Photo: Russell Webster
Remembering Chucky Thompson In 10 Songs: From Bad Boy Hits To Go-Go Jams
With a penchant for marrying rugged, percussive beats with classic soul samples, Chucky Thompson's ear and passion came to define '90s R&B and hip-hop—hear 10 of his iconic tracks here
Carl E. "Chucky" Thompson originally wanted to manage artists, but his passion for rugged beats, soul samples, and maintaining loyalty to his collaborators led to his ear changing the face of '90s R&B and hip-hop. A self-taught musician, the Washington, D.C. native cut his teeth playing percussion for go-go music legend Chuck Brown's band, The Soul Searchers, before joining Sean "Diddy" Combs' in-house production team at Bad Boy Entertainment, The Hitmen, following the success of Mary J. Blige's My Life album in 1994.
"Certain things are just life and God," Thompson said during a recent GRAMMY.com interview, "that situation came from me being in the right place at the right time."
News of his untimely passing shook up the music industry, but the GRAMMY nominee left us timeless music as an architect of hip-hop soul. Here are 10 hits and album cuts that the beloved Chucky Thompson produced for several immensely talented artists--spanning genres--that meant the world to him.
"Be With You," Mary J. Blige
Mary J. Blige had been crowned the Queen of Hip-Hop Soul following the triple platinum success of her 1992 debut LP, What's the 411? but was in search of material for her 1994 sophomore effort, My Life.
Frustrated by the demos not immediately grabbing her attention, along with her collaborators from the first album raising their prices, Thompson took some siren-sounding keys reminiscent of West Coast G-funk for the intro and slowed down the tempo with some hollow go-go music drumming to make the hairs on Blige's neck stand up. It set the tone for Blige to make her classic, most personal album to-date and for Thompson to take on a lion's share of My Life's production.
"Big Poppa," The Notorious B.I.G.
The Notorious B.I.G. unabashedly made a quintessential playa's anthem for the ages courtesy of Thompson's ear and console control in the winter of 1994. "Big Poppa," with its recognizable Isley Brothers "Between the Sheets" sample coupled with a looped bar that Biggie let out on Super Cat's "Dolly My Baby" remix, convinced listeners and pop radio that the rotund, Brooklyn-born emcee could charm the panties off the ladies and turn that charisma into platinum plaques.
"Think of You," Usher
Usher might be making a splash on the Vegas strip right now, but in 1994, he was just a teenage newcomer still trying to find his musical identity. Thompson was brought into the fold by Diddy to help give the future megastar some edge, so he flipped "Tidal Wave" by Ronnie Laws, a sample he recognized on Black Moon's classic banger "Who Got Da Props," to rub some of that new jack flavor off onto Usher.
That "Think of You" session is also when Thompson first met its songwriters, Faith Evans and Donell Jones: leading to him executive producing Faith's debut LP the following year. Featuring choreography by TLC member T-Boz and an appearance by singer/actress Taral Hicks in the music video, "Think of You" stalled at #58 on the Billboard Hot 100 but remains a favorite for Usher fans.
"CrazySexyCool - Interlude" & "Can I Get a Witness - Interlude," TLC
There wasn't a more successful (or doper) female group than Atlanta trio TLC in 1994. Their sophomore album, CrazySexyCool, was a chart-topping smash that spawned hits like "Creep," "Waterfalls" and "Red Light Special," but Thompson knew the power of making music short but sweet, too.
Playing guitar, keys and drums, Thompson split the playalicious funk groove into two snippets: one featuring T-Boz vamping, the other with Busta Rhymes breaking down the album title and lamenting on the essential qualities of fly chicks while Left Eye ad-libs under his scruffy vocals.
"Can't You See," Total ft. The Notorious B.I.G.
A few scales pulsate before it lays into its groove, thanks to the driving drums and bass riff on James Brown's well-sampled "The Payback." Bad Boy Entertainment's breakout female trio Total was joined by The Notorious B.I.G.'s suave, hot 16 bars to make their debut single first included on 1995's New Jersey Drive soundtrack before it landed onto the trio's debut self-titled project.
Thompson joined his fellow Hitmen producers Diddy, Herb Middleton and Rashad "Tumblin' Dice" Smith to give Total a sonic shoulder to cry on for a lover they can't seem to shake; arguably becoming one of Bad Boy's signature singles.
