meta-scriptOlamidé On The Ascent Of Afrobeats, Supporting Newer Artists & His Subdued New Album 'UY Scuti' | GRAMMY.com
Olamidé On The Ascent Of Afrobeats, Supporting Newer Artists & His Subdued New Album 'UY Scuti'

Olamidé

Soyombo Emmanuel

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Olamidé On The Ascent Of Afrobeats, Supporting Newer Artists & His Subdued New Album 'UY Scuti'

For his latest album, 'UY Scuti,' Nigerian singer/songwriter Olamidé mellowed out and sought to make music for healing—just as his Afrobeats star power is swelling

GRAMMYs/Jul 20, 2021 - 12:11 am

UY Scuti is a hypergiant star so jaw-droppingly massive that if it were our sun, its photosphere would reach the orbit of Saturn. But paradoxically, the album Olamidé named after it is his most subdued to date. 

During a recent interview in a Manhattan hotel, as the Hennessy flows through his entourage, he speaks at a near-whisper. But when one of his associates snaps an Instagram photo of the conversation, scores of Nigerian followers are just about beside themselves in response. True stars are self-evident; they don't have to proclaim what they are.

The Afrobeats giant's last album, 2020's boisterous Carpe Diem, would have been worthy of such an astronomical title. These days, though, Olamidé is seeking something soothing, something therapeutic. "I just want people to listen to rich music," the Nigerian singer, songwriter and rapper says. "Beautiful, healing to the soul. Appealing to the ears. This is my music for relaxing and chilling. Life is good."

That sense of self-containment is exactly what UY Scuti exudes. On tracks like "Jailer," "Rough Up" and "Want"—which contain contributions from rising artists Jaywillz, Layydoe and Fave, respectively—Olamidé exhibits a quiet command of his craft true to his influences, like John Legend and Celeste. And with Afrobeats getting bigger by the year, he just might ascend to the level of American pop stars soon.

GRAMMY.com caught up with Olamidé in said hotel lobby to discuss the making of UY Scuti, why he made music for healing and what compelled him to extend a hand to underground artists.

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This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

How would you describe your musical community in Lagos?

It's very entertaining. Very chilled, very lovely. The vibe out there is just so happy. Everyone just wants to be happy. There are a few people who sing stuff that's not about being happy, but most of the time, everybody just wants to be happy, make good music, make love in the club, nightlife and all that. Going to shows together and hanging out like brothers. We've all known each other from birth, you know? That's the coolest thing about it.

Sounds like a party atmosphere.

Yeah. We like to have a good time, man.

How about the Afrobeats community, specifically? Is that just a tag Americans pin on this music?

Yeah, I think, to an extent! Globally, the way people perceive the pop music that comes out of Africa is Afrobeats, so it's understandable.

I mix a lot with people from different sides of Africa, different countries in Africa. From my limited knowledge, I think Afrobeats is on the global stage right now. We are getting lots of love from all over the world. Everyone is praising Afrobeats right now. The artists and record label owners and everyone around Afrobeats culture, they're putting out their place to make sure that Afrobeats lives longer and longer.

Read More: Davido On Elevating Nigerian Culture, New Music & What He'll Teach His Son About Being Black In America

It seems like Afrobeats is having a moment right now. What do you think precipitated that? I believe Drake played a role in its modern rise.

Honestly, I feel like a lot of sacrifices [were made on the part of] lots of people who started the Afrobeats movement—the likes of 2Face Idibia. There's been some groundwork—the foundation that got us to the level of the Wizkids, the Davidos, the Olamidés, the Burnas. Everybody came, then Drake came and there was lots of work done by lots of people.

Awilo [Longomba], you know. He was massive. Awilo was tearing up stadiums and all that. African music has always been big, massive, explosive and all that, but we're happy with the fact that right now, the global market is paying attention and praising our sound and all that.

Yet, to an extent, I can agree with you that the influence of someone like Drake tapping into that sound really did a lot. People like Beyoncé and all that.

You raise an interesting point. While Drake and other mainstream American artists may have pushed it over the edge...

Way before Drake, Jigga already sampled Fela a couple of times. The one I remember right now is "Roc Boys." There's always been that.

Right. The point being, that mainstream acceptance could only happen due to the sacrifices of African artists.

