Torme's composition, which is a great song and he's a great musician. But I was living in New York at the time when we had decided to do the first Chrisrtmas album. It's not that we wanted to disguise these songs as something else because these songs are legitimate, popular songs done by many, many people. What we had going for us as a band is that we have a sound. We have a way of arranging things that is us, so the combination of a good song and the arrangement by Chicago, that's the deal.

When it comes to the new Christmas album, the bulk of the songs are remastered. What's the remastering process like for an artist?

As recording technology has blossomed in the digital age, in the beginning it was a little tedious. Between the actual digital equipment on the one hand but also the playback equipment was very different. So the guys who do that for a living are extremely creative and extremely top-drawer. There's a lot of bad recording out there and there always has been.

This Christmas album is one of the only albums you released that isn't numbered. Where did the idea come from to start, and continue numbering?

I have to give credit to our original producer, James William Guercio, who produced probably among the greatest Chicago albums. He suggested, "Let's not get caught up in tricky, phony titles for the albums." So by and large we stayed with the numbering because we want to have people considering collecting the albums, like other collectors of music. We wanted to have it be somewhat more respectable.

What about your inspiration for a song like "Saturday in the Park," which lays out scenes in a park like a little musical? 

We were in New York when I think we were recording our third album. It was summer and those were the days when Central Park was open on the weekends to the public and I think that was a fairly new development in the city. 

Because we were in New York, I always in those days carried around a Beaulieu Super 8 camera just for the hell of it. I shot a lot of footage of what I was seeing and what I was experiencing on that particular day: the park being open like that and people really enjoying the park experience in Manhattan, which is still really great. I was trying to capture that and when I finally got home and looked at the film, I just described what I was looking at to write the lyrics.

What about writing a lyric like "Saturday in the park, I think it was the Fourth of July." Including "I think" adds a deeper layer to it, because you could have just as easily said that it was the Fourth of July.

Well, yeah. And that's because I actually had two consecutive years where I was filming the park. So it was either the Fourth of July, or it may have been the fifth of July the following year. And I also just liked it lyrically, whether it was accurate or not.

Going back to your debut, it was released in 1970. Does it feel like that was a fortuitous time to come onto the scene? If you came out in the mid-60s, maybe it wouldn't have been received at the time because the industry was dealing with the effect of the Beatles. But if you came out in the mid-70s, you would have gotten lost in disco.

Yeah, we would have been lost in the shuffle in the mid-70s and we virtually were by the end of the 70s. We really had to figure out how to survive. We wanted to keep recording, but it was tricky.

Was there a pressure to have a more disco sound?

For a minute, yeah; for as long as disco lasted. We actually came in during the later end of that trend and it was futile. It was awful. We've done other recordings without trying to be disco or thought of as disco. We had done subsequent recordings for subsequent albums that would have qualified but we were past it, and so was everybody else.

Is there a song in your entire discography that you thought should be a bigger hit?

Well, yeah. As the songwriter or the arranger or even the vocalist or instrumentalist of any particular song, there's a lot of them. They're my babies and I'd like people to be introduced to the babies they have never heard before. 

So, is there a song you'd tell people to stream right now?

I can't answer that, there's just too many. I haven't had enough coffee [Laughs.]

5 Ways Peter Gabriel's 'i/o' Furthers And Cements His Legacy

20 Iconic Hip-Hop Style Moments: From Run-D.M.C. To Runways
LL Cool J

Credit: Paul Natkin/Getty Images

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20 Iconic Hip-Hop Style Moments: From Run-D.M.C. To Runways

From Dapper Dan's iconic '80s creations to Kendrick Lamar's 2023 runway performance, hip-hop's influence and impact on style and fashion is undeniable. In honor of hip-hop's 50th anniversary, look back at the culture's enduring effect on fashion.

GRAMMYs/Nov 29, 2023 - 03:01 pm

In the world of hip-hop, fashion is more than just clothing. It's a powerful means of self-expression, a cultural statement, and a reflection of the ever-evolving nature of the culture.

Since its origin in 1973, hip-hop has been synonymous with style —  but the epochal music category known for breakbeats and lyrical flex also elevated, impacted, and revolutionized global fashion in a way no other genre ever has.   

Real hip-hop heads know this. Before Cardi B was gracing the Met Gala in Mugler and award show red carpets in custom Schiaparelli, Dapper Dan was disassembling garment bags in his Harlem studio in the 1980s, tailoring legendary looks for rappers that would appear on famous album cover art. Crescendo moments like Kendrick Lamar’s performance at the Louis Vuitton Men’s Spring-Summer 2023 runway show in Paris in June 2022 didn’t happen without a storied trajectory toward the runway.