"You Don't Have to Worry," New Edition
New Edition reunited in full (all six members) for 1996's Home Again. Thompson, along with Hitmen cohorts Stevie J. and Diddy, dug in the crates, found James Brown's "Your Love," and gave the elder R&B boy band some street heat: so much that Michael Bivins and Ronnie DeVoe turn their charm into spittin' a few bars. The album version totally satisfies the palette until the song's Trackmasters remix ups the ante, featuring a pre-superstar Missy "Misdemeanor" Elliot.
"Soon As I Get Home," Faith Evans
Thompson really wasn't up to doing this song because he was heading to catch a flight back to D.C. A loyal person who always put the music first, he was convinced by Diddy per a plea from Faith to dust off a piano melody he wrote when he was just 16 years old. He expertly nestled it under the GRAMMY-winning singer/songwriter's breathy, seductive vocals that she had recorded on her answering machine. Backed by some snapping snares, Faith's plea to an isolated significant other became the second single from her platinum 1995 self-titled debut project and one of her most recognizable ballads.
"One Mic," Nas
Nas is largely considered to be one of the greatest emcees in hip-hop, but in 2001, Thompson knew Escobar needed an anthem for an encore at his performances. The height of the JAY-Z/Nas beef was brewing between "Takeover" and "Ether," but the producer knew to take Phil Collins' "In the Air Tonight" to give Nas the space to show just how iconic he is. DMX was set to appear as a feature, but Nas wanted that moment all to himself.
"Woman," Raheem DeVaughn
Thompson loved and respected plus-size Black women, so for Raheem DeVaughn's 2008 LP Love Behind the Melody, he convinced his fellow D.C. native to make a song that strictly celebrates the curvy sistas. Inspired by keyboards that he heard on JAY-Z and Chrisette Michele's duet produced by Dr. Dre, "Lost Ones," Thompson helped DeVaughn walk his way towards a GRAMMY nomination for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance for "Woman."
"Hit the Floor," Rare Essence ft. Snoop Dogg
In 2020, Snoop Dogg wanted to show love to the go-go scene. The rapper/entertainer teamed up with go-go music legends Rare Essence, Thompson's favorite band, to make a joint that could uplift those sheltering-in-place. The rhythms meshed together the West Coast synths over the D.C. metro's signature tattering percussion to celebrate the insular grooves popularized by bands like E.U., Trouble Funk, Junkyard Band, and Chuck Brown and the Soul Searchers.
Image courtesy of the GRAMMY Museum
GRAMMY Museum To Celebrate 50 Years Of Hip-Hop With 'Hip-Hop America: The Mixtape Exhibit' Opening Oct. 7
The new exhibit honors the 50th anniversary of hip-hop through an expansive and interactive exploration that features artifacts from legendary artists including the Notorious B.I.G., Tupac Shakur, LL Cool J, and more.
The GRAMMY Museum is celebrating the 50th anniversary of hip-hop this fall with the newly announced Hip-Hop America: The Mixtape Exhibit, an immersive, interactive, 5,000-square foot experience celebrating the multifaceted world of hip-hop and the global impact and influence of the genre and culture. Launching Saturday, Oct. 7, and running through Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2024, the exhibit will feature expansive exhibits exploring hip-hop music, dance, graffiti, fashion, business, activism, and history as well as artifacts from hip-hop pioneers like Tupac Shakur, the Notorious B.I.G., LL Cool J, and many more.
Additionally, the exhibit features a one-of-a-kind Sonic Playground, featuring five interactive stations that invite visitors of all ages to partake in DJing, rapping and sampling, all essential elements comprising hip-hop culture. Additional virtual and in-person education and community engagement programs will be announced at a later date.
Exploring the countless ways hip-hop music and culture has dominated popular culture over the last 50 years, Hip-Hop America: The Mixtape Exhibit was curated by a team of four co-curators who bring a deep knowledge of hip-hop, academic rigor and creativity to the project. They include:
Felicia Angeja Viator, associate professor of history, San Francisco State University, author of ‘To Live And Defy In LA: How Gangsta Rap Changed America,’ and one of the first women DJs in the Bay Area hip-hop scene
Adam Bradley, Professor of English and founding director of the Laboratory for Race and Popular Culture (the RAP Lab) at UCLA, and co-editor of ‘The Anthology of Rap’
Jason King, Dean, USC Thornton School of Music and former chair of the Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music at NYU
Dan Charnas, Associate Arts Professor, NYU Clive Davis Institute of Music, and author of ‘Dilla Time: The Life And Afterlife Of The Hip-Hop Producer Who Reinvented Rhythm’
The co-curators worked in conjunction with GRAMMY Museum Chief Curator and Vice President of Curatorial Affairs Jasen Emmons as well as a 20-member Advisory Board.