Yeah, yeah.

I feel like many people solely associate Afrobeat with Fela Kuti. Which other key players should they know about?

So many key players. The likes of King Sunny Ade, the likes of Majek Fashek. So many of them.

Out of that whole pantheon, who inspired the tunes on UY Scuti? I think of writing songs as a buffet, where you can pick and choose what—or who—is on your plate.

In most cases, when I'm working on a project, it's not really about my favorite artists or the ones I'm really cool with. If I think it's going to be easy for us to make something great out of where my head is right now—what I'm thinking about right now, the sound I want to make and all that—if you're in that lane, I'll holler at you. If you make good music.

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Where was your head at for this record?

I was basically thinking about doing a timeless project that isn't about having club bangers or street acting. I just wanted to make beautiful, chill music. While working on the project, I listened to a lot of Lauryn Hill. I think her music was my major influence on this project.

What do you appreciate the most about Lauryn?

Her versatility. She's not going to hop on any random stuff. What I hear in Lauryn Hill is music that after 10, 20 years, you listen to it again and you say "Whoa. That's a bop." [Laughs.]

UY Scuti has a therapeutic quality, but it also has pop appeal. What techniques did you use to bring out both qualities?

My producer [P.Priime] has a church background. He's also a choirmaster and plays almost every instrument, from piano to bass guitar to trumpet—you name it.

In most cases, I don't know the right words for all the things in my head. [Guffaws.] I have good ears for music. I didn't join music school. I didn't join the choir. I don't know nothing about that. I'm just a street dude that fell in love with music, so all I do, when I sit down, is try to explain that. "This is how I'm feeling. This is what I want to hear."

What can you tell me about some of these guests and collaborators and your relationships with them?

Apart from Phyno—we've been cool Gs from way back, over nine years now. We've always been cool, doing collabos almost every year. But the other guys on the project are very new on the market. That's something I do on almost every project. I always try to scout for guys that are very talented but don't have the platform, people supporting them and all that. I was underground. I went through that stage, and I know how it feels.

How do you find these artists? Are they mostly in Nigeria?

Yeah, in Nigeria. One of them, my wife introduced me to her sound. That's Fave. I stumbled on Layydoe's freestyle on IG. Jaywillz, same thing. I saw one of his records playing on the Explore page and clicked it. It was dope! I clicked on the link in his bio to check out his whole EP and it was sounding good. I was like, "How come this dude is not popping yet?"

Since you record at home and do some production yourself, what did you learn from this recording process?

It was my major [foray] into Logic. I started production because sometimes I don't know how to explain to everyone, apart from a few people, how I'm feeling. 

But most times, I'm not always at home. I'm out on the road and I don't have the luxury of doing the producer's life. So I have to always make sure I record my ideas and tell my guys to teach me one or two things. I'll make something tiny and skeletal, just put down the idea.

What have you learned so far in your adventures with Logic?

For me, I just vibe. I just do whatever, man. If I'm having difficulties with anything, I go on Google [or YouTube] and search. I don't pay a lot of attention to the tricks and all that. I just want to do my thing and get out.

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What emotions do you hope to impart to listeners with UY Scuti?

I just want people to listen to rich music.

Rich in what way?

Beautiful, healing to the soul. Appealing to the ears. This is my music for relaxing and chilling. Life is good.

Have you tried to be harder-edged in the past?

I used to be like that, for like a decade! I outgrew it.

What are you listening to lately? What have you been checking out?

I've been listening to a lot of Justin Bieber lately. Celeste. Sebastian Mikael. John Legend.

Listening earlier, I noticed that you're switching between languages.

Yeah. Some pidgin, a little patois, some English, a tiny bit of Yoruba.

Is there anything else you want to express about this record?

Majorly, I just want people to take their time. Some people are probably listening to me for the first time, but you should give it a shot. It's a lovely and wonderful experience. You're going to love it!

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"Wake Up" With Bloody Civilian: How Owning Her Perspective & The Support Of Women Allowed The Afrobeats Artist To Thrive
Bloody Civilian

Photo: Dan Mbonu

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"Wake Up" With Bloody Civilian: How Owning Her Perspective & The Support Of Women Allowed The Afrobeats Artist To Thrive

The Nigerian singer and songwriter contributed to the GRAMMY-nominated 'Black Panther: Wakanda Forever' soundtrack — but Bloody Civilian's contributions to the ever-expanding world of Afrobeats go far beyond the Marvel Universe.

