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Melvin Crispell III

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Positive Vibes Only: Melvin Crispell III Joyfully Reveals Who "God Is" In This Acoustic Performance

Even in his struggles, worship musician Melvin Crispell III holds on to his faith in God and His character — and the singer's new single "God Is" is the testimony of His power.

GRAMMYs/Jun 11, 2023 - 04:47 pm

Even in the hard times, worship singer Melvin Crispell III continued to have faith in what "God Is." If anything, his relationship with God grew stronger after experiencing familial loss and the pandemic — and his testimony is the heart of his latest album, No Failure.

In this episode of Positive Vibes Only, Crispell delivers an acoustic performance of his single "God Is." The track was originally recorded by James Cleveland in 1979 and has been one of the most meaningful songs in Crispell's life.

"God is the joy and the strength of my life/ He removes all pain, misery, and strife/ He promised to keep me/ Never to leave me," Crispell declares in the first verse. It's a message that becomes even more powerful after knowing he went through a period of struggle.

No Failure, arriving June 16, is Crispell's second studio and first live album. As "God Is" indicates, the singer's biggest hope is that the album "brings listeners a little closer to Jesus."

"We are living in a world that is cruel and doesn't really have a direction right now," he adds in a press statement. "Still, we have to continue to trust in Jesus, and in a whole new way, because He is the source of our strength."

Press play on the video above to watch Melvin Crispell III's heartwarming performance of "God Is," and check back to GRAMMY.com for more new episodes of Positive Vibes Only.

15 Songs That Will Make You Dance And Cry At The Same Time, From "Hey Ya!" To "Dancing On My Own"

LL Cool J

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Celebrate 40 Years Of Def Jam With 15 Albums That Show Its Influence & Legacy

From the Beastie Boys' seminal 'License To Ill' and Jay-Z's 'Vol. 2… Hard Knock Life,' celebrate Def Jam with 15 of the label's essential albums.

GRAMMYs/Jun 24, 2024 - 01:31 pm

This year marks the 40th anniversary of Def Jam Recordings, the New York label that made history in hip-hop, R&B, pop, and even thrash metal since its founding, and continues to do so today.

A label that began out of an NYU dorm room in 1984 quickly became an artistic (and business) powerhouse. Early acts like LL Cool J, the Beastie Boys, and Public Enemy were raw, adventurous, and risk-taking. Def Jam's roster opened new pathways in a still-young genre, seemingly every few months. 

After that initial explosion, the label experienced a brief lull in the early 1990s when one label founder departed and the other expanded into fashion and comedy. Def Jam came roaring back beginning in 1994, and by 1998 the label was home to some of the most popular and influential artists in the game — including burgeoning megastars DMX and Jay-Z. To this day, Def Jam maintains a roster of both commercially successful and critically beloved artists in hip-hop, R&B, and pop.

To commemorate the anniversary of the label that gave us, well, pretty much everyone, here’s a list of 15 of Def Jam’s essential releases. While Def Jam brought audiences plenty of singles, EPs and remixes, this list primarily focuses on albums. Each project has a mix of artistic merit, popularity, influence and longevity, originality, and played a key role in the story of Def Jam as a whole. Think of it as a chronological run through the key albums that built one of the most lasting labels in modern music. 

And finally: it must be said that in recent years, a dark shadow has begun to loom over Def Jam’s legacy. Label co-founder Russell Simmons been accused over the past seven years of numerous instances of sexual assault, dating back decades. In spite of these accusations, the label (in which Simmons hasn’t been involved for a quarter-century) remains on top, safeguarding its valuable archive while looking forward to another four decade run as fruitful as the first one.

T La Rock & Jazzy Jay - "It’s Yours" (1984)

The one single on this list is also the first piece of music ever released with the now-famous Def Jam logo. "It’s Yours" was a single produced by Def Jam co-founder Rick Rubin — his very first hip-hop production. Instrumentally, it was perhaps only comparable to Larry Smith and Def Jam co-founder Russell Simmons’ contemporaneous work with Run-D.M.C. Both "It’s Yours" and D.M.C.’s early work were severely stripped-down, consisting of a few drum sounds, an instrumental stab, and some scratches. 

Lyrically, though, "It’s Yours" is worlds apart from "Sucker M.C.’s" — or pretty much anything else going on in hip-hop at the time. T La Rock, the brother of Treacherous Three member Special K, came from a family of educators, and he put every ounce of his erudition into the track. It begins, "Commentating, illustrating/ Description giving, adjective expert" and goes from there.

LL Cool J - 'Radio' (1985)

In the early 1980s, the state of the hip-hop album was very grim. Only a few existed, and they almost exclusively consisted of a few singles mixed with often-confusing filler. Two things changed that. First, Run-D.M.C.’s 1984 self-titled debut, which GRAMMY.com examined in depth a few months ago. Second was LL Cool J’s debut album Radio, the very first full-length album Def Jam ever released.

In many ways, Radio kicked off hip-hop’s Golden Age. The record shows LL, then still in his teens, as a versatile artist who can be boastful, funny, aggressive, lyrical. The album shows many different sides of his personality, and helped set the template for what a rap album could be.

