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Songbook: How Jay-Z Created The 'Blueprint' For Rap's Greatest Of All Time
(L-R): Jay-Z in 2011, 2003, 1999 and 2021.

Photos (L-R): Ethan Miller/WireImage, James Devaney/WireImage, Jeff Goode/Toronto Star via Getty Images, Kevin Kane/Getty Images for The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

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Songbook: How Jay-Z Created The 'Blueprint' For Rap's Greatest Of All Time

From groundbreaking albums to star-studded collaborations, Jay-Z's discography has made the rap mogul one of the genre's biggest icons.

GRAMMYs/Jun 22, 2023 - 03:38 pm

As Jay-Z declared in 2001's "Breathe Easy," few rappers stack up when it comes to his flow, consistency, stories, charisma, and trendsetting powers — and he's backed up his claims for three decades on.

The Brooklyn rapper has cranked out chart-topping hits and street anthems across classic albums like The Blueprint and The Black Album, and he's inspired generations of rappers to take on his pen-free approach to music. But long before becoming a hip-hop icon, the young Shawn Carter first honed his musical gifts by rapping over a boombox in his childhood home in Bed-Stuy's Marcy Projects.

Nicknamed "Jazzy" for his love of music, Jay-Z split his time between exploring his newfound passion and dealing crack cocaine as a teenager. After linking with childhood friend and then-mentor Jaz-O, he adopted the moniker "Jay-Z" in the late 1980s, and eventually captivated hip-hop fans on the posse cut "Show and Prove" from Big Daddy Kane's 1994 album Daddy's Home. That moment led to the eventual release of his own single, 1995's "In My Lifetime," and the years that followed served as the coronation of one of rap's biggest stars.

After being rejected from major record labels, Jay linked with fellow New Yorkers Damon "Dame" Dash and Kareem "Biggs" Burke to establish Roc-A-Fella Records in 1996. He soon went from being an up-and-coming artist selling burned CDs out of his car to producing multi-platinum singles and No. 1 albums. 

His greatness has earned him 24 GRAMMYs to date — tied with Kanye West for the most of any rapper — and a spot in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. And with a billion-dollar business empire to match his acclaimed discography, Jay-Z has long been declared one of the greatest MCs ever. 

As he continues his rap reign, revisit some of Hov's most illustrious career moments, from memorable performances to groundbreaking album releases and legacy-defining accolades. 

Listen to GRAMMY.com's official Songbook: An Essential Guide To Jay-Z playlist on Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon Music, and Pandora. Playlist powered by GRAMMY U.

THE RISE

"Hawaiian Sophie" (1989)

A fresh-faced, hi-top faded Jay made one of his earliest appearances on wax with "Hawaiian Sophie." The 1989 record was a modest and playful hit by childhood friend Jaz-O, who let Jay contribute a few lines on the island-themed track.

Though Jay's presence was minor, he put a face to a relatively unknown name by popping up throughout the song's luau-style video. Years later, he gained the attention of legendary Brooklyn rapper Big Daddy Kane, who brought Jay on as a hype man before he broke out as a solo act and formed a more calculated, sharp-tongued lyrical style. 

Reasonable Doubt (1996)

Taking inspiration from classic films like The Godfather and Goodfellas, Jay-Z showcased his lyrical potency and storytelling ability on his critically acclaimed debut, Reasonable Doubt, in mafioso fashion. The album was the manifesto of a 26-year-old street hustler, who looked to shed the deadly perils of the drug underworld to bask in the caviar and champagne lifestyle.

He shifted from the colorful, bombastic rap style of his early career to a snappier and grounded delivery on "Coming of Age," and the Biggie Smalls-assisted "Brooklyn's Finest," while still offering a slice of mainstream appeal on "Ain't No N—" featuring Foxy Brown. Legendary producers DJ Premier ("Fried or Foe"), DJ Clark Kent ("Cashmere Thoughts"), and Ski ("Dead Presidents II") helped lay the canvas for Jay-Z to illustrate his past experiences and impending accolades and riches. 

The album was among his best releases in the '90s, and helped establish his foothold in the industry through the new millennium. While Reasonable Doubt didn't reach platinum status until six years after its 1996 release, the project elevated Jay's profile as an emerging MC with a penchant for vivid street tales and mainstream edge. 

Vol. 2... Hard Knock Life (1998)

Jay-Z's third album is possibly the most impactful in his career. Not only did it notch his first GRAMMY (for Best Rap Album at the 1999 GRAMMYs), but it remains his best-selling album with more than 5 million copies sold. It also started an 11-album streak of No. 1 releases.

The project was a medley of pop-oriented singles such as "Can I Get A…" and club records like the piano-laced hit "Money, Cash, Hoes." It also offered street classics like "Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem)," which showcased his musical versatility and mainstream appeal. 

Aside from the Stevie J-produced "Ride Or Die," Jay veered away from the Bad Boy production style of Vol. 2's predecessor, In My Lifetime, Vol. 1. He enlisted Ruff Ryders producer Swizz Beatz for "Coming of Age (Da Sequel)," and producers Timbaland, Jermaine Dupri, Irv Gotti, and Kid Capri were also tapped for the project, creating a lush palette of club bangers and records indicative of the shiny-suit era of late '90s hip-hop. 

THE ANTHEMS

"Imaginary Players" (1997)

If it wasn't for Hov, rappers may still be drinking beer over champagne, rocking silver charms over platinum, and driving Range Rover 4.0 SEs instead of 4.6 HSEs. Not only did Jay shift the motor and champagne industry with his second album, but he altered the rap game, too. And "Imaginary Players" was proof.

