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Poll: Who Do You Think Voters Will Pick For Best Rap Performance At The 2020 GRAMMYs?

J. Cole, J.I.D., Bas, EARTHGANG, Young Nudy, DaBaby, Nipsey Hussle, Roddy Ricch, Hit-Boy, Offset and Cardi B are all in the running for Best Rap Performance at the 62nd GRAMMY Awards—tell us who you think will win!

GRAMMYs/Dec 12, 2019 - 03:10 am

And the Best Rap Performance GRAMMY goes to…

We'll have to wait until the 62nd GRAMMY Awards on Jan. 26, 2020 to find out how the sentence will be completed, so, for now, let's revisit the talented artists and fire tracks that are currently nominated for Best Rap Performance. Take the poll below to pick who you think Recording Academy voters will select as the winner, and read on to learn a bit more about the songs and artists in the running, which include J. Cole, J.I.D., Bas, EARTHGANG, Young Nudy, DaBaby, Nipsey Hussle, Roddy Ricch, Hit-Boy, Offset and Cardi B.

Former 2012 Best New Artist nominee J. Cole has become one of the biggest names in hip-hop over the past decade, and with his talent-rich Dreamville Records imprint, is bringing many younger rappers up with him. This past January, the North Carolina legend released "MIDDLE CHILD," which would serve as a lead single to the Dreamville compilation album, Revenge of the Dreamers III, released later in the year, on July 5.

Not only is Cole up against himself in this category, as "Down Bad" is also nominated, he and the Dreamville squad are also up for Best Rap Album for Revenge of the Dreamers III.

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Related: Find Out Who's Nominated For Best Rap Album | 2020 GRAMMY Awards

Following a series of mixtapes, first-time GRAMMY nominee DaBaby, also from North Carolina, released his debut studio album, Baby On Baby, this past March. It was indeed a huge year for the rising rapper, as not only was his album well-received, but he also saw viral success with its single, "Suge," and he was featured in XXL's 2019 Freshman Class. He also served up several high-profile features, including for remix versions of both Lizzo's "Truth Hurts" and Lil Nas X's "Panini."

"Suge," whose title is a reference to Death Row Records co-founder Suge Knight, is also nominated for Best Rap Song, a songwriters' award.

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"Down Bad" was released on June 12, 2019, one week after Revenge of the Dreamers III finally dropped, as its next single. As the album itself is a product of the collaboration of many artists, the majority who are signed to Cole's Dreamville label, this track is a shining example of both a solid rap posse cut and the collab-led album.

"Down Bad" features J.I.D., Bas, EARTHGANG—all of whom are on Dreamville, Young Nudy and Cole himself, who offers his flow to a bulk of the LP's 18 tracks.

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Another Poll: Who Will Win Best Pop Vocal Album At The 2020 GRAMMYs?

"Racks In The Middle," was the last empowering single Nipsey Hussle released before we lost the Los Angeles icon this spring. The track features emerging L.A. rapper Roddy Ricch, another XXL Class Of 2019 inductee and GRAMMY-winning producer Hit-Boy. Like "Suge," "Racks In The Middle" is also both up for Best Rap Song.

The late, great Hussle is also up for a third nomination this year, for DJ Khaled's track "Higher," which also features vocals from John Legend and was released after Hussle's death. At the 61st GRAMMYs earlier this year, the hip-hop hero received his first GRAMMY nomination for his long-time-coming debut studio album, Victory Lap.

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Hip-hop powercouple Offset and Cardi B slayed at the 2019 GRAMMYs this past February. Not only did they look fly on the red carpet, they shared a major moment onstage earlier this year when Cardi took home her first golden gramophone, for Best Rap Album for her 2018 killer debut studio album Invasion Of Privacy.

Later that month, Offset released his first solo album, FATHER OF 4, the final Migos' member to release their solo project. The album's second single, "Clout," features none other than Cardi B, who adds a big dose of bad b***h attitude to the track and music video.

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Stay tuned to GRAMMY.com (sign up for our weekly newsletter digest above!), our social media channels (follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter), YouTube page, to keep up on all things 2020 GRAMMYs. And don't forget to catch the big show live on CBS on Jan. 26, 2020.