Hip-Hop America: The Mixtape Exhibit is an educational journey through several key themes:
Innovation: Explore how hip-hop artists have innovatively used technology, from transforming turntables into musical instruments to pioneering sampling techniques.
Sounds of Hip-Hop: Experience the diverse sounds of hip-hop in four themed studios, showcasing the evolution of production, the intersection of hip-hop and car culture, the craft of hip-hop lyrics, and the influence of R&B.
Fashion: Dive into the world of hip-hop fashion, featuring iconic clothing, jewelry and style.
Regionalism: Discover 14 hip-hop scenes across the United States, showcasing the importance of local and regional contributions.
Entrepreneurialism: Learn about the transformation of hip-hop from a back-to-school party in the Bronx to a multi-billion-dollar global industry.
Media: Discover the role of media in shaping hip-hop's development, from radio stations to pioneering shows like "Yo! MTV Raps."
Community: Explore how hip-hop has brought people together over the last 50 years, with an interactive ‘Hip-Hop America’ playlist featuring 200 songs that trace the genre's evolution.
Highlights from Hip-Hop America: The Mixtape Exhibit include:
The Notorious B.I.G.'s iconic 5001 Flavors custom red leather peacoat he wore in Junior M.A.F.I.A.'s music video "Players Anthem"
Kurtis Blow's original handwritten lyrics for his 1980 hit single, "The Breaks," the first gold-certified rap song
Tupac Shakur's handwritten essay "Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death," circa 1992
Two outfits designed by Dapper Dan, Harlem fashion icon: 1) a half-length black leather jacket worn by Melle Mel (Melvin Glover, b. 1961) in performance at the 1985 GRAMMY Awards; and a black-and-yellow leather bucket hat and jacket worn by New York hip-hop artist Busy Bee (David James Parker)
Egyptian Lover's gold Roland 808, the beat-making tool
LL Cool J's red Kangol bucket hat
Hip-Hop America: The Mixtape Exhibit is a key event taking place as the world is celebrating 50 years of hip-hop this year. The origins of hip-hop can be traced back to Aug. 11, 1973, when DJ Kool Herc DJed a birthday party inside the recreation room of an apartment building located on 1520 Sedgwick Avenue in the South Bronx, New York City. This history-making date marks the birth of hip-hop and is the reason why we're celebrating hip-hop's 50th anniversary this year. The 50th anniversary of hip-hop means artists, fans, and the music industry at-large are celebrating the momentous milestone via hip-hop concerts, exhibits, tours, documentaries, podcasts, and more around the globe across 2023.
Visit the GRAMMY Museum website for more information regarding advanced ticket reservations for Hip-Hop America: The Mixtape Exhibit.
Photo: Kevin Winter/Getty Images
5 Takeaways From Quavo's New Album 'Rocket Power'
Five years after his first solo release, Quavo's 'Rocket Power' explores loss, faith, and memories of the artist's late nephew Takeoff — a poignant tribute that marks a new creative plane for the Georgia-born artist.
Tragedy struck the hip-hop world in November 2022 when Migos star Takeoff was killed during an early morning shootout in Houston. Among the hardest hit by the loss was one-third of the famed trio and his uncle Quavo, who witnessed the shooting and sat by Takeoff's side as he passed outside a nearby bowling alley.
Since Takeoff's death, Quavo has largely stepped away from public view. He first resurfaced with an emotional tribute to his late nephew, "Without You," in January, sporadically releasing four more singles in subsequent months. But on Aug. 18, Quavo delivered his biggest tribute yet: the aptly titled album, Rocket Power, which explores the emotional scars that have formed nearly a year after Takeoff's passing.
Arriving nearly five years after his debut solo album, 2018's Quavo Huncho, Rocket Power is a welcomed sign of Quavo's artistic maturation. The 32-year-old rapper melds his effortless melodicism and hit-making powers to create a cohesive body of work filled with soul-stirring jams and ear-catching trap bangers.
