Photo: Tyler Blint-Welsh
Kota The Friend
Why Kota The Friend Is Proud Of Being A Black Independent Artist
The Brooklyn rapper dishes on why he's making it as a Black indie rapper—and how he's helping others understand they can do it too
Kota The Friend's latest project, Lyrics to GO, Vol. 2, which dropped Jan. 18, is a snapshot in time. "It's like one stream of consciousness, not necessarily a full song, just an idea," the Brooklyn MC tells GRAMMY.com over Zoom. "Just to show people where I'm at mentally."
Kota has gained attention for laid-back raps and chill beats on 2018's Anything., 2019's FOTO, 2020's EVERYTHING, and his Lyrics to GO series. To him, connecting with others is vital and, if he has it his way, lyrics are the way people relate to him. "A lot of people have told me that my music helps them deal with their situations," he says. "So I focus on my lyrical content."
An independent artist, he's captured ears on SoundCloud and major streaming platforms like Spotify without a major label to back him up. So when it comes to success, Kota looks at the bigger picture. "It's about longevity," he says. "You don't necessarily think about a hit, or putting out a hit record … every time we put out something, and we just want to do a little bit better."
He may not be the first indie artist to want to make it without a label, but he intentionally uplifts Black artists along the way. "The music business has a long history of exploiting Black talent," he says. "I'm not shy about saying, "Yeah, I'm Black, and I'm independent, and you can do it too."
The rapper spoke with GRAMMY.com about his most useful tools as an independent artist, how he's paving the way for other Black artists, and his new music.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
What's your first memory of music?
People in my family say that I had a really strong connection to a Mary J. Blige song, "I'm Going Down." They say I used to walk around the house singing the song all the time.
Was it played a lot when you were growing up?
I don't know. I think I just connected to it. And I think my cousin used to play it a lot. And I just memorized the song, and I would just walk around singing it.
Good taste. What's the story behind your name?
When I was trying to come up with my name, I just wanted a simple name that sounded down-to-earth. I had watched that movie called Brother Bear, and the little bear's name was Kota. I was like, "I like that name." So I looked up the name, I looked at what it meant, and it was a Native American name meaning "friend." And so I put those two things together.
You recently released Lyrics to GO, Vol. 2. What inspired this album?
It's not really an album. Lyrics to GO is a series of one-and-a-half-minute tracks. It's like one stream of consciousness—not necessarily full songs, just ideas. Ideas that I want to present in a short period and messages that I want to get across in these one-and-a-half-minute periods, but I just decided to package them up into ten tracks each.
We put out Lyrics to GO, Vol. 1 last year, and every year, I want to put out a Lyrics to GO volume and just to show people where I'm at, mentally.
Why is that important for you—to let people know where you're at?
I think it sets the tone for whatever I'm about to release. I think it kind of fills in the gaps between each story. If every album is a story, I'll say Lyrics to GO really helps you. It helps you transition into the next part of the story.
You're releasing a track that features Lupita Nyong'o, right?
Tell me more about that track and why you decided to feature her words.
Well, I look up to Lupita. I enjoy what she creates on the screen, and her roles and everything. It's the same with LaKeith Stanfield. To me, those are two of the most influential Black artists and actors out there.
And so I felt like when I was making the album, I was asking people, "What does everything mean to you?" I felt like their voices would connect with so many people because they naturally inspire so many people.
You were on the official Biden-Harris playlist. What does it mean for you to appear on such a big list as a rising artist?
It's a big opportunity. It was super unexpected for me. And to be featured on it put a lot of different eyes on me that weren't necessarily looking at me before, like a couple of days after that playlist came out, I had a Wikipedia page. So I feel like as time progresses, I'll continue to learn what that did for me.
And you're an independent artist, so it's a huge deal that you're getting attention through various ways. How do you think being independent has shaped your success?
I think it has allowed us to carve out our path. I feel like our path is just very special. It's so unconventional how everything is going. The steps that we took aren't like the steps that everybody is taking in. So I think it gives us free rein to be ourselves and be free and learn as we go and get better in it.
Because this happened so slow, it's more of a slow burn. It's long-term. I think me and my whole team look at it like it's a long-term thing. It's about longevity. And so that's what we focus on. We don't necessarily think about putting out a hit record. We don't look at one project as like, "Oh, this is what's going to take us to the top." No, it's like we just want to do a little bit better every time we put out something.
