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For The Record: A Tribe Called Quest's Groundbreaking 'The Low End Theory' At 30

A Tribe Called Quest

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For The Record: A Tribe Called Quest's Groundbreaking 'The Low End Theory' At 30

A 2021 GRAMMY Hall Of Fame inductee, 'The Low End Theory,' released in 1991, saw A Tribe Called Quest reinvent the wheel yet again, marrying the sounds of jazz and hip-hop and solidifying the group's artistic legacy

GRAMMYs/Feb 15, 2021 - 09:59 pm

In 1991, hip-hop was in a state of flux, and A Tribe Called Quest were searching for balance. Their 1990 debut album, People's Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm, propelled the Queens, New York, group to new heights. Tribe tempered the growing gangster rap movement with their own breed of hip-hop, one full of humor, life, positivity and a more lighthearted approach to making music. Their style positioned them more as a group who loved being musicians over utilizing their rhymes to vent about the doom and gloom enveloping their environment.

Tribe, along with groups like De La Soul, Jungle Brothers and Leaders of the New School, were a part of the DAISY ("Da Inner Sound, Y'all") age of hip-hop. (De La Soul coined the term on their 1989 debut album, 3 Feet High and Rising, in which they chanted the phrase several times throughout the project.) DAISY artists donned brighter clothing, used literal daisy imagery in their artwork, music videos and album covers, and punctuated their positive messages with poignancies on Afrocentricity. Even de facto A Tribe Called Quest leader Kamaal Fareed went by MC Love Child before he was given the name Q-Tip.

Intertwined with this bohemian take on hip-hop music, several DAISY artists, including Jungle Brothers, De La Soul and A Tribe Called Quest, were also part of the Native Tongues collective, a loose network of East Coast hip-hop artists. But even if you weren't down with Native Tongues, if your music was the antithesis of the exploding gangster rap style of the time, you tangentially became a part of the DAISY Age.

DAISY artists diverged from what most considered then to be the sonic norm for rap music, which was a rugged exterior revealing street hymns and conspiracy theories, along with stories of police brutality and gang wars. N.W.A's 1988 debut album Straight Outta Compton was mostly to thank, along with Public Enemy's 1988 album It Takes A Nation of Millions To Hold Us Back, a clarion call for the mobilization of Black people against the powers that be. It was raging against the machine at its best.

While artists of the DAISY Age discussed ways for Black people to find their own grooves and means to mobilize, albeit in a different way, Tribe and groups of their ilk were categorized under the "alternative hip-hop" subgenre, an industry move suggesting that discussions of anything other than gun talk were the exception, not the rule. They were all deemed "safe," nonviolent "alternatives," while also commanding a sound both parents and kids could mutually enjoy. It was a gift and a curse at the same time.

Read More: Busta Rhymes On Being In A "Beautiful Space" & Bringing Together Generations Of Hip-Hop Artists On 'Extinction Level Event 2'

It was a frustrating position for any critically acclaimed group paving their own path. Still, by the time A Tribe Called Quest got to work on The Low End Theory, they were more than ready to reinvent the wheel yet again. This would be the project that served as a reference point for A Tribe Called Quest as bastions of versatility. In order to prove that, they had to rework their whole style, right down to their image. There was also the added pressure of the sophomore slump. But that didn't faze lead producer Q-Tip in the least. Tribe weren't cocky—they were confident.

Tribe had a lot to prove on The Low End Theory while not coming off as tryhards. In 14 tracks, they had to somehow remove the stigmas attached to so many hip-hop artists at the time: You were either too street, too soft or too artsy, or you didn't understand a single instrument. Tribe aimed to strike that balance artfully.

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Inspired by the hard thuds checkered throughout Straight Outta Compton, Q-Tip opted for bass-heavy beats on Low End.  Album opener "Excursions" oozes with those steady basslines, as does "Buggin' Out," "Check The Rhime" and closer "Scenario."

