meta-scriptLarry June On His 'Great Escape': How The Posi-Rapper's New Album With Alchemist Reflects His Healthy Hustle | GRAMMY.com
Larry June On His 'Great Escape': How The Posi-Rapper's New Album With Alchemist Reflects His Healthy Hustle
Larry June

Photo: Rpmiggs

interview

Larry June On His 'Great Escape': How The Posi-Rapper's New Album With Alchemist Reflects His Healthy Hustle

'The Great Escape,' Larry June's new album with the Alchemist, is a cinematic sojourn where all the B.S. is left behind. The rapper's immense positivity flows through, with reflections on opulence, doing things differently and, of course, healthy living.

GRAMMYs/Apr 5, 2023 - 08:04 pm

Larry June drinks about 35 oranges every morning. Pair that with 15 green juices and some chlorophyll, and you have the diet of a man who seeks the finer things in life. 

"Organic" isn’t just a buzzword for Larry. His countless projects outline the Orange Print to successful living: His clothing brand, Midnight Organic, tags his apparel with words like HEALTHY, ORGANIC, and GOOD JOB!; his song titles spark conversations about the trajectory of humanity; even his lyrics provide keen insight into the daily routines and investment opportunities that have allowed June to flourish as a self-made entrepreneur. 

Larry June’s persistent gratitude and optimism have guided him through the trials and tribulations within hip-hop, and his ‘hoods of Hunter’s Point, San Francisco and Vallejo. You might see him douse a crowd of fans at Rolling Loud with Uncle Larry’s Orange Juice, you might see him working at his SF boba shop, Honeybear, or you might even see him traveling through Mexico City, mesmerized by the architecture. An old-soul camouflaged as the spokesperson for Vitamin C, June has worked for over a decade to solidify his status as the suave gangster with no affinity for rap beef (unless it’s grass-fed and organic).

The Great Escape, Larry's latest album with GRAMMY-nominated producer Alchemist, is a step away from "all the bullsh—" and an invitation into the opulent grand-opening party for their cinematic The Great Escape Ski Resort. Alchemist’s beats score this groovier film-on-wax, adding touches of psychedelic-infused reggae and downtempo, as well as loops from ‘60s-era B-reels. Larry June builds his own world of gang lords and drug deals, referencing Mexican magnate Carlos Slim to discreet calls with his own invented cast of characters. With the fleeting third-person adlib of "Sing it, Larry," our world-rebound protagonist croons words of affirmation throughout the album.

Larry June's immensely positive brand of gangsta rap holds true on The Great Escape, and rappers from around the world lend verses on the opulence of life. Action Bronson appears on "Solid Plan" to discuss the banality of artificial intelligence and Tony Soprano’s sacrifices as a mob boss; Big Sean raps with Larry about their daily chlorophyll drinks and investments commercial real estate on "Palisades, CA"; and even Wiz Khalifa roll ups to relish on the empire June has created. 

But June is far from out of touch with the people. The opening track begins with the rapper battling San Francisco's inclement weather: "Bend a corner, I’m on Hayes Street copping a windbreaker" — a moment anyone visiting the foggy city can relate to. 

Although June spent part of his childhood in Atlanta, his heart has always been in the Bay — from its windswept hills to its hometown rap heroes. Larry June sat down with GRAMMY.com to discuss growing up, doing things differently, how he and the Alchemist concocted The Great Escape.

What was it like to live in Vallejo?

I loved it. It was so different. There were crazy house parties and shit. S— was tight as hell. Big Mac Dre culture. It’s a whole different energy.

Do you have any favorite Mac Dre songs or albums?

Man, I like "Not My Job." I could bust you a rap, I love all Mac Dre’s s—. It’s not even one particular album, his s— is just so different.

Other than Mac Dre, who are some of your favorite old-school Bay Area artists?

RBL Posse, RIP to Jack[a] — legendary, you know what I’m saying, can’t forget J. Stalin, can’t forget E-40, Too $hort, you know, all the classics. B-Legit, Cellski, everybody man, there’s so many I can’t even name all of them. It’s a whole different energy. The world still hasn’t even picked up everything that’s going on. Johnny Ca$h.

Because you mentioned Johnny Ca$h and J. Stalin, did you always have an affinity for artists who also sang a little bit?

That’s crazy you said that. For sure, I think so. J. Stalin’s really my boy, he was making music with me when I was like 16 years old. He’s a good dude, a real entrepreneur, made it out the ‘hood, started a business for himself, all kinds of s—. Legendary. 

Ever since I was a kid, I loved that singing aspect in rapping. You could switch it up, and it doesn't have to be the best singing. 

I saw a quote recently where someone said, "You don’t even have to be a Whitney Houston-level singer, sometimes there's beauty in using your own voice."

It’s an art. It’s natural and it’s coming from the heart. It’s how you sound, so you’re giving the people something that’s yours, versus you’re trying to sound like something and you’re trying to force it to sound perfect. Sometimes those imperfections make you 20x better. 

That’s how I feel about my music – a lot of s— I might want to redo, I might have said a word wrong, but that’s how I say it. I’m going to give it to you the way I would give it to you in real life. I just do it for the motherf—rs who rock with me, that live like me, that understand what I’m talking about. If you don’t understand, hey, it wasn’t for you. [Laughs] Numbers, baby.

**What inspired The Great Escape?**

Me and Al, we was in the studio vibing, and the album had a real luxurious feeling. From when "Turkish Cotton" comes, it feels like a movie scene. Al was like, "This is like some Robb Report s—." I didn’t know what the Robb Report was, so he showed me and it’s like a magazine with Lamborghinis and nice properties and expensive watches. 

Then, we saw something that said "The Great Escape," and it hit me. I escaped all the bulls—; I’m living very peacefully. I escaped the jealousy, the odds that were against us. What we were going for was more like a spy-feel. "Come to the spot, get your back rubbed, come to the Great Escape Ski Resort."

**How did moving to Malibu and getting the place that was shown in the album’s behind-the-scenes documentary build the world of The Great Escape?**

I pretty much recorded the majority of the songs at home. I’d come to [Al] and we’d escape from the world, get crazy cribs by the coast. We’d vibe, we’d hear some s— and I’d add little pieces in there. 

I’m inspired by seeing beautiful things, so I have to go to different places to get inspired while making the music. I went to Mexico City to film a portion of the "Spanish" video, and I’m seeing different architecture and eating all these different kinds of foods, seeing different s—. I started getting interested in Barragán lighting; it creates a different type of lighting in houses naturally. [Laughs] I was learning so much, and I was able to teach it to people who didn’t know it through the music. 

It was real natural; nothing was forced. I was just being me and it came out dope, man. I wanted to make sure that I was rapping good enough with the Alchemist on his beats because everybody who works with the Alchemist is amazing. Artists from Roc Marci to Boldy James, Jay Worthy, Curren$y, even go back to Mobb Deep. They set the bar high. Prodigy. 

[Alchemist] was like, "No, you got this s—. Stay in your bag. Don’t think about that, just do you." [Laughs

How do you approach a Cardo album (Into The Late Night), versus a Harry Fraud album (Keep Going) versus an Alchemist album?

I’ve built a relationship with these producers where we have our own bag. When Cardo sends me beats, he’s not sending me the beats he sends to Drake or whoever, I’m in our bag and I master that bag with each producer. 

It’s kind of like a superpower for me. I can cut off my Alchemist bag for two months, not even thinking about that bag at all because the Cardo bag was recharging, so I never run out of raps. I live by the motto: If you do the same s—, you get the same results. The key is never losing yourself. I did an album with Alchemist, but I’m not going to turn into Common. [Laughs

I was surprised to hear "60 Days" because you’re probably one of the only artists who could get Al to rap. What was that conversation like?

We were really just in the studio vibing. He was jotting down some notes, and I guess he likes to write raps  —  he doesn’t like to be doing nothing. I looked over and I’m like, "You got something for this?" and he was like, "F— it, I got something," and he jumped in there and did it. 