And if we do a lot better, with a project we put out is great, but overall, it's just about continuing to put out great content—great art—and moving forward.
Are there any tools that you use as an independent artist?
There's a Spotify artist tool that allows you to submit your new release, get it put on a playlist, and things like that. That's been useful for us. Any tool that we can monitor our growth and see like, "Oh, on this day we got a lot of streams, on that day we got way more streams" —we're able to kind of understand what's helping us grow.
Any tool that we can use to monitor that growth is necessary as an independent artist, and I think the more you can monitor your growth, the better you'll be.
For an artist following the traditional route with a label, one of their first significant milestones or achievements may be getting that label contract. As an independent artist, how do you measure your success?
The more listeners I get, the more I feel like I'm succeeding, and I'm pushing it forward. Last year, we hit a million monthly listeners on Spotify, and this year we're almost at... well, we've surpassed 2.8 million.
I hope we'll get to like five, six million monthly listeners in 2021. For me, I just measure really how many people are listening and how many people are getting on the chain and becoming part of this tribe.
How do you wish to connect to your audience? Do you focus more on your lyrical content or sound?
Lyrical content. I think that's the most important thing for me. Many people have told me that my music helps them deal with their situations and get out of them. And understand certain things that they need to do to get out of bad situations. It's very real to them. And so, I focus on my lyrical content.
I'm very careful about what I say. I understand that you can manifest things positively or negatively through your words, so I pay very close attention to what I say. I feel like no matter what the music sounds like—the beats and [instrumentation]—what's most important is the things I'm talking about and the messages I'm trying to convey.
Do you feel like you're creating a space to celebrate Black music and Black artists through your journey? If so, how?
Yeah. In pretty much every album that I've ever made, I highlight what it's like to be a Black artist and just a Black person in America. In my journey as an independent Black creator, I've never been shy about expressing how good it feels to be Black and independent.
The music business has a long history of exploiting Black talent. I'm not shy about saying, "Yeah. I'm Black, and I'm independent, and you can do it too." We can all do it. None of us have to be pushed around by an industry or company, or anybody. We can all be free.
I've never been shy about showing people the blueprint of how I do it—the things that I do and the tools that I use. I'm completely transparent with my friends in music. I've shown people how I do it, and I've seen people use it and gain success.
How can aspiring artists follow you on your journey? Is it through social media?
It's really through social media. If I'm not posting a video or a piece of content on social media, I'm making the content. I don't do much else. Maybe I should have somebody working on a newsletter or something like that, but I'm more focused on organic word of mouth. We just built up an email list, so maybe that's next.
Are you concerned at all with what the industry should do for Black artists? Or are you more focused on showing people what you're doing as an independent artist?
Whenever you talk about the industry, I feel like it's just something going on for so long—Way longer than I've been a person. Understanding and battling that machine is tough when you don't have the proper tools and knowledge of that history.
But I think I'm a rebel in that I fight against it in my way, and I try to show the people around me what I'm doing. How I'm kind of like saying no to what it is and how I think it could be better. I feel like it could be better, but there's so much to it.
I feel like it gets complicated, and it's hard to understand. But I think with knowledge and a better understanding, the more we move forward with it, the more we'll learn how to better get to people and explain why certain things are wrong. If you do certain things, you could break free from that and grow beyond a record label.
You're from Brooklyn, and you're a part of this long history. There are so many rappers that have come before you. How do you feel like your work is adding to hip-hop's history?
I feel like growing up there, I listened to Nas, and Jay-Z, and Biggie— they're all great New York artists, like Biggie grew up, blocks away from where I live, Jay-Z grew up, blocks away to the left, Nas, I could take the train to where he grew up. When they were speaking their music, we knew.
I could connect with the things they're saying. And they created me as an artist. Without them, there would be no me. I got my cadences, and my flows, and my musical ideas from them. And I think I use those ideas to express what the city is like in these times and what's going on around me in these times.
Because it's not the '90s anymore; It's not the '80s anymore. But I think I expressed what it's like growing up as a kid in Brooklyn. I didn't have the toughest upbringing; you know what I mean? But I experienced a lot, and I have a unique experience. And I carry the torch just by being genuine, being authentically myself, and telling my story and talking about pretty much a city from my perspective.
I think it adds a perspective. People that grew up as I did can see it and be like, "Yo, I relate to what he's saying. And it's real. It's not fake."