To welcome Huncho's newest solo effort, we compiled five early takeaways from the 18-track project Rocket Power.
The Album Honors Takeoff's Life From Childhood To The GRAMMY Stage
From the intro "Fueled Up" to the album's closing track, Rocket Power points to the life and legacy of Takeoff, who's featured on songs "Patty Cake" and "Back Where It Begins." On songs like "Hold Me," Quavo details the misery and emotional pain he and others have faced in the months following Takeoff's unexpected death: "I just need you to hold me/ Listen and feel my heart closely." Quavo also points to other instrumental figures in his life, asking them to come to his aid in moments of darkness.
On the title track, "Rocket Power," Quavo acknowledges the gut-wrenching thoughts and vulnerability he's experienced in this time of grief, and the toll it's placed on both him and his family. "Thinking about my nephew while I'm rolling some trees/ Mama said she's crying, and she's crying in her sleep."
While references to Takeoff's passing are sprinkled throughout the project, "Patty Cake" gifts Migos fans a welcomed look back at the two artist's influence and chemistry. And for many, hearing Taekoff's voice on the interlude "Narkedo Speaks" (which is pulled from a Drink Champs interview) reflects the kind of figure he was in rap: "I ain't even have a plan B, I made myself not have a plan B on purpose/Just so I can fulfill my plan A."
Limited Features Magnify Takeoff Tribute
Rocket Power only includes five features, a vast difference from Quavo's debut album, which boasted features on over half of its 19 tracks.
Among the artists featured on the project — which includes Future, Young Thug, Hunxho and BabyDrill — the most significant moments come from the artist the album honors. With Takeoff's presence on "Patty Cake" and "Back Where It Begins," the songs flash to his often understated talents and role as the Migos' lyrical foreman. It also points to how instrumental he was in Quavo's life, as the rapper touches on their past memories growing up in Lawrenceville, Georgia.
With fewer features, Quavo's vision for Rocket Power pierces through more vividly, and the project's more intimate and conceptualized moments reach their apex. While stars like Young Thug and Future elevate tracks like "Focused" and "Back Where It Begins," songs like "11.11" and "Not Done Yet" would lose much of its emotional fuel with another artist's presence.
Rumors Aside, Offset And Quavo's Relationship Appears To Be On The Upswing
It's hard to ignore Offset's absence on Rocket Power. He's not featured nor mentioned throughout much of the album, but "11.11" provided fans with some clarity on the status of their relationship.
Following the 2022 release of Quavo and Takeoff's collaborative album, Only Built For Infinity Links (which was released just weeks before Takeoff's passing), rumors about a falling out between Quavo and Offset emerged. The two first alleviated reports of their feud — including that they fought backstage at the 2023 GRAMMYs — by reuniting for a performance at the 2023 BET Awards in June.
And nearly two months after their reunion, Quavo further suggests he and Offset are in a better place on "11.11": "5:30 Huncho and Set get up early, and go out and go get that bag together (Set)/ Who the f— gonna put us together, can't nobody put this s— back together/ So stay the f— out of the middle, lil fella/ We always goin' be that/ We fam forever (Migos)."
Quavo Leans Further Into His Faith
Throughout the album, Quavo points to his faith as a source of emotional strength and how it's tethered his family together in the wake of recent tragedy. On "Not Done Yet," the artist raps, "Giving it all I got, don't know what God got for me (God)/ Holding my head up high, I hope y'all really proud of me (High)."
While the "Lost" rapper has never shied away from his faith, Rocket Power is the most Quavo has ever melded it into his music. As much as it's a snapshot of his current mental state, the religious references point to the new creative plane Quavo is currently on.
Quavo Is A Legitimate Solo Star
Following Quavo Huncho, some hip-hop fans questioned Quavo's ability to carry an album as a solo artist. But if there were any doubts, drop them. He's unquestionably a star capable of carrying on his own.
While Quavo is credited for his infectious hooks and street hits, Rocket Power proves he can effectively draw from his life experiences and transfer those emotions to create gut-wrenching records. It also proves he can effectively pair these kinds of records together into a larger conceptual project, and expand his artistry beyond his melodic mastery.