He didn’t want to use the record [on the album], but I love the record. I love the beat by itself. That’s why I didn’t want to rap too long – eight bars, slight hook, eight bars. The beat is so movie scene-ish. He got on there, it worked out, he didn’t want to drop it, we ended up dropping it first.

That’s the magic with this record. Every song is consistently great.

You want to give them variety, man, start soft. I drink 35 oranges as soon as I wake up in the morning.

Wait, 35?

Mhm. I might drink 15 green juices, some chlorophyll; you’ve got to stay healthy inside the body. I might take a jog. I’ll rock 35 miles, for no reason.

When did you realize that this is the lifestyle you’ve got to be chasing?

It made me feel better. I used to be going through some s—, so I use taking a walk or a jog to ease my mind and help me think clearer and see different things. I noticed when I started drinking the juices, it was making me feel better. It’s really those peaceful walks. I’ll walk in the rain 35 miles.

That’s something that’s always drawn me to your music. It’s music that you can listen to and aspire to be like.

It’s raw because I come from a completely different world. My grandma had the candy house in the hood – ICEEs, candy, sodas, making nachos for the 'hood. I’m preaching to my people that you don’t have to do the same thing. 

Go get you something healthy, take a walk. Everything ain’t about sitting in the ‘hood and doing the same s— that we come from, that people know us for. It’s cool to do different s—. I’m just an advocate for that. A lot of inspiration from my dad too because he was the first n— in the 'hood coming out healthy. You’ve got to be thankful for your parents.

On "Turkish Cotton," you even mention"I was just dead broke in 2017." What changed for you?

The cars got faster. My mindset got better. I started experiencing new things and looking at things from a bigger aspect. I always got that fight in me. I’m always hustling and working because I know it can get ugly; I lived it for the majority of my life. I’m new money. I didn’t come from millions of dollars, I didn’t have nothing passed down to me. I’m breaking a cycle for me and hopefully the next generation of kids that are coming up. 

That’s why I talk my s— like, "I bought the ‘Rarri," but I’m also going to let you know that, "N—, I was broke just like you." Anybody can do it if I did it. My mom had me at 15 years old. I wasn’t supposed to be doing what I’m doing now, man. 

That’s why being healthy is so important because if we’re not healthy, we’re not going to be able to do nothing. It first starts with how you feel and what you put in your body when you wake up, if you have negative people around you; you’ve got to be aware of everything if you want to be successful. 

**Now, it’s about legacy. You dropped your first project, Cali Grown, in 2010 and look at you now.**

[When I dropped] Cali Grown, I was hella into smooth, peaceful beats and started doing what I wanted to do and started developing my voice and creating. I had a vision: being a boss, healthy living, being a player — but it can’t get ugly. I was taking my equipment with me everywhere I was going and practicing. 

What’s dope is that I could have easily deleted all that stuff from the internet, easily, but I left it up there purposefully to show you I was trash. [Laughs] I do it to show my people that if you keep going, you can be great, you just need to believe in it. 

Sock it to 'em, Larry! Now, last but not least, what can happen in 60 days?

In 60 days, a lot can change. If you put time in and really dedicate yourself for 60 days – it can be a week, it can be 30 days, it can be 20 days – if you’re dedicating your time to doing something, it’s going to work. I’ve got a big thing about discipline. A lot can change, for real, you’ve just gotta keep rocking.

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Benny The Butcher Is Ready To Rise On 'Everybody Can’t Go'
Benny The Butcher

Photo: Prince Williams/WireImage

interview

Benny The Butcher Is Ready To Rise On 'Everybody Can’t Go'

Benny The Butcher is growing even further in the game. Ahead of his debut album with Def Jam Recordings, the rapper discusses the key to his confidence, working with Griselda producers, and future collaborations with the "Queens of R&B and hip-hop."

GRAMMYs/Jan 25, 2024 - 02:13 pm

Benny The Butcher is prepared to spar with the biggest names in rap music to prove he’s one of the most prolific MCs in the industry. 

"My confidence comes from my talent, and my talent comes from my preparation," Benny tells GRAMMY.com. 

For the uninitiated, the East Buffalo rapper's brash delivery and unshakeable confidence could be perceived as arrogance. But for Benny and long-time fans of the Montana Avenue vet, he’s more than earned the distinction. 

"If you see these dudes, they’re not confident because they’re not prepared to talk that talk. We stand behind this music, man," he continues. "I’m only on this interview with you because I rap good. I’m not on this interview with you because I’m dating an R&B chick, or because I have a Rihanna feature.”

Benny The Butcher is just days ahead of releasing Everybody Can’t Go, his debut album with Def Jam Recordings. Out Jan. 26, Everybody is Benny's major label launch but it's far from his first foray.

Off the heels of his critically acclaimed album Tana Talk 4 in 2022 — which boasted the viral hit "Johnny P’s Caddy" featuring J. ColeBenny has kept a steady hand on the pulse of the rap game. Since then, he’s been heard on DJ Drama’s "Forever," G Herbo’s "Real Rap" and memorialized a Buffalo legend on the BSF project Long Live DJ Shay.  

In that time, Benny, born Jeremie Pennick, has fashioned himself as the proprietor of "caviar drug rap," and he’s not afraid to remind you, either. He’s confident the release of Everybody Can’t Go will showcase his evolution as an artist.

"I’m on a higher level than I was. Everybody gets to watch my career elevate and it’s right in front of me," he says. "From the mixtapes, from the freestyles, featuring on Westside Gunn and Conway The Machine’s s–, and people share that journey with me. It’s high-level drug rap."

After switching his moniker from "Benny" to "Benny The Butcher," he veered away from rapping over other artists’ beats and started working with in-house Griselda producers like Daringer to round out his nostalgic, boom-bap sound that’s become synonymous with the Griselda imprint. 

If the album’s lead singles "Bron," "Big Dog," and the title track are any indication, Benny isn’t deviating from the sound that made him. Tales of his past exploits are coated in Hit-Boy and Alchemist beats, with features from Griselda and BSF collaborators Westside Gunn, Conway the Machine, 38 Spesh, Lil Wayne, and others. But the method behind the music, Benny says, was all the same. 

"I didn’t take no new approach, I just wanted to deliver some dope music and make sure I sounded how I felt," the 39-year-old MC says. "I feel like my sound is more refined and I switched my flow up."

To casual connoisseurs, Benny is a burgeoning star who’s aiming for wider success and acclaim. But for fans of the "Trade It All" lyricist, who saw his rise as the younger cousin of Westside Gunn and Conway the Machine on Griselda, he’s earned the right to share his vivid tales and signature brand of mafioso rap on a larger scale. And he’s already made good use of the label’s platform.

He’s rubbed shoulders with artists like J. Cole, connected with legends like Snoop Dogg for his Def Jam signing, and now has his sights on more R&B-oriented records. Benny wants to work with the "Queens of R&B and hip-hop," naming legends including SZA, Teyana Taylor, Coco Jones, Summer Walker, and others at the top of his list.  

With his ascension, Benny is continuing to discover the perils of fame. He admits it’s challenging to deal with trolls and faceless critics on X (formerly known as Twitter). "You have to remind yourself it’s only a fraction of the people. Their voice is so loud on social media that it tricks the artist into thinking that’s the general population that feels like that, but it’s not," Benny says.

He’s also accepted the fact that not everyone is meant to be a part of his journey. The sentiment inspired the new album title and is reflective of his new attitude: Whether friend or family, hindering his growth is too hefty a price tag. As his career continues to take flight, others will be left at the terminal. 

"Everybody Can’t Go is me realizing, Wow, it’s not for everybody even though I got this far to help provide opportunities," he said. "You could make someone the president or an A&R at Def Jam, but that doesn’t mean they’re ready for it. A lot of people don’t want to work, they just want what comes with the work —  the lifestyle, the fame, and the money."

After the project’s release, Benny intends to expand as a legitimate businessman and do more executive production, starting with his roster of BSF talent, which includes Rick Hyde, Heem B$F, ElCamino, LoveBoat Luciano, and other members. 

