Graphic By Lauryn Alvarez / Source Photos (L-R): Ronny Galdamez, Karlo Ramos, Michael “Blue” Smith, Aileen Son
(L-R) Mama Duke, Bobby Sessions, Anastasia Hera, Fat Tony
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.
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."
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.
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."
"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."
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.
Photo: Jason Koerner/Getty Images
Lil Yachty Wants You To Be "Ready For Everything" At The Field Trip Tour
As Lil Yachty hits the road for his 42-date global tour, the rapper details how he'll be bringing his trippy album 'Let's Start Here' to life — and why he feels like his seven-year career is only just getting started.
Fans first got to know Lil Yachty for his catchy, sing-songy tunes like "One Night" and "Minnesota," rap songs that sound like the rapper's once-signature red braids: bright and attention-getting. But as the man who once dubbed himself the "king of the teens" has now become a father in his (gasp!) mid-20s, his musical horizons have expanded.
While Lil Boat is still making catchy tracks (see his minute-and-a-half long earworm "Poland," released last fall), his latest album is something else entirely. Inspired by big statement LPs like Pink Floyd's 1973 classic Dark Side of the Moon, Lil Yachty's Let's Start Here is a psychedelic record created with members of Chairlift and MGMT, as well as Mac DeMarco, Alex G and a handful of other out-of-the-norm collaborators. While the style change may have been unexpected for many, it came out exactly as Yachty envisioned it.
"It felt future-forward, it felt different, it felt original, it felt fresh, it felt strong," he says. "I'm grateful for the response. It's nice to have people resonate with a body of work that you've worked so hard on and you care so deeply about."
Yachty's most recent release, a four-song single pack featuring the swirling "TESLA," brings him back to a more traditional hip-hop style — by Lil Boat standards, anyway. But even with the four new tracks sprinkled throughout the set list, he's still determined to share the sound and vibe of Let's Start Here with his listeners.
The Field Trip Tour, which Lil Yachty kicked off in Washington, D.C. on Sept. 21, brings the album's trippy vision to the stage. The rapper recruited an all-women band for his latest trek, which includes Lea Grace Swinson and Romana R. Saintil on vocals, Monica Carter on drums, Téja Veal on bass, Quenequia Graves on guitar, and Kennedy Avery Smith on keys.
"My life is surrounded by women," Yachty explains. "I feel like they are the most important aspect to this world and that they don't get enough credit or shine — especially Black women."
GRAMMY.com caught up with Yachty as he was on his way to rehearsal to chat about the tour, the album, and what he learned from four old British guys.
You made your band auditions public by announcing them on social media, which is not the usual way of going about these things. When you had the auditions, what was it like? How many people showed up?
Hundreds of women came from all over. People sent in auditions online. It was so fun to hear so much music and see talent and meet so many different personalities. I felt like Simon Cowell.
Other than musical ability, what were you looking for?
It was nothing more than talent. There would be multiple people with extreme talent, so then it became your own creative spunk: what did you do that made me say, "Oh, okay. I like this. I like this"? I wanted a badass group.
What was behind the decision to put the call out for women only?
My life is surrounded by women — my two assistants, my mother as a manager, a lot of my friends are women. Women really help me throughout my day.
I just think that women are so powerful. I feel like they rule the world. They are the most important aspect to this world and they don't get enough credit or shine, especially black women. So that was my aura behind it. I just wanted to showcase that women can shred just as good as men.
Is the band going to be performing on your older rap material as well, in addition to the album cuts?
No. I'm not a big fan of rendition rap songs. I think the feeling is in the beat, the feeling is in the instrumentation. When you have to reconstruct it, the bounce gets lost a bit.
Tell me about the rehearsal process once you selected the band members. What was that like?
They're all so talented, so they all learned it very quick. I gave [the music] to them early, and gave them the stems. When it was day one, they all knew the songs. Even my new guitarist that came in later than everyone, she came in knowing the music.
The rehearsal project for this tour was a little different, because I'm reconstructing the whole album. I'm moving everything around and changing all the transitions and trying to make it trippy. So it's a process of me figuring out how I want to do things. But they're so talented and so smart, all I have to do is tell them what I want, and they'll do it instantly.
Like yesterday, I wanted a solo on the end of a song called "The Alchemist." Because at the end of [the album version] is this [singer Brittany] Fousheé breakdown and she's singing in a falsetto. But I took her vocals off and I wanted a solo. And [a band member] was working through it yesterday and it wasn't quite there. But I'm on the way to rehearsal now, and I know when I walk in this room, it'll be done. It'll be crazy. So they all take it very serious and they care, and I love them so much.
