meta-scriptLearn From Texas: How A New Generation Of Artists And Creatives Is Blazing Trails In Today's Texas Rap Scene | GRAMMY.com
Learn From Texas: How A New Generation Of Artists And Creatives Is Blazing Trails In Today's Texas Rap Scene

(L-R) Mama Duke, Bobby Sessions, Anastasia Hera, Fat Tony

Graphic By Lauryn Alvarez / Source Photos (L-R): Ronny Galdamez, Karlo Ramos, Michael “Blue” Smith, Aileen Son

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Learn From Texas: How A New Generation Of Artists And Creatives Is Blazing Trails In Today's Texas Rap Scene

With the explosive rise of homegrown megastars, Texas has become a music epicenter where regional up-and-comers are on the fast track to headliner status. Today, the industry is looking to the Lone Star State to discover the future of rap.

GRAMMYs/Aug 25, 2021 - 03:30 am

Bobby Sessions is a testament to the practice of determination. It was 2015, and the then-budding, Dallas-born rapper/songwriter spent his days stocking shelves at a local area Walmart. Bored of the humdrum of the everyday retail hustle, he quit his job; he only had $50 to his name at the time. But what he lacked in his bank account, he more than compensated with his burning passion for music and his dreams of rap stardom.

Later, Sessions, a strong believer in the concept of the laws of attraction, wrote an outline for his music career on a whiteboard—and then he executed it.

In the time since, he's signed to Def Jam Record­ings, released his debut album, MANIFEST, in June, and, this past March at the 2021 GRAMMY Awards show, won his first GRAMMY as a songwriter for Megan Thee Stallion and Beyoncé's all-Texas rap collab, "Savage."

"Just to know that you can write certain things down, put a certain energy out into the universe and really believe in it, and then watch it manifest and unfold," Sessions tells GRAMMY.com about his almost-cosmic vision. "I think the power of it is shocking. The reality that it happened? Not so shocking, because it was intentional, like an intentional miracle."

Sessions' path to stardom outlines a particular lane numerous Texans have blazed in recent years. With the explosive rise of homegrown rap megastars like Megan Thee Stallion, Travis Scott and Maxo Kream, Texas has become a music epicenter where regional up-and-comers are on the fast track to headliner status. The tried-and-true method of Texas-based artists leaving home to break through beyond their city and state borders has shifted. Today, fans, outsiders and industry heads are looking to the Lone Star State to discover the next wave of rising rap artists and the future of the genre.

"I think Texas hip-hop is moving into a space where we, as a state, can be regarded as a cultural/music hub again," Shelby Stewart, writer and founder of the HTX Hip-Hop Museum, a museum celebrating "Houston's history and culture in the music industry," according to its website, tells GRAMMY.com. "For a long time, we were producing talent, but other cities would run off with the culture, but we wouldn't necessarily get the credit. I think now, Texas is reclaiming its time. You see rappers across the state representing in so many sub-genres of hip-hop music. We have rappers contributing to indie, punk rock, and trap, not to mention female rappers are moving into the forefront where they belong."

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The Texas Sound, Then And Now

Throughout the years, Texas refined its own sonic identity, never able to be confined to one particular idea or concept. Creating and establishing identity is paramount to artists in the Lone Star State, which has produced a unique Texas sound that's since been transported across multiple genres and throughout the nation. The sounds and looks may have been adapted by others. But for many fans across the globe, the flair, attitude and style from where it all originated has remained Texas to the core from the jump.

Of course, the Texas rap scene has remained central to hip-hop's cultural and musical evolution across the decades. In Dallas, there have been no less than three major hip-hop generations to emerge throughout the years: from the D.O.C.'s unique blend of Texas and California styles in the early 1990s to the edge and grit of Big Tuck, Tum Tum and the Dirty South Rydaz in the early 2000s when Texas' variation on crunk music permeated the state to the rise of major rap producers like Symbolyc One (S1), who's collaborated with Kanye West, Beyoncé, Jay-Z, Eminem, and many others, in the 2010s. Led by now-elder statesmen Paul Wall, Mike Jones, Chamillionaire, and Bun B, Houston became a rap hub that "captivated the mainstream" in the mid-2000s, Rolling Stone writes. (Prior to this era, Houston icon and "chopped and screwed" innovator DJ Screw laid the foundation for the city's hip-hop scene in the early '90s.) Most recently, all eyes are on Austin's rap scene, now led by local rappers like Quin NFN, Mama Duke, J Soulja, and others.

