meta-scriptMeet The First-Time GRAMMY Nominee: The Unchartable Rise Of Jack Harlow | GRAMMY.com
Meet The First-Time GRAMMY Nominee: The Unchartable Rise Of Jack Harlow

Jack Harlow

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Meet The First-Time GRAMMY Nominee: The Unchartable Rise Of Jack Harlow

One of rap's breakout stars of 2020, Jack Harlow discusses his first GRAMMY nomination, adjusting to the visibility of fame and the everlasting staying power of "Whats Poppin"

GRAMMYs/Mar 4, 2021 - 04:54 am

Here's a quick timeline of rapper Jack Harlow's 2020: "Whats Poppin" is released in January; the song is certified platinum in May; the remix with Lil WayneTory Lanez and DaBaby helps the record skyrocket to No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 in June; his debut album That's What They All Say debuted in the Top 10 on the Billboard Top 200 in December. However, that's only the surface. Between the crevices of the solid foundation laid by the 22-year-old rising star's success were years of struggles with the perpetual visibility that comes with fame—and the introspection pandemic-induced solitude brings.

Rap fans have seen Harlow grow before our eyes. Still, the moment Harlow felt like he made it in music wasn't when he got his first platinum single, or when he got his XXL Freshman selection, or even when he made his television debut on "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon."

"I remember the night the album dropped, we were out celebrating, and [DJ] Drama looked at me and said, 'You're here now.' I can tell by the way he said it that he wasn't just saying it in a loose way. He meant it," Jack Harlow told GRAMMY.com. "I was like, 'Damn, you think so?' He was like, 'Absolutely; you're locked in. You're here.' That was special because I felt like he was right at that moment."

Signed to DJ Drama's Generation Now label since the summer of 2018, the Louisville, Kentucky, native has grown from a mixtape darling to a bona fide star. He did so mainly thanks to "Whats Poppin," which earned him his first-ever GRAMMY nomination for Best Rap Performance at the 2021 GRAMMY Awards show—barely over two years after becoming a signed artist.

In a recent chat with GRAMMY.com, Harlow spoke about the validation of his GRAMMY nomination, how he made "Whats Poppin," and the idols he's turned into fans.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Describe the moment you found out you were nominated for a GRAMMY.

I was watching them announce it live. I was waiting as they went through all the categories. It felt like hip-hop was last. I was watching, patiently waiting. They started listing Best Rap Performance, and sure enough, "Whats Poppin" is there. Then, I had this moment of "What the hell?" because they put Luke James. It said, 'Whats Poppin" by Luke James. I was like, "Yo!" It didn't stop my celebration because I knew there was only one "Whats Poppin." 

I was turnt. I got calls after calls. I got calls while I was on a call! The calls were pouring in. It was a special day. It was validating. I definitely didn't expect to get nominated this early in my career. I'll take it.

How do you feel this GRAMMY nomination and possible win might affect your career going forward?

It's a great stamp. It's something I can carry with me for the rest of my life. A win would be huge but to be nominated is a great step for me. If anything, it just raises the bar. I love when these things happen because it gives me something higher to shoot for, to keep pushing myself. I'm forced to hold myself to a certain standard now. I'm GRAMMY-nominated.

How did you make the song that eventually would net you your first GRAMMY nomination?

I was on the very last tour I did before the pandemic and Jetson[made] DMed me saying he wanted to do work. At the time, I wasn't in touch with a lot of the hottest producers in the game. I had a few relationships, don't get me wrong. [But] this was an exciting message because it was someone who was dominating things and making songs that were touching the culture.

I was excited to get to Atlanta to work with him. So, the very first day I went back to the studio I told him to come through. The second day we worked, he invited Pooh Beats to the studio and Pooh started playing the beats he and Jetson had made. As soon as I heard the piano keys [on "Whats Poppin"], before I heard the drums, I knew I needed that. 

I told him to load it up. It was one of the best beats I ever heard. From there, I made the decision to not overthink and specifically remember telling myself, "Yo, say the first thing that comes to mind for every line." I did that and the rest was history. It came together in a really special way.

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Saying you made it without overthinking helps me understand certain lines from the song, like when you say "Just joshing." It sounds like it was you just having a regular conversation.