With Griselda, Benny already has his two cousins as counterparts, but Benny talked about having his daughter by his side during the album’s press run. He was impressed with her vocal ability and is open to exploring her musical side. "This is a family business," he says. "I encourage everybody to get into music because it’s therapeutic, it keeps you out of the way, and it’s lucrative if you do it right."

Of his growth as a solo artist, Benny says, "It feels like I’m on pace to keep doing great things." In the near-future, he's already making plans to dive into the film industry and drop another project to close out yet another big year in music. 

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A Guide To Bay Area Hip-Hop: Definitive Releases, Artists & Subgenres From Northern California
Too $hort

Photo: Scott Legato/Getty Images

feature

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

Bay Area hip-hop has had a few moments to shine on the main stage, but has largely grinded independently for decades. On the 50th anniversary of hip-hop, learn how "the whole damn Yay" fits into this global culture — and how it stands out.

GRAMMYs/Aug 21, 2023 - 02:05 pm

The San Francisco Bay Area is a geographically and culturally diverse region of Northern California whose music scene has influenced the world. There is a lot more territory to Northern California, but the more than 7.5 million people who live in the Bay are crucial to the state's music scene.

While the Summer of Love and associated boom of rock and psychedelia in the 1960s might be the first thing that comes to mind when thinking of the sounds of San Francisco, the Bay has long been a source of creative, boundary-breaking hip-hop music and culture. The region's nine counties are where many definitive hip-hop acts were raised and became inspired to create.

Major labels largely ignored Bay Area artists at the beginning of hip-hop's golden age. However, that lack of attention allowed for wider creative freedom and a bevy of distinctly Bay Area sounds. 

As hip-hop celebrates half a century of soundtracking the world, it’s a good time to learn how this part of the West Coast fits into this global culture — and how it stands out. Listen to Spotify playlist below or visit Amazon Music, Pandora and Apple Music to learn more about the Bay Area's bountiful hip-hop culture.

A Brief History Of Bay Area Hip-Hop

The Bay Area's first local commercial rap release came in 1981 via Motorcycle Mike’s "Super Rat." But the world wouldn’t become seriously acquainted with Bay Area rappers until the early ‘90s, when MC Hammer told everyone what they couldn’t touch.

Some of the most notable releases tap into the region's educated and aware, activist-oriented, health-focused lifestyle. The Bay also knows how to party, and the funky musicality of the region — from Sly and the Family Stone to Con Funk Shun (whose member Felton Pilate produced some of MC Hammer’s early works) — have been a strong influence on hip-hop culture nationwide.

However, the Bay Area rap music scene is historically distinguished by reality-based work that sometimes alludes to criminal activity — including violence, murder, drug dealing and sex trafficking — and details rough times. 

The intermingling between the fictional world of music and criminal realities has led rap lyrics to be used against defendants in criminal cases around the country. In the '90s and early aughts, prominent rappers such as Sacramento’s C-Bo and Vallejo’s Andre "Mac Dre" Hicks were jailed for their lyrics, which detailed crimes and had anti-police and governor sentiment.  

New state legislation is setting a national example for such work to be inadmissible in court. In September, with the support of popular Bay Area rappers E-40 and Too $hort, California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed the Decriminalizing Artistic Expression Act to restrict the use of rap lyrics in criminal proceedings. (The Recording Academy is also involved in a federal effort to limit the use of lyrics in court.)

Several high-profile murders and deaths altered the trajectory of burgeoning careers, casting a question mark about the unrealized potential of some of the Bay Area’s brightest artists. This unfortunate list includes the 1996 Las Vegas murder of Tupac Shakur — who spent formative years being educated and recording in the Bay Area — and Mac Dre, the progenitor of the region’s hyphy culture who was shot to death in Kansas City in 2004 and still reigns as the Bay Area’s biggest posthumous figure. Pittsburg’s Dominick "The Jacka" Newton is another revered figure supported heavily by Northern California who was killed in Oakland in 2015. In 2021, Stephen "Zumbi" Gaines from Zion I died in an Oakland hospital; his death was ruled a homicide, yet no criminal charges have been filed and his family called to continue the investigation in 2022. 

Bay Area hip-hop has had a few moments to shine especially bright in the eyes of the world, but the local scene has kept grinding in and out of the mainstream spotlight. Sporadic attention and contracts from the major record labels throughout the years meant that the Bay Area rap scene generally needed to continue to be sustained independently. 

In the pre-streaming era, record stores such as Amoeba Music in San Francisco and Rasputin Music (which had several locations at its height) sold thousands of copies of albums and mixtapes from local artists on their own. Too $hort and E-40’s DIY business model would influence Southern rap moguls like Percy "Master P" Miller, who started his No Limit Records in Richmond, California, and Bryan "Baby" Williams of New Orleans’ Cash Money Records.

For decades, there was an absence of prolonged label and distribution support from the traditional music business centers of Los Angeles, New York City and, later, Atlanta. A significant shift began when EMPIRE Distribution opened in San Francisco in 2010, making the city a power player in the international music industry.

While the San Francisco Bay Area may not be the biggest name in the national hip-hop conversation, its underdog status is a point of pride and reason for continued creativity. In 2023, hip-hop artists, producers and businesspeople keep an eye on the Bay for lyrical, linguistic, music, dance and style trends.  

Definitive Artists In Bay Area Hip-Hop

MC Hammer: Stanley Burrell’s evolution from young bat boy for the Oakland Athletics and growing up connected to the streets, to becoming the GRAMMY-winning and Billboard-charting pop superhero MC Hammer is the Bay Area’s first international hip-hop success story. He’s the only rapper from Northern California who had his own Saturday morning cartoon (Hammerman) on ABC — an epic achievement in the early '90s, when weekend programming for kids was still a household phenomenon. 

He was the first to work with major brands like Taco Bell and Sprite in an era when hip-hop didn’t have the attention of corporate America, like it does now. VH1 aired a biopic in 2001 and A&E commissioned a family reality series in 2009. There’s even a Hammer doll made by the toy company Mattel.

Digital Underground: Helmed by Gregory "Shock G" Jacobs and Ronald "Money-B" Brooks, Oakland’s mischievous party rap crew Digital Underground flirted with various Billboard singles and albums charts throughout the '90s and released six albums until Jacobs' untimely passing in 2021. 

The self-described "Sons of the P" drew from the well of the Parliament-Funkadelic world, sampling and interpolating George Clinton’s best-known riffs, ad-libs and freewheeling thoughts. Digital Underground’s two top 40 hits include "Kiss You Back" and "The Humpty Dance," the latter nominated for Best Rap Performance By A Duo Or Group at the 1991 GRAMMYs. "The Humpty Dance" introduced the character of Humpty Hump, which was another of Jacobs’ alter egos, but the group pretended like they were different people, sometimes enlisting Jacobs’ own brother to help further the prank on stage.

Tupac Shakur: Shock G and Money-B took a young Tupac Shakur under their wings, bringing him on tour as a roadie and dancer in 1990 and producing songs on his 1991 debut album 2Pacalypse Now. Shakur recorded half of his sophomore album in the East Bay, and later signed to Los Angeles labels Interscope and Death Row.

His mother, Afeni Shakur, reconnected with the Bay Area in the last years of her life and passed away on her houseboat in Sausalito, not far from Marin City, where Tupac lived in his high school years. History hasn’t viewed him as a strictly Bay Area artist, but the region is a crucial architect of his career.

Too $hort: Though he was born in Los Angeles and moved to the East Bay in his youth, Todd Shaw’s Too $hort character is synonymous with Oakland, its pimp culture and being the first to sell custom mixtapes on the streets. He turned his "out the trunk" ethos into a decades-long deal with Jive Records.

Despite threatening to retire in the mid-'90s, Too $hort continues to make music to add to his discography, which includes six platinum-selling albums, three gold albums and the enduring hyphy anthem "Blow The Whistle." He has collaborated with many rappers, including Tupac and the Notorious B.I.G., and on "Bossy," a top 20 hit for Kelis. Shaw represented the Bay Area at the 2023 GRAMMYs' tribute to hip-hop, and told PEOPLE that he was "really glad to be a part of it." 