Today's Texas rap sound is going global—and is undeniably led by a new class of women artists.

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For Houston native Fat Tony, music has become his vessel to take him, and his art, all over the world. After first cutting his teeth in the regional market, performing at small venues in the city, he eventually began collaborating with artists across the globe; in 2016, he launched a monthly club residency, Function, in Mexico City that paired rappers from both countries.

"I never left Texas. I've never been on a plane or really done anything until I started making music," Fat Tony bluntly tells GRAMMY.com. "I got booked for a music festival in 2015 down in Mexico City. I had never heard of Mexico City, but it led to a whole relationship where I'm creating monthly parties [there], and it became my duty to educate them."

Working with others, he says, has since fueled his creative process, from crafting his latest album Exotica, released in October 2020, to charting his next steps. "I feel like art is about community, and it's a big part of why I got into music. I think a big part of extending that is collaboration. And a collaboration doesn't have to be just [in] music; it can be a friendship, putting on shows, linking people together. I've had a lot of opportunities thrown away from people linking me to stuff, and I just want to keep growing."

Ladies First: Women Leading The Charge

As the wider rap community begins to diversify, including a blossoming rap scene in Africa and growing representation for LGBTQIA+ rappers, the American rap industry, including the Texas market, is also shifting.

Today, the vision and sound of Texas music, in both performance and curation, is far more women-led. Acts like Megan Thee Stallion and Beyoncé represent the highs of the genre, whereas others such as KenTheMan, OMB Bloodbath and Lebra Jolie offer an edgier, yet refreshing take on the levels that rap could continue to evolve towards.

Austin's Mama Duke, a queer, Afro-Latina woman, grew up listening to Tejano music by way of her parents before finding her voice in hip-hop. Now, she's carving out a niche in multiple areas and facets: On top of her original music, she stars as the voice of Hip-Hop Hippo on the popular, Austin-based animated hip-hop program, "The Adventures of Zobey."

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"Here's the thing," Mama Duke begins, "with all these 'triple-whammies' of being Black, woman, queer—to be able to be heard and seen? Where I can go to those and completely be myself? That is a dream."

Duke's fearless, chameleonic nature has brought her name and art to the masses, and with purpose: to document, record and tell not only the history of hip-hop within Texas, but the foundational elements of Black music within specific regions as well.

"Texas is reclaiming its time. You see rappers across the state representing in so many sub-genres of hip-hop music. We have rappers contributing to indie, punk rock, and trap, not to mention female rappers are moving into the forefront where they belong."

Singer Anastasia Hera merges both worlds. After the release of her This Is Anastasia EP, an introductory escape that weaves both traditional singing and fluid rapping, in May, she's evolving in a way where her voice grows with every step on her own path as an artist.

"It's my job to tell stories to which listeners can relate, to speak their language, to make poetry out of everyday experiences," Hera says. "We live in such a diverse state with so much overlapping culture; there are countless sub-genres and niche markets within hip-hop and urban music. It's a beautiful thing, and an homage to the art form. As more of us achieve success as independent artists, it will become easier to reach the folks who want to hear music outside the mainstream."

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The push for women artists, whether in the cultural crossroads of Beaumont, Texas, or the bustling Houston hip-hop scene or the metroplex of Dallas, can't be ignored. At the 2021 GRAMMY Awards show, Megan Thee Stallion and Beyoncé made history when they won the GRAMMY for Best Rap Song for "Savage," marking the first time a woman artist won the category. The unprecedented moment would have been unheard of as much as a decade ago, particularly for Texan artists, noted documentarian Donnie Houston professes.

"Where Texas is at musically right now shows that we aren't producing a singular sound. There's something for everyone. I can only see the state moving up in higher regard as a music state."

"The sound of Texas was more regional in the past, but I think the internet and technology has eliminated that," Houston, host of the wildly popular "Donnie Houston Podcast," says. "I also think women have taken more lead roles. As early as 10 years ago, you might struggle to come up with five female artists that represented Texas. Now, the first name you might mention from Texas could very well be a woman."

As Texas continues to influence music and culture beyond state borders, its reach seems limitless. The sound of Texas continues to challenge, always building worlds and manifesting new names and individuals to follow and champion. From the easy flows of unsung-rappers-turned-unexpected-heroes like George Floyd to acts such as Mama Duke, Tobe Nwigwe, Bobby Sessions, and a whole class of others, the belief in crafting purposeful music has become the priority.