Find Out Who Just Made History With Their GRAMMY Nominations: 2020 GRAMMYs By The Numbers

Rakim performs onstage during the "J.Period Live Mixtape: Gods & Kings Edition" at Damrosch Park, Lincoln Center, on August 09, 2023 in New York City.
Rakim performs in 2023

Photo: Richard Bord

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On Rakim's 'G.O.D's Network (REB7RTH)' The MC Turned Producer Continues His Legacy With An All-Star Cast

On his first project in 15 years, "God MC" Rakim produced seven songs and called on some of hip-hop's biggest names. The legend and his team detail his new album and working with Nipsey Hussle, DMX and Snoop Dogg.

GRAMMYs/Jul 25, 2024 - 12:58 pm

Every album comes with a backstory, but not many come with two. Rakim's new project G.O.D's Network (REB7RTH), out July 26, came together in a few quick months, from signing a deal in February 2024 to completion in June. The process was spurred by one dedicated A&R person frantically combing through his network of rappers to get guest verses over beats produced by the God MC himself.

But to hear that A&R man, Matt "M80" Markoff, tell it, creating the seven-song project didn't take four months. It took four years.

"I've known [Rakim's longtime manager] Matt [Kemp] and Rakim since 2007," Markoff tells me when I get him on the phone in late June. "They're used to getting calls from me a couple of times a year just for, like, show referrals, verse referrals, things of that nature."

Back at the beginning of the pandemic, Markoff had been talking to the folks at Fat Beats, the venerable record store-turned-distributor that's a huge name in independent hip-hop. He mentioned Rakim's name to the company, and Fat Beats responded that they'd love a project from the God MC. The original pitch, Markoff remembers, was "a three or four song EP with some remixes."

Rakim quoted his price, Fat Beats agreed, and the project was underway, with the emcee meeting with producers to look for beats. But Rakim, who hasn't released a solo album since 2009's The Seventh Seal, is not one to be hurried.

"Ra was having [DJ] Premier and Pete Rock and Ninth Wonder and some of these people come to the studio," Markoff says. "Because of scheduling conflicts and stuff and, you know, normal course of life, it just wasn't right. The vibe wasn't there."

That's where Jazzy Jeff came into play. Rakim and the legendary DJ began working together and, per Markoff, it "just meshed." It seemed like, instead of a handful of songs, a full-length record was in the offing.

"As soon as they finish the first song, I walk into Fat Beats and say, ‘Hey, this is what we're doing now,'" the A&R man recalls. "Instead of Rakim with random producers, it's Rakim/Jazzy Jeff. That'll be huge."

Then…nothing.

A few years pass, and the Rakim and Jazzy Jeff project is still unfinished. (Rakim described its status as "We have a couple records already done.") Fat Beats, which was on the auction block (it was eventually sold in March 2024), wants its money back. Rakim obliges, and everyone seems set to forget about the whole thing.

Markoff, however, was not about to give up on working with the man he calls "my favorite emcee of all time."

The revamped album started its life as not an album at all. Instead, the original conception was a model Markoff had used before: licensing beats by people not typically thought of as producers. In this case, he'd be offering aspiring rappers the chance to get beats by arguably the most influential rapper of all time. 

"He's taken people who are not necessarily known as producers and put together beat packages for them," manager Matt Kemp says of Markoff. "And then, one of the things he does is he goes out and he licenses those beats through a company that he has. If you're a European artist that wouldn't necessarily have access to things like that, you can get it."

So that, as of February of this year, was the (revamped) plan: have Rakim do six beats and one verse, and sell non-exclusive licenses, so that any rapper, anywhere in the world, who wants to use them in a song of their own could do so. This, indeed, was a vision that was followed through all the way to the finish line — you can see the end result released July 12, priced between $700-$1,050 depending on what you want to do with the beats and the rhyme, here.

But along the way to creating that package, things got significantly more complicated. As Rakim was making the beats, he found he really liked them. In some cases, he even wanted to rhyme on them himself.

"As the beats started coming together and Rakim was really in the studio and we started putting the rhymes onto them, we realized that it was bigger just than that [original vision]," Matt Kemp said.

The wheels started turning. Rakim, the God MC, as a producer? That would be a project worth sharing with the world, not just a few aspiring artists.

