Photo: Taylor Hill/Getty Images
Philadelphia Declares March 15–17 Meek Mill Weekend
"I think in this life you deserve right if you're living the right way and you deserve a fair shot, and that's what I'm here fighting for," Mill said during his City Hall speech
Rapper and activist Meek Mill was celebrated in his hometown of Philadelphia, Penn. today, where city officials declared this coming weekend, March 15–17, "Meek Mill Weekend."
The Philadelphia City Council presented the 31-year-old rapper with the honor this morning, during which he gave a speech thanking the city for its support as he continues to speak up for criminal justice reform. Less than a year ago, on April 24, 2018, Mill was released from jail after being sentenced to two to four years in 2017 after a technical probation violation.
"I don't believe young kids where we come from, minorities like myself, should have a shot like that. I think we deserve better and I'm trying to fight for the young kids that I actually spent time and sat in prison with multiple times for not even committing crime," Mill said during his speech.
"I want to thank everybody who ever supported me that put me in this situation… And I just think, as the city of Philadelphia, me with a platform, being a musical artist, being known worldwide, I can use my voice to actually make things better," he continued.
Mill hasn't wasted anytime using his voice to stand up for others. Earlier this year, on Jan. 23, Mill, along with fellow rapper Jay-Z, longtime social justice activist Van Jones and several other leaders from diverse areas of expertise, launched the REFORM Alliance to work together on criminal justice reform.
"This is a call out to get people who actually come up under different circumstances a fair shot in America, and that's the people I want to speak for…I think in this life you deserve right if you're living the right way, you deserve a fair shot and that's what I'm here fighting for," Mill added during his City Hall speech.
Meek Mill Weekend arrives just in time for the rapper to share his music with his city, as he continues his Motivation Tour with two shows in Philly on March 15 and 16. The tour is in support of his latest album, Championships, and has five more stops after this weekend, finishing up in Atlanta on March 24.
Credit: Paul Natkin/Getty Images
20 Iconic Hip-Hop Style Moments: From Run-D.M.C. To Runways
From Dapper Dan's iconic '80s creations to Kendrick Lamar's 2023 runway performance, hip-hop's influence and impact on style and fashion is undeniable. In honor of hip-hop's 50th anniversary, look back at the culture's enduring effect on fashion.
In the world of hip-hop, fashion is more than just clothing. It's a powerful means of self-expression, a cultural statement, and a reflection of the ever-evolving nature of the culture.
Since its origin in 1973, hip-hop has been synonymous with style — but the epochal music category known for breakbeats and lyrical flex also elevated, impacted, and revolutionized global fashion in a way no other genre ever has.
Real hip-hop heads know this. Before Cardi B was gracing the Met Gala in Mugler and award show red carpets in custom Schiaparelli, Dapper Dan was disassembling garment bags in his Harlem studio in the 1980s, tailoring legendary looks for rappers that would appear on famous album cover art. Crescendo moments like Kendrick Lamar’s performance at the Louis Vuitton Men’s Spring-Summer 2023 runway show in Paris in June 2022 didn’t happen without a storied trajectory toward the runway.
Big fashion moments in hip-hop have always captured the camera flash, but finding space to tell the bigger story of hip-hop’s connection and influence on fashion has not been without struggle. Journalist and author Sowmya Krishnamurphy said plenty of publishers passed on her anthology on the subject, Fashion Killa: How Hip-Hop Revolutionized High Fashion, and "the idea of hip hop fashion warranting 80,000 words."
"They didn't think it was big enough or culturally important," Krishnamurphy tells GRAMMY.com, "and of course, when I tell people that usually, the reaction is they're shocked."
Yet, at the 50 year anniversary, sands continue to shift swiftly. Last year exhibitions like the Fashion Institute of Technology’s Fresh, Fly, and Fabulous: Fifty Years of Hip-Hop Style popped up alongside notable publishing releases including journalist Vikki Tobak’s, Ice Cold. A Hip-Hop Jewelry Story. Tabak’s second published release covering hip-hop’s influence on style, following her 2018 title, Contact High: A Visual History of Hip-Hop.
"I wanted to go deeper into the history," Krishnamurphy continues. "The psychology, the sociology, all of these important factors that played a role in the rise of hip-hop and the rise of hip-hop fashion"
What do the next 50 years look like? "I would love to see a hip-hop brand, whether it be from an artist, a designer, creative director, somebody from the hip-hop space, become that next great American heritage brand," said Krishnamurphy.
In order to look forward we have to look back. In celebration of hip-hop’s 50 year legacy, GRAMMY.com examines iconic moments that have defined and inspired generations. From Tupac walking the runways at Versace to Gucci's inception-esque knockoff of Dapper Dan, these moments in hip-hop fashion showcase how artists have used clothing, jewelry, accessories, and personal style to shape the culture and leave an indelible mark on the world.
The cover art to Eric B and Rakim’s Paid in Full
Dapper Dan And Logomania: Luxury + High Fashion Streetwear
Dapper Dan, the legendary designer known as "the king of knock-offs," played a pivotal role in transforming luxury fashion into a symbol of empowerment and resistance for hip-hop stars, hustlers, and athletes starting in the 1980s. His Harlem boutique, famously open 24 hours a day, became a hub where high fashion collided with the grit of the streets.
Dapper Dan's customized, tailored outfits, crafted from deconstructed and transformed luxury items, often came with significantly higher price tags compared to ready-to-wear luxury fashion. A friend and favorite of artists like LL Cool J and Notorious B.I.G., Dapper Dan created iconic one-of-a-kind looks seen on artists like Eric B and Rakim’s on the cover of their Paid in Full album.
This fusion, marked by custom pieces emblazoned with designer logos, continues to influence hip-hop high fashion streetwear. His story — which began with endless raids by luxury houses like Fendi, who claimed copyright infringement — would come full circle with brands like Gucci later paying homage to his legacy.
Athleisure Takes Over
Hip-hop's intersection with sportswear gave rise to the "athleisure" trend in the 1980s and '90s, making tracksuits, sweatshirts, and sneakers everyday attire. This transformation was propelled by iconic figures such as Run-D.M.C. and their association with Adidas, as seen in photoshoots and music videos for tracks like "My Adidas."