Q-Tip made it a point to masterfully bring the sounds of jazz and bebop to boom bap, where, for the first time ever, the instruments were front and center. You could listen to any song on Low End and hear every layer as it's being played, a rarity in the sample-heavy world of hip-hop. With Tribe, you experienced the masterpiece in full totality, while also seeing every stroke of the paintbrush. And despite their claims of having the jazz on "Jazz (We've Got)," Tribe didn't sound like some jazz ensemble in hard-bottom shoes anywhere on Low End. This was pure hip-hop in a new iteration by a group determined to make a mark on their own terms.

But like Q-Tip says on "Rap Promoter ("Not too modest and not a lot of pride"), Tribe had to be bolder with their messaging this time around, while still maintaining their stance on peace and positivity. On "Excursions," an idyllic intro to that creative approach, Q-Tip makes it clear that Tribe is playing the long game in rap, in the right way, while still switching the sound up. He does the same on "Verses From The Abstract," in which he takes the reins on the group's collective messaging.

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This was also the moment, however, where Phife Dawg would step forward and do just enough posturing and bragging on the group's behalf. His presence was barely felt on Tribe's debut album since Phife's head wasn't all the way in the game until Q-Tip centered him. The yin to Q-Tip's yang, Phife was a 5-foot-3-inch sh*t-talker and bona fide comedian who helped the former not take the game too seriously. On "Buggin' Out," Phife is in the spotlight, and he keeps it going on "Butter" where he talks about pulling girls like "Flo" while simultaneously shining on his own for once.

Read More: 'Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son Of Chico Dusty' At 10: The Story Behind The Missing Tracks From Big Boi's Solo Debut Album

Low End is also full of music industry cautionary tales. On "Rap Promoter," Q-Tip waxes philosophically and questions why rap promoters will invite hip-hop heads to a wack show. Tribe then expose the ills of the biz on "Show Business," with the help of Brand Nubian and Diamond D, and continue that sentiment on "Check The Rhime" where Q-Tip births the now-infamous line, "Industry rule number four-thousand-and-eighty / Record company people are shady."

Tribe's storytelling is in clear view on "The Infamous Date Rape" and "Everything Is Fair," with the former carrying a real sentiment of exposing criminal acts. It's heavy without being too dark, while tracks like "What?" are light without being too whimsy. "Skypager" sees Tribe dissecting their many reasons for carrying a beeper. At face value, the concept would seem like a whole lot of nonsense about an inanimate piece of technology. But the song ultimately places the group alongside the same beeper-carrying drug dealers from whom the industry and the media attempted to forcibly disassociate them. While Tribe aim to show they are different and unfazed by fancy gadgets, "Skypager" still echoes their main message: We are all in this together.

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Then, of course, there's "Scenario." With the help of Leaders of the New School and the soon-to-be legend Busta Rhymes, the track is heavy on basslines, trash talk, braggadocio and bars. The perfect closer to the album, "Scenario" is so bullish and so energetic, it almost serves as a celebration of Tribe's accomplishment: the martini after a cinematic piece has wrapped.

The Low End Theory was somewhat of a swan song for A Tribe Called Quest in more ways than one. It was their diversion from the Native Tongues and the DAISY Age scenes, especially after the group signed to Russell Simmons' Rush Artist Management, under manager Chris Lighty, a move that would take their message to a bigger, more mainstream hip-hop audience. However, the album was also a farewell to the pigeonholed style and sound they were wedged into the first time around. After The Low End Theory, A Tribe Called Quest could fly, and the sky was the limit.

"Loops Of Funk Over Hardcore Beats": 30 Years Of A Tribe Called Quest's Debut, 'People's Instinctive Travels And The Paths Of Rhythm'

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 2024 Special Merit Awards Ceremony Honoring N.W.A, Gladys Knight, Donna Summer & More
Chair of the Recording Academy's Board of Trustees Tammy Hurt, Trustees Honoree Award Honoree DJ Kool Herc, Cindy Campbell and CEO of the Recording Academy and Musicares Harvey Mason Jr.