It's crazy you bring that line up, because I just did an interview with SPIN and I was telling them what I just told you, about not overthinking. That's why that line is in the song. I refused to let myself stop. I always planned on replacing that line. To this day, I'm kind of not a big fan of that line. It's kind of taken on a life of its own, so it is what it is. The whole time I had that song I was saying, "Yeah, I'm going to replace that line." Me saying "Just joshing" was a placeholder; it was silly. But, then that shit stuck.

What was the hardest part about breaking through and getting that recognition when you started out?

It was an internal battle. I think I was figuring out myself as an artist. I still am, but I'm a little older now and I've grown into a man. The process of being a teenager is you learning about yourself. You're learning what you want to project. At the same time that I'm discovering myself, I'm making decisions about what type of artist I want to be and I have all this pressure on myself to honor who I really am. 

I'm more comfortable in my skin than I've ever been. I'm more comfortable in what I'm projecting because I'm secure in it. When I was younger, I did a lot of projecting what I thought people wanted me to be, or what I thought people saw me as. Now, I'm being exactly who I am.

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On "Keep It Light" from your album, you say you aren't comfortable getting all of the praise. Are there moments over the last year that depicts how the fame you've acquired hasn't been all great, and you had to adjust?

Truth be told, I'm an attention whore. I do love the praise. I love the attention. But, there are moments where I'm channeling a different part of my personality. I have a certain percentage of me that is an introvert and isn't always in the mood to be praised or reciprocate energy for people. 

There are moments when you have fans lurking and you don't want to deal with them at that moment or have to talk with them at that moment. Or, sometimes you're at parties and you don't want to talk about yourself. Sometimes you're back home and you're with the people you grew up with and you just want a break from the conversation being about you because it's uncomfortable.

For me, it feels a little braggadocious and gets uncomfortable at times. It's not that I hate it all the time, there are just moments. I love my fans and it's very validating to run into them in public and they make me feel good. But, I'm a moody person like most people.

Are there any things you've been able to get for yourself with your new fame and status that you've always wanted to get?

I remember about three or four years ago, I told everyone I'm close to that I was going to get the Static Major "Kentucky" chain, which is the silhouette of Kentucky. A few months ago, I finally did it. That was a huge moment for me to follow through on what I said. I don't have too many material things I want. The best thing about money is not having to worry about money. There's no item you can buy that's better than that.

You're signed to Generation Now with DJ Drama. What lessons did he teach you about this music industry that you applied to your career?

It's still ongoing to this day. He has opinions on what kind of car I should go out to the club in. He's constantly schooling me. We spend a lot of time together, so he tells me stories about the past. He gives me ideas on the way to maneuver and handle relationships.

He gives me tons of game. He's been in it for so long, there are certain traditions he speaks on that I enjoy honoring. I know I have to carve my own path, and I like to be innovative, but I have somebody who has a love for tradition.

How long did it take the album to come together and how did the pandemic affect its making?

I had a couple of songs that were started before the pandemic, but you can mark the beginning of the pandemic as when I started working on this album. I remember on the day everyone found out we had to go inside I made a mental note of making this album. "Whats Poppin" was moving and I knew it was time.

That first month of being in the house terrified and not knowing what was going on or going outside, I was inside writing and I wrote four or five songs on that album in the first couple of weeks. I wrote "Tyler Herro," "Baxter Avenue" and "Funny Seeing You Here" in the first week or so. I think I just hit a groove while in the house. I think that's where a lot of that introspective nature came from. I think I would've made a lot more party songs.

One silver lining that came from being inside was I was looking inwards. You listen to Sweet Action and that's full of party records because that's what my life was. So, when I had to sit inside for a bit, I got reflective and it was a good thing for that album.

Who were some surprising celebrity fans of yours since the success of "Whats Poppin?"

[Long pause] I've met Drake once or twice. We've talked a couple of times, and he's tuned in and listening. He's had some kind words. That definitely meant a lot to me because I'm a Drake stan, so getting that recognition from him was super special. To hear he was fond of the music, or co-signed the music, was very validating to me.

Lil Wayne is another one. Wayne loves my shit and he got on the remix. That was a huge deal to me. The reason I paused for so long was that there's one I can't wait to announce that I recently connected with. It's not time for me to say who yet because there's more to it. Hopefully, after this interview comes out, people can connect the dots. This is a big one; it's a bucket-list one.

