meta-scriptRoxanne Shanté: Biopic Reveals The Story Of A Hip-Hop Music Pioneer | GRAMMY.com
Roxanne Shanté: Biopic Reveals The Story Of A Hip-Hop Music Pioneer

Roxanne Shanté circa 1988

Photo: Alberto E. Rodriguez/WireImage.com

news

Roxanne Shanté: Biopic Reveals The Story Of A Hip-Hop Music Pioneer

Ahead of the Netflix premiere of 'Roxanne Roxanne,' go inside the lasting influence and legacy of the indomitable emcee

GRAMMYs/Mar 15, 2018 - 11:40 pm

Throughout history, many important movements have omitted the significant contributions of women. History simply became his-story. The same is true in hip-hop, a genre that is historically and largely dominated by men.

<iframe width="620" height="349" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/IKA8H_LolNM" frameborder="0" allow="autoplay; encrypted-media" allowfullscreen></iframe>

But hip-hop pioneer Lolita "Roxanne Shanté" Gooden is adding more proof that #TimesUp with her new biopic, Roxanne Roxanne, which premieres March 23 on Netflix.

Starring Chanté Adams (portraying Roxanne Shanté) and Mahershala Ali, the movie takes viewers back to the early '80s when the fiery Queens, N.Y., rapper emerged as a streetwise hip-hop teen legend on the strength of her recording of "Roxanne's Revenge," which is cited as the first (ever!) battle response song recorded and released in hip-hop.

As the film spotlights, before female hip-hop artists like MC Lyte, Queen Latifah, Salt-N-Pepa, Lauryn Hill, and Lil' Kim sold millions of albums, the young Shanté was in the trenches fighting for a spot that already belonged to her and laying the groundwork for the great women who would follow in her footsteps.

"We all stand on the shoulders of someone," says GRAMMY nominee MC Lyte. "Because she was a solo artist so early on, she paved the way when it came to people being able to accept a female MC as an entity of its own."

That might be one of the reasons executive producers of the film, Mimi Valdes and Nina Yang Bongiovi, reached out to Shanté about making a movie. While hosting an event for the American Black Film Festival, Shanté remembers being approached by the ladies.

"They came down from the balcony after the show," Shanté recalls. "We've been looking for you and we want to make a movie about your life."

Within a year's time, Shante was at the Sundance Film Festival with a critically acclaimed movie about battling both on and off the mic.  

Hip-hop was born in New York City. Before anyone had even given the music genre a name, Shanté was in the thick of it. Raised in gritty Queensbridge — the nation's largest public housing development and home to hip-hop legends such as MC Shan, Nas and Mobb Deep — Shanté was a ferocious competitor who played with verbs and nouns on street corners. In 1984, when she was only 14 years old, Shanté recorded the epic "Roxanne's Revenge" at the apartment of DJ Marley Marl, a neighbor and music producer. 

<iframe width="620" height="349" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/z93Qxl51g4M" frameborder="0" allow="autoplay; encrypted-media" allowfullscreen></iframe>

It was a powerful, unforgettable and game-changing rebuttal to UTFO's "Roxanne, Roxanne," a song about a woman named Roxanne who ignored the group's advances. Shanté's lyrics were delivered off the top of her head — no pad and no pen — and she literally did it in between laundry loads. On that night, she adopted the name Roxanne, added her middle name Shanté into the equation and emerged as a rechristened shining star.

"I was about 14 or 15 years old sitting in my living room in London when I first heard Roxanne Shanté," recalls Monie Love, British MC and member of the legendary hip-hop group Native Tongues. "She was articulate, smart and just a beast. She gave the guys what they dished out but with a woman's touch. She didn't have to become a man to beat a man, and I loved that."

Take Note: Women In Music

Indeed, Shanté was a powerhouse. Her voice and heart were bigger, stronger and more powerful than her petite teenage frame. She was brave, maybe even the bravest.

"She went toe to toe with the guys and that was exciting," recalls MC Lyte. "It was unbelievable."   

"Roxanne's Revenge" would go on to sell more than 250,000 copies and spark the "Roxanne Wars," one of the most infamous and longest-running feuds in hip-hop. She had tapped into something — a girl beating the guys at their own game. She was hip-hop through and through but she was still a young teen, and many didn't think the two made a good couple. Case in point, Shanté recalls entering a rap competition that crowned the winner with a "best rapper” distinction. 