GRAMMYs/Jan 9, 2024 - 02:25 pm

Emoseh Angela Khamofu began crafting beats at age 12 and wrote her first song on a piece of tissue paper. This innocuous interest quickly developed an obsession with music that, later, propelled her to incredible heights. 

Within a year, the 25-year-old singer and songwriter now known as Bloody Civilian released two EPs: Anger Management and a remixed version, Anger Management: At Least We Tried, and signed to 0270 Def Jam. Her song "Wake Up" featuring Rema is on the GRAMMY-nominated Black Panther: Wakanda Forever soundtrack. 

Bloody understood early on that she'd have to approach her career holistically. Across her body of work, Bloody uses her "unparalleled” storytelling ability and lyrical dexterity to take listeners through personal and societal hardships. 

The moniker Bloody Civilian refers to the struggles encapsulated by the often-derogatory term directed at Nigerian citizens by the military, and is also a poignant homage to a challenging chapter in her life. Born into a religious family in northern Nigeria, a young Bloody and her family relocated to the national capital, Abuja, due to unrest; she later moved to Lagos to pursue music. 

"Growing up as a female in Nigeria is unnecessarily hard. It's unnecessarily complicated, especially when you do something unconventional," Bloody Civilian tells GRAMMY.com. "I had to fight for a lot of the leniences that I experienced."

Ahead of the 2024 GRAMMYs, Bloody Civilian discusses pursuing music as a girl in a religious home, becoming a serial entrepreneur just to buy recording equipment, and the art of production. 

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

You gravitated toward music started at such a young age. What was it like charting a path that went against the pious, conservative norm you were born into?

It was a difficult process. Stopping making a beat to go wash plates just doesn't bang. As a Nigerian female, my brothers don't have the same home experience as I did. They had enough time to cultivate various skills and for me — if not for the level of obsession that I had for what I was doing — this could have been impossible. The chances of you being distracted at home as a female, is way higher than as a male. 

Your dad played as a bassist in a band. Surely, you wanting to be an artist could have been seen as following in his footsteps… 

But he's a man, so no one told him what to do. Whereas in my case, having that same creative hunger as the person that gave birth to me wasn't an easy journey. I had to fight for a lot of the leniences that I experienced. I had to rent things out and sell merch, to raise enough funding to buy equipment. I was a serial entrepreneur due to circumstance. 

I understand that your parents didn't support you financially until further into your career. What was their reaction to you doing all you had to do to pursue what they probably thought was a hobby? 

At the beginning, the little wins that I'd get and the little bit of popularity — people in the church saying "We saw her content from my daughter's phone" or one thing or the other — I think that's when my parents had an element of there's something to be proud of rather than be ashamed of me as a daughter. It became easier along the way. 

But it definitely was tough. Very tough. Especially production; beat making, they really couldn't fathom or understand. It came to a point where they understood that I wanted to become a singer but this beat making thing, why not go and work with a producer? 

And did they take you to a producer?

Yes, the first producer my mother took me to and paid for a session, I did most of the work. And I could tell that it wasn't easy taking instructions from a 12-year-old. I could see how hard it was. But I think in that session, him trying the things I asked for and seeing that it worked out, and he'd kind of give me this look of she knows

I went to the studio, didn't know much. I was fascinated by the mic — stared at it for, like, a while [laughs]. I still remember looking around. The deafening sound of a studio; I was just taken back by it. Everything was just so fancy. Production started out as equal parts bad belle [Nigerian slang for resentful, jealous or bitter] and equal parts necessity. 

**On "Family Meeting” off Anger Management, you sing: "Before you return me back to God, I think I'm going to pack my s— and run” hinting at how you moved to Lagos. Did you really run to Lagos?** 

Something like that, yeah. I had to leave Abuja…urgently. And ending up in Lagos was definitely something that was a do or die, but not necessarily die. More like do or nothing. 

It's been two years since you moved to Lagos from Abuja. How much of an adjustment was that move for you?