The In My Life, Vol. 1 cut was a collective side-eye to frauds masked as street hustlers, and signaled Jay-Z's early trendsetting powers. The song didn't graze the Billboard charts as high as singles "Who You Wit," "The City Is Mine" and "(Always Be My) Sunshine," but it grew into a street anthem and blueprint for the real go-getters to shine among the fakes. 

"Big Pimpin'" (1999)

For years, "Big Pimpin'" was the ultimate summer anthem. The single from Vol 3… Life and Times of S. Carter showcased Jay's ability to produce hit records with artists from other regions. It also laid the ground for future collaborations between Jay-Z and Timbaland, who went on to produce tracks like "Dirt Off Your Shoulder," "The Bounce," "Tom Ford," and others.

Music aside, the song's video is reflective of the flashy, big-budget era of the late 1990s and early 2000s. Shot during the Trinidad and Tobago Carnival, the video's yacht views, sand-filled beaches, and cigar smoke complimented the song's tropical sound and inspired listeners to wrap themselves in linen garments, kick back and enjoy the Caribbean breeze. 

The Blueprint (2001)

Regarded as the best album in his catalog, 2001's The Blueprint encapsulated all of the elements that made Jay-Z a lyrical titan and fixture in music. Between the boundless braggadocio on "The Rules Back," the tales of chaotic romance on "Girls. Girls, Girls," and a snapshot of his uprising on "Blueprint ("Momma Loves Me"), the album captured it all.

While "The Takeover" sparked one of the era's most contentious rap beefs, and forced Queens rapper Nas to snap back with a poignant blow of his own in "Ether," the album was riddled with some of Jay's biggest records during the 2000s. Street anthems like "Izzo (H.O.V.A.)" had rap fans of all ages spelling out the song's title, and soul-stirring album cuts like "Song Cry" had listeners barely holding onto their tears. 

The Black Album (2003)

Jay's eighth studio effort was pegged as the final one by the Brooklyn MC. And while he eventually returned for Kingdom Come three years later, 2003's The Black Album would've been the perfect end to an already historic rap career.

On "December 4th," Jay kicked off the album with a call back to his origins. "They say they never really miss you 'til you dead or you gone/ So on that note I'm leaving after this song/ See you ain't got to feel no way about Jay so long/ At least let me tell you why I'm this way, hold on." 

Jay goes on to outline his successes on "What More Can I Say," then incites fans to level up their sexy on "Change Clothes." Between experimental records like the DJ Quik-produced "Justify My Thug" and the soulful "Lucifer," The Black Album is also filled with stadium-rocking anthems. 

On "99 Problems," Jay raps over zingy guitar riffs for a bold track that's reminiscent of Run DMC and Aerosmith's 1986 smash "Walk This Way." Both songs were produced by Rick Rubin, who provided the rock-induced, bare-bones beat for Hov to unleash on snarky law enforcers and uninformed rap critics. 

The Timbaland-produced "Dirt Off Your Shoulder" is a middle finger to the dream killers envious of others' success. The platinum-selling record even inspired Barack Obama to use a shoulder-brushing motion when running against then-rival Hillary Clinton during his 2008 Democratic nomination campaign. 

THE COLLABS

"Numb/Encore" (2004)

After dropping a live album with The Roots and releasing two critically panned collaborations with R. Kelly, Jay made a creative pivot with Collision Course (EP). The rapper teamed up with Linkin Park for a hip-rock project that was inspired by Danger Mouse's The Grey Album, and mashed hits like "Jigga What, Jigga Who," "Dirt Off Your Shoulder," "Big Pimpin'" and with songs from Linkin Park's Meteora and Hybrid Theory releases.

The album received mixed reviews, but the project's lone single "Numb/Encore" won Best Rap/Sung Collaboration at the 48th GRAMMY Awards and helped the EP land a No. 1 spot on the Billboard 200. 

"Empire State of Mind" (2009)

Fifteen years after Nas' "N.Y. State of Mind," Jay made his own dedication to New York City with "Empire State of Mind." The record is an ode to the city that shaped him, and the millions of other natives who, like him, hustled in various boroughs to get by (and have a closet full of New York Yankees hats).

The Alicia Keys-assisted track touched the hearts of New Yorkers everywhere, including Harlem and Brooklyn native Lil Mama, who notoriously hopped on stage with Keys and Jay during their performance at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards. The Blueprint 3 single took home two gramophones at the 53rd GRAMMY Awards for Best Rap-Sung Collaboration and Best Rap Song. 

Watch the Throne (2011)

After teaming up on classic songs like "Never Let Me Down" and "Diamonds From Sierra Leone (Remix)," Jay and Kanye West came together for a full-length project in 2011. The two rap giants combined their musical genius for Watch the Throne, an explorative and enthralling body of work filled with genre-melding hits coated with top-tier production and memorable features.

Watch the Throne was an exercise in musical cohesion and set the bar for collab projects to follow, given the commercial success and critical reception it received upon its release. Jay served as the lyrical orator, while West was the sonic architect and more animated showman. 

Between glossy trap songs like "H.A.M." and "N—s In Paris, and the pop-extravagance of "Lift Off," Jay and Kanye tell fervent tales of their ghetto origins on "Murder To Excellence," visions of their children's lives on "New Day," and give listeners soul-stirring jams like "The Joy" and "Otis." Each track was nourished from the well of Jay and Kanye's artistry, and done without either rapper leaving the other to dry. 