"Where Texas is at musically right now shows that we aren't producing a singular sound," HTX Hip-Hop Museum's Shelby Stewart reflects. "There's something for everyone. I can only see the state moving up in higher regard as a music state."

This article is presented in conjunction with the Recording Academy's Texas Chapter, which celebrates Texan music and artists; delivers unique programming and opportunities to active members, industry professionals of all trades, and the next generation throughout the state; and enriches the music community through outreach and advocacy.

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9 Essential K-Pop/Western Collabs: From BTS And Megan Thee Stallion, To IVE And Saweetie
Megan Thee Stallion (Center) and (from L to R:) J-Hope, Jin, Jungkook, V, RM, Suga, and Jimin of BTS attend the 64th Annual GRAMMY Awards at MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada on April 03, 2022.

Photo: Emma McIntyre/Getty Images for The Recording Academy

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9 Essential K-Pop/Western Collabs: From BTS And Megan Thee Stallion, To IVE And Saweetie

From Jungkook and Usher's tribute to their shared musical idol, to BLACKPINK and Selena Gomez' sugary sweet collab, K-pop and Western artists of all genres are joining forces to create killer hits.

GRAMMYs/Feb 27, 2024 - 02:12 pm

It’s impossible to ignore the growing global popularity of K-pop. Although Korean pop has been around for decades, the genre's meteoric worldwide success over the past 10 years is reminiscent of Beatlemania and the early 2000s American boy band craze. With a steady increase year-over-year in album sales and K-pop groups touring the U.S. and Europe, interest in K-pop shows no signs of slowing down.

Initially launched in South Korea as a music subgenre with Western pop, R&B and hip-hop influences in the '90s, the K-pop industry is valued at around $10 billion.

Given the worldwide appetite for K-pop, several Western musicians are keen to partner with K-pop acts crossing over into more international markets, often with songs sung partially or entirely in English. While K-pop artists do not need Western artists to be successful — BTS sold out London’s Wembley stadium in under 90 minutes back in 2019, and BLACKPINK made Coachella history twice with performances in 2019 and 2023 — K-pop's massive fanbase and multi-genre influence make it an ideal collaboration for everyone from rappers and singers to electronic DJs.

But don’t take our word for it. Here are nine of the most iconic K-Pop/Western collaborations (not in any order; they are all great songs!).

Usher and Jungkook - "Standing Next to You (Usher Remix)" (2024)

The maknae (the youngest member of the group) of global K-pop superstars BTS and the King of R&B are both having banner years: Jungkook released his debut solo album, and Usher just performed at the Super Bowl

The Bangtan Boys have cited Usher as a significant influence (even singing a callback to his 2001 hit "U Got It Bad" in their No. 1 song, "Butter"), so BTS fans were delighted when the Jungkook tapped Usher for a remix of "Standing Next to You." The song marks the fourth single from his Billboard 200 chart-topping debut album, Golden

Both singers count Michael Jackson as a major influence. In their collaboration video, Usher and Jungkook pay tribute to the King of Pop as they slide, pop, and lock across the slick floor of an abandoned warehouse. 

John Legend and Wendy of Red Velvet - "Written in the Stars" (2018)

R&B singer/pianist John Legend was the perfect choice for an R&B ballad with Wendy, the main vocalist of K-pop quintet Red Velvet. The final song on the five-track SM Station x 0, a digital music project, "Written in the Stars," is a beautiful, mid-tempo love song. A bit of a departure from K-pop’s typical upbeat sound, Wendy and Legend are in perfect harmony over a warm yet melancholic rhythm.

As Red Velvet’s main vocalist, Wendy was the ideal voice for this collaboration. Additionally, she split her childhood between Canada and the U.S., and has been comfortable singing in English since Red Velvet debuted in 2014. This wasn't her first collab with a Western artist: In 2017, she released an English-language version of the pop ballad "Vente Pa’Ca" with Ricky Martin

BLACKPINK and Selena Gomez - "Ice Cream" (2020)

A powerhouse debut single, BLACKPINK collaborated with pop royalty Selena Gomez on the massive 2020 hit "Ice Cream."

An electropop-bubblegum fusion filled with dairy double entendres, "Ice Cream" was an enormous success for both Gomez and the BLACKPINK girls. The track peaked at No. 13 on the Billboard Hot 100 and has racked up nearly 900 million YouTube views to date. 