Read more: 20 Iconic Hip-Hop Style Moments: From Run-D.M.C. To Runways

Beastie Boys - 'Licensed to Ill' (1986)

The Beasties would release more complex and enlightened albums than Licensed to Ill, and one of the members would eventually apologize for some of its lyrics. But there’s no denying that it was a smash hit. It was the first rap album to ever top the Billboard 200, got the group onstage with Madonna, and would eventually sell over 10 million copies

Was some of that success due to their race? Sure. They were a credible group, signed to a hot rap label, at a time when it was still novel for white people to be performers in hip-hop. And yet, that’s not the whole story.

Licensed to Ill is a catchy, unique, energetic album, and the group members show undeniable chemistry. To this day, shout-filled, guitar-heavy anthems like "No Sleep till Brooklyn" and the ubiquitous "Fight for Your Right" can still get the party started.

Read more: The Beastie Boys Provide A License To Party

Public Enemy - 'It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back' (1988)

There’s not too much you can say about this album that hasn’t already been said in the years of books, conferences, academic papers, and deluxe re-issues. It has ended up at or near the top of many all-time best lists. Its abrasive, collage-like approach to composition was never equalled (and, in light of current laws and practices around sampling, can never even be approached). The comic stylings of Flavor Flav bring just the right amount of levity to balance Chuck D’s takes on life-and-death issues. 

Decades after its release, the album still sounds urgent. And sadly, in an America still roiled with tensions over race, incarceration, drugs, and the media, its concerns remain as relevant as ever.

Read more: 5 Things We Learned At "An Evening With Chuck D" At The GRAMMY Museum

Slick Rick - 'The Great Adventures of Slick Rick' (1988)

Slick Rick is the ultimate rap storyteller, and his debut album is the best example of his artistry. "I wrote them like an essay," Rick once said of creating the batch of songs that make up Great Adventures. He also compared it to doing stand-up. So you have exactly what those two reference points imply: stories that are well-constructed, and also frequently riotously funny.

Rick is the master of the telling detail (remember "Dave, the dope fiend shooting dope/ Who don’t know the meaning of water nor soap" from "Children’s Story"?), the humorous twist, the morality tale, the bedtime story, the character voice. His influence lives on in perhaps his most devoted protege, Ghostface Killah, as well as in any rapper who has tried to craft a song with a beginning, middle, and end.

Learn more: Essential Hip-Hop Releases From The 1980s: Slick Rick, RUN-D.M.C., De La Soul & More

Warren G - 'Regulate… G Funk Era'(1994)

A bit of an edge case here, as technically the record was put out by Violator Records and Rush Associated Labels, the latter of which was a sort of umbrella organization Def Jam ran in the mid-1990s. Many albums that could have made this list, including projects by Redman, Onyx, Domino, and Nice & Smooth, were released under the RAL banner. But Warren G’s debut, a giant hit in an era where Def Jam really needed it, became inextricably associated with the label, to the point where an article about the album on Universal Music’s website mentions Def Jam five times in the first two paragraphs.

Regulate is a pop-savvy take on the G-funk sound that was then ascendant. It was a huge success in a year that saw the introduction of tons of amazing rappers into the game. And Warren G being associated with Def Jam meant that the East Coast-centric label had expanded its geographic footprint. 

Read more: Warren G Revisits 'Regulate: The G-Funk Era': How The 1994 Album Paved The Way For West Coast Hip-Hop's Dominance

Foxy Brown - 'Ill Na Na' (1996)

Def Jam wasn’t always a friendly place for female artists (despite many of the most important employees being women, including one-time president Nana Ashhurst). In fact, the label didn’t release a rap album by a woman until Nikki D’s Daddy’s Little Girl in 1991. So Foxy Brown’s impact — on Def Jam and on the rap world as a whole — cannot be overstated. Ill Na Na was an album that changed everything for female rappers. It had songs for the clubs, the block, and the radio. Foxy’s sexuality, versatility, and first-class rhyming would have an influence on countless rappers, most famously her number one fan Nicki Minaj, who has been effusively praising Foxy for more than a decade.

Read more: Ladies First: 10 Essential Albums By Female Rappers

DMX - 'It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot' (1998)

No less an authority than Nas referred to 1998 as "The year DMX took over the world." It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot is how he did it. The album set fire to Bad Boy’s so-called "shiny suit era" by embodying its polar opposite: a dark, grimy vision full of gothic synths; raspy, full-throated lyrics; and, sometimes, actual barks. Without DMX, there’s no NYC street rap return: no G-Unit mixtape run, no Diplomats.

The record is consistent and captivating from start to finish, and its thematic centerpiece comes, appropriately, about halfway through with "Damien," which reminds all of us that the most difficult battles we fight are the ones with ourselves.

Jay-Z - 'Vol. 2… Hard Knock Life' (1998)

Jay-Z has made more critically beloved albums than Vol. 2 (Reasonable Doubt and The Blueprint both fall in that category). He has made albums with bigger hits (The Blueprint 3 had a No. 1 hit with "Empire State of Mind"). But he has never made a more important LP.

