meta-scriptQueen Latifah Inducts Missy Elliott Into The Songwriters Hall Of Fame, Lizzo Performs | GRAMMY.com
Missy Elliott

Missy Elliott

Photo: Theo Wargo/Getty Images for Songwriters Hall Of FameMissy Elliott

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Queen Latifah Inducts Missy Elliott Into The Songwriters Hall Of Fame, Lizzo Performs

The GRAMMY-winning hip-hop icon, who became the first female rapper given the honor, gave an inspiring speech: "Don't give up, because I'm standing here. And this is big for hip-hop, too"

GRAMMYs/Jun 14, 2019 - 10:10 pm

Last November, GRAMMY winner hip-hop mainstay Missy Elliott made headlines as the first-ever female rapper nominated for the Songwriters Hall Of Fame. Last night, the all-around icon made history as she joined the 2019 class of inductees. She is just the third-ever rapper inducted, with GRAMMY winners JAY-Z and Jermaine Dupri preceding, becoming the first in 2017 and second in 2018, respectively.

Fellow GRAMMY-winning hip-hop heavyweight Queen Latifah presented Elliott with the award—and some loving words—during the ceremony held in New York. The evening was filled with a powerful energy, thanks to even more mega queens honoring Elliott, including the one and only Michelle Obama and rising rap goddess Lizzo.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Last night my heart was full latifah one of my besties your a Queen <a href="https://twitter.com/lizzo?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@lizzo</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/sosobrat?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@sosobrat</a> my sisters merked it! AND <a href="https://twitter.com/MichelleObama?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@MichelleObama</a> I LOVE YOU! You are AMAZING &amp; FIERCE! I am humbly grateful the committee of Songwriters Hall of Fame and the other WONDERFUL inductees <a href="https://t.co/3lxFcAqQ4J">pic.twitter.com/3lxFcAqQ4J</a></p>&mdash; Missy Elliott (@MissyElliott) <a href="https://twitter.com/MissyElliott/status/1139530617253715968?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">June 14, 2019</a></blockquote><script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>

"Missy, I want to thank you for all of your trailblazing ways," Obama said in the video message shared during the event, which Elliott also Tweeted out. "Thank you not for just sharing your gift with the world, but for being an advocate for so many people out there, especially young girls who are still figuring out how to make their voices heard."

Related: 'Da Real World' At 20: Missy Elliott Champions Women, Hip-Hop Rookies, And, Most Of All—Herself

Lizzo performed Elliott's classic 1997 mega-bop "Sock It 2 Me" while rocking an O.G.-Missy finger-wave hairstyle. GRAMMY-nominated rapper Da Brat joined her to hit her original bars on the Supa Dupa Fly track. As Lizzo strutted onto the stage, she shouted-out her idol:

"Missy, I want to thank you for inspiring young black girls like me to chase their dreams. I love you so much, I wouldn't be here without you. This is for you." Earlier this year, Lizzo got an assist from Elliott on her own fire track "Tempo."

<iframe width="620" height="349" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/r5batP9hl0Q" frameborder="0" allow="accelerometer; autoplay; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture" allowfullscreen></iframe>

Of course, Elliott had her own powerful words to add, offering gratitude for the honor. "I cry because it's a lot to take in. I'm thankful, humbled. I'm grateful to be up here with so many geniuses in this room, I've met so many people that I looked up to, and still look up to, as songwriters and producers," she said during her acceptance speech, which you can watch a clip of, along with part of Lizzo's performance, in the above video.

She continued: "I want to say one thing to the writers, to the upcoming writers, 'Do not give up.' We all go through writer's block. Sometimes you just have to walk away from a record and come back to it. But don't give up, because I'm standing here. And this is big for hip-hop, too."

In addition to all the amazing songs she's penned for herself, Missy's also written songs for an impressive list of artists. As ABC News points out, that list includes major music players like Aaliyah, Beyoncé, Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey, Ariana Grande and many others.

The 2019 Songwriters Hall of Fame class of inductees, who became eligible after putting in at least 20 years of hit-writing, also included GRAMMY-nominated singer Yusuf/Cat Stevens and GRAMMY-winning folk legend John Prine.

Jack Tempchin, a writer for the Eagles and GRAMMY winner Dallas Austin, a co-writer and producer behind many of TLC and other artists' hits, were also inducted last night. GRAMMY winner Justin Timberlake and GRAMMY-nominated pop star Halsey were honored with other awards during the ceremony, receiving the Contemporary Icon Award and Hal David Starlight Award, for "gifted" young songwriters, respectively.

Hit-Makers Share The Specialized, Intuitive Art Of Crafting The Perfect Song

Photo of Sexyy Red performing onstage during at the 2024 Rolling Loud Festival in Los Angeles. She is wearing a blue bikini top with white stars, red and white shorts, white sunglasses, and bright red hair.
Sexyy Reds perform onstage at the 2024 Rolling Loud Festival in Los Angeles

Photo: Scott Dudelson/Getty Images

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New Music Friday: Listen To New Albums & Songs From Sexyy Red, Charlie Puth, Vince Staples, Aaron Carter & More

Don't slide into your Memorial Day weekend without stocking your New Music Friday playlist with fresh tunes. Here are new albums and songs from Willie Nelson, Maya Hawke, Arooj Aftab, Trueno, and many more.