Written by a consortium of hitmakers, including Ariana Grande and BLACKPINK’s longtime songwriter and producer Teddy Park (a former K-pop idol himself), "Ice Cream" shows that YG Entertainment’s golden foursome and Gomez were the correct partnership for this track. The pop-trap bop marked the first time a K-pop girl group broke the Top 20 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and immediately solidified BLACKPINK as global superstars. 

Snoop Dogg and Monsta X - "How We Do" (2022)

West Coast rap godfather Snoop Dogg has quietly become one of the go-to Western acts for K-pop collabs, working with Psy, BTS, Girls’ Generation and 2NE1. K-pop is the Dogg Father's "guilty pleasure," and he performed at the Mnet Asian Music Awards with Dr. Dre in 2011. Without Snoop's love of K-pop, the world might not have gotten this fun and energetic collaboration with Snoop and Monsta X, a five-member boy group under Starship Entertainment.

The song appears in The Spongebob Movie: Sponge On The Run in a dance segment where Snoop, decked out in a pink and purple Western suit, is accompanied by zombie dancers. Though we do not see the members of Monsta X, their harmonious crooning is the perfect accent to Snoop Dogg’s trademark casual West Coast flow.

BTS and Steven Aoki - "MIC Drop (Steve Aoki remix)" (2017)

No K-pop list is complete with a nod to the magnificent seven, and "MIC Drop" is one of their catchiest Western collabs to date. 

"Mic Drop" is quintessential BTS: a nod to hip-hop with a heavy bass line and fun choreography. While the original version of "MIC Drop" is excellent, the remix with EDM superstar DJ Steve Aoki and rapper Desiigner cracked the Top 40 on the Billboard Hot 100 — the first of many hits for the Bulletproof Boy Scouts. 

Released at a time when BTS were just starting their ascent to chart-topping Western dominance, the track's boastful lyrics and tension-building electro-trap production offered an excellent introduction to the group that would soon become international superstars. 

JYJ, Kanye West and Malik Yusef - "Ayyy Girl" (2010)

A truly deep K-pop cut, you’d be hard-pressed to find many people who know that Kanye West collaborated with a first-generation K-pop group over 13 years ago. Released as the lead single on JYJ’s English-language album The Beginning, West’s signature bravado and wordplay are on full display over a track that sounds like the Neptunes produced it.

The song garnered attention in the U.S., but after a string of bad luck (including a severely delayed U.S. visa process and issues with their management company, SM Entertainment), JYJ could not capitalize on their American success. The group continued to see success in Korea and Japan in the early 2010s but never made a splash in the Western market again.

IVE and Saweetie - "All Night" (2024)

A reimagining of Icona Pop’s 2013 song of the same name, "All Night," sees fourth-generation K-pop girl group IVE partner with rap’s resident glamor girl Saweetie for a funky, electronic-infused pop song that’s perfect for dancing from dusk till dawn. 

"All Night" is the first English song for the Starship Entertainment-backed group. Interestingly, none of the members of IVE have individual lines in the song, choosing instead to sing the lyrics in a six-part harmony. This choice is exciting but fun, giving listeners the feeling that they are more than welcome to sing along. 

The girl group embarked on their first 24-date world tour in January 2024, with stops in the U.S., Asia, Europe and South America. Given their quest for global dominance, there’s a good chance "All Night" won’t be IVE's last English-language release.

BTS and Megan Thee Stallion - "Butter (Remix)" (2021)

BTS’ "Butter" had already spent three weeks atop the Billboard charts and was declared the "song of the summer" when the group’s label announced Houston rapper Megan Thee Stallion as the guest star for the song’s remix in late August 2021. The GRAMMY-nominated septet is no stranger to collaborating with Western musicians, having worked with Halsey, Jason Derulo, and Coldplay

Though only slightly altered from the original (Megan’s verse was added in place of the song’s second original verse, along with several ad-libs), the remix was praised by both fans and critics alike, catapulting the song’s return back to the No. 1. Although the collaborators did not release a new music video featuring the group and the self-proclaimed "Hot Girl Coach," three members of BTS’ "dance line" (members J-Hope, Jungkook and Jimin) released a specially choreographed dance video. Additionally, Megan was a surprise guest during BTS’ record-breaking Permission to Dance LA concert in November of the same year.

LE SSERAFIM and Niles Rodgers - "Unforgiven" (2023)

GRAMMY Lifetime Achievement Award recipient Nile Rodgers' first foray into K-pop was a partnership with LE SSERAFIM, a fourth-gen girl group from the same parent company behind BTS. "Unforgiven" was released earlier this year as the lead single from the group’s debut album of the same name. 