Vol. 2 was the album that made Jay a superstar. Its Annie-sampling title track (produced by the late 45 King) sent him to the stratosphere — a process he actually documented on his follow-up album. But the record wasn’t just a commercial novelty. It showed Jay at the absolute top of his game: cocky, funny, and brilliant. Case in point: his novel approach to storytelling in "Coming of Age (Da Sequel)," where all the important action takes place in just a few seconds, inside the characters’ heads.

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

Ludacris - 'Word of Mouf' (2001)

Around the turn of the millennium, Def Jam had its sights set on conquering new territory. Specifically, the South. So they set up Def Jam South and hired Scarface to head it up. The entity’s biggest success came from an Atlanta DJ who went by Chris Luva Luva on the air, but began rapping as Ludacris.

Word of Mouf was Luda’s second album, but it was the one that really cemented his stardom with songs like "Rollout (My Business)," "Area Codes," and the immortal "Move Bitch" (the last of which has had an artist-approved second life as a protest chant). The album proved that the South was here to stay, and that Def Jam would have a role in determining its hip-hop future.

Learn more: A Guide To Southern Hip-Hop: Definitive Releases, Artists & Subgenres From The Dirty South

Scarface - 'The Fix' (2002)

Speaking of Scarface and Def Jam South, Face had no intention of dropping music while running the label. But, in his telling, Def Jam exec Lyor Cohen insisted on it, paying handsomely for the privilege.

"There were so many things working in my favor on that album," Scarface wrote in his memoir Diary of a Madman. "For the first time, I was working on an album for a label that believed in me 100 percent and didn’t want anything from me except for me to make the dopest album I could possibly make. And they went out of their way to make that possible."

Def Jam’s history of putting out classics inspired Face on The Fix, he writes in that book. And in the end, the album stands up there with any of them. It is one of only a small handful of rap records to earn a perfect five-mic rating from The Source, and it belongs in that rarified air with projects like Illmatic and Aquemini

Kanye West - 'The College Dropout' (2004)

Yes, today Kanye West is the worst: a Hitler-loving, Trump-supporting, paranoid, antichoice, antisemite who stands accused of sexual harrassment. But two decades ago, the world met a Mr. West who at least seemed very different. 

The College Dropout presented an artist who was already extremely well-known as a beatmaker. But Kanye’s carefully crafted persona as the bridge between mainstream rap and the underground — "First n— with a Benz and a backpack," as he put it — meant that he appealed to pretty much everyone. The College Dropout wasn't West at the top of his rap game, but it did show his skill at developing song concepts, at beats, and at creating an artistic vision so powerful, and so relatable, that it captivated an entire generation.

Cam’ron - 'Purple Haze' (2004)

It’s impossible to talk about Def Jam without discussing Roc-A-Fella. Jay-Z’s label hooked up with Def Jam in 1997, and had a years-long hot streak with artists like Kanye, Beanie Sigel, Freeway, the Young Gunz, and of course Cam’ron’s Diplomats crew — Cam, Juelz Santana, and the overall group all released projects there.

Purple Haze came at the very tail end of Roc-a-fella’s golden age. It has Cam at the absolute peak of his absurdist rhyming powers, keeping computers ‘puting and knocking out eight-syllable multis about Paris Hilton like it was nothing. During the Purple Haze era, it was Cam’s world, and we were all just lucky to be living in it.

Rihanna - 'Good Girl Gone Bad' (2007)

Rihanna’s first two projects were full of Caribbean sounds and ballads. But when her third album came along, she needed a change. Riri wanted to go "uptempo," and history shows that was the right choice. Good Girl Gone Bad began the singer’s transformation into the megastar we know today. It spawned five singles and two separate quickie tie-in albums (Good Girl Gone Bad: Reloaded and Good Girl Gone Bad: The Remixes).

"Umbrella" was the way forward. Rihanna had a No. 1 record prior, but she’d never made a sensation like this. The song (with a guest verse by then-Def Jam president Jay-Z) not only made it to the top slot, it also won a GRAMMY and was undeniably the song of the summer. The album also contained the sensation "Don’t Stop the Music," a track that kickstarted the EDM/pop hybrid that dominated the late aughts. Without Good Girl Gone Bad, it’s safe to say we’d be living in a very different, Fenty-less world.

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

Frank Ocean - 'Channel Orange' (2012)

One could fill a whole blurb about Channel Orange simply by quoting the extreme praise it received. "A singular achievement in popular culture." "Landed with the crash and curiousness of a meteor." Two days after its release, Pitchfork was already saying that it "feels like a classic."

And yet, somehow even that kind of acclaim doesn’t do the album justice. You really had to be there when it came out, when Frank looked into his soul and, in doing so, connected deeply with so many listeners

Read more: Frank Ocean Essentials: 10 Songs That Embody The Elusive Icon's R&B Genius

"Channel Orange is the most concentrated version of 2012 in 2012 so far," wrote Sasha Frere-Jones at the time, in one of the most dead-on statements about the album. It expressed the contradictions we all lived in. Its fragmentation mirrored the social media that was beginning to take over all of our lives. Ocean left bits of his biography scattered throughout the album, but they almost didn’t matter. He was speaking for all of us, in the way only great artists can. 