Photo: Emma McIntyre/Getty Images for The Recording Academy

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Inside The 2024 Special Merit Awards Ceremony Honoring N.W.A, Gladys Knight, Donna Summer & More

A deeply emotional pre-GRAMMY ceremony honored an extraordinary group of musical creators, pioneers, educators and icons including the Clark Sisters, Tammy Wynette, K'naan and others legendary innovators.

GRAMMYs/Feb 7, 2024 - 04:20 pm

This year, the Special Merit Awards ceremony was not for the faint of heart. 

The 2024 GRAMMY Week event, held Saturday at a capacity Wilshire Ebell Theatre in Los Angeles, presented Lifetime Achievement Awards, Trustees Awards, the Technical GRAMMY,  and the Music Educator Award to a dazzling gallery of musical innovators whose work has generated deep emotional connections across decades. In a world currently ensnared in a pattern of global conflict, the presentation of the award for Best Song for Social Change for the first time at the Special Merit Award ceremony this year added an extra layer of poignancy.

The presentation was touching from the very beginning, with a video montage of previous winners set to the historic recording of Aretha Franklin singing the Puccini aria "Nessuna Dorma." Glimpses of many legendary faces and performances on the screen underscored the Academy’s empathy for impactful music history: from Marvin Gaye to Janis Joplin; Billie Holiday to The Carter Family; The Beatles and Tina Turner to Dolly Parton and The Supremes.

The 2024 Music Educator Award was then given to Annie Ray, a music teacher and orchestra leader from Annandale, Virginia selected for her relentless positivity and inclusive energy. "Orchestra is much more than a class — it’s a family," said one of her students during a brief video chronicling her work. Ray, whose classrooms include students from 66 different countries — put together, they speak 59 languages — was visibly touched as she received the award. "I am thankful to share with the world what my students have taught me," she said.

The year’s Technical GRAMMY belonged to Tom Scott and the late Tom Kobayashi, who met at Lucasfilm’s Skywalker Sound in 1985 and together launched the Entertainment Digital Network (EDnet), which allows the sharing of high-quality video and audio. An estimated 250,000 musical collaborations have been facilitated by their innovations, including many GRAMMY performances. 

Next up were the three Trustee Awards: British pop legend Peter Asher, member of Peter & Gordon, prolific A&R executive, producer, manager, and a self-professed "admirer and member of the Recording Academy for almost 60 years"; legendary entertainment attorney and former Recording Academy Chairman Joel Katz, known as "the dealmaker who thinks outside of the box"; and Jamaican American DJ Kool Herc, renowned as one of the founders of East Coast hip-hop in ‘70s. He received the award joined by his sister Cindy who promoted his initial series of parties in the Bronx, noted for his groundbreaking use of two turntables and the extension of funky breaks in songs. 

It was time to honor the Lifetime Achievement recipients, and a sprightly Laurie Anderson stepped onstage and gave a witty assessment of her reputation as an uncompromising song alchemist. "They say my music is experimental, which sounds like doing something in the lab that might explode," she said. From her wonderfully robotic, left-field 1982 hit "O Superman" to her poetic concept album Homeland in 2010, Anderson has created her share of aesthetically explosive works of the art-pop and avant-garde variety.

"I love music so much, and I married a musician," she said acknowledging her husband, the late Lou Reed. "Wouldn’t it be great if there was a piano on every corner?"

The best-selling female gospel group in history, Detroit-based The Clark Sisters are known for their soaring vocal harmonies and powerhouse hits like "You Brought The Sunshine." 

"We thank our Lord and Savior for allowing us to do what we do: singing," they said, adding words of gratitude for their mother — "the lady who paved the way" — the late choral director Dr. Mattie Moss Clark.

The importance of a rich spiritual life was also emphasized by Motown legend and Soul empress Gladys Knight. The singer known for classic hits such as "Midnight Train to Georgia" and a raucous rendition of "I Heard It Through The Grapevine" beamed onstage as she recalled her beginnings in music, before she became an international star with The Pips. "We had to go to church every Sunday, and it did make a difference," she said. "Everybody was singing around me when I grew up. And my mom would never allow me to do it easy. It had to come from the heart."