As it turns out, unbeknownst even to many Ra fans, the rapper has been making beats since the beginning. In fact, he produced — and played drums on — one of Eric B and Rakim's classic songs, 1992's "Juice (Know the Ledge)." So producing an entire project didn't seem like such a big stretch after all. 

"I always was attached to making beats," Rakim explains to me. "But I got to the point where I'm confident with my production now. I got the chance to produce the album and jumped at the opportunity." 

Rakim, as has been well documented over the years, comes from a musical family. His older brother Ronnie was a keyboard player of some note with his own claim on rap history, his other brother Stevie is also keyboardist who performed on some Eric B. and Rakim songs, and the rapper's aunt is the late R&B legend Ruth Brown. So when making beats, Ra will often play drums, bass, guitar, or piano. (He cops to enlisting one of his brothers if the keyboard part gets too complicated.)

He describes his production style this way: "You try to add on to the sample, and enhance certain sounds that you hear. Or you might just add a melody that you feel enhances the sample as well." 

In addition to playing instruments on the project, Rakim also plays the turntable.

"I always knew how to DJ, and I like being able to enjoy the project from a different seat," he tells me. "I enjoyed putting the music together, coming up with the scratch patterns."

So with the musical side of the equation firmly in place, what about the vocals? Rakim was inspired to add verses on a few songs, and hooks on a few more.

"It's mostly a project that I was supposed to be producing," he explains. "In the midst of that, there's certain beats that I'm playing and I'm like, ‘I gotta rhyme on this one,' or, ‘I got a rhyme that fits this one perfectly.'"

The question was, what to write about? After a decade and a half without an album, the rapper had a lot to discuss, and needed to find new ways to say it.

For the project's lead single, "BE ILL," he got in plenty of internal rhymes. And the song's tempo allowed him to come up with different rhythms.

"When tracks are at that speed, I'm able to manipulate time and space to come up with different rhythms because I have so much time and space to deal with," he says. "It was one of them songs I loved rhyming to. Just having fun with words and phrases, and at the same time having so much on my mind to say."

"I'm trying to say a lot of things," Ra admits when discussing his writing on the album. "It's hard to just come back and say a verse when you've been gone so long. So I tried to be very specific and cautious with the words that I chose, and try to be entertaining at the same time. So it was a little nerve wracking."

Even with Rakim's vocal contributions (he ends up with either verses or hooks on six of the project's seven tracks), more was needed to complete the songs. That's where Markoff really got going.

"Literally, I didn't waste a single day," he remembers. "I was calling the artists in my network. I reached out to each artist one by one, and let each artist go through the folder [of beats] with me and make their picks."

Among the artists Markoff reached out to were several members of the Wu-Tang Clan. He has a long relationship with the crew, having worked with them on several projects including the well-regarded 2005 album Wu-Tang Meet the Indie Culture.

Markoff recalls the exact moment when he lined up Wu member Masta Killa for his appearance on what became "BE ILL."

"I was at the first ever Wu-Tang Clan residency in Vegas, and I told Masta Killa, ‘Dude, I just got these Rakim beats 10 minutes ago.' I played 10 seconds of the second beat, which was the beat for ‘BE ILL.' And he was like, ‘That's the one.'" 

A different Wu-Tang show was responsible for one of the album's other notable guest appearances, Cash Money stalwart B.G. The two met at the concert, and the Louisiana rapper was in the studio "48 hours later," Markoff recalls.

For a handful of artists he had good long-term relationships with, Markoff let them choose which of Rakim's beats they wanted to rap over. In addition to Masta Killa, he names Chino XL, Hus Kingpin, 38 Spesh, and TriState as being on that short list. After that, he says, it was all his decision. 

The end result is a list of some of the top rappers in his Rolodex: Kool G. Rap, Method Man, Kurupt, Canibus, KXNG Crooked, Skyzoo, Joell Ortiz, and many more — including an outro from Snoop Dogg. But one of the most surprising things on the tracklist is that a number of the guests aren't alive anymore.

Nipsey Hussle, Prodigy, DMX, and Fred the Godson have verses on the record. All of them were people Markoff had worked with in some capacity over the course of his career. He says that all of the verses were "in my stash or under my ownership." So when he was looking for material for the Rakim project, they were a perfect fit.