A Guide To New York Hip-Hop: Unpacking The Sound Of Rap's Birthplace From The Bronx To Staten Island

PRIDE & Black Music Month: Celebrating LGBTQIA+ & Black Voices

Clipse perform onstage during the BET Hip Hop Awards 2022 at Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre on September 30, 2022 in Atlanta, Georgia
Clipse perform in 2022

Photo: Terence Rushin/Getty Images

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Everything We Know About Clipse's First Album In 15 Years: Pusha T And No Malice Rise Again

While there's no title or release date for the new Clipse album, brothers Pusha T and No Malice have teased the essence of the project.

GRAMMYs/Jun 21, 2024 - 06:02 pm

Legendary Virginia Beach rap duo Clipse have mostly been on ice since 2009's Til the Casket Drops — and that decade and a half off ends now.

The duo of brothers and rap phenoms Pusha T and No Malice (formerly known as Malice) are back with a new, John Legend-featuring song, "Birds Don't Sing," from a reunion project whose title has yet to be disclosed.

It's bracing to hear purveyors of witty, sneakily profound coke raps get real about the deaths of their parents: "Lost in emotion, mama's youngest/ Tryna navigate life without my compass," King Push raps at the outset. "Some experience death and feel numbness/ But not me, I felt it all and couldn't function.

It only gets realer from there: "You told me that you loved me, it was all in your tone/ 'I love my two sons' was the code to your phone," No Malice raps in his verse. If "Birds Don't Sing" is any indication, Clipse's first album in forever will be illuminating indeed.

We don't know much about the "Grindin'" hitmakers' reunion album, other than what Pusha T and No Malice revealed in a wide-ranging Vulture interview. But for hip-hop fans, the breadcrumbs they dropped are enticing indeed.

Read more: For The Record: How Clipse's Lord Willin' Established Virginia's Foothold In Rap

It Will Reflect The Clipse's Maturation

Pusha T is vocal about hating the Pharrell-produced Til The Casket Drops, which has always left their story hanging. They seem to be all in on this LP — one that's designed on their own terms.

"I think the album shows the supreme maturation of a rap duo," said Push. "I think this is where you get the difference between taste and filler. This music is curated. This is a high taste-level piece of work.

"You can only have that level of taste when you have the fundamentals down to a science," he continued. "I think it's been definitely missing. Then there's the competitive aspect." Added No Malice: "This is smart basketball. It's fundamentals."

Pharrell Williams Produced The Entire Album

Despite Pusha T's reservations about Til The Casket Drops, Pharrell Williams has been an integral part of the Clipse's operation since the beginning — and he returns to produce the new project.

"Pharrell producing everything is also an ode to the type of music and the type of albums we want to make," he added. "We still want to make full bodies of work. These are movies, man. These aren't just songs. This isn't just a collection of joints we went in and banged out."

Maturation Doesn't Mean Abandoning Coke Raps

As Pusha T points out in the interview — yes, they rap about selling coke, but to reduce it to that is to miss the point entirely.

"There's no way that you can listen to that level of storytelling and experience and just walk away just saying 'That's coke rap.'" No Malice says. "If you just want to say that it's just crack rap, then you can't even assess what's really being said or what's going on."

Indeed, what the Clipse staked their claim on isn't off the table. In fact, it's lined up and ready. 

Get Ready For A Bona Fide Clipse Era

As Pusha T stresses, this Clipse revisitation will come from multiple directions: "Appearances, touring, and a rap album of the year" are coming down the pike.

As more information about the forthcoming Clipse album flows in, keep GRAMMY.com bookmarked so you know the details — as these fraternal MCs join forces once more.

5 Takeaways From Pusha T's New Album It's Almost Dry

Hector "Roots" Lewis, Romain Virgo, Iotosh, Lila Iké, Samory I and Tarrus Riley in collage
(From left) Hector "Roots" Lewis, Romain Virgo, Iotosh, Lila Iké, Samory I, Tarrus Riley

Photos: Courtesy of the artist; Johnny Louis/Getty Images; Courtesy of the artist; Yannick Reid; Horace Freeman; Courtesy of the artist

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10 Artists Shaping Contemporary Reggae: Samory I, Lila Iké, Iotosh & Others

In honor of Caribbean American Heritage Month, meet 10 artists who are shaping the sound of contemporary reggae. From veterans who are hitting great strides, to promising newcomers, these acts showcase reggae's wide appeal.

GRAMMYs/Jun 19, 2024 - 01:51 pm

The result of audacious experimentation by studio musicians and producers, reggae originated  in Jamaica circa 1968 in Kingston, Jamaica. Along with its various subgenres of lovers rock, roots, dub and dancehall, reggae has influenced many music forms and found adoring audiences all over the world.

An authentic expression of the singers and musicians’ surroundings and experiences, reggae evolved from its 1960s forerunners, ska and rocksteady, shaped by contemporary influences such as American jazz and R&B, and mento, Jamaican folk music. Likewise, today’s reggae music makers draw from genres such as hip-hop (especially its trap strain) to create a generationally distinctive sound that still remains tethered to Jamaica's musical history.  

