meta-scriptMeet The First-Time GRAMMY Nominee: Jimmie Allen On How His Diverse Small-Town Upbringing Made Him One Of Country Music’s Hardest-Working Hitmakers | GRAMMY.com
Meet The First-Time GRAMMY Nominee: Jimmie Allen On How His Diverse Small-Town Upbringing Made Him One Of Country Music’s Hardest-Working Hitmakers
Jimmie Allen

Photo: Shea Flynn

interview

Meet The First-Time GRAMMY Nominee: Jimmie Allen On How His Diverse Small-Town Upbringing Made Him One Of Country Music’s Hardest-Working Hitmakers

The only country artist in this year’s Best New Artist category, Jimmie Allen is one of the genre's leading Black voices. The singer/songwriter discusses the influence of growing up in a small, multi-racial town where music knew no color lines.

GRAMMYs/Mar 15, 2022 - 06:56 pm

Jimmie Allen may just be the busiest man in country music. In the past six months alone, the singer/songwriter has competed on "Dancing With the Stars," welcomed his third child, toured with Nelly, won his first Country Music Association award, landed his third No. 1 on country radio, and co-hosted the ACM Awards with Dolly Parton and Gabby Barrett.

Though he's been officially releasing music since 2017, Allen is inarguably having the biggest moment of his career thus far. As a result, he's nominated for Best New Artist at the 2022 GRAMMY Awards — the only country artist to receive the honor this year.

"I was shocked. People would say all the time, 'Jimmie, why aren't you nominated for a GRAMMY for this? You're doing it different, and you're different-looking than most people in your genre of music,'" Allen says. "I'm not really worried about that. How I do my thing is, I just keep my head down, I work, and the people who are meant to know who I am will. I just focus on creating, expanding my brand and having fun."

One scroll through Allen's Instagram page will tell you that he's definitely having fun. And rightfully so: Allen has been working to make a career in music happen since 2007, initially struggling so much that he had to sleep in his car.

But while he's basking in the success he's made for himself, Allen is also aware of the work that still needs to be done. The "Down Home" singer has plenty more career aspirations, and as one of country's leading Black voices, he's looking forward to creating more opportunities for himself and the genre's rising stars. "It takes us having the courage to actually go out there and do it, and try to do it, to help open the door for someone else," he asserts.

GRAMMY.com sat down with Allen to discuss the importance of his GRAMMY nomination, how his small-town upbringing influenced his genre-spanning sound, and the long list of ventures that are still on his horizon (hint: get ready for some Jimmie Allen deodorant).

You're extremely passionate about expanding your reach to people who don't necessarily listen to country music. So what does it mean to be the only country artist in this year's Best New Artist category?

It means a lot. It means that not only did I get votes in the country category, I had to have gotten some votes outside of it. When you think of artists that could have been nominated this year, from Gabby Barrett to Hardy, there's so many artists that are just killing it right now. For it to be me, that means it was all the different outlets my publicists have gotten me on — "Family Feud," "American Idol," "Dancing With the Stars," hosting this TV show, doing that performance — it all kind of paid out.

My overall plan was, I'm never gonna change the style of music I do, but in order to reach people that don't listen to country music, you've kind of got to go where they are. It's been cool to see it executed and kind of see everything coming together.

What some people may not know about you is that you've been grinding to make this happen since 2007. What kept you motivated to make this work in the toughest moments over the past 15 years?

See, I get motivated from people telling me I can't do something. There's nothing better than someone saying, "You shouldn't do this, it's not gonna work." That fires me up. A lot of the time when there's no confrontation, I'll create it in my head to motivate myself [Laughs].

2007 was rough, I ain't gon' lie to you. From living in that trailer with no electric, to living in my car for a while, to being told I'm too country for pop, I'm too pop for country. It was a weird space. But listening to encouragement from my father, my mother, my grandmother, saying, "Look, you know what you want to do, you know who you are. Just keep creating the music you love and eventually you'll find the place."

That's what happened. 2018, the first single came out, got my first No. 1 in November that year. I got my second No. 1 in 2020 — 2020 was kind of a wash. The world was shut down, and it felt every artist was on an equal playing field. So [I was] like, "Okay, nobody's doing nothing. This gives me a chance to get a little head start and set myself up, so when things do open back up, I'll be a little bit ahead of the game and not playing catch up."

You've put out so many different styles of music within your own catalog, from doing R&B with Babyface to a Latin-inspired song with Pitbull. How have you seen that versatility expand the reach and impact that you were hoping for?

I've seen it grow a lot. I've had people that don't listen to country music start following me because they said they heard the song I did with Babyface, or the song I did with Nelly or the Noah Cyrus song. A lot of those songs are what got attention in places where people don't really listen to country.

Genres are languages. We're all saying the same thing: We talk about love, we talk about hurt, we talk about loss, about inspiration. But the way you deliver it is different. I spent my years in college understanding different types of people. I didn't care about the degree, I just wanted to meet different people and be around different types of people, so that when it [came] to creating music, I [could] learn how to speak the way they do — whether the drum pattern goes this way, or there's guitar or no guitar, the different phrasing and the cadence, stuff like that that kind of opens their ear to be receptive to the message that you're spilling through their speakers.

That's the big thing that I always wanted to be able to do — speak different languages, aka different genres, to where people are receptive to what you have to say.

You grew up listening to a lot of different music, from Matchbox Twenty to Motown to Christian music to your dad's favorite, Aaron Tippin. What ultimately made you decide that country was your genre?