LL Cool J. Photo: Paul Natkin/Getty Images
LL Cool J’s Kangol Hat
The Kangol hat holds a prominent place in hip-hop fashion, often associated with the genre's early days in the '80s and '90s. This popular headwear became a symbol of casual coolness, popularized by hip-hop pioneers like LL Cool J and Run-D.M.C. The simple, round shape and the Kangaroo logo on the front became instantly recognizable, making the Kangol an essential accessory that was synonymous with a laid-back, streetwise style.
Dr. Dre, comedian T.K. Kirkland, Eazy-E, and Too Short in 1989. Photo: Raymond Boyd/Getty Images
N.W.A & Sports Team Representation
Hip-hop, and notably N.W.A., played a significant role in popularizing sports team representation in fashion. The Los Angeles Raiders' gear became synonymous with West Coast hip-hop thanks to its association with the group's members Dr. Dre, Eazy-E, and Ice Cube, as well as MC Ren.
Slick Rick in 1991. Photo: Al Pereira/Getty Images/Michael Ochs Archives
Slick Rick’s Rings & Gold Chains
Slick Rick "The Ruler" has made a lasting impact on hip-hop jewelry and fashion with his kingly display of jewelry and wealth. His trendsetting signature look — a fistful of gold rings and a neck heavily layered with an array of opulent chains — exuded a sense of grandeur and self-confidence. Slick Rick's bold and flamboyant approach to jewelry and fashion remains a defining element of hip-hop's sartorial history, well documented in Tobak's Ice Cold.
Tupac Walks The Versace Runway Show
Tupac Shakur's runway appearance at the 1996 Versace runway show was a remarkable and unexpected moment in fashion history. The show was part of Milan Fashion Week, and Versace was known for pushing boundaries and embracing popular culture in their designs. In Fashion Killa, Krishnamurpy documents Shakur's introduction to Gianni Versace and his participation in the 1996 Milan runway show, where he walked arm-in-arm with Kadida Jones.
TLC. Photo: Tim Roney/Getty Images
Women Embrace Oversized Styles
Oversized styles during the 1990s were not limited to menswear; many women in hip-hop during this time adopted a "tomboy" aesthetic. This trend was exemplified by artists like Aaliyah’s predilection for crop tops paired with oversized pants and outerwear (and iconic outfits like her well-remembered Tommy Hilfiger look.)
Many other female artists donned oversized, menswear-inspired looks, including TLC and their known love for matching outfits featuring baggy overalls, denim, and peeking boxer shorts and Missy Elliott's famous "trash bag" suit worn in her 1997 music video for "The Rain." Speaking to Elle Magazine two decades after the original video release Elliot told the magazine that it was a powerful symbol that helped mask her shyness, "I loved the idea of feeling like a hip hop Michelin woman."
Diddy Launches Sean John
Sean "Diddy" Combs’ launch of Sean John in 1998 was about more than just clothing. Following the success of other successful sportswear brands by music industry legends like Russell Simmons’ Phat Farm, Sean John further represented a lifestyle and a cultural movement. Inspired by his own fashion sensibilities, Diddy wanted to create elevated clothing that reflected the style and swagger of hip-hop. From tailored suits to sportswear, the brand was known for its bold designs and signature logo, and shared space with other successful brands like Jay-Z’s Rocawear and model Kimora Lee Simmons' brand Baby Phat.
Lil' Kim. Photo: Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images
Lil’ Kim Steals The Show
Lil' Kim’s daring and iconic styles found a kindred home at Versace with
In 1999, Lil' Kim made waves at the MTV Video Music Awards with her unforgettable appearance in a lavender jumpsuit designed by Donatella Versace. This iconic moment solidified her close relationship with the fashion designer, and their collaboration played a pivotal role in reshaping the landscape of hip-hop fashion, pushing boundaries and embracing bold, daring styles predating other newsworthy moments like J.Lo’s 2000 appearance in "The Dress" at the GRAMMY Awards.
Lil Wayne Popularizes "Bling Bling"
Juvenile & Lil Wayne's "Bling Bling" marked a culturally significant moment. Coined in the late 1990s by Cash Money Records, the term "bling bling" became synonymous with the excessive and flashy display of luxury jewelry. Lil Wayne and the wider Cash Money roster celebrated this opulent aesthetic, solidifying the link between hip-hop music and lavish jewelry. As a result, "bling" became a cornerstone of hip-hop's visual identity.
Jay-Z x Nike Air Force 1
In 2004, Jay-Z's partnership with Nike produced the iconic "Roc-A-Fella" Air Force 1 sneakers, a significant collaboration that helped bridge the worlds of hip-hop and sneaker culture. These limited-edition kicks in white and blue colorways featured the Roc-A-Fella Records logo on the heel and were highly coveted by fans. The collaboration exemplified how hip-hop artists could have a profound impact on sneaker culture and streetwear by putting a unique spin on classic designs. Hova's design lives on in limitless references to fresh white Nike kicks.
Daft Punk and Pharrell Williams. Photo: Mark Davis/WireImage
Pharrell Williams' Hat At The 2014 GRAMMYs
Pharrell Williams made a memorable red carpet appearance at the 2014 GRAMMY Awards in a distinctive and oversized brown hat. Designed by Vivienne Westwood, the hat quickly became the talk of the event and social media. A perfect blend of sartorial daring, Pharrell's hat complemented his red Adidas track jacket while accentuating his unique sense of style. An instant fashion moment, the look sparked innumerable memes and, likely, a renewed interest in headwear.
Kanye’s Rise & Fall At Adidas (2013-2022)
Much more than a "moment," the rise and eventual fall of Kanye’s relationship with Adidas, was as documented in a recent investigation by the New York Times. The story begins in 2013 when West and the German sportswear brand agreed to enter a partnership. The collaboration would sell billions of dollars worth of shoes, known as "Yeezys," until West’s anti-semitic, misogynistic, fat-phobic, and other problematic public comments forced the Adidas brand to break from the partnership amid public outrage.