"Luke Cage," from your latest mixtape, really caught my attention. There's a line where you rap, "I'm trying to save my city like Luke Cage." What do you mean by that line?
I feel like New York music is the stuff that the radio and things [like that] highlight. And the world looks at New York music like one thing: What you hear on the radio and what's popping.
But there's so much more to New York music. I'm a representation of what that is. It's bigger than what you have on Hot 97, and it's bigger than what you have on New York's Power 105.1 and what people are deciding to distribute to the masses.
I think that there are so many artists in New York that don't get the love because they're not making drill rap right now. And I'm just saying that I'm here to show you that there's more to New York.
You're starting the process of becoming a part of the Recording Academy. What do you want to get out of that?
Growing up, we always watched the GRAMMYs. It was a big thing to see who's going to win this and was going to win Best New Artist, and so I think for me, it's nostalgic for me to be, if I could ever be grand and nominated for a GRAMMY or win a GRAMMY, it's a moment for my family. It's a moment for my cousins and me and my team.
I think it's less about me. It's less about becoming and being the best and more about me sharing this moment with the people I love, with the people that come from, where I come from.
Last year, the Recording Academy launched the Black Music Collective. What do you think about institutions like the Recording Academy launching something to bring attention to black music specifically?
I think that's important. I think it needs that because I think there was a time when rappers would boycott the GRAMMYs. So, MYs to come that far and admit that we need to bring more attention to Black music, I think that's a big win. It's necessary.
Photo: Jason Koerner/Getty Images
Lil Yachty Wants You To Be "Ready For Everything" At The Field Trip Tour
As Lil Yachty hits the road for his 42-date global tour, the rapper details how he'll be bringing his trippy album 'Let's Start Here' to life — and why he feels like his seven-year career is only just getting started.
Fans first got to know Lil Yachty for his catchy, sing-songy tunes like "One Night" and "Minnesota," rap songs that sound like the rapper's once-signature red braids: bright and attention-getting. But as the man who once dubbed himself the "king of the teens" has now become a father in his (gasp!) mid-20s, his musical horizons have expanded.
While Lil Boat is still making catchy tracks (see his minute-and-a-half long earworm "Poland," released last fall), his latest album is something else entirely. Inspired by big statement LPs like Pink Floyd's 1973 classic Dark Side of the Moon, Lil Yachty's Let's Start Here is a psychedelic record created with members of Chairlift and MGMT, as well as Mac DeMarco, Alex G and a handful of other out-of-the-norm collaborators. While the style change may have been unexpected for many, it came out exactly as Yachty envisioned it.
"It felt future-forward, it felt different, it felt original, it felt fresh, it felt strong," he says. "I'm grateful for the response. It's nice to have people resonate with a body of work that you've worked so hard on and you care so deeply about."
Yachty's most recent release, a four-song single pack featuring the swirling "TESLA," brings him back to a more traditional hip-hop style — by Lil Boat standards, anyway. But even with the four new tracks sprinkled throughout the set list, he's still determined to share the sound and vibe of Let's Start Here with his listeners.
The Field Trip Tour, which Lil Yachty kicked off in Washington, D.C. on Sept. 21, brings the album's trippy vision to the stage. The rapper recruited an all-women band for his latest trek, which includes Lea Grace Swinson and Romana R. Saintil on vocals, Monica Carter on drums, Téja Veal on bass, Quenequia Graves on guitar, and Kennedy Avery Smith on keys.
"My life is surrounded by women," Yachty explains. "I feel like they are the most important aspect to this world and that they don't get enough credit or shine — especially Black women."
GRAMMY.com caught up with Yachty as he was on his way to rehearsal to chat about the tour, the album, and what he learned from four old British guys.
You made your band auditions public by announcing them on social media, which is not the usual way of going about these things. When you had the auditions, what was it like? How many people showed up?
Hundreds of women came from all over. People sent in auditions online. It was so fun to hear so much music and see talent and meet so many different personalities. I felt like Simon Cowell.
Other than musical ability, what were you looking for?
It was nothing more than talent. There would be multiple people with extreme talent, so then it became your own creative spunk: what did you do that made me say, "Oh, okay. I like this. I like this"? I wanted a badass group.
What was behind the decision to put the call out for women only?
My life is surrounded by women — my two assistants, my mother as a manager, a lot of my friends are women. Women really help me throughout my day.