The festival shows you've done so far have had everyone in Bantu knot hairstyles, sometimes with face paint. Is that going to be the look for this tour?
No, I don't think so.
What was the thinking behind that look?
I was getting really deep into the world of '70s bands, '60s bands. Just unison: moving as one, looking like one, feeling like one. A family, a group, a team. You see us, we're all together.
When you play rap shows, so much of what you're doing is keeping a high-energy mood—getting the crowd going, starting mosh pits. With the new songs, it's about a diversity of feelings. What was that like for you as a band leader?
I'll tell you, it was not easy. I've been in this industry for seven years, and my shows have been high-energy for seven years. So the first time I went on a stage and performed Let's Start Here, I felt like, "Oh wow, they hate me. Do they hate this?" Plus I have in-ears, so I can't hear the crowd cheering. I don't perform with in-ears when I do rap shows.
It took me some time to get used to the switch. Tyler, the Creator once had a talk with me and explained to me that, it's not that they don't f— with you, it's that they're taking it in. They're comprehending you. They're processing and enjoying it. That clicked in me and I got a better understanding of what's going on.
What is it like in the same show to go from the Let's Start Here material to the rap stuff?
It's a relief, because that's going to my world. It's super easy for me. It's like flipping the switch and taking it to the moon.
Now that it's been the better part of a year since Let's Start Here came out, how are you feeling about it? What sense do you have of the reaction to it?
Since before it came out, when I was making it, I always felt so strongly because it was something that I felt inside. It felt future-forward, it felt different, it felt original, it felt fresh, it felt strong.
I'm grateful for the response. It's nice. It's not what you do it for, but it is extra credit. It's nice to get that love and to have people resonate with a body of work that you've worked so hard on and you care so deeply about.
Have you felt peoples' reactions change over the past few months?
Well, this is the first time when people are like, "Man, that album changed my life" or "It took me to a different place." People love my music — always have — but this reaction is, "Man, this album, man, it really took me there."
It did what it was supposed to do, which was transcend people. If you are on that side of the world and you're into that type of stuff, it did its job, its course — the same course as Dark Side of the Moon, which is to take you on a journey, an experience.
What was it about Dark Side that grabbed you?
Everything. The cover, the sounds, the transitions, the vocals, the lyrics, the age of Pink Floyd when they made it. I could go on. I got into deep fascination. It was so many things. It's just pure talent.
I've read that you studied Pink Floyd quite a bit, watching interviews and documentaries. What were some of the things you learned from that process and brought to Let's Start Here?
So many things. The most important element was that I wanted to create a body of work that felt cohesive and that transcended people, and that was a fun experience that could take you away from life.
I was curious about the song ":(failure:(," where you give a speech about failing. What were your inspirations for that?
At first I wanted [":(failure:("] to be a poem, and I wanted my friend to say it. We tried it out, but his voice was so f—ing deep. And his poem was so dark — it was about death and s—. I was like, Damn, n—, lighten up. But then I was just like, you know what, I'll do it, and I'll speak about something very near and dear to me, which was failure. I felt like it would resonate with people more.
Sometimes I feel like I'm growing so fast and getting so old, and maturing and evolving so quickly, and so many opportunities come into my life. You go on tour, and then you start working on an album, and you run out of time to do certain things. It's like, "Are we going to be together? If not, I have other things to do."
I think that's where it comes from. I don't have all day to play around. Too many things to do. Then it transpires to feel like I'm running out of time.
I love "drive ME crazy!" I was wondering if there are any particular male/female duets that you looked at as a model when designing that song.
Fleetwood Mac. Again, with all the inspirations for these songs, I still did my twist on them. So I don't want people to go and be like, "Oh, that sounds nothing like a Fleetwood Mac song." I wasn't trying to copy a Fleetwood Mac song. It just inspired me to make a song in that feeling, in that world.
When you began your career, you were the "king of the teens." Now you're a father in your mid-twenties. Who's your audience these days? Is it the people who were teens when you started your career, who are now in their 20s like you, or is it a new crop of teenagers?
I think now it's from the 12-year-olds to the 40-year-olds. My last festival, I had 50-year-olds in my show. That was so amazing. In the front row, there was an 11-year-old asking for my sneakers, and then in the back, it was 50- and 60-year-olds. It was crazy. The age demographic is insane.