Supreme Drops x Hip-Hop Greats
Supreme, with its limited drops, bold designs, and collaborations with artists like Nas and Wu-Tang Clan, stands as a modern embodiment of hip-hop's influence on streetwear. The brand's ability to create hype, long lines outside its stores, and exclusive artist partnerships underscores the enduring synergy between hip-hop and street fashion.
A model walks the runway at the Gucci Cruise 2018 show. Photo: Pietro D'Aprano/Getty Images
Gucci Pays "homage" to Dapper Dan
When Gucci released a collection in 2017 that seemingly copied Dapper Dan's distinctive style, (particularly one look that seemed to be a direct re-make of a jacket he had created for Olympian Dionne Dixon in the '80s), it triggered outrage and accusations of cultural theft. This incident sparked a conversation about the fashion industry's tendency to co-opt urban and streetwear styles without proper recognition, while also displaying flagrant symbols of racism through designs.
Eventually, spurred by public outrage, the controversy led to a collaboration between Gucci and Dapper Dan, a significant moment in luxury fashion's acknowledgement and celebration of the contributions of Black culture, including streetwear and hip-hop to high fashion. "Had Twitter not spotted the, "Diane Dixon" [jacket] walking down the Gucci runway and then amplified that conversation on social media... I don't think we would have had this incredible comeback," Sowmya Krishnamurphy says.
A$AP Rocky x DIOR
Self-proclaimed "Fashion Killa" A$AP Rocky is a true fashion aficionado. In 2016, the sartorially obsessed musician and rapper became one of the faces of Dior Homme’s fall/winter campaign shot by photographer Willy Vanderperre — an early example of Rocky's many high fashion collaborations with the luxury European brand.
A$AP Rocky's tailored style and impeccable taste for high fashion labels was eloquently enumerated in the track "Fashion Killa" from his 2013 debut album Long. Live. ASAP, which namedrops some 36 luxury fashion brands. The music video for "Fashion Killa" was co-directed by Virgil Abloh featuring a Supreme jersey-clad Fenty founder, Rihanna long before the two became one of music’s most powerful couples. The track became an anthem for hip-hop’s appreciation for high fashion (and serves as the title for Krishnamurphy’s recently published anthology).
Cardi B. Photo: Steve Granitz/WireImage
Cardi B Wears Vintage Mugler At The 2019 GRAMMYs
Cardi B has solidified her "it girl" fashion status in 2018 and 2019 with bold and captivating style choices and designer collaborations that consistently turn heads. Her 2019 GRAMMYs red carpet appearance in exaggerated vintage Mugler gown, and many custom couture Met Gala looks by designers including Jeremy Scott and Thom Browne that showcased her penchant for drama and extravagance.
But Cardi B's fashion influence extends beyond her penchant for custom high-end designer pieces (like her 2021 gold-masked Schiaparelli look, one of nine looks in an evening.) Her unique ability to blend couture glamour with urban chic (she's known for championing emerging designers and streetwear brands) fosters a sense of inclusivity and diversity, and makes her a true trendsetter.
Beyoncé & Jay-Z in Tiffany & Co.’s "About Love" campaign
The power duo graced Tiffany & Co.'s "About Love'' campaign in 2021, showcasing the iconic "Tiffany Yellow Diamond," a 128.54-carat yellow worn by Beyoncé alongside a tuxedo-clad Jay-Z. The campaign sparked controversy in several ways, with some viewers unable to reconcile the use of such a prominent and historically significant diamond, sourced at the hands of slavery, in a campaign that could be seen as commercializing and diluting the diamond's cultural and historical importance. Despite mixed reaction to the campaign, their stunning appearance celebrated love, adorned with Tiffany jewels and reinforced their status as a power couple in both music and fashion.
Kendrick Lamar Performs At Louis Vuitton
When Kendrick Lamar performed live at the Louis Vuitton Men’s spring-summer 2023 runway show in Paris in June 2022 following the passing of Louis Vuitton’s beloved creative director Virgil Abloh, he underscored the inextricable connection between music, fashion and Black American culture.
Lamar sat front row next to Naomi Campbell, adorned with a jeweled crown of thorns made from diamonds and white gold worth over $2 million, while he performed tracks including "Savior," "N95," and "Rich Spirit'' from his last album, Mr. Morale and the Big Steppers before ending with a repeated mantra, "Long live Virgil." A giant children’s toy racetrack erected in the Cour Carrée of the Louvre became a yellow brick road where models marched, clad in designer looks with bold, streetwear-inspired design details, some strapped with oversized wearable stereo systems.
Pharrell Succeeds Virgil Abloh At Louis Vuitton
Pharrell Williams' appointment as the creative director at Louis Vuitton for their men's wear division in 2023 emphasized hip-hop's enduring influence on global fashion. Pharrell succeeded Virgil Abloh, who was the first Black American to hold the position.
Pharrell's path to this prestigious role, marked by his 2004 and 2008 collaborations with Louis Vuitton, as well as the founding of his streetwear label Billionaire Boy’s Club in 2006 alongside Nigo, the founder of BAPE and Kenzo's current artistic director, highlights the growing diversity and acknowledgment of Black talent within high fashion.
Photo: Raymond Boyd/Getty Images
Why 1998 Was Hip-Hop's Most Mature Year: From The Rise Of The Underground To Artist Masterworks
From the release of 'The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill' and 'Aquemini,' to the proliferation of underground rap and the rise of regionalism, 1998 was hip-hop's sweet spot.
2023 has seen countless tributes to hip-hop, celebrating both its golden anniversary and the staying power of a genre that was vilified, underestimated, and branded a passing fad for decades. Nonetheless, while 50 is a major milestone, many believe hip-hop reached its peak decades ago.
At the tail end of the golden age of hip-hop, the genre reached a new level of maturity. Twenty-five years ago, hip-hop music demonstrated a wide variety of production styles and a diversity of perspectives. Further proving that 1998 was a high watermark for hip-hop, several important and stylistically distinct albums by Jay-Z, Black Star, A Tribe Called Quest and Outkast were even released on the same day.
