Photo: Ingrid Pop
Reunited Shoegaze Legends Slowdive Prove 'Everything Is Alive'
When Slowdive returned almost a decade ago, they were in the awkward position of "heritage band." Their new album 'everything is alive' proves they remain a fruitful creative enterprise.
Slowdive may occupy an odd zone in the music industry, but they're in good company. Like Dinosaur Jr. and Pixies, Slowdive arrived during the golden age of alternative music, semi-chaotically broke up, reunited in the 21st century, and then stayed together.
During their time away, Slowdive's celestial, tempestuous brand of rock music had been codified as a genre unto itself: shoegaze. Which used to be a pejorative, and was now a badge of honor.
When they returned to the game in 2014 — thinking they'd play a festival or two — they realized the world was more primed than ever to embrace them.
"I think it took us a moment to feel like we're not just the heritage band," their founding guitarist and vocalist, Neil Halstead, admits to GRAMMY.com. "We felt a bit awkward... people wanted to hear songs that we wrote 20 years ago."
For a minute, Slowdive gracefully assumed the "heritage band" role, playing beloved oldies like "Catch the Breeze," "Machine Gun" and "Dagger" for old heads and a zealous new generation. Soon, they realized their creative synergy was intact: they could be not only back, but here.
In 2017, they dropped the acclaimed Slowdive; now, they're out with everything is alive, a continuation of their long-delayed evolution that hews closely to what made them special, with a few aesthetic twists.
Diaphanous tracks like "prayer remembered," "kisses" and "the slab" could have been released in 1993, but they sound right at home in 2023.
Read on for a full interview with Halstead about the journey to everything is alive and his ripening dynamic with vocalist Rachel Goswell, guitarist Christian Savill, bassist Nick Chaplin, and drummer Simon Scott.
Slowdive (L-R, clockwise from bottom left: Neil Halstead, Simon Scott, Nick Chaplin, Christian Savill, Rachel Goswell)
This interview has been edited for clarity.
What was the germ of everything is alive? What did the band primarily wish to communicate?
Approaching any record, I think you just want to enjoy the creative process. You always hope that you're gonna try and do something a little different than maybe what you've done before.
When we decided we were going to do this record I brought a bunch of stuff in for the band — electronic music I'd been working on for a couple of years;' it was no guitars — just sort of modular and kind of synth bass, minimal electronic music.
The most important thing for me is that it's a valid creative exercise. That it's fun and it's enjoyable. I never really think about where it's going to end.
What's your relationship with electronic music been like over the years?
I suppose my interest in electronic music dates back to when we were doing [1995's] Pygmalion. Up to that point, I was an indie kid, into my guitar music and stuff.
I sort of started getting into more sort of techno — Aphex Twin, Warp Records, bands like LFO. Exploring stuff like John Cage, and Stockhausen, and that more experimental side of music, opens up all those areas.
In the last, I guess, 10 years, I've sort of got much more into modular kinds of systems. Which is just really good fun. I make a lot of music that doesn't really have any outlet, you know. I really just enjoy making it. It doesn't really involve guitars.
Slowdive's drummer, Simon [Scott], is in the U.S.; all his solo stuff is sort of field music, and much more ambient kind of bass music. It's kind of granular. He likes to really explore different textures.
I think there's always been a side side of Slowdive that is more interested in the instrumentals, rather than making songs — the side that enjoys just creating textures.
After Pygmalion, certainly, my interest was more electronic music, and then it reverted to acoustic music and folk music. [Electronic music] is certainly where my head's at these days.
[everything is alive] was really enjoyable because it kind of brought those electronic things into Slowdive world as well.
Regarding modular synths, what are you nerding out about lately? It seems like it could be a bottomless rabbit hole.
Yeah, it's a bit like guitar pedals, because you can collect these things and continue to collect them. There are always new modules coming out.
It is a massive rabbit hole and a massive waste of money, but it keeps me entertained and happy. I can lose so much time just messing around with them, and then realize I haven't actually recorded anything.
But there's something quite nice about that as well. It's very in the moment; it's very present working with that kind of technology.
Souvlaki was released when I was a year old; you guys were barely in your twenties. How would you characterize your working relationship with Slowdive as grown-ups, without the rough edges of youth? It seems like it'd be much saner.