It's who I am. I look at country music like I do Christian music — it's not about how many dogs died in the song, or how many banjos you got on it, it's about the person. And I grew up a country boy in Delaware. Country was the one place where I could completely be myself and still make the different types of music that I love.

Do you feel like where you grew up impacted the kind of artist you'd become and/or the music you're making?

It made a big difference. Milton is a small, little country town, but there's different types of people. You walk into a place and everybody's listening to country music — Black people, Mexican people, people wearing cowboy boots, people wearing Jordans. It don't matter.

How I was raised played a big part, because I was taught at a young age that everyone listens to country music, everyone listens to Christian, to hip-hop, to pop, to jazz. So for me, there were never really any color stereotypes associated with different genres of music. It was just people that liked music. That's it. That definitely goes out to where I was raised and how I was raised.

So Milton, Delaware is more musical than people may assume!

The crazy thing is, I know people from the inner city that have never heard of Jason Aldean, Garth Brooks, Luke Combs, Luke Bryan. But every country town you go to, everybody knows who Michael Jackson is, everybody's heard of JAY-Z.

It's like, "Why can't we somehow take this approach with country, and expand the brand of country to where we're on the main stage just like hip-hop or pop?" And we kind of have our voice.

That's kind of how I look at this GRAMMY nomination. I'm privileged to be the face of country music in this Best New Artist category, and my job is to show people, "Look, anybody can listen to country. And country music has made huge steps." I'm a Black guy nominated for a GRAMMY because of my success in country. It says a lot. We're not where we want to be, but we're getting there.

You won the CMA for New Artist Of The Year two weeks before receiving your GRAMMY nomination. In your social media posts about each of them, you talked about how these awards and nominations mean acceptance for those who "color outside the lines," which I thought was a cool, big-picture way to think about it.

The biggest thing I tell artists all the time — I know a few Mexican country artists that want to get into it. I said, "You've got to do it. In order to see change, it takes someone willing to put themselves out there, and force the change."

If we didn't have Charley Pride, [who] had the courage to be a country artist in the '60s and '70s, there wouldn't be Darius Rucker. There wouldn't be me. There wouldn't be Kane [Brown], there wouldn't be Mickey Guyton.

In order to change the narrative, it takes people that have the courage to put themselves in a situation and careers where there's not a lot of people to look like them. And people say, "Well, it's harder." Yeah, it's harder. Sometimes I do have to work twice as hard to get half the reward that a white artist would get in country music. But it is what it is. You can't change the obstacles. We can only control our work ethic and the quality of music that we put out.

I was going to ask how being Black — especially in a genre that's predominantly white — informs the music that you create and the career music moves that you make, but it sounds like you might not even think about it. You just make the music that inspires you, and you do you.

Yeah, I just do me. This year was the first time my managers really got to see kind of what I go through as a Black artist in country music. There was a time [an outlet] posted me — I'll always read comments, because when people troll me, I love trolling them. I have the mentality of a hip-hop artist.

Every time [this outlet] posted [a picture of] me, this one guy was like, "Look at this thug from Compton. There's no way he's a country [artist]. Play real country artists." And he started naming people whose music sounds more pop than mine [Laughs]. I told him, "Man, you're a genius. Hands down the smartest person I've ever written to in my life. How did you get this smart?"

And then people just started going after my manager, Lauren — she said, "So this happens every time?" I say, "Oh yeah, you just get used to it." I don't let those comments affect me. That's why I call it self esteem. It's how you feel about yourself. Other people's opinions don't bother me at all. I lose zero sleep over it. And I feel like that's how it should be.

I'm sure Charley Pride would be proud of you for taking that stance.

Me and Charley talked a lot. We talked on the phone every other Sunday from the time we met to the day he died. He's a funny dude. I learned a lot from him, too — just how to handle yourself. Like, there's a way to be upset, but yet still word what you want to say in a way to where people are willing to listen.

What does it mean to you to be able to carry on his legacy, since he meant so much to you?

It's an honor. I have parents of Black children email me and say, "My son or my daughter listens to country music because of you being part of it. You inspired them to get into country music. You let them know that they're not weird for liking something different." If I could be a fraction of what Charley Pride was to me to someone, I feel like I'll be making a difference.

Along with collaborating with your hero, you've landed three No. 1 singles, launched a publishing and management company, published a book — the list goes on. Are there any career moves you're still looking to make?

I want to be on Broadway. I want to play Aaron Burr in "Hamilton" really badly. I want to host a couple shows on TV, have my own TV show, whether it's reality TV or a sitcom. I want to do movies. I want to have my own sneaker and my own boot, my own line of men's deodorant and facial products. I want to create kid's shoes.

My ultimate goal is to raise money to create a music school within my old high school in Delaware, and name it after my grandma. My buddy was like, "You don't want it to be named after you?" And I said, "Nah. I do want a statue though." And I want a statue while I'm alive. I want to see it. I don't want no memorial statue when I'm dead. That don't do me no good!

Would it just be your face or your whole body?

Oh, whole body. I want this thing like, 200 feet tall.

I feel like it needs to be the picture of you in the all-leather outfit that you posted with the caption "currently eating popcorn waiting for the 'this ain't country' comments."

Exactly. Even when I die, it'll say, "Jimmie Allen: Still waiting for the 'This ain't country' comments.’"

So you're really just trying to do literally everything you can with your platform.

Oh yeah. You got one life. I'd rather spend my life trying to do it than sit back wishing I would have done it.

Thinking back to the days when you were living in your car and trying to make this dream happen, how does where you saw things going compared to where you're at now?