A darker take on the familiar K-pop formula with A Western feel and look (the young quintuplet dons cowboy hats, boots and bolo ties in the song’s accompanying music video), "Unforgiven" is about rebellion and being a fierce, strong and independent risk taker. That riskiness drew Rodgers' ear. 

"It seems like a lot of the K-pop that I'm hearing lately, the…chord changes are a lot more interesting than what's been happening [in other music fields] over the last few years," he told GRAMMY.com in 2023. "I come from a jazz background, so to hear chord changes like that is really cool. They’re not afraid, which is great to me."

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

Photo: Sal Idriss/Redferns/GettyImages

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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

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Inside The Recording Academy And Clive Davis' 2024 Pre-GRAMMY Gala: New Artists, Lasting Legends and Iconic Performances
(L-R) Sabrina Carpenter, Ice Spice, Lana Del Rey and Jack Antonoff attend the 2024 Pre-GRAMMY Gala, presented by the Recording Academy and Clive Davis.

Photo: Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for The Recording Academy

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Inside The Recording Academy And Clive Davis' 2024 Pre-GRAMMY Gala: New Artists, Lasting Legends and Iconic Performances

Ahead of the 2024 GRAMMYs, stars including Mariah Carey, Lenny Kravitz, Megan Thee Stallion, Chloe x Halle, and more flocked to the annual Pre-GRAMMY Gala co-presented by the Recording Academy.

GRAMMYs/Feb 6, 2024 - 10:20 pm

Who better than Tom Hanks to say it best?

"Clive Davis has provided us with the soundtrack of our lives, our emotions and our inspirations," the legendary actor said of the night's premiement host; the legendary music executive, passionate advocate for the power of song and noted discoverer of artists. 

"Music is the food [of the soul], give us excess of it," said Hanks in his passionate opening soliloquy packed with approbation. "And tonight is a night of excess."

It's the stuff of legend, a topic of lore and an evening that regularly rockets itself in the pages of music history. For nearly 50 years, the annual Pre-GRAMMY Gala, presented by the Recording Academy and Clive Davis, has been a star-making opportunity for the music industry to celebrate their past monumental year, highlighting both veteran acts and tomorrow's superstars. For the 2024 Pre-GRAMMY Galasponsored by Hilton, IBM and Mastercard and held on a rainy night at its regular home at the equally iconic Beverly Hilton Hotel the night before the 2024 GRAMMYs, its usual slot on the calendar — the grand master of music's party continued to provide a beacon of light for jaw-dropping performances and starry shoulder-rubbing. 

But before the party is the cocktail hour; a curious affair where music past and present collides. In one corner finds Producer Of The Year nominee Dan Nigro, the pop whisperer behind acclaimed acts ranging from Chappell Roan, Conan Gray and the multiple-Grammy nominated Olivia Rodrigo. A couple people away was Frankie Valli, last year's Pre-GRAMMY Gala opener who is currently in the midst of what he bills as a farewell tour. Looking around the room, the star power is abundant: Dianne Warren, the aforementioned Hanks with wife Rita Wilson, MusiCares' 2024 Person Of The Year Jon Bon Jovi, longtime Gala guest Nancy Pelosi alongside husband Paul. 

Just beyond the cocktail hour lies the red carpet, which boasts a head-snapping array of personalities. Megan Thee Stallion strutted in flaunting a gold-colored dress, while last year's Best New Artist winner Samara Joy sauntered in an equally dazzling gown. The list of guests includes an eclectic array of who's who in music: pop star Ellie Goulding, the dance-pop-country artist and producer Diplo, country-pop icon Shania Twain, recent Black Music Collective honorees Mariah Carey and Lenny Kravitz, the producer David Foster with wife Katherine McPhee, eventual three-time GRAMMY winners Julien Baker, Lucy Dacus, and Phoebe Bridgers (the trio otherwise known as Boygenius), and the following night's GRAMMY opener Dua Lipa, among countless others.

As the esteemed guests (which also included Kenneth "Babyface" EdmundsJanelle Monáe, Troye Sivan, Motown founder Berry Gordy, Smokey Robinson, the members of Earth, Wind and Fire and Charli XCX) settled into their seats in a ballroom with a stage outfitted with the bash's signature twinkle lights sparkling on the stage, a countdown on the monitors appeared. 3, 2, 1…

"We're going to play a game of word association," said Hanks, who was bestowed the honor of introducing Davis and to mark the occasion, he managed to recite a massive list of artists Davis had a hand or hands in making superstars, from Janis Joplin to Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen, right up to Whitney Houston and Alicia Keys. "The only reason why Mozart, Beethoven and Tchaikovsky weren't mentioned is because they all died before Clive Davis had a chance to introduce them," he joked.