Throughout the album, Quavo firmly commands each of the 18 tracks. He delivers a harmonious (and effective) mix of stadium-level anthems, emotion-fueled sentiments, and hard-hitting trap songs — proving that he'll not only continue the legacy he and Takeoff built together, but continue to evolve creatively on his own.
Photos: Larry Busacca/Getty Images; Kevin Winter/Getty Images for The Recording Academy; Brian Ach/Getty Images for Something in the Water; Kimberly White/Getty Images for Hennessy; Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images; Bob Berg/Getty Images; Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images; Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images
A Guide To New York Hip-Hop: Unpacking The Sound Of Rap's Birthplace From The Bronx To Staten Island
The culture and art of hip-hop would not exist if not for NYC. Take a trip through Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan, the Bronx and Staten Island to learn how hip-hop developed sonically by the borough.
New York is indisputably the birthplace of hip-hop, but which of the city's five boroughs has dominated the genre continues to be a spirited debate among its scholars and natives.
The "Boogie Down" Bronx is the origin point of hip-hop history. It’s here Clive Campbell a.k.a. DJ Kool Herc threw a rec room party in 1973 that put hip-hop as we know it in motion. The city's northernmost borough is the home of groundbreaking artists from OGs Grandmaster Flash and Slick Rick, to contemporary stars including Cardi B.
Manhattan also plays a role in hip-hop’s evolution as a playground where rappers intermingled with punks, rockers and the thriving art scene throughout the ‘70s and ‘80s. Elements of each of these developing artforms culminating in the music of the Beastie Boys. And because he is so often referred to as a West Coast rapper, it’s easy to forget Tupac Shakur was born in Manhattan.
Staten Island is, of course, home to the one and only Wu-Tang Clan and its diverse cosmology. Even the suburbs can boast major contributions — Long Island is the home of Public Enemy and Erik B & Rakim; head north of the Bronx to Westchester County, and you'll enter the home of the late rapper DMX.
What’s clear when we look at each borough, is that the culture and art of hip-hop would not exist if not for New York. Without the contributions,style and unique cultures of neighborhoods within Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan and Staten, the artform would not have developed into the juggernaut it is today. Press play on the Amazon Music playlist below — or visit Spotify, Pandora and Apple Music — to take an auditory tour of the best of the boroughs.
To celebrate the 50th anniversary of hip-hop, hop on the train and travel from borough to borough for its unique history and sounds.
As you examine the breadth of NYC hip-hop, you’ll find artists with a deep and complex relationship with the city. Biz Markie, for example, was born in one area of the city, raised in another, and claimed membership to a crew for a whole other borough. His story, and that of others who deserve many flowers, demonstrate that while hip-hop can be dissected by region and subway line, it’s the Big Apple's density, multiculturalism, an urban innovation that has made it arguably one of America's greatest art forms.
Mass immigration from Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic in the 1950s made the Bronx the first majority Black and Latino borough in NYC by the mid-'70s. It’s not a coincidence that the Bronx was also woefully unserved by the city government, resulting in bleak economic conditions.
"Kids with little or no resources created something out of nothing," the Funky Four Plus One’s MC Sha Rock told ABC News said of hip-hop's origins. "No matter what was going on around us in New York City at the time, we looked forward to the park jams."
These jams featured breakdancing, DJs mixing, and MCing — all key elements of hip-hop that emerged from house parties and underground venues into a city-wide consciousness. "Hip-hop wasn't called hip-hop in the ‘70s, was called 'going to the jams,'" Sha Rock continued.
A few years before the park jams took off, DJ Kool Herc’s August 1973 rec room party put hip-hop as we know it on the map. Herc took classic records and popular hits, broke down the beats, and invited MCs to chime in over them invoking the Jamaican style of delivery, talking or chanting, usually in a monotone melody, over a rhythm known as "toasting" in reggae.
In 1975, the Bronx Boys Rocking Crew (or TBB) fostered another element of hip-hop when they organized late night tagging sessions. These young graffiti artists brought the color and life of their borough to the rest of the city, as painted subway trains provided moving canvases and controversy.
By the time the park jams were happening, some graffiti crews had expanded into competitive dance. With moves drawn from martial arts, gymnastics, and modern dance, "breaking, popping, and locking" would see b-boys and b-girls become as important as music to hip-hop as an art form. Breaking as an art has continued to flourish and will soon be an Olympic sport.