It's definitely less hysterical. You got it right with the rough edges of youth, but some of that angst was really helpful in creating music. Souvlaki, Just For a Day — it's kind of teenage music.
That was an important part of what we did. We wouldn't have made those records if we'd not been teenagers. So, it's a different thing now, trying to make Slowdive records.
I don't know if it's a more sane experience, but it's more measured. I couldn't really conceive of making a record like Pygmalion now, because to make that record, I almost had to alienate the rest of the band. No one else was really into electronic music; I had to force my hand with that.
To their credit, they let me do it, but I think it probably broke the band up; we split up after that record. I wouldn't want to put everyone in that position. Now, I'm much more willing to compromise, and they're much more willing to find a way through, where everyone's happy with the record.
Which is probably a better way to make Slowdive records, but it does mean it takes longer to make them.For it to go on a Slowdive record, everyone has to love it. That means you lose a lot of material [chuckles] but that's just the process.
How did the material germinate past the point of electronic experiments, and bloom into a proper Slowdive album?
Purely by just taking them to the band. A lot of them we would use as the basis for a track, so we'd literally have the band play along to what was there.
Then, we started taking bits and pieces out, and seeing what we were left with — thinking Well, maybe we can record this in a different way, you know. With every track, we would approach it quite organically and just see where it went.
Maybe we would try adding a few guitars, or maybe I'd just say to Simon, "Can you try drumming along to this one." And things started to take shape, where we were kind of like, OK, that sounds cool. That's kind of interesting.
For my part, I remained really detached from the original ideas, because it had to be a Slowdive record. So, everyone had to feel like they were part of the process.
Tell me about a part of everything is alive that benefited greatly from your bandmates' touch.
There are so many moments like that. "prayer remembered" was a really nice one. It was literally just this one arpeggiating synth that I played, that created the melody and the tune. I had Simon and [guitarist] Christian [Savill] play along to this thing.
Then, we took the original modular away from the track, which sort of left this space. Simon ended up taking some of Christian's guitars and feeding them through a Max patch system — you can granulate and change the sounds.
There's this kind of choral component that flips in and out, which is this Match patch stuff that Simon worked from. It's really lovely, and it adds so much to the track.
When Simon figured out the drums for "the slab," that was a big moment for us. I think with the track "chained to a cloud," that was a big moment as well, because originally, that had a load of choruses. Once we took the choruses away, it really simplified the whole thing, and it became this very linear journey.
It's just little moments where suddenly, things start to make sense. You start to feel like the tracks are creating their own endpoints, as they go into their own special places.
Can you speak to the production aesthetic — how you wanted the sound to impact people?
We had Shawn Everett mix the record; I went out to L.A. to mix the record with Shawn. Having him take raw stems and make them fit together really well was a big moment for us.
It definitely brought a lot of attitude to the records, particularly in terms of the drums. Making them a bit dirtier sounding and stuff like that was really important to the finished record.
When Slowdive reunited in the 2010s, what was it like to see the aesthetic of Slowdive and your contemporaries become a lodestar to aspire to?
To be honest, I wasn't really aware that shoegaze had kind of become a thing.
There was a moment in the early 2000s, when a German label did a compilation where they had all their bands do cover versions of Slowdive songs; it was an electronic label that you really wouldn't associate with guitar music at all.
I remember hearing that and being like, Oh, this is kind of interesting! It was weird that they'd even heard of us, let alone decided to do a whole record of Slowdive songs, coming from a completely different genre.
But it wasn't until we got back together in 2014 [to play Primavera Sound in Barcelona that] we were like, "OK, maybe we could do that." We'd been seeing each other a little bit. It was quite good timing, in terms of people feeling like they could put in a bit of time and do a festival or two.
But once we started doing the festivals, and then a few shows of our own, we realized that this shoegaze thing had taken on its own life; a whole generation of kids had found this music through the internet. I wasn't aware of that until that point. I don't think anyone else in the band was either.
It's great that shoegaze has taken ahold of its own name, and affirmed that, in a way. When the term was coined, it was obviously not meant in a particularly nice way. It's great that that term has been regained, and it's a proper genre now, which I think is kind of cool.