I just think that women are so powerful. I feel like they rule the world. They are the most important aspect to this world and they don't get enough credit or shine, especially black women. So that was my aura behind it. I just wanted to showcase that women can shred just as good as men.
Is the band going to be performing on your older rap material as well, in addition to the album cuts?
No. I'm not a big fan of rendition rap songs. I think the feeling is in the beat, the feeling is in the instrumentation. When you have to reconstruct it, the bounce gets lost a bit.
Tell me about the rehearsal process once you selected the band members. What was that like?
They're all so talented, so they all learned it very quick. I gave [the music] to them early, and gave them the stems. When it was day one, they all knew the songs. Even my new guitarist that came in later than everyone, she came in knowing the music.
The rehearsal project for this tour was a little different, because I'm reconstructing the whole album. I'm moving everything around and changing all the transitions and trying to make it trippy. So it's a process of me figuring out how I want to do things. But they're so talented and so smart, all I have to do is tell them what I want, and they'll do it instantly.
Like yesterday, I wanted a solo on the end of a song called "The Alchemist." Because at the end of [the album version] is this [singer Brittany] Fousheé breakdown and she's singing in a falsetto. But I took her vocals off and I wanted a solo. And [a band member] was working through it yesterday and it wasn't quite there. But I'm on the way to rehearsal now, and I know when I walk in this room, it'll be done. It'll be crazy. So they all take it very serious and they care, and I love them so much.
The festival shows you've done so far have had everyone in Bantu knot hairstyles, sometimes with face paint. Is that going to be the look for this tour?
No, I don't think so.
What was the thinking behind that look?
I was getting really deep into the world of '70s bands, '60s bands. Just unison: moving as one, looking like one, feeling like one. A family, a group, a team. You see us, we're all together.
When you play rap shows, so much of what you're doing is keeping a high-energy mood—getting the crowd going, starting mosh pits. With the new songs, it's about a diversity of feelings. What was that like for you as a band leader?
I'll tell you, it was not easy. I've been in this industry for seven years, and my shows have been high-energy for seven years. So the first time I went on a stage and performed Let's Start Here, I felt like, "Oh wow, they hate me. Do they hate this?" Plus I have in-ears, so I can't hear the crowd cheering. I don't perform with in-ears when I do rap shows.
It took me some time to get used to the switch. Tyler, the Creator once had a talk with me and explained to me that, it's not that they don't f— with you, it's that they're taking it in. They're comprehending you. They're processing and enjoying it. That clicked in me and I got a better understanding of what's going on.
What is it like in the same show to go from the Let's Start Here material to the rap stuff?
It's a relief, because that's going to my world. It's super easy for me. It's like flipping the switch and taking it to the moon.
Now that it's been the better part of a year since Let's Start Here came out, how are you feeling about it? What sense do you have of the reaction to it?
Since before it came out, when I was making it, I always felt so strongly because it was something that I felt inside. It felt future-forward, it felt different, it felt original, it felt fresh, it felt strong.
I'm grateful for the response. It's nice. It's not what you do it for, but it is extra credit. It's nice to get that love and to have people resonate with a body of work that you've worked so hard on and you care so deeply about.
Have you felt peoples' reactions change over the past few months?
Well, this is the first time when people are like, "Man, that album changed my life" or "It took me to a different place." People love my music — always have — but this reaction is, "Man, this album, man, it really took me there."
It did what it was supposed to do, which was transcend people. If you are on that side of the world and you're into that type of stuff, it did its job, its course — the same course as Dark Side of the Moon, which is to take you on a journey, an experience.
What was it about Dark Side that grabbed you?
Everything. The cover, the sounds, the transitions, the vocals, the lyrics, the age of Pink Floyd when they made it. I could go on. I got into deep fascination. It was so many things. It's just pure talent.
I've read that you studied Pink Floyd quite a bit, watching interviews and documentaries. What were some of the things you learned from that process and brought to Let's Start Here?
So many things. The most important element was that I wanted to create a body of work that felt cohesive and that transcended people, and that was a fun experience that could take you away from life.
I was curious about the song ":(failure:(," where you give a speech about failing. What were your inspirations for that?
At first I wanted [":(failure:("] to be a poem, and I wanted my friend to say it. We tried it out, but his voice was so f—ing deep. And his poem was so dark — it was about death and s—. I was like, Damn, n—, lighten up. But then I was just like, you know what, I'll do it, and I'll speak about something very near and dear to me, which was failure. I felt like it would resonate with people more.
