Photo Courtesy of Lachi Music, LLC / New York, New York / 2021
Recording Artist And Accessibility Advocate Lachi Talks Disability Empowerment And Celebrating Blindness Through Music And Beyond
Musician/disability inclusion advocate Lachi on embracing her journey from ‘low vision to no vision,’ normalizing disability culture in entertainment, and Recording Artists and Music Professionals with Disabilities’ (RAMPD) goals for inclusivity in music
New York-based EDM singer/songwriter and disability inclusion advocate Lachi has been taking her activism to new heights in 2021. Recently meeting with White House officials and working in tandem with the UK nonprofit SYNC Inspire, Lachi is striving to make a global impact on visibility accessibility and awareness in the entertainment industry and beyond. She also founded Recording Artists and Music Professionals with Disabilities (RAMPD), an organization aimed at unifying the voices and goals of music creators and professionals with disabilities and promoting inclusion in music industry.
Amid October’s Blindness Awareness Month and National Disability Employment Awareness Month, the Recording Academy sat down with Lachi to learn more about her advocacy efforts, her journey of embracing and elevating her blindness as a key part of her identity and what’s next for her musically.
How are you doing in the ‘new normal,’ and what have you been up to over the last year and a half?
Near the beginning of the pandemic, my manager at the time, Gary Salzman, passed away. It was a huge loss. After that, I knew I had a big decision to make because I was very dependent on him for a lot of my work. I began to start to self-reflect on becoming more open about my disability and becoming more confident in all parts of myself. I said, "I need to figure out what I really want to do. Do I want to rebrand myself?" And I did. I wanted to make sure I stood in front of my disability and took that into the rest of my identity because why hide that part of myself?
I am a vocalist at heart; I do EDM singing, songwriting, dance music, trance music, house music. I've really been blessed to have already been relatively well-respected in that realm whereby coming out about my disability did not disrupt the flow of work coming in. People weren't like, "Oh my God, she's blind. What do we do now?" They were just like, "Oh, really? Huh. Okay." I was shooting myself in the foot not being upfront about it because it turns out people thought it was actually pretty awesome.
That has led me to be more active in accessibility advocacy. I've been working with the Foundation Fighting Blindness, doing musical things with them. I've been performing a lot virtually and working with other artists to help make their online performances more accessible through ASL, captioning and having people announce and describe themselves for those who have sight conditions. I recently spoke with the Office of Public Engagement at the White House about greater equity and awareness of blind Americans. And not long ago I hosted a PBS segment called Renegades that highlighted disabled renegades who shaped America.
I [also] started a YouTube series called Off Beat - Going Blind & Staying Fabulous in NYC. The series celebrates my journey going from low vision to no vision, while still learning the things I want to learn and checking off some bucket list items. Through it, I've had the opportunity to speak to celebrities and public figures in the disabled community like Haben Girma, Molly Burke, Lucy Edwards, who's a huge TikTok star, folks in the LGBTQ community like Paperboy [Prince], and politicians.
In terms of the bucket list items, I'd always wanted to skydive, and so I went skydiving. It was a lot of fun; I wasn't scared at all. I was like, "Yeah, let's do this!” We got on the plane and they're like, "You sure?" I'm like, "Yes!" Then we go to the door and they're like, "You sure?" I'm like, "No, what am I doing? What is this?" But then we jumped! And it was amazing to fly.
I have a bunch of things on deck [for future episodes]: scuba diving, spelunking and a bunch of really great guests. I've been having a lot of fun with the series. It's supercharged my personal growth, and now I'm just this fearless adventure seeker. The more I lose my vision, the more I want to grab life by the balls.
Do you think it’s important for creatives with disabilities to come forward and share their experiences to help normalize disability culture in the entertainment industry?
Absolutely. I think one of the biggest barriers any marginalized community has is lack of visibility, lack of awareness. That's always step one, because people can't relate to your issue. People can't relate to you on a human level until they see it, until they feel it, until they can stand beside you and not feel uncomfortable asking you questions about it.
I'm going to be speaking on behalf of those with disabilities and accessibility needs on a PopShift panel in Hollywood that is bringing together 50 leaders of underrepresented groups to exchange stories and strategize how to further normalize minorities in mainstream media.
When we start talking about things en masse in a way that is relatable, in a way that is hits close to home, then we start to see the change. Young minds [with no exposure], if they see someone in a wheelchair they go, "Oh my God, that's really weird and strange and different. Can I stand near this girl in a wheelchair?" But if they see the girl in a Netflix show, living her life, doing awesome things, instead of being afraid to stand beside the kid in the wheelchair, they're ready to say more than just hello.
You were newly appointed as an Advocacy Committee co-chair for the Recording Academy’s New York Chapter. What would you like to achieve while on the committee?
I'm so excited for the opportunity! I have to give a huge shout out to Sharon Tapper for seeing leadership qualities in me. She was the one who really fought for the New York Chapter’s Music, Purpose + Community panel that I moderated in April. Initially, I was afraid to speak to all the big wigs at the top, but with her support, I went forth. Once I did that panel it was all she wrote. I am advocating for all musicians, and I want to be sure that all includes musicians with disabilities.