GRAMMYs/May 24, 2024 - 02:11 pm

Memorial Day weekend is upon us, which means we're inching closer to another music-filled summer. Less than halfway through 2024, we've received a veritable bounty of new music from Green Day, Taylor Swift, Billie Eilish, Kacey Musgraves, Zayn … the list goes on and on.

Clearly, no matter which musical world you inhabit, 2024 has had something for you — and the slate of today's releases continues that streak. Pull up your favorite streaming service — or dust off your record player — and check out this slate of new music that's fresh out of the oven.

Sexyy Red — In Sexyy We Trust

The #MakeAmericaSexyyAgain train is unstoppable. Amid numberless recent accolades — including five nominations at the 2024 BET Awards, including Best Female Hip Hop Artist and Best New Artist — Sexyy Red has dropped a new EP, In Sexyy We Trust. By the sound of "Awesome Jawsome," we all live in Sexyy's lascivious, irresistible universe: "Give me that awesome jawsome, suck it, baby, use your teeth / Shake your dreads between my legs, do it for a G." (Take that under advisement.) And with more than 8.3 million YouTube views for her "Get it Sexyy" music video, legions are clamoring for her second official release without a doubt.

Charlie Puth — "Hero"

"You smokеd, then ate seven bars of chocolate / We declared Charlie Puth should be a bigger artist." So recounted the one and only Taylor Swift in the title track to her new album, The Tortured Poets Department, which rocketed Puth's name even further into the public consciousness. This shine partly inspired Puth to release "Hero": "I want to thank @taylorswift for letting me know musically that I just couldn't keep this on my hard drive any longer," he stated on Instagram. "It's one of the hardest songs I've ever had to write, but I wrote it in hopes that you've gone through something similar in your life, and that it can fill in the BLANK for you like it did for me," he continued. Leave it to a hero to shake that loose for Puth.

Vince Staples — Dark Times

If you're currently rounding a difficult corner in your life, Vince Staples' latest album is a trusty companion. Take the first single "Shame on the Devil," where he licks his wounds amid thick isolation and friction with loved ones. "It's me mastering some things I've tried before that I wasn't great at in the beginning," he said in a statement. "It's a testament to musical growth, song structure — all the good stuff." By the sound of this haunted yet resolute single, Dark Times could materialize as Staples' most realized album to date — and most hard-won victory to boot.

Willie Nelson — The Border

By some counts, Willie Nelson has released more than 150 albums — try and let that soak in. The Red Headed Stranger tends to crank out a Buddy Cannon-produced album or two per year in his autumn years, each with a slight conceptual tilt: bluegrass, family matters, tributes to Harlan Howard or the Great American Songbook. The earthy, muted The Border is another helping of the good stuff — this time homing in on songwriters like Rodney Crowell ("The Border"), Shawn Camp ("Made in Texas") and Mike Reid ("Nobody Knows Me Like You.") Elsewhere, Nelson-Cannon originals like "What If I'm Out of My Mind" and "How Much Does It Cost" fold it all into the 12-time GRAMMY winner's manifold musical universe.

Listen: Listen To GRAMMY.com's Outlaw Country Playlist: 32 Songs From Honky Tonk Heroes Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Merle Haggard & More

Maya Hawke — Chaos Angel

"What the Chaos Angel is to me," Maya Hawke explained in a recent Instagram video, "is an angel that was raised in heaven to believe they're the angel of love, then sent down to do loving duties." Needless to say, the wicked world had different plans. Chaos Angel, the third album by Maya Hawke, out via Mom+Pop Records, is fitting: Smoldering tracks like "Dark" and "Missing Out" plumb themes of betrayal and bedlam masterfully.

Arooj Aftab — Night Reign

Arooj Aftab landed on the scene with the exquisitely blue Vulture Prince, which bridged modern jazz and folk idioms with what she calls "heritage material" from Pakistan and South Asia. The album's pandemic-era success threatened to box her in, though; Aftab is a funny, well-rounded cat who's crazy about pop music, too. Crucially, the guest-stuffed Night Reign shows many more sides of this GRAMMY-winning artist, whose most transcendent work seems still ahead of us. By the strength of songs like "Raat Ki Rani" and "Whiskey," this Reign is for the long haul.

Explore More: Arooj Aftab, Vijay Iyer & Shahzad Ismaily On New Album Love In Exile, Improvisation Versus Co-Construction And The Primacy Of The Pulse

Aaron Carter — The Recovery Album

By all means, we should have Aaron Carter alive, healthy and, yes, recovered. But the beloved singer unexpectedly died in November 2022. (He accidentally drowned in his bathtub after taking sedatives and inhaling a spray cleaner.) Still, the 2000s-era teen star, who gave us "I Want Candy," "Aaron's Party (Come Get It)" and "That's How I Beat Shaq," left us with a poignant, posthumous statement in The Recovery Album: "Tomorrow is a new day / Tryin' to shake the pain away / 'Cause I'm still in recovery," he sings in the title track. Carter, who was open about his struggles with addiction, substance abuse and mental health, is also in the news for a rough ride of a documentary, Fallen Idols: Nick and Aaron Carter. But if you'd rather focus on Carter the artist, The Recovery Album shows that his considerable talent remains undimmed.

DIIV — Frog in Boiling Water

The idiom of a frog in boiling water is a familiar one, but it's never quite unfolded in music like this — and DIIV, one of rock's most impressionistic acts, is the band for the job. In a press statement, the group, led by Zachary Cole Smith, called Frog in Boiling Water a reflection of "a slow, sick, and overwhelmingly banal collapse of society under end-stage capitalism." To wit, tracks like "Brown Paper Bag," "Raining on Your Pillow" and "Soul-net" sound like dying in a beautiful way. "Everyone Out," another album highlight, provides a clear, critical directive.