Sometimes I feel like I'm growing so fast and getting so old, and maturing and evolving so quickly, and so many opportunities come into my life. You go on tour, and then you start working on an album, and you run out of time to do certain things. It's like, "Are we going to be together? If not, I have other things to do."
I think that's where it comes from. I don't have all day to play around. Too many things to do. Then it transpires to feel like I'm running out of time.
I love "drive ME crazy!" I was wondering if there are any particular male/female duets that you looked at as a model when designing that song.
Fleetwood Mac. Again, with all the inspirations for these songs, I still did my twist on them. So I don't want people to go and be like, "Oh, that sounds nothing like a Fleetwood Mac song." I wasn't trying to copy a Fleetwood Mac song. It just inspired me to make a song in that feeling, in that world.
When you began your career, you were the "king of the teens." Now you're a father in your mid-twenties. Who's your audience these days? Is it the people who were teens when you started your career, who are now in their 20s like you, or is it a new crop of teenagers?
I think now it's from the 12-year-olds to the 40-year-olds. My last festival, I had 50-year-olds in my show. That was so amazing. In the front row, there was an 11-year-old asking for my sneakers, and then in the back, it was 50- and 60-year-olds. It was crazy. The age demographic is insane.
Whenever I'm leaving somewhere, I like to have the window down and see people. [At my last festival] these 60-year-olds were leaving. They're like, "Man, your album, we love it. That show was so great." And that's awesome, because I love [that my music can] touch everyone.
You've been opening your recent shows with "the BLACK seminole." What does that phrase mean to you? How does it relate to the sound of the song and the rest of the lyrics?
It's saying, "I'm a warrior, I am a king, I am a sex symbol, I am everything good and bad with man, and I'm Black, unapologetically." That's what it's about.
Any final thoughts about the tour?
Just that it's an experience. You're not walking into a rinky-dink [show with] some DJ. This is going to be a show.
I feel like it's the start of my career. I just want people to come in with an open mindset. Not expecting anything, ready for everything.
Image courtesy of the GRAMMY Museum
GRAMMY Museum To Celebrate 50 Years Of Hip-Hop With 'Hip-Hop America: The Mixtape Exhibit' Opening Oct. 7
The new exhibit honors the 50th anniversary of hip-hop through an expansive and interactive exploration that features artifacts from legendary artists including the Notorious B.I.G., Tupac Shakur, LL Cool J, and more.
The GRAMMY Museum is celebrating the 50th anniversary of hip-hop this fall with the newly announced Hip-Hop America: The Mixtape Exhibit, an immersive, interactive, 5,000-square foot experience celebrating the multifaceted world of hip-hop and the global impact and influence of the genre and culture. Launching Saturday, Oct. 7, and running through Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2024, the exhibit will feature expansive exhibits exploring hip-hop music, dance, graffiti, fashion, business, activism, and history as well as artifacts from hip-hop pioneers like Tupac Shakur, the Notorious B.I.G., LL Cool J, and many more.
Additionally, the exhibit features a one-of-a-kind Sonic Playground, featuring five interactive stations that invite visitors of all ages to partake in DJing, rapping and sampling, all essential elements comprising hip-hop culture. Additional virtual and in-person education and community engagement programs will be announced at a later date.
Exploring the countless ways hip-hop music and culture has dominated popular culture over the last 50 years, Hip-Hop America: The Mixtape Exhibit was curated by a team of four co-curators who bring a deep knowledge of hip-hop, academic rigor and creativity to the project. They include:
Felicia Angeja Viator, associate professor of history, San Francisco State University, author of ‘To Live And Defy In LA: How Gangsta Rap Changed America,’ and one of the first women DJs in the Bay Area hip-hop scene
Adam Bradley, Professor of English and founding director of the Laboratory for Race and Popular Culture (the RAP Lab) at UCLA, and co-editor of ‘The Anthology of Rap’
Jason King, Dean, USC Thornton School of Music and former chair of the Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music at NYU
Dan Charnas, Associate Arts Professor, NYU Clive Davis Institute of Music, and author of ‘Dilla Time: The Life And Afterlife Of The Hip-Hop Producer Who Reinvented Rhythm’
The co-curators worked in conjunction with GRAMMY Museum Chief Curator and Vice President of Curatorial Affairs Jasen Emmons as well as a 20-member Advisory Board.