When we speak to leaders and politicians, I get to walk into the room representing an intersectionality that includes disability that they don't normally see in these rooms. I am advocating for the disabled musician, the intersectional musician. I really like studying the acts and laws that we are advocating for and making sure that they understand the nitty gritty and how it affects their communities.
There's money and policies from local to national levels that musicians can benefit from, the arts can benefit from. A lot of musicians can’t sit there and try to figure this out. They should be off creating; they need to be off creating. But I have this platform and I’m down to help, so I want to do what I can to ensure we get all the things that creators need from the policy level and then make sure musicians know about it.
Tell me about the new organization you founded, Recording Artists and Music Professionals with Disabilities (RAMPD), and your goals for making the music industry more accessible.
I got flooded with emails from people with disabilities saying, "I felt so seen to see myself up there speaking to the Recording Academy. What's next, Lachi?" I couldn’t sit there and hide under my bed. I have to do something. I have to answer that question. Here's what's next: We need a body of representatives. We need representatives to speak to companies like the Recording Academy and policy makers specifically on behalf of musicians and music professionals with disabilities, not in an “inspirational way” but in a competitive, professional way.
[Songwriter/violinist and RAMPD Vice President] Gaelynn Lea and I are such a perfect team because we come together and we talk about things from different angles. She's a lot more about physical accessibility, while I'm a lot more about visibility. We get to tackle both of those. We came together and put out a call for established and up-and-coming artists and professionals with disabilities, and we found a deluge of great individuals who fit the bill. These are extremely high achievers and they’re living with a disability. They have a disability, that's who they are. And it's part of RAMPD’s mission to empower people to identify in that way.
As a body of accredited musicians and professionals with disabilities, it is also our goal to liaise with the music industry about inclusion. We've been speaking with folks at NIVA [the National Independent Venue Association] about their Save Our Stages efforts, like, "How can we partner with you to get accessibility included in some of the bills you're pushing?"
We've also been speaking with Attitude is Everything, which is a huge proponent of music and disability in the UK. They've done studies. They're a lot further along than we are in the US . We’re gaining advice and insight from them because we really need those figures in the US to support our discussions and planning. That’s the next step.
What are some action items for the music industry to be a more inclusive, diverse and accessible place for all?
Team up with RAMPD! For example, if booking agencies partner with RAMPD, we can become their go-to resource for competitive music professionals and performers with disabilities and booking inclusively. I’d also like more companies to consider creators with disabilities for leadership councils, senior positions, projects, panels, consultations, et cetera.
Another thing that folks can do anywhere in the music industry, whether it be venue accessibility or online accessibility, is universal design. When designing a website, gear, anything, companies should be consulting with disability experts from the onset so that we don't have to deal with the issue of having to go back and try to fix things later.
People don't always realize how commonplace people with disabilities, visible or not, are in their own community, or consider that they themselves could one day have a disability. If we design the things we make universally and accessibly from the get-go, that is one of the best ways to not only serve the disability community but the community at large for the long term.
What does Blindness Awareness Month and National Disability Employment Awareness Month mean to you?
Employment for musicians and music professionals is not just the stage. It's from the green room to the boardroom. It means gigs, it means streams, it means placements, and much more. Sadly, because people with disabilities are not on the boards or at the decision-making tables, our perspective is oftentimes not heard at the top level. Because that voice is left out, it trickles down. I believe that when we talk about Disability Employment Awareness Month, we need to really consider the back room. We're talking a lot about having visibility and awareness and stuff like that, but we really need folks in these senior positions, in these decision-making positions. That's where we really start to see the movement.
One of the things that I really love to celebrate this month is my team. My whole team is made up of people with disabilities or very staunch allies. My manager, Ben Price, is legally blind. He is also on the leadership council at BPI, which is the UK equivalent of The Recording Academy. My talent representative, Keely Cat-Wells, she has been on 30 under 30 [lists] and lives with a nonvisible disability. She is a huge advocate in Hollywood disability representation. She's doing a lot of things with her company, C Talent. My literary agent, Stephanie Hansen, she's unilaterally deaf. She consistently gets major book deals for her clients. She's having somebody shadow me now for an autobiographical book. My operations manager identifies as neurodiverse. My assistant is legally blind, [as are the two people] who run my social media. My publicist, Sarah Solomon, only represents disabled and DEI artists.
My entire team is made up of folks who either have a disability or are a staunch ally, and that's why we work so well. I think personally, folks who have disabilities, if you have to wake up and figure out a creative way to get from your bed to the bathtub every morning, then you have a super strong creative muscle. That turns into self-determination. That turns into a person that's just really good at solving anything, despite any kind of obstacle. When I realized that of myself, I said, "I need to have a whole team that identifies this way." We've been such a well-oiled, fast-paced machine of doers and thinkers, and all about that purpose of really showing to the world, "Hey, we all have disabilities and look how awesome we are."