It's right on track. My plan was always to get one No. 1, then start slowly try to venture outside of music, then get two No. 1s, and slowly get into TV and host [shows]. I never wanted to rush anything. I wanted to wait until my fourth single was out before I did my first headlining tour.

For me, it's all about executing, but also being patient and not rushing, and not competing with other artists. As artists, we're not in competition with anyone but ourselves, because there's no one who can do what we do but us. So as long as I keep that in mind, I can stay on my own path.

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Meet The First-Time GRAMMY Nominee: Coi Leray On Why Breakthrough "Players" Was Just The "Icing On The Cake" For Her Multifaceted Career

interview

Meet The First-Time GRAMMY Nominee: Coi Leray On Why Breakthrough "Players" Was Just The "Icing On The Cake" For Her Multifaceted Career

With two GRAMMY nominations in two different Categories at the 2024 GRAMMYs, Coi Leray is already proving to be a versatile artist. But as she promises, she's building a brand much bigger than her music.

GRAMMYs/Jan 24, 2024 - 03:00 pm

Even after a flight and an hours-long photo shoot, Coi Leray exudes brightness and warmth as she discusses her monumental year. She carries a vibrant energy that matches her music — all of which is reminiscent of hip-hop's beginnings and bright future

Leray brought that vitality to "A GRAMMY to 50 Years of Hip Hop," where she held her own among genre legends with a dynamic performance of her smash hit, "Players." Exactly one month prior to the Dec. 10 event, Leray added another milestone to her booming career: her first GRAMMY nominations.

"Players" earned Leray a nod for Best Rap Performance at the 2024 GRAMMYs, where she's also nominated in the new Best Pop Dance Recording Category, for her collaboration with David Guetta and Anne-Marie, "Baby Don't Hurt Me."

"One of the biggest things and accomplishments for me as a artist is for people to know me and admire my versatility," Coi told the Recording Academy. "To be nominated for two of my voices — my melodic, my rap, my singing — it's a dream come true. I wouldn't want it no other way." 

Her versatility expands outside of her music, too. From her signature braided hairstyle to launching her own beauty and haircare products, the New Jersey-raised rapper is also building a name for herself in the fashion and beauty industries. What's more, Leray has entered the philanthropic space as well, with plans to launch her mental-health-focused Camp Courage World Foundation later this year. 

Even just a few years into her career, Leray is steadfast in leaving a multi-faceted legacy for herself — one that takes inspiration from icons like Beyoncé and J.Lo, but feels uniquely hers. And while she sees herself in every business venture, the rapper vows for one thing to remain true: she'll always be having fun. 

Ahead of the 2024 GRAMMYs, Leray sat down with GRAMMY.com to discuss what she learned in 2023 — and how her breakthrough year was the perfect setup for a long career. 

Congratulations on a wonderful year — from receiving your first GRAMMY nominations for "Players" and "Baby Don't Hurt Me" to opening up for Beyoncé at the Renaissance World Tour in Los Angeles. How would you describe 2023 for you?

This year was the icing on the cake to what my future entails. You know with "Players" being nonstop on the radio, getting nominated to all these big award shows, performing on Beyoncé's stage, and getting a written letter from Beyoncé. 

She told me that she's been watching me grow. It shows how hard I have been working. Most importantly, it shows them what to look forward to in the future. I feel like I'm one of those artists that is going to be here for a very, very long time.

As you described, "Players" has maintained a chart-topping position since its release. The single has a sweeter meaning to it because you are paying homage to the rappers, such as The Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five, who have come before you.  The group has even publicly thanked you for re-introducing them to the younger generation. 

I wanted to ask about your decision to pay homage to them, because we exist in an era where a majority of songs have samples, but few artists go out of their way to pay respect to the pioneering artists.

I feel like it is my job to educate the youth as much as possible.

I'll be 27 in May. As I get older, I remember when I was 16, 13, 10, 18, 21. Everything that you hear now is inspired by so many great artists, such as Busta Rhymes and The Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five; those icons in hip-hop made a huge statement. What's derived from Busta's creativity, his flows, his music videos and everything — a lot of kids have to understand the music they hear today and the videos they see are inspired by him and that's where it came from.

I remember the moment where I sat down and listened to Sade. She has one of the most beautiful tones in the music industry, and one of my biggest inspirations. When I go to the studio, I try to master my tone, my melodies, and my voice.  Sade helped me grow, and [I] realize how big she is to hip-hop, the industry, and music in general.

All the icons study music. The way in which you spoke about developing your melodies and voice speaks to that, and shows your dedication to the craft. Another icon that you have spoken of in high regard and worked with is Pharrell Williams. 

He's not only an icon in music, but fashion as well. You sat front row at his debut collection for Louis Vuittion and have become a regular attendee for other notable luxury fashion houses. Are you carving out your own path as an entertainer who has one foot in music and the other in fashion?

I have always been into fashion. I have been building my brand. To me, it's bigger than being an artist. It helps me build my brand. 

I've been building my relationship with YSL. When I landed my Fendi by Marc Jacobs campaign, I was on the frontpage of Fendi's website, alongside Kendall Jenner. I have done Fashion weeks and been dressed by amazing designers, like Jeremy Scott at Moschino, Alexander Wang, AREA, Diesel, and more.

As I continue to elevate and and my music continues to grow, "TWINNEM" ended up on the charts, the success of "Players" and to land with Pharrell, then sit front row at Louis Vuitton; it just shows how much I have been progressing. 

It's also a reminder that through all the hate and negativity that I am going through, even my personal tribulations, it's those moments that make me realize, "Yo! You are a star!" and this is happening in real life. Whether it's next week, next month, you're elevating.