The borough would go on to boast Kool Keith, KRS One, Big Pun, Fat Joe, and Cardi B, among many others, as acts who have innovated the Bronx’s place in hip-hop culture. The borough is now home to the Universal Hip-Hop Museum and will host events at Sedgwick and a 50 Years of Hip-Hop concert at Yankee Stadium.
In 1990, Brooklyn was New York’s Blackest neighborhood, with 73.1 percent of its Black residents native born. The previous decade had seen Brooklyn rappers rise to prominence in hip-hop, by the end of the 1990s the world’s ear was tuned into Brooklyn.
Known for his use of three turntables, Cutmaster DC's early tracks "Brooklyn's in the House" and "Brooklyn Rocks the Best" were the first to mention Brooklyn as a force in hip-hop music. These early '80s tracks also featured DC's pioneering technique of cutting breaks over Roland TR-909 beats, a marked moment for hip-hop's technical advancement.
Combining speed, style and humor, few would influence hip-hop's syncopation and cadence like Big Daddy Kane. In their 2012 list of The Greatest Hip-Hop Songs of All Time Rolling Stone called Kane "a master wordsmith of rap's late-golden age and a huge influence on a generation of MCs." Within a few years Brooklyn flow would be redefined by the slow deliberative annunciation of the Notorious B.I.G., whose delivery would become one of the most interpolated in rap history.
The styles of both would be emulated and refined by a young Brooklyn rapper named Shawn Carter. The artist later known as Jay-Z attended George Westinghouse High School in downtown Brooklyn, where his classmates included Busta Rhymes, Biggie and DMX — all of whom would play a critical part in the evolution of rap’s delivery styles.
The borough wasn’t only a boys club. MC Lyte, Foxy Brown, and new rappers like Young MA continue to put Brooklyn on the musical map.
The largest Borough by area, Queens boasts the Guiness World Record for most languages spoken and gained the nickname "The World’s Borough" for its diverse population. Whereas Bronx hip-hop was derived from Black American and Caribbean cultures, Queen’s hip-hop samples the world. While the 1970s saw the Bronx give birth to hip-hop, the 1980s saw the eastern borough of Queens mature the art form.
Queen’s hip-hop history has roots in two specific areas: the Queenborough Projects and Hollis. The Queensboro Projects, a.k.a. "The Bridge," were one of the few unsegregated projects in New York. It was also home to Marley Marl, who accidentally discovered sampling while working on a Captain Rock record as a studio intern in the early ‘80s.
"I was actually trying to get a riff off of a record. I made a mistake and got the snare in there before the sound came," he recounted to NPR. "The snare sounded better than the snare that I had from the drum machine when I was popping it…I was like, "Hold up!" This will enable me to take any kick and a snare from any record that people love and make my own beat." Marls’ use of the 808 pulse to trigger different samplers was revolutionary, and he would become a pioneer for his ability to blend sampled and 808 drum sounds.
Marl’s contribution would extend beyond the technical. As a member of the Juice Crew, he brought the voice of 14-year-old Roxanne Shanté to the world. She created a new lane for women in rap as well as the blueprint for the diss track on the seminal "Roxanne's Revenge."
About a half hour east on the F Train in Hollis, Queens, brothers Joseph and Russel Simmons (a DJ and promoter respectively) founded Run-D.M.C. with friends Darryl Mc Daniels and Jason Mizell. Run-D.M.C.'s sound featured a synchronized, aggressive delivery over simple but memorable rock hooks and beats. Later, the group established Def Jam Records, the label that would prove rap could sell millions of records to Top 40 audiences and bring rap to the mainstream as the first rappers to be featured on MTV.
As valuable as the musical contributions of Run-D.M.C are, they are equally vital to the development of fashion as an element of hip-hop. Street style, as it would come to be known, is born in Queens: Kangol hats, unlaced Addias, Carzal frames, and thick gold chains are now as synonymous with hip-hop as beats and samples. Today, fashion is so central to hip-hop, and vice versa, that New York's FIT Museum recently held an expansive exhibit on hip-hop style.”
Complex proclaimed Nas’ Illmatic "set off a seismic shift in rap geopolitics" and added that the 1994 record "galvanized Queensbridge hip-hop and by extension East Coast rap as a whole." His introspective and poetic approach to writing is credited for bringing the best out of his contemporaries and inspiring next generation rappers like Killer Mike and Kendrick Lamar, challenging them to meet his lyrical bar.