This diversity of expression resulted in multiple commercially successful, distinct subgenres and niche audiences. The culture moved beyond the bi-coastal hostility that had culminated in the tragic murders of Tupac and Biggie, and the South asserted itself in a big way. The year’s versatility was demonstrated through the emergence of an underground scene that was critical of mainstream hip-hop’s consumerist mentality, but nonetheless thrived alongside commercially successful albums by both new and established artists.
Southern Hip-Hop Earns Respect
By 1998 groups beyond the East and West Coasts had started to gain national visibility — a hallmark of hip-hop's growing maturity.
While Outkast's Andre 3000 famously declared that "The South got somethin’ to say" in1995, the group didn't earn widespread respect and recognition until three years later. Released in September 1998, Aquemini, garnered near-universal praise — earning Outkast a notoriously rare five mics in The Source — and is still considered to be one of hip-hop’s greatest albums.
No other hip-hop group sounded like Outkast, and Southern flavor and slang pervaded the album (see the harmonica breakdown in "Rosa Parks"), but it was also the live instrumentation on tracks like "Liberation" and "SpottieOttieDopaliscious" that made the album so special.
Fellow ATLiens Goodie MOB, a group in the Dungeon Family collective, also released an album in '98. Like Aquemini, their sophomore effort Still Standing was produced largely by Organized Noize and featured a similar production style.
Outkast and Goodie MOB collaborated often in the 1990s: Aquemini’s "Liberation" only works because of the deeply soulful vocals of Goodie MOB’s Cee-Lo, and Still Standing’s "Black Ice" features one of Andre 3000’s most poetic and brilliant verses. While speaking to the many struggles of being young, Black and poor in the South, these two groups demonstrated how regional pride could be asserted in a more positive way, instead of spilling over into real-life violence; it was evidence of hip-hop’s maturity.
On the more commercial side, Atlanta rapper/producer Jermaine Dupri — who was already producing and writing songs for major R&B artists like Usher and Mariah Carey — released his debut album, resulting in one of the hits of the summer: the bouncy Jay-Z collaboration "Money Ain’t A Thang." New Orleans was also becoming an important locus of Southern hip-hop by 1998, with Master P’s No Limit Records releasing albums by Master P himself, Silkk the Shocker, C-Murder, Mystikal, and Snoop Dogg. Hits included "Make ‘Em Say Ugh" and "It Ain’t My Fault," both containing Mystikal’s distinctive high-pitched growling; his lightning-fast verse on the first song is truly something to behold. Also from Crescent City, Cash Money Records struck gold with Juvenile’s 400 Degreez and his booty-shaking anthem, "Back That Azz Up."
The Rise of Underground Hip-Hop
1998 was also the year "underground" hip-hop bubbled to the surface as a reaction to the genre’s crossover success. It was defined primarily by a critique of the presumed excessive consumerism of mainstream hip-hop, and a desire to return to the days when DJs, b-boys and graffiti artists were as important as rappers.
Turntablism was strongly associated with this style, as were cyphers — gatherings where rappers, b-boys and beatboxers would form a circle and engage in freestyle battles. The emergence of underground hip-hop was another sign that the genre was maturing as a whole; artists were no longer as worried about the ghettoization by the music industry and some felt that it had strayed too far from its marginalized roots.
The most significant underground hip-hop album of 1998 was Mos Def and Talib Kweli are Black Star, created by a young duo of Brooklyn MCs. Interestingly, it was released on the same day in September as Aquemini, as well as two other major albums of the year: Jay-Z’s Vol. 2…Hard Knock Life and A Tribe Called Quest’s The Love Movement — which although not an essential listen in their discography, did produce a hit with "Find A Way." Four major albums released on the same day was a testament to how far hip-hop had come.
In fact, the Black Star album was an explicit critique of the type of consumerist mentality and sexually explicit/boasting lyrics Jay-Z employed on Hard Knock Life. Songs like "Definition" display Mos Def and Talib Kweli’s exceptional lyrical dexterity and clever references, while "Hater Players" draws a clear line in the sand between commercial hip-hop and the "real MCs." In the latter, Kweli raps: "We ain't havin’ that, reachin’ past the star status that you grabbin’ at/ My battle raps blast your ass back to your natural habitat."
Mos Def’s adaptation of Slick Rick’s "Children’s Story" is a clever screed about the lack of originality within mainstream hip-hop. "They jacked the beats, money came wit' ease, but son, he couldn't stop, it's like he had a disease. He jacked another and another, Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder." The song was a not-so-veiled reference to the production technique utilized by Puff Daddy, relying heavily on well-known samples of soul and R&B songs.
Black Star also distinguished itself from much of commercial rap of the time by uplifting, instead of denigrating, women. "Brown Skin Lady" is an ode to Black women throughout the African diaspora, presenting a clear contrast to the frequent use of the b-word on Hard Knock Life, particularly on one of its biggest hits, "Can I Get A…" Nonetheless, like many "conscious" rappers — notably, Common, who makes a guest appearance on this album — Black Star reflects the almost-universal homophobia in hip-hop at the time, particularly in Mos Def’s verse on "Re-Definition."
Despite Jay-Z’s distrust and demonization of women on Hard Knock Life — his third and most commercially successful record — no one can dispute his tremendous verbal prowess and flow, evident on tracks like "N— What, N— Who." And while he called out "gold diggers" in "Can I Get A…," he invited a female rapper (Amil) onto the song — leveling the playing field a bit.
Production-wise, Jay-Z’s use of the "Annie" theme for the title song was one of the most inspired choices in the genre’s history. The slick production of the album guaranteed it would be a home run; in retrospect, it heralded the future of commercial hip-hop’s sound.
Oher underground hip-hop artists were making big waves in 1998. Rawkus Records — which released the Black Star album — put out an important compilation, Lyricist Lounge, Volume 1, which featured performances by Mos Def, Talib Kweli, A Tribe Called Quest’s Q-Tip, and the L.A.-based Jurassic 5, who also released their debut album that year. Other West Coast underground artists who released debut albums in 1998 included the Bay Area-based Hieroglyphics and Rasco, and the L.A.-based Aceyalone and People Under the Stairs.