It was time to witness the strength of street knowledge. Delving into the very core of hip-hop identity, Bone Thugs-N-Harmony presented the Lifetime Achievement Award to N.W.A, the revolutionary Los Angeles collective that transformed the landscape of popular music with its 1988 debut Straight Outta Compton. The group was joined by the mother and son of late rapper Eazy-E, who passed away in 1995 at age 30. The surviving members of the group – excepting Dr. Dre, who was celebrating his daughter’s birthday and sent a text greeting – looked vindicated. "We always knew that a GRAMMY was not in the cards for us, but we still wanted to express ourselves," said Ice Cube. "When you do your thing, the world will come to you."

Donna Summer, the ethereal and visionary singer who took disco music into progressive territory during the ‘70s, passed away in 2012. The "I Feel Love" star received a posthumous Lifetime Achievement Award on Saturday — and her husband Bruce Sudano and their three daughters were there to collect it. "Her voice and music are omnipresent in the [cultural] zeitgeist," said Sudano. "Donna continues to inspire people worldwide. She always referred to herself as an ordinary girl."

Last but not least, GRAMMY winning country star Tammy Wynette, who died in 1998, was also honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award — accepted by her daughters, Georgette Jones and Jackie Daly.

"Mom would feel very humbled to be in such a talented group of people," Jones said. "She always thought that the GRAMMYs were the biggest accomplishment in music. And she never fully understood her own impact."

When rapper and singer K’naan was a child in Mogadishu, his mother managed to get the family out of Somalia on the last commercial flight before the civil war erupted. Together with songwriters Gerald Eaton and Steve McEwan, K’naan was honored with the Best Song for Social Change award for "Refugee," a track about the plight of political refugees around the world.

"In the Somali language, the word 'home' derives from the word 'mother,'" explained K’naan as he received the award to a standing ovation. "I dedicate this GRAMMY to my home — my mother."

2024 GRAMMY Nominations: See The Full Winners & Nominees List

The Recording Academy Announces 2024 Special Merit Award & Lifetime Achievement Award Honorees: N.W.A, Gladys Knight, Donna Summer, DJ Kool Herc & Many More
(Top Row, L-R): Gladys Knight, the Clark Sisters, Tammy Wynette, Laurie Anderson, Gerald Eaton; (Middle Row, L-R): N.W.A, Tom Scott, Donna Summer, Joel Katz, Steve McEwan; (Bottom Row, L-R): Peter Asher, Tom Kobayashi, DJ Kool Herc, K'naan

Photo Credits: Derek Blanks; Mel Elder, Jr.; Michael Ochs Archives; Stephanie Diani; Kim Virdi; TiVo; photo courtesy of SMPTE; Copyright Brian Leatart; Gittings; Steve McEwan; Henry Diltz; Kobayashi Family; Johnny Nunez/WireImage; Nabil Elderkin

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The Recording Academy Announces 2024 Special Merit Award & Lifetime Achievement Award Honorees: N.W.A, Gladys Knight, Donna Summer, DJ Kool Herc & Many More

The 2024 Special Merit Awards honorees include Lifetime Achievement Award recipients Tammy Wynette, the Clark Sisters, and many others. The Special Merit Awards will return to the Wilshire Ebell Theater on Saturday, Feb.3, during GRAMMY Week 2024.

GRAMMYs/Jan 5, 2024 - 01:55 pm

Ahead of the 2024 GRAMMYs, the Recording Academy has announced the 2024 Special Merit Awards honorees.

Laurie Anderson, the Clark Sisters, Gladys Knight, N.W.A, Donna Summer, and Tammy Wynette are the 2024 Recording Academy Lifetime Achievement Award honorees; Peter Asher, DJ Kool Herc and Joel Katz are the Trustees Award recipients; Tom Kobayashi and Tom Scott are the Technical GRAMMY Award honorees; and “Refugee,” written by K’naan, Steve McEwan, and Gerald Eaton (a.k.a. Jarvis Church), is being honored with the Best Song For Social Change Award

The Recording Academy’s Special Merit Awards Ceremony celebrating the 2023 Special Merit Award recipients will return to the Wilshire Ebell Theatre in Los Angeles on Saturday, Feb. 3. 