Though "The Fly Borough" is the most densely populated, the majority of its hip-hop history is concentrated in the northern Manhattan neighborhood of Harlem.
Home of the legendary Apollo Theater, the neighborhood was well rooted in Black music when World War II vet Bobby Robinson opened Bobby’s Records in 1946 — one of Harlems’ few Black owned businesses at the time. The record store would evolve as would Robinson’s involvement in music. He would become a producer and label head whose 1970 imprint Enjoy Records released music by hip-hop's earliest innovators, including Grandmaster Flash, the Treacherous Three, and Doug E. Fresh. The label would also feature Master Don, whose signature use of a "Funk Box" percussion synthesizer and its crispy digital hi hat is still heard in trap music today.
Harlem was also home to Dapper Dan, the first designer to "borrow" designer goods and modify them with hip-hop flair. His boutique operated from 1982-1992 and was essential to the merging of luxury brands and hip-hop culture. Although brands like Gucci first sued for copyright infringement, they eventually saw the value of hip-hop's branding power on high end fashion sales. In 2018, Dapper Dan and Gucci collaborated on a capsule collection.
Also during this ‘80s culture boom, three high schoolers from Manhattan applied the ethos of punk rock to the emerging street sounds of hip-hop.
The Beastie Boys began by pirating rap, self-admittingly "Rhyming and Stealing" for their 1986 Def Jam debut License to Ill, and went on to forge a new lane for the medium. They broke all the rules of sampling and production with their seminal Paul’s Boutique, which Rolling Stone noted is often dubbed "The Sargent Pepper of hip-hop" and lauded for its layer sampling technique. In their ranking of Paul’s Boutique Consequence of Sound wrote, "Paul’s Boutique sat at a finish line waiting for the rest of the world to catch up."
While the outer Boroughs would enjoy most of the attention musically throughout the '90s and 2000s, the 2010s would see Harlem again centered in hip-hop with the arrival of young rappers like Azealia Banks and the ASAP Mob collective.
RZA, GZA, Method Man, Raekwon, Ghostface Killah, Inspectah Deck, U-God, Masta Killa, and Ol’ Dirty Bastard and later Cappadonna would find success as both a group and as solo artists. infiltrating the "big six" 1990s major record labels by design. You can also hear the influence of RZA on modern acts like El Michels Affair, which draws inspiration from Wu-Tang's melodic take on instrumentation and released two albums of instrumental soul covers of Wu-Tang Clan songs.
Their impact would go far beyond music however. Hip-hop biographer Will Ashon recounted Wu’s influence on fashion, noting that the group were part of a trend of simplification.
"Their whole modus operandi was to present themselves as real and unmanufactured, so their clothing choices had to reflect this. The rawness and directness of the music was supposed to be echoed in the rawness and directness of their clothing. They were a big part of the early 1990s move towards baggy and oversized clothes. Huge combat trousers or sweatpants, Timberland boots, hoodies, puffas, do-rags, gold fronts and so on. A ‘street soldier’ look."
As you’d expect, Wu’s presence looms large over future Staten Island artists, including G4 Boys and Killarmy. New artists like Cleotrapa, a spicy, no-holds-barred femme rapper, also counts Wu-Tang as an influence and is helping define Staten’s next chapter.
The history of the intersection of New York City and hip-hop culture is as big and diverse as the city itself. We could only touch on a handful of artists and creators in this piece, but the topic has been explored at length in books like Cant Stop Wont Stop by Jeff Chang and The Come Up: An Oral History of the Rise of Hip-Hop. Documentaries on hip-hop can be found on almost all streaming platforms Netflix’s notable Hip-Hop Evolution and Ladies First: The Story of Women in Hip-Hop.
Photo: Simone Joyner/Getty Images
New Music Friday: Listen To New Songs From Travis Scott, Britney Spears, NewJeans & More
July 21 marks a big day of new music releases, including star-studded collaborations like Travis Scott, Bad Bunny and The Weeknd's "K-POP" and a new EP from NewJeans. Hear some of the biggest new songs on GRAMMY.com.
Like so many New Music Fridays before it, July 21 brought a cornucopia of fresh and unique sounds from all over the map.