E-40: Like Too $hort, E-40 (Earl Stevens) parlayed his independent record hustle into a contract with Jive Records that yielded gold and platinum-selling singles and albums. Both essentially created a playbook that was cited and followed by Southern labels such as No Limit and Cash Money. E-40’s storytelling prowess and gift for slanguage is delivered with impressive speed, and continues to influence MCs all over the world. He’s as deft at crafting party-starters like his hyphy hit "Tell Me When to Go" as poignant tales like "Zoom," which describes how life handed him nothing, but he transcended his circumstances to become a leader.

A community-minded philanthropist, he recently donated $100,000 to Grambling University, which he attended, to create the Earl "E-40" Stevens Sound Recording Studio on campus and inspire the next generation of artists. In recent years, he has applied his independent strategies to the food, wine and spirits industries, and will release a cookbook in November.

E-40 and Too $hort have recorded two albums together, and have since formed the northern half of the rap supergroup Mount Westmore, with Los Angeles natives Snoop Dogg and Ice Cube. Stevens will soon have a Bay Area street named after him called E-40 Way in Vallejo — just as Shaw received Too $hort Way in Oakland in December.

Mac Dre: Andre Hicks didn’t have a mainstream career like MC Hammer or Too $hort, but his influence on Bay Area music and culture as a progenitor and propeller of hyphy remains outsized. His music is rooted in the streets, but also party minded and musical, bridging a gap between the rough and serious and happy and intoxicated.

His mother Wanda Salvatto, who is nicknamed Mac Wanda, continued his Thizz Entertainment label after his still-unsolved 2004 murder in Kansas City, Missouri. She has built an extensive discography of posthumous and tribute albums and compilations.

Keak Da Sneak: After making noise in the mid-Nineties Oakland group 3X Krazy and later on his own, the rapper born Charles Kente Williams has earned his spot as a crucial Bay Area music and slang innovator. He’s credited with expressions like "fa sheezy," "yadidimean" and hyphy, the latter a contraction devised to describe his hyperactive tendencies. 

"I don’t think they know, that’s my word," he proclaims in the chorus of his quick-moving 2005 party hit "Super Hyphy." In 2017, Keak Da Sneak was shot eight times by an unknown assailant at a gas station in Richmond, California. Though he’s been using a wheelchair ever since, he remains active in the local scene, recently appearing at DJ and podcaster Dregs One’s History of Bay Area Hip-Hop day party in San Francisco.

Definitive Bay Area Hip-Hop Releases 

Too $hort - Life Is…Too $hort (1988)

As a rapper and character, Too $hort has transcended generations of Bay Area hip-hop fans, but the old-schoolers will still point to his fifth album, which broke him out of the region thanks to support in the form of a 1989 re-release from Jive Records. It delivers the bawdy, pimp boasting raps that he’s known for, but Life Is… also shows his less-known talents for keyboard and drum programming.

MC Hammer - Please Hammer Don’t Hurt ‘Em (1990)

MC Hammer’s third album Please Hammer Don’t Hurt ‘Em spent almost five months on top of the Billboard 200, and he is the only rap artist from Northern California to win GRAMMY Awards. With their hooky Rick James and Prince samples, respectively, the album’s hit singles "U Can’t Touch This" and "Pray" set a production standard that has been relied on pretty much ever since — whether in the most popular songs of P. Diddy’s Bad Boy Records catalog in the 1990s, or today’s social media hits by Latto and Coi Leray. 

In 1991, Please Hammer Don’t Hurt ‘Em was nominated for Album Of The Year, and he took home three golden gramophones for Best Rhythm & Blues Song and Best Rap Solo Performance for "U Can’t Touch This" and Best Music Video - Long Form.

Digital Underground - Sex Packets (1990)

DU’s platinum-selling debut album may be the Bay Area’s greatest concept rap album, a lascivious romp assisted by imaginary sexual enhancement pills years before Viagra was invented. Songs like "Freaks of the Industry," "Doowutchyalike" and "The Humpty Dance" brought fun and levity to the streets and households across America. 

"The Humpty Dance" was not only a top 20 pop hit and a No. 1 rap single; its undulating groove formed the backbone of countless pop, rap, R&B and drum and bass songs that later sampled it. Even the Spice Girls couldn’t resist using it for their 1996 song "If U Can’t Dance."

2Pac - 2Pacalypse Now (1991)

The majority of Tupac Shakur’s first two albums were made in the Bay Area: He recorded all of 2Pacalypse Now and half of his sophomore album Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z… at Starlight Sound in the East Bay city of Richmond. 2Pacalypse Now shows how a descendent of the Black Panther Party reflects his history for the '90s. 

He worked with local producers — including Digital Underground’s Shock G, Raw Fusion and Big D The Impossible — on early anthems like "Brenda’s Got a Baby," "Trapped" and "If My Homie Calls." Though his posthumous discography is long, he would go on to release just two more albums before his murder in 1996: Me Against the World and the GRAMMY-nominated All Eyez on Me.

Del the Funky Homosapien - "Mistadobalina" (1991)

When he was a little kid, Del the Funky Homosapien designed the three-eyed face that became the logo of his Hieroglyphics crew and a worldwide symbol of Bay Area rap. "Mistadobalina," which he produced with Boogiemen and his cousin Ice Cube, was his breakout song. His confident and fun flow drew people into the Hiero world — which now includes an annual festival in Oakland — and it still sounds timeless.

RBL Posse - "Don’t Give Me No Bammer Weed" (1992)

The biggest group to come from San Francisco’s tough Hunters Point neighborhood and score a major label record deal, RBL Posse is best remembered for this ode to smoking quality cannabis from their debut album A Lesson To Be Learned. Members Hitman and Mr. Cee were both victims of gun violence, but their sonic calling card remains a local anthem.

N2DEEP - "Back to the Hotel" (1992)

Vallejo is most often associated with Mac Dre and E-40, but the city also birthed N2DEEP, the Latinx group that brought the sax-heavy rap song "Back to the Hotel" to No. 14 on the Billboard Hot 100. This song was everywhere in 1992, and has been due for a renaissance of appreciation.

Souls of Mischief - "93 ‘til Infinity" (1993)

Friends of Del the Funky Homosapien and fellow Hieroglyphics crew members, A-Plus, Opio, Phesto and Tajai are Souls of Mischief. "93 ‘til Infinity" remains their inspiring signature song, resonating sonically and lyrically across generations. The track has been sampled dozens of times by artists like J. Cole, Big K.R.I.T. and Tyga.

The Conscious Daughters - Ear to the Street (1993)

Released by Priority Records the Los Angeles label that introduced venerable acts such as Funkadelic, N.W.A. and EPMD to the world Ear to the Street gave a national platform to two smooth and streetwise rappers from Oakland who happened to be women: CMG (Carla Green) and the late Special One (Karryl Smith, who passed away in 2011). Their debut album, and especially its breakout single "Somethin’ to Ride to (Fonky Expedition)," are still requisite car listening in the Bay Area.

Spice 1 - 187 He Wrote (1993)

Though he collaborated with Shakur, Spice 1 is still one of the more underrated and under the radar of the old-school gangster rappers. This sophomore album features production by Too $hort and local legends Ant Banks and E-A-Ski, as well as guest spots by E-40 and Compton’s MC Eiht. 187 He Wrote topped the R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart and No. 10 on the Billboard 200 chart.

Luniz - "I Got 5 On It (Bay Ballas Vocal Remix)" (1995)

Almost 30 years since its release, this ode to smoking weed by Oakland rappers Yukmouth and Numskull still makes frequent appearances at Bay Area events and clubs. The Bay Ballas Vocal Remix, which features E-40, Richie Rich, Spice 1, Dru Down, Shock G, hogged all the attention back in the day and is still the version to play.