Debuts, Veterans And The Biggest Album Of The Year
1998 also saw the release of important debut albums by commercial hip-hop artists like DMX, Big Pun and Black Eyed Peas. Big Pun’s "Still Not A Player" was one of the biggest hits of the year, with his lyricism reminiscent of Biggie.
DMX had a particularly productive year, releasing two albums in 1998, It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot and Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of My Blood. That year, it was impossible to escape the melodic hook and chorus of "Ruff Ryders’ Anthem" ("Stop! Drop! Shut ‘em down, open up shop") from the first DMX album. DMX also contributed a memorable verse on the Lox’s hit "Money, Power, Respect," off the group’s debut album, released by Puffy’s Bad Boy.
Beyond the debut albums of 1998, a slew of established artists from various regions and representing myriad styles put out their third, fourth or fifth albums. East Coast artists with new albums included Beastie Boys, Method Man, Redman, Busta Rhymes, Queen Latifah, Gang Starr, Mc Lyte, and Public Enemy, who released a soundtrack album for Spike Lee’s He Got Game. On the West Coast, there were new albums by Cypress Hill, Ice Cube, and Digital Underground.
Notwithstanding the success of so many diverse hip-hop artists, no album achieved greater heights than Lauryn Hill’s masterful solo debut, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. To start, it won Album Of The Year at the 1999 GRAMMYs, a feat never before accomplished for a hip-hop artist, as well as four other golden gramophones. Hill wrote, arranged and produced the album herself, reportedly turning down offers for production help from both her former Fugees bandmate Wyclef Jean and her label, which suggested bringing in Wu-Tang Clan’s mastermind, RZA.
The album was somewhere between R&B and hip-hop (and in fact was nominated and won in R&B instead of rap categories), and right off the bat, the album showcases Hill’s considerable skill as both a rapper and singer. The dancehall-inflected "Lost Ones" takes on an aggressive stance, with Hill rapping in Jamaican patois and invoking phrases of religious retribution, but it’s followed by a neo-soul breakup ballad, "Ex-Factor," featuring Hill’s signature throaty vocals.
The other major hits on the album besides "Ex-Factor" were "Doo Wop (That Thing)" and "Everything Is Everything," which cemented Hill as one of the best lyricists in hip-hop. Twenty-five years later, the whole album holds up beautifully and features some incredible invited guests.
Perhaps it’s not a coincidence that the first hip-hop album to break the Album Of The Year barrier was released in 1998 — when the genre had reached what is arguably its creative apex. With the incredible stylistic and regional diversity of that year’s albums, hip-hop had succeeded beyond its founders’ wildest dreams.
Photo: KMazur/WireImage for New York Post
8 Ways Jay-Z's 'The Black Album' Changed The Hip-Hop Game
What was almost Jay-Z's final album turned into one of his most iconic. For its 20th anniversary, take a look at how 'The Black Album' altered the course of Jay-Z's career — and rap as a whole.
"From bricks to Billboards, from grams to Grammys," Jay-Z rhymes on "Dirt Off Your Shoulder," a prime example of how his eighth LP, The Black Album, is dominated by his rags-to-riches story. Released Nov. 14, 2003, The Black Album was, ironically, intended to be the rapper's final chapter. But the album's remarkable commercial and critical success — it sold 3.5 million copies in the States to become his sixth consecutive number one on the Billboard 200 — instead furthered his magnitude and influence, only continuing his legacy of one of rap's greats.
Boasting no fewer than 12 of the era's hottest producers (The Neptunes, Just Blaze, Timbaland, to name a few), The Black Album is a consistently strong, musically diverse, and remarkably honest listen, which firmly justifies all the self-lionizing. And not only does the album feature Jay-Z's signature tune, it also spawned arguably the most revered mash-up in music — and, among many other feats, inspired a generation of MCs with its slick lyrical flow and ground-breaking beats.
Twenty years on, take a look at eight ways in which Jay-Z's faux-farewell changed the hip-hop game.
It Spawned The Most Famous Mashup Album Ever
Jay-Z practically invited the DJ crowd to put their own spins on The Black Album toward the end of 2004 when he reissued the LP without any beats. Pete Rock, DJ Bazooka Joe, and original contributor 9th Wonder all accepted the challenge. But Danger Mouse, aka one half of soon-to-be chart-toppers Gnarls Barkley, had already taken it on, fusing the rapper's original rhymes with music from another colorful record, The Beatles' White Album.
Bringing two pop cultural behemoths together for the first time, The Grey Album (see what he did there) inevitably became a sensation, with EMI's efforts to withhold its release only adding to all the hype. Both Hova and Paul McCartney, however, gave their blessing, with the former telling NPR, "I think it was a really strong album. I champion any form of creativity, and that was a genius idea to do it. And it sparked so many others like it."
It Put Several Key Names On The Map
Jay-Z was no stranger to giving future hip-hop heavyweights their big breaks; both Swizz Beats and Kanye West were virtual unknowns when they contributed to Vol. 2... Hard Knock Life and The Blueprint, respectively. And The Black Album was no different.
Production team The Buchanans, who'd later work with Lupe Fiasco, Amerie, and Dr. Dre, gained their first official credit on "What More Can I Say." John Legend was still a year away from GRAMMY-winning breakthrough Get Lifted when he co-wrote "Encore." And "Threat" helped rap professor (yes, that's a real thing) 9th Wonder to establish himself as a genuine hip-hop authority.
It Produced His Defining Track
Jay-Z had scored, and would go on to score, much bigger hits than "99 Problems." In fact, 24 of his solo singles have charted higher than its No. 30 peak on the Billboard Hot 100. And it isn't always considered to be his best, either: "Big Pimpin'," "Dead Presidents II," and "Where I'm From" all kept the Rick Rubin production out of the top three in Rolling Stone's recent all-time Hova list. Even so, "99 Problems" still has the clout of an undeniably defining tune.