Whenever I'm leaving somewhere, I like to have the window down and see people. [At my last festival] these 60-year-olds were leaving. They're like, "Man, your album, we love it. That show was so great." And that's awesome, because I love [that my music can] touch everyone.
You've been opening your recent shows with "the BLACK seminole." What does that phrase mean to you? How does it relate to the sound of the song and the rest of the lyrics?
It's saying, "I'm a warrior, I am a king, I am a sex symbol, I am everything good and bad with man, and I'm Black, unapologetically." That's what it's about.
Any final thoughts about the tour?
Just that it's an experience. You're not walking into a rinky-dink [show with] some DJ. This is going to be a show.
I feel like it's the start of my career. I just want people to come in with an open mindset. Not expecting anything, ready for everything.
Photo: Jora Frantzis
Listen: Megan Thee Stallion & Cardi B Release New Song, "Bongos"
The single is the first collaboration between the GRAMMY-winning rappers since 2020's "WAP."
GRAMMY-winning artists Megan Thee Stallion and Cardi B are back with a new single, "Bongos." The song highlights the duo's flow and connection, as they trade verses over a bouncy, repetitive and infectious beat fit for the club.
Released at the brink of autumn, the accompanying video for "Bongos" features vibrant visuals, majestic choreography and a Latin-inspired rhythm that makes listeners yearn for summer. The tropical-themed video was directed by Tanu Muino, who is known for her work on Harry Styles' "As it Was" and Normani’s "Wild Side."
The single’s cover art was teased a week prior on social media, showcasing Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion holding lollipops with bright matching swimsuits and pastel-colored curls.
"Bongos" marks the second collaboration since the duo's groundbreaking "WAP" single, which was performed at the 2021 GRAMMY awards and made history for its debut as the first female rap collaboration to top Billboard’s Hot 100 chart.
Fans who were expecting a "WAP sequel" won't be disappointed. During an interview with DJ Whoo Kid, Cardi B speaks on the song themes and the difference between WAP, saying "We are talking a little, you know, about some p—y, but not like ‘WAP’ type of stuff,” she said.
Cardi B has consistently been on the charts since her 2018 debut LP, Invasion of Privacy which won Best Rap Album at the 2019 GRAMMYs. Recent collaborations including "Point Me 2" with FendiDa Rappa, "Put it On the Floor" with Latto and "Jealousy" with Offset have reached topped charts and there’s speculation for a new album soon.
It’s uncertain if "Bongos" will appear on Cardi B’s sophomore album. She recently told Vogue Mexico x LatinAmerica, "I’m not going to release any more collaborations, I’m going to put out my next solo single.”
This is Megan’s first feature since her sophomore album, Traumazine, which was released in 2022. Megan announced a break from music in early 2023 to focus on her mental health amid the public trial against Tory Lanez.
Megan Thee Stallion has continued to flourish in the media, hosting "Saturday Night Live" and venturing into acting roles including Disney+ series "She-Hulk; Attorney at Law."
Image courtesy of the GRAMMY Museum
GRAMMY Museum To Celebrate 50 Years Of Hip-Hop With 'Hip-Hop America: The Mixtape Exhibit' Opening Oct. 7
The new exhibit honors the 50th anniversary of hip-hop through an expansive and interactive exploration that features artifacts from legendary artists including the Notorious B.I.G., Tupac Shakur, LL Cool J, and more.
The GRAMMY Museum is celebrating the 50th anniversary of hip-hop this fall with the newly announced Hip-Hop America: The Mixtape Exhibit, an immersive, interactive, 5,000-square foot experience celebrating the multifaceted world of hip-hop and the global impact and influence of the genre and culture. Launching Saturday, Oct. 7, and running through Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2024, the exhibit will feature expansive exhibits exploring hip-hop music, dance, graffiti, fashion, business, activism, and history as well as artifacts from hip-hop pioneers like Tupac Shakur, the Notorious B.I.G., LL Cool J, and many more.
Additionally, the exhibit features a one-of-a-kind Sonic Playground, featuring five interactive stations that invite visitors of all ages to partake in DJing, rapping and sampling, all essential elements comprising hip-hop culture. Additional virtual and in-person education and community engagement programs will be announced at a later date.