In the 2020s, the Best Reggae Album GRAMMY winners reflect the diverse musical palette that comprises contemporary reggae. EDM influences and reggaeton (a genre built upon digitized dancehall reggae riddims) remixes dominate the 2024 winner Julian Marley and Antaeus' Colors of Royal. The award’s 2023 recipient — Kabaka Pyramid's The Kalling, produced by Damian and Stephen Marley — intertwines traditional roots reggae with Kabaka’s love of hip-hop. The late, great Toots Hibbert was posthumously awarded the 2021 GRAMMY for Time Tough, a hard rocking, R&B influenced gem that captured Toots’ soulful exuberance. In 2020 Koffee became the youngest and first female awardee in the category for Rapture, which features the most experimental soundscapes among this decade’s winners. Ironically, the most traditional approach to reggae is heard on American reggae band SOJA’s 2022 winner, Beauty in the Silence.

Read more: Lighters Up! 10 Essential Reggae Hip-Hop Fusions

In honor of Caribbean American Heritage Month, which was officially designated by a Presidential proclamation in June 2006, here are 10 Jamaican artists who are shaping contemporary reggae. Some are veterans who are currently hitting the greatest strides of their professional lives, others are newcomers at the threshold of extremely promising careers. All are committed to their craft and upholding reggae, even if their music ocassionally sounds unlike the reggae of a generation ago.

Kumar Bent (and the Original Fyah)

In the mid 2010s, Jamaican band Raging Fyah had a significant impact on the American reggae circuit, with their burnished, inspirational roots reggae brand as heard on such songs as "Nah Look Back" and "Judgement Day." They toured the U.S. with American reggae outfits including Stick Figure, Iration and Tribal Seeds, and supported Ali Campbell’s version of UB40 in the UK. Raging Fyah’s album Everlasting was nominated for a 2017 Best Reggae Album GRAMMY.

The following year, charismatic lead singer and principal songwriter Kumar Bent (along with guitarist Courtland "Gizmo" White, who passed away in 2023) left due to differences with their bandmates.

In 2023 Kumar teamed up with Raging Fyah alumni, drummer Anthony Watson, keyboardist Demar Gayle and backing vocalist/engineer Mahlon Moving to create The Original Fyah. In February they performed at the band’s annual Wickie Wackie festival in Jamaica and they’ve recorded an album due for upcoming release (Demar has since moved on to other projects.)

Kumar, 35, a classically trained pianist, has recorded two solo albums, including Tales of Reality with Swiss studio band 18th Parallel; they’ll tour Europe together in October. Kumar’s acoustic guitar sets have opened several dates for stalwart Jamaican band Third World this year.

Each of his musical endeavors are focused on bolstering Jamaica’s signature rhythm.

"Reggae from the 1970s and ‘80s was special because Jamaican artists made the songs exactly how they felt, and found an audience with the sounds they created," Kumar tells GRAMMY.com. "If we (Jamaicans) keep making R&B, hip-hop sounding music, we are giving away what we have for something else that we are not as good at."

Lila Iké

Lila Iké's multifarious influences run deep. "I am a Jamaican artist who is influenced by different music and you’re going to hear that coming through," she said in a June 2020 interview with The Daily Beast, following the release of her debut EP The ExPerience

While Jamaican music expanded beyond what Iké called "the purist reggae vibe," she told The Daily Beast that "it’s important to maintain the music’s indigenousness. I incorporate that into the rhythms I use and my singing style because I want young people to know, this music doesn’t start where you hear it, it has transcended many years and changes." 

Born Alecia Grey, she chose the name Lila, which means blooming flower, and Iké, a Yoruba word meaning the Power of God. Her vocals are a singular, mesmerizing blend of smoky, soulful expressions with a laid back yet poignant rendering. Lila’s effortless versatility is rooted in her upbringing in the rural community of Christiana. Her mother listened to a wide range of music, R&B, jazz, soul, country and reggae, with Lila, her mom and sisters singing along to all of it. 

Lila moved to Kingston to pursue her musical ambitions; she performed on open mic nights and posted her songs on social media. Protoje reached out to her via Twitter with an invitation to record. From that initial meeting, Protoje has managed and mentored her career. Through his label In.Digg,Nation Collective’s deal with RCA Records, Lila will release her debut album later this year; Protoje also produced the album’s first single, the reggae/R&B slow jam duet "He Loves Us Both" featuring H.E.R.

Hezron

A passionate singer whose vocals marry the grit of Otis Redding with the cool of Marvin Gaye, singer/songwriter and musician Hezron has yet to achieve the widespread impact his talents merit, although he's been planting seeds since 2010. That year, his single "So In Love" was the first of Hezron's substantial musical fruits and exceptional catalog.

On his 2022 self-produced, remarkable album Man on a Mission, Hezron explores a range of Jamaican music and history. On the rousing ska track "Plant A Seed," Hezron's guttural, gospel inflected delivery is reminiscent of Toots Hibbert as he warns his critics, "You think you bury me and done but you only planted a seed." The album also features a scorching R&B jam "Tik Tok I’m Coming"; an acoustic, mystical acknowledgement of Rastafari, "Walk In Love and Light"; and a stirring plea to "Save The Children." The album’s title track is a spirited reggae anthem offering support to anyone in pursuit of their goals while underscoring Hezron’s own purpose.