Shenseea — Never Gets Late Here

To hear Jamaican leading light Shenseea tell it, she's been boxed in as a "dancehall artiste," but she's so much more than that. "By next year I want to be international," she said back in 2018. "An international pop star." Her second album, Never Gets Late Here, might be that final boost to the big time she's chasin. Throughout the sticky-sweet album, the genre traverser tries on disco vibes ("Flava" with Voi Leray), an Afrobeats tint ("Work Me Out" with Wizkid), and a bona fide, swing-for-the-rafters anthem in the power ballad "Stars." "Everyone is looking at everything I'm going through," she recently told Revolt, "which is special because they can see the fight I'm getting, but still see me pushing and persevering."

Trueno — EL ÚLTIMO BAILE

Argentine phenom Trueno — a rapper, singer and songwriter of equal fire — has been on a sharp rise ever since his debut, 2020's Atrevido. This time, he's especially leaning into his rap skills as he pays homage to his beloved hip-hop. And, as he explained to Rolling Stone, he's been diligently crafting this artistic culmination. "We also don't want to rush anything. We're working day and night on it," he said of EL ÚLTIMO BAILE. "I'm an artist who's all about albums and big projects, so I'm immersed in this." We're about to be, too.

Yola — My Way

Yola has been nominated for six GRAMMYs to date; this impressive feat has thickened the momentum behind her latest batch of music. For her new My Way EP, the British singer/songwriter tapped GRAMMY-nominated producer Sean Douglas, who's worked with everyone from Lizzo to Madonna to Sia. Not that this synthesist of progressive R&B, synth pop, electronica, and more needs a reintroduction. But if you're not already on board with this musically keen, lyrically conscious artist, songs like "Future Enemies" should lure you there.

2025 GRAMMYs To Take Place Sunday, Feb. 2, Live In Los Angeles; GRAMMY Awards Nominations To Be Announced Friday, Nov. 8, 2024

Kid Cudi performs at Coachella 2024
Kid Cudi, whose music often discusses mental health, performs at Coachella 2024.

Photo: Theo Wargo/Getty Images for Coachella

list

10 Times Hip-Hop Has Given A Voice To Mental Health: Eminem, J. Cole, Logic & More Speak Out

From the message of "The Message" to Joe Budden's vulnerable podcast and Jay-Z speaking about the importance of therapy, read on for moments in the history of hip-hop where mental health was at the forefront.

GRAMMYs/May 20, 2024 - 03:10 pm

In a world of braggadocio lyrics, where weakness is often looked down upon, hip-hop can often seem far from a safe place to discuss mental health. 

But underneath its rugged exterior, hip-hop culture and its artists have long been proponents of well-being and discussing the importance of taking care of one's mental health. Openness about these topics has grown in recent years, including a 2022 panel discussion around hip-hop and mental health, co-hosted by the GRAMMY Museum, the Recording Academy's Black Music Collective, and MusicCares in partnership with the Universal Hip-Hop Museum. 

"Artists are in a fight-or-flight mode when it comes to being in this game," said Eric Brooks, former VP of Marketing & Promotions at Priority Records who worked with NWA and Dr. Dre. "And there need to be strategies on how to deal with the inner battles that only happen in the mind and body."  

The panel only scratched the surface of the many times hip-hop culture has illuminated critical mental health issues that often remain hidden or under-discussed in the music industry. In recognition of Mental Health Awareness Month, read on for 10 times hip-hop has shone a light on mental health. 

J. Cole Apologized To Kendrick Lamar

A long-simmering beef between Drake and Kendrick Lamar was reignited in March 2024 when Metro Boomin' and Future released "Like That." The track featured a scathing verse from Kendrick, where he took aim at  Drake and J. Cole, and referenced the pair's collaborative song "First Person Shooter." 

The single begged for a response, and J. Cole, under what was presumably a significant amount of pressure, surprise-released his Might Delete Later. The album featured "7 Minute Drill," in which Cole calls Kendrick's To Pimp, A Butterfly boring. 

But the same week Cole's album came out, he apologized to Kendrick onstage at his Dreamville Fest, saying it didn't sit right with his spirit and that he "felt terrible" since it was released. Cole added that the song didn’t sit right with him spiritually and he was unable to sleep. Cole subsequently removed "7 Minute Drill" from streaming services. 

Strong debate followed about whether or not Cole should have removed the song. However, many heralded Cole’s maturity in the decision and said it was an important example of not doing things that don’t align with one's true emotions, and avoiding allowing others expectations of you weight down your own physical and mental health.

SiR Spoke Candidly About Depression & Sobriety

Although an R&B artist, TDE singer SiR is hip-hop adjacent, having collaborated with former labelmate Kendrick Lamar on tracks like "D'Evils" and "Hair Down." SiR recently spoke with GRAMMY.com about the troubles that followed him after the release of his 2019 album Chasing Summer.

"I was a full-blown addict, and it started from a string of depression [and] relationship issues and issues at home that I wasn't dealing with," SiR says. After the Los Angeles-based singer had hit rock bottom, he found the spark he needed to do something about it. His initial rehab stint was the first step on the road to change.  