DJ Shadow - Endtroducing (1996)

The mysterious DJ and producer mixed at the nucleus of the SoleSides crew, which later became the Quannum Projects label and includes vital Bay Area artists like Blackalicious, Lyrics Born and Lateef The Truthspeaker. Shadow’s debut album Endtroducing is a masterpiece of instrumental hip-hop.

Hieroglyphics - 3rd Eye Vision (1998)

Oakland’s Hieroglyphics is made up of solo MCs and groups who have created some of Bay Area rap’s most vaunted songs. The first of three crew albums, the stellar arrangement and song selection on the 22-track 3rd Eye Vision, which refers to their three-eyed logo and spotlights each individual’s talents, keeps it in the conversation 25 years since its release.

Blackalicious - "Alphabet Aerobics" (1999)

A stunning feat of linguistic excellence by the late rapper Gift of Gab (who tragically passed away in 2021 after receiving a kidney implant the year before), "Alphabet Aerobics" pushes rhymes of increasing complexity from A to Z. It’s a textbook of how to MC in one track.

Mystic - Cuts for Luck and Scars for Freedom (2001)

Mandolyn Wind Ludlum is best known as Mystic, a singer, rapper and educator from Oakland whose debut album sounds as fresh as when it was released in 2001. Cuts for Luck was re-released 10 years later in large part to the lead single "The Life" and "W," a duet featuring Fresno rapper Planet Asia that was nominated for Best Rap/Sung Collaboration at the 2002 GRAMMYs.

Charizma & Peanut Butter Wolf - Big Shots (2003)

Murdered in 1993, South Bay rapper Charizma never got the chance to see where his talent would take him. Big Shots was not released until 2003, but his flows on songs like "Methods" and "Jack the Mack" are timeless. Peanut Butter Wolf —a San Jose native producer and close friend of Charizma — moved his record label Stones Throw to Los Angeles and keeps Charizma's legacy alive.

Mac Dre - Treal TV DVD and Soundtrack (2004)

Thanks to the continuation of his Thizz Entertainment record label after his 2004 murder, Mac Dre’s posthumous discography is extensive, but a DVD released when he was alive is perhaps the most coveted release in the collection. Treal TV has a cult following for its casual depiction of his everyday life, car collection and live footage of him performing songs such as "Thizzelle Dance," which also appears on Dre’s 2002 album Thizzelle Washington

There’s also a CD soundtrack version of Treal TV featuring various artists and associates; a second volume of Treal TV was released in 2006 and includes footage of Mac Dre on the road in Hawaii. 

Mistah F.A.B. - "Super Sic Wit It" (2005)

With his Dope Era clothing store and frequent community events, Oakland’s Mistah F.A.B. has been an entrepreneurial and philanthropic leader in the scene since he turned out hyphy club and radio hits like "Super Sic Wit It." The high energy song for car sideshows helped him score a major label contract.

E-40 - My Ghetto Report Card (2006)

E-40’s many albums have consistently good arrangement and a narrative arc of storytelling, and My Ghetto Report Card represents him at the crest of a second wind that floated him into greater international recognition. Produced by Lil Jon, the lead single "Tell Me When to Go" landed at No. 35 on the Billboard Hot 100 and remains one of the big hits of the hyphy era. 

Atlanta’s king of crunk produced seven additional songs on the album, including "White Gurl" featuring UGK and Juelz Santana and "U and Dat" featuring T-Pain and Kandi, while Bay Area standard-setter Rick Rock and E-40’s son Droop-E rounded out the production duties.

The Coup - Pick a Bigger Weapon (2006)

The Coup represented the revolutionary side of Oakland with razor-sharp intellect and furiously funky beats. Pick a Bigger Weapon was released by Epitaph Records, a label known more for rock than rap music, and includes collaborations with Jello Biafra of Dead Kennedys and Tom Morello from Rage Against The Machine. Frontman Boots Riley has made forays into film and streaming TV, most recently with the comedy series "I’m a Virgo." The Coup’s late DJ, Pam The Funkstress, was selected by Prince to open some of his final shows.

Zion I - "Tech $" (2017)

Oakland’s Zion I has long reflected on the changes and realities of the Bay Area in their music. Nowhere does this resonate the most as it does on "Tech $," which details displacement and gentrification as it was literally happening to the late MC Stephen Gaines, who was known as Zumbi and Baba Zumbi. The accompanying music video shows him moving his family out of their house and out of the area.

Stunnaman02 - "Big Steppin’" (2021)

Perhaps the biggest local rap song to come out of the pandemic, San Francisco rapper Jordan "Stunnaman02" Gomes even got the city’s mayor to do the song’s infectious associated dance, which KQED calls "a trend that rhythmically mimics the act of bench pressing."

Bay Area Hip-Hop Subgenres & Styles 

Bay Area rap can be educated, activist, party-starting and gangster — and sometimes all on the same track. There’s a distinct pride in the scope and the range of subject matter and sonic aesthetics in the region. Achieving uncategorizable moments is wonderful, but everyone seems to love big, trunk-rattling bass. 

There’s always been nuance within these major styles — for example, music that could blanketly be called gangster could also be subdivided into general topic styles such as pimping and drug dealing, and even small subgenres like mobb music — which was coined to describe a particular sinister and gritty sound characterized by even heavier basslines more than the lyrical content.

Turntablism: In the '90s Bay Area DJs with mobile party and technical battle circuit experience contributed significantly to the development of turntablism. With the help of the Return of the DJ compilation series from San Francisco’s Bomb Hip-Hop Records, turntablism became an international style of using and manipulating record players like musical instruments to record original works. With talents such as Shortkut, DJ Disk, DJ Apollo, DJ Flare, D-Styles, Qbert and Mix Master Mike, local crew Invisibl Skratch Piklz won world battle championships and inspired countless fans to become DJs. Mix Master Mike has toured extensively with Beastie Boys, Metallica and Cypress Hill.

Hyphy: The aughts ushered in the music, linguistic and car subculture called hyphy, bringing in quicker tempos ready for popping pills and "going dumb" on the dancefloor. Too $hort would criticize the abuse of MDMA in his 2006 hit "Blow the Whistle," but most of hyphy’s hits revel in ignorance — and Mac Dre certainly touted the benefits of ecstasy when he was alive. 

Almost 20 years since hyphy’s ascent and this is thought of as a sort of golden era of Bay Area hip-hop, a time when the world’s attention was facing west. Hyphy songs have been sampled in more contemporary contexts (as Saweetie used "Blow the Whistle" for 2020’s "Tap In"), and the subject is a common one used to evoke an uplifting nostalgia.

Based: Brandon "Lil B" McCartney formed the rap group the Pack while attending  Berkeley High School, and their 2006 cult hit "Vans" led to an album deal with Jive Records. After leaving the Pack, Lil B single-handedly propagated an unedited and free associative style he called based, dubbing himself the Based God. He was the first in the area to use social media sites and apps to become an early meme, which he supported with a large quantity of songs and videos.

Rising Bay Area Rap Artists

The next generation of artists leading the future of the Bay Area is tapping into the technological prowess of the region while furthering traditions of musical innovation and philanthropic goals. While Bay Area rap has long been male-dominated, the future may be more balanced.

Larry June: Ten albums deep, Larry June is not exactly new to this, but he’s the San Francisco artist who is currently breaking through to the world with his album Spaceships on the Blade. Northern California’s healthy, organic lifestyle is a popular topic for June, who eats well, owns a boba shop and is showing his fans the benefits of consistent, hard work.

P-Lo: After years producing for the Bay Area’s HBK Gang artists as well as national stars such as Wiz Khalifa and Yo Gotti, P-Lo’s status as a solo artist is on the rise with his 2022 album STUNNA. His 2022 collab with Larry June, "Doing Good," is a uplifting banger

Lil Kayla: Born and raised in San Francisco, 24-year-old Lil Kayla is signed to Atlantic and repping for the 415 on her freestyles, singles and 2022 album Young & Turnt. "I’m about to do it for my city," she said in a May interview with Lil Blood TV. "I’m gonna be the one to do it, 'cause everybody else, they get it and they leave and they don’t come back. I’m not going nowhere."