My hunch is that neither Slowdive nor your contemporaries thought you were making any codified style of music. Rather, it seems like you all were just trying to make rock music with dreaminess and beauty to it.
I think you're right. Originally, it was just a bunch of bands that wanted to make guitar music that sounded different — that wasn't necessarily going to sound right on the radio.
That wasn't the thing anyone was really thinking about. It was more like, I want to make a record as beautiful as Cocteau Twins, or as massive-sounding as My Bloody Valentine, or as ridiculous as Loop.
I think they didn't just want to make a pop song that sounds decent on the radio. There was something else going on there.
Photo: NBCU Photo Bank/Getty Images
Lady Legends And Newcomers Join Mercury Rev On Bobbie Gentry Tribute Album
Mercury Rev revisits Gentry's classic sophomore album with female guest vocalists who shine. Catch the album out Feb. 8
Indie band Mercury Rev have announced their next album, a tribute to Bobbie Gentry's The Delta Sweete Revisited, will be available on Feb. 8.
The album features an array of guest voices. Mercury Rev's incredible selection of guest vocalists on the tracks kicks off with Norah Jones performing "Okolona River Bottom Band." Others lending their voices to the effort are Phoebe Bridgers, Vashti Bunyan, Rachel Goswell, Marissa Nadler, Beth Orton, Lætitia Sadier, Hope Sandoval, Kaela Sinclair, Susanne Sundfør, Carice van Houten, and Lucinda Williams, whose rendition of "Ode To Billie Joe" was added to the original album's tracklist.
"Bobbie is iconic, original, eloquent and timeless," said singer Margo Price, whose guest vocals are featured on "Sermon." "She has remained a strong voice and an eternal spirit of the delta, wrapped in mystery, yet forever here."
The Delta Sweete was Gentry's 1968 follow up to her debut Ode To Billie Joe, for which she won three GRAMMYs at the 10th GRAMMY Awards.
NEWS: @mercuryrevvd have announced the release of Bobbie Gentry’s The Delta Sweete Revisited! The album is a re-imagining of Bobbie Gentry’s forgotten masterpiece and features an incredible cast list of guest vocalists. More info here... https://t.co/ctfOtZ9kGb pic.twitter.com/TFfyaYdSVa— bella union (@bellaunion) November 14, 2018
Photo: Scott Legato/Getty Images
The Cure Announce All-Star Lineup For 40th-Anniversary Celebration
Interpol, Goldfrapp, Slowdive, and more to join the British dream-rockers in London next July celebrating four decades as a band
Next year, the Cure will celebrate 40 years as a band with a celebration concert at London's BST Hyde Park on July 7, 2018, and they're bringing along some very talented friends.
Interpol, Goldfrapp, Slowdive, Editors, Twilight Sad, and Ride will join the Cure, along with additional performers to be announced at a later date, according to Rolling Stone.
Led by emotive frontman Robert Smith, the Cure have provided the soundtrack for a generation with their dreamy rock sound and impassioned, crafty songwriting. From the refreshingly melancholic anthems of the 1980s on such landmark albums as Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me and Disintegration, to their chart-topping GRAMMY-nominated 1992 album Wish, to their pair of solid releases in the 2000s, including 2004's The Cure and 2008's 4:13 Dream, the Cure have continued to influence new bands and win new fans. Last year, they played a string of U.S. tour dates and even debuted two new songs live in New Orleans.
Presale for the 40th-anniversary celebration show starts Dec. 12 with tickets going on-sale to the general public starting Dec. 15. More information is available via the Cure's website.
Photo: Karthik Kher
Global Spin: Relive King's "Good Trip" With This Radiant Performance
New Delhi-based musician King offers a prismatic performance of "Good Trip," a braggadocious track from his newest LP, 'New Life.'
If you walk with burgeoning Indian star King, it's certain to be a "Good Trip."
On Oct. 18, the New Delhi native dropped his most diverse project yet, New Life, via Warner Music India, blending electronic and hip-hop beats with traditional Bollywood melodies. King traverses topics of mental health ("Runaway," featuring Julia Michaels) and ambitious dreams ("CROWN," alongside fellow Indian songstress Natania).
Amongst the album’s most confident tracks is "Good Trip," which King performs in this episode of Global Spin. "I'm the next big thing," King declares before transitioning into Hindi.