“The Academy is honored to pay tribute to this year’s Special Merit Award recipients — a remarkable group of creators and industry professionals whose impact resonates with generations worldwide,” said Harvey Mason jr., CEO of the Recording Academy. “Their contributions to music span genres, backgrounds and crafts, reflecting the rich diversity that fuels our creative community. We look forward to honoring these music industry trailblazers next month as part of our week-long celebration leading up to Music’s Biggest Night.”

Lifetime Achievement Award Honorees

This Special Merit Award is presented by vote of the Recording Academy’s National Trustees to performers who, during their lifetimes, have made creative contributions of outstanding artistic significance to the field of recording (through 1972, recipients included non-performers).

Laurie Anderson is a writer, director, composer, visual artist, musician, and vocalist who has created groundbreaking works that span the worlds of art, theater, experimental music, and technology. As a performer and musician, she has collaborated with many people including Brian Eno, Jean-Michel Jarre, William S. Burroughs, Peter Gabriel, Robert Wilson, Christian McBride, and Philip Glass. In 2002, Anderson was appointed the first artist-in-residence of NASA which culminated in her 2004 touring solo performance, The End of the Moon. She has been nominated for six GRAMMY Awards throughout her recording career and received a GRAMMY for the release Landfall in collaboration with the Kronos Quartet at the 61st GRAMMYs. 

The Clark Sisters, an American gospel vocal group initially consisting of five sisters: Jacky, Denise, Elbernita, Dorinda, and Karen – have been taking the world by storm since the early 1980s. Credited for helping to bring gospel music to the mainstream, the Clark Sisters are considered pioneers of contemporary gospel. Their biggest crossover hits include: “Is My Living in Vain?,” “Hallelujah,” “He Gave Me Nothing to Lose,” “Endow Me,” their hit song “Jesus Is A Love Song,” “Pure Gold,” “Miracle,” and their largest, mainstream crossover gold-certified, “You Brought The Sunshine.” The Clark Sisters (Jacky, Elbernita, Dorinda, and Karen) have won three GRAMMYs (two awarded to the group, and one to Karen as a songwriter for “Blessed and Highly Favored”), and with 16 albums to their credit and millions in sales, they are the highest-selling female gospel group in history.

Gladys Knight is a seven-time GRAMMY Award winner who has enjoyed No. 1 hits in pop, gospel, R&B, and adult contemporary, and has triumphed in film, television and live performance. Knight has recorded more than 38 albums over the years including four solo albums. She appeared on ABC’s 14th season of “Dancing With The Stars” in 2012, and in 2019, she competed on the inaugural season of “The Masked Singer.” Knight has sung the National Anthem at several major sporting events, including at Super Bowl LIII in Atlanta in 2019, and at the 2021 NBA All-Star Game. She was a National Endowment for the Arts 2021 National Medal of Arts Recipient and received a Kennedy Center Honor for Lifetime Artistic Achievements in 2022.

N.W.A was a rap group from the Compton district in Los Angeles who are credited by many with inventing gangsta rap. The group, consisting of Eazy-E^, Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, DJ Yella, and MC-Ren, developed a new sound, which brought in many of the loud, extreme sonic innovations of Public Enemy while adopting a self-consciously violent and dangerous lyrical stance. In 1988, N.W.A released their album, Straight Outta Compton, a brutally intense record that became an underground hit without any support from radio or MTV. This negative attention worked in their favor as it brought the album to multiplatinum status. Although the group was short-lived, gangsta rap established itself as the most popular form of hip-hop during the mid-1990s.