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Pull Up On The Best Rap Song Nominees | 2021 GRAMMYs

4 Reasons Why Eminem's 'The Slim Shady LP' Is One Of The Most Influential Rap Records
Eminem

Photo: Sal Idriss/Redferns/GettyImages

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4 Reasons Why Eminem's 'The Slim Shady LP' Is One Of The Most Influential Rap Records

Eminem’s major label debut, 'The Slim Shady LP,' turns 25 on Feb. 23. The album left an indelible imprint on hip-hop, and introduced the man who would go on to be the biggest-selling artist of any genre in the ensuing decade.

GRAMMYs/Feb 23, 2024 - 03:44 pm

A quarter century has passed since the mainstream music world was first introduced to a bottle-blonde enfant terrible virtuoso who grabbed everyone’s attention and wouldn’t let go

But enough about Christina Aguilera.

Just kidding. Another artist also exploded into stardom in 1999 — one who would become a big enough pop star, despite not singing a note, that he would soon be feuding with Xtina. Eminem’s biting major label debut The Slim Shady LP turns 25 on Feb. 23. While it was Eminem's second release, the album was the first taste most rap fans got of the man who would go on to be the biggest-selling artist in any genre during the ensuing decade. It also left an indelible imprint on hip-hop.

The Slim Shady LP is a record of a rapper who was white (still a comparative novelty back in 1999), working class and thus seemingly from a different universe than many mainstream rappers in the "shiny suit era." And where many of those contemporaries were braggadocious, Eminem was the loser in his rhymes more often than he was the winner. In fact, he talked so much about his real-life childhood bully on the album that the bully ended up suing him.  

It was also a record that played with truth and identity in ways that would become much more difficult once Em became world famous. Did he mean the outrageous things he was saying? Where were the knowing winks, and where were they absent? The guessing games that the album forced listeners to play were thrilling — and made all the more intense by his use of three personas (Marshall Mathers the person; Eminem the battle rapper; and Slim Shady the unhinged alter ego) that bled into each other.

And, of course, there was the rhyming. Eminem created a dizzying array of complicated compound rhymes and assonances, even finding time to rhyme "orange" — twice. (If you’re playing at home, he paired "foreign tools" with "orange juice" and "ignoring skill" with "orange bill.")

While the above are reason enough to revisit this classic album, pinpointing The Slim Shady LP's influence is a more complicated task. Other records from that year — releases from Jay-Z, Nas, Lil Wayne, Ludacris, and even the Ruff Ryders compilation Ryde or Die Vol. 1 — have a more direct throughline to the state of mainstream rap music today. So much of SSLP, on the other hand, is tied into Eminem’s particular personality and position. This makes Slim Shady inimitable; there aren’t many mainstream rappers complaining about their precarious minimum wage job, as Em does on "If I Had." (By the time of his next LP, Em had gone triple-platinum and couldn’t complain about that again himself.)

But there are aspects of SSLP that went on to have a major impact. Here are a few of the most important ones.

It Made Space For Different Narratives In Hip-Hop

Before Kanye rapped about working at The Gap, Eminem rapped about working at a burger joint. The Slim Shady LP opened up space for different narratives in mainstream rap music. 

The Slim Shady LP didn't feature typical rags-to-riches stories, tales of living the high life or stories from the street. Instead, there were bizarre trailer-park narratives (in fact, Eminem was living in a trailer months after the record was released), admissions of suicidal ideation ("That’s why I write songs where I die at the end," he explained on "Cum on Everybody"), memories of a neglectful mother, and even a disturbing story-song about dumping the corpse of his baby’s mother, rapped to his actual child (who cameos on the song). 

Marshall Mathers’ life experience was specific, of course, but every rapper has a story of their own. The fact that this one found such a wide audience demonstrated that audiences would accept tales with unique perspectives. Soon enough, popular rappers would be everything from middle-class college dropouts to theater kids and teen drama TV stars.

The Album Explored The Double-Edged Sword Of The White Rapper

Even as late in the game as 1999, being a white rapper was still a comparative novelty. There’s a reason that Em felt compelled to diss pretty much every white rapper he could think of on "Just Don’t Give a F—," and threatened to rip out Vanilla Ice’s dreadlocks on "Role Model": he didn’t want to be thought of like those guys. 