Lachi | Photo Courtesy of Lachi Music, LLC / New York, New York / 2021
EDM and EDM festivals have blown up over the last decade. Any of those you’re hoping to perform in the future?
RAMPD has begun communicating with various festivals to discuss how to make them more accessible for those with a wide range of disabilities. A good friend of mine, Yvette Chivers, is a DJ who is legally blind, and has a company called SYNC INSPIRE. Through that, she's starting up this thing called the VIP Experience, which stands for Visually Impaired Persons Experience. She's helping festivals create an accessible section for folks who are visually impaired. I'm part of that movement and the festivals we’ll be tapping first are Amsterdam Dance Event and EDC Las Vegas to start including this element in their festivals and to hopefully branch out to allow folks with other disabilities to be a part of this experience.
Musically I've been writing a lot of new songs. In the last quarter of 2020, I released a new track every week or two. Right now, I'm working on remixes of my songs “DNA” and “Years.” A lot of my recent songs highlight self-empowerment and more cerebral topics. At this point in my music, I want to focus on expressing my experience as a disabled badass. I just finished putting together a new track with Apl.de.Ap of the Black Eyed Peas called “Dis Education.” It's a modern track telling folks, "Hey, I am not your inspiration porn. I am a badass chick. I'm competitive. I do not need you to feel bad for me. I don't need your charity to make it out here in this world."
Ultimately, it's about getting the message out to the world that disability is bold, that disability does not have to be something that you fear. You can be a badass. My whole thing is self-pride. I focus on disability pride, but it's all about just being proud of yourself. It's hard for folks to get outside of their internalized -isms, whether that’s ableism, racism, sexism. We all have internalized -isms that we have to deal with because of what society has put inside us. While I focus on anti-ableism, because it's one of the hardest ones for people to get over, everybody has -isms that they have to work on. That's really my goal with the work I do.
What do you want to say to those who may be struggling with their disability and are trying to get to a place of self-acceptance?
A lot of times people say, "Hey, it's all about the ability, not the disability. It's all about putting the ability in disability." I'm actually super freaking tired of that. I want to say that the prefix of dis- is just fine. When you take the dis out of disability, you're taking away my identity. It's like saying, “Let's focus on the American of African American,” or “Let's focus on the man of woman.” No. We're focusing on the African part of African American, the wo- part of woman, and the dis- part of disability, because it's one full word and it's one full identity. I want to make sure that folks with disabilities and non-disabled individuals alike embrace that full word and appreciate that full identity.
GRAMMY Rewind: Rosalía Thanks Female Trailblazers Who Inspired Her As She Accepts A Latin GRAMMY For "Malamente" In 2018
As she stepped onstage to claim her Best Urban/Fusion Performance trophy at the 2018 Latin GRAMMYs, Rosalía thanked the women who came before her in the music industry — and proved that it pays off to go your own way.
2018 was a banner year for Rosalía at the Latin GRAMMY Awards: She brought home her first Latin GRAMMYs at the ceremony — both for "Malamente," the first single off of her second album, El Mal Querer.
In this episode of GRAMMY Rewind, let's turn back the clock to that big night in November at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, and revisit the moment when Rosalía's name was called as the winner of a Latin GRAMMY in the Best Urban/Fusion Performance category.
The visibly stunned singer gradually made her way to the stage amid audience applause, and when she arrived at the podium, she was quick to thank those who helped her shape her sound.
"This is incredible. It's like a dream," she told the crowd in Spanish. "Thank you for all the love. Thank you for all this recognition."
Of course, fans and family were foremost on the list of people that Rosalía mentioned in her acceptance speech. Still, she also made special mention of some musical acts who've come before her.
Specifically, she wanted to thank the female artists across all genres who have inspired her, over the course of her career, to make music on her own terms. "I take pride in always leading in my projects and making music that represents me — taking risks, and sharing it with the world, and being here," Rosalía reflected.
"I want to thank women like Lauryn Hill, WondaGurl, Björk, Kate Bush, Ali Tamposi, Ninja," she went on to list. "All the women in the industry who've taught me that it can be done, because I'm here because of them. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. For real."
Press play above to watch Rosalía's full acceptance speech, and keep checking back to GRAMMY.com every Friday for more episodes of GRAMMY Rewind.
Behind The Board: Alex Kline Traces Her Journey To Becoming An In-Demand Nashville Producer And Songwriter
The Nashville-based songwriter and producer explains why working on music behind the scenes with an artist is her "happy place," and discusses the song she produced that made history at country radio.
Songwriter and producer Alex Kline is one of the most in-demand collaborators in Nashville's country music industry today — but she says her career actually started when she fell in love with a Red Hot Chili Peppers hit.
"I picked up the guitar when I was 13 because I heard "Under the Bridge" by the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and something about that guitar intro made me wanna learn how to play guitar," Kline explains in the newest interview of Behind the Board.