Want to hear Travis Scott, Bad Bunny and the Weeknd get mellow and psychedelic? Raring to hear the latest dispatch from a One Direction member? Want a taste of A$AP Rocky's long-awaited next album? Is a Britney-shaped chunk missing from your musical life? Want to hear the future of K-pop?
To these and other questions, this slew of tunes will provide answers. In the below roundup, hurtle into the weekend with wildly divergent sounds from some of music's top acts — many with sizable GRAMMY legacies.
Travis Scott, Bad Bunny, The Weeknd — "K-POP"
A week before nine-time GRAMMY nominee Travis Scott's Utopia livestream event at the Pyramids of Giza in Egypt on July 28 — which will debut his new studio album of the same name — he dropped his sixth collaboration with four-time GRAMMY winner the Weeknd.
"K-POP," the album's lead single, is rounded out by three-time GRAMMY winner Bad Bunny, in his first collab with Scott. This triple-threat track has a stony, smoldering feel, with luxurious production from Boi-1da, among others — and it's elevated by its panoramic, transportive video.
ZAYN — "Love Like This"
The former One Direction member continues his solo legacy with "Love Like This," his first new single since 2021.
Therein, ZAYN extols the virtues of throwing caution to the wind when it comes to infatuation: "Everything is on the line, but I would rather be dead/If it's gonna mean a life that's lived without you, baby," he sings. "I think I gotta take that risk/ 'cause I cannot go back."
In the video, ZAYN putters around on a motorcycle on a gorgeous day. Previously signed to RCA, the singer recently moved to Mercury Records; could "Love Like This" be the ramp-up to a new album? If so, "Love Like This" offers a tantalizing taste of what's to come.
will.i.am, Britney Spears — "MIND YOUR BUSINESS"
After the termination of her conservatorship, GRAMMY winner Britney Spears dipped a toe back into her music career in 2022 with "Hold Me Closer," a duet with Elton John that includes elements of "Tiny Dancer," "The One" and "Don't Go Breaking My Heart."
Now, she's back in earnest with "MIND YOUR BUSINESS," a sassy, pulsing, electronic duet with seven-time GRAMMY winner will.i.am of Black Eyed Peas fame. The track marks the pair's fourth team-up, and first since 2014's "It Should Be Easy" from Spears' Brtiney Jean.
NewJeans — "ETA"
GRAMMY.com called NewJeans one of 10 K-Pop rookie girl groups to watch in 2023, and keeping ears on them has paid off. On July 21, they released their new EP, Get Up, to critical acclaim: NME declared that "no one can hold a candle to K-pop's rising wonder girls."
Concurrently with the release of Get Up, they released a joyous, iPhone-shot music video to its effervescent single, "ETA," in which a group of girls find a friend's boyfriend making moves on another lady.
Chris Stapleton — "White Horse"
Chris Stapleton's last album, 2020's Starting Over, helped the country crooner make a clean sweep at the 2022 GRAMMYs. At that ceremony, he won golden gramophones for Best Country Solo Performance ("You Should Probably Leave"), Best Country Song ("Cold") and Best Country Album ("Starting Over").
On Nov. 10, the eight-time GRAMMY winner will release his next LP, Higher. As he revealed the news on July 21, Stapleton also unveiled a majestic rocker of a single, "White Horse." "If you want a cowboy on a white horse/ Ridin' off into the sunset," he sings thunderously, "If that's the kinda love you wanna wait for/ Hold on tight, girl, I ain't there yet."
A$AP Rocky — "RIOT (Rowdy Pipe'n)"
For his latest track, A$AP Rocky dropped a stylish, charming short film for Beats depicting a harried diaper run (a fitting narrative for the new dad, soon to be dad of two, with partner Rihanna). That only contains a minute of the song, though; it's worth luxuriating in the whole thing.
To an uneasy, lumbering beat, Rocky extols a lifestyle to die for ("My wife is erotic/ I'm smokin' exotic/My whip is exotic") as well as his unparalleled connections ("I just call designers up, I free ninety-nine it").
Backed by 13-time GRAMMY winner Pharrell, "RIOT (Rowdy Pipe'n)" is said to be the first single from A$AP Rocky's long-awaited fourth album, Don't Be Dumb; if the quality of the track is any indication, it'll be worth the long haul.