"People don't have a problem with white rappers now because Eminem ended up being the greatest artist," Kanye West said in 2015. You can take the "greatest artist" designation however you like, but it’s very true that Eminem’s success meant a categorical change in the status of white rappers in the mainstream.

This turned out to be a mixed blessing. While the genre has not, as some feared, turned into a mostly-white phenomenon, America’s racial disparities are often played out in the way white rappers are treated. Sales aside, they have more room to maneuver artistically — playing with different genres while insulting rap a la Post Malone,  or even changing styles completely like Machine Gun Kelly — to commercial approbation. Black artists who attempt similar moves are frequently met with skepticism or disinterest (see André 3000’s New Blue Sun rollout, which was largely spent explaining why the album features no rapping). 

Sales are worth speaking about, too. As Eminem has repeatedly said in song, no small amount of his popularity comes from his race — from the fact that white audiences could finally buy music from a rapper who looked like them. This was, as he has also bemusedly noted, the exact opposite of how his whiteness worked for him before his fame, when it was a barrier to being taken seriously as a rapper. 

For better, worse, or somewhere in between, the sheer volume of white rappers who are currently in the mainstream is largely traceable to the world-beating success of The Slim Shady LP.

It Was Headed Towards An Odd Future

SSLP laid groundwork for the next generation of unconventional rappers, including Tyler, the Creator.

Tyler is a huge Eminem fan. He’s said that listening to Em’s SSLP follow-up The Marshall Mathers LP was "how I learned to rap." And he’s noted that Em’s Relapse was "one of the greatest albums to me." 

"I just wanted to rap like Eminem on my first two albums," he once told GQ. More than flow, the idea of shocking people, being alternately angry and vulnerable, and playing with audience reaction is reflected heavily on Tyler’s first two albums, Goblin and Wolf. That is the template The Slim Shady LP set up. While Tyler may have graduated out of that world and moved on to more mature things, it was following Em’s template that first gained him wide notice. 

Eminem Brought Heat To Cold Detroit

The only guest artist to spit a verse on The Slim Shady LP is Royce da 5’9". This set the template for the next few years of Eminem’s career: Detroit, and especially his pre-fame crew from that city, would be his focus. There was his duo with Royce, Bad Meets Evil, whose pre-SSLP single of "Nuttin’ to Do"/"Scary Movies" would get renewed attention once those same two rappers had a duet, smartly titled "Bad Meets Evil," appear on a triple-platinum album. And of course there was the group D12, five Detroit rappers including his best friend Proof, with whom Eminem would release a whole album at the height of his fame.

This was not the only mainstream rap attention Detroit received in the late 1990s. For one thing, legendary producer James "J Dilla" Yancey, was a native of the city. But Eminem’s explosion helped make way for rappers in the city, even ones he didn’t know personally, to get attention. 

The after-effects of the Eminem tsunami can still be seen. Just look at the rise of so-called "scam rap" over the past few years. Or the success of artists like Babyface Ray, Kash Doll, 42 Dugg, and Veeze. They may owe little to Em artistically, but they admit that he’s done great things for the city — even if they may wish he was a little less reclusive these days

Is Eminem's "Stan" Based On A True Story? 10 Facts You Didn't Know About The GRAMMY-Winning Rapper

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

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

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

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

GRAMMYs/Feb 20, 2024 - 06:37 pm

A chance meeting changed Rihanna's life.

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

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

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

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

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

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

A New Island Girl In Town

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

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

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

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

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

An Icon In The Making

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Partygoer's Dream

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An Unapologetic Queen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An In-Demand Collaborator

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An Artist Fully Realized

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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. 

2024 GRAMMYs: Meet The Nominees

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.

Read More: Women In Hip-Hop: 7 Trailblazers Whose Behind-The-Scenes Efforts Define The Culture

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. 