When I came, I was slightly more impressionable and very gullible. Typical JJC ["Johnny just come," a Nigerian term for a newbie/ novice to a place or situation]. And that's something about my psychology that really shocks me. I have a chameleon-like ability to evolve over a short period of time. The last two years of being in Lagos, I'm almost unrecognizable to my old self. 

When I came to Lagos, I was the person I needed to be. I connected with different creatives. I went to people with experience and a good heart to get advice. I knew where to go to listen, I knew where to go to record. I knew different things because I explored a lot. And the reason I'm not in a screwed up situation is that I went and got advice from Osagie [Osarenz, Director of A&R and Operations at ONErpm]. It is because of her that I didn't sign a contract that I'll be crying about today. She basically told me "don’t sign anything, make sure you show me." 

Honestly, I was just lucky. I didn't have anything that differentiated me from anyone. I'm just lucky I met the people I met and was coincidentally lucky to listen when they spoke. 

How did you get signed to 0270 Def Jam?

I got signed off of a demo tape. A bunch of songs I wanted to sell to other artists. I wrote "How To Kill A Man" to sell [and] a lot of the tracks on the EP [like] "Escapism" to sell. I wanted to kind of just write for other people. But because of the way I put the tracks together, people felt, this is an EP and you're an artist

I just kept getting nudged to take the artist route. And I always wanted to be an artist even prior to coming to Lagos because when I write songs, I write from my perspective; it's my voice, it's my music. Someone else could sing it out, but it's my story. I was pretty ready to become a writer-producer, but the way things panned out, [the EP] kind of sent my name around town. 

But two women put me here. Remove those two women, I'm in the trenches. 

The second woman was in the creative scene, high up. She was at an event with top executives and sent my music to multiple people, hoping a few would respond. Well, pretty much everyone she sent it to was sending me offers. My life changed [snaps fingers] in that instance. That's when I shut down all conversations with everybody in Lagos. I said, "I'm definitely not signing my deal here" because it was hard to get people to see the value in what I was doing. We're here today because two women decided let me clear some time in my schedule to talk to this girl

Take us on the journey of how your song "Wake Up," which is featured on the GRAMMY-nominated Black Panther: Wakanda Forever album, came to be.

Since the film is about Africa and had a very women-led cast, they really wanted to portray the strength of women in general. So, even with the way they made the music, they wanted it to involve women creatives. They wanted female songwriters, producers, and when you run a search for female producers in Nigeria, there's very few that come up. I just happened to be one of them. 

Got in the studio, met [composer] Ludwig [Göransson], played beats for him. He took the one that you hear and worked on it, added some cool synths and stuff. They had brought instrumentalists, and they spent a year sampling traditional music, so they pretty much had a bunch of sounds that he was playing with. He took it from what the demo beat was to what it is now. 

What ranks higher for you, producing or creating your own music?

Producing, then music. You wouldn't even have me if I couldn't produce. Maybe now in Nigeria, you can go 'round and find people that are experimenting outside of the norms [of conventional music]. Now it's a better time. These songs were made years ago. I was there before everyone else. 

My first viral video on Instagram was because I carried a Travis Scott-type melody loop, and I put on Afrodrums. It went viral because, one, no one does this combo — and then a girl did it. I had a hunger; I wanted to create a specific sonic, and I was just struggling to piece it together. 

I can tell you that production came first. It was when I put that part of my artistry together that my lyrics started to shine. 

You've spent years crafting your sound we hear today. There's a trend of Afrobeats artists trying to break away from the label and form subgenres, like Burna Boy with Afro fusion and Rema with Afro rave. Is "Afro-escapism" your attempt at that break away? 

[Laughs.] Why are they attacking me with that Afro-escapism? It's weird, I love the different Afro subgenres: Afro-depression, Afro-escapism, Afro-sapa. There are no bad songs. I hate it that we eat away at each other.

There's so many styles of intelligence. You can't come and say this person's music is more deep or profound than another person's music. Everyone has their perspective, their language, but the content of what they're saying has value. As listeners, we should just never forget that it is important for us to also train ourselves to be good listeners for the music to thrive. 

The cover art for Anger Management represented you being sort of alone, but Anger Management: At Least We Tried looks different with bright colors. Is it safe to say that this depiction represents how you feel now? 