The weekend where I sat front row at Louis Vuitton, I was in the studio with Pharrell. We made four records. I learned so much in my 24 hours with him. I built the most amazing relationship. Pharrell is a mastermind not only when it comes to not only fashion, but when it comes to music. 

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In previous interviews, you referred to yourself as a "walking brand." As of late, you have garnered partnerships with brands such as Yves Saint Laurent, Tommy Hilfiger, Ray-Ban, and more. In your interview with Angie Martinez, you mentioned the possibility of a haircare line. I would like to hear more about the business components of your brand and how you are building an empire, adjacent to the music industry?

I have always had braids since I was a kid. When I did my first song, "Huddy," and throughout the beginning of my career, I always wore braids. I always had my baby hairs out.

It was important to me when I signed my deal to make sure that I'm good in the long run. So I sat down and thought about, what is going to help me be a better person? 

Create longevity. Create an asset. 

As much as I did my baby hairs, I ended up inventing a baby hair brush. I'm just getting my first mold. It's been a process because I want this brush to be perfect, and it's crazy because once it's complete, I want to go add something else. It's a learning process, and it feels so good to be able to financially invest into myself, grow my brand, continue to learn, have errors, make mistakes at this age and in my career.

I got my first top 10, but I never got a top five. I'm aiming bigger and everything is on God's timing. With my branding, my music and my YouTube series, "Cooking with Coi Leray," my skincare products, and my nail line products that's coming, it's all going to come in perfect timing because everything's on God's timing.

It brings me joy to hear a young woman artist, especially a Black woman, discuss their plans on building their legacy and ensuring longevity for the duration of their career. I saw this in your decision to have Trendsetter Studios, your creative agency, direct the music video for "Players." Could you walk me through the decision making process to start your agency?

I started Trendsetter Studios because I have always been into content. I've always been the creator behind everything I do. They say that I'm big on TikTok and a lot of these platforms, which I am, and I take pride in it because I'm good at what I do.

I'm great at making content. I'm great in front of the camera. I love the camera. When I signed my deal, I invested in a lot of equipment because I knew this is something. When I want to do a video, I want to be able to just grab the camera whenever I want to. Be able to create my own thing.

There's so many music videos up that Trendsetter Studios produced. I'm very grateful for my team. We're still learning. We're still growing. 

It's still in development. The goal and the key is longevity, having access and being able to build, do what you want, when you want, and how you want it.

**When you look at the projects you have worked on in 2023, such as "Self-Love" on  Spiderman: Across The Spider-Verse soundtrack and your sophomore album, Coi. What are some lessons that you've learned from those projects that you're going to apply in 2024?**

I learned to have fun. This [past] year, I kind of got wrapped up in it. It's hard to not get wrapped up in the political stuff or the numbers or the fans. I don't pay attention to the negative comments and stuff like that. But, it was at a point where I was paying attention to what someone else wanted versus myself.

I realized, in 2024, I'm only catering to what I want to do. I'm going to live in my truth. I'm going to keep growing as a young lady, as a young woman. Do what I want to do, and keep making great music, and just have fun, not get too wrapped up in the other stuff.

I want to have fun. Life is about having fun, and I'm at an age where I need to have fun. In 2024, we're having fun, and I feel like everybody's gonna feel that in my music, in my videos, in my vlogs, and whatever it is I'm doing, they're gonna feel that energy, and I'm gonna make sure of that, because that's the goal.

It seems to be a trend that icons release self-titled albums. 2023 was the 10-year anniversary of Beyoncé's self-titled album. When you look back at Coi, an album that will always be synonymous with you, where do you place that album in your legacy as an artist? 

It's gonna be here forever. It's gonna be one of those records where people are gonna go back and they're going to be like "Yo, what the hell?!"and I know that because it's such an amazing body of work. 

I write through experience, so as I go through new experiences, as I learn new things in the studio or work with more amazing creatives — creatives in all aspects, whether they're producers, engineers, songwriters, videographers, directors, creative directors, labels. As I'm working with all those people. I'm learning and every single time I just end up scoring better.

My next body of work is always my best body of work, but that doesn't mean take away the greatness from that work. It just means that I've been elevating in every single way. Coi is one of those projects where I elevated it, it has amazing music just like Trendsetter.

The more I create and the bigger I get, the more people will go back, listen, and really appreciate the body of work for what it is.  

You have not only achieved success domestically, but internationally with high placements on the Global and K-Pop charts, as well as participating in Paris and Milan fashion weeks. You have crossed over to being a well-known performer across the world. You're a girl from Jersey who has received global recognition. How does that feel for you? 

Recognition is dope. When you go over to places like Australia and Paris, they treat you like a major star. The love over there is immaculate. I get really inspired overseas. There's so many great things.

For example, Paris has so many great music video directors. Their music videos are insane. I had to go out there to really understand that.

It made me want to be the voice that when I come to America, "I'm like, I want to use more videographers so people can see how amazing they are too." It's a blessing to be able to travel.

You mentioned a desire to work with music video directors in Paris and abroad. You have already worked with international talents such as David Guetta and TOMORROW X TOGETHER. It seems you are pivoting yourself as an entertainer who uses music to bridge the gap between these cultures. 

Well, David Guetta is an incredible artist.

He is a mastermind when it comes to the studio, and I want to continue to work with David. We have an incredible relationship, and amazing chemistry in the studio. He's one of the first DJs to bring hip-hop and EDM together. That's another life experience for me that I'm going to remember forever.

You know, being a young Black queen in the music industry and being able to have so much versatility, it allows me to collaborate with so many great artists. David Guetta, he's a mastermind. That's another way to educate the young kids on David Guetta too. I know he's already a major, but they don't know the history.