Those early interests ultimately led her to Nashville, where she began to work with country legends like Ronnie Dunn and Reba McEntire as well as the younger generation of country stars, such as Mitchell Tenpenny, Cassadee Pope and Meghan Patrick. Her work with Tenille Arts, on Arts' single "Somebody Like That," even led her to a historic No. 1 hit on the Mediabase Country Music charts.
"We actually made history as the first all-female team to have a No. 1," Kline continues. "I was the first solo female producer in country music to have a No. 1. Which is kinda crazy, that it took until 2021 to have a female do that."
Kline says she loves the collaborative work that goes into producing an artist's music. "That's really my happy place — developing with an artist and creating the sound, going from the ground all the way up," she explains, adding that she's even learned to embrace compromise over the course of her career.
"I'll usually have an idea of something, and I'll think that a certain song sounds perfect, and then the artist will say, 'Oh, I want...' something that's maybe 10 percent different than what I would hear. And I sometimes don't necessarily at first think that they're right, but then I always usually come around," Kline continues.
"I think it's just good to be open and flexible," she adds with a laugh, "and as a producer, remember that it's the artist's name on the project, and not my name in big letters with my picture on it. So they have to be in love with it."
Press play on the video above to learn more about Kline's journey towards being a Nashville songwriter and producer, and keep checking GRAMMY.com for more episodes of Behind the Board.
Photo: C Flanigan / Contributor
Everything We Know About Paramore’s New Album, 'This Is Why'
Five years after the release of their last studio album, Paramore will embark on an intimate North American tour before dropping their highly anticipated new album, 'This Is Why.' Here’s everything to know about the new album, out on Feb. 10, 2023.
Paramore fans are used to waiting a while between records, but the five-year break following After Laughter is the longest hiatus the band has taken since its inception.
Luckily, the wait for new music from their faves was coming to an end.
When the group’s website and social media profile photos were updated in early September, fans went hunting for clues about new music — and they weren’t disappointed. Paramore lead singer Hayley Williams, guitarist Taylor York and drummer Zac Farro had planted a few online Easter eggs to tease the release of "This Is Why" — the title track for their forthcoming album.
Then on Sept. 28, the group surprised fans by announcing the release date for their new album and dropping the single concurrently with a new music video. "It was the very last song we wrote for the album. To be honest, I was so tired of writing lyrics, but Taylor convinced Zac and I both that we should work on this last idea. What came out of it was the title track for the whole album," Williams said in a statement. "It summarizes the plethora of ridiculous emotions, the rollercoaster of being alive in 2022, having survived even just the last three or four years."
Ahead of their upcoming tour — which begins Oct. 2 in California and ends Nov. 19 in Mexico — here are four things to know about Paramore’s forthcoming album, This Is Why, out on Feb. 10, 2023.
The Band Has Been Teasing A Comeback For A While
In an interview with NME in May 2020, Williams hinted at the band’s next era. "We’ve thought about [the next Paramore album]," she said. "Taylor’s mentioned things like: ‘Oh, God – I miss guitars. We’ve found ourselves listening to a lot of older music that we grew up being inspired by. T and I liked stuff that was a bit more ratty sounding: The Rapture, Yeah Yeah Yeahs. All three of us loved Queens Of The Stone Age’s Songs For The Deaf."
In a July 2022 interview with Music Connection, GRAMMY-winning mixing engineer Manny Marroquin revealed that Paramore’s new album, also called P6 by fans, had been completed.The news spread through social media like wildfire.
Two months later, the group kicked off the promo cycle by posting a range of cryptic dates on their website, causing fans to channel their inner Sherlock to decipher the clues — 9.1 discord, 9.7 blank, 9.9 wr0ng, 9.12 LA, 9.16 - pre-save t.i.w., 9.19 - NY and 9.28. Each clue represented a mini-milestone for the band’s new era, including the launch of a new Discord, the wiping of their social media pages to signal a new era, fall concert dates, a preview of the new single, and updated profile pics on social media.
The Trio Will Return To Their Guitar-Driven Roots
This Is Why will be a return to Paramore's rock roots — but not the emo-pop-rock sound first heard on their 2005 debut, All We Know Is Falling. (On a recent episode of her new podcast "Everything Is Emo," Williams revealed that the indie rock band Bloc Party played an integral role in helping Paramore figure out the energy of their music.)
With Williams’ signature belt and a riffy, rocking chorus, "This Is Why" is a bit of a departure from the band’s synth-pop and new-wave-infused 2017 effort, After Laughter. The track bears a bit of a resemblance to some of the ‘80s pop heard on Williams’ solo album, Petals for Armor," leaving fans to speculate about whether or not the group will ever return to the rock sound that brought them initial success. However, Paramore has gone on record about their intentions to get back to guitar-driven music, so other songs on P6 may lean further into their rock roots than the title track.