Hip-Hop America: The Mixtape Exhibit is an educational journey through several key themes:
Innovation: Explore how hip-hop artists have innovatively used technology, from transforming turntables into musical instruments to pioneering sampling techniques.
Sounds of Hip-Hop: Experience the diverse sounds of hip-hop in four themed studios, showcasing the evolution of production, the intersection of hip-hop and car culture, the craft of hip-hop lyrics, and the influence of R&B.
Fashion: Dive into the world of hip-hop fashion, featuring iconic clothing, jewelry and style.
Regionalism: Discover 14 hip-hop scenes across the United States, showcasing the importance of local and regional contributions.
Entrepreneurialism: Learn about the transformation of hip-hop from a back-to-school party in the Bronx to a multi-billion-dollar global industry.
Media: Discover the role of media in shaping hip-hop's development, from radio stations to pioneering shows like "Yo! MTV Raps."
Community: Explore how hip-hop has brought people together over the last 50 years, with an interactive ‘Hip-Hop America’ playlist featuring 200 songs that trace the genre's evolution.
Highlights from Hip-Hop America: The Mixtape Exhibit include:
The Notorious B.I.G.'s iconic 5001 Flavors custom red leather peacoat he wore in Junior M.A.F.I.A.'s music video "Players Anthem"
Kurtis Blow's original handwritten lyrics for his 1980 hit single, "The Breaks," the first gold-certified rap song
Tupac Shakur's handwritten essay "Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death," circa 1992
Two outfits designed by Dapper Dan, Harlem fashion icon: 1) a half-length black leather jacket worn by Melle Mel (Melvin Glover, b. 1961) in performance at the 1985 GRAMMY Awards; and a black-and-yellow leather bucket hat and jacket worn by New York hip-hop artist Busy Bee (David James Parker)
Egyptian Lover's gold Roland 808, the beat-making tool
LL Cool J's red Kangol bucket hat
Hip-Hop America: The Mixtape Exhibit is a key event taking place as the world is celebrating 50 years of hip-hop this year. The origins of hip-hop can be traced back to Aug. 11, 1973, when DJ Kool Herc DJed a birthday party inside the recreation room of an apartment building located on 1520 Sedgwick Avenue in the South Bronx, New York City. This history-making date marks the birth of hip-hop and is the reason why we're celebrating hip-hop's 50th anniversary this year. The 50th anniversary of hip-hop means artists, fans, and the music industry at-large are celebrating the momentous milestone via hip-hop concerts, exhibits, tours, documentaries, podcasts, and more around the globe across 2023.
Visit the GRAMMY Museum website for more information regarding advanced ticket reservations for Hip-Hop America: The Mixtape Exhibit.
Photo: Kevin Winter/Getty Images
5 Takeaways From Quavo's New Album 'Rocket Power'
Five years after his first solo release, Quavo's 'Rocket Power' explores loss, faith, and memories of the artist's late nephew Takeoff — a poignant tribute that marks a new creative plane for the Georgia-born artist.
Tragedy struck the hip-hop world in November 2022 when Migos star Takeoff was killed during an early morning shootout in Houston. Among the hardest hit by the loss was one-third of the famed trio and his uncle Quavo, who witnessed the shooting and sat by Takeoff's side as he passed outside a nearby bowling alley.
Since Takeoff's death, Quavo has largely stepped away from public view. He first resurfaced with an emotional tribute to his late nephew, "Without You," in January, sporadically releasing four more singles in subsequent months. But on Aug. 18, Quavo delivered his biggest tribute yet: the aptly titled album, Rocket Power, which explores the emotional scars that have formed nearly a year after Takeoff's passing.
Arriving nearly five years after his debut solo album, 2018's Quavo Huncho, Rocket Power is a welcomed sign of Quavo's artistic maturation. The 32-year-old rapper melds his effortless melodicism and hit-making powers to create a cohesive body of work filled with soul-stirring jams and ear-catching trap bangers.
To welcome Huncho's newest solo effort, we compiled five early takeaways from the 18-track project Rocket Power.
The Album Honors Takeoff's Life From Childhood To The GRAMMY Stage
From the intro "Fueled Up" to the album's closing track, Rocket Power points to the life and legacy of Takeoff, who's featured on songs "Patty Cake" and "Back Where It Begins." On songs like "Hold Me," Quavo details the misery and emotional pain he and others have faced in the months following Takeoff's unexpected death: "I just need you to hold me/ Listen and feel my heart closely." Quavo also points to other instrumental figures in his life, asking them to come to his aid in moments of darkness.