"Holy Grail" (2013)

The same year Jay-Z and Justin Timberlake came together for the hit "Suit & Tie," the pair delivered another smash with "Holy Grail." The song's origins began in the sessions for Watch the Throne, but Hov feared it would get lost in the shuffle — so he decided to build 2013's Magna Carta… Holy Grail around the enthralling record.

An explosive track about the allure and destruction of fame, it became the lead single for MCHG, selling over 3 million copies and winning Best Rap/Sung Collaboration at the 2014 GRAMMYs. A year after its release, Billboard placed the record at No. 25 on the publication's Top 100 Hot Rap Songs of all-time list. 

EVERYTHING IS LOVE (2018)

Prior to 2018, Jay-Z and his wife, Beyoncé, blessed fans with culture-shifting collaborations like "Crazy in Love," "03 Bonnie and Clyde," and "Drunk in Love." These songs prompted fans to call for a full-length project from the power duo, and after years of anticipation, the power couple delivered 2018's EVERYTHING IS LOVE.

The album came as a surprise to fans, with many jarred by the rumors surrounding Jay and Beyoncé's marriage following the release of Bey's searing 2016 project Lemonade (as well as Jay's honest response with 4:44 — more on that later). While the speculations and alleged drama continue to swirl online, the two stars came together for a nine-track album that gave listeners a behind-the-scenes look at life at the Carter residence. 

Announced in the middle of their second On The Run stadium tour, EVERYTHING IS LOVE celebrated the power of black love and family life while exploring unadulterated extravagance. Like their past collaborations, Beyoncé's soothing, high-powered vocals helped elevate Jay's bars and artistry. 

Together, they combined their collective powers for stories about rowdy tour stops and endless shopping sprees on "APES—" and "BOSS," and Beyoncé adorned the album with emotion-filled love ballads like "SUMMER." The couple even exchanged braggadocious rhymes about the strength of their union on "LOVEHAPPY," and the fun they have together outside the lines of celebrity on "HEARD ABOUT US" — proving they had not only weathered the storm, but came out stronger together.

THE LEGACY

4:44 (2017)

Arguably one of Jay's most complete and honest bodies of work, 4:44 is a vivid look at the artist's triumphs and failures as Shawn Carter the man. On the opening track "Kill Jay Z," he sheds his ego-fueled moniker to reveal his early upbringing in Bed-Stuy on "Marcy Me," the discovery of his mother's sexuality on "Smile" and the issues surrounding his marriage on the title track.

While the late-career album was largely viewed as a response to Beyoncé's Lemonade album,  4:44 also painted a portrait of Black America, unveiled the pathway to generational wealth on "The Story of O.J.," and the value of shared successes on "Family Feud" and "Legacy."  

The rapper veered from the commercial sound of Blueprint 3, and the gumbo of trap and luxury-soaked beats on Magna Carta… Holy Grail, to deliver deeply personal messages over No I.D.'s grounded, sample-heavy production. 

The artist hasn't released another solo project since 4:44, but if it is in fact his last album, it's certainly a stellar way to close the door on a legendary music career. The 2017 release was praised by critics and garnered three nominations at the 60th GRAMMY Awards, including Song Of The Year and Album Of The Year. 

"GOD DID" (2022)

The GRAMMY-nominated song had plenty of star power thanks to John Legend, Lil Wayne, Rick Ross, Fridayy and producer DJ Khaled — but Jay-Z's verse tilted the hip-hop world on its axis. 

On "GOD DID," Jay spit one of the best verses in his catalog. "I be speaking to the souls of men/ Those of them willing to die for the existence that this cold world has chose for them/ Kicking snow off a frozen Timb (woo)/ Back and forth on this turnpike, really took a toll on them." The MC detailed his journey across state lines to live out his street dreams, the drama and misfortunes that followed his tracks, and how he leveraged his powers to become one of the first rappers to reach billionaire status.

He encapsulated it all within a four-minute verse, closing out the track touching on his legacy — and proclaiming that he is in fact one of rap's all-time greats. "I just got a million off a sync/ Without risking a million years tryna get it out the sink (woo)/ Hov big/ They said they don't know me internationally, n—s on the road did/ I see a lot of Hov in Giggs/ Me and Meek could never beef, I freed that n—a from a whole bid/ Hov did/ Next time we have a discussion who the GOAT, you donkeys know this."

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15 Must-Hear Albums In March 2024: Beyoncé, Ariana Grande, Shakira & More
(Clockwise) Sheryl Crow, Deryck Whibley, Tierra Whack, Justin Timberlake, Schoolboy Q, Kasey Musgraves, Kim Gordon, Tyla, Beyoncé, Dua Lipa

Photos: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic; RICHARD THIGPEN; Jon Kopaloff/Getty Images for WIRED; Owen Schatz; Jason Armond/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images; KELLY CHRISTINE SUTTON; Jason Squires/FilmMagic; JASON ARMOND / LOS ANGELES TIMES VIA GETTY IMAGES; KEVIN MAZUR/GETTY IMAGES FOR THE RECORDING ACADEMY; Araya Doheny/FilmMagic

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15 Must-Hear Albums In March 2024: Beyoncé, Ariana Grande, Shakira & More

From the debuts of Tyla and rapper Tierra Whack, to a new salvo from Kim Gordon, women dominate the list of releases for March. While it may be Women's History Month, there are a few major releases from male artists, including Justin Timberlake.

GRAMMYs/Mar 1, 2024 - 04:02 pm

March is Women’s History Month, and women in music are more powerful than ever. 