Some people might not know the history, and I feel like it's important. David Guetta getting nominated with me — I'm getting nominated with my rap song and the pop electronic recording record. It's just a dream come true, I'm telling you. 

**In your music video for "Wasted" with Taylor Hill from Blue Moon, you showed a side of you that is different from your previous works. The video displayed a tender and vulnerable side of you. Can we expect to see more of that from you in 2024?** 

I can admit that I haven't done my best at showing that side. I was under my rock a little bit, but I promised to myself that in 2024 I am going to show more of my process, bring people into my world, my fans, and I think I owe it to my fans 1000%. I think that they want to know Coi Leray outside of Instagram, The Shade Room, social media, and blogs.

I want them to also understand who I am as a woman, as a person. Music is important, but relationships are important. Just as much to me, and I admire that.

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Icons not only inspire us through music, but the way they invest in their community. In 2023, you organized a Thanksgiving Giveback in your hometown. What led you to start doing philanthropy efforts? I think people will always want to root for the girl who made it big and paid it forward.

That's why I started my Camp Courage World Foundation. I'm super excited to launch that at the top of 2024.

It's something I've wanted to do for a long time. I finally thought of an amazing name for it and I'm excited. We're focusing on mental health because I feel like that's something that I've dealt with my entire life, my childhood, growing up and now, and there's so many things that I do that I'm pretty sure that these girls would want to know and learn.

For example, just reading books and waking up every day, praying, finding my spirituality and sticking through it, staying consistent, going to church, even if they're not physical, online every Sunday, speaking to my pastors, my life coach, getting therapists, whatever it is that's going to make me better, that doesn't have me relate to anything that can self harm myself mentally, physically, financially, emotionally.

I'm excited for that launch because that's also going to be the next step in a big part of my career that I feel is one of the most important things. 

Having major records is cute. That's fire. Everybody wants a number one record, but with that number one record, you want to be able to give back and inspire because, at that point, what are you doing it for?

Since your debut, conversations about your body, your image, and your contributions to hip-hop have been a point of contention in the cultural zeitgeist. It seems you have decided to take control of the narrative in the media and the press. Whether it is through the development of your brands or the creation of your talent agency, do you feel as if you are on a path of reclamation? 

I'm taking control of it. I should be able to tell it. It's my life.  

I was sitting down talking to my people. I had told them. I said, "Yo. 2024. The future is so bright that the only thing that can stop me is me."

A lot of people don't know what I go through outside of this stuff. I go through a lot, you know what I mean? But going through what I went through, it taught me a lot about myself. 

I realized this year was all about self-awareness, and it prepped me for 2024. Like I said, I'm the only one that can get in my way. 

It's about just staying focused, staying level-headed, staying consistent. And staying prayed up. 

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Meet The First-Time GRAMMY Nominee: Coco Jones On Her Breakthrough Year, Turning Rejection Into Purpose & Learning From Babyface
Coco Jones

Photo: Courtesy Coco Jones

interview

Meet The First-Time GRAMMY Nominee: Coco Jones On Her Breakthrough Year, Turning Rejection Into Purpose & Learning From Babyface

Coco Jones is nominated across five categories at the 2024 GRAMMYs, including Best New Artist and Best R&B Album for her EP, 'What I Didn't Tell You.' The first-time nominee discussed her hit, "ICU," working with legends and the power of representation.

GRAMMYs/Jan 8, 2024 - 02:23 pm

Coco Jones is feeling more inspired than ever following a year of exciting surprises and breakthroughs. In 2023, the 25-year-old budding star celebrated her first Billboard Hot 100 entry thanks to her platinum-selling "ICU" single, embarked on her first headlining tour, and earned her first GRAMMY nominations.

"Being a GRAMMY-nominated artist changes everything. It's such a different creative mindset when the world says, 'You're good, we like what you do,'" Jones tells GRAMMY.com. "It's like a gold star. It makes you want to work harder, it makes you wanna continue to impress, and it makes you impressed with yourself, too."

Jones is nominated across five categories at the 2024 GRAMMYs: Her 2022 EP What I Didn't Tell You is up for Best R&B Album and its "ICU" will compete for Best R&B Performance and Best R&B Song. Her feature on Babyface's "Simple" has received a nod for Best Traditional R&B Performance. Jones is also up for the coveted golden gramophone for Best New Artist.

In recent years, her vocal prowess has received praise from SZA, Janet Jackson, and Beyoncé, but anyone who's even remotely familiar with Jones' story knows that her newfound success is anything but overnight. Jones first found success at age 14, when she starred in the 2012 Disney movie musical Let It Shine. The Tennessee native faced colorism early on, which she addressed in a 2020 YouTube video that went viral.

"I always wanted that representation that my dreams were possible growing up," she shares. "I definitely was not based in reality of what the entertainment industry is. It's tough and it's challenging and sometimes it isn't fair and that is not what I was prepared for as a kid."

During the pandemic, Jones secured a spot in "Bel-Air" (Peacock's reimagining of "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air") as the spoiled yet beloved Hilary Banks, but she never let go of her love of  music. Following her 2014 departure from Hollywood Records, Jones released music independently, including the ominous "Hollyweird" and "Depressed"; when Def Jam approached her in the summer of 2021, she was ready for her close-up.

Fast forward to present, and Jones is gearing up for one of the most pivotal nights of her blossoming career. But perhaps the most precious thing she's collected along the way is self-assurance. "I'm learning that I have to believe in my creative choices and that I shouldn't second guess what I feel because it does well," she says with a laugh.