On the title track, "Rocket Power," Quavo acknowledges the gut-wrenching thoughts and vulnerability he's experienced in this time of grief, and the toll it's placed on both him and his family. "Thinking about my nephew while I'm rolling some trees/ Mama said she's crying, and she's crying in her sleep."
While references to Takeoff's passing are sprinkled throughout the project, "Patty Cake" gifts Migos fans a welcomed look back at the two artist's influence and chemistry. And for many, hearing Taekoff's voice on the interlude "Narkedo Speaks" (which is pulled from a Drink Champs interview) reflects the kind of figure he was in rap: "I ain't even have a plan B, I made myself not have a plan B on purpose/Just so I can fulfill my plan A."
Limited Features Magnify Takeoff Tribute
Rocket Power only includes five features, a vast difference from Quavo's debut album, which boasted features on over half of its 19 tracks.
Among the artists featured on the project — which includes Future, Young Thug, Hunxho and BabyDrill — the most significant moments come from the artist the album honors. With Takeoff's presence on "Patty Cake" and "Back Where It Begins," the songs flash to his often understated talents and role as the Migos' lyrical foreman. It also points to how instrumental he was in Quavo's life, as the rapper touches on their past memories growing up in Lawrenceville, Georgia.
With fewer features, Quavo's vision for Rocket Power pierces through more vividly, and the project's more intimate and conceptualized moments reach their apex. While stars like Young Thug and Future elevate tracks like "Focused" and "Back Where It Begins," songs like "11.11" and "Not Done Yet" would lose much of its emotional fuel with another artist's presence.
Rumors Aside, Offset And Quavo's Relationship Appears To Be On The Upswing
It's hard to ignore Offset's absence on Rocket Power. He's not featured nor mentioned throughout much of the album, but "11.11" provided fans with some clarity on the status of their relationship.
Following the 2022 release of Quavo and Takeoff's collaborative album, Only Built For Infinity Links (which was released just weeks before Takeoff's passing), rumors about a falling out between Quavo and Offset emerged. The two first alleviated reports of their feud — including that they fought backstage at the 2023 GRAMMYs — by reuniting for a performance at the 2023 BET Awards in June.
And nearly two months after their reunion, Quavo further suggests he and Offset are in a better place on "11.11": "5:30 Huncho and Set get up early, and go out and go get that bag together (Set)/ Who the f— gonna put us together, can't nobody put this s— back together/ So stay the f— out of the middle, lil fella/ We always goin' be that/ We fam forever (Migos)."
Quavo Leans Further Into His Faith
Throughout the album, Quavo points to his faith as a source of emotional strength and how it's tethered his family together in the wake of recent tragedy. On "Not Done Yet," the artist raps, "Giving it all I got, don't know what God got for me (God)/ Holding my head up high, I hope y'all really proud of me (High)."
While the "Lost" rapper has never shied away from his faith, Rocket Power is the most Quavo has ever melded it into his music. As much as it's a snapshot of his current mental state, the religious references point to the new creative plane Quavo is currently on.
Quavo Is A Legitimate Solo Star
Following Quavo Huncho, some hip-hop fans questioned Quavo's ability to carry an album as a solo artist. But if there were any doubts, drop them. He's unquestionably a star capable of carrying on his own.
While Quavo is credited for his infectious hooks and street hits, Rocket Power proves he can effectively draw from his life experiences and transfer those emotions to create gut-wrenching records. It also proves he can effectively pair these kinds of records together into a larger conceptual project, and expand his artistry beyond his melodic mastery.
Throughout the album, Quavo firmly commands each of the 18 tracks. He delivers a harmonious (and effective) mix of stadium-level anthems, emotion-fueled sentiments, and hard-hitting trap songs — proving that he'll not only continue the legacy he and Takeoff built together, but continue to evolve creatively on his own.
Photo: Simone Joyner/Getty Images
New Music Friday: Listen To New Songs From Travis Scott, Britney Spears, NewJeans & More
July 21 marks a big day of new music releases, including star-studded collaborations like Travis Scott, Bad Bunny and The Weeknd's "K-POP" and a new EP from NewJeans. Hear some of the biggest new songs on GRAMMY.com.