Exploring the countless ways hip-hop music and culture has dominated popular culture over the last 50 years, Hip-Hop America: The Mixtape Exhibit was curated by a team of four co-curators who bring a deep knowledge of hip-hop, academic rigor and creativity to the project. They include:
Felicia Angeja Viator, associate professor of history, San Francisco State University, author of ‘To Live And Defy In LA: How Gangsta Rap Changed America,’ and one of the first women DJs in the Bay Area hip-hop scene
Adam Bradley, Professor of English and founding director of the Laboratory for Race and Popular Culture (the RAP Lab) at UCLA, and co-editor of ‘The Anthology of Rap’
Jason King, Dean, USC Thornton School of Music and former chair of the Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music at NYU
Dan Charnas, Associate Arts Professor, NYU Clive Davis Institute of Music, and author of ‘Dilla Time: The Life And Afterlife Of The Hip-Hop Producer Who Reinvented Rhythm’
The co-curators worked in conjunction with GRAMMY Museum Chief Curator and Vice President of Curatorial Affairs Jasen Emmons as well as a 20-member Advisory Board.
Hip-Hop America: The Mixtape Exhibit is an educational journey through several key themes:
Innovation: Explore how hip-hop artists have innovatively used technology, from transforming turntables into musical instruments to pioneering sampling techniques.
Sounds of Hip-Hop: Experience the diverse sounds of hip-hop in four themed studios, showcasing the evolution of production, the intersection of hip-hop and car culture, the craft of hip-hop lyrics, and the influence of R&B.
Fashion: Dive into the world of hip-hop fashion, featuring iconic clothing, jewelry and style.
Regionalism: Discover 14 hip-hop scenes across the United States, showcasing the importance of local and regional contributions.
Entrepreneurialism: Learn about the transformation of hip-hop from a back-to-school party in the Bronx to a multi-billion-dollar global industry.
Media: Discover the role of media in shaping hip-hop's development, from radio stations to pioneering shows like "Yo! MTV Raps."
Community: Explore how hip-hop has brought people together over the last 50 years, with an interactive ‘Hip-Hop America’ playlist featuring 200 songs that trace the genre's evolution.
Highlights from Hip-Hop America: The Mixtape Exhibit include:
The Notorious B.I.G.'s iconic 5001 Flavors custom red leather peacoat he wore in Junior M.A.F.I.A.'s music video "Players Anthem"
Kurtis Blow's original handwritten lyrics for his 1980 hit single, "The Breaks," the first gold-certified rap song
Tupac Shakur's handwritten essay "Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death," circa 1992
Two outfits designed by Dapper Dan, Harlem fashion icon: 1) a half-length black leather jacket worn by Melle Mel (Melvin Glover, b. 1961) in performance at the 1985 GRAMMY Awards; and a black-and-yellow leather bucket hat and jacket worn by New York hip-hop artist Busy Bee (David James Parker)
Egyptian Lover's gold Roland 808, the beat-making tool
LL Cool J's red Kangol bucket hat
Hip-Hop America: The Mixtape Exhibit is a key event taking place as the world is celebrating 50 years of hip-hop this year. The origins of hip-hop can be traced back to Aug. 11, 1973, when DJ Kool Herc DJed a birthday party inside the recreation room of an apartment building located on 1520 Sedgwick Avenue in the South Bronx, New York City. This history-making date marks the birth of hip-hop and is the reason why we're celebrating hip-hop's 50th anniversary this year. The 50th anniversary of hip-hop means artists, fans, and the music industry at-large are celebrating the momentous milestone via hip-hop concerts, exhibits, tours, documentaries, podcasts, and more around the globe across 2023.
Visit the GRAMMY Museum website for more information regarding advanced ticket reservations for Hip-Hop America: The Mixtape Exhibit.
Photo: Kevin Winter/Getty Images
5 Takeaways From Quavo's New Album 'Rocket Power'
Five years after his first solo release, Quavo's 'Rocket Power' explores loss, faith, and memories of the artist's late nephew Takeoff — a poignant tribute that marks a new creative plane for the Georgia-born artist.
Tragedy struck the hip-hop world in November 2022 when Migos star Takeoff was killed during an early morning shootout in Houston. Among the hardest hit by the loss was one-third of the famed trio and his uncle Quavo, who witnessed the shooting and sat by Takeoff's side as he passed outside a nearby bowling alley.
Since Takeoff's death, Quavo has largely stepped away from public view. He first resurfaced with an emotional tribute to his late nephew, "Without You," in January, sporadically releasing four more singles in subsequent months. But on Aug. 18, Quavo delivered his biggest tribute yet: the aptly titled album, Rocket Power, which explores the emotional scars that have formed nearly a year after Takeoff's passing.
Arriving nearly five years after his debut solo album, 2018's Quavo Huncho, Rocket Power is a welcomed sign of Quavo's artistic maturation. The 32-year-old rapper melds his effortless melodicism and hit-making powers to create a cohesive body of work filled with soul-stirring jams and ear-catching trap bangers.