Yeah, it is. Being the "number one breakout artist of 2023" [laughs] made me see that Nigerian music is in trouble. [My team] worked hard, but it definitely just lets you see how hard it is to break in new acts. The way I see it, if you're not expressing yourself and you're not being authentically yourself, whatever you stand for, it's gonna be harder now than ever.

Looking back at [Anger Management], it wasn't really a happy time. But despite that, on-air-personalities literally reached out to me and were playing the music before we had worked out business and everything. It was very organic. 

With a lot of my accomplishments, I usually have to be made to understand the worth of it because it doesn't really dawn on me. I just felt this EP was made with me in a sunken place. I'm no longer in a sunken place, but I want to remix my EP. 

I'm feeling happy, excited. And it feels like a point in my life where so much can happen. It was also the first time people would see me interact with other artists, which for some reason fans like to see.

2024 GRAMMY Nominations: See The Full Nominees List

2023 In Review: 5 Trends That Defined Afrobeats & African Music
(From left) Mr. Eazi, Arya Starr, Tyla, Rema, ASAKE

Photos (L-R): BANKU MUSIC, Jason Kempin/Getty Images for MTV, Steve Granitz/FilmMagic, Mike Coppola/Getty Images for MTV, Paras Griffin/Getty Images

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2023 In Review: 5 Trends That Defined Afrobeats & African Music

African music and Afrobeats expanded its influence in 2023 as renowned artists achieved global recognition and created new sounds. From a new GRAMMY category to chart dominance and the rise of female artists, check out the biggest trends.

GRAMMYs/Dec 13, 2023 - 02:24 pm

It could be argued that 2023 was African music’ biggest year ever. The stars shined brighter, the hits went further, and the global music industry is taking notice. 

To wit, the Recording Academy announced the 2024 GRAMMY nominees for its inaugural Best African Music Performance award. Some of the continent’s biggest talents are getting the spotlight: Rising artists like Ayra Starr, ASAKE, and Tyla will compete against global megastars Burna Boy and Davido in a history-making category. 

But there was much more going on than hits and highlights. Afrobeats embraced continent-spanning sounds, from traditional genres to South African club music. Female artists from the continent shined as brightly as their male counterparts. Across the board, bold, experimental new sounds began to creep into the landscape. As an exciting year in Afrobeats and African music comes to a close, take a look at some of the trends that defined this broad soundscape in 2023. 

Afrobeats Stars Are Crossing Over in America

Even if the GRAMMYs hadn’t decided to shine a light on Africa’s music industry with the Best African Performance category, Afrobeats artists made major inroads into the American music market in 2023. ASAKE appeared on "Good Morning America" and "The Tonight Show" to promote his album Work of Art, and recently released a collab with H.E.R. And Burna Boy — one of the genre’s biggest forces — sold out Citi Field in New York and played to a massive Coachella crowd. 

Afrobeats artists played festivals across the country, none more significant than the first-ever stateside editions of AfroNation. Burna Boy headlined both legs of the genre-specific festival alongside WizKid in Miami and Davido in Detroit, while each one featured an undercard full of incredible artists. Rema, ASAKE, Ckay, and BNXN performed in Miami, while Detroit featured Kizz Daniel, P-Square, Stonebwoy, and others. 

But in terms of chart success, one song dominated above all. Driven by a remix featuring Selena Gomez, Rema’s "Calm Down" smashed Billboard records. The song became the longest-running No. 1 in the history of the U.S. Afrobeats chart, spending more than a full year at the top. It eventually crossed over to the Hot 100, also spending a on the chart and becoming the longest-charting African song in its history, although it fell short of the top, peaking at No. 3. 

There’s more where that came from. Rema’s success with "Calm Down" shows the potential Afrobeats artists have to connect with audiences across the world, including North America. Some are already looking for ways to integrate American music into their own songs.

Amapiano Is Everywhere

South Africa’s long history of flirting with house music — from kwaito in the post-Apartheid ‘90s, to the Afro-house of Black Coffee and Da Capo — is finally taking the country’s music global thanks to amapiano. The dance genre typified by sweltering grooves, sizzling shaker rhythms, and the bombastic log drum, was all over Afrobeats this year. 