25 Artists To Watch In 2024: Chappell Roan, VCHA, Teezo Touchdown & More

A Timeline Of Drake's GRAMMY Moments, From His First Win To Performances & Beefs
Drake in 2011, 2009, 2019, 2010 and 2011

Photos: Kevin Mazur/Wire; Steve Granitz/WireImage; Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic; Larry Busacca/Getty Images For The Recording Academy

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A Timeline Of Drake's GRAMMY Moments, From His First Win To Performances & Beefs

Drake's relationship with the GRAMMYs has been all over the map. The five-time GRAMMY winner's comments about the Awards have sparked debate, as has his relationship to submitting his work for consideration.

GRAMMYs/Jan 16, 2024 - 03:02 pm

When Drake attended his first GRAMMY Awards in 2010, he was 23 and hadn’t yet released a debut album. By the time he received his nominations for the 2024 GRAMMYs — Best Rap Album, Best Rap Performance and Best Melodic Rap Performance for his collaborations with 21 Savage —  he was Spotify’s most-streamed artist of all time, and the holder of more Billboard chart records than we can possibly list in this intro. 

In between, his relationship with the Academy’s yearly showcase has been all over the map. He’s lost (mostly), won (five times), and performed alongside some of pop culture’s biggest names. But more to the point, starting in 2017 his public comments about — and during — the GRAMMYs have sparked debate. He’s gone back and forth about submitting his music for consideration, and even went as far as to demand that nominations be retracted (more on that later).

Drake is nominated for Best Rap Album among other awards at the 2024 GRAMMYs. Here is a year-by-year account of the relationship between one of music’s biggest stars and Music’s Biggest Night. 

2010 — 52nd GRAMMY Awards

Nominations: Best Rap Song ("Best I Ever Had"), Best Rap Solo Performance ("Best I Ever Had")

Performances: "Drop the World"/"Forever" with Eminem, Lil Wayne, and Travis Barker

This was Drizzy’s first GRAMMYs, and he was still green enough that he got "reassurance" from Eminem in advance of their performance. 

"He was like, 'Man, anytime you need to look over at me, don't get nervous. Just look over at me, man, and I'll give it back to you. Everything will be all right. Don't be nervous.' For him to say that to me — I feel like that was an important moment," Drake told MTV News at the time.

His first two nominations, both for "Best I Ever Had," came before he had even put out his debut album. And as you can see in an interview at the event, the awards circuit was new enough that his mother’s reaction to finding out that Drake was nominated was to text him a bunch of swear words. 

"I think she was excited," the rapper joked to a CNN reporter.

2011 — 53rd GRAMMY Awards

Drake performs with Rihanna

Nominations: Best New Artist, Best Rap Album (Thank Me Later), Best Rap Solo Performance ("Over"), Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group ("Fancy" with Swizz Beatz and T.I.)

Performances: "What’s My Name" (with Rihanna)

This is the year that seems to sting Drake the most. Best New Artist was a tough battle, with Drizzy, Justin Bieber, Mumford & Sons, and Florence + the Machine in the mix. All of them lost to Esperanza Spalding, in a major upset

Drake’s bitterness about the moment lingers to this day. On his most recent album For All the Dogs, he has a surprisingly angry lyric about it: "Four GRAMMYs to my name, a hundred nominations/ Esperanza Spalding was gettin' all the praises/ I'm tryna keep it humble, I'm tryna keep it gracious/ Who give a f— Michelle Obama put you on her playlist?/ Then we never hear from you again like you was taken."

2012 — 54th GRAMMY Awards

Nominations: Album Of The Year (Rihanna’s Loud, as featured artist), Best Rap Performance ("Moment 4 Life" with Nicki Minaj), Best Rap/Sung Collaboration ("I’m On One" with DJ Khaled, Rick Ross, and Lil Wayne; "What’s My Name" with Rihanna)

This was Drake’s first year as a presenter, so he appears to be moving up in the award show hierarchy. But that doesn’t help him with hardware — he still goes home empty-handed. 

This is also the time that he has multiple nominations in the same category (in this case, two in Best Rap/Sung Collaboration), which is also a trend that would repeat throughout the years. 