To welcome Huncho's newest solo effort, we compiled five early takeaways from the 18-track project Rocket Power.
The Album Honors Takeoff's Life From Childhood To The GRAMMY Stage
From the intro "Fueled Up" to the album's closing track, Rocket Power points to the life and legacy of Takeoff, who's featured on songs "Patty Cake" and "Back Where It Begins." On songs like "Hold Me," Quavo details the misery and emotional pain he and others have faced in the months following Takeoff's unexpected death: "I just need you to hold me/ Listen and feel my heart closely." Quavo also points to other instrumental figures in his life, asking them to come to his aid in moments of darkness.
On the title track, "Rocket Power," Quavo acknowledges the gut-wrenching thoughts and vulnerability he's experienced in this time of grief, and the toll it's placed on both him and his family. "Thinking about my nephew while I'm rolling some trees/ Mama said she's crying, and she's crying in her sleep."
While references to Takeoff's passing are sprinkled throughout the project, "Patty Cake" gifts Migos fans a welcomed look back at the two artist's influence and chemistry. And for many, hearing Taekoff's voice on the interlude "Narkedo Speaks" (which is pulled from a Drink Champs interview) reflects the kind of figure he was in rap: "I ain't even have a plan B, I made myself not have a plan B on purpose/Just so I can fulfill my plan A."
Limited Features Magnify Takeoff Tribute
Rocket Power only includes five features, a vast difference from Quavo's debut album, which boasted features on over half of its 19 tracks.
Among the artists featured on the project — which includes Future, Young Thug, Hunxho and BabyDrill — the most significant moments come from the artist the album honors. With Takeoff's presence on "Patty Cake" and "Back Where It Begins," the songs flash to his often understated talents and role as the Migos' lyrical foreman. It also points to how instrumental he was in Quavo's life, as the rapper touches on their past memories growing up in Lawrenceville, Georgia.
With fewer features, Quavo's vision for Rocket Power pierces through more vividly, and the project's more intimate and conceptualized moments reach their apex. While stars like Young Thug and Future elevate tracks like "Focused" and "Back Where It Begins," songs like "11.11" and "Not Done Yet" would lose much of its emotional fuel with another artist's presence.
Rumors Aside, Offset And Quavo's Relationship Appears To Be On The Upswing
It's hard to ignore Offset's absence on Rocket Power. He's not featured nor mentioned throughout much of the album, but "11.11" provided fans with some clarity on the status of their relationship.
Following the 2022 release of Quavo and Takeoff's collaborative album, Only Built For Infinity Links (which was released just weeks before Takeoff's passing), rumors about a falling out between Quavo and Offset emerged. The two first alleviated reports of their feud — including that they fought backstage at the 2023 GRAMMYs — by reuniting for a performance at the 2023 BET Awards in June.
And nearly two months after their reunion, Quavo further suggests he and Offset are in a better place on "11.11": "5:30 Huncho and Set get up early, and go out and go get that bag together (Set)/ Who the f— gonna put us together, can't nobody put this s— back together/ So stay the f— out of the middle, lil fella/ We always goin' be that/ We fam forever (Migos)."
Quavo Leans Further Into His Faith
Throughout the album, Quavo points to his faith as a source of emotional strength and how it's tethered his family together in the wake of recent tragedy. On "Not Done Yet," the artist raps, "Giving it all I got, don't know what God got for me (God)/ Holding my head up high, I hope y'all really proud of me (High)."
While the "Lost" rapper has never shied away from his faith, Rocket Power is the most Quavo has ever melded it into his music. As much as it's a snapshot of his current mental state, the religious references point to the new creative plane Quavo is currently on.
Quavo Is A Legitimate Solo Star
Following Quavo Huncho, some hip-hop fans questioned Quavo's ability to carry an album as a solo artist. But if there were any doubts, drop them. He's unquestionably a star capable of carrying on his own.
While Quavo is credited for his infectious hooks and street hits, Rocket Power proves he can effectively draw from his life experiences and transfer those emotions to create gut-wrenching records. It also proves he can effectively pair these kinds of records together into a larger conceptual project, and expand his artistry beyond his melodic mastery.
Throughout the album, Quavo firmly commands each of the 18 tracks. He delivers a harmonious (and effective) mix of stadium-level anthems, emotion-fueled sentiments, and hard-hitting trap songs — proving that he'll not only continue the legacy he and Takeoff built together, but continue to evolve creatively on his own.