"I went against 11 opponents in one day. All men," says Shanté, who remembers the whispers about how great her performance was throughout the day, which led her to feel confident that she'd win. "Kurtis Blow, who I'm great friends with today, was one of the judges, and he asked what it would take for me to lose.  They told him that Shanté would lose if he gave her a 2."

And he did. Shanté was crushed. She had won but lost.

"[Roxanne Shanté] paved the way when it came to people being able to accept a female MC as an entity of its own." — MC Lyte

Despite these types of obstacles, Shanté has the spirit of a champion. She continued as a force in hip-hop as a member of the groundbreaking hip-hop collective Juice Crew.  She released two solo albums, 1989's Bad Sister and 1992's The B*** Is Back, but neither achieved major mainstream success. Always up for a battle, she waged war against a slew of popular female rappers in 1992 with her single "Big Mama."   

"She dissed all of us rappers by name. But I didn't respond," Monie Love remembers. "I had too much respect for her to answer back. She empowered me and inspired me to become a rapper."

<iframe src="https://tools.applemusic.com/embed/v1/album/330089743?country=us" height="500px" width="100%" frameborder="0"></iframe>


That's the funny thing when it comes to women in hip-hop. There can only be one queen.  While the genre is competitive by nature, history has shown that men often collaborate and work well together. Women, on the other hand, are often pitted against each other.

"It's just the way it’s been structured for women in hip-hop," Shanté says.

But there's so much more to Shanté's story. Life doesn't suddenly end once the music stops, and it doesn't restart once a movie is made about you. Life is all the stuff in between and beyond. For Roxanne Shanté, it's about being a survivor, pioneer, trailblazer, mother, wife, friend, daughter, and an unbreakable spirit. Her life is marked by the power of believing in yourself despite what the world keeps showing you.

Years after that rap competition, Shanté bumped into Kurtis Blow. He told her that she really had won that rap battle years ago. 

"At that time, hip-hop was just getting started, and people were starting to get major [record] deals," she recalls. "There was no way hip-hop was going to be taken seriously if the best of the best was a 15-year-old girl."

Too bad hip-hop didn't know who it was back then.   

Catching Up On Music News Powered By The Recording Academy Just Got Easier. Have A Google Home Device? "Talk To GRAMMYs"

(Lakeia Brown is a freelance writer and host of the podcast, Decoded with Elle Bee. She has been published in publications like OThe Oprah MagazineEssence and Complex. You can follow her on IG @decodedwithellebee​.)

4 Reasons Why Eminem's 'The Slim Shady LP' Is One Of The Most Influential Rap Records
Eminem

Photo: Sal Idriss/Redferns/GettyImages

list

4 Reasons Why Eminem's 'The Slim Shady LP' Is One Of The Most Influential Rap Records

Eminem’s major label debut, 'The Slim Shady LP,' turns 25 on Feb. 23. The album left an indelible imprint on hip-hop, and introduced the man who would go on to be the biggest-selling artist of any genre in the ensuing decade.

GRAMMYs/Feb 23, 2024 - 03:44 pm

A quarter century has passed since the mainstream music world was first introduced to a bottle-blonde enfant terrible virtuoso who grabbed everyone’s attention and wouldn’t let go

But enough about Christina Aguilera.

Just kidding. Another artist also exploded into stardom in 1999 — one who would become a big enough pop star, despite not singing a note, that he would soon be feuding with Xtina. Eminem’s biting major label debut The Slim Shady LP turns 25 on Feb. 23. While it was Eminem's second release, the album was the first taste most rap fans got of the man who would go on to be the biggest-selling artist in any genre during the ensuing decade. It also left an indelible imprint on hip-hop.

The Slim Shady LP is a record of a rapper who was white (still a comparative novelty back in 1999), working class and thus seemingly from a different universe than many mainstream rappers in the "shiny suit era." And where many of those contemporaries were braggadocious, Eminem was the loser in his rhymes more often than he was the winner. In fact, he talked so much about his real-life childhood bully on the album that the bully ended up suing him.  

It was also a record that played with truth and identity in ways that would become much more difficult once Em became world famous. Did he mean the outrageous things he was saying? Where were the knowing winks, and where were they absent? The guessing games that the album forced listeners to play were thrilling — and made all the more intense by his use of three personas (Marshall Mathers the person; Eminem the battle rapper; and Slim Shady the unhinged alter ego) that bled into each other.