King revealed on Instagram that the LP has been in the works since 2019 but was unexpectedly postponed by the pandemic and his breakthrough album, Champagne Talk. "After living and experiencing all this in just two years, I've got to realize everything happens for a reason and this is the actual new life I've been blessed with," he wrote. "Sometimes, being late is being right on time."
Press play on the video above to view King's vibrant performance of "Good Trip," and check back to GRAMMY.com for more new episodes of Global Spin.
Photo: Leon Bennett/Getty Images for Netflix
For Questlove, "A GRAMMY Salute To 50 Years Of Hip-Hop" Is Crucial For Rap's Legacy
When Questlove worked on the Hip-Hop 50 revue at the 2023 GRAMMYs, the experience was so stressful that he lost two teeth. But he didn't balk at the opportunity to co-produce a two-hour special; the task was too important.
Today, Public Enemy's 1988 album It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back is correctly viewed as a watershed not just for hip-hop, but all of music. But when Questlove's father overheard him playing it, it didn't even sound like music to him.
"He happened to pass my room while 'Night of the Living Baseheads' came on and he had a look of disgust and dismay, like he caught me watching porn," the artist born Ahmir Thompson tells GRAMMY.com. "He literally was like, 'Dude, when you were three, I was playing you Charlie Parker records, and I was playing you real singers and real arrangers, and this is what you call music? All those years I wasted on private school and jazz classes. This is what you like?'
"I couldn't explain to him: 'Dad, you don't understand. Your entire boring-ass record collection downstairs is now being redefined in this very album. Everything you've ever played is in this record,'" he says. "If my dad — who was relatively cool and hip, but just getting older — couldn't understand it, then I know there's a world of people out there that are really just like, whatever."
That nagging reality has powered him ever since — whether he's co-leading three-time GRAMMY winners the Roots, authoring books and liner notes, or directing Oscar-winning films.
And that path led straight to Questlove's role as a producer for "A GRAMMY Salute To 50 Years Of Hip-Hop," which will air Sunday, Dec. 10, from 8:30 to 10:30 p.m. ET and 8:00 to 10:00 p.m. PT on the CBS Television Network, and stream live and on demand on Paramount+.
Questlove makes no bones about it: working on that 12-minute Hip-Hop 50 revue at the 2023 GRAMMYs was taxing. So taxing, in fact, that he lost two teeth due to the psychological pressure. But he soldiered on, and the result is an inspiring rush of a two-hour special.
"The thing that really motivated me — Look, man, roll up your sleeves and run through this mud — was like, if there ever was going to be a hip-hop time capsule, a lot of the participants in this show are somewhere between the ages of 20 and 60, and everybody's still kind of in their prime," he says.
"So that way,” Questlove continues, “in 2030, 2040, 2050, when our great, great, great, great grandkids are born and they want to look up someone, this'll probably be one of the top five things they look up. And I wanted to be a part of that."
Read on for a rangey interview with Questlove about his role in "A GRAMMY Salute To 50 Years of Hip-Hop," in all its dimensions.
Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson and Tariq "Black Thought" on "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon" in 2023. Photo: Todd Owyoung/NBC via Getty Images
This interview has been edited for clarity.
What can you tell me about your involvement in "A GRAMMY Salute To 50 Years Of Hip-Hop"?
I could be the guy that complains and complains and complains and complains: Man, I wish somebody would dah, dah, dah. Man, somebody needs to dah, dah, dah. And then the universe the whole time is poking you in the stomach like a dog. You think you're going to be drumming for life — like, that's your job.
So I went through this period where I just hated the lay of the land. And now people are like, "Well, the door is open if you want to come and see if you could change it." And for me, it was just important to.
And at first, I was really skeptical about this because even when I was an artist, my peers all the time would — I say in air quotes jokingly, but it's like, man, I know they're serious — they would just call me a suit. Whenever someone's called a suit in a sitcom or it is like, that's always the bad guy. Or especially for me that's known for all this artistry.
But for me, it's like, I can either just sit on the sidelines and watch this thing slowly kind of go in a direction that I don't want it to go. And often with the history of Black music in America, we're innovating this stuff, but we're really not behind the scenes in power positions to control it or to decide what direction it is. And it's a lot of heartbreaking and hard work.