Like so many New Music Fridays before it, July 21 brought a cornucopia of fresh and unique sounds from all over the map.
Want to hear Travis Scott, Bad Bunny and the Weeknd get mellow and psychedelic? Raring to hear the latest dispatch from a One Direction member? Want a taste of A$AP Rocky's long-awaited next album? Is a Britney-shaped chunk missing from your musical life? Want to hear the future of K-pop?
To these and other questions, this slew of tunes will provide answers. In the below roundup, hurtle into the weekend with wildly divergent sounds from some of music's top acts — many with sizable GRAMMY legacies.
Travis Scott, Bad Bunny, The Weeknd — "K-POP"
A week before nine-time GRAMMY nominee Travis Scott's Utopia livestream event at the Pyramids of Giza in Egypt on July 28 — which will debut his new studio album of the same name — he dropped his sixth collaboration with four-time GRAMMY winner the Weeknd.
"K-POP," the album's lead single, is rounded out by three-time GRAMMY winner Bad Bunny, in his first collab with Scott. This triple-threat track has a stony, smoldering feel, with luxurious production from Boi-1da, among others — and it's elevated by its panoramic, transportive video.
ZAYN — "Love Like This"
The former One Direction member continues his solo legacy with "Love Like This," his first new single since 2021.
Therein, ZAYN extols the virtues of throwing caution to the wind when it comes to infatuation: "Everything is on the line, but I would rather be dead/If it's gonna mean a life that's lived without you, baby," he sings. "I think I gotta take that risk/ 'cause I cannot go back."
In the video, ZAYN putters around on a motorcycle on a gorgeous day. Previously signed to RCA, the singer recently moved to Mercury Records; could "Love Like This" be the ramp-up to a new album? If so, "Love Like This" offers a tantalizing taste of what's to come.
will.i.am, Britney Spears — "MIND YOUR BUSINESS"
After the termination of her conservatorship, GRAMMY winner Britney Spears dipped a toe back into her music career in 2022 with "Hold Me Closer," a duet with Elton John that includes elements of "Tiny Dancer," "The One" and "Don't Go Breaking My Heart."
Now, she's back in earnest with "MIND YOUR BUSINESS," a sassy, pulsing, electronic duet with seven-time GRAMMY winner will.i.am of Black Eyed Peas fame. The track marks the pair's fourth team-up, and first since 2014's "It Should Be Easy" from Spears' Brtiney Jean.
NewJeans — "ETA"
GRAMMY.com called NewJeans one of 10 K-Pop rookie girl groups to watch in 2023, and keeping ears on them has paid off. On July 21, they released their new EP, Get Up, to critical acclaim: NME declared that "no one can hold a candle to K-pop's rising wonder girls."
Concurrently with the release of Get Up, they released a joyous, iPhone-shot music video to its effervescent single, "ETA," in which a group of girls find a friend's boyfriend making moves on another lady.
Chris Stapleton — "White Horse"
Chris Stapleton's last album, 2020's Starting Over, helped the country crooner make a clean sweep at the 2022 GRAMMYs. At that ceremony, he won golden gramophones for Best Country Solo Performance ("You Should Probably Leave"), Best Country Song ("Cold") and Best Country Album ("Starting Over").
On Nov. 10, the eight-time GRAMMY winner will release his next LP, Higher. As he revealed the news on July 21, Stapleton also unveiled a majestic rocker of a single, "White Horse." "If you want a cowboy on a white horse/ Ridin' off into the sunset," he sings thunderously, "If that's the kinda love you wanna wait for/ Hold on tight, girl, I ain't there yet."
A$AP Rocky — "RIOT (Rowdy Pipe'n)"
For his latest track, A$AP Rocky dropped a stylish, charming short film for Beats depicting a harried diaper run (a fitting narrative for the new dad, soon to be dad of two, with partner Rihanna). That only contains a minute of the song, though; it's worth luxuriating in the whole thing.
To an uneasy, lumbering beat, Rocky extols a lifestyle to die for ("My wife is erotic/ I'm smokin' exotic/My whip is exotic") as well as his unparalleled connections ("I just call designers up, I free ninety-nine it").
Backed by 13-time GRAMMY winner Pharrell, "RIOT (Rowdy Pipe'n)" is said to be the first single from A$AP Rocky's long-awaited fourth album, Don't Be Dumb; if the quality of the track is any indication, it'll be worth the long haul.