The Nipsey Hussle contribution in particular stood out so much that the entire song, "Love Is the Message," was designed around it. The project's engineer placed Neighborhood Nip's verse first, and everyone else listened to that when recording.

"We kind of glorified who he is, and came up with the title ‘Love Is the Message' to put everything in perspective," Rakim tells me. "So everybody vibed off of that and everything that we implemented had to have that feel or had to be in that direction." 

One thing Rakim noticed as he was listening to the contributions coming in? Many of them were paying tribute to him. In particular, B.G. says in his verse that he's "on a song with the greatest." 

"To hear things like that from my peers is a beautiful thing," says Rakim, who also admits to tearing up when hearing Snoop Dogg praise him on the outro of one of the album's songs. "Hip-hop is one of the more, I guess, feisty genres. It's hard to get that love from your peers. So it's a real blessing to hear it from people like that, to hear what they think of you and to say that on records. A lot of people might think that of you, but would never say it on a record."

For Markoff, B.G.'s tribute was particularly meaningful because of the rapper's history. He began his career in a duo, and later a quartet, with another rapper sometimes considered the greatest of all time, Lil Wayne.

"For B.G. to have that history, but acknowledge Rakim — I was speechless," Markoff confides. "It was really cool to see. It's like, ‘I'm not just going to say my partner, my friend, my confidant Lil Wayne's the best because we grew up together.'"

Finally, after all the guest verses came in, the project was ready. Seven songs, entirely produced by Rakim, with raps by him and a broad cross-section of artists. The question, then: what exactly is this project? An album? An EP? Rakim's big comeback? A teaser for his eventual full-length return?

To Markoff, none of these labels are important. He's not concerned about fans being disappointed that a project under Rakim's name features only a handful of the rapper's verses.

 "The fan is going to look at it however they want to look at it," he says. "The negative people will stay negative. It wouldn't matter if it was the greatest album of all time. The positive people that are so grateful that I stepped up to the plate to help bring new Rakim music to the world are going to love it."

After all, he continues, "The whole point originally when we started making it was letting his peers shine on Rakim beats. The fact that this project morphed into something that Rakim literally is on 95% of, I couldn't have asked for more of a blessing."

So Matt Markoff, the boy who fell in love with Rakim's music at 12 is now, three decades later, putting out music from his hero.

"Dream fulfilled," he says right before we hang up. "Now I gotta figure out what I'm going to do for the rest of my life." 

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Collage image featuring photos of (L-R): CIRKUT, Hit-Boy, Harvey Mason jr., Stevie Mackey, and Judith Sherman
(L-R): CIRKUT, Hit-Boy, Harvey Mason jr., Stevie Mackey, Judith Sherman

Photos Courtesy of the Recording Academy

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The New GRAMMY GO Music Production Course Is Now Open: Featuring GRAMMY Winners Hit-Boy, CIRKUT, Judith Sherman & More

Enrollment is now open for GRAMMY GO's new specialization, "Music Production: Crafting Award-Worthy Songs," featuring appearances by GRAMMY winners and nominees. Learn music production and creative strategies from today's industry leaders.

GRAMMYs/Jul 23, 2024 - 04:12 pm

The Recording Academy continues its mission to empower music's next generation with the launch of its second specialization in the GRAMMY GO platform: "Music Production: Crafting Award-Worthy Songs."

This new course, a partnership between the Recording Academy and leading online learning platform Coursera, aims to bolster the technological and audio skills of music producers of all levels. The course, taught by Howard University professor and GRAMMY nominee Carolyn Malachi, features appearances by three-time GRAMMY winner and rap icon Hit-Boy, chart-topping and GRAMMY-winning producer/songwriter CIRKUT, artist and celebrity vocal coach Stevie Mackey, five-time GRAMMY nominee and Recording Academy CEO Harvey Mason jr., and 15-time GRAMMY winner Judith Sherman.

Enrollment for "Music Production: Crafting Award-Worthy Songs" is open now.