But change can be good, and experimenting with new sounds can yield magic — as was the case with After Laughter, which itself was a sonic departure from their eclectic 2013 self-titled album. According to Williams, experimentation is essential because it keeps things fresh. The singer told Rolling Stone that the band was pleasantly surprised by the album’s production process and had no plans to make a carbon copy of their previous material.
"The music we were first excited by wasn’t exactly the kind of music we went on to make," Williams said. "Our output has always been all over the place, and with this project, it’s not that different. We’re still in the thick of it, but some things have remained consistent from the start. 1) More emphasis back on the guitar, and 2) Zac should go as Animal as he wants with drum takes."
The Group Collaborated With Their Longtime Producer And The Mixing Engineer Behind Rihanna’s "Work"
For P6, Paramore reunited with longtime collaborator Carlos De la Garza, who previously produced the band’s self-titled album, After Laughter, and Williams’ solo projects Petals for Armor and Flowers For Vases/descansos. (Fun fact: De la Garza is the father of two members of the LA-based punk band the Linda Lindas — guitarist Lucia and drummer Mila — who count Paramore among their music heroes.)
To ensure a cohesive sonic experience for This Is Why, the trio recruited 11-time GRAMMY-winning mixer Manny Marroquin, who has mixed tracks for Kanye West, Lizzo, Rihanna, Megan Thee Stallion, and Selena Gomez, among others.
The Group May Play New Music On Their Fall Concert Tour
In October, the trio is hitting the road for a limited fall tour through North America, and there’s a possibility that they’ll preview some new music for fans in attendance. This time around, the GRAMMY-winning rockers are skipping the arenas in favor of cozier venues to provide fans with a more intimate experience — and they’re taking a few up-and-coming bands along for the ride, including Young the Giant and Japanese Breakfast.
Photo: Edward Cooke
Craig David Is Still Born To Do It, 22 Years Later: "I Was Thrown Into This Magical World Of Pure Imagination"
GRAMMY-nominated U.K. garage and R&B superstar Craig David discusses his eighth studio album, '22,' his new book 'What's Your Vibe?,' and how both returned him to a child-like state of wonder.
At 19, Craig David went from a music obsessive just trying to pull some money together to buy more vinyl and gear, to a chart-topping global sensation with his GRAMMY-nominated debut single "Fill Me In." The success and fame continued with his massively successful first album, Born to Do It. A lot has happened since that 2000 album, and the British star feels blessed to still be doing what he loves.
In a deeply engaging and personal manner, David details his rapid rise, the challenges of fame, and learning to trust his intuition in his new book, What's Your Vibe?: Tuning into your best life, available in the U.K. Oct. 6. (Its U.S. release will be announced at a later date.)
On Sept. 30, he'll drop his eighth studio album, 22 — a celebration of the 22 years since Born to Do It, and a return to that more innocent creative space, when he was just a teenager writing songs while looking out his bedroom window in Southampton. David also finds deep connection to the meaning of 22 in numerology, which is known as the "master builder" number and is about turning dreams into reality that serve the greater good.
Across its 17 inviting tracks, 22 reflects what David loves and thrives at: singing beautifully about love and life, atop danceable garage rhythms and sexy R&B bops, and collaborating with singer/songwriters and producers. Opener "Teardrops" delivers that classic, smooth garage sound David brought to the world with his early singles, while "Who You Are" featuring 27-year-old U.K. singer/songwriter, producer and remixer MNEK is a perfect marriage of voices. There's also upbeat classic house on "My Heart's Been Waiting For You" with London producer Duvall (of trio Disciples), and anthemic EDM on "DNA" with Swedish DJ/production duo Galantis.
In a deep dive with GRAMMY.com, Craig David discusses his new album, book, and the journey to get here.
22 opens with your classic, smooth garage sound on "Teardrops." Was that an intentional choice, to set the tone for the album?
The whole album ended up coming about throughout lockdown. It kind of hit a certain point where we recognized that we have to surrender to this, it's happening. In that surrender, we had to look at different things that fill our soul with a little bit of joy. And for me, that was being in my studio at home.
And that felt very similar to when I made my first album, Born to Do It. I felt like all of my childhood and joy was made leading up to that [first] album and it was just life. It was going into the studio, it was seeing my friends. It was "I'm gonna write a chorus today and come back to it tomorrow and maybe write a verse."
Working on "Teardrops," gave me the feel of when I was making "Rewind" [in 1999] with the Artful Dodger, and I thought "What a nice way to open the whole thing." It's got the nostalgia of the ehhh, ehhh, yeahhh, and it's got this whole riff from "They Don't Know," the  Jon B. song, which has actually been my alarm clock for the last three or four years.
"Teardrops" wasn't that at first. We'd written it and I started singing it in the morning, over that riff of my alarm clock. I called up the producer Mike Brainchild, and sang him the melody over it. He was getting his hair cut and he told the guy, "It's cool, you don't have to do the fade all crazy. I'll come back." Literally that day, he took that guitar, flipped it on it, revocaled it, and there you have "Teardrops." It's one of my favorites on the album, to be honest. I always feel you got to start on the right foot.