After the success of the thing that we did in March — that 12-minute revue thing — I'll be honest with you. For 12 minutes that was like going through damn near, and I'm not even using hyperbolic statements by saying, coming out within an inch of my life.
When that moment was literally over and I was on the airplane landing back in New York, two of my teeth fell out. That's the level of stress I was [under]. Imagine landing in JFK and I got to rush to "The Tonight Show," but then it's like, Oh, wait, what's happening? Oh God, no! My teeth are falling out! And going to emergency surgery. My whole takeaway was like: Never again.
So of course when they hit me in July, "Hey, remember that 12 minute thing you did? You want to do the two-hour version of it?" I was like, "Hell no." And of course I hell noed for three weeks and it's like, "All right, I'll do it, but I'll just be a name on it. I ain't doing nothing." And then it went from that to like, "All right, what do you need me to do?"
What I will say is it's a two-hour show in which you got to figure out how to tell [the story of] hip-hop's 50-year totality — its origins, its peak period, its first moments of breaking new ground, the moment it went global around the world. You got to figure out a way to tell this story in two-hour interstitials and be all-inclusive.
It was just as stressful, even up until four hours ago. I'll just basically say that my teeth didn't fall out, thank God. And it was worth everything, because it's really a beautiful moment.
Sorry for that 12-hour answer, but that's just how my life rolls.
It was a great answer. What was your specific role behind the scenes?
So, [part of] my actual division of labor thing was finding people to help facilitate music. This is a genre in which maybe the first six years of the art form, there was no such thing as an instrumental. "Or, "Hey, J.Period, can you recreate 'Check Out My Melody' by Eric B. & Rakim with no vocals in it?"
Finding the right people to do the music, sometimes I'd have to do it myself. And a lot of people in hip-hop have been super burnt. Super burnt. And I mean, that's putting it lightly.
And so you're giving these impassioned, Jerry Maguire, help-me-help-you speeches. The amount of times I was like, "Look, I really want you to reconsider your answer. This is our legacy we're talking about."
I'm using terms that a lot of these people, frankly, are hearing for the first time, Because like I've said in past interviews, hip-hop started as outlaw music. No one thought it was going to be a thing. So there's a whole generation that had to lay out the red carpet, just so that the next generation could benefit from it while we disposed of them.
But then that next generation gets disposed of, and then here comes my generation. And then the next thing, you wake up and it's like, "Oh, we're not relevant anymore," and dah, dah, dah.
And I'm trying to convince people, "Wait, you don't understand. Now we have a seat at the table. Now we get to control. All that we talked about, we need to control our destiny, and this is our culture." And there was a lot of that. And some people [were like], "All right, I'll do it for you." [To which I said,] "No, no, don't do it for me. Do it for the culture."
But then there were also people like, "Man, never again. F— all that." And there was also, "Hey, why wasn't I asked?" and all that stuff. So in these two hours, you're going to see eight to nine segments in which we try to wisely cover every base.
This is the "Lyricist" section, and this is the "Down South" section. And ["Ladies First"] is all about the ladies. And this is for those that passed away. And this is for the club bangers. And this is for music outside of America. And this is for the left-of-center alternative hip-hop.
Yes, we wanted to include everybody, but this is network television. And at that, you only get eight to 12 minutes at a time. So that's even hard. "Hey, why can't I do my chorus and my verse?" "Look, man, you got 32 seconds." If you've ever seen those "Tom and Jerry" cartoons where they're juggling plates in a kitchen — like 30 at a time — I don't recommend that to anybody.
But we got through it. I want everyone to feel proud of where hip-hop has come, because to be nine years old and to get on punishment for hip-hop — you know what I mean? I come from that generation. You've got to pay a price to live this culture.
And now it's established. So that's why I got involved. So there was a lot I had to do. A lot of calls, a lot of begging, a lot of arrangements, a lot of talking to people about clearing their samples, to call up publishing companies: "Look, it's just a four-second segment. It's just one drum roll. Can you please overlook it just for the sake of it?"
The amount of times I had to give those speeches. So yeah, that's what I had to do.
And that's just me. It's nine of us. So there's lighting directions, and choreography, and wardrobe, and dealing with clearance — like FCC, and, "They can't say that." And, "All right, which one of us is going to try to call Snoop to ask him that sort of thing?"