The month begins with the comeback of several queens, starting with Kim Gordon’s The Collective and Ariana Grande’s Eternal Sunshine. Later, country darling Kacey Musgraves will unveil Deeper Well, and Shakira will drop the empowering Las Mujeres Ya No Lloran. Long-awaited debuts by GRAMMY-winning singer Tyla and singer/bassist Blu DeTiger will also join the lineup, with their respective Tyla and All I Ever Want Is Everything. Wrapping up March on a high note, Beyoncé will drop her highly-anticipated Act II on the 29th.

Men will release music in March as well: Expect new releases by Justin Timberlake, Bleachers, the last record from pop-punk band Sum 41, and (allegedly) Kanye West and Ty Dolla $ign’s Vultures 2.

To make the most of this prolific time, GRAMMY.com compiled all the must-hear albums dropping March 2024.

Schoolboy Q - Blue Lips

Release date: March 1

On Feb. 1, Schoolboy Q’s website was updated with a mysterious countdown and a 37-second video. In it, the rapper finally unveiled the setlist and title of his much-awaited sixth studio album, Blue Lips, as well as its release date — March 1.

Blue Lips is Q’s first full record since 2019’s Crash Talk, although he had been teasing the album since 2020. Hopefully, it was worth the wait: Blue Lips holds 18 tracks and participations by Rico Nasty, Freddie Gibbs, and more. Q has also started a new vlog series on social media called "wHy not?," where he takes the viewers behind the scenes of making the album and previews snippets of the songs.

So far, the rapper shared tracks "Blueslides," "Back n Love" with Devin Malik, "Cooties" and "Love Birds" with Devin Malik and Lance Skiiwalker, as well as lead single "Yeern 101."

Bleachers - Bleachers

Release date: March 8

Fronted by 10-time GRAMMY winner and 2024 Producer Of The Year Jack Antonoff, rock band Bleachers will release its eponymous fourth studio album on March 8.

In a press release, Bleachers is described as Antonoff’s "distinctly New Jersey take on the bizarre sensory contradictions of modern life." The self-titled record will blend sadness and joy into "music for driving on the highway to, for crying to and for dancing to at weddings."

The band shared four singles so far: lead track "Modern Girl," "Alma Mater" featuring Lana del Rey, "Tiny Moves" and "Me Before You." Through serendipitous melodies and soulful writing, Bleachers commit to "exist in crazy times but remember what counts." 

Bleachers will tour the U.K. in March and the U.S. in May and June.

Kim Gordon - The Collective

Release date: March 8

Former Sonic Youth vocalist Kim Gordon will release her sophomore LP, The Collective, on March 8. The album is a follow-up to her 2019 debut No Home Record, and furthers her collaboration with producer Justin Raisen, as well as additional producing from Anthony Paul Lopez.

"On this record, I wanted to express the absolute craziness I feel around me right now," said Gordon in a press statement. "This is a moment when nobody really knows what truth is, when facts don’t necessarily sway people, when everyone has their own side, creating a general sense of paranoia. To soothe, to dream, escape with drugs, TV shows, shopping, the internet, everything is easy, smooth, convenient, branded. It made me want to disrupt, to follow something unknown, maybe even to fail."

Back in January, the singer unveiled the album’s moody first single, "Bye Bye," and a music video starring her daughter, Coco Gordon Moore. The second single, "I’m A Man," came out in February. Gordon will play six concerts in support of The Collective, starting March 21 in Burlington, Vermont.

Ariana Grande - Eternal Sunshine

Release date: March 8

It’s been almost four years since Ariana Grande’s last studio album, 2020’s Positions. The starlet spent the past few years filming Wicked, an adaptation of the Broadway musical of the same name, and declared that she wouldn’t be releasing any new records until it was done.

The wait is finally over, as Grande announced her seventh studio album, Eternal Sunshine. The album’s first and only single, "Yes, And?," dropped in January, followed by an Instagram video of the soprano singer explaining the concept of the album to her Republic Records team. 

"It’s kind of a concept album ’cause it’s all different heightened pieces of the same story, of the same experience," she said. "Some of [the songs] are really vulnerable, some of them are like playing the part of what people kind of expect me to be sometimes and having fun with it."

"I think this one may be your favorite," Grande wrote of Eternal Sunshine on her Instagram Story. "It is mine." The 13-song collection will reportedly explore house and R&B, and will have only one feature: Grande’s grandmother, who appears on the last track, "Ordinary Things."

Kanye West and Ty Dolla $ign -Vultures 2

Release date: March 8

After a series of delays, Kanye West and Ty Dolla $ign’s first collaborative album, Vultures 1, ultimately dropped on Feb. 10, 2024. Set to be the first installment of a trilogy, the album was released independently through West’s YZY label, and debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart, with all of its 16 tracks also charting on Billboard’s Hot 100.

Billed as ¥$, the duo plans to release Vultures 2 on March 8, and follow up with Vultures 3 on April 5. Although any other info about the upcoming volumes is still unclear, Timbaland recently shared on X (formerly Twitter) that Vultures 2 is "OTW." (Timbaland produced Vultures 1’s "Keys to My Life" and "Fuk Sumn" with Playboi Carti and Travis Scott.)

In the past month, West and $ign held a few listening parties for the album in the U.S. and Europe, but additional schedules are yet to be revealed.

The Jesus and Mary Chain - Glasgow Eyes

Release date: March 8

To celebrate their 40th anniversary, alt-rock band the Jesus and Mary Chain will release their eighth studio album, Glasgow Eyes, on March 8.