"Man on a Mission is about my personal journey, the obstacles I’ve had to overcome in the music business and beyond. I’m telling myself, telling the world, this man is on a mission to restore Jamaican music to a prominent place internationally," Hezron tells GRAMMY.com. 

In November 2023 Hezron embarked on a global mission: a two-month tour of Ghana, followed, this year, by summer shows in Canada and the U.S. before returning to Africa, with dates in Ivory Coast, Kenya, and South Africa.

Iotosh

A self-taught multi-instrumentalist, songwriter and vocalist, Iotosh (born Iotosh Poyser) made his name as a producer who can seamlessly blend disparate influences into progressive reggae soundscapes. He’s produced singles for several marquee acts who emerged from Jamaica’s reggae revival movement of the previous decade including Koffee’s "West Indies," the title track on Jah9’s Note to Self featuring Chronixx, and Jesse Royal’s "Rich Forever", featuring Vybz Kartel. He also produced five of the 10 tracks on Protoje’s GRAMMY-nominated album Third Time’s The Charm.

Iotosh’s parents (Canadian music TV journalist Michele Geister and Jamaican singer/songwriter/producer Ragnam Poyser) came from different musical worlds, so he heard a multiplicity of genres growing up, including hip-hop, rock, funk, soul, reggae and R&B. Iotosh wanted to replicate all of those sounds when he started making music, which led to his genre blurring approach. 

As an artist, his 2023 breakout single the meditative "Fill My Cup" (featuring Protoje on the remix) was followed this year by "Bad News," which explores grief that follows losing a loved one, both on one-drop reggae rhythms. He describes his debut eight-track EP, due in September, as "a mix of traditional reggae and elements of contemporary music, pop, hip-hop and R&B." 

"In my productions, I try to have some identifiable Jamaican aspects, usually the bassline, which I play live," Iotosh tells GRAMMY.com. "Reggae is based on a universal message, it’s peace and love but contextually it comes from a place of enlightening people about forces of oppression. If that message is in the music, it’s still reggae, no matter what it sounds like." 

Iotosh will make his New York City debut on July 7 at Federation Sound’s 25th Anniversary show, Coney Island Amphitheater.

Read more: Meet The First-Time GRAMMY Nominee: Kabaka Pyramid On Embracing His Voice & The Bold Future Of Reggae

Mortimer

Producer Winta James first heard Mortimer while working on sing-jay Protoje’s acclaimed 2015 album Ancient Future, and decided he was the right singer to provide the evocative hook on the opening track, "Protection." About a year after they recorded the song, Mortimer became the first artist Winta signed to his company Overstand Entertainment.

In 2019 Mortimer (born Mortimer McPherson) released his impressive EP, Fight the Fight;  single "Lightning," was especially noteworthy for its roots-meets-lovers rock sound anchored in a heavy bass and delicately embellished with a steel guitar. Mortimer’s sublime high register vocals express a refreshingly vulnerable perspective: "Girl, my love grows stronger each day, baby please don't hurt me just because you know I'll forgive." 

"The songs that get me the most are coming from a place deep within," Mortimer told me in a January 2020 interview. "I started out writing what I thought was expected of me as a Rasta, militant, social commentaries, but it was missing something. Before I am a Rastaman, I am a human being, so I dig deep, expressing my feelings simply, truthfully."

Mortimer’s debut album is due in September and his latest single, "Not A Day Goes By," addresses his struggles with depression: "I’ve given up 1000 times, I’ve even tried to take my own life," he sings in a haunting tone. Mental health struggles remain a taboo topic in reggae and popular music overall; Mortimer’s raw, confessional lyrics demonstrate his courageousness as an artist, and that bravery will hopefully inspire others going through similar struggles to speak out and get the help they need.

Hector "Roots" Lewis

Earlier this year, Hector "Roots" Lewis made his acting debut in the biopic Bob Marley: One Love, earning enthusiastic reviews for his portrayal of the late Carlton "Carly" Barrett, the longstanding, influential drummer with Bob Marley and The Wailers.  Formerly the percussionist and backing vocalist with Chronixx’s band Zinc Fence Redemption, Hector is blazing his own trail as a vocalist, songwriter and musician. 

The son of the late Jamaican lover’s rock and gospel singer Barbara Jones, Hector’s profound love for music began as a child. In 2021, Chronixx launched his Soul Circle Music label with Hector’s single "Ups and Downs," an energetic funky romp that’s a testament to music’s healing powers.  The song’s lyric "never disrespect cuz mama set a foundation" directly references Hector’s mother as the primary motivating force for his musical pursuits. 

In 2022 Hector toured the U.S. as the lead singer with California reggae band Tribal Seeds (when lead singer Steven Jacobo took a hiatus) taking his dynamic instrumental and vocal abilities to a wider audience. The same year, Hector released his five-track debut EP, D’Rootsman, which includes regal, soulful reggae ("King Said"), 1990s dancehall flavor ("Nuh Betta Than Yard") and R&B accented jams "Good Connection." 