"I was there for 21 days [in 2021]. [The] second time, I was there for two months and the third time wasn't technically rehab…I did personal therapy, and, man, [that] did wonders," he recalls. 

SiR also tackled the stigma many Black communities place on therapy and seeking help for mental health issues. "I would've never done something like that if I was in any other position, so I'm thankful for my issues because they led me to a lot of self-reflection and forgiveness," SiR says.

Big Sean Educated His Audience About Anxiety & Depression 

One of the biggest challenges in addressing anxiety and depression is the feeling that those issues must be kept under wraps.  In 2021, Big Sean and his mother released a series of videos in conjunction with Mental Health Awareness Month, in which the GRAMMY nominee opened up about his battles with depression and anxiety. 

In one of those videos, Sean and his mother discussed  the importance of sleep and circadian rhythms when managing depression and mental health issues. In an industry that prioritizes the grind, the hip-hop community often overlooks sleep — much to its detriment.

"Sleep is the most overlooked, disrespected aspect of our well-being," said Myra Anderson, Executive Director & President of the Sean Anderson Foundation and Big Sean's mother. "Even one day without good sleep can mess up your hormones severely." 

As a busy recording artist, Sean concurs that, for him, a lack of sleep contributes to challenges with anxiety. “If I’m not in the right mindset, I don’t get the right sleep,” says Sean in the mental health video series. “Then that anxiety rides high, and my thoughts are racing. I’m somebody that lives in my head.”

G.Herbo's "PTSD" Addressed The Impact Of Street Violence

Eastside Chicago's G. Herbo is an artist vital to the city's drill music scene. On "PTSD," the title track of his 2020 album, Herbo raps about his struggles coping with violence and loss. 

"I can't sleep 'cause it's a war zone in my head / My killers good, they know I'm hands-on with the bread / A million dollars ahead, I'm still angry and seeing red / How the f*ck I'm 'posed to have fun? All my n— dead."  

The lyrics echoed the realities of what G. Herbo grew up seeing in O-Block, considered by many to be one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in Chicago. But it wasn't just a song title; G. Herbo was diagnosed with PTSD in 2019 and began therapy to manage it, showing that even rap's most hardened have opened themselves up to professional help. 

"I'm so glad that I did go to therapy," G. Herbo told GRAMMY.com in July 2020. "I'm glad that I did take that leap of faith to just go talk to somebody about my situation and just my thoughts and get 'em to a person with an unbiased opinion." 

Joe Budden Opens Up About His Darkest Times 

In 2017, on the "Grass Routes Podcast," rapper-turned-podcaster Joe Budden opened up about multiple suicide attempts and his lifelong battle with depression. 

"For me, there have been times where I've actually attempted suicide," Budden shared. "As open as I've been when it comes to mental health, it wasn't until retirement from rapping that I was able to dive into some of the things the fans have seen." 

Never one to shy away from rapping about his mental health struggles, Budden songs like "Whatever It Takes" peel back the layers on an artist fighting his demons: "See, I'm depressed lately, but nobody understands / That I'm depressed lately, I'm sorta feelin repressed lately." 

Budden continued to be a champion for mental health that year, including on his former Complex show "Everyday Struggle," where Budden broke down while discussing the suicide death of fellow rapper Styles P's daughter. 

In recent years, Budden has uses his wildly popular "The Joe Budden Podcast" as a tool to discuss his own struggles and raise awareness of mental health issues. 

Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five Broadcast A Serious "Message"

Hip-hop culture has long used rap as a tool to highlight mental health and the everyday struggles of its community. Released in 1982, Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five's "The Message" is an early, effective example of vulnerability in hip-hop.

"The Message" described the mental health impacts of poverty and inner-city struggle, describing desperate feelings and calling for support in underserved communities: "I can't take the smell, can't take the noise / Got no money to move out, I guess I got no choice." Perhaps the most recognizable lyric comes from Melle Mel, who raps, "Don't push me cause I'm close to the edge/I'm trying not to lose my head." 

Eminem Got Honest About Depression While In Rehab

On "Reaching Out," Queen and Paul Rodgers sing "Lately I've been hard to reach / I've been too long on my own / everybody has a private world where they can be alone." These lyrics were sampled on the intro to Eminem's 2009 single "Beautiful," a raw tale of the rapper's struggles with depression. Half of the song was written while Eminem was in rehab, including lyrics like "I'm just so f—king depressed/I just can't seem to get out this slump." 

The lyrics pierced the core of Eminem's audience, who were able to see the parallels between the struggles of a rap superstar and their own issues. The song reached the Top 20 of the Billboard Hot 100 and was nominated for a Best Rap Solo Performance GRAMMY Award. In an interview with MTV about the song, Eminem said it was an important outlet for him at a challenging time. 

But it was far from the first time Eminem has discussed mental health. One of the earliest examples was in his song "Stan," where Eminem rapped from the perspective of an obsessed fan who ended up killing himself and his wife after Eminem failed to respond to his fan mail. In a 2000 interview, Eminem told MTV that he wrote the song to warn fans not to take his lyrics literally. 

Logic Sparked Change With A Number

One of the most impactful moments hip-hop has seen regarding mental health and sparking change was when Logic released his song "1-800-273-8255" in 2017. The record, named after the real National Suicide Lifeline Prevention phone number, which is now 988, hit the top three on the US Billboard Hot 100.

Following the song's release, the British Medical Journal released a study sharing data that showed the song contributed to a 27 percent increase in calls to the prevention hotline that year and may have even contributed to an actual reduction in deaths by suicide. 