As it can be seen on lead single "Jamcod," the Scottish group still runs strong on the distorted synths and electrifying guitars that shaped their sound. "People should expect a Jesus and Mary Chain record, and that’s certainly what Glasgow Eyes is," vocalist Jim Reid said in a statement. "Our creative approach is remarkably the same as it was in 1984, just hit the studio and see what happens. We went in with a bunch of songs and let it take its course. There are no rules, you just do whatever it takes."

Glasgow Eyes also mends a six-year gap since the Jesus and Mary Chain’s latest album, 2017’s Damage and Joy. To further commemorate, the band will also release an autobiography and embark on a European tour throughout March and April.

Justin Timberlake - Everything I Thought It Was

Release date: March 15

Justin Timberlake is back with his first studio album since 2018’s Man of the Woods. The new record, Everything I Thought It Was,  is spearheaded by singles "Selfish" and "Drown."

"I worked for a long time on this album, and I ended up with 100 songs. So, narrowing them down to 18 was a thing," said Timberlake in an interview with Zane Lowe on Apple Music 1. "I’m really excited about this album. I think every artist probably says this, but it is my best work." The Memphis singer also shared that there are "incredibly honest" moments in the album, but also "a lot of f—ng fun."

To celebrate his return, Timberlake announced his Forget Tomorrow World Tour. Set to kick off on April 29 in Vancouver, the tour will cross through North America and Europe until its final date on Dec. 16 in Indianapolis.

Kacey Musgraves - Deeper Well

Release date: March 15

Fresh off winning Best Country Duo/Group Performance at the 2024 GRAMMYs for the Zach Bryan duet "I Remember Everything," Kacey Musgraves announced her fifth studio album, Deeper Well..

"My Saturn has returned/ When I turned 27/ Everything started to change," she sings in the contemplative title track, exploring how she changed over the last few years. The single sets the tone for the rest of the record, which was co-produced by longtime collaborators Ian Fitchuk and Daniel Tashian

Featuring 14 tracks, Deeper Well was mostly recorded at the legendary Electric Lady studios in New York City. "I was seeking some different environmental energy, and Electric Lady has the best mojo. Great ghosts," the country star noted in a press release.

On social media, Musgraves wrote: "it’s a collection of songs I hold very dear to my heart. I hope it makes a home in all of your hearts, too." Deeper Well follows 2021’s star-crossed

Tierra Whack - World Wide Whack

Release date: March 15

When rapper Tierra Whack released her first album, 2018’s Whack World, she quickly garnered the admiration of both critics and fans. Comprising 15 one-minute tracks and music videos for each, the release was a refreshing introduction to a groundbreaking artist.

In 2024, the Philadelphia-born star is preparing to release World Wide Whack, labeled her official debut album in a press release. The cover artwork, created by Alex Da Corte, was inspired by theater character Pierrot, fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli and Donna Summer, and represents "the first reveal of the World Wide Whack character, an alter ego both untouchable and vulnerable, superhuman and painfully human, whose surprising story will unfold in images and video over the course of the album’s visual rollout."

The album follows Whack’s 2021 EP trilogy — Rap?, Pop? and R&B? — and is foreshadowed by the poignant "27 Club" and the eccentric "Shower Song."

Tyla - Tyla

Release date: March 22

After a glowing 2023 with viral hit "Water," South African newcomer Tyla started 2024 with a blast. Last month, she became the first person to win a GRAMMY for Best African Music Performance, and the youngest-ever African singer to win a GRAMMY Award at 22 years old.

Next month is poised to be even better: Tyla’s eponymous debut LP drops on March 22, featuring "Water" and other hits like  "Truth or Dare," "Butterflies" and "On and On," as well as a guest appearance by labelmate Travis Scott.

"African music is going global and I’m so blessed to be one of the artists pushing the culture," Tyla shared on Instagram. Her unique blend of amapiano, pop and R&B is making waves around the world, and the star will rightfully celebrate by touring Europe and North America throughout this spring.

Shakira - Las Mujeres Ya No Lloran

Release date: March 22

The title of Shakira’s new album, Las Mujeres Ya No Lloran, is a nod to her 2023 hit "Shakira: Bzrp Music Sessions, Vol. 53" with Argentine DJ Bizarrap. In the lyrics, she states that "las mujeres ya no lloran, las mujeres facturan" — "women don’t cry anymore, they make money."

The single is a diss to Shakira’s ex-partner, footballer Gerard Piqué, and, like the rest of the record, served as a healing experience after their separation. "Making this body of work has been an alchemical process," the Colombian star said in a statement. "While writing each song I was rebuilding myself. While singing them, my tears transformed into diamonds, and my vulnerability into strength."

Las Mujeres will feature 16 songs, including her Bizarrap collaboration and singles "Te Felicito" with Rauw Alejandro, "Copa Vacía" with Manuel Turizo, "Acróstico," "Monotonía" with Ozuna, "El Jefe" with Mexican band Fuerza Regida, and "TQG" with fellow Colombian Karol G.

Back in 2018, Sheryl Crow said that the LP Threads would be her last — fortunately, she changed her mind. "I said I’d never make another record, though there was no point to it," the singer shared in a statement about her upcoming album, Evolution. "This music comes from my soul. And I hope whoever hears this record can feel that."

According to the same statement, "Evolution is Sheryl Crow at her most authentically human self," and its music and lyrics "came from sitting in the quiet and writing from a deep soul place." 

The entire album was written in a month, starting with the title track, which expresses Crow’s anxieties about artificial intelligence and the future of humans. From then on, Crow and producer Mike Elizondo found bliss. "The songs just kept flowing out of me, four songs turned into nine and it was pretty obvious this was an album," she said.

In addition to the album's title track, Crow also shared singles "Do It Again" and "Alarm Clock."