What do you think was the magic sauce that put you back into your 19-year-old self?
The title of Born to Do It came from Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, my all-time favorite movie. There's a part at the beginning where the kid runs into the candy shop and he says, "Candy Man, how did you do it?" And the Candy Man says, "Well my dear boy, do you ask a fish how it swims? Do you ask a bird how it flies?" The boy says, "No, sir." "You don't because they were born to do it." I feel it's an intrinsic feeling of almost getting out of the way of the thing that you know that you love and enjoy.
This period of time was reflective. It also made me recognize how grateful and how blessed I am to be in the position that I've been in for 22 years and be at the stage where I've been able to, I hope, bring lots of joy to many people through my music. I'm more conscious about everything I'm saying now, because I'm in a position where it has an effect.
We get some more garage on "Who You Are."What was it like working with MNEK and how did that track come together?
I mean, it was a long time waiting to actually have his vocals on one of my songs. We've had this beautiful kind of weaving as songwriters working together. MNEK was involved with my song called "Change My Love" [from 2016's Following My Intuition] and, more recently [in 2020], one with KSI called "Really Love."
When I'm working with someone, the conversation we have at the start sets the tone for what we're actually gonna sing and talk about. He was talking about just had a huge hit with Joel Corry, "Head & Heart." And he was saying, "You know what, I like my anonymity and a lot of people are pulling at me right now. For my mental health, I'm trying to find balance in all of that." I said to him, "I love how you're wearing your heart on your sleeve. Look how beautiful it is that you can just be you and not feel like you have to act in any way within society. I think we're in a really beautiful, liberating time."
"Who you are" and "wearing your heart on sleeve" became the topic to hopefully be the empowerment song for someone who wants to be able to express who they are. I felt like it really touched a lot of people's hearts. He was the perfect person [to sing it with me].
What was your intention going into working on your eighth studio album? Did that evolve as it started coming together?
I just wanted to have fun, like I did making my first music, not even necessarily the first album. Those [first] songs were me just enjoying being a child and going through being a teenager and looking out my window and aspiring to do this. It was this very magical, whimsical [space]. As an adult, it's important to still find that balance with the inner child that's inside of you, that's always crying out to just have some fun. It's like, "Wow, when did it all become so crazy serious around here?"
The beauty of being so free is that you have these very powerful moments that happen and it creates an album. I could have never told you that my first album was going to go on and sell 7 million copies and have No.1s around the world. I was just like, "I like this song. It feels good, it's giving me vibes. My friends are telling me it's good." I would have been happy with just that. And that was very similar with this [album], I had time to enjoy [it]. I hope it really brings joy to other people. I just want to be of service in that sense.
I love that you open the book checking in with the reader, asking how they're feeling. How do you stay present and grounded in your daily life, especially when things are moving really fast?
On one hand, there's the spiritual practices or rituals — if I start to feel a bit ungrounded or if there's a lot going on in my head, I'll step outside and get some fresh air. Or if there's nowhere to get fresh air, then I just take some deep breaths, and put my hand on my heart and it really does calm everything down. Talking about what we've experienced today, this has got me very much at the moment. The whole book is really "How do you feel?" Not how you're thinking.
We'd like life to be so very organized and in place, but it's messy. It's messy, but in a good way. It's the ice cream melting all over the cone and all over your hand and your nice new outfit. But we had fun, right? That's the premise of the whole thing: Let's get into our bodies, into how we're feeling, and then take it from there. It doesn't mean that life won't present things that can be a bit hard on us. But let's get back to the kid inside of us because that will always find a sweet spot somewhere.
I love that. When you were working on the book, what did it feel like looking back at your life, especially given the timing of being 22 years from Born to Do It?
Yeah, I feel like you can kind of see why things played out the way that they did when you have a little bit of hindsight. In the midst of something, you're trying to process and work out what's happening around you. When everything first blew up for me, it felt like zero to 100. One moment I'd been working at McDonalds, and selling double-glazed windows on the phone, cold-calling people. Ultimately, I was just wanting to put together some money so I could buy some more vinyl or that hi-fi equipment I wanted. I see now that all of those parts got me to this point in my life. That doesn't mean that I've actually now arrived somewhere, because my life is still continuing on.
I wanted to be able to write something that people could relate to… and hopefully find their own story within what I was saying. And maybe what I did to get through something or how I felt about something might be something someone else is experiencing and they can use some of those tools I used. Same for the album. If I can give you a little something with the book and if my music can lift you out of whatever's going on in your world for three and a half minutes of a song, then my work is done.
And the number 22, funnily enough, has a very deep symbolic, spiritual meaning. It's about recognizing that what you may have thought was the thing you were doing is actually setting you up for the real work. So the music thing was like, "We got to try and get the No. 1, we got to sell records." Now, it's about creating vibrational, energetic moments that connect me on stage when I sing and there's that euphoric moment and life is good.
I'm happy that I realized that this is actually what it is about. It's not about getting number ones or how Spotify plays you got today or how many interviews did you do today? I'd like to say, how many people did you actually connect with today when you did interviews?