"I've gotta tell you, the emotions run high," said Davis. "I look out among you and I see so many familiar faces. The whole thing began as long ago as 1976 and I really have to pinch myself that it's going so, so strong. I'm happy to say that music is alive and well."

Tennis great Serena Williams introduced the night's opening act, Green Day. "In 2022, Clive Davis and I were honored together when we were inducted into the National Portrait Gallery," she recalled. "I said to him, 'You've got to remember to invite me to your gala. I'm so thrilled to be back here to introduce my favorite band. To know me is to know my love for them."

The punk gods are currently making a comeback with their 14th studio album, Saviors, and celebrating the 30th anniversary of their breakout album Dookie and 20th anniversary of their massively successful LP American Idiot. The group honored both anniversaries with a song from each, "American Idiot" and "Basket Case."

In years past, the night's performers ranged a wide gamut; but to prove Davis's point and regenerative effects of the industry, this year a large portion of the roster of surprise performers were plucked from the 2024's crop of Best New Artist nominees. There was the singer-songwriter Noah Kahan, who busted out a rousing rendition of his own breakout "Stick Season," while Ice Spice hit the stage to deliver her 2023 solo hit, "Deli." 

Rising country star Jelly Roll was also bequeathed a coveted slot, proclaiming his excitement by saying he had "only read about the party in books and magazines." With that, he delivered rousing versions of his candid single "Need a Favor" backed by a choir, as well as his equally affecting "Save Me," on which he brought out duet partner and eventual GRAMMY winner Lainey Wilson.

In fact, it was Wilson who provided one of the most surprising moments of the night when she appeared to perform a special version of Barbie's "I'm Just Ken" accompanied by songwriter Andrew Watt on piano and Mark Ronson on guitar. Of course, Davis was the architect of the moment, an idea he said came to him last week; Ronson suggested Wilson after the song's original performer, the actor Ryan Gosling, was unavailable. 

"To look astound and to see some of the greatest musicians and record-makers, it's really an honor to be here," Ronson said. "This is a song we wrote for the movie Barbie about the beauty of being the runner-up sometimes, which is a lesson I know very well," he said to laughter. "It's pretty cool to be second sometimes."

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Fresh off his starring role on Broadway's Sweeney Todd, Josh Groban delivered a subtle tribute to the legend behind the Broadway musical by performing "Children Will Listen," before paying tribute to Davis himself with a gospel-tinged performance of Simon and Garfunkel's "Bridge Over Troubled Water," which Davis had a hand in releasing. Joining him was another Best New Artist nominee, The War and Treaty frontman Michael Trotter Jr., and the pair's joint vocal power brought the audience to its feet. 

Musical whiplash ensued with additional performances courtesy Maluma and Isley Brothers, the latter of which performed their instantly-recognizable "Shout" as a tribute to Chairman and CEO of SONY Music Publishing Jon Platt, the evening's Icon honoree. An award which in years past has gone to heavyweights including David Geffen, Mo Ostin, Ahmet Ertgun and Jerry Moss to name a few, Platt was touched by the honor and delivered a 40-minute speech chock full of stories and reflections. Not even a beeping fire alarm, which at one point blared and flashed through his speech, tripped up Platt.

"It's funny because Harvey called me and I thought he needed help with something," said Platt, recalling the moment the Recording Academy's CEO Harvey Mason jr. informed him of the honor. "But he said I was selected as this year's industry icon and I was like, 'Wow, man.'" 

Noting he needed convincing to accept the honor ("I'm [just] seeing so many other people doing great things," he relented), Platt's contributions to music, from his work with everyone from Isley Brothers to Beyonce to Jay-Z, and even Oliva Rodrigo, makes him both a genre and decade-spanning force. 

"You'll see a consistent thing with me is that I'm a music nerd-fanboy," Platt said, noting how a kind word from the composer Gerald Busby made this evening a full circle moment for him. "[One day in 1998] I saw him and we were making small talk and he said, 'Someone was asking me who I see in the industry today that can achieve the things that I can achieve. I told them that Big Jon's gonna run the whole thing one day.' For someone to share the belief they have in you is incredibly powerful. From that day, I changed the course of my focus. Everything had a purpose after that."