Mixing a unique blend of theory and practice, the course teaches music creators of all levels the advanced skills and tools to develop the mindset and confidence of an experienced producer and produce songs of the highest industry standards across all genres. Explore the wide-ranging roles of a music producer, develop critical listening and analysis skills, and master the technical aspects to create music and compositions that cut through the noise. The course's applied learning approach allows learners to sharpen their pre-production skills, utilize Digital Audio Workstations (DAWs) effectively, and produce vocals, instrumentals and samples collaboratively. Through critical listening exercises and discussions, learners will refine their abilities to deliver professional-quality demos.

To celebrate the launch, the Recording Academy will host an Instagram Live session today (Tuesday, July 23) at 4 p.m. PT/7 p.m. ET with Harvey Mason jr. and Stevie Mackey. The session will include a discussion on the evolving role of music producers, strategies for working with artists, key elements of top-notch productions, common mixing mistakes, and tips for keeping the creative process fresh. Enrollment details for the course will also be shared during the live session.

Read more: How The Recording Academy's GRAMMY GO Is Building A Global Online Learning Community & Elevating The Creative Class

Building on the success of its first specialization, "Building Your Audience for Music Professionals," GRAMMY GO continues to offer industry-focused education tailored for emerging and established music creators and professionals alike. The innovative platform provides learners with real-time insights from leading music industry figures, ensuring the content remains practical and up to date. GRAMMY GO will also serve as an essential tool in the Recording Academy's global expansion into Africa and the Middle East, empowering music creators through enhanced training, bridging knowledge gaps, and fostering connections within the global music community.

Launched in April in partnership with Coursera, GRAMMY GO is the Recording Academy's first creator-to-creator platform, offering innovative courses tailored for both emerging and established music professionals. The initiative accelerates the Academy's global mission and reinforces its commitment to music education, providing a seamless bridge between all Academy initiatives.

Learn more about GRAMMY GO and the "Music Production: Crafting Award-Worthy Songs" and "Building Your Audience for Music Professionals" specializations.

More Music Education News & Initiatives

Rapper J Diggs  and Big Dant of Thizz Entertainment with their Mac Dre-themed motorcycles
Rapper J Diggs and Big Dant of Thizz Entertainment with their Mac Dre-themed motorcycles

Photo: Julia Beverly/Getty Images

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5 Ways Mac Dre's Final Living Albums Shaped Bay Area Rap

The rapper was killed just months after the simultaneous release of 'Ronald Dregan: Dreganomics' and 'The Genie of the Lamp.' Twenty years later, read on for how the releases that gave the world "Get Stupid" and "Feelin' Myself" reverberate in hip-hop.

GRAMMYs/Jul 19, 2024 - 02:10 pm

Nearly two decades after his still-unsolved murder took place, Mac Dre remains one of Bay Area rap’s definitive artists and guiding spirits. The rapper born Andre Hicks helped to pioneer and steer the region’s hyphy movement — a music, linguistic, car and party culture that influenced rap and even electronic music globally. 

Mac Dre released both his ninth album, Ronald Dregan: Dreganomics, and his 10th album The Genie of the Lamp on the same day: July 20, 2004. Although Mac Dre had been a key figure in the Bay's rap game for years, the two records were some of his most influential, and are now classics in the canon of early aughts hip-hop. The more popular of the pair, Ronald Dregan features "Feelin’ Myself" and "Get Stupid," party anthems that borrowed from rave culture’s sunnier outlook to give architectural shape to the emerging hyphy movement.

Learn more: 11 Hip-Hop Subgenres To Know: From Jersey Club To G-Funk And Drill

Mere months later, Mac Dre was killed in a drive-by shooting on a highway in Kansas City, Missouri on Nov. 1, 2004. His death still stings in grim contrast to the joy, fun and charisma that he brought to his music and live performances. "When Mac Dre got killed, it was like Martin Luther King in the Bay," rapper Too $hort told Revolt in 2022. "It was that kind of loss."

Fortunately, Ronald Dregan: Dreganomics and The Genie of the Lamp preserved him at his happiest musical peak. Twenty years later, GRAMMY.com examines how Mac Dre’s final living albums not only kickstarted a massive posthumous career and movement, but have remained musical and business inspirations for artists in Northern California and beyond.