Sum 41 - Heaven :x: Hell

Release date: March 29

After nearly three decades together, punk-metal mavericks Sum 41 are parting ways. Their final release will be a double album. Heaven :x: Hell, set to drop on March 29.

Heaven is composed of 10 pop-punk tracks reminiscent of the band’s early years, while Hell is 10 tracks of pure heavy metal, reflecting the direction they took more recently. "Once I heard the music, I was confident enough to say, ‘This is the record I’d like to go out on,'" frontman Deryck Whibley said in a statement. "We’ve made a double album of pop punk and metal, and it makes sense. It took a long time for us to pave this lane for ourselves, but we did, and it’s unique to us."

The band shared singles "Landmines," "Rise Up" and "Waiting on a Twist of Fate," and proved that they’re leaving on top of their game. "I love Sum 41, what we’ve achieved, endured, and stuck together through, which is why I want to call it quits," Whibley added. "It’s the right time to walk away from it. I’m putting all of my energy into what’s ahead."

But before embarking on new ventures, Sum 41 will spend the rest of the year touring throughout Asia, North America, and Europe.

Blu DeTiger - All I Ever Want Is Everything

Release date: March 29

At only 26 years old, Blu DeTiger has already toured with Caroline Polachek, played bass for Jack Antonoff’s band Bleachers, collaborated with Fender to launch a new line of bass guitars, and appeared on the 2023 Forbes 30 Under 30’s music list.

Now, she prepares to release her debut studio album, All I Ever Want Is Everything. "This album is about growing and becoming, settling into yourself and learning to love where you’re at through it all. It’s about learning how to be your own best friend," the bassist and singer wrote on Instagram.

"Dangerous Game," the lead single off the album, showcases DeTiger’s effervescent energy and potential for pop stardom. Starting April, she will also headline a U.S. tour across Boston, Washington D.C., New York, Toronto, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego.

Beyoncé - Act II

Release date: March 29

What better event to announce a new album than the most-watched TV program ever? That’s what Beyoncé did during Super Bowl LVIII, on Feb. 11. At the end of a Verizon commercial, the singer declared "Okay, they ready. Drop the new music," while simultaneously releasing Act II’s lead singles, "16 Carriages" and "Texas Hold 'Em," on social media and streaming platforms.

Coming out March 29, Act II is the second part of Beyoncé’s ongoing trilogy, which was written and recorded during the COVID-19 pandemic. The album is preceded by 2022’s acclaimed Act I: Renaissance, but instead of house and disco, the singer will reportedly take a deep dive into country music.

This isn’t Queen Bey’s first foray into the genre — in 2016, she released Lemonade’s "Daddy Lessons," and her 2021 IVY PARK Rodeo collection was inspired by "the overlooked history of the American Black cowboy," as she told Harper’s Bazaar. It was just a question of time for Beyoncé to enter her country era, and it is finally upon us.

17 Love Songs That Have Won GRAMMYs: "I Will Always Love You," "Drunk In Love" & More

How Beyoncé Is Honoring Black Music History With "Texas Hold Em," 'Renaissance' & More
Beyoncé performs during the RENAISSANCE World Tour in Inglewood, California.

Photo: Kevin Mazur/WireImage for Parkwood/GettyImages

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How Beyoncé Is Honoring Black Music History With "Texas Hold Em," 'Renaissance' & More

From ventures into country and dance music, Bey's drive for creativity is an exercise in freedom.

GRAMMYs/Feb 28, 2024 - 02:18 pm

The most powerful thing for a Black woman to be is free; to embrace freedom of expression, freedom of agency and freedom of autonomy. In all aspects and areas of our lives, Black women strive to be free. 

In the Black American consciousness, freedom takes on a political nature. But the ways in which we reach our freedom, individually and collectively, are complex and nuanced. Take Beyoncé for example: To the average African American, she is free; her billionaire status frees her from participation in a capitalist state plagued by classism, sexism, and racism.

Yet an individual actor (regardless of star status or income bracket) cannot free themselves from the system at large. And one of the few spaces where people who live on the margins can find a freedom similar to that of a 32-time GRAMMY winning icon is on the dancefloor.

Dance has always been a source of liberation for Black people, where "...shakes of the head, bending of the spinal column, throwing of the whole body backward may be deciphered as in an open book the huge effort of a community to exorcise itself, to liberate itself, to explain itself," philosopher Frantz Fanon wrote in The Wretched of the Earth. In a scene from Renaissance: A Film by Beyoncé, the singer shares a similar sentiment: "This tour…I feel liberated. I have transitioned into a new animal."

This is not Beyoncé’s first attempt at liberation, but it may be her most vocal. Her journey first began in 2013 with the release of Beyoncé, followed by 2016’s Lemonade, and continued on 2022’s Renaissance. Throughout these three albums, she has made declarative statements about her role in 21st century pop culture feminism, reveled in the exploration of Black Southern womanhood identity, and blended these intersecting identities to form a new being. 

It’s poetic how Beyoncé uses music to define herself. In lieu of speaking directly to the press, she has used the vehicle of pop culture to communicate her needs, desires, as well as her understanding of the world. The strategy has proven successful: Through her groundbreaking and popular works, Beyoncé has dominated much media for the past decade. She knows that whoever controls the media, controls the mind. 

Her last two albums have consciously explored genres created by Black artists, whose contributions had disappeared from the narrative. In the media frenzy that inevitably follows Bey's releases, the icon put this history — as well as contemporary artists — back on the global consciousness. 