Of her recent success, Jones says the back-to-back accolades shocked her, but like a true artist, she's already thinking ahead and manifesting an exciting first for 2024: "I want my debut album to hit No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart."

Ahead of the 2024 GRAMMYs, Jones discusses the power of representation for dark-skinned Black women, why her mother is her biggest inspiration, and how joining forces with Babyface created momentum in her career.

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

After finding out that you received five GRAMMY nominations, you posted an Instagram video showing you and your mother reveling in the excitement of it all. Tell me more about that moment and your mother's role in this journey.

I'm one of four children and my mom owned multiple businesses, but she made us all feel loved and supported while also being a boss. Watching her navigate the entertainment industry — which she had no prior experience with — was very inspiring. She took every challenge head-on and still managed to make time with all of her kids. 

She's always been a visionary, so I think for her, it's like, This is exactly what we worked for. The end goal is to be award-winning, to be show-stopping, to be classic, to be timeless. That's what she saw for me even when I was a little girl on stage singing Aretha Franklin.

There were times when it was hard for me to see what she saw in me, especially when you're dealing with the rejection that is the music industry. But she always knows the right thing to say to keep me going and to keep my faith. So, when it wasn't like how it is now, she was the entire team. She did anything she could to help me progress.

You retweeted a meet-and-greet with a fan, who donned your merch from 2018, which seemed to take you by surprise. It seems like your 2023 breakthrough was a win for not just yourself, but for those early supporters as well.

I would definitely say it's a win for my fans and my supporters, but also for young Black women who look like me and have big dreams and just want to see what they are dreaming about is possible. I know that I inspire so many young Black women — they tell me almost every day that seeing me win helps them believe in themselves winning.

My goal is to continue to break those barriers down for young Black women so that it's not such a surprise when we succeed.

In a 2022 interview, you said you wanted to experience the highs of being an entertainer and being on stage "even if it meant a lot of lows." Many creatives feel that way. Do you have any advice for struggling artists who feel like no one's paying attention?

You can make it this thing where you feel like you're running out of time, or you can make it feel like you're adjusting to time. Time is whatever you decide it is.

There were so many obstacles I didn't understand, but hindsight is 20/20. I needed the lessons that I learned, I needed the self-reliance, I needed the optimism and the faith. So, I think it was all very growing but still tough not knowing what was going to happen, not knowing if I was going to have that life-changing job, that life-changing song. 

I'm just grateful to God for protecting me through all the confusion and for not giving up. I had enough support around me and enough doors to open even though they felt far and few between to keep me sustained and pursuing this dream, even though I was pursuing it without any guarantees.

What I Didn't Tell You isn't the first EP you released, but it's the one that made you a first-time GRAMMY nominee. What was different this time around?

I was very supported; when Def Jam approached me, they seemed so understanding of my vision that I couldn't help but feel like we were already a team. They helped me put the pieces together. Before this, I was just on my own or it was me and my mom, so I felt more supported with this EP release. My label understands me and what I want to be, and there's no pushback against who I am and what I can naturally do. It's all about enhancing. 

As part of R&B's new class, what do you want to bring to the genre?

More uptempo! I want to be able to sing my heart out but make a bop that you wanna dance to. I love how Whitney Houston would do that with some of her songs like "I'm Your Baby Tonight" and "How Will I Know."

Your breakthrough single, "ICU," is up for Best R&B Song, but what lesser-known song off What I Didn't Tell You (Deluxe) would you nominate in the same category if you could?

"Fallin'" because it's a sensual song, and I feel like it sits in a really cool, pretty place in my voice. It also tells a good story of the chaos that my life is while also starting to fall for somebody.

In 2022, you joined forces with R&B legend Babyface for his collaborative Girls Night Out project. Your "Simple" duet with him is nominated for Best Traditional R&B Performance. Do you think collaborating with Babyface acted as a precursor for the incredible year you had?

When I learned Babyface wanted me on his album, I was beside myself. He was really one of the first legends to give me that stamp of approval. I definitely think the recognition I got from him was like a turning point in what was next for my life. The world started to notice around that time. 

When I interviewed Babyface soon after the release of Girls Night Out, he talked about doing his homework to better understand the differences in today's R&B. That was surprising to hear, because he's clearly an expert at writing hit songs but not above learning from others. What did you learn from his mentorship?

I just learned that you can be a legend and you can still be open to ideas, open to new talents, and open to suggestions. Just stay open to what’s new, who's new, and why they're doing well, and that's what will keep you legendary. 

I'm a big fan of studying music, so I will continue to be a student. Creating music and studying music are two different things to me. I study it and then I feel creative, so I think it's about separating them because sometimes if you're creating while studying, you just end up repeating exactly what somebody's doing and that doesn't feel authentic. It's more about getting inspired and then creating.

My love for music and being a creative is what keeps me going because it's not always fun, it's not always easy. Sometimes it's about business, sometimes it's about pushing past your exhaustion. I don't think I would do that, not for this long, if I didn't love the payoff of being a creative. 

How will you celebrate if you win a GRAMMY?

I haven't thought about how I'm gonna celebrate. I think my favorite type of celebrations are intimate. They're with people who are in the mud with me — my family, my team. I would probably just want to have a great dinner and think about how far we've come and what's next.