And, of course, there was the rhyming. Eminem created a dizzying array of complicated compound rhymes and assonances, even finding time to rhyme "orange" — twice. (If you’re playing at home, he paired "foreign tools" with "orange juice" and "ignoring skill" with "orange bill.")

While the above are reason enough to revisit this classic album, pinpointing The Slim Shady LP's influence is a more complicated task. Other records from that year — releases from Jay-Z, Nas, Lil Wayne, Ludacris, and even the Ruff Ryders compilation Ryde or Die Vol. 1 — have a more direct throughline to the state of mainstream rap music today. So much of SSLP, on the other hand, is tied into Eminem’s particular personality and position. This makes Slim Shady inimitable; there aren’t many mainstream rappers complaining about their precarious minimum wage job, as Em does on "If I Had." (By the time of his next LP, Em had gone triple-platinum and couldn’t complain about that again himself.)

But there are aspects of SSLP that went on to have a major impact. Here are a few of the most important ones.

It Made Space For Different Narratives In Hip-Hop

Before Kanye rapped about working at The Gap, Eminem rapped about working at a burger joint. The Slim Shady LP opened up space for different narratives in mainstream rap music. 

The Slim Shady LP didn't feature typical rags-to-riches stories, tales of living the high life or stories from the street. Instead, there were bizarre trailer-park narratives (in fact, Eminem was living in a trailer months after the record was released), admissions of suicidal ideation ("That’s why I write songs where I die at the end," he explained on "Cum on Everybody"), memories of a neglectful mother, and even a disturbing story-song about dumping the corpse of his baby’s mother, rapped to his actual child (who cameos on the song). 

Marshall Mathers’ life experience was specific, of course, but every rapper has a story of their own. The fact that this one found such a wide audience demonstrated that audiences would accept tales with unique perspectives. Soon enough, popular rappers would be everything from middle-class college dropouts to theater kids and teen drama TV stars.

The Album Explored The Double-Edged Sword Of The White Rapper

Even as late in the game as 1999, being a white rapper was still a comparative novelty. There’s a reason that Em felt compelled to diss pretty much every white rapper he could think of on "Just Don’t Give a F—," and threatened to rip out Vanilla Ice’s dreadlocks on "Role Model": he didn’t want to be thought of like those guys. 

"People don't have a problem with white rappers now because Eminem ended up being the greatest artist," Kanye West said in 2015. You can take the "greatest artist" designation however you like, but it’s very true that Eminem’s success meant a categorical change in the status of white rappers in the mainstream.

This turned out to be a mixed blessing. While the genre has not, as some feared, turned into a mostly-white phenomenon, America’s racial disparities are often played out in the way white rappers are treated. Sales aside, they have more room to maneuver artistically — playing with different genres while insulting rap a la Post Malone,  or even changing styles completely like Machine Gun Kelly — to commercial approbation. Black artists who attempt similar moves are frequently met with skepticism or disinterest (see André 3000’s New Blue Sun rollout, which was largely spent explaining why the album features no rapping). 

Sales are worth speaking about, too. As Eminem has repeatedly said in song, no small amount of his popularity comes from his race — from the fact that white audiences could finally buy music from a rapper who looked like them. This was, as he has also bemusedly noted, the exact opposite of how his whiteness worked for him before his fame, when it was a barrier to being taken seriously as a rapper. 

For better, worse, or somewhere in between, the sheer volume of white rappers who are currently in the mainstream is largely traceable to the world-beating success of The Slim Shady LP.

It Was Headed Towards An Odd Future

SSLP laid groundwork for the next generation of unconventional rappers, including Tyler, the Creator.

Tyler is a huge Eminem fan. He’s said that listening to Em’s SSLP follow-up The Marshall Mathers LP was "how I learned to rap." And he’s noted that Em’s Relapse was "one of the greatest albums to me." 

"I just wanted to rap like Eminem on my first two albums," he once told GQ. More than flow, the idea of shocking people, being alternately angry and vulnerable, and playing with audience reaction is reflected heavily on Tyler’s first two albums, Goblin and Wolf. That is the template The Slim Shady LP set up. While Tyler may have graduated out of that world and moved on to more mature things, it was following Em’s template that first gained him wide notice. 