Co-produced with Johnny Cosmic, Hector’s latest single "Possibility" boasts an irresistible bass heavy reggae groove. On his Instagram page, Hector dedicates "Possibility" to people who are facing the terrors of "warfare, colonialism, depression and oppression," urging them to "believe in the "Possibility" that they can be free from that suffering." 

Read more: 7 Things We Learned Watching 'Bob Marley: One Love' 

Hempress Sativa

The daughter of Albert "Ilawi Malawi" Johnson, musician and legendary selector with Jah Love sound system, Hempress Sativa was raised in a Rastafarian household where music played an essential role in their lives. Performing since her early teens, she developed an impressive lyrical prowess and an exceptional vocal flow, effortlessly switching between singing and deejaying. 

Consistently bringing a positive Rasta woman vibration to each track she touches, Hempress Sativa’s most recent album Chakra is a sophisticated mix of reggae rhythms, Afrobeats ("Take Me Home," featuring Kelissa), neo-soul ("The Best") and cavernous echo and reverb dub effects ("Sound the Trumpet"), a call to action for spiritual warriors. On "Top Rank Queens" Hempress Sativa trades verses with veterans Sister Nancy and Sister Carol, each celebrating their deeply held values and formidable mic skills as Rastafari female deejays. 

Hempress Sativa is featured in the documentary Bam Bam The Sister Nancy Story, (which premiered at the Tribeca Festival on June 7) recounting the legendary toaster’s influence on her own artistry. Speaking specifically about Sister Carol, Hempress tells GRAMMY.com, "She is my mentor and to see her, as a Rastafari woman from back in the 1970s, maintain her standards and principles, gives me the confidence moving forward that I, too, can find a space within this industry where I can wholeheartedly be myself."

Learn more: The Women Essential To Reggae And Dancehall

Tarrus Riley

One of the most popular reggae songs of the 2000s was Tarrus Riley’s dulcet lover’s rock tribute to women "She’s Royal." Released in 2006 and included on his acclaimed album Parables, "She’s Royal" catapulted Tarrus to reggae stardom; the song’s video has surpassed 114 million YouTube views.

Tarrus has maintained a steady output of hit singles, while his live performances with the Blak Soil Band, led by saxophonist Dean Fraser, have established a gold standard for live reggae in this generation. Tarrus’s expressive, dynamic tenor is adaptable to numerous styles, from the stunning soft rocker "Jah Will", to the thunderous percussion driven celebration of African identity, "Shaka Zulu Pickney" and the EDM power ballad "Powerful," a U.S. certified gold single produced by Major Lazer, featuring Ellie Goulding

His 2014 album Love Situation offered a gorgeous tribute to Jamaica’s rocksteady era (during which time his father, the late Jimmy Riley, started out as a singer in the harmony group the Sensations). Tarrus’s most recent album 2020’s Healing, includes meditative reggae ("Family Tree"), trap dancehall with Teejay referencing racial and political sparring on "Babylon Warfare," and the pop dancehall flavored hit "Lighter" featuring Shenseea (the song’s video has surpassed 102 million views). 

Healing’s title track ponders what the new normal will be like, "without a simple hug, so tight and warm and snug/what will this new life be like, without a simple kiss, Jah knows I'd hate to miss."

Recorded and released at the height of the pandemic, Healing is deserving much greater recognition for its luminous production (by Tarrus, Dean Fraser and Shane Brown) brilliant musicianship, nuanced songwriting and forthright expression of the myriad, conflicting emotions many underwent during the lockdowns.

Samory I

Samory I is among the most compelling Jamaican voices of this generation, whose mesmeric tone is both a guttural cry and a clarion call to collective mobilization. Born Samory Tour Frazer (after Samory Touré, who resisted French colonial rule in 19th century west Africa), Samory I released his critically acclaimed debut album, Black Gold, in 2017.  

His latest release Strength is produced by Winta James, and was the only reggae title included on Rolling Stone’s Best 100 albums of 2023. The modern roots reggae masterpiece features the affirming "Crown," on which Samory commands, "I stand my ground, I will not crumble/I keep my crown here in this jungle."  Mortimer is featured on "History of Violence," which details the generational trauma that plagues ghetto residents over a classic soul-reggae riddim. "Blood in the Streets" is a blistering roots reggae anthem, an anguished exploration of the conditions that have led to the violence: "Shame to say the system that should be protecting Is still the reason we suffer/The perpetrators blame the victims, do they even listen? Can they hear us from the gutter?" 

Despite the societal and personal suffering that’s conveyed ("My Son" bemoans the death of Samory’s firstborn), Samory I offers "Jah Love" urging the wronged and the wrongdoers to ‘Show no hate, hold no grudge, seek Jah love," It’s an inspirational conclusion to Strength, rooted in Rastafari’s deeply meshed mysticism and militancy.