Another one of the artists Platt fostered performed in his honor as well: Public Enemy. "We're here for you and here for all of our heroes and hero-ettes," Chuck D declared before the group dove into an energetic medley of "Can't Truss It," "Bring the Noise" and "Fight the Power." 

It wouldn't be a Clive Davis bash without one final surprise. As 1 a.m. neared, Gladys Knight and Dionne Warwick hit the stage, with the former belting out a passionate version of "(The Way We Were) Memories" and the duo joining together for Warwick's endearing staple, "That's What Friends are For" alongside Andra Day. 

But from the electrified crowd, guest Stevie Wonder just couldn't help himself, getting up on stage to assist on harmonica. "This has been such a wonderful blessing to meet all of these people in my life; to meet Dionne, to meet Gladys," Wonder said, cueing up an unrehearsed and on-the-fly version of "What the World Needs Now Is Love" with the entire group. 

"I know this is what we need in the world," he continued. "There are many people that for so many years have been dividing people, not understanding the purpose that God has given us to come together."

It was a moving way to wrap up the night — and a fitting one at that, bringing together stars young and old to offer an inspiring message, and remind just how powerful music can be.

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Get In Loser, We’re Watching The 'Mean Girls' Musical Movie: How The Cult Classic Was Reshaped For Modern Musical Relevance
Renée Rapp and Megan Thee Stallion attend the global premiere of 'Mean Girls' in New York City.

Photo: John Nacion / Getty Images for Paramount Pictures

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Get In Loser, We’re Watching The 'Mean Girls' Musical Movie: How The Cult Classic Was Reshaped For Modern Musical Relevance

Tina Fey’s 'Mean Girls' is back pinker than ever — but there’s plenty of teenage angst to go around. Ahead of the musical movie's Jan. 12 release, revisit 20 years of 'Mean Girls' and learn how its latest iteration came to life.

GRAMMYs/Jan 11, 2024 - 02:20 pm

It’s not my fault you’re, like, in love with Mean Girls or something. Twenty years after its wildly popular debut, Tina Fey’s brain child — based on Rosalind Wiseman’s self-help book Queen Bees and Wannabees — remains a beloved staple of pop culture. So much so that the movie is getting a musical reboot.

In the 2004 teen comedy, Lindsay Lohan plays the new girl at school, a naïve 16-year-old transfer student Cady Heron who has yet to experience the ups and downs of the high school hierarchy. Miraculously, she lands herself a spot with "the Plastics," the popular but cruel clique helmed by Regina George (Rachel McAdams), and the group quickly kickstarts Cady’s journey of self-discovery.

The 2024 Mean Girls Musical Movie stars singer-actor Reneé Rapp as Regina George and Australian actress Angourie Rice (Spider-Man, "Black Mirror" and "Mare of Easttown") as Cady. The 12-song soundtrack is led by "Not My Fault," a midtempo dance pop bop performed by Rapp and Megan Thee Stallion; its title, of course, is inspired around an iconic line from Regina George ("It's not my fault you're, like, in love with me or something").

Regina's message is updated for 2024. Rapp, who is openly bisexual, encourages her listeners to "Kiss a blonde, kiss a friend! Can a gay girl get an amen?" on the track. Knowing its place in pop culture, Mean Girls metamorphoses as a sign of the times, and a queer Regina George is just what 2024 needed (and hoped for).

Keeping in mind its $17 million budget, it’s easy to point to Mean Girls’ $129 million box office gross as a quantifiable measure of the movie’s achievements. Or its sweep at the 2004 Teen Choice Awards. Or the 2005 MTV Movie Awards. But the film earned so much more than these material accolades — from style to memes to music videos, Mean Girls became a cultural touchstone with life long beyond the early aughts.

The movie inspired countless memes, GIFs and merch, and it’s quoted by everyone from your average fan to Mariah Carey to Wet Leg to even the White House. Fans declared Oct. 3 as "Mean Girls Day" in reference to one of Cady’s lines. The iconic music video for Ariana Grande’s No. 1 hit "thank u, next" was Mean Girls themed and starred original cast members. And Wednesdays are for wearing pink, of course.

Mean Girls also helped establish 2000s "It Girl" starpower: Lindsay Lohan became a household name; Amanda Seyfried, a future Oscar nominee, made her film debut; and McAdams starred opposite Ryan Gosling in The Notebook later that same year. Even Fey, who was already a popular "SNL" regular, found herself climbing to a new level of fame.