They Hyped Up Hyphy

Mac Dre put out a DVD called TREAL TV  in September 2003 that quickly became legendary throughout the Bay Area. The use of ecstasy and other party drugs most associated with raves at the time became a major theme in the hyphy music that came after his death, and TREAL TV features Mac Dre clowning around, cable access TV style, while intoxicated. ("I’m as high as a fire escape… I’m on everything right now," he says with a grin.) 

There’s also footage of him performing live in small towns in Northern California and the Northwest, where people danced with hyper energy (and possibly those aforementioned drugs)and rapped along with all the words. It was the first time many people got to see how physically animated and infectious Mac Dre was as a performer. Bay Area rap music that came in the immediate years before him was largely a lot slower and more serious — one subset is even called "mobb music," suggesting sinister overtones. But TREAL TV showed how cool it was to be a happy gangster.

The momentum of TREAL TV, followed by the double album drop, brought Mac Dre to the forefront of the Bay Area’s burgeoning hyphy movement. Alongside fellow East Bay artist Keak da Sneak and hyphy-themed hits by veteran local artists Too $hort and E-40 produced by Atlanta’s Lil Jon, they would put the Bay Area back on the rap map for major record labels to sign and promote to the world.

Read more: A Guide To Bay Area Hip-Hop: Definitive Releases, Artists & Subgenres From Northern California

They Established Politics As Unusual

The political theme of Ronald Dregan: Dreganomics introduced a humorous political angle for Mac Dre’s songs. This theme would continue even after his passing, via posthumous works released by his mother "Mac" Wanda Salvatto on his Thizz Entertainment label. 

Two popular posthumous compilations imagine the rapper in a high office: 2007’s Mac Dre Is Pill Clinton and 2008’s Dre Day - July 5th 1970. The latter features a cover illustration depicting Mac Dre as Uncle Sam with a thizz face (an expression he coined to describe a frown induced by happiness and getting intoxicated).

They Kept It P

There has always been a number of Bay Area artists who have been influenced by Oakland’s pimp culture, which was famously depicted in the 1973 movie The Mack. Some really tried their hand at the adult business, while others just rapped about it. 

Both Ronald Dregan: Dreganomics and The Genie of the Lamp come from a perspective of pimping. Musically and lyrically, the former is more lighthearted and party-oriented, while the latter is more overtly street-focused and aggressive. On "My Alphabets" —  a collaboration with Suga Free and Rappin’ 4-Tay, California rappers known for rapping heavily about the profession — Dre raps, "You can’t con me/ I’ll slice yo ass thin as salami." 

While by no means the only topic tackled in Bay Area rap at the time or today, Mac Dre did his part to keep it alive within the culture, for better or worse, for decades after his death.

They Allowed Mac Dre To Have Life After Death

Without the attention generated by TREAL TV, Ronald Dregan: Dreganomics and The Genie of the Lamp, Mac Dre would not have had the outsized posthumous career that he does. Mac Wanda has lovingly kept her son’s musical legacy alive with the aforementioned posthumous releases and via her own interviews for research projects such as the 2015 documentary Mac Dre: Legend of the Bay.

Just like the late Tupac Shakur’s estate has done, Mac Dre’s posthumous catalog is both robust and highly bootlegged. Official releases on the Thizz Entertainment label have given opportunities to artists in the Bay Area and even in Alaska to share their music with the world through albums and various artist compilations. 

They Spawned Many Living Tributes

Mac Dre has had a lasting effect on artists in the generations that have come after him, in the Bay Area and beyond; see Drake and Lil Wayne’s "The Motto" (2011), which interpolates lyrics from Dre’s "Feelin’ Myself," or "Stupid," the new single from YG featuring Lil Yachty and Babyface Ray, which references ecstasy and Mac Dre’s use of the word stupid as a positive term.

Mistah F.A.B.’s 2016 song "Still Feelin’ It" is one of many tributes he’s done in Mac Dre’s memory and offers vivid evidence of how the late MC influenced him to become a strong songwriter, entrepreneur and philanthropist. And you’ll hear echoes of Mac Dre (both figuratively and literally via samples) in promising Bay Area artists who were too young to know Mac Dre, like Guapdad 4000, who released a "Mac Dre Freestyle" that references "Dreganomics" in 2024. 