Logic's single further proved that rap music's impact extends well beyond charts and sales. "1-800-273-8255" highlighted the connection artists have with their fans, as well as the ways music can be a tool to cope with challenges like mental health and suicidal thoughts. 

Kid Cudi Opened Up About Suicidal Urges 

Cleveland's own Kid Cudi has never shied away from putting his emotions on record, rapping vividly throughout his career about his struggles with mental health. Cudi records, like the hit single "Pursuit of Happiness," are brutally honest about trying to find happiness in a world filled with trials and tribulations. 

In a 2022 interview with Esquire, Cudi recalled checking himself into rehab in 2016 for depression and suicidal urges. He had been using drugs to manage the weight of his stardom and even suffered a stroke while in rehab. "Everything was f—ed," Cudi said. 

Cudi took a break to develop stability, returning to the spotlight with the 2018 project Kids See Ghosts in collaboration with Kanye West.. Today, Cudi and his music remain pillars of strength for those facing similar challenges.   

Jay-Z Detailed The Importance Of Therapy & Getting Out Of "Survival Mode"

In 2017, Jay-Z released his critically acclaimed thirteenth studio album. 4:44 was packed with lessons on family, mental health, and personal growth.

An interview with the New York Times, Jay-Z discussed how helpful therapy had been to him. Therapy helped the rap superstar in his interactions with other people — something that had been hardened growing up as a black man in Marcy Projects. "I grew so much from the experience," he told the Times.

"I think the most important thing I got is that everything is connected. Every emotion is connected, and it comes from somewhere. I understand that, instead of reacting to that with anger, I can provide a softer landing and maybe, 'Aw, man, is you O.K.? You're in this space where you're hurting, and you think I see you, so you don't want me to look at you. And you don't want me to see you,'" he said. "You don't want me to see your pain."

The album also unpacked Jay-Z's infidelity. "I'll f— up a good thing if you let me," he raps on "Family Feud." In the same interview, Jay-Z shared that growing up in the hood put him into "survival mode," impacting his abilities to be a good partner and husband earlier in life. 

"You shut down all emotions. So even with women, you gonna shut down emotionally, so you can't connect," he reflected. "In my case, like it's, it's deep. And then all the things happen from there: infidelity." 

"I Made My ADHD Into My Strength": Understanding The Link Between Rap & Neurodivergence

Chief Keef press photo 2024
Chief Keef

Photo: Casimir Spaulding

interview

Chief Keef On 'Almighty So 2,' His Long-Awaited Return To Chicago & Why He's "Better Now Than I Ever Was"

More than a decade in the making, Chief Keef unveiled the second installment of 'Almighty So.' The rapper details why the new album is not a sequel to his 2013 mixtape, but rather another symbol of his artistic evolution.

GRAMMYs/May 14, 2024 - 02:51 pm

Chief Keef fans have been awaiting a sequel to his influential mixtape Almighty So since he released it in 2013. The project came out in the midst of a magnificent and experimental run for Keef, when he was changing his style seemingly at will from Almighty's almost avant-garde soundscapes to woozy, autotuned melodies (Bang Pt. 2) to stoic street tales (Back From the Dead).

Keef, now 28, has been well aware of the anticipation for a follow-up to Almighty So, teasing the project since 2019. Five years later, it's finally here — but it might not quite be what fans were expecting.

In keeping with Keef's mercurial and exploratory artistic nature, Almighty So 2 has very little to do with its predecessor, save that comedian Michael Blackson does skits on both. In fact, Keef tells GRAMMY.com that the title of the project does not mean that he views it as a sequel to Almighty So.

"There's no connection at all," he asserts. Almighty So is his nickname, and one of his many alter egos; it stems from "Sosa," the Scarface-inspired nickname he's been using since the beginning of his career. The title, he says, "is not just a project that I dropped years ago. It's me. I'm still almighty."

Almighty So 2, released May 10, is indeed very different. It boasts a Keef who is nearly free of vocal doublings and ad libs, ready to let his voice clearly be heard on a wide range of subjects, including some introspective and emotional looks at himself, going all the way back to his childhood.

Several days before the project's release, GRAMMY.com caught up with Keef while he was at home in Los Angeles. Below, the Chicago-born rapper breaks down the album's lyrics and music, its most surprising guest appearance, how he views his own legacy, and his return to his hometown for the first time in over a decade.

This conversation has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

You've been talking about this record since 2019, and originally you were saying it's going to have a lot of melody. The album I heard is very different from that. Can you tell me how and why the vision changed?

I just wanted to do something I never did. A couple of songs is stuff that you probably would never hear me do.

What's different about those songs?

Just more rapping about real things instead of flexing or talking about cars and weed. I'm rapping about real stuff in my life — in life, period.

"Believe" is like that. 

Oh yeah, "Believe," I forgot about that. You really know these songs. Okay, that's dope.

I heard that song as being about wanting and trying to change. Can you tell me about writing that and deciding to open up a little bit?

When I was making that beat, it gave me that feeling of, let some stuff out. That's all.

There's a line on there that really grabbed me. You're talking about growing up and you say you had to be an "evil kid." The word "evil" really struck me. What do you mean by
"evil"?

Because I was always smart — brilliant, intelligent. My circumstances had to be different, though. There wasn't a way for me to really show…I had to do the streets thing. I had to be a gangbanger. I had to grow up doing all that stuff instead of my potential that I know that I have, that I'm using doing all this stuff like designing. I can do everything. Really, literally. I probably could fly a plane, too.