Internet culture helped Mean Girls find a second life — and music importantly helped it find a third. The 2004 film’s comedic timelessness earned a musical stage adaptation of the same name, which debuted in Washington D.C. in 2017 and ran on Broadway from April 2018 to March 2020.

A film adaptation of the musical (also of the same name) is hitting theaters on Jan. 12, in which Rapp reprises her Broadway role of Regina George. (Rapp played the blonde queen bee as a 2019-2020 replacement for Taylor Louderman.)

"As Regina, Reneé has this quality that Regina has to have, which is you're scared of her, but you also really want her to like you," Fey, who returned to write the Mean Girls (2024) screenplay, told Screen Rant. "You want her to notice you. You want her to approve of you. You want her to shine her light on you."

In addition to Rapp as the Plastics’ reigning leader, the Mean Girls musical has quite the roster. The film stars Christopher Briney  as her love interest Aaron Samuels, Bebe Wood as Plastics’ member Gretchen Wieners, and Busy Phillips as Regina's mom (a character originally portrayed by Amy Poheler).

Fey knew that a brilliant cast was only one step toward making the 2024 musical film a success. Alongside directors Samantha Jayne and Arturo Perez Jr., Fey was tasked with crafting something modern and innovative that still maintained the magic of the original.

"I think the key goals for this version were for it to be fun, fresh, and surprising," Fey told Screen Rant. "Most people who will see this movie have seen the original; a fair chunk of them have seen the musical, but how can we delight and surprise them? What can we give them that they didn't expect while still bringing them these characters that they have affection for?"

Perfect surprises can take a long time to craft. The stage musical took years to put together, for instance; the creative process began in 2013, and it debuted on stage four years later. But it was all worth the wait — the show was refreshing and nuanced, constructed carefully for its eager and often young audiences.

"I really love that we’re bringing young people out, especially young women," Broadway performer Louderman told Cosmopolitan. "I want [young people women] to feel more empowered to say how they feel and to deal with their emotions in a very straightforward and respectful manner."

For the sake of time and tonality, not all 14 songs from the original Broadway musical made the cut in the 2024 film adaptation. Each song was reworked by lyricist Jeff Richmond and composer Neil Benjamin. Taking the essence of the 2004 film, Richmond and Benjamin’s lyrics transformed Mean Girls into a new theatrical form. From Regina’s hair-raising anthem "World Burn" to ex-Plastic Janis Ian’s cathartic "I’d Rather Be Me," music breathed new life into the movie’s classic genius.

From the screen to the stage to, well, the screen again, Mean Girls has stood the test of time for good reason. Beyond its enduring cultural relevance and musical revitalization, its classic comedy makes it stand out — whether a laugh is conveyed through a perfectly delivered line on screen, or a witty lyric belted out on stage.

"It makes you laugh rather than depicting [adolescence] as solely being a drag," director Mark Waters said of the original Mean Girls to Cosmopolitan. "It also makes you realize you’re going to survive, make it out of this phase and be a better person for it."

Waters’ comment sheds light on a critical, though often painful lesson from Mean Girls: accepting change. Though it was predominantly written for female adolescents in mind as a target audience, the film smartly speaks to more than female politics: it encapsulates the human experience. Nearly everyone knows what it’s like wanting to desperately fit in, what it’s like to want to skip your awkward teenage years full of crushes and acne and jealousy. When an originally homeschooled Cady finds herself in high school for the first time, she learns to adapt — and most importantly, learns how to stay true to herself.

"It seems to be a rite of passage for high school girls to see the movie," Waters continued. "Beyond all the gags, there's something that's really authentic and timeless about how much of a struggle it is to be that age."

While some may superficially disregard Mean Girls as a silly chick flick or throwaway teen comedy, its modern revamps through music speak to the film's timelessness. Beyond being a stellar candidate for reinvention over a generation, Mean Girls meets audiences where they're at.  

"​​It has this little net that catches girls as they pass through preteen and high school age," Fey told the New York Times. "Girls will come up to me and say it helped them get through a terrible year."

Whether it’s 2004 or 2024, Mean Girls is one of those films that’s comfortable knowing exactly what it is. It’s okay with being silly, and it still has more than enough heart. Like its protagonist Cady, Mean Girls isn’t supposed to be perfect; it’s just meant to be relatable. And that’s what makes it so fetch.

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