2024 GRAMMY Nominations: See The Full Nominees List

GRAMMY Rewind: Kendrick Lamar Honors Hip-Hop's Greats While Accepting Best Rap Album GRAMMY For 'To Pimp a Butterfly' In 2016
Kendrick Lamar

Photo: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic

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GRAMMY Rewind: Kendrick Lamar Honors Hip-Hop's Greats While Accepting Best Rap Album GRAMMY For 'To Pimp a Butterfly' In 2016

Upon winning the GRAMMY for Best Rap Album for 'To Pimp a Butterfly,' Kendrick Lamar thanked those that helped him get to the stage, and the artists that blazed the trail for him.

GRAMMYs/Oct 13, 2023 - 06:01 pm

Updated Friday Oct. 13, 2023 to include info about Kendrick Lamar's most recent GRAMMY wins, as of the 2023 GRAMMYs.

A GRAMMY veteran these days, Kendrick Lamar has won 17 GRAMMYs and has received 47 GRAMMY nominations overall. A sizable chunk of his trophies came from the 58th annual GRAMMY Awards in 2016, when he walked away with five — including his first-ever win in the Best Rap Album category.

This installment of GRAMMY Rewind turns back the clock to 2016, revisiting Lamar's acceptance speech upon winning Best Rap Album for To Pimp A Butterfly. Though Lamar was alone on stage, he made it clear that he wouldn't be at the top of his game without the help of a broad support system. 

"First off, all glory to God, that's for sure," he said, kicking off a speech that went on to thank his parents, who he described as his "those who gave me the responsibility of knowing, of accepting the good with the bad."

Looking for more GRAMMYs news? The 2024 GRAMMY nominations are here!

He also extended his love and gratitude to his fiancée, Whitney Alford, and shouted out his Top Dawg Entertainment labelmates. Lamar specifically praised Top Dawg's CEO, Anthony Tiffith, for finding and developing raw talent that might not otherwise get the chance to pursue their musical dreams.

"We'd never forget that: Taking these kids out of the projects, out of Compton, and putting them right here on this stage, to be the best that they can be," Lamar — a Compton native himself — continued, leading into an impassioned conclusion spotlighting some of the cornerstone rap albums that came before To Pimp a Butterfly.

"Hip-hop. Ice Cube. This is for hip-hop," he said. "This is for Snoop Dogg, Doggystyle. This is for Illmatic, this is for Nas. We will live forever. Believe that."

To Pimp a Butterfly singles "Alright" and "These Walls" earned Lamar three more GRAMMYs that night, the former winning Best Rap Performance and Best Rap Song and the latter taking Best Rap/Sung Collaboration (the song features Bilal, Anna Wise and Thundercat). He also won Best Music Video for the remix of Taylor Swift's "Bad Blood." 

Lamar has since won Best Rap Album two more times, taking home the golden gramophone in 2018 for his blockbuster LP DAMN., and in 2023 for his bold fifth album, Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers.

Watch Lamar's full acceptance speech above, and check back at GRAMMY.com every Friday for more GRAMMY Rewind episodes. 

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Meet The First-Time GRAMMY Nominee: Anitta On The “Insane” Success Of "Envolver," Representing Brazil & Reshaping Global Pop
Anitta

Photo: LUFRE

interview

Meet The First-Time GRAMMY Nominee: Anitta On The “Insane” Success Of "Envolver," Representing Brazil & Reshaping Global Pop

After a decade of building a massive career in her home country of Brazil, Anitta took her success to a global level in 2022. The singer discusses her “brand new career” and the Best New Artist nomination that came from it.

GRAMMYs/Feb 1, 2023 - 04:45 pm

Before Anitta released her album Versions of Me last April, she already had four albums in her catalog. But as the title insists, Versions of Me is the project that showed Anitta has many layers to her success — and now, she has a GRAMMY nomination to show for it.

The Brazilian star is nominated for Best New Artist at the 2023 GRAMMYs, which may feel like a long time coming for those who have been a fan since Anitta's self-titled debut album arrived in 2013. After becoming a household name in her native Brazil, and then in Latin America, she finally cracked the U.S. last year with the worldwide hit "Envolver." Ten years in, Anitta almost feels reborn.

"In Brazil I got the recognition before, but internationally, it's amazing because I've just started a brand new career," she tells GRAMMY.com. "I feel really special. I feel like things are happening really fast and I'm really happy about it."

With Versions of Me, Anitta explored and embraced her cross-cultural appeal, even singing in Portuguese, Spanish and English across its 15 tracks. The album opens with "Envolver," which blends reggaeton music with an electronic allure; later, she put a trap music twist on the Brazilian bossa nova classic "The Girl From Ipanema" in "Girl From Rio," a tribute to her hometown of Rio de Janeiro.

Those personal details helped Versions of Me resonate with a global audience, and they were amplified by Anitta's unabashed ability to push pop music to new places. She embedded elements of funk carioca (Brazilian funk music from the favelas of Rio De Janeiro where she grew up) into genre-bending collaborations alongside stars like Cardi B, Khalid, and Saweetie.

Anitta has also become widely acclaimed for her show-stopping performances, from Coachella to the Latin GRAMMY Awards to the viral "Envolver" dance challenge on TikTok. Her charming transparency with her fans helps uplift women, her country of Brazil, and the LGBTQIA+ community (she publicly identified as bisexual in 2018) — in turn helping Anitta become one of Latin pop's most refreshing and boldest artists in recent memory.

Ahead of the 2023 GRAMMYs, Anitta spoke with GRAMMY.com about her first GRAMMY nomination, the viral success of "Envolver," and what's next.

How do you feel about being nominated for Best New Artist?

I feel really special. First of all for the nomination, to be part of the GRAMMYs. That makes me feel like I'm doing a good job. I'm on the right path. But also, I felt really special that I was nominated for the Best New Artist category. I feel happy that people understand that for me it's a whole new world.