Eminem Brought Heat To Cold Detroit

The only guest artist to spit a verse on The Slim Shady LP is Royce da 5’9". This set the template for the next few years of Eminem’s career: Detroit, and especially his pre-fame crew from that city, would be his focus. There was his duo with Royce, Bad Meets Evil, whose pre-SSLP single of "Nuttin’ to Do"/"Scary Movies" would get renewed attention once those same two rappers had a duet, smartly titled "Bad Meets Evil," appear on a triple-platinum album. And of course there was the group D12, five Detroit rappers including his best friend Proof, with whom Eminem would release a whole album at the height of his fame.

This was not the only mainstream rap attention Detroit received in the late 1990s. For one thing, legendary producer James "J Dilla" Yancey, was a native of the city. But Eminem’s explosion helped make way for rappers in the city, even ones he didn’t know personally, to get attention. 

The after-effects of the Eminem tsunami can still be seen. Just look at the rise of so-called "scam rap" over the past few years. Or the success of artists like Babyface Ray, Kash Doll, 42 Dugg, and Veeze. They may owe little to Em artistically, but they admit that he’s done great things for the city — even if they may wish he was a little less reclusive these days

Is Eminem's "Stan" Based On A True Story? 10 Facts You Didn't Know About The GRAMMY-Winning Rapper

Charles Esten On How Procrastination, Serendipity And "Nashville" Resulted In 'Love Ain't Pretty'
Charles Esten

Photo: Kirsten Balani

interview

Charles Esten On How Procrastination, Serendipity And "Nashville" Resulted In 'Love Ain't Pretty'

For the first time in his career, Charles Esten is fully focused on music. But as the actor/singer details, his debut album, 'Love Ain't Pretty' is much more than another venture — it's a lifelong goal achieved.

GRAMMYs/Jan 3, 2024 - 10:40 pm

Like many of his peers, Charles Esten has known music is his calling since he was a kid. But at 58, he's just now getting the opportunity to do what his contemporaries are long past: release a debut album.

As fans of the beloved ABC/CMT series "Nashville" or the hit Netflix drama "Outer Banks" know, Esten first established himself in the acting world. But as his "Nashville" role revealed, the actor also had some strong singing chops, too — and it wasn't a coincidence.

Due Jan. 26, Love Ain't Pretty is a testament to both Esten's patience and his passion. Combining his soulful country sound and emotive songwriting, Love Ain't Pretty poignantly captures his years of loving and learning. And with a co-writing credit on all 14 tracks, the album is the purest representation of his artistry possible.

"Being the age I am, and the difference of what this album is to what maybe my first album would've been if I was 28, is the intentionality," he tells GRAMMY.com. "I can chase what's thoroughly me, and the facets of that. And in the end, that, I think, makes better music anyway."

As the title suggests, Love Ain't Pretty mostly focuses on finding the beauty in life. Along with several odes to his wife, Patty ("One Good Move," "Candlelight"), Esten delivers tales of self-reflection ("A Little Right Now") and simply enjoying the moment ("Willing To Try"), all with a grit that's equal parts inspiring and charming.

Perhaps the most fitting sentiment on the album is "Make You Happy" — not because of its lovestruck narrative, but because it captures Esten's goal with Love Ain't Pretty and beyond: "Wanna make you happy/ Wanna make you smile."

"I know that musical superstardom is not an option," he acknowledges. "I don't even seek it. So, what do I seek instead of perfection? Connection."

Below, Esten recounts his fateful journey to Love Ain't Pretty — from his first taste of stardom to finally fulfilling his lifelong dream.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

All the way back in third grade, our elementary school had a contest to write the school song. They said, "Find a Disney song and use the melody and then put new words to it." I did it to "It's a Small World." I probably wrote little doodles on my own [before that], but that was the first one with any bit of fame. 

I went back, like 10 years later, and they were singing that. They actually made it as part of all the assemblies and everything. That feeling, to hear people singing words that you thought of, I'm sure that was the beginning of this path.

Eventually, when I went to college, I was in a band. But, even before I was in a band, my grandmother passed in my sophomore year of college. And, I didn't get back in time to see her. She had helped raise me when I was little, after my parents' divorce, so it hit me hard. I somehow was able to put what she meant to me in a song, and that made a big impact in a lot of ways. Whereas that third grade little ditty made everybody laugh and smile and everything, this made my mother and my aunts and uncles [cry] in a warm, loving way. I could see it affecting them. 