When Renaissance dropped, the artistry and voices of Big Freedia, Grace Jones, Honey Dijon, Moi Renee, and TS Madison were heard across the world. However, their presence was more than a simple collaboration or feature."This a reminder," Beyoncé says on "Cozy," the album’s second track. 

The album — an auditory homage to the house music her late uncle Johnny loved — introduced audiences to the above artists, all of whom have made their own impacts on dance music. But it also educated listeners about the Black trans and queer underground dance scenes that birthed dance music and culture. In "chocolate cities," such as Baltimore, Chicago, Detroit, dance music was liberation music. Renaissance is and continues to be a call for liberation.

Read more: Obsessed With Beyoncé's 'Renaissance'? Keep The Dance Party Going With Albums From Frankie Knuckles, Big Freedia & More

But liberation becomes confusing when it is Southern. Although the South has a long history of Black liberation — extending as far back as maroon communities to the freedom rides movement to protests against police training facilities in Atlanta — it still is associated with enslavement in the African American mind. 

Country music, a genre with roots in the musical styling and traditions of Black people in Appalachia and the South, becomes whitewashed over time. This erasure, amplified through gender and racial discrimination policies, paints the South and country music as a hostile environment for Black Americans. 

As a result, the banjo, "an instrument of innovation and collaboration," an instrument that is of African origin often used in minstrel shows and artists in blackface, becomes associated with the degradation of Black people. It is no coincidence that the banjo takes prominence on "Texas Hold Em"; when Rhiannon Giddens plays the banjo on the track she recontextualizes a fraught relationship between African Americans and country music.

So what happens when the most powerful entertainer in the world reminds people that she is not only Southern, but country in nature? The world begins to lose its mind. 

Prior to the release of "16 Carriages" and "Texas Hold Em," Beyoncé had attended two significant events in western wear: The 66th GRAMMY Awards and Super Bowl LVIII. Donning a Stetson hat and a bolo tie (the official state tie of Texas), everything signaled a return to home. A return to the South. 

As a little girl, Beyoncé spent summers in Alabama with her paternal grandparents; her grandfather would play and sing country music to her. With such foundational experiences, it makes sense why Beyoncé would use country music to describe the theft of her girlhood on "16 Carriages."

Throughout her discography, Beyoncé has alluded to her country origins — from costuming in her early days as the frontwoman of Destiny’s Child to songs like "Creole" and "Formation." And while she may not have held country in a full-on embrace, its spirit has never left her. 

Yet, she needed to experience liberation of the Renaissance World Tour to bring this version of herself forward. On tour, she found liberation in the booming voice of ballroom legend and commentator Kevin JZ Prodigy, and through the joy of her daughter Blue Ivy Carter. Beyoncé found liberation not only through her dancers, narrator and her daughter, but in the ways in which the stage provided an opportunity for them all to be free. 

She needed to be liberated in order to be the most actualized version of herself. A self, unlike the little girl in Alabama, who knows how unwelcoming the country music industry can be.

One singular action cannot bring forth liberation, and Beyoncé cannot take down the country music industry by herself. However, she can work in unison with Black country musicians like Rhiannon Giddens and Robert Randolph on "16 Carriages" and "Texas Hold Em" to make a change in the industry.

Her presence is giving visibility to the artists who have been working in country music long before Bey entered the playing field. Shortly after the release of "16 Carriages" and "Texas Hold Em," Black female country artists such as Tanner Adell, Reyna Roberts, K. Michelle, Rhiannon Giddens, and Rissi Palmer received a significant increase in streams. Palmer is one of the few Black women in the genre to chart on Billboard, prior to Beyoncé breaking the mold as the first Black woman to top the Billboard country chart.   

Although she is one powerful person, Beyoncé understands each movement in music, culture, and politics is the byproduct of those who have come before her like Linda Martell, the first Black woman country star. 

There is much to be speculated about the lasting impacts act ii, scheduled for release on March 29, will have on the country music industry, Its arrival certainly heralds an important impact on the artist herself. 

Beyoncé is free, in her career, sound and attitude toward life. And the unintended (or possibly intended) consequence of her freedom and self actualization is that Black people in country music are allowed to be free too. 

How Beyoncé Has Empowered The Black Community Across Her Music And Art | Black Sounds Beautiful

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

17 Love Songs That Have Won GRAMMYs: "I Will Always Love You," "Drunk In Love" & More
(L-R) Usher and Alicia Keys during the Super Bowl LVIII halftime show.

Photo: L.E. Baskow/Las Vegas Review-Journal/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

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17 Love Songs That Have Won GRAMMYs: "I Will Always Love You," "Drunk In Love" & More

Over the GRAMMYs' 66-year history, artists from Frank Sinatra to Ed Sheeran have taken home golden gramophones for their heartfelt tunes. Take a look at some of the love songs that have won GRAMMYs.

GRAMMYs/Feb 14, 2024 - 09:42 pm

Editor's Note: This is an update to a story from 2017.

Without heart-bursting, world-shifting love songs, music wouldn't be the same. There are countless classic and chart-topping hits dedicated to love, and several of them have won GRAMMYs.

We're not looking at tunes that merely deal with shades of love or dwell in heartbreak. We're talking out-and-out, no-holds-barred musical expressions of affection — the kind of love that leaves you wobbly at the knees.

No matter how you're celebrating Valentine's Day (or not), take a look at 18 odes to that feel-good, mushy-gushy love that have taken home golden gramophones over the years.

Frank Sinatra, "Strangers In The Night"

Record Of The Year / Best Vocal Performance, Male, 1967

Ol' Blue Eyes offers but a glimmer of hope for the single crowd on Valentine's Day, gently ruminating about exchanging glances with a stranger and sharing love before the night is through.