Heartthrob Ckay tapped the sound on "Hallelujah" with Blaqbonez. Davido collaborated with Musa Keys on his GRAMMY-nominated track "Unavailable" [fellow nominees in the Best African Music Performance category are "Amapiano" by ASAKE & Olamide, Burna Boy's "City Boys," "Rush" by Ayra Starr, and Tyla's "Water."]  And Mr. Eazi recruited Focalistic, Major League DJz, and others for the debut record of his ChopLife Soundsystem side project. Artists as far away as China are also putting their own spin on the sound, such as Vinida Weng with "WAIYA." 

But no one in Afrobeats has embraced amapiano quite as much as ASAKE. His inventive take on the genre incorporates Indigenous sounds from Nigeria to create a totally new and personal style. Songs like "Basquiat" and "Amapiano" reverberate with amapiano log drums and cymbal samples as well as choral background vocals. 

America has caught amapiano fever as well. South African starlet Tyla’s R&B-inflected "Water" became a crossover hit, unseating Rema from No. 1 on the Billboard Afrobeats chart and reaching (as of this writing) a record-setting No. 1 10 on the Hot 100 — the highest-ever for a South African artist. Both U.S. legs of AfroNation also featured a Piano Power stage, with sets by Maphorisa, Musa Keys, Major League DJz, DBN Gogo, Focalistic, TXC, and Uncle Waffles, who also performed at Coachella. 

Female Artists Are On The Rise

Although Afrobeats has largely been dominated by male artists — especially the big three of Burna Boy, WizKid, and Davido — the genre’s female stars are also proving their might. Tems gained fame thanks to features on songs like WizKid’s "Essence," but stepped further into the spotlight following the release of 2022’s For Broken Ears. Her latest song, "Me & U," is a soul-searching track that doubles as a love song and a paean to the almighty. 

Tems' continues to receive industry recognition as well. At the 2023 GRAMMYs, she took home a golden gramophone for Best Melodic Rap Performance "Wait for U," a collab with Future and Drake. Her work co-writing Rihanna’s "Lift Me Up" from the Black Panther: Wakanda Forever soundtrack earned an Oscar nomination, and the song is nominated for Best Song Written For Visual Media at the 2024 GRAMMYs, alongside Barbie The Album's "Dance The Night," "I'm Just Ken," "What Was I Made For?" and "Barbie World.

Ayra Starr, meanwhile, is universally seen as Afrobeats’ next big thing. The Benin-born starlet’s triumphant song "Rush" notched a GRAMMY nod, and she’s continued her dominant streak with singles such as "Sability" and "Stamina" with Tiwa Savage and Young Jonn. She’s also featured on tracks by WizKid, Ninho, David Guetta, and Tyla. 

And speaking of the South African, Tyla’s success with "Water" also highlights the power of female Amapiano artists, none are as mighty as Uncle Waffles. The eSwatini native gained a huge hit with "Tanzania," and played it out to feverish crowds at Coachella and AfroNation Miami. 

Ghana’s Scene Is Buzzing

Two countries away from Nigeria, Ghana’s music scene is bursting with creativity. For proof, look no further than Atlanta-raised AMAARAE’s Fountain Baby, one of the most buzzed-about pop releases on either side of the Atlantic. The record fuses Accra-attitude with 2000s R&B futurism for a bold, dangerously sexy sound that’s totally unique. 

Black Sherif, meanwhile, reps the streets. As a major representative of asakaa, the country’s take on drill music, the rapper has taken the gritty sound of Ghana’s ghettos to new places this year, touring his 2022 record The Villain I Never Was and its hit single "Kwaku the Traveler" at the MOBO Awards in London, Wireless Festival in Abu Dhabi, and events across the U.S. His latest track "OH NO" goes into ambitious new territory with influences added from highlife and soul. 

Finally, Mr. Eazi may be Nigerian by birth, but Ghana is where he made his name and developed his signature "banku" sound, mixing Afrobeats with highlife and other local influences. After 10 years in the business, he finally released his debut album The Evil Genius with a uniquely artful twist: Every track is accompanied by a painting executed by an African artist. Eazi has called the album his most personal work yet. 

Afrobeats Artists Are Defying Genres

Burna Boy took on hip-hop and pretty much everyone else hopped onto amapiano, but in 2023 artists in Afrobeats and beyond took turns trying to expand the genre. Fresh off the success of "Calm Down," Rema delivered a scorching new EP. Ravage flung the singer into dangerous new territory, with dramatic lyrics and dark, hyperpop-leaning production on tracks like "Don’t Leave." 