Mac Dre Day events, typically held on or around July 5 to celebrate his birthday, have been a staple in various Northern California cities since his passing. For many, they are a rite of passage of growing up in the Bay Area rap scene. Whether revisiting or listening for the first time, Mac Dre’s 2004 albums still sound fun in 2024, a testament to the lasting legacy of a late artist from the San Francisco Bay Area who just wanted to make his mark.

More Rap News

Denzel Curry press photo
Denzel Curry

Photo: Giovanni Mourin

interview

Denzel Curry Returns To The Mischievous South: "I've Been Trying To Do This For The Longest"

Over a decade after he released 'King of the Mischievous South Vol. 1,' Denzel Curry is back with 'Vol. 2.' The Miami rapper details his love of Southern hip-hop, working on multiple projects, and the importance of staying real.

GRAMMYs/Jul 17, 2024 - 01:10 pm

Denzel Curry isn’t typically one for repetition. His recent run of critically acclaimed projects have all contrasted in concept and musicality.

The Miami Gardens native has cascaded through boom-bap, synth-soaked trap metal, and cloud rap throughout his catalog. But on his upcoming project, King of the Mischievous South Vol. 2, Curry returns to the muddied, subwoofer-thudding soundscape that he captured on the first installment back in 2012. 

Curry was just 16 when he released King of the Mischievous South Vol. 1 Underground Tape 1996]. "I was a kid, man," Curry tells GRAMMY.com. "I was just trying to emulate my favorite rappers at the time who really represented the South. That was pretty much what I was on at the time – the Soulja Slims, the No Limits, but mostly Three 6 Mafia. And then I just put Miami culture on top of that."

Curry first explored the rough-cut "phonk" of Southern acts like DJ Screw and Pimp C as a teenager. His first mixtape, King Remembered Underground Tape 1991-1995, caught the attention of then-rising rapper and producer SpaceGhostPurrp. He shared Curry’s project on his social media accounts, making him an official member of South Florida’s Raider Klan.

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

The now-defunct group is well behind Curry, who’s ascended from the infancy of his early SoundCloud days to mainstream success. But the rapid-fire delivery and hazy, rough-cut sounds of early Southern rap are still soaked into his musical fibers.

Reignited by the same musical heroes that led to Vol. 1, Curry is comfortable in old sonic form. Vol. 2's lead singles "Hot One" (feat. A$AP Ferg and TiaCorine) and "Black Flag Freestyle" with That Mexican OT fully capture the sharp-edged sound that stretched from Port Arthur, Texas to the Carolinas.

The rapper wanted to go back to the KOTMS series nearly a decade ago, but other projects and outside ventures derailed his return. "I tried to do this thing multiple times," Curry tells GRAMMY.com. "I remember revisiting a [social media post] from 2015 that was like, ‘KOTMS Vol. 2055 is now going to be called Imperial.’ I’ve been trying to do this for the longest." 

A string of bouncy, syrup-pouring, and playalistic Southern trap songs led him back to familiar grounds. The new 15-song capsule features Juicy J, 2 Chainz, Project Pat, That Mexican OT, Maxo Kream, and others inspired by the same pioneers that fall below the Mason-Dixon line.

GRAMMY.com sat down with Curry before the release of King of the Mischievous South Vol. 2 on July 19. The "Ultimate" rapper revealed his "Big Ultra" persona, his ability to crank out hits from his bedroom, and his recent discoveries being "outside." 

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and length. 

What inspired you to revisit the 'King of the Mischievous South' series?

I was making two projects at once, and there was a through-line from the second half of the project. The second one I was working on kind of just manifested itself into what it is today, 12 years later. And it’s called King of the Mischievous South Vol. 2 because it has the same sonics as the first one.

You mentioned Three 6 Mafia being a big inspiration for Vol. 1. But what about Vol. 2? 

The first KOTMS was obviously Three 6 Mafia, and then Lord Infamous was really the person I looked up to, God rest his soul. I get my rap style from him — the rapid flows and stuff like that. You can even hear it on "Walkin’" and "Clout Cobain." But since I’m from Miami, I’m talking about stuff that predominantly happens in Miami. And  I’m influenced by Soulja Slim, Master P, DJ Screw, UGK, Trina, Trick Daddy, and Rick Ross.