Romain Virgo

There’s a scene in the video for Romain Virgo’s 2024 hit "Been there Before" where he sits alone in an  empty room cradling a gold object with three shooting stars; those familiar Romain’s career beginnings will recognize it as the trophy the then 17-year-old won in the Jamaica’s talent contest Digicel Rising Stars, in 2007. "Been There Before" is a compelling sketch of Romain’s life’s struggles, yearning for something better, as set to a throbbing bassline: "To be someone was my heart’s desire/so me never stop send up prayer," he sings in a melancholy, quavering tone.

Growing up poor in St. Ann, Jamaica, the trophy represents the contest victory that changed Romain’s life. One of the Rising Star prizes was a recording contract with Greensleeves/VP Records. On March 1, Romain released his fourth album for VP The Gentleman, one of 2024’s finest reggae releases, evidencing Romain’s increasing sophistication as a writer and nuanced vocalist.

Throughout his career Romain has vacillated between romantic lover’s rock stylings ("Stars Across The Sky"), reggae covers of pop hits (Sam Smith’s "Stay With Me") that are so good, you’ll likely forget the originals, and organic, tightly knitted collabs including the aforementioned "Been There Before" featuring Masicka, all of which has created Romain’s large, loyal fan base and a hectic international performance schedule.

Yet, Romain’s greatest success might be maintaining the wholesome, humble personality that captivated Jamaican audiences when he won Rising Stars 17 years ago. "People have seen me grow in front of their eyes," Romain tells GRAMMY.com. "I enjoy singing positive music, knowing my songs won’t negatively impact kids. Being a husband and father now comes with much more responsibility in holding on to those values, it feels like a transition from a gentle boy into a gentleman." 

Remembering Coxsone Dodd: 10 Essential Productions From The Architect Of Jamaican Music

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Kirk Franklin performs at a Junteenth 2024 event in front of the White House in Washington D.C.
Kirk Franklin performs during a 2024 Junteenth Concert in front of the White House in Washington D.C.

Photo: Brendan Smialowski

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5 Free Musical Events To Celebrate Juneteenth 2024: Juneteenth Village Fest, ACLT Summer Of Soul & More

On June 19, America will celebrate Juneteenth, the federal holiday commemorating the end of slavery in the United States. If you're looking for free musical events to attend, here's a cross section of what's happening around the nation.

GRAMMYs/Jun 18, 2024 - 01:18 pm

Juneteenth is the United States' newest federal holiday, and arguably its most overdue. On June 19, Americans of all colors and creeds will join together to celebrate the anniversary of the termination of legal slavery in the U.S., a milestone that was also long overdue in 1865, decades after many nations, including Great Britain, Denmark, and Mexico, had already abolished it. 

Black Americans have given the world a universe of musical genius, among countless other cultural contributions, and these nationwide celebrations will be filled with music.

No matter where you reside, a Juneteenth celebration is likely happening nearby. As a music lover on GRAMMY.com, you know that free events are always a treat. Accordingly, here's a list of free Juneteenth musical events scattered around the country — so you can move your body while celebrating the Black community.

Need a refresher on how Black music touches everything, everywhere? Check out these free programs — you just might learn something.

Wave Hill's Juneteenth Celebration

The Bronx, New York

All details here

If you're in New York City, plenty of Juneteenth celebrations are sure to abound — and one special one's up in the Bronx. At the well-known public garden Wave Hill, there'll be picnicking, artmaking, and of course, music. Check out a fantastic performance by the singer, dancer, actor, and educator Bahati Barton, followed by a dance performance by Jamel Gaines Creative Outlet. All ages are welcome; bring folding chairs and blankets and enjoy the show.

Manhattan Beach's 2024 Juneteenth Celebration & Concert

Manhattan Beach, California

All details here

This Juneteenth bash has a serious serving of live music for those of you on the westside of Los Angeles. From late morning into mid-afternoon, enjoy Charis Reese, DJ Slatterose, the Clayton Cameron Ensemble and more, while enjoying art, cuisine and more from Black-owned businesses. Indeed, Manhattan Beach will offer up something for everyone on this most important of days.

Juneteenth Village Fest

Chicago, Illinois

All details here

Chicago is one of the most important cities in Black American history and culture, and naturally, they do Juneteenth right. The lineup for Juneteenth Village Fest at Douglass Park is free and open to the public, but the lineup would be worth shelling out for: Common, Dead Prez and Domani headline, with additional performances by Bella Bahhs, Liz Toussaint, and more.

Juneteenth Freedom Fest

Seattle, Washington

All details here

Aptly staged at Jimi Hendrix Park up in Seattle, Juneteenth Freedom Fest will be the latest offering from the Summer of Soul Series. This event boasts more than 100 marketplace and food vendors, a plethora of family-friendly entertainment, community resources, and performances by Vic Daggs II, Zaina the Phenom, Ambient Village, and many more.

Black Music Month: Rhythms of Liberations from Juneteenth to Beyond

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

All details here

Leave it to Philly to throw a truly musical Juneteenth — and not stop there. The African American Museum in Philadelphia has programmed amazing events every Saturday from June 8 to 29, tipping its hat to Black genres — country, folk, R&B, neo-soul, and beyond — across a series of toe-tapping, instructive events.

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