LARussell: Born LaRussell Thomas, Vallejo’s LARussell has harnessed social media to spread his sharp rhymes, as well as his social message. He donates money to allow his community to enjoy  restaurant meals they may not otherwise be able to afford. Freestyles for Sway and the Breakfast Club and his album I Hate When Life’s Going Great have solidified his name outside the region.

MacArthur Maze: Teamwork makes the dreamwork, and there’s hope that MacArthur Maze, the Oakland collective of MCs and producers led by Golden State Warriors DJ D Sharp, will help usher in a fresh era of working together for the creative good in the Bay Area, as evidenced on the new group album Blvck Saturday.

Su’Lan: This Richmond-based duo describe themselves as having "pretty girl swag with a hood twist" flip old crunk and hyphy hits into fresh new favorites on their debut album Forever Da Gang.

TotogangzMau: A female Samoan rapper from East Palo Alto, TotogangzMau is showing lyrical greatness and melodic hooks out the gate on autobiographical songs like "Grow Up."

Notable Northern California Neighbors

The Bay Area’s sky high rents and home prices have steadily driven residents to the Central Valley, which includes cities like Modesto, Stockton and California’s capital city of Sacramento, and effectively stretched the geographical and sociological boundaries of the region.

Sacramento produced a bounty of homegrown gangster rappers. The most notable are C-Bo, a 2Pac collaborator who was jailed in 1998 for his anti-police and governor lyrics; Marvaless, a woman who debuted with C-Bo and went on to release several solo albums and collaborations with Bay Area rappers Messy Marv, Husalah and The Jacka; and Mozzy, a contemporary star from the Empire Distribution crew. The region also claims Saweetie, the "Icy Girl" who has been endorsed by McDonald’s and is signed to Warner Records; she grew up in the East Bay city of Hayward before moving to Sacramento.

After a spate of violent incidents at major hip-hop concerts led Oakland to ban rap shows for a year in 1989, the Bay Area’s biggest cities developed a reputation for being averse to the genre. Sacramento, Stockton and Modesto have served as more consistent markets for a number of Bay Area rappers, especially those with more violent or drug-related content.

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

GRAMMY U Reps Experience GRAMMY Week Like Never Before Thanks To The Recording Academy & United Airlines
GRAMMY U Reps and staff walk the red carpet at the 2024 GRAMMYs

Photo: Andrew Sankovich

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GRAMMY U Reps Experience GRAMMY Week Like Never Before Thanks To The Recording Academy & United Airlines

United Airlines flew the GRAMMY U Representatives out to L.A. for an unforgettable 2024 GRAMMY Week. The trip provided significant professional development in music, and the Reps savored every moment. Take a look at the GRAMMY U Reps’ inspirational week.

GRAMMYs/Feb 22, 2024 - 10:38 pm

Thanks to United Airlines' partnership with the Recording Academy, the students traveled from all over the country to Los Angeles and met in person for the first time. In past years, GRAMMY U Reps have only been able to attend a few select events in addition to the GRAMMY Awards on Sunday. But because of United Airlines, these National and Chapter Reps were able to experience the music industry’s most exhilarating week.

Come with the GRAMMY U Reps as they experience Music’s Biggest Night, behind-the-scenes tours, and events highlighting various initiatives within the music industry during GRAMMY Week 2024. Learn how to apply to GRAMMY U here.

Tuesday: Travel Day

The GRAMMY U group chat was exploding with excited messages as we arrived at the airport early Tuesday morning. Each Rep was about to meet their co-workers — many of whom had only connected virtually — and gain the experience of a lifetime. 

United flew all 14 Reps to Los Angeles with exceptional timing, service, and care — even though we were traveling to work at GRAMMY Week, it felt like we were getting celebrity treatment. Once we touched down in L.A., we ran to the United baggage claim to hug our friends and capture the experience to share with fellow GRAMMY U members.

Philly Rep Tamara Tondreau and Nashville Rep Della Anderson┃GRAMMY U

Philly Rep Tamara Tondreau and Nashville Rep Della Anderson┃GRAMMY U

After grabbing lunch near our hotel in downtown L.A., we made it to the Recording Academy Los Angeles Chapter Office in Santa Monica for our first in-person team meeting. Sporting new custom GRAMMY U jackets, T-shirts, and hats, we prepared for our signature GRAMMY Week event, a Masterclass with actress/GRAMMY-nominated R&B artist Halle Bailey

Reps were briefed on plans for the week, then took an office tour where we spotted multiple golden gramophones. Since we work remotely year-round, this was our first time getting to see where all the magic happens.

Wednesday: Behind-The-Scenes & Behind The Music

On Wednesday, we were up bright and early to explore the Crypto.com Arena and learn about the behind-the-scenes preparation it takes to host the GRAMMY Awards each year. 

Jody Kolozsvari, Associate Producer of the GRAMMYs and a GRAMMY U alum, guided us around the arena. He also introduced us to the incredible audio, mixing, communications, and production teams as well as Recording Academy CEO Harvey Mason Jr

"Walking intoCrypto.com Arena and seeing the GRAMMY stage being built was a very surreal moment," said Sara Hudson, GRAMMY U's New York Chapter Rep. "Meeting so many of the people behind the show and witnessing the hard work that is put into producing the GRAMMY Awards made my passion for working in live music grow even more."

Later that night, Philadelphia Chapter Rep Tamara Tondreau and Los Angeles Chapter Rep Jade Bacon worked as GRAMMY U press at the A Celebration of Craft event, a collaboration between the Recording Academy Producers and Engineers Wing and Songwriters and Composers Wing. This was the very first time GRAMMY U Reps were invited to this exclusive event; Tamara, a songwriter herself, called this event "unforgettable."

"Since songwriting sparked my interest in the music industry, it was inspiring to be in the room with so many talented creatives," Tamara says. "Networking with professionals who hold multiple roles in the industry encouraged me and reaffirmed my goal of maintaining both business and creative aspects in my career."

Thursday: Fostering Community & Culture

Hosted at GRAMMY House, Thursday morning started with a beautiful luncheon at the inaugural A Celebration of Women in the Mix. This event made space for women in the music industry to gather and support one another, recognizing all of the strides made in a male-dominated field. 

Twelve of the 14 Reps identify as women, and this was a special moment to meet some of the industry leaders that we look up to as role models. Networking with female artists, managers, and producers who are laying the groundwork for our generation was a powerful moment we will never forget.

After delivering the keynote speech, Ty Stiklorius, the founder of management company Friends at Work, spoke with some of the GRAMMY U Reps.

"Having a conversation with such an established female in the music industry was incredibly inspiring," says Memphis Rep. Shannon Conte. "After this moment of mentorship and encouragement, I left the event feeling much more confident in my ability to one day succeed in becoming an artist manager."

Dressing up in our finest suits and gowns, we hit the town to attend the exclusive Black Music Collective’s 2024 Recording Academy Honors event, where legends Mariah Carey and Lenny Kravitz accepted Global Impact Awards. Sitting in the same room as these superstars was awe-inspiring, and it was an honor to see how the Black community was celebrated during GRAMMY Week.

GRAMMY U Reps Shaneel Young, Jade Bacon, and Chloe Sarmiento hosted interviews for our social media, highlighting the fashion of dozens of high-profile attendees including Adam Blackstone, Jordin Sparks, Flavor Flav, and Erica Campbell as they walked the signature black carpet. The excitement of the press line on the black carpet provided Reps with first-hand experience of what a career in press and publicity could look like. 

GRAMMY U DC Rep Shaneel Young aspires to work in music marketing. "Interviewing some of the most influential people in the industry about my passions: music, fashion, and culture, will be a moment I remember for the rest of my career," she reflects.

Reps at Black Music Collective’s Recording Academy Honors┃GRAMMY U

Reps at Black Music Collective’s Recording Academy Honors┃GRAMMY U

These two spectacular events immersed us in the initiatives the Recording Academy has implemented to celebrate diversity and representation in music, and we are so honored to be a part of the company’s continued mission.