Before I get into my ideas about it, what's different about your rapping on this album?

I feel like I'm just old. I'm 28, I'm finna be 29 now, man. I'm not the same young boy that grew up in Chicago on 54th and 61st. I guess you can call it growth.

I still got some stuff on there like the regular Sosa — the turn up, the fight-in-the-club or whatever you want to call it. Jump around, mosh pit music. I still got that. 

I was thinking more about just the sound of your rapping. There was almost no doubling, almost no ad libs. Your voice is very clear. Can you tell me about that creative decision?

I haven't been doubling like that. I don't know why I stopped it. You're right, I wanted to be more clear. 

Once I do a song, if I didn't do the ad libs, it must have not needed ad libs. When I do ad libs, it's like, I gotta do these ad libs. And if a song doesn't have ad libs on it, probably I can't really say the stuff that I want to say on the ad libs, or I didn't know how to put it. So I just said, scratch the ad libs and it's good like that. It's perfect. You don't need it, or the doubles. 

You have two songs on this record, "Runner" and "1,2,3," where you do that Dipset thing of talking back to the vocal sample. Why'd you do that?

I grew up on Juelz [Santana] and Cam'ron and Jim Jones. On 61st, we was a clique called Dipset, which comes from them. That's where I come from, so that's what I know. I guess I'm still living that right there.

Tell me about making beats for this album. There was some sampling in there, which is something you haven't done too much of.

I started sampling in probably 2019, 2020, or something like that. A lot of my producer friends, even my rapper friends, be like, "I love the way you sample. Damn, how do you sample like that?" Even though sometimes, I'll just let a sample play — it won't even be a chopped-up sample. 

If you get a beat from someone else, do you go in and add stuff to it?

Yeah. I can't take a beat and not put my stuff on it. Because it might be a dope beat, but if I feel like it need a couple more snares or a snare roll or some extra high hats or a bridge, I'll add my stuff in.

The album has some introspective lyrics, but it's also very funny.

I want to have some fun with it. A lot of people just drop projects and be regular degular. I wanted to do different. 

Like one song on the album, it takes four minutes to come on. It's just a beat and there's a skit playing of a dude in heaven talking. It's for car rides or trips. I don't know, I just wanted to do something different than what's regularly done all the time.

What's the connection between this album and the first Almighty So? Why call it Almighty So 2?

There's no connection at all. It's just, Almighty So, that's me. It's not just a project that I dropped years ago — it's me. I'm still Almighty So. I might not call myself that all the time, but it's forever me because when I did come out, it's something that I made and I stuck with it. 

It's just a name that everybody know. It's going to go down in the books. Forever, I'm Almighty So. I just had to do a number two, as in growth. It's the growth version of me.

I'm trying to display that I'm not the same 16, 17, 18-year-old that was running around Chicago with a gun on his hip. I'm far away in Los Angeles, California in a big, stupid-ass house with nine bathrooms and eight bedrooms. I got 12 cars outside my house, and they all mine. I don't have to have that gun on my hip. I ain't gotta watch my back all the time. 

I'm not the same. I'm a different guy. I feel like I'm better now than I ever was. I'm a better individual: the way I think, the way I talk. I'm more talkative now. At first, I wasn't even f—ing talking, bro. At first, you couldn't get me to say s— but a couple words.

When was the last time you listened to the first Almighty So?

I don't listen to that thing. Everybody else around me do. From friends to fans, everybody still listen to it, but I don't listen to it, barely ever. Every blue moon, I might end up playing it somehow. Because don't forget, I was listening to that s— nonstop when I made it. And I had to perform a lot of it too. So I know it by heart. I don't need to listen to it.

You have your first performance in Chicago in many years coming up at the Lyrical Lemonade Summer Smash in June. How are you feeling about it?

It's been a while, man. I ain't gonna lie, it's gonna be like I'm a tourist when I go there. 

It's been a long, long time. It's been like 11, 12 years since I touched the pavement in Chicago, or Illinois, period. I'm ready. I know it's going to be a big thing. A lot of new people probably think I'm a ghost. There probably be teachers like, "Yeah, he went to this school," [and the students will be like,] "No, no, he ain't real." 

So a lot of people are going to be excited, just knowing I'm from there and I ain't been there in so long. People that's not in even Chicago — all them surrounding cities gonna show up [too], because Sosa has not been home. And they know it's gonna be big.

Given what happened back in 2015, when the cops shut down your hologram's concert, are you worried that the authorities will be looking for an excuse to shut it down?

Hopefully they won't shut it down. I ain't been there in 11 years. I ain't done nothing to no-motherf—ing-body, man. I ain't in no cases, no RICOs, no murders, none of that s—. Leave me the f— alone, man. 

I've been chilling, making clothes and making music. Don't shut me down. And even if they did, I don't care. I'm going home. Back to L.A. I go. At least y'all know that I tried.

From the beginning of your career, you've had this association with the word "turbulence." You use Turbo as an alter ego.

[Laughs] How do you know all this? This is some Nardwuar s— right now, man.

When did that start? Do you remember the first time you were like, "Oh, that word, that's me?"

You said, when did it start? It's my alter egos I just make in my damn head. That's all. I'm versatile, so I never make the same sounding s—. Every song you listen to of mine, it's not going to be like, "That sounds like the last one I just played."  