And the amount of Zooms that we were on at five in the morning in the Maldives or halfway around the world.
There must be some component of this process where you recognize that there could never be a perfect two-hour special. There could never be a perfect 200-hour special. There must be something freeing about realizing that nothing can be comprehensive when you're dealing with a cultural ocean like this.
[At one point], I had to take a hip-hop break. And the first thing that I did a week later, after recuperating, was I went on YouTube and I just watched every award show I remember watching — like prime Soul Train Awards back in '87, '88, '89, the years that Michael Jackson was killing the GRAMMYs.
Award shows were so magical to me, when I was a kid. There was a period just between five to maybe 15 or 16 in which I religiously watched that stuff, and you just take it for granted.
When Herbie Hancock did Rockit back in 1983 with all those mechanical break dancers, I wonder the work and the headaches that it took to make that happen. The drummer from Guns N' Roses [was] missing while they had to do "Patience" at the American Music Awards — and Don Henley, of all people, was just on the sidelines like, "Does anyone know how to drum?"
Because the thing was, that was the year they decided, "You know what? This is going to be the first year in which we're going to ask artists to double down on stuff. So we're going to have Rihanna sing three songs, and we're going to have Chris do two songs. We're going to have Justin Timberlake. And then, suddenly, their absence now means that there's five major gaps open.
And they had 40 minutes left before they went to go live and I'm watching the producer make an announcement: "Ladies and gentlemen, something just happened. We can't get into it."
The level of viralness now on Instagram or Twitter is expected, but back then it was like, Oh, I wonder what happened? And they're just running up the aisles to Stevie Wonder, "Yo, can you [mimics rapid-fire, inaudible chatter]?"
And I'm looking at him, pondering: What the hell are they asking him? And then Stevie's getting up and doing it, and then, "Jonas Brothers, can you duh, duh, duh? Boyz II Men. Where's Al Green? Is Al Green here?" So literally, I'm watching them solve a headache in real time. And with 20 minutes left, backstage rehearsing, and we were really none the wiser.
I've seen that a few times. My very first GRAMMYs was when Luciano Pavarotti got sick and someone just randomly asked, "Hey, does anyone out there know the lyrics to 'Ave Maria'?" Aretha Franklin raised her hand, and we were all like, 'Wait, we mean the Italian version, like that 'Ave Maria.'" And she's like, "I do know the version."
We underestimated if Aretha Franklin from Detroit, Michigan knew how to sing something in Italian. And within a half hour she was on that stage and she killed that s—.
So it made me literally recapitulate every award show I ever watched.Now I'm watching with the analytical eye: I wonder what headaches it took to put that together? So, it changed me as a spectator and a participant.
I have a friend who's been a dedicated hip-hop fan his entire life. We were talking about the 50th anniversary of hip-hop. He questioned the entire enterprise, arguing that it's an arbitrary number that doesn't mean much to true rap fans. What does the 50th anniversary of hip-hop mean to you, personally?
Well, to me, it's important. There's an interlude that I put on the Things Fall Apart record. The album starts with an argument from [the 1990 film] Mo' Better Blues in which Denzel Washington and Wesley Snipes' jazz musician characters are arguing about just the disposability of the art form.
And it ends with a quote from Harry Allen saying that the thing about hip-hop is that most people think that it's disposable: Let me get what I can out this thing, and I'll throw them out the window. And on top of that, people don't even see it as art. And that really hit me in the gut, because I see the beauty of it.
This is kind of why I got into the game of: first it was with liner notes, and then with social media doing these mammoth history posts. And then it's like, Alright, well, let me write some books, because I'm afraid that no one's doing this level of critical thinking about this particular thing.
I know that the disdain and the dismissiveness that I got from some of hip-hop's participants does sort of stem from a place of ego being bruised. And it's righteous. It's righteous anger. But I also knew that if I sat on the sidelines, then it's like when I have grandkids and they Google this, and if it was a half-assed job, then that's my fault. And I definitely don't want to be the guy that talks, talks, complains, complains, without being a part of it.