It's been referenced by everyone from Iggy Azalea to Barack Obama. It gave Jay-Z the first of his four Best Rap Solo Performance GRAMMYs (Mark Romanek's controversial monochrome video also picked up four MTV VMAs). Its themes of racial profiling, police aggression, and gentrification led Jack White to hail it as the modern "story of America." And although Ice Cube said it first, it was undoubtedly Jay-Z who put "I got 99 problems, but a b— ain't one" firmly into the hip-hop lexicon.
It Birthed Rap-Rock's Greatest Crossover
Jay-Z certainly wasn't the first hip-hop act to forge an unlikely rock connection. Run-D.M.C. broke down barriers (literally) in the video for their iconic 1986 Aerosmith collaboration "Walk This Way." The '90s saw collabs from KRS-One and Crazy Town ("B-Boy 2000"), Method Man and Limp Bizkit ("N 2 Gether Now"), and Public Enemy & Anthrax ("Bring The Noise"), all of which were met with mixed results. However, the Jigga Man's EP with nu-metalers Linkin Park, 2004's Collision Course, was a different story.
Notching another Billboard 200 No. 1 for both artists, Collision Course proved that rap-rock could be both credible and commercially successful — which eventually helped pave the way for everyone from Lil Uzi Vert to Machine Gun Kelly. And The Black Album was a key part of their success.
Not only did Jay-Z think to do the team-up after seeing the various mash-ups The Black Album spawned, but three of Collision Course's six tracks stem from the LP: "Points of Authority/99 Problems/One Step Closer," "Dirt Off Your Shoulder/Lying From You," and the Best Rap/Sung Collaboration GRAMMY-winning "Numb/Encore."
It's Been Sampled Countless Times
The Black Album is built on samples, from the emphatic big beats of Billy Squier to Russell Crowe's dialog from Gladiator. But such is the recyclable nature of hip-hop, it's also been heavily sampled since its 2003 release, too.
"99 Problems" alone has been borrowed from or covered at least a recorded 79 times, perhaps most famously on Iggy Azalea's verse in "Problem," her No. 1 hit with Ariana Grande. T.I. brought "What More Can I Say" into the top 10 of the Hot 100 after lifting its vocal hook for "Bring Em Out." Hip-hop sibling duo Clipse appear to have been The Black Album's biggest fans, though, having taken lines from "Public Service Announcement" and "Threat" on "Number One Supplier" and "Where You Been," respectively.
It Pioneered The Hip-Hop Concert Movie
Long before his other half Beyoncé unleashed Homecoming, Jay-Z proved that the concert movie didn't need to be the sole preserve of white guitar acts. Five years after his collaborative Hard Knock Life tour was captured for posterity on Backstage, the rapper invited another camera crew to document what was supposed to be his live swansong. "The undisputed heavyweight champion of the world in hip-hop," welcomes ring announcer Michael Buffer at the start of Fade to Black. And Jay-Z more than justifies such a billing in a dazzling, star-studded set that leaves the 19,000-strong Madison Square Garden crowd hanging on his every word.
Just as compelling is the behind-the-scenes footage of The Black Album's inception, particularly Timbaland and Pharrell Williams' excitement at conjuring the perfect beats. From J. Cole (Forest Hills Drive: Homecoming) to Chance the Rapper (Magnificent Coloring World), a whole host of rappers have since followed suit.
It Allowed Jay-Z To Guide Other Superstars
The Black Album might not have been the studio goodbye purported at the time. But before returning with Kingdom Come in 2006, Jay-Z did spend the following three years adhering to The Black Album's retirement theme. The self-imposed hiatus allowed the rapper to explore other creative avenues, expand his brand, and – perhaps most significantly for fans of a certain Barbadian superstar – take the reins of the legendary Def Jam Recordings.
Yes, after being appointed to the position of CEO in 2004 by L.A. Reid, Jay-Z signed a then-unknown Rihanna to the label, reportedly responding to her audition with "There's only two ways out. Out the door after you sign this deal. Or through this window." Ne-Yo and Rick Ross were both also plucked from obscurity by the Jigga Man and sent on their paths to stardom during his three years in charge (Jay-Z remained with Def Jam as an artist until May 2009, when he left to concentrate on his own Roc Nation label.)
It Made Retirement A Marketing Tactic
Although Too Short and Master P had both previously reneged on their plans to call it quits, Jay-Z was the first rapper to truly harness the power of an early retirement. Frequently alluding to the news (see "I supposed to be number one on everybody's list/ We'll see what happens when I no longer exist" on "What More Can I Say"), The Black Album was also accompanied by the aforementioned concert film, a memoir (The Black Book), and ever the entrepreneur, even tie-in sneaker and mobile phones.
Hova insists that he really did believe he was bidding farewell at the time, but there's no denying that the announcement helped to both boost his coffers (The Black Album was his biggest selling 2000s release) and add to his mythology. 50 Cent, Waka Flocka Flame, and Lupe Fiasco are just a few of the major hip-hop names who've since made similar claims before quickly walking them back.
Since his return, Jay-Z has added to his legacy in a multitude of ways. He's released collaborative projects with West and Beyoncé; scored a further five solo number one LPs on the Billboard 200 (including The Black Album's unexpected follow-up, Kingdom Come); and added more than a dozen GRAMMYs to his awards haul. And we've not even mentioned the record-breaking world tours, film production credits, and various business interests (TIDAL, Roc Nation Sports) which have helped him become the world's wealthiest rapper with a staggering net worth of $2.5 billion at press time. While The Black Album would've been a remarkable finale, Jay-Z's decision to unretire remains his smartest yet.
Westside Gunn On How Virgil Abloh & "Coming To The End" Of His Rap Career Inspired 'And Then You Pray For Me'
A self-proclaimed "super-vet" of the rap world, Westside Gunn knows his time as a rapper is nearing its finale — but first, he wants to "give you a journey" with his new album, 'And Then You Pray For Me.'