What did that success of "Fill Me In" feel like to you at that time? I can't imagine being 19, putting out your first solo single and everyone is listening to it.
It really was euphoric. It's funny because yesterday I actually watched about seven of those [early music] videos, including "Fill Me In." That shot where it starts off in the barber's getting my hair done, it would have only been weeks before that I was at my barber's having those conversations, it was so real. It would then jump from zero to 100, from walking up the high street in Southampton where I grew up, to people running up and asking for my autograph.
It was the start of a new beginning and the end of sort of the innocence and the child phase for me. I had to process this fame and rise. And I'm seeing the whole world, traveling to countries and places I've never been before.
"Fill Me In" was released the same week as Destiny's Child's "Say My Name" in the U.K.— I had Destiny's Child posters on my wall. I got the call saying I was No. 1and I could not get my head around it. It wasn't so much the number, I was just like, "No way Destiny's Child can be No. 2." It felt so surreal. It's like Charlie getting the golden ticket and walking into the chocolate factory. That was pretty much the first few years, I was thrown into this magical world of pure imagination. At the same time, it was a lot of process.
Now I look back, as I talk about in the book, I had moments of imposter syndrome.I I started to feel the pull of I'm still a local guy in Southampton, but you're not, your album just sold 7 million copies and you're performing on "The Letterman Show." You're not that anymore, but you are. That was a strange moment.
How did your beginnings as a radio and club DJ, as well as making mixtapes in your bedroom, influence your sound and your approach to music?
I loved it. With the mixtapes, you had to have a very good read of who you were selling them to. The choice of songs was important, which goes back to album—that was setting me up to figure out where do the songs fit. When I was supposed to be college studying in the library, I was in there using the printer to make mixtape CDs covers. I had a little laminating machine, the whole thing.
All of those things set me up for more than 22 years where I can jump on and create covers and send them to the design team. And the mixtape period was a really good time. Those are the moments behind the scenes that set you up for when you are doing the thing.
If you could go back and give your 19-year-old self advice or guidance, what would you tell him?
Go out there, do exactly as you're about to do. Because every single thing you're going to do is going to land you in the places that you need to be.
And even though this might sound a little far-fetched for you right now — because you're only 19 and you're a little bit excited because you've just released your first album and it's all going beautifully — but there will be some moments that will be quite hard. Have the faith that there'll be light at the end of the tunnel. Do the right thing. Follow your intuition. That's what will get you through this whole thing. I'll see you when you're my age and you'll see what I mean.
What is your response to seeing artists like Beyoncé and Drake tap into house music and bring it into pop?
I'm all for people being creative and expressive, and showing whatever they're feeling at any point in time in their life. I can only see the positives in putting out music that you love. And if it shines light on a genre of music because of the position that you're in, the more the merrier. All I know is, "Break My Soul," sheeesh, that tune hit.
I have a song called "Heartline," and I do a version where I play that instrumental and then drop the acapella of "Break My Soul" over the top. Ohh, the vibe! "Heartline" is kind of an Afrobeat tune, the tempo sits so nicely — but what Beyoncé is saying! "New foundation, got that motivation, I'm on a new vibration." I'm all for it. Go out there and just do what you want to express, because that’s the inner child in you.
Photo: Rob Verhorst / Contributor
Remembering Coolio: 5 Standout Tracks From The Late Rapper’s Discography
With a career spanning three decades, Coolio will be remembered for his upbeat ‘90s jams, sense of humor, and lyricism. While the road to the top was rocky, and Coolio developed a unique sensibility and canon of hits.
GRAMMY-winning rapper Coolio passed away on Sept. 28, at the age of 59. The rapper is best known for his 1995 smash hit "Gangsta’s Paradise," which became the top-selling single of the year thanks to its melodic sample, energetic flow and catchy hook. He is survived by his six children.
Born Artis Leon Ivey Jr., Coolio spent his early years in Monessen, Pennsylvania before relocating with his family to Compton, California — the birthplace of West Coast rap. Coolio's parents introduced him to classic R&B hits from their youth, and those songs became inspiration for his future sound. "My mom and stepfather was listening to Miles Davis, Stevie Wonder, the Supremes, the Dramatics, Marvin Gaye, Curtis Mayfield," Coolio told Rolling Stone in 1995. "Back in those days, people didn’t have big album collections, at least not in the ghetto, but we did."
Before making a full-time commitment to music, the "Fantastic Voyage" rapper worked a range of jobs, including airport security; he credited his work as a volunteer firefighter with helping him kick an addiction to crack cocaine. "I wasn’t looking for a career; I was looking for a way to clean up a way to escape the drug thing," he told the LA Times in 1994. "It was going to kill me and I knew I had to stop. In firefighting, training was [the] discipline I needed. We ran every day. I wasn’t drinking or smoking or doing the stuff I usually did."