I could [also] feel it help me process what I was going through. That was another bit of an aha moment, like, "Oh wow, writing a song can do that also."

Right after that, I started a band. That experience of hearing a band bring your song alive — it was so much more full, this experience, and hearing somebody else add a thing you hadn't thought of, that was another true revelation, the power of that. So I got hooked rather quickly. 

Honestly, I probably would've stayed in that world if my band had stayed in that world. They all made the decision to graduate and go be doctors and lawyers and stuff, as the song says. When that finished up, I didn't know what I was going to do next. But, having experienced that made it clear to me that I was not cut out for a desk job — even though I had an economics degree. 

I had some friends that had gone to L.A. and started becoming actors. I thought, "Maybe I'll give that a try." But the long and the short of it is, if you had asked me, "Will you continue in music?" I'd be like, "Absolutely. I'm going to go out there and I'm going to meet another bass player and a drummer and another band will come."

It didn't happen. I went to London and played Buddy Holly for two and a half years in the musical "Buddy." When I went back to L.A. after that, then the family started to come, and so the band just never happened. But I had a piano, had guitars — I never stopped writing or playing.

At one point, I had the thought, "Well, I might have missed the boat in terms of ever getting to be a performer myself, but I can write songs." And by this point, I was really listening to a whole lot of country, '90s country, 2000s and all.

So, I decided I was going to start writing in a more formalized way, in a more intentional way, instead of just whenever a song came to me. And, as soon as I sort of said that, things started happening.

I met my friend Jane Bach, who is a great Nashville songwriter. She was going back and forth between LA and Nashville at the time. She invited me to sing at the Bluebird [Cafe in Nashville], which I knew very well, and I said yes. And twice, I had to cancel because I got other work. And at a certain point, I literally said to my wife, "When am I going to get to go to Nashville? That'll never happen."

[That] maybe was two or three years before "Nashville." And then I get this script that says, "Nashville." Next thing I know, I'm here and I'm literally doing my first scene in the Bluebird.

I understand, very cleanly, that ["Nashville"] opened all these side doors that most people don't have access to. But, I also know that there's a chance they could have all been opened and I could not have been ready. 

When it finally [happened], for a lot of people, just looking at an actor who's playing a singer/songwriter, I get the feeling that it was a pleasant surprise — I like to think that there was a little more there than they expected. It was actually more authentically who I was than the actor.

I never really quite verbalized this, but the feeling [of landing "Nashville"] was one of — it'll make me emotional — completion. I felt like the show was an answer to so many unsolved things in my life. And that's, I think, why we haven't left. And it's also why the album meant so much to me.

It meant so much to me that I didn't just get here and do an album. I got here at 46. To be that old and not really know who you are as an artist — I never had to define myself. So, I didn't chase that immediately. I just wanted to make music in Music City and make as much as I could. 

I always felt behind, because all my contemporaries that had been here, very many of them were already incredibly famous and already had done so much. But you can't [focus on] the road not taken. 

I have to admit, there's some part of me that would be like, "What if you were putting out your first album at 28?" That's nothing I sort of worry about. I know that it wouldn't have been this. I wouldn't change anything. I have this wife and this family and this career that brought me here. It feels like this was the way it was meant to happen, as strange as it all is.

I felt more prepared than people might expect. And I had something that most people didn't have, which was, Deacon walked in places before I did. Deacon sang at the Bluebird before Charles did. Deacon was at the Grand Ole Opry before I was.

That began what I would call my 10,000 hours in this town. Between the number of hours I've been able to be on stage at these incredible venues, and play music with these incredible people, and all the singles I was able to put out over the last 10 years, I now feel like that, in some ways, I have as much of a catalog as people that have been here for those 30 years. But, it's still my first album, which I've held onto for something special, and I'm so grateful for the way it turned out. I couldn't be happier.

I knew that I wasn't emptying the whole toolbox to play Deacon. But, having said that, I'm so moved by how much playing that guy influenced my music and my songwriting. A song like "A Little Right Now," it roars at the top and rages a little bit, but in general, that is a Deacon song through and through. "I'm a farmer praying for rain/ I'm a gambler that needs an ace of spades/ I'm a sailor hoping for a gust of wind/ I'm a singer looking for that song/ I'm a prisoner that ain't got long/ I'm a dreamer waiting for my ship to come in/ But lately all my roads have been running out/ There ain't no silver linings in these clouds/ Help me, Lord, and show me how to find the kind of faith that I once found/ 'Cause I could sure use a little right now." When you watch the show, you'll go, "That's the Deacon-est thing I've ever heard."