When Westside Gunn refers to himself as "the king of the underground," it's not hyperbole. The veteran rapper has spent the last decade-plus providing hip-hop with a streetwise, neo-boom-bap style that echoes heavily in the music of today. And as the founder of independent hip-hop label Griselda (and its related rap collective), Gunn's influence is felt through stars like his brother, Conway the Machine, his cousin, Benny the Butcher, and the enigmatic Mach-Hommy.
But Gunn considers himself more a curator than a musician. He is obsessed with fashion and high art, more prone to mention going to see opera or buying a painting than jumping into a rhyme cipher.
All of Westside Gunn's obsessions come together on his new album And Then You Pray For Me. The rapper is positioning the project as a sequel to his 2020 LP Pray For Paris, which was inspired by Gunn attending a Paris Fashion Week runway show as a guest of the late Virgil Abloh. Abloh was the art director for both albums, which feature figures from iconic artworks laden with Gunn's signature chains; And Then You Pray For Me uses both the Mona Lisa and Caravaggio's The Entombment of Christ.
While the 21-track album features plenty of Gunn's trademark neo-boom-bap sounds, he updates things a bit by including some songs that have a trap music influence. It contains stellar guest turns from old friends like Conway, Benny, Stove God Cooks, Rome Streetz, and Boldy James. But there are also surprising appearances from artists you might not normally associate with Griselda — Jeezy, Rick Ross, Denzel Curry, and Ty Dolla $ign.
Gunn has recently referred to And Then You Pray For Me as his last album, but don't expect him to slow down. He's making movies, planning big moves in the fashion world, and continuing to guide the careers of other artists.
GRAMMY.com caught up with Gunn as he was, naturally, shopping in New York City's SoHo neighborhood ("I'm over here on Mercer [Street], so it's Lanvin, Balenciaga, Marni, Bape — it's all right here," he boasts). We discussed his creative pairing with Abloh, why he's really a curator at heart, and his views on underground rap's evolution over the past decade.
The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Not to start on a super serious note, but as I was preparing for this conversation, I realized that we just passed the 17-year anniversary of the murder of your cousin, rapper Machine Gun Blak. If he could see you now, and if he could hear the new album, what do you think he might say?
First of all, he'd be all on [the album]. But he'd be super proud, man. Even when he's not here, he's one of my biggest fans, I feel like. His energy is Westside Gunn. Westside Gunn is a perfect example of Machine Gun Blak — just the raw, the grittiness. The grimy part of Westside Gunn, that's Machine Gun Blak. That's his spirit.
But I think he would love this album. It's a great piece of work. It's my favorite that I ever worked on. Out of all my projects ever, this is the most fun I ever had making one.
Does it feel like it's been 17 years since he died?
Nah. It doesn't seem like 17 years, honestly. And it's crazy because I just went to his grave site. I remember [the day he died] like it was yesterday. I vividly remember that day — what was going on, what I was doing, where I was going, everything.
Where were you when you found out?
See, back in those days, that's when we were still in the streets. So I was just about to go make a move. I was talking to him on the phone, and I was like, "I'll hit you when I get over to Atlanta." Because at that time, I was making moves. That's before all of this. It's the things I rap about now. When you hear the lyrics, these are those days.
He called me, and it was a situation. He was talking about it, and I was like, "Sorry to cut you off, but I gotta go handle this. When I get there, I'll hit you back so we can finish talking about it."
At that time I was still catching the Greyhound from Alabama to Atlanta. But it was crazy because I missed the bus, and I never miss the bus. So I was on my way back to the house in Alabama, and my grandma called me.
This era of your career, which this album is a cap to, began in 2012 when you realized you had to step up and be an artist because Conway The Machine had gotten shot and you weren't sure he'd be able to rap anymore. I've always been curious about your state of mind at that moment.
Even then I was still in-the-streets Gunn. We was working so hard, man. I was acting as his manager and investing my bread, my time. I really wanted Conway to be the biggest artist in the world. Unfortunately, when he got shot, it was a devastating blow.
Of course, that's my brother. That's the number one thing. And it was also like, the streets is crazy. I thought, I'm a smart guy. If I just put in my effort, I could really make this happen. At that time, I was really in the streets, and I felt like the [other] rappers weren't. It was like, you're really rapping about us.
It was that kind of mentality — that if I come in this game, can't nobody touch me, because I'm as real as it comes. I just put my hustle skills from the streets into this, and it all worked out.
During the heyday of that era of Griselda, you guys released a flood of projects — dozens and dozens of mixtapes and albums.
It was a flood. It was the craziest flood since No Limit [Records].
What was a typical day like for you when all that was going on, circa the mid-2010s?
Just being at [producer] Daringer's house. Getting high, eating f—in' Franco's pizza, drinking Loganberry, and Daringer cooking the craziest beats you ever heard in your life. The rest is history. Just having fun, man. Everybody had they hustles. Believe it or not, even Daringer was hustling! We from Buffalo, man.
You've always been someone who understood the importance of branding. Even on early Griselda projects, you'd promote GxFR [Griselda by Fashion Rebels, Gunn's clothing line at the time].
Yeah, because that's the thing: Griselda Records comes from Griselda by Fashion Rebels. I had the clothing brand first. I was already doing a clothing line and it was just like, What am I going to name this record company?
I've always been into fashion. I actually do more fashion-related things than hip-hop-related things. I'm a true designer. I've been designing since I was a kid, and that's the thing that I want to get into more.
I've been rhyming since '12. That's over a decade. If we're looking at NBA years, NFL years, I'm already a super-vet. I'm not trying to be one of them dudes that went from averaging 40 a game to now I'm averaging five, looking crazy and old.
I know when to gracefully bow out. And I know I'm coming to the end. I don't want to keep rapping forever about the same things, because in my life I'm maturing. I'm doing other things. I'm collecting art. I'm going to see operas.
But it's not the end right now. Right now, I just want to give people the best music. And I also want to let people in. I've been doing these [YouTube] episodes for this album where I've been letting people into my life for the first time in my career. Everybody has been loving it.