Willie Nelson, "Always On My Mind"

Best Country Vocal Performance, Male, 1983

In this cover, Nelson sings to the woman in his life, lamenting over those small things he should have said and done, but never took the time. Don't find yourself in the same position this Valentine's Day.

Lionel Richie, "Truly"

Best Pop Vocal Performance, Male, 1983

"Truly" embodies true dedication to a loved one, and it's delivered with sincerity from the king of '80s romantic pop — who gave life to the timeless love-song classics "Endless Love," "Still" and "Three Times A Lady."

Roy Orbison, "Oh, Pretty Woman"

Best Pop Vocal Performance, Male, 1991

Orbison captures the essence of encountering a lovely woman for the first time, and offers helpful one-liners such as "No one could look as good as you" and "I couldn't help but see … you look as lovely as can be." Single men, take notes.

Whitney Houston, "I Will Always Love You"

Record Of The Year, Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female, 1994

Houston passionately delivers a message of love, remembrance and forgiveness on her version of this song, which was written by country sweetheart Dolly Parton and first nominated for a GRAMMY in 1982.

Celine Dion, "My Heart Will Go On (Love Theme From Titanic)"  

Record Of The Year, Best Female Pop Vocal Performance, 1999

This omnipresent theme song from the 1997 film Titanic was propelled to the No. 1 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 as the story of Jack and Rose (played by Leonardo DiCaprio and GRAMMY winner Kate Winslet) swept the country.

Shania Twain, "You're Still The One"

Best Female Country Vocal Performance, Best Country Song, 1999

Co-written with producer and then-husband Mutt Lange, Twain speaks of beating the odds with love and perseverance in lyrics such as, "I'm so glad we made it/Look how far we've come my baby," offering a fresh coat of optimism for couples of all ages.

Usher & Alicia Keys, "My Boo"

Best R&B Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocals, 2005

"There's always that one person that will always have your heart," sings Usher in this duet with Keys, taking the listener back to that special first love. The chemistry between the longtime friends makes this ode to “My Boo” even more heartfelt, and the love was still palpable even 20 years later when they performed it on the Super Bowl halftime show stage.

Bruno Mars, "Just The Way You Are"

Best Male Pop Vocal Performance, 2011

Dating advice from Bruno Mars: If you think someone is beautiful, you should tell them every day. Whether or not it got Mars a date for Valentine's Day, it did get him a No. 1 hit on the Billboard Hot 100.

Cee Lo Green & Melanie Fiona, "Fool For You" 

Best Traditional R&B Performance, 2012

It's a far cry from his previous GRAMMY-winning song, "F*** You," but "Fool For You" had us yearning for "that deep, that burning/ That amazing unconditional, inseparable love."

Justin Timberlake, "Pusher Love Girl" 

Best R&B Song, 2014

Timberlake is so high on the love drug he's "on the ceiling, baby." Timberlake co-wrote the track with James Fauntleroy, Jerome Harmon and Timbaland, and it's featured on his 2013 album The 20/20 Experience, which flew high to No. 1 on the Billboard 200.

Beyoncé & Jay-Z, "Drunk In Love"

Best R&B Performance / Best R&B Song, 2015

While "Drunk In Love" wasn't the first love song that won Beyoncé and Jay-Z a GRAMMY — they won two GRAMMYs for "Crazy In Love" in 2004 — it is certainly the sexiest. This quintessential 2010s bop from one of music's most formidable couples captures why their alliance set the world's hearts aflame (and so did their steamy GRAMMYs performance of it).

Ed Sheeran, "Thinking Out Loud"

Song Of The Year / Best Pop Solo Performance, 2016

Along with his abundant talent, Sheeran's boy-next-door charm is what rocketed him to the top of the pop ranks. And with swooning lyrics and a waltzing melody, "Thinking Out Loud" is proof that he's a modern-day monarch of the love song.

Lady Gaga & Bradley Cooper, "Shallow"

Best Pop Duo/Group Performance / Best Song Written For Visual Media, 2019

A Star is Born's cachet has gone up and down with its various remakes, but the 2018 iteration was a smash hit. Not only is that thanks to moving performances from Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper, but particularly thanks to their impassioned, belt-along duet "Shallow."

H.E.R. & Daniel Caesar, "Best Part"

Best R&B Performance, 2019

"If life is a movie/ Know you're the best part." Who among us besotted hasn't felt their emotions so widescreen, so thunderous? Clearly, H.E.R. and Daniel Caesar have — and they poured that feeling into the GRAMMY-winning ballad "Best Part."

Kacey Musgraves, "Butterflies"

Best Country Solo Performance, 2019

As Musgraves' Album Of The Year-winning LP Golden Hour shows, the country-pop star can zoom in or out at will, capturing numberless truths about the human experience. With its starry-eyed lyrics and swirling production, "Butterflies" perfectly encapsulates the flutter in your stomach that love can often spark.

Dan + Shay & Justin Bieber, "10,000 Hours"

Best Country Duo/Group Performance, 2021

When country hook-meisters Dan + Shay teamed up with pop phenom Justin Bieber, their love song powers were unstoppable. With more than 1 billion Spotify streams alone, "10,000 Hours" has become far more than an ode to just their respective wives; it's an anthem for any lover.

Lovesick Or Sick Of Love: Listen To GRAMMY.com's Valentine's Day Playlist Featuring Taylor Swift, Doja Cat, Playboi Carti, Olivia Rodrigo, FKA Twigs & More