Up-and-coming artists are also trying to break away from the pack with experimental new sounds. Blaqbonez, featured on Ckay’s "Hallelujah," spits over bouncy Igbo drumming on "NYEM EGO." Brazy, meanwhile, blended Afrobeats with Jersey Club on "omg." 

Last but not least, one of the most interesting Afrobeats-adjacent songs of the year was made in London. Nigerian-British Jim Legxacy’s "dj" boldly fuses hyperactive Afrobeats drums with Midwest emo guitars and a warbling, R&B-esque vocal performance. "You used to promise me you’d teach me how to DJ" may be one of the most instantly devastating opening lines of the year. 

2023 In Review: 10 Trends That Defined Rock Music

5 International Hip-Hop Scenes To Watch Now
Central Cee performs in Madrid

Photo: Aldara Zarraoa/Redferns

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5 International Hip-Hop Scenes To Watch Now

Acts around the globe are shifting away from imitating American artists, creating an audible international shift toward sounds that are truer to location. Read on for five countries with distinct hip-hop scenes worth checking out.

GRAMMYs/Dec 12, 2023 - 02:16 pm

Fifty years since the recognized beginning of hip-hop culture in the United States, its beats, rhymes and life have been inspiring artists and doing serious business around the world. These days, though, there’s an audible international shift away from imitating American acts and producing sounds that are truer to location.

"Overall, we’re definitely seeing the decline of the dominance of rap music on a global scale," notes Nima Etminan, COO of Empire. Headquartered in San Francisco, Empire is included among
Billboard’s 2023 International Power Players and has offices in New York, London, South Africa and Nigeria. An experienced A&R executive, Etminan is originally from Germany and frequently works from each base to scout and sign talent.

What
is working, Etminan has noticed, are emergent international styles that may count rap music and hip-hop culture as ingredients or influences. Artists around the globe are breaking new sonic ground, whether it’s Puerto Rico’s Bad Bunny rapping and singing, or the hip-hop appeal of the corridos by Mexico’s Peso Pluma.

"I think that the essence of African American culture when it comes to talking and dressing and stuff is definitely still there, but it’s just less because [America has] less global influence," he says. " Now everybody kind of has their own local scenes that are bigger. So the American stuff still plays into it, but just on a much smaller scale because they have their own heroes and their own superstars who are big that they are looking up to."

With all that in mind, GRAMMY.com asked Etminan and other global music minds to recommend international rap scenes that are worth watching now.

Brazil

In November, Brazilian hip-hop artists made a big impression at the 2023 Latin GRAMMYs. Planet Hemp and Criolo were the first to win the inaugural award for Best Portuguese-Language Urban Performance with their song "Distopia." They were nominated alongside three other Brazilian rap acts worth watching: Luccas Carlos, Dallas and Filipe Ret.

Empire, which is both a record label and distributor, just hired its first employee in Brazil. The company has good reason to watch and invest in this region.

"I think Brazil is one of the fastest rising areas," says Etminan. "I think as far as their own sound and culture that’s really big but hasn’t exploded outside of that yet, and hasn’t had mainstream success yet, it’s probably Brazil."

Read more: A Timeline Of Brazilian Hip-Hop: From The Ruas To The Red Carpet

France

French rap music may not be on the radar of the average American fan, but France is the second largest market in the world for hip-hop — behind only the United States.

"Take a look at the country's Top Spotify lists and it's strongly dominated by domestic artists in the genre who come from Paris, Marseille and from various regions across the country," notes Alexandra Greenberg, the U.S. consultant for CNM (Centre national de la musique), France’s national music office. "The country also has Les Flammes, an international awards show celebrating rap going into its second year this coming April."

Paris-based hip-hop journalist and author Epée Hervé Dingong suggests becoming acquainted with the likes of Ninho, an MC of Congolese descent influenced by American Southern rappers, who recently collaborated with Lil Baby. Dingong also pointed to Booba, who has had three NO. 1 albums and eight other Top 10 releases in France since his 2002 debut.

"Booba is not new," says Dingong, who is working on a book chronicling the history of the hip-hop mixtape, "but he is still the king." 