Friday: Work Hard, Play Hard

After months spent planning our signature GRAMMY Week event, the GRAMMY U Masterclass with Halle Bailey, presented by Mastercard, we finally saw the fruits of our labor come to life. This year, we welcomed over 500 attendees in person, with members from every Chapter flying in to experience the event together at GRAMMY House.

GRAMMY U PNW Rep Chloe Sarmiento worked as talent lead and interacted directly with Halle Bailey and her team. "It was incredibly fulfilling to see the event come together on-site in Los Angeles after weeks of working on it from home," Chloe says. "Halle and her team were so great to work with, and I couldn’t have asked for a better speaker for the Masterclass!"

Working with experienced Recording Academy staff onsite further enlightened us about all things event production. From talent handling and partnerships to working radios and managing the stage, we were excited to execute a large-scale event with all of the Reps at GRAMMY House.

After a successful Masterclass, the Reps split up for the evening to conquer even more GRAMMY Week events. Half the group went to the #GRAMMYsNextGen party to spread the word about membership, host a photobooth, and interact with influencers and emerging performers. We met hip-hop duo Flyana Boss, and some of our other celebrity sightings included Laura Marano and Milo Manheim. It was inspiring to see other young professionals who have established themselves in the entertainment industry so early in their careers.

Mastercard surprised us with an entire seated table at the exclusive MusiCares Person Of The Year Gala honoring Jon Bon Jovi. It was an outstanding evening honoring the rock icon and the many ways he has given back to the music community. Following a live auction, Brandy Clark, Lainey Wilson, Jelly Roll, Shania Twain, and others performed some of Bon Jovi’s biggest hits — Bon Jovi even graced the stage with Bruce Springsteen for a special rendition of "Who Says You Can’t Go Home." 

The Reps were incredibly grateful to United and Mastercard for granting us the opportunity to witness these exclusive live performances. To see the music community come together to honor a legend while giving back and furthering the mission of MusiCares is a heartwarming aspect of the music industry we don’t get to witness every day.

Reps with Sabrina Carpenter at the Person of the Year Gala┃GRAMMY U

Reps with Sabrina Carpenter at the Person of the Year Gala┃GRAMMY U

GRAMMY U Chicago Rep Rachel Owen was one of the lucky attendees able to watch the thrilling performances while mingling in the crowd with other musicians like Sabrina Carpenter and David Archuleta.

"To even be in the same room as Shania Twain is an honor, she’s timeless and more exquisite than I could've even imagined," Owen says. "To see her perform live to Jon Bon Jovi is the type of moment you just never take for granted."

Saturday: Divide & Conquer

Saturday was jam-packed with events. Back again at GRAMMY House, a group of Reps attended the Best New Artist Spotlight, where nominees discussed their breakthrough years and what it means to be considered a "new artist." From upstarts Ice Spice and Gracie Abrams to the long musical journey of Victoria Monét, The War and Treaty, and Jelly Roll, these diverse perspectives all stressed that each person has a unique career timeline and reminded us as students to practice perseverance and patience as we navigate this industry. 

Various Reps continued at GRAMMY House, some working as press at the #GRAMMYsNextGen Ambassador Power Brunch and the first-ever Academy Proud event, celebrating LGBTQIA+ voices.

A handful of us worked as GRAMMY U press at the Special Merit Awards ceremony and subsequent celebration. Being a part of these exclusive events and witnessing historic moments like the presentation of Lifetime Achievement Awards was truly impactful. We interviewed nominees at the celebration, including boygenius engineer Owen Lantz (the supergroup would win their first three GRAMMYs the very next day.)

Hundreds of nominees attended the Special Merit Awards and Celebration, proudly displaying their blue medallions and glowing as they took their official GRAMMY nominee photos; the hopeful and energetic spirit of the event fueled our drive to succeed in this industry even more.

Sunday: And The GRAMMY Goes To…

Sunday morning was the day everyone had all been waiting for: the 66th GRAMMY Awards! After getting our glam on, the GRAMMY U Reps got to walk the red carpet for the first time ever. We took tons of photos and videos to commemorate this special moment and share our experience with friends and family.

While most of the Reps were posing on the carpet, Pierson, Jasmine, Rachel, and Chloe had the honor of being trophy presenters during the GRAMMY Premiere Ceremony. This was the first time GRAMMY U Reps from across the country were given the honor of being up close and personal during artists' career-defining moments.

Reps on the GRAMMYs Red Carpet┃Andrew Sankovich

Reps on the GRAMMYs Red Carpet┃Andrew Sankovich 

Moving into Crypto.com Arena to be seated for the telecast portion of the evening, the GRAMMY U Reps were ecstatic to watch the ceremony in person. As legends like Joni Mitchell, Billy Joel, Tracy Chapman, and Stevie Wonder blazed on stage, all the Reps were singing and dancing along, thrilled to be a part of Music’s Biggest Night. Phenomenal performances from nominees SZA, Billie Eilish, Olivia Rodrigo, Dua Lipa, Miley Cyrus, and Luke Combs were equally captivating. 

Witnessing the live telecast after experiencing so much behind-the-scenes production exemplified how rewarding the music industry can be, and how prestigious winning a GRAMMY truly is. The quiet suspense before a winner was announced and the roars that followed created a rollercoaster of emotions that took our breath away.

Immediately afterward, we were off to enjoy the official GRAMMYs After-Party  — and not even the constant showers could not rain on our parade. The Reps hit the dancefloor as soon as NE-YO took the stage, and hearing "Time of Our Lives" felt especially relatable. 

As we headed back home on our United flights, we reflected on an exhilarating GRAMMY Week. Not only were we able to be part of exclusive events, but we also interacted with artists, learned from experts, and grew exponentially. Experiencing these moments with the other Reps brought our team closer, while meeting members and peers showed the expansive community GRAMMY U is cultivating. 

Because of United, we witnessed all the Recording Academy does for the music industry. After GRAMMY Week, we feel more inspired and empowered than ever to lead the next generation of the music industry.

With additional reporting from Pierson Livingston.

2024 GRAMMYs: See The Full Winners & Nominees List

10 Ways TLC Shaped The Future Of R&B
TLC in 1999.

Photo: Ron Davis/Getty Images

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10 Ways TLC Shaped The Future Of R&B

As the trailblazing trio's blockbuster albums 'CrazySexyCool' and 'FanMail' celebrate milestone anniversaries, dig into how TLC's fearlessness changed R&B — and music as a whole.

GRAMMYs/Feb 22, 2024 - 03:12 pm

From the moment TLC burst onto the scene in 1991, they've tested the limits of what R&B is and can be. Formed as a tomboyish alternative to Bell Biv DeVoe, the Atlanta trio soon ended up eclipsing the New Jack Swing pioneers — and pretty much every other R&B act of the 1990s — with a sound and style that perfectly straddled the gritty and the smooth, the playful and the poetic, and the old and the new.  

Furthermore, each member of TLC brought something distinctive to the table. Tionne 'T-Boz' Watkins had the kind of huskiness that could make the phone book appear seductive; Rozonda 'Chilli' Thomas offered a poppier register tailor-made for radio; and the late Lisa 'Left Eye' Lopes possessed a lyrical flow that flitted between the mischievous and socially conscious. They simply sounded like no other girl group who had come before. 

Of course, the four-time GRAMMY winners subsequently spawned their fair share of emulators — most notably Left Eye protégés Blaque — and inspired a younger generation to channel their winning brand of crazy, sexy, and cool: BLACKPINK, Little Mix, and Fifth Harmony are just a few of the more contemporary girl groups who have publicly acknowledged their influence.

In the same year TLC celebrate both the 30th anniversary of their diamond-selling blockbuster, CrazySexyCool, and the 25th anniversary of its chart-topping follow-up FanMail, here's a welcome reminder of why the three-piece were such a game-changer.