For the first time, people are actually getting to see the inside of Westside Gunn's life. I think that's one of the things that I lacked on, was letting people in. If I would have let people in a long time ago, I'd be way bigger. But everything is about time, and I'm not tripping.
Before I hang up the mic, I still want to kind of give you a journey with the music. This new project, it's a super different vibe. I've never made an album sound like this. It's the perfect art piece that I could have possibly created.
It's just the space I'm in in life. It comes with maturity — traveling the world, kids getting older, things like that. You can hear the music has matured. It's still raw though. That's the thing about me. I'm still gonna give you that Griselda Westside Gunn. That's never gonna change. I'm not going too far out of context.
For this album, you've introduced the alter ego "Super Flygod." What does that name mean?
Listen, man, Super Flygod right now is talking to you with a ponytail. I'm on another level. Super Flygod is what I've always been, but times 10. I'm super bougie. I love five-star meals. I love five-star hotels. I love wearing $10,000 outfits. I love getting massages. I love smelling good. I love just looking good. That's Super Flygod.
It's just a different energy. It's something the game never seen before. I did the unthinkable at least 100 times already. I'm still doing it.
What was it like for you to see Conductor Williams — a producer who has worked with Gunn and Griselda for many years — land a single on a Drake album?
Beautiful. That's what we do it for. He did exactly what he was supposed to do, and that's be on the No. 1 album in the world. He deserves all of that. That's what we're in this game for — to be able to leave a legacy and take care of our babies. So for him to be on the No. 1 album, that's a super blessing.
That's the thing about Conductor — it's just gonna be the beginning. He's on my new album a few times. So he's gonna have a hell of a month. It's the biggest month of his life. Business is booming for Conductor.
You've used the word "curation" a lot over the course of your career, and especially in regards to this album. What does that word mean to Westside Gunn?
First of all, that's my favorite thing to do on an album. Curation from me is me. I can curate for you, I can curate for MC Hammer. It's you, but it's me.
When I curate a project, that's me naming every song, that's me picking every beat, that's me doing the sequence, that's me making the art cover, that's me doing the merch. You see what I'm saying? It's you, but it's me. All you're doing is showing up and rapping. That's all you gotta do.
Virgil Abloh is credited with art directing this album's cover. What did that mean, specifically?
When I went out to Paris [for Paris Fashion Week in 2020], I really wasn't going to make music. I just felt the energy from Virgil having me out there. When I hit him and told him it was done, it was just like, "There's only one person that can do this cover." It had to be him.
Virgil was an icon. So to have Virgil cooking up for you is already legendary. This don't happen to nobody from Buffalo, man. But when he was cooking, he was making me multiple pieces. At first, the idea was, I'm gonna do a trilogy [of Pray albums]. I was gonna have the Mona Lisa be the picture that represents all three of them together. I was thinking [of a] box set, with a Mona Lisa front and three different covers inside.
Once he passed, it changed what I wanted to do with it. But we were already talking about dropping [a second Pray album]. We were already going to re-release the first shirts we did, and I was going to do new ones. But when [his death] happened, I put everything on a standstill and I didn't really know how I wanted to approach it again.
It was like, Damn, should I do the trilogy, or should I just make it a part two? I had different options. At the end of the day, it was just like, I think I'm just going to finish it up. I really want to give the people the work we created together before I throw in the towel. I felt it was only right. That's something that I want the world to always see and remember — what me and him cooked up together.
You say in your new YouTube documentary series that this new album will probably go over people's heads. What aspects of it do you think people might not get initially, or take a few years to catch up to?
The same reason why they're catching up now to the s— that I was doing five years ago, and everybody acts like it's new. I've always been ahead of my time. Always. I probably get copied off of the most in the industry. But you see that I've always gotten respect from everybody: from the Drakes, from the Tylers, the Rockys, Kendricks, Coles, anybody. I'm a one-of-one. It's never been seen before.
The respect I get, it could be on a mainstream level, but then I could still be on an underground level. I can do something with an Estee Nack, but then turn around and do a song with Mary J. Blige. That's who Westside Gunn is. I got songs with everybody you can possibly think of, rhyming-wise or production-wise. All the legends, even our fallen legends. I can't even think of no other emcee that got a record with Sean Price, Prodigy, DMX, and MF DOOM. It's impossible to name another one.
Westside Gunn is so cultured, people don't even understand. That's what I mean about [being] over people's heads. People still don't even get it. They're scratching their head, like, "How is this guy on [Kanye West's] Donda? How is this guy on [Travis Scott's] Utopia?"
There's a big part of underground rap now that can be traced directly to what Roc Marciano began doing in 2010, and what you guys started doing just a few years later. What do you think when you see a lot of your aesthetic from that time in the current underground scene?
The current underground scene, I'm loving it. Because you gotta think — at that time, like you said, it was only really Roc Marci, Action Bronson — a couple heads. That's in the space that we come from. Of course, we still had the J. Coles and Big Seans and all that, but that was another lane. We're in the same neighborhood, two different streets.
But on our street, people on the block was Roc Marci and Action Bronson. Danny Brown, he lived on the block. People like that. When I came on the scene, that's all it was. But I took the bull by the horns. Like I said, I'm a hustler. I was still hustling in the street. I had a hustler mentality, and once I told myself I had to quit cold turkey, I never looked back. I just went extra hard.
With the new heads, I'm proud of them. At the end of the day, I'm happy that I was able to be somebody that they could study. That they could see these vinyl deals or how this merch is played — I'm kind of like the blueprint. I'm not going to say I'm the king of the underground, but I'm the king of the underground.
Even though I'm the king of the underground, I'm still on Donda. I'm still on Utopia. I'm still making all these big songs and these big records. And even yesterday, we put up the Post Malone clip saying if he could work with anybody, it'd be me.
I'm the one that put the most points on the board, in every way possible. But this is also showing the new heads, If I could work hard, I'm gonna be the next Roc Marci, I'm gonna be the next Action Bronson in that space.
What is the possibility of getting the original Griselda trio of you, your brother and your cousin back together for a project?
That's coming in '24. You don't even you got to ask twice. That's already done, my brother.