How did you juggle the two different projects at once?

When I wasn’t working on one project, I was working on the other one. Sometimes I would be working on the same two projects on the same day. I was like, If this one won’t see the light of day until next year, this one has to hold fans over. And the one that was supposed to hold fans over ended up having a crazy through-line.

What were the studio sessions like?

When it came down to the production, I was just making these songs on the fly. A couple came out of Ultraground sessions, but the majority of the songs were made in my bed — just how it was with the first one. "Hot One" was made in my house downstairs, and "Hit The Floor" was made in a random room in an AirBnb. And I think the rest of the songs were made in an actual studio.

I was just flowing, doing my thing, and figuring things out. I was working on one project, and when I wasn’t getting called back to the studio, I was working on another one on the side. The grind didn’t stop.

Was there an element or feature that you really wanted to explore?

I just knew I wanted certain rappers to be featured on [project]. When I was working on "Set It," I originally wanted PlayThatBoiZay. But he didn’t get the record done or whatever the case may be. So, I sent it to Maxo Kream, and he ended up just doing it. And when I made "Wish List," I got Armani White on it.  Me and him came off of doing "Goated," so getting that record done was really simple. He pulled up to the studio and he said, "This is tight," and then jumped on the record.

Some stuff didn’t make the cut because we couldn’t get certain people. But the majority of the stuff that made the cut, we were like, "Yes, we did that." Then having people like Ski Mask the Slump God, 2 Chainz, Project Pat, and Juicy J — all these guys played a role. I’m getting people from the South, whether they’re from Texas, Florida, or the Carolinas. And even people outside of the South,  like A$AP Ferg and Armani White, they’re all influenced by the same artists. 

Learn more: A Guide To Texas Hip-Hop: Definitive Releases, Artists & Events

Your persona on the album, "Big Ultra." Break that down for me.

This is how the name came about — my boy’s nickname is Mr. Don’t Fold. It’s kind of a play on "Mr. Don’t Play," so we came up with "Big Ultra" because I’m doing "ultraground" stuff. It wasn’t on some superpower s—, it’s just me, pretty much. It’s how I wanted to be presented on this tape. It’s just me at the end of the day, it’s no persona.

You’ve been in the rap game for a while. Do you consider yourself a veteran?

I think I’m mostly in a formation period because my best years haven’t even happened yet. I feel like I’m just getting my reps in, preparing myself for my 30s. You know, going through the bulls—, having good times, having bad times.

By the time I get to 30, 35, and 40 — God willing — I could have a fruitful career and not be backtracked by dumb s—. I see myself as someone with a lot to offer because I’m still young.

Do you care about garnering more fame or acclaim? Or is there no need for it? 

All my projects are critically acclaimed. The main thing is staying good at what I do. That comes with a lot of effort, a lot of studying, and a lot of work. I take pride in my job and I have fun making music.

I think the hardest part is putting myself out there and being visible. I’m starting to understand that’s what I had to do. I got asked the same question five times in a row about when my album was dropping. I’ve been saying July 19 for the longest. Like, people really haven’t been paying attention? C’mon, bro.

What do you feel is the next step?

I’m just trying to be more visible where the younger generation is at. Most people know me for "Ultimate," "Clout Cobain," or the [XXL Freshman Class] Cypher if I’m being totally real with you. But in due time, everybody has blessings in certain parts of their career. And I’ve been blessed to have a career this long.

All I have to do is just deliver, be real with myself, and do what I have to do. I got to lean into being outside. I didn’t know who messed with me or who liked my stuff until I started going outside and talking to people. You never know who rocks with you until you're outside.  

As far as the music and experience, where does the album rank for you?

I didn’t think about where I’d rank this. We had a whole decade of producing great records, and people look forward to the album experience more than the single when it comes to me. This is what it is, and I just want people to enjoy it. It’s not something to put too much effort or thought into. It’s something you can bump into the club, or you could go to a show and turn up to it. That’s where I’m at with it. 

Are there any other sounds or genres you want to explore?

It’s going to happen when it’s supposed to happen naturally. But I do want to explore pop and R&B a year from now. I want people to be able to sing my songs and stuff like that.

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