They Empowered Their Audience

Like their arguably most obvious predecessors Salt-N-Pepa, TLC weren't afraid to talk about sex. "Red Light Special" and "Let's Take Our Time," in particular, were steamy enough to leave your speakers dripping; the X-rated "I'm Good at Being Bad" almost makes Megan Thee Stallion and Cardi B's "WAP" sound chaste. This was an admirably bold move in an era where male R&B performers were celebrated for being insatiable horndogs, and women were castigated for showing the merest sign of lust.

It wasn't just in the bedroom where TLC rallied against such double standards, though. Inspired by a blatant display of toxic masculinity on an episode of"Ricki Lake," "Unpretty" fought back against the ridiculous expectations imposed on women, ultimately setting a benchmark for every female self-empowerment anthem that followed.

They Delivered A Bold Message

The trio also opened up conversations on sex outside the pleasure principle. The video for debut single "Ain't 2 Proud 2 Beg" saw all three members attach condoms to their bright, baggy outfits, with Left Eye famously sporting one on the body part that inspired her nickname to further promote the issue of safe sex. 

Their second No. 1, "Waterfalls," highlighted the need for such protection with a subtle reference to HIV ("Three letters took him to his final resting place," T-Boz warns in the second verse). And the remix of their first chart-topper, "Creep," saw Left Eye spell out more explicitly the dangers of messing around on the downlow. For those who grew up in the early '90s, TLC were arguably more effective than any sexual health initiative.  

They Gave R&B The Blockbuster Treatment

Ah, the '90s, a time when music executives thought nothing of giving artists music video budgets akin to a small country's GDP. Luckily for Arista Records, TLC always delivered plenty of bang for their million-plus bucks.

Interspersing gritty depictions of both the drug and AIDS epidemics with groundbreaking performance footage of the trio in liquified form, "Waterfalls" picked up four wins at the annual VMAs, including Video of the Year. The GRAMMY-nominated visual for "Unpretty" tackled the issue of body image, racism, and gang violence in another highly dramatic mini masterpiece, while "No Scrubs" saw Hype Williams work his usual cyber-futuristic magic on the world's coolest space station. As a result, TLC became the defining R&B act of MTV's second generation.

They Merged The Worlds Of R&B And Hip-Hop 

While Mary J. Blige is often dubbed the Queen of Hip-Hop Soul, it could be argued that the title should be shared amongst TLC. The trio were plausibly the first major outfit to blend the beats and rhymes of rap music with the melodic sensibilities of R&B without any outside assistance. They scored almost as many No. 1s on Billboard's R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart as they did on the Hot 100 as proof.

Left Eye, a firecracker of an MC whose lyrical flow was every bit as flamboyant as her fashion sense, was undoubtedly the group's secret weapon, allowing them to bounce between slow jams and party anthems with ease. An inspired choice of producers — ranging from established hitmaker Babyface to fellow Atlantans Organized Noize — also helped them to reflect both the sounds of commercial radio and the sounds of the streets.

They're The Queens Of Survival 

While there have been plenty of resilient pop stars, TLC repeatedly proved that they were experts in bouncing back. After all, the trio were forced to deal with near-insurmountable hardships in between nearly every album campaign. Following 1991's Ooooooohhh... On the TLC Tip, T-Boz became severely ill with sickle cell anemia, a condition she'd previously kept under wraps. On the other hand, Left Eye gave the tabloids a field day thanks to a turbulent relationship with Andre Rison, which involved numerous physical altercations and, most famously, the rapper burning the NFL star's house down.

Despite selling 23 million copies of 1994's CrazySexyCool, the group found themselves filing for bankruptcy after discovering they'd been the victim of an exploitative record contract. And then most tragically of all, 2002's 3D had to be completed as a duo when Left Eye lost her life in a car crash. After years of studio inactivity, T-Boz and Chilli once again proved their indomitable spirit with 2017's eponymous LP, particularly on opener "No Introduction" and the Boney M-sampling "It's Sunny" ("Don't be trippin' all over your fears/'Cause the good comes after bad/First you cry and then you laugh/As we head into another year").

They Pushed R&B Into The 21st Century 

After incorporating everything from classic Philly soul to '80s Prince on the retro-leaning CrazySexyCool, TLC decided to push things forward on follow-up FanMail, a thrillingly futuristic record which essentially reshaped the R&B scene for the 21st century. Skillfully interweaving all kinds of Y2K sounds (most notably, the dial-up modem), the opening title track and "Silly Ho" perfectly reflect the album's cyber artwork. Way ahead of their time, meanwhile, several spoken word interludes are attributed to a talking android named Vic-E.

If all this sounds a little gimmicky, then FanMail also had substance to its technological style, with the disconnect between the online and real worlds a recurring theme. "No Scrubs," meanwhile, essentially set a new feminist agenda, spearheading a wave of useless man-dragging anthems from the likes of Destiny's Child ("Bills, Bills, Bills"),Pink ("There You Go"), andToni Braxton ("He Wasn't Man Enough").

They Were Great At Harnessing New Talent 

One thing TLC don't get enough credit for is how they recognized and utilized talent that had only just started their path to world dominance. Take André 3000, for example. Having just released their fabulously titled debut Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik, Outkast were still largely unknowns when the flautist unleashed his laid-back drawl on CrazySexyCool closer "Sumthin' Wicked This Way Comes." Within a year, the duo were runners-up on the Billboard 200.

TLC were also the first major label outfit to draw upon the production skills of Jermaine Dupri ("Bad By Myself"), the So So Def founder responsible for 10 Hot 100 chart-toppers, and Kevin 'She'kspere' Briggs ("No Scrubs"), the hitmaker whose partnership with former Xscape vocalist Kandi Burruss set the blueprint for turn-of-the-century R&B.

They Broke Down Barriers 

There are plenty of stats to back up TLC's game-changing status, too. In 1995, they achieved a feat that had remarkably eluded Michael Jackson, Janet Jackson, and Prince: the first act of color ever to win Video of the Year at the MTV VMAs.

In 2000, they became the first female act to win GRAMMYs for Best R&B Song, Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals, and Best R&B Album in the same year. And having shifted an astonishing 65 million records worldwide, they're second only to the legendarySupremes when it comes to America's best-selling girl group. If that wasn't enough, CrazySexyCool's 10 million domestic album sales means they joinDixie Chicks as one of only two all-women outfits to receive an RIAA Diamond award.

They Were Able To Evolve Their Style 

TLC could never be accused of playing it safe. After gatecrashing the New Jack Swing scene with their playful 1991 debut, the trio transformed into soulful seductresses on the timeless CrazySexyCool before capturing the sound of the millennium on the innovative FanMail.

And while their 21st century releases haven't been quite as game-changing, 2002's 3D and their 2017 self-titled LP still highlighted TLC's ability to move with the times (see the Pharrell and Timbaland productions on 3D and social media clapback "Haters" on TLC).

They've been equally adaptable when it comes to their sense of style, from the Day-Glo overalls of their early years, to the slinky pajamas and sleek crop tops of their mid-'90s phase, to the striking space-age fashions of Y2K. And their sartorial vision has continued to make waves, with Vogue magazine declaring in 2017 that labels including Gypsy Sport, Valentino, and Balenciaga had all borrowed from the group's 'glam-leisure' look in recent years.

They've Continued To Pervade Pop Culture 

Although their recording output has been relatively slim over the last 20 years, TLC have still remained a part of the pop culture landscape. One of the 21st century's most streamed hits, Ed Sheeran's "Shape of You," was deemed so similar to "No Scrubs" that the Brit was forced to acknowledge its influence in the songwriting credits.

Drake, Zendaya, and Kaytranada are just a few of the contemporary names who've either sampled or covered the trio, while rapper J. Cole managed to persuade T-Boz and Chilli themselves to join him in the studio on 2013's "Crooked Smile." A 2023 Lifetime documentary special and appearances on various nostalgia tours have further kept the TLC name in the spotlight.

And could we soon be seeing their eventful story played out on Broadway? At the 2023 '90s Con, the duo revealed they'd been working on a new stage musical with the team behind award-winning phenomenon Hamilton.

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