Even though I have more than 10 years of a career in Brazil, for me, in these other markets, like singing in English and Spanish, it's brand new stuff. I am a new artist in these other markets. I feel really happy that people can understand that and see it like I do.

You're also representing Portuguese and Spanish music in the Best New Artist category. What does it mean to you to be able to represent those languages within the category?

I feel like it's really important. My country feels very special about it. They've never seen something like that. Last time they saw something like that was like 57 years ago [when Brazilian artists Astrud Gilberto and Antônio Carlos Jobim were nominated for Best New Artist], so they're really happy for me to be part of this. To be representing so much for my country, I'm really glad that I can do that.

Your song "Girl From Rio" interpolates one of Jobim and Gilberto's classic songs.

"The Girl From Ipanema"! It's crazy, it's like a cycle. It's amazing!

In your album Versions of Me, you sing in English, Spanish, and Portuguese. Why did you decide to record music in those three languages?

Portuguese is my first language, obviously. And then I started to learn English when I was still a kid. I started to learn Spanish after I went to Spain for the first time because one of my songs in Portuguese, "Show Das Poderosas," was playing in Madrid. So I went to Spain to sing for a radio show, and I didn't understand anything that people were telling me, so I decided to start learning Spanish, and I loved it. And I started singing [in that language].

I think it's just part of my personality to enjoy learning languages. When I was a kid, I also learned Italian, so I have songs in Italian. I really enjoy it.

The album cover art features different versions of yourself throughout your career. Why did you decide to bring together those images from your past and present?

I think controversy is good when people talk about a subject, and they can see it's accurate and real, and they can get to know you a little better. I think it's a little fun.

I like being open about the [plastic surgery] procedures I've done. Being open about all the things in my life. I don't like to fake or hide situations. I feel like I would feel stuck in some kind of prison. I feel better if people just get to know me from a 360 point of view.

In the album, you explore genres like pop, R&B, trap, and reggaeton music. What was experience like to work with those different genres?

I wanted to show different types of music that I like singing. Like different versions of myself. I'm fascinated by people's music — the different countries and cultures. I love traveling and getting to know the way people consume music, the way people create music. It's really special when I can travel and get to know a new culture, and sing, and get that feeling running through my blood.

I love playing with the biggest amount of places and rhythms, and everything that I can, because I think that's what it is about, when you can create music that's more than just something fun to listen to. If you can bring cultures and bring people together, I think it's even more of a special thing.

How did the song "Envolver" come together?

The [COVID-19 pandemic] quarantine was over, but still the gates were closed to Brazil from America. To go to America, you had to quarantine for 15 days somewhere. I was in Punta Cana waiting for these 15 days to pass, and I decided to bring some friends of mine — artists to write songs with. It was Phantom and Lenny Tavárez. We started writing, [and when] we got to "Envolver," it was really special. We wrote it so fast. It was insane. It was amazing.

What was the inspiration behind that song?

We wanted to talk about a woman that is always in control and not the opposite. In songs, we always see guys talking like that to women, and I wanted to bring exactly the opposite — when a woman is in power.

Did you think that "Envolver" would become the massive hit that it was?

We did think that — but we also think that about so many songs, so it's like, we never know. It was insanely big. I think it wouldn't have been that big if I didn't have the support of the foundation of my country, and also if I [hadn't] done so much work in the Latin community. It got big because we were already doing a lot of stuff.

You've become known for your electric live performances. How important is it to express your music through dancing as well?

Even more right now, with TikTok and things like that, I think people are so engaged to dancing. They want to feel involved somewhere, so that's one way of how people are getting into music right now. Getting involved with the artists in some way more than just the music. I think dance is a very good way of doing that.

You incorporate elements of Brazilian funk music throughout Versions of Me. How important was it for you to bring that genre into some of the songs?

I put in a little bit. Not as much as I wanted to. I think in the next albums I will do more. I'm trying to introduce a little bit of [Brazilian] funk to the worldwide audience, and then I will [release] something really cultural that I really believe in.

Since I started traveling around the world, I'm fascinated about showing people where I come from, my origins. I think funk is my origin. It's so different, and it has the power to be the next big thing, so I feel really special about it. I feel like people are starting to get into funk and making more Brazilian funk music, and I really love that I'm part of this change.

You announced that your next album will be a Brazilian funk album. How is that coming along?

I'm still waiting. I'm working on the album. I have most of the songs kind of ready. I'm still adjusting some things and the features on it. But I'm going to wait for the best time to release it. I'm not going to do it in a rush.

I'm going to put effort behind it because this is the thing I always dreamed about doing. I always dreamed about having an album where I can truly feel my culture and what I really love about funk and Brazilian music. I think I'm going to wait for everything to be completely perfect for me to release it.

Throughout your career, you've proudly represented the LGBTQIA+ community, collaborating with artists like Brazilian drag pop stars Pabllo Vittar and Gloria Groove and being open about your own sexuality. How do you feel to be helping raise that representation and visibility?

I think it's amazing the more we can [do that], because it's still very hard for the LGBTQIA+ community to show up and to get a space to talk and be open without prejudice. The more that we can open room for artists who are openly gay, or trans, or drag queens — I think the scene needs more representation, more artists. The more I can do to bring people to me, or bring visibility to new artists like that, I will do it. It's really important.

Coming off of such a huge year in 2022, what can fans expect from you this year?

I'm going to rest a little bit. I thought I was going to do that last year, but with everything that happened with "Envolver," I ended up not resting the way I wanted to, so for sure this year, I'm going to take more time for myself.

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