Big fashion moments in hip-hop have always captured the camera flash, but finding space to tell the bigger story of hip-hop’s connection and influence on fashion has not been without struggle. Journalist and author Sowmya Krishnamurphy said plenty of publishers passed on her anthology on the subject, Fashion Killa: How Hip-Hop Revolutionized High Fashion, and "the idea of hip hop fashion warranting 80,000 words." 

"They didn't think it was big enough or culturally important," Krishnamurphy tells GRAMMY.com, "and of course, when I tell people that usually, the reaction is they're shocked."

Yet, at the 50 year anniversary, sands continue to shift swiftly. Last year exhibitions like the Fashion Institute of Technology’s Fresh, Fly, and Fabulous: Fifty Years of Hip-Hop Style popped up alongside notable publishing releases including journalist Vikki Tobak’s, Ice Cold. A Hip-Hop Jewelry Story. Tabak’s second published release covering hip-hop’s influence on style, following her 2018 title, Contact High: A Visual History of Hip-Hop.

"I wanted to go deeper into the history," Krishnamurphy continues. "The psychology, the sociology, all of these important factors that played a role in the rise of hip-hop and the rise of hip-hop fashion"

What do the next 50 years look like? "I would love to see a hip-hop brand, whether it be from an artist, a designer, creative director, somebody from the hip-hop space, become that next great American heritage brand," said Krishnamurphy.

In order to look forward we have to look back. In celebration of hip-hop’s 50 year legacy, GRAMMY.com examines iconic moments that have defined and inspired generations. From Tupac walking the runways at Versace to Gucci's inception-esque knockoff of Dapper Dan, these moments in hip-hop fashion showcase how artists have used clothing, jewelry, accessories, and personal style to shape the culture and leave an indelible mark on the world.

*The cover art to Eric B and Rakim’s* Paid in Full

Dapper Dan And Logomania: Luxury + High Fashion Streetwear

Dapper Dan, the legendary designer known as "the king of knock-offs," played a pivotal role in transforming luxury fashion into a symbol of empowerment and resistance for hip-hop stars, hustlers, and athletes starting in the 1980s. His Harlem boutique, famously open 24 hours a day, became a hub where high fashion collided with the grit of the streets.

Dapper Dan's customized, tailored outfits, crafted from deconstructed and transformed luxury items, often came with significantly higher price tags compared to ready-to-wear luxury fashion. A friend and favorite of artists like LL Cool J and Notorious B.I.G., Dapper Dan created iconic one-of-a-kind looks seen on artists like Eric B and Rakim’s on the cover of their Paid in Full album.

This fusion, marked by custom pieces emblazoned with designer logos, continues to influence hip-hop high fashion streetwear. His story — which began with endless raids by luxury houses like Fendi, who claimed copyright infringement — would come full circle with brands like Gucci later paying homage to his legacy.

Athleisure Takes Over

Hip-hop's intersection with sportswear gave rise to the "athleisure" trend in the 1980s and '90s, making tracksuits, sweatshirts, and sneakers everyday attire. This transformation was propelled by iconic figures such as Run-D.M.C. and their association with Adidas, as seen in photoshoots and music videos for tracks like "My Adidas."

*LL Cool J. Photo: Paul Natkin/Getty Images*

LL Cool J’s Kangol Hat

The Kangol hat holds a prominent place in hip-hop fashion, often associated with the genre's early days in the '80s and '90s. This popular headwear became a symbol of casual coolness, popularized by hip-hop pioneers like LL Cool J and Run-D.M.C. The simple, round shape and the Kangaroo logo on the front became instantly recognizable, making the Kangol an essential accessory that was synonymous with a laid-back, streetwise style.

*Dr. Dre, comedian T.K. Kirkland, Eazy-E, and Too Short in 1989. Photo: Raymond Boyd/Getty Images*

N.W.A & Sports Team Representation

Hip-hop, and notably N.W.A., played a significant role in popularizing sports team representation in fashion. The Los Angeles Raiders' gear became synonymous with West Coast hip-hop thanks to its association with the group's members Dr. Dre, Eazy-E, and Ice Cube, as well as MC Ren.

 *Slick Rick in 1991. Photo: Al Pereira/Getty Images/Michael Ochs Archives*

Slick Rick’s Rings & Gold Chains

Slick Rick "The Ruler" has made a lasting impact on hip-hop jewelry and fashion with his kingly display of jewelry and wealth. His trendsetting signature look — a fistful of gold rings and a neck heavily layered with an array of opulent chains — exuded a sense of grandeur and self-confidence. Slick Rick's bold and flamboyant approach to jewelry and fashion remains a defining element of hip-hop's sartorial history, well documented in Tobak's Ice Cold.