2013 — 55th GRAMMY Awards

Wins: Best Rap Album (Take Care)

Nominations: Best Rap Performance ("HYFR [Hell Ya F—king Right]" with Lil Wayne), Best Rap Song ("The Motto" with Lil Wayne)

He finally wins! Drake gets his first victory (for Best Rap Album). Also, he is the only Canadian to win that year (sorry, Loreena McKennitt!) However, the big moment wasn't telecast and Drizzy hadn’t yet arrived at the ceremony. In a charming interview from later in the night, Drake recalled jumping out of his car in the middle of traffic to celebrate. There’s also a video of him receiving his GRAMMY in the mail after the fact, which is notable for him immediately taking a celebratory drink from the trophy.

2014 — 56th GRAMMY Awards

Nominations: Album Of The Year (Kendrick Lamar’s good kid, m.A.A.d city, as featured artist), Best Rap Album (Nothing Was the Same), Best Rap Performance ("Started From the Bottom"), Best Rap Song ("Started From the Bottom"; "F—in’ Problems" with ASAP Rocky, 2 Chainz, and Kendrick Lamar)

Drake gets five nominations — and again two in one category — with no wins. It’s hard to pinpoint where the tide might have turned regarding the rapper’s feelings about the institution, but this ceremony may well have been it. 

2015 — 57th GRAMMY Awards

Nominations: Album Of The Year (Beyoncé's Beyoncé, as featured artist), Best Rap Performance ("0 to 100 / The Catch Up"), Best Rap Song ("0 to 100 / The Catch Up"), Best Rap/Sung Collaboration ("Tuesday" with ILoveMakonnen)

Once again Drake gets an Album Of The Year nomination…for someone else’s album. It’s now the third time this has happened, following Rihanna and Kendrick Lamar. Still, four nominations during a year with no new album is impressive, and shows just how much of a fixture The Boy has become in the pop firmament at this point. 

2016 — 58th GRAMMY Awards

Nominations: Best Rap Album (If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late), Best Rap/Sung Collaboration ("Only" with Nicki Minaj, Lil Wayne, and Chris Brown), Best Rap Performance ("Back to Back"; "Truffle Butter" with Nicki Minaj and Lil Wayne), Best Rap Song ("Energy")

From four nominations in 2015 to five this year, tying his personal best from 2014. They are all for rap-related awards, perhaps because Drake didn’t release a "proper" album that might have ended up in one of the big categories — If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late had a convoluted rollout. 

2017 — 59th GRAMMY Awards

Wins: Best Rap/Sung Performance ("Hotline Bling"), Best Rap Song ("Hotline Bling")

Nominations: Album Of The Year (Views), Best Rap Album (Views), Record Of The Year ("Work" with Rihanna), Best Pop Duo/Group Performance ("Work" with Rihanna), Best R&B Song ("Come and See Me" with PartyNextDoor), Best Rap Performance ("Pop Style" with The Throne)

The results of this year marked the beginning of Drake’s public issues with the GRAMMYs. Drake didn't attend the ceremony and, in an interview just after the ceremony, he pushed back against his own victory, upset that "Hotline Bling," a song with no rapping, won two rap awards.

"Last night at that awards show, I’m a Black artist," he said. "I’m apparently a rapper, even though ‘Hotline Bling’ is not a rap song. The only category that they can manage to fit me in is in a rap category, maybe because I’ve rapped in the past or because I’m Black." 

He was also upset that his hit "One Dance" wasn’t nominated in any general categories. 

"There’s pop obligations that [the Recording Academy] have," he said. "And I fluked out and got one of the biggest songs of the year, that is a pop song, and I’m proud of that. I love the rap world and I love the rap community, but I write pop songs for a reason. I want to be like Michael Jackson.

"I won two awards last night, but I don’t even want them for some reason," he continued. "It just feels weird. It feels like you’re purposely trying to alienate me or pacify me by handing me something, putting me in that [rap] category because it’s the only place you can figure out where to put me." 

Perhaps because of these issues — it was never confirmed — he never submitted his 2018 project More Life for GRAMMY consideration. Regardless, he ended up with no nominations the following year.

2019 — 61st GRAMMY Awards

Wins: Best Rap Song ("God’s Plan")

Nominations: Album Of The Year (Scorpion), Best Rap Performance ("Nice for What"; "Sicko Mode" with Travis Scott, Swae Lee, and Big Hawk), Best Rap Song ("Sicko Mode" with Travis Scott, Swae Lee, and Big Hawk), Record Of The Year ("God’s Plan"), Song Of The Year ("God’s Plan")

This was a year that heightened the Drake/Recording Academy tension even further. First, he turned down a chance to perform during the ceremony. And then, during his acceptance speech for Best Rap Song, Drizzy let awards shows have it. 