There's other songs on this album as well. "Maybe I'm Alright" — Deacon's journey was from utterly broken to "maybe I'm alright." As I look at it, he informs this album.

I'm a procrastinator. That's why I released so many singles in 2016, that world record. [Editor's note: Esten released 54 original songs once a week for 54 straight weeks, earning a Guinness World Records title in 2018 for the "Most consecutive weeks to release an original digital single by a music act."] 

That was a mind hack — a life hack — to arbitrarily create deadlines. And, my God, did that work, because I just started putting it out. [After that,] I started thinking about an album, and I even made an early attempt at it, and then COVID hit. 

They felt like songs from a thousand years ago [after the lockdown]. I pretty much scrapped it and didn't use any of them, and said, "I've just got to do this again in a different way. It's a different me. It's a different world."

My wife is not a procrastinator. And I'll show her, sometimes there's an upside of procrastinating. It's like using a crockpot when there's a microwave right there — it stews in all the ingredients. 

Deacon's a major ingredient, but if you just put that major ingredient on it and cook it real quick, it's too pronounced. Stew it in there with all the other ones until it's a new flavor, a new thing in its entirety. And that's what happened.

It's also interesting that, being the age I am, and the difference of what this album was to what, maybe, my first album would've been if I was 28, is the intentionality in terms of radio success or chart success — or chasing something that might not be thoroughly you, but might be a little more popular than thoroughly you. There's no reason for it at my age, so I can chase what's thoroughly me, and the facets of that. And in the end, that, I think, makes better music anyway.

There's a video I put out for "Somewhere in the Sunshine." Already, the impact of that song is sort of blowing my mind. The video is full of quotes from people that commented on YouTube about who they lost, and how it's giving them a little moment of peace, and how it's blessing them. That's my radio play. That's my GRAMMY.

I try to always realize how blessed I am to be able to do this. It's so much more precious later in life. I think people sometimes meet me and I have an enthusiasm for it that is younger than my years. And, maybe [that's] just because I've been waiting at a distance so long and it finally came true. I might get jaded someday, but it hasn't happened yet.

There's still an outsider mentality. I also feel like an anomaly. All the great artist friends I have, I'm not like them. They've been on the radio, they've had cuts, they've had hits. And then, all the new ones starting off doing their first album, I'm not in their group either — they have a whole career and future ahead.

On the other hand, I feel warm and welcomed in all of those arenas, and in everyone in this town. It always has been unusual for me here. All the reasons I'm here, all the why's, all the how's — but I guess, in the end, that's how I fit, and that's how I belong.

I was blessed that I was able to take my time. I think, once you let go of the outcome, freedom is available. It's just really hard to let go of that outcome. But, as I said, I'm a different beast. What I am means I better let go of that outcome, because the odds of me getting a No. 1 smash off this, they're not great. But the odds of me moving somebody with this music? I think they're pretty good.

2023 In Review: 5 Trends That Defined Country Music

GRAMMY.com’s 50th Anniversary Of Hip-Hop Coverage: A Recap
A tribute to the 50th anniversary of hip-hop at the 2023 GRAMMYs

Photo: Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

list

GRAMMY.com’s 50th Anniversary Of Hip-Hop Coverage: A Recap

The Recording Academy’s celebration of hip-hop’s 50th anniversary included televised events and captivating interviews. Check out the wide range of articles and features produced by GRAMMY.com commemorating this musical milestone.

GRAMMYs/Dec 28, 2023 - 02:51 pm

When we look back at the Recording Academy’s 2023, the 50th anniversary of hip-hop will loom exceptionally large.

The ongoing celebration permeated every facet of the world’s leading society of music professionals this year, from the 65th Annual Awards Ceremony in February to the special airing of "A GRAMMY Salute To Hip-Hop" in December — a dense, thrillingly kaleidoscopic televised tribute to the breadth of this genre.

One major accompaniment to this was coverage of the genre’s legacy via GRAMMY.com, the editorial site run by the Recording Academy. If you haven’t been keeping up, we’ve got you covered. Here’s a highlight reel of the work GRAMMY.com published in honor of the 50th anniversary of hip-hop.