Tupac Walks The Versace Runway Show

Tupac Shakur's runway appearance at the 1996 Versace runway show was a remarkable and unexpected moment in fashion history. The show was part of Milan Fashion Week, and Versace was known for pushing boundaries and embracing popular culture in their designs. In Fashion Killa, Krishnamurpy documents Shakur's introduction to Gianni Versace and his participation in the 1996 Milan runway show, where he walked arm-in-arm with Kadida Jones.

*TLC. Photo: Tim Roney/Getty Images*

Women Embrace Oversized Styles

Oversized styles during the 1990s were not limited to menswear; many women in hip-hop during this time adopted a "tomboy" aesthetic. This trend was exemplified by artists like Aaliyah’s predilection for crop tops paired with oversized pants and outerwear (and iconic outfits like her well-remembered Tommy Hilfiger look.)

Many other female artists donned oversized, menswear-inspired looks, including TLC and their known love for matching outfits featuring baggy overalls, denim, and peeking boxer shorts and Missy Elliott's famous "trash bag" suit worn in her 1997 music video for "The Rain." Speaking to Elle Magazine two decades after the original video release Elliot told the magazine that it was a powerful symbol that helped mask her shyness, "I loved the idea of feeling like a hip hop Michelin woman."

Diddy Launches Sean John

Sean "Diddy" Combs’ launch of Sean John in 1998 was about more than just clothing. Following the success of other successful sportswear brands by music industry legends like Russell Simmons’ Phat Farm, Sean John further represented a lifestyle and a cultural movement. Inspired by his own fashion sensibilities, Diddy wanted to create elevated clothing that reflected the style and swagger of hip-hop. From tailored suits to sportswear, the brand was known for its bold designs and signature logo, and shared space with other successful brands like Jay-Z’s Rocawear and model Kimora Lee Simmons' brand Baby Phat.

 *Lil' Kim. Photo: Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images*

Lil’ Kim Steals The Show

Lil' Kim’s daring and iconic styles found a kindred home at Versace with

In 1999, Lil' Kim made waves at the MTV Video Music Awards with her unforgettable appearance in a lavender jumpsuit designed by Donatella Versace. This iconic moment solidified her close relationship with the fashion designer, and their collaboration played a pivotal role in reshaping the landscape of hip-hop fashion, pushing boundaries and embracing bold, daring styles predating other newsworthy moments like J.Lo’s 2000 appearance in "The Dress" at the GRAMMY Awards.

Lil Wayne Popularizes "Bling Bling"

Juvenile & Lil Wayne's "Bling Bling" marked a culturally significant moment. Coined in the late 1990s by Cash Money Records, the term "bling bling" became synonymous with the excessive and flashy display of luxury jewelry. Lil Wayne and the wider Cash Money roster celebrated this opulent aesthetic, solidifying the link between hip-hop music and lavish jewelry. As a result, "bling" became a cornerstone of hip-hop's visual identity.

Jay-Z x Nike Air Force 1

In 2004, Jay-Z's partnership with Nike produced the iconic "Roc-A-Fella" Air Force 1 sneakers, a significant collaboration that helped bridge the worlds of hip-hop and sneaker culture. These limited-edition kicks in white and blue colorways featured the Roc-A-Fella Records logo on the heel and were highly coveted by fans. The collaboration exemplified how hip-hop artists could have a profound impact on sneaker culture and streetwear by putting a unique spin on classic designs. Hova's design lives on in limitless references to fresh white Nike kicks.

Daft Punk and Pharrell Williams. Photo: Mark Davis/WireImage

Pharrell Williams' Hat At The 2014 GRAMMYs

Pharrell Williams made a memorable red carpet appearance at the 2014 GRAMMY Awards in a distinctive and oversized brown hat. Designed by Vivienne Westwood, the hat quickly became the talk of the event and social media. A perfect blend of sartorial daring, Pharrell's hat complemented his red Adidas track jacket while accentuating his unique sense of style. An instant fashion moment, the look sparked innumerable memes and, likely, a renewed interest in headwear.

Kanye’s Rise & Fall At Adidas (2013-2022)

Much more than a "moment," the rise and eventual fall of Kanye’s relationship with Adidas, was as documented in a recent investigation by the New York Times. The story begins in 2013 when West and the German sportswear brand agreed to enter a partnership. The collaboration would sell billions of dollars worth of shoes, known as "Yeezys," until West’s anti-semitic, misogynistic, fat-phobic, and other problematic public comments forced the Adidas brand to break from the partnership amid public outrage.

Supreme Drops x Hip-Hop Greats

Supreme, with its limited drops, bold designs, and collaborations with artists like Nas and Wu-Tang Clan, stands as a modern embodiment of hip-hop's influence on streetwear. The brand's ability to create hype, long lines outside its stores, and exclusive artist partnerships underscores the enduring synergy between hip-hop and street fashion.