I just got my alter egos, and I just make names. And then Turbulence, Turbo, that just came with one of my alter egos from 2017. Every other year I got a new name and a new ego.

Lately I haven't done it, though. I've been chilling, on some grown man ish. I feel like [making alter egos is] more the young Sosa. Like I said, this was in 2017 when I made that name. I haven't really been doing it lately. No new aliases.

You talked earlier about designing clothes and doing other creative stuff. When you're making art or graphics, or designing clothes, what feels the same as making music to you, and what feels different?

It's the exact same thing. S—, just like I make a beat, making a shirt takes the same creativity. It's just in a different form. Instead of melodies, you're using pictures and s—. You're drawing stuff. Instead of drawing that melody in FL Studio, you're drawing an angel for a shirt.

It's the exact same thing. Even the colors. The colors are like the EQ on the beat or on the song — it brings out the light in the stuff. 

So yeah, it's actually the same thing to me. And I've been doing this same s—. All the clothing, the beats, I've been doing the exact same thing that I'm doing now since 2008. How many years is that? That's a long time.

Like the Glory Boys logo: I made that logo in late 2009. I was what, 13, 14? I was doing this s— since I was 10, 11. It started when my momma bought me a computer. She bought me a computer when I was like 6. And then I was doing unbelievable things, unimaginable things. 

When I was doing that, I knew that this is my calling. Like, you real good with computers, if you're not good with nothing else. Anything with a screen, I could do it my sleep. If I show you the s— I can do, you'd be like, what in the f—? I'm talking coding — I can code some s— up. Your mind would be blown.

One of the things that does connect this album to the first Almighty So is you have Michael Blackson come back. Why?

Because he was on the first one. I'm just like, I got a skit or two for him. I got a couple of different skits from a couple different people. I got Fabo from D4L on there. He's on "Almighty" the song, talking. I got Donterio from my city, a funny dude I mess with. He be like, "On baby, on baby" — he famous for saying that. 

I got Michael Blackson. I wanted to make it fun and funny, so it ain't just like you're riding around listening to regular music. I wanted to make it a type of movie, but just in the music form. 

One of the guest appearances that really got my attention was Tierra Whack. I thought she was great.

Yeah, me and Tierra, we're real friends and we talk. And I love the way she do everything, so I had to put her on my s—, man. Just on some random s— — like, they won't expect no damn Tierra Whack, you know? So I had to do that. And I got my little weird ways, I'll tell you that.

I wouldn't have guessed she would be on this album.

Yeah, I know you wouldn't. Nobody would. Chief Keef and Tierra Whack? How and where and when? I wanted her to do something different than what she do. I was like, "I got this song I want you to do, but it ain't nothing like you always do. It's different." And she's like, "Hell yeah, come on, let's do it." That's my dog, for real for real.

A lot of critics talk about how influential you are. Are you aware of people saying that stuff about you?

Everywhere! If I had 500 M's every time [I heard that], I'd be Jeff Bezos. The f—? I think I'd probably be bigger. I would be more rich!

I be hearing that a lot, though, man. I be tired of hearing that s—. I be like, we know. Me, you, and God know that. It's okay. Let people do what they do, man. I was a big fan of Gucci [Mane] and Lil Wayne. Still am. So if I got people who love me like that, s—, man. 

I used to get mad about it, but I don't give a f—. I'm a big fan of those two boys I just said. Even to this day, we still ride around listening to the old Gucci. If you get in our car and we on tour, all you going to hear is Gucci Mane from 2006, 7, 8, and 9, 2010, 2011. And we still even sometimes take our raps [from that]. The old Lil Wayne, I still even rap like that. If you listen to "Jesus," I got his flow — some Lil Wayne, the old Wayne, inspiration. So I guess I inspire, the way they inspire me.

Are you still determined to change your style frequently? That used to be a thing about you: every year you'd have a whole new approach to music.

You hip, bro. You smart as hell, I ain't gonna lie. That's why I'm talking to you like I am. But anyway, you're right, I don't necessarily. 

How I am, though, I never do the same s—, like I told you. You'll never say, "This sounds exactly the same as the other one." I probably got, like, two songs [that sound alike], and that's just if I'm messing with the same producer. 

So I can't say that every year I take that approach. But I guess every day I take that approach, or any time I pick up the damn microphone. I'm just trying to think, I want to do something different, or at least try.

Do you think of yourself primarily as a rapper? A producer? A person who's good with computers?

What I say is I got angles like Kurt. You know Kurt Angle? Jack of all trades. 

Call me Jack, don't call me Sosa. I guess I got a new alias today — we made one.

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Gunna in Rome, Italy in April 2024
Gunna in Rome, Italy in April 2024.

Photo: Ernesto Ruscio/WireImage

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Gunna Is Defiantly 'One Of Wun': 5 Takeaways From The New Album

Amid legal drama and rap feuds, Gunna dropped his fifth studio album — and showed that none of the negativity is going to drag him down.

GRAMMYs/May 10, 2024 - 08:38 pm

A new album from Gunna is bound to be notable and controversial. Many in the rap world had strong feelings about how the racketeering case against many members and affiliates of his label YSL Records — including, most notably, him and Young Thug — worked out for the Atlanta star. After Gunna took a plea deal in December 2022, the word "snitch" was thrown around not infrequently; he was rumored to have tensions with rappers including his close collaborator Lil Baby and, unsurprisingly, Young Thug.