So yeah, for the amount of people that prematurely died before the age of 30, and for the startling volume of people that have recently passed away in the last three years because of health issues, cardiac arrest, strokes, a lot of us are dying… You and I are talking right now, right when Norman Lear has passed away at the age of 101.
I just read that in The New York Times.
Dude, can you imagine "Tupac Shakur Dead at 103"? Can you imagine that for hip-hop?
It's a survival tool, because for a lot of us, that was the way out of poverty. It was vital for me. I couldn't just sit back and not watch one person behind the wheel. I have to be the designated driver. So, that's why it's important to celebrate that number.
And a big part of my convincing them was like when they were going to pass, like, "Nah, dog, I'm cool. I got a gig that night," I was like, "Dude, we're not going to do this for the 51st or the 52nd. And frankly, will we be here?" I will be 92 years old if it makes it to the 75th. You know what I mean?
The only person that got in my face was Latifah like, "Excuse me, I will be here for the 75th and I will be for the 100th. You don't know when I'm leaving." So I was like, "More power to you, Dana. All right, good. Queen Latifah will be here for the 100th."
What I'm gathering from what you're saying is that no matter what, it's important to have an organization of this prestige canonize this cultural force.
Oh, absolutely. And I know that oftentimes we play the game of public appearances for the gaze of the establishment. I don't want to get into that thing either: making performative celebrations just so that the mainstream can celebrate us.
I have to say that when you watch it, it really doesn't come off as compromised. This thing really looks good. That was the one thing that we laughed at in the group chat, like, "Man, we just went through Apocalypse Now, and are we all saying it was worth it?"
There are at least three people in my production thread that were sort of like, "Uh-huh, never again. I will never again subject myself." And one of them is dead serious. One of them started doing something the opposite, like, "Nah, I'm just doing classical music from now on. There's no stress there." But it was worth it. It was worth it to me.
Questlove in 2023. Photo: Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images
It looks to be a classy, expansive special. I'm excited for it to air.
The best part about it? So if you remember, to me, the star of the 12-minute version that we did at the GRAMMYs in March, was Jay-Z.
It was one of the things where it's like, "Hey, do we even ask Jay-Z?" And that's the one guy we decided ourselves, "Well, let's pass on him because number one, he's already performing with DJ Khaled, so we'll pass on him."
Jay-Z actually wound up being the star of that because he was a fan mouthing it in the audience, which to me was almost like better than us just doing a song with Jay-Z on stage. But the audience is the absolute star.
To see Chuck D smile — I've never seen Chuck D smile. As all these acts are coming out and Chuck D's like, singing <a href="https://www.grammy.com/news/sly-stone-velvet-underground-11-facts-about-grammy-legends">[Sly and the Family Stone's] "Everyday People," like Boston fans sing "Sweet Caroline" at Red Sox games. Who knew that Chuck D was so jovial about things? But that's with everyone in the audience watching, supporting each other.
So that to me is also an important thing because as audience members on stage, they're ripping it, but as audience members, they're supporting each other. And that, I think is the most important part, because a lot of my take was like, "Wow, I didn't know that dah, dah, dah was so supportive." Or, "Man, Nelly actually knows every Public Enemy lyric. Who knew?" There are a lot of "Who knew?" moments that will shock people for this show.
I'm so glad you brought that up. That was one of my favorite moments during the Hip-Hop 50 performance at the 2022 GRAMMYs. Jay-Z is a billionaire twice over and a global cultural figure, but we see him in the audience, grinning ear-to-ear like a little boy, doing finger guns in the air.
He's getting his life back. And it's important. Especially now, I'm all about joy. And it's not even just like this particular hip-hop figure celebrating his music.
When Chance the Rapper comes out, again, I'm like, "Wow, [Cee] Knowledge from Digable Planets knows Chance?" And then I was like, "Well, they got kids, so of course I'm sure their kids play around the house." I'm doing all this analytical things like, "Wait, how do they know this song? And this is past their age range."
And that to me is the most telling part of this whole thing, to watch generational people get out of their actual zone and to find out that they're fans of — when GloRilla comes out, to watch [Digable Planets' Ladybug] Mecca mouth the lyrics. I was just like, "Oh, wow, OK."
That kind of puts to bed that stereotype that we only listen to the music in our realm. So, yeah, man — to me, that was the magic part of it all.