*A model walks the runway at the Gucci Cruise 2018 show. Photo: Pietro D'Aprano/Getty Images*

Gucci Pays "homage" to Dapper Dan

When Gucci released a collection in 2017 that seemingly copied Dapper Dan's distinctive style, (particularly one look that seemed to be a direct re-make of a jacket he had created for Olympian Dionne Dixon in the '80s), it triggered outrage and accusations of cultural theft. This incident sparked a conversation about the fashion industry's tendency to co-opt urban and streetwear styles without proper recognition, while also displaying flagrant symbols of racism through designs.

Eventually, spurred by public outrage, the controversy led to a collaboration between Gucci and Dapper Dan, a significant moment in luxury fashion's acknowledgement and celebration of the contributions of Black culture, including streetwear and hip-hop to high fashion. "Had Twitter not spotted the, "Diane Dixon" [jacket] walking down the Gucci runway and then amplified that conversation on social media... I don't think we would have had this incredible comeback," Sowmya Krishnamurphy says.

A$AP Rocky x DIOR

Self-proclaimed "Fashion Killa" A$AP Rocky is a true fashion aficionado. In 2016, the sartorially obsessed musician and rapper became one of the faces of Dior Homme’s fall/winter campaign shot by photographer Willy Vanderperre — an early example of Rocky's many high fashion collaborations with the luxury European brand.

A$AP Rocky's tailored style and impeccable taste for high fashion labels was eloquently enumerated in the track "Fashion Killa" from his 2013 debut album Long. Live. ASAP, which namedrops some 36 luxury fashion brands. The music video for "Fashion Killa" was co-directed by Virgil Abloh featuring a Supreme jersey-clad Fenty founder, Rihanna long before the two became one of music’s most powerful couples. The track became an anthem for hip-hop’s appreciation for high fashion (and serves as the title for Krishnamurphy’s recently published anthology). 

*Cardi B. Photo: Steve Granitz/WireImage*

Cardi B Wears Vintage Mugler At The 2019 GRAMMYs

Cardi B has solidified her "it girl" fashion status in 2018 and 2019 with bold and captivating style choices and designer collaborations that consistently turn heads. Her 2019 GRAMMYs red carpet appearance in exaggerated vintage Mugler gown, and many custom couture Met Gala looks by designers including Jeremy Scott and Thom Browne that showcased her penchant for drama and extravagance.

But Cardi B's fashion influence extends beyond her penchant for custom high-end designer pieces (like her 2021 gold-masked Schiaparelli look, one of nine looks in an evening.) Her unique ability to blend couture glamour with urban chic (she's known for championing emerging designers and streetwear brands) fosters a sense of inclusivity and diversity, and makes her a true trendsetter.

Beyoncé & Jay-Z in Tiffany & Co.’s "About Love" campaign

The power duo graced Tiffany & Co.'s "About Love'' campaign in 2021, showcasing the iconic "Tiffany Yellow Diamond," a 128.54-carat yellow worn by Beyoncé alongside a tuxedo-clad Jay-Z. The campaign sparked controversy in several ways, with some viewers unable to reconcile the use of such a prominent and historically significant diamond, sourced at the hands of slavery, in a campaign that could be seen as commercializing and diluting the diamond's cultural and historical importance. Despite mixed reaction to the campaign, their stunning appearance celebrated love, adorned with Tiffany jewels and reinforced their status as a power couple in both music and fashion.

Kendrick Lamar Performs At Louis Vuitton

When Kendrick Lamar performed live at the Louis Vuitton Men’s spring-summer 2023 runway show in Paris in June 2022 following the passing of Louis Vuitton’s beloved creative director Virgil Abloh, he underscored the inextricable connection between music, fashion and Black American culture.


Lamar sat front row next to Naomi Campbell, adorned with a jeweled crown of thorns made from diamonds and white gold worth over $2 million, while he performed tracks including "Savior," "N95," and "Rich Spirit'' from his last album, Mr. Morale and the Big Steppers before ending with a repeated mantra, "Long live Virgil." A giant children’s toy racetrack erected in the Cour Carrée of the Louvre became a yellow brick road where models marched, clad in designer looks with bold, streetwear-inspired design details, some strapped with oversized wearable stereo systems.

Pharrell Succeeds Virgil Abloh At Louis Vuitton

Pharrell Williams' appointment as the creative director at Louis Vuitton for their men's wear division in 2023 emphasized hip-hop's enduring influence on global fashion. Pharrell succeeded Virgil Abloh, who was the first Black American to hold the position.

Pharrell's path to this prestigious role, marked by his 2004 and 2008 collaborations with Louis Vuitton, as well as the founding of his streetwear label Billionaire Boy’s Club in 2006 alongside Nigo, the founder of BAPE and Kenzo's current artistic director, highlights the growing diversity and acknowledgment of Black talent within high fashion.

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