With his life back on track, the rapper was free to focus on his music and never looked back. After the release of his debut album, It Takes A Thief, in 1994, Coolio enjoyed immense success on global music charts, and wins at the GRAMMYs, American Music Awards and MTV Music Awards before his career began to simmer down in the 2000s.
But Coolio did not stop. In 2008, he created a cooking reality show called "Cookin’ With Coolio" and became a spokesperson for Environmental Justice and Climate Change, helping to start a dialogue with students at historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) about global warming.
As news of his passing made the rounds on social media, fans and peers alike paid tribute to the late rapper, including fellow West Coast rap legend Ice Cube. "This is sad news," he tweeted. "I witness first hand this man’s grind to the top of the industry. Rest In Peace, @Coolio."
Dangerous Minds actor Michelle Pfeiffer took to Instagram to pay her respects. "I remember him being nothing but gracious. 30 years later I still get chills when I hear ["Gangsta’s Paradise"] Sending love and light to his family. Rest in Power, Artis Leon Ivey Jr. ❤️."
In celebration of his life and career, listen to and learn about five standout tracks from the late GRAMMY-winning rapper, who has become a part of pop culture history.
Coolio co-wrote this classic hip-hop track for the soundtrack of the 1995 high school drama, Dangerous Minds, starring Michelle Pfeiffer. Featuring a Stevie Wonder sample ("Pastime Paradise") and a haunting yet catchy chorus sung to perfection by Larry "LV" Sanders, the cinematic theme song erupted on the charts, making Coolio a household name across the globe. (According to the New York Times, Wonder approved the use of the sample with a major stipulation: The song had to be profanity-free. This simple caveat may have inadvertently set the song up for more widespread success.)
"Gangsta's Paradise" set Coolio up for his first nomination at the 38th GRAMMY Awards. The track was only the second rap song to get nominated for Record Of The Year, and won Coolio his first golden gramophone. The rapper was nominated a total of six times.
Sanders played a pivotal role in the song’s success, according to Rolling Stones’ oral history of the classic track. The singer received the song before Coolio was involved and changed the name from "Pastime Paradise" to "Gangsta’s Paradise." Sanders recorded the singing portion of the track and chose to bring Coolio in to write and perform the rap verses. In March of 1996, Weird Al Yankovic released a parody of the song called "Amish Paradise," without Coolio’s permission (artist approval is not legally required for a parody song ). Coolio dissed Yankovic and spoke out against the song, though the pair eventually reconciled and Coolio admitted that his ego led to his outburst.
Yesterday, music writer Dan Ozzi posted an excerpt from an interview with the rapper, in which he addressed the beef and his growth since the incident. "Let me say this: I apologized to Weird Al a long time ago and I was wrong," Coolio said. "Y'all remember that, everybody out there who reads this s—. Real men and real people should be able to admit when they're wrong and I was wrong."
Released on his debut studio album, It Takes a Thief, the song features a pulsating beat and an ever-catchy chorus "Come along and ride on a fantastic voyage" pulled from the heavily sampled 1980 R&B-funk song of the same name by the group Lakeside.
The song was a hit and the album was well-received by hip-hop fans and a sign of good things to come for Coolio’s career.
"Ooh La La"
Like many ‘90s rappers, Coolio utilized samples from artists of the ‘70s and ‘80s but he infused these memorable sounds with his own flavor. "Ooh La La" — the second single from the rapper’s third album, 1997's My Soul — features a sample of "Pull Up to The Bumper" by Grace Jones. The result is a sonic delight designed for cruising or a throwback party jam.
While the single did not achieve the same success as his other smash hits, the lesser-known summertime bop holds its own and showcases the rapper's breezier side.
"Aw, Here It Goes"
In the ‘90s, at the height of his fame, Coolio brought his signature swagger and flow to the theme for "Kenan and Kel," a beloved Nickelodeon sitcom starring "SNL’s" Kenan Thompson and Good Burger’s Kel Mitchell. The duo paid tribute to the late rapper on their Instagram pages: Thompson offered his condolences with a few slides on his Instagram story, while Mitchell shared a heartfelt message and memory.
"Rest in Heaven @coolio ! We recently spoke a few months ago laughing and having such a good time. So many great memories with you, bro!," Mitchell wrote. "That time first meeting you on 'All That' cracking up in a Good Burger Sketch then you bringing me on stage after your performance to freestyle. Then later creating the legendary 'Kenan and Kel' theme song for @kenanthompson and I. You did an interview the day of filming the intro on Big Boys Neighborhood and all of Los Angeles was at Universal Studios city walk it was a party!!"
"1, 2, 3, 4 (Sumpin' New)"
Coolio had major skills on the mic and beyond, but he also had a great ear for danceable tracks that could jumpstart any dancefloor. The upbeat 1996 single, "Sumpin’ New" featured three different samples — "Thighs High (Grip Your Hips and Move)" by jazz trumpeter Tom Browne; a vocal sample from "Wikka Wrap" by the Evasions, and its main riff comes from "Good Times" by Chic.