"We play in an opinion-based sport, not a factual-based sport," he began. "Look, the point is, you already won if you have people singing your songs word for word, if you’re a hero in your hometown. You’re already winning, you don’t need this right here."

The broadcast went to commercial while he was still talking, something that fans thought was an intentional slight. The Academy said otherwise.

"During Drake’s speech there was a natural pause during his speech and at that moment the producers did assume that he was done and then cut to commercial," the Academy said in an official statement. "However the producers did speak with Drake following his speech and did offer him to come back on stage to finish whatever his thoughts were, but Drake said he was happy with what he said and didn’t have anything to add to it."

2020 — 62nd GRAMMY Awards

Nominations: Best R&B Song ("No Guidance" with Chris Brown), Best Rap Song ("Gold Roses" with Rick Ross)

Drake didn’t publicly react to his two losses this year, but he did speak out on a friend’s behalf. The superstar was upset that The Weeknd didn’t receive any nominations, and said so in an Instagram story. He went far enough as to say that awards shows like the GRAMMYs "may no longer matter" to up-and-coming artists.

"I think we should stop allowing ourselves to be shocked every year by the disconnect between impactful music and these awards and just accept that what once was the highest form of recognition may no longer matter to the artists that exist now and the ones that come after," Drake wrote. "It’s like a relative you keep expecting to fix up but they just can’t change their ways.

"The other day I said @theweeknd was a lock for either album or song of the year along with countless other reasonable assumptions and it just never goes that way," he continued. "This is a great time for somebody to start something new that we can build up over time and pass on to the generations to come."

He went on to list artists he believed should be been nominated: Lil Baby, Pop Smoke, Party Next Door, Popcaan, and "too many missing names to even name." 

2021 — 63rd GRAMMY Awards

Nominations: Best Rap Song ("Laugh Now Cry Later" with Lil Durk), Best Melodic Rap Performance ("Laugh Now Cry Later" with Lil Durk), Best Music Video ("Life Is Good" with Future)

Drake again misses out on everything he’s nominated for, which might have something to do with what happened the following year.

2022 — 64th GRAMMY Awards  

Nominations: Best Rap Album (Certified Lover Boy), Best Rap Performance ("Way 2 Sexy" with Future and Young Thug) - Both withdrawn

Things came to a boiling point in 2022. Drake was nominated for two awards, but his management asked the Academy to remove the nominations, which they did. 

2023 — 65th GRAMMY Awards

Wins: Best Melodic Rap Performance ("Wait For U" with Future and Tems)

Nominations: Album Of The Year (Beyoncé’s Renaissance, as songwriter), Best Rap Song ("Wait For U" with Future and Tems, "Churchill Downs" with Jack Harlow)

Drake didn’t submit any material for GRAMMY consideration this time around, but it didn’t stop him from receiving four nominations, and winning once. 

There was one other unexpected Drake-related Grammy moment this year as well. Several days before the ceremony, he made a speech at the Black Music Collective’s Recording Academy Honors event praising one of the evening’s honorees, Lil Wayne. Even when paying tribute to his mentor, Drake seemed to be referencing his ongoing issues with the Academy. His knowing winks to the camera whenever he said the phrase “Black Music Collective” appeared to be a nod to his ongoing complaints that contemporary Black artists were being ignored by the Grammys.  

2024 — 66th GRAMMY Awards

Nominations: Best Rap Album (Her Loss with 21 Savage), Best Rap Song ("Rich Flex" with 21 Savage"), Best Rap Performance ("Rich Flex" with 21 Savage), Best Melodic Rap Performance ("Spin Bout U" with 21 Savage)

In a sign that a change might be underway in the often-stormy relationship between Drake and the GRAMMYs, the rapper actually submitted material for nomination for the 2024 GRAMMYs. His collaboration with 21 Savage, Her Loss, was put up for Album of the Year (which it didn’t get a nom for) and Best Rap Album (which it did). The songs "Rich Flex" and "Spin Bout U" were also offered up in multiple categories, and each ended up with nominations. 

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