We Profiled Rising Stars

From Lola Brooke to Tkay Maidza, GRAMMY.com engaged in comprehensive in-depth interviews with artists who are at the forefront of shaping the future of hip-hop, and held a roundtable discussion about exactly what the next 50 years might look like. 

We Published Conversations With Legends

DJ Kool Herc and Questlove, who have played unquestionable roles in hip-hop’s continuing evolution, spoke to GRAMMY.com about their profound and abiding connections to the idiom.

The Contributions Of Women Were Highlighted

Without the inspired vision of countless women, hip-hop would not be what it is today. The "Ladies First" segment, which kicked off "A GRAMMY Salute To Hip-Hop" featuring Queen Latifah, Monie Love, and MC Lyte, among other lady greats with Spinderella as DJ, was an ode to this. 

In acknowledgment of female trailblazers in a world dominated by men, GRAMMY.com wrote about teen girl pioneers, women behind the scenes, a revealing Netflix doc, and women artists pushing the genre forward in 2023, from Ice Spice to Lil Simz.

We Revisted Hip-Hop’s Biggest Releases

From Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) to Jay-Z’s The Black Album to Cardi B’s Invasion of Privacy, GRAMMY.com dove deep into the core hip-hop canon. We also broke down the genre’s development decade by decade through the 70s, 80s, 90s, 00s, 10s, and 20s, with a focus on classic albums from each era.

Listen To GRAMMY.com's 50th Anniversary Of Hip-Hop Playlist: 50 Songs That Show The Genre's Evolution

We Criss-Crossed The Country

GRAMMY.com’s series of regional guides — from the Bay Area and SoCal, to Texas and the Dirty South, to D.C. and NYC highlight hip-hop’s diversity of culture and sound.

We Went International

Although hip-hop is a quintessentially American phenomenon, its impact, appeal, and influence has spread worldwide. The international appetite for hip-hop was showcased in coverage of Latinx and Argentinian rappers to know, as well as five international hip-hop scenes to know: France, Nigeria, Brazil, South Africa, and England.

We Explored Hip-Hop’s Larger Impact

Hip-hop is more than a sound. It’s a culture that permeates almost every sector of life. Showcasing this effervescence, GRAMMY.com ran pieces about the evolution of hip-hop’s influence on educational curriculum worldwide, as well as its biggest fashion and style moments.

We Covered On Stage Celebrations

"A GRAMMY Salute To 50 Years Of Hip-Hop," the two-hour special that aired in December on CBS and is available on demand on Paramount+ represented a culmination of the Recording Academy’s 50th year anniversary celebration.

Revisit the 2023 GRAMMYs’ hip-hop revue, and check out a recap of "A GRAMMY Salute" with photos, a rundown of all the performers and songs and coverage of the Black Music Collective’s Recording Academy honors in February.

It Didn’t Stop There…

Notable coverage also included the evolution of the mixtape, 11 Hip-Hop Subgenres to Know and 10 Binge-worthy Hip-Hop Podcasts, as well as a breakdown of Jay-Z’s Songbook and Snoop Dogg’s discography.

For everything GRAMMY.com and all things hip-hop — including our rap-focused run in the GRAMMY Rewind series — visit here.

2023 In Review: 5 Trends That Defined Hip-Hop

How Native Tongues Expanded Hip-Hop With Eclectic Sounds & Vision
(From left) De La Soul, Monie Love & Queen Latifah, The Jungle Brothers, A Tribe Called Quest

Photos: David Corio/Redferns; Raymond Boyd/Getty Images; Al Pereira/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

feature

How Native Tongues Expanded Hip-Hop With Eclectic Sounds & Vision

In the late '80s and early '90s, the New York-based collective Native Tongues encouraged hip-hop to expand and shift. Their attitude had a significant impact on hip-hop and, later, mainstream pop.

GRAMMYs/Dec 12, 2023 - 08:40 pm

When people fondly refer back to hip-hop’s golden age, they are talking about hip-hop’s adolescence — an experimental era when no idea was too risky, no innovation too bold, no boundary too established to be broken. This period between the mid 1980s and mid '90s saw hip-hop’s elders transported into new directions as the culture transitioned into the capitalist mainstream.