Nigeria

The world’s embrace of Afrobeats originated with Nigerian artist Fela Kuti, who was likened to be the James Brown of Africa. Current Nigerian superstars who are poised to eclipse that success internationally, like Burna Boy and Olamide, have grown up under the influence of the Kuti family (including Fela’s recording artist sons, Femi Kuti and Seun Kuti) and the allure of American rap.

Ahead of the 2024 GRAMMYs, the Recording Academy introduced a new category of Best African Music Performance, reflecting the continent’s current breakthroughs in the North American music business. And a remix of "Sittin’ on Top of the World" by Burna Boy featuring 21 Savage is one of the nominees for Best Melodic Rap Performance in 2024. Fellow nominees in the category are "Attention" by Doja Cat, "Spin Bout U" from Drake & 21 Savage, "All My Life" by Lil Durk feat. J. Cole, and SZA's "Low."

Though these artists are beloved around the world, the worsening economic climate in Nigeria has made it challenging for them to succeed at home, explains Etminan.

"The inflation in Nigeria was so crazy this year," he says, "and the Nigerian currency lost so much of its value, so a lot of the money these artists were making was devalued at the same time. So that’s stuff that plays into [their ability to work at home and] that’s really tough. And that’s outside of anyone’s control, you know?"

Read more: 2024 GRAMMYs: How The New Best African Music Performance GRAMMY Category Is A Massive Win For The World

South Africa

A&R executives like Etminan are still heavily focused on the talent and potential in South Africa, though the man who was arguably the biggest star in the South African scene with the most international appeal lost his life in 2023. AKA, an MC who was the top-selling South African hip-hop artist of all time, was shot and killed in Durban in February when his career was still on the rise. He was 35.

Presently, South Africa gets the most attention globally for amapiano, which takes influence more from house music and the more local kwaito music from the Nineties, but there is a growing cooperation and
collaboration with the South African rap world. Like most specifically rap scenes, South Africa’s is male-dominated, but a notable exception is Nadia Nakai, an Artist Of The Decade nominee at the South African Hip-Hop Awards and reality star in the Netflix series Young, Famous & African. Nakai and her contemporaries reflect an aspirational lifestyle in their music.

England

"The UK market for a long time was very tough," says Etminan, adding that the market is small, saturated, and generally concentrated around London. "Especially when it comes to hip-hop, a huge percentage of the Black population in the UK is centered around London and once you leave London it’s very white."

Hip-hop with an English accent may not have had as much success catching on internationally as other UK-bred styles like drum & bass and grime have, but a current set of stars are demanding the world’s attention.

"I think Central Cee is probably a perfect example of what can happen," Etminan adds. "Everybody loves Central Cee and I don’t know if part of it is his look — he’s very racially ambiguous, he’s good looking, girls love him. He makes music that obviously has a UK accent and stuff like that, but it’s very adaptable and catchy. I feel like Central Cee is probably the one that I hear played the most from people that just listen to regular American rap music [in England]."

Central Cee won two 2022 MOBO Awards for Best Male Act and Video Of The Year for his song "Doja," which was directed by Cole Bennett, the popular Chicago video director from Lyrical Lemonade. He celebrated his 25th birthday in 2023 with the release of Split Decision, a joint project with Mercury Prize-winning English rapper Dave, also 25 and a still-rising star who appeared on the UK series "Top Boy" (which became a US hit for Netflix). Cee is also bridging countries with collaborations such as "Eurovision," a song and video featuring rappers and producers from France, Spain, Italy and across the United Kingdom. 

Luckily, YouTube offers a free passport to experiencing the creativity from these scenes and artists as well as music from all across the planet. A true benefit of the streaming age is that hip-hop fans of any age who appreciate originality, flow and bumping beats can learn about how an American-bred art form has inspired the world.

6 Highlights From "A GRAMMY Salute To 50 Years Of Hip-Hop": Performances From DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince, Queen Latifah, Common & More

Why 1998 Was Hip-Hop's Most Mature Year: From The Rise Of The Underground To Artist Masterworks
André 3000 and Big Boi of Outkast in October 1998

Photo: Raymond Boyd/Getty Images

feature

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.

GRAMMYs/Nov 20, 2023 - 03:02 pm

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. 

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