Gunna's 2023 album, a Gift & a Curse, released about six months after his plea, seemed to be his attempt to move past all of that. In some ways, it worked. The album was a success, containing his highest-charting solo hit to date with "fukumean." 

But still, the negative image followed him around. Despite his chart success — along with a few notable Afrobeats songs that brought attention from a whole new market — Gunna's controversial past was brought to light yet again when he was referenced in Kendrick Lamar's recent Drake diss track, "Euphoria," in a less-than-flattering way.

Now, Gunna has made his latest big statement with his fifth album, One of Wun, where he addresses both his feelings about the public response to his plea, and what his life has been like since it occurred. The new LP finds Gunna unbowed, positive and defiant. It's a fascinating project, with themes that anyone with even a cursory knowledge of the rapper's career to date will find timely and relevant. 

As you dig into One of Wun, take a look at five major takeaways from Gunna's new album.

Gunna Remembers What His Haters Said

One of Wun features many references to people who hated on or didn't believe in Gunna. Rarely is this explicitly tied to blowback from the YSL case, but it doesn't need to be: "I swear I don't want no apology," he says on "whatsapp (wassam)." But it's not that he doesn't feel he deserves one.

Throughout the album, Gunna makes it very clear that he is aware of all the criticism. "Heard all about how they want me to lose, but I'm W, here for a win," he spits on the title track; the first verse of "on one tonight" echoes that sentiment, "They hope I fall off, ain't no way." Gunna knows, as he says on the nautically themed "neck on a yacht," that his haters want him to sink like the Titanic, but he'll never give them the satisfaction.

The most explicit reference to the YSL situation is on "prada dem," where he disposes of any controversy with a simple pun: "I'm not a rat — still getting cheddar."

He Loves Women A Lot, But Not Deeply

It's not all just clapbacks on One of Wun; there is a lot of rapping about women and sex, too. The aforementioned "neck on a yacht," for example, is about exactly what the title might lead you to think it to be. So is "treesh," named after New York slang for a person with lots of partners. Even "clear my rain," musically one of the most adventurous tracks on the project with its Afrobeats-esque feel, is lyrically in this vein as well.

However, it's clear this album wasn't inspired by romance. Gunna never gets personal, and "Body right, she a ten in the face/ F— her all night and all through the day" is about as specific as he ever gets. This is not out of line in Gunna's catalog, and this consistency provides proof that his lyrics about standing his ground are accurate both inside the recording booth as well as the world outside. 

Emotion And Vulnerability Ultimately Make The Album Memorable

Gunna may not be in his feelings about women, but he certainly is in other ways. The times where he moves past his triumphing-over-the-haters stance and lets his guard down are the most effective moments of the whole album.

Exceptional in this regard is the track "conscience," in which he admits that the people who betray him are making him "feel low." "I'm fed up with this nonsense," he says. "Lotta s—, and it's weighing on my conscience." 

That bit of vulnerability adds a tremendous amount of context to his talk of his determination — and the spiritual and material victories that come because of it — throughout the rest of the record. The very album title tells you of Gunna's uniqueness, and the record's glimpse at his vulnerabilities make the case for that even more than his boasts. 

There are musically exceptional moments as well — a kind of aural equivalent to his lyrical openness. Much of the album is mid-tempo and trap-inflected, but it ends with an ambitious six-and-a-half minute, two-part epic called "time reveals, be careful what you wish for." It would be wonderful to see more songs with this scope in the future.

He's Back To Collaborating

a Gift & a Curse had no guest appearances at all, marking the first time Gunna had ever gone completely solo on any of his five albums. Whatever the reason for Gunna's decision for no features on his previous project — whether it was an artistic choice, the swirling talk around his guilty plea, or something else — he's back to collaborating on One of Wun. The rap star recruits Normani ("$$$") and Leon Bridges ("clear my rain"), as well as two fellow rappers, Offset ("prada dem") and Roddy Ricch ('let it breathe").

That said, Gunna has never been one for a ton of guest features, particularly in comparison to most big-name rap releases. And with regular standbys Lil Baby and Young Thug off the table (the latter was in jail), the return of Gunna's "Cooler Than a Bitch" collaborator Roddy Ricch seems to indicate that at least some of his rap pals are willing to work with him again.

He's Placing Emphasis On Being A Musical Rapper

With 20 songs on the track list, One of Wun gives Gunna plenty of time to experiment — to try different vocal approaches, melodies and rhythms. While there is plenty of rap's tried-and-true triplet rhythm across the album, he goes far beyond it as well.

He adjusts his rapping approach not only to fit the music of the song, but also the subject matter. He's straightforward, repetitive and aggressive when the subject matter calls for it, like on the defiant "whatsapp (wassam)"; elsewhere, he tries different musical ideas on songs like the more introspective "conscience." This makes the album feel like a true body of work, one where his defiance comes to life not only in his words, but in sound as well.

Gunna released One of Wun into a climate with a lot of questions. The record succeeds in not only talking about his recent worries and conflicts, but dramatizing them in lyrics and music. He's using the raw material of his life — and the media narratives around it — to sculpt a coherent narrative, where every aspect of the album has a part to play in telling his story. He delves deep into his defiance, and his worries, and converts them into a real artistic statement. 

"Independence weighing on my conscience hard," he raps on "conscience." Gunna makes sure not only that he says that theme in words, but expresses it in every aspect of this record. That vision and ability makes him truly one of one.

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