It is impossible to document this golden era without acknowledging the contributions of the Native Tongues. The New York-based collective — whose core members included now household names such as the Jungle Brothers, A Tribe Called Quest, Queen Latifah, De La Soul and Monie Love — played a pivotal role in reshaping the cultural landscape of both hip-hop and jazz in the mainstream. As a whole, the Native Tongues opted for a more introspective and bohemian approach to their lyricism and melodies.

The Jungle Brothers’ Mike Gee, DJ Sammy B and Baby Bam led the wave with an Afrocentric philosophy. Their 1988 debut album Straight Out the Jungle, set the vanguard of fusing hip-hop with jazz elements. "Black is Black" is perfectly representative of the first tendrils of what would become the canonical Native Tongues sound: an almost whimsical approach to with race relations and social commentary in America, structured with a boom-bap drums and an impressive array of samples (Gil-Scott Heron, Prince, Kool & The Gang). At the opening beats, Q-Tip introduces himself, going "I’m from A Tribe Called Quest" — a harbinger of the yearslong future association as part of the most influential young collectives of the '90s.

Q-Tip and Ali Shaheed Muhammad of Tribe were classmates of the Jungle Brothers in the lower Manhattan high school Murray Bergtraum, and began collaborating as classmates. With additional members Jarobi White and the since departed Phife Dawg, the quartet — and occasional trio — had an impressive five album run: People's Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm (1989), The Low End Theory (1991), Midnight Marauders (1993), Beats, Rhymes and Life (1996), and The Love Movement (1998). Each release featured a panoply of inspired and progressive approaches to hip-hop, with lyrics and intricate rhyme schemes that ranged from pensive to cheekily adolescent; production drew influence from jazz, bossa nova, rock, and everything in between.

"Check the Rhime" of the classic Low End Theory is exemplary of their dexterity and appeal. Couplets that are deceptively laid back yet remarkably complex — seamlessly veering from discussing capitalism to general braggadocious flair — while the beat integrates everyone from Minnie Ripperton to a Scottish funk & R&B.

De La Soul rounded out the core groups at the heart of Native Tongues. The Long Island-based trio — Kelvin "Posdnuos" Mercer, Vincent "Maseo" Mason Jr, and the late Dave "Trugoy The Dove" Joliceur — played with a colorful and eclectic approach to their jazz tinged sound and visuals (their debut album declared it the age of the DA.I.S.Y. (Da Inner Sound, Y'all) ). De La Soul were unafraid to lean into a sense of whimsy with songs like "Transmitting Live  from Mars," which sampled the Turtles while integrating a looped French lesson. Unfortunately the result would be precarious: the Turtles sued and won for using their sample, setting a dangerous precedent for the industry.

It would not be the end of De La Soul's legal troubles in the industry. Due to negotiations and disputes with Tommy Boy Records, most of De La Soul’s discography was not available on streaming and younger generations. That is, until March 2023, when De La Soul regained the rights to their releases under the label.

Rounding out the Native Tongues are Newark's Queen Latifah and London’s Monie Love (the only non-New Yorkers in the core crew). Each artist is a pioneer  in not just hip-hop’s consciousness space, but leaders for women in the industry. Latifah and Love’s "Ladies First" is an example of their dual function in the collective as chroniclers of both women's and Black issues. The hit record confronted feminist themes and women’s liberation with punch, verve, and dizzying rhyme patterns; the music video addressed trans-continental Black struggles including the plight of South African racial apartheid. The song was an embodiment of the Native Tongues spirit.

There was never an official dissolution to the Native Tongues; rather, fractures, regroupings and  internal conflicts that stopped the collective's momentum in the mid-'90s. Combined with the rise of Bad Boy Records and a new style of hip-hop star.

Yet as the years progressed, there would be multiple extended members that would be affiliated with the Native Tongues movement — Black Sheep, Black Star, Brand Nubian, the Beatnuts, Leaders of the New School, the incomparable J Dilla — showcasing the impact the Native Tongues’ craft and approach had on '90s hip hop. That influence extends to present day, with popular artists such as Tyler, the Creator and Pharrell  crediting the Tongues’ renegade spirit in their own journeys as individuals, rappers, and producers.

The Native Tongues shifted the myopic perspectives of what people believed hip-hop could, would and should be; their influence encouraged hip-hop to expand, shift and impact the mainstream pop world. The collective's legacy remains as a reminder to ignore narrow-minded criticisms of hip-hop culture (and sound) as a single narrative.

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