Donna Summer^ rocketed to international superstardom with her groundbreaking merger of R&B, soul, pop, funk, rock, disco, and avant-garde electronica, catapulting underground dance music out of the clubs of Europe and bringing it to the world. Summer holds the record with three consecutive double albums to hit No. 1 on the Billboard charts (the only solo artist to ever accomplish this), and first female artist to have four No. 1 singles in a 12-month period on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart. A five-time GRAMMY winner and 18-time GRAMMY nominee, Summer was the first artist to win the GRAMMY for Best Rock Vocal Performance, Female (1979, “Hot Stuff”) as well as the first-ever recipient of the new GRAMMY Category for Best Dance Recording (1997, “Carry On”). Summer was the first female artist to win GRAMMY Awards in four different genres: dance, gospel, rock, and R&B.

Tammy Wynette^ first hit the musical scene in 1966 with “Apartment #9” after moving to Nashville and teaming up with record producer Billy Sherrill. Together, the duo wrote songs that reflected the yearnings and the things Wynette felt were important in her life. In 1968, Wynette released “Stand By Your Man,” which sold more than five million singles and became the largest-selling single ever recorded by a female artist. By 1970, she racked up five No. 1 country hits, was named the Country Music Association’s Female Vocalist of the Year three times, and won two GRAMMYs. Wynette was the first female country music singer to sell over one million albums and has sold more than 30 million records grossing more than $100 million, earning her the title “The First Lady of Country Music.”

Read More: GRAMMY Lifetime Achievement Awards | The Complete List

Trustees Award Honorees

This Special Merit Award is presented by vote of the Recording Academy’s National Trustees to individuals who, during their careers in music, have made significant contributions, other than performance, to the field of recording (through 1983, recipients included performers).

Peter Asher’s career began in 1964 as one-half of Peter & Gordon, whose “A World Without Love” topped the charts worldwide. Nine more Top 20 hits followed before Asher became head of A&R for the Beatles’ Apple Records in 1968, and discovered, produced and managed James Taylor; later adding Linda Ronstadt, Neil Diamond, 10,000 Maniacs, Cher, Diana Ross, Kenny Loggins, Bonnie Raitt, Robin Williams, Stevie Nicks, Lyle Lovett, Morrissey, Steve Martin & Edie Brickell, Ed Sheeran, and more to his roster. Asher won the GRAMMY for Producer Of The Year in both 1977 and 1989. He hosts a hit radio show “From Me To You” on Sirius XM and is much in demand not only in the studio but as a performer, speaker and author.

The legendary Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee DJ Kool Herc is consistently credited as the founder of hip-hop. His mastery at the turntables is known worldwide, as are his positive contributions to the evolution of hip-hop culture. Herc’s popularity rose by playing long sets of assorted rhythm breaks strung together. Unlike any of his DJ counterparts, Herc is not a rapid rapper who keeps your head spinning with a patter, but he is a musical innovator to the turntables. He first introduced using two turntables to make the beats last longer, creating the illusion of one long break for the B-Boys to show off their skills. Herc has received a great deal of recognition during his lifetime, including his induction into the 2023 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and recognition from the New York Landmarks Conservancy as a 2023 Living Landmark. 

Joel Katz has played a profound role in shaping the entertainment industry through his work in facilitating entertainment-related corporate acquisitions and mergers and consulting multi-national and multi-media entertainment companies. Katz was ranked Billboard magazine’s No. 1 entertainment attorney in its “Power 100” list of most powerful executives in the music business and has been called “the dealmaker who thinks outside the box.” At Kennesaw State University, Katz endowed and began a commercial music program – one of the largest music education programs in America with over 500 students. He has authored and co-authored many articles and commentary on topics concerning entertainment law. In honor of his work, the University of Tennessee College of Law dedicated its library in his name, the Joel A. Katz Law Library.

Read More: GRAMMY Trustees Awards | The Complete List

Technical GRAMMY Award Honorees

This Special Merit Award is presented by vote of the Producers & Engineers Wing Advisory Council and Chapter Committees and ratification by the Recording Academy's National Trustees to individuals and/or companies/organizations/institutions who have made contributions of outstanding technical significance to the recording field. 

Tom Kobayashi^ and Tom Scott met at Lucasfilm’s Skywalker Sound in 1985, when the duo joined the company and completed the building of the Skywalker post-production facilities in both Northern and Southern California. Together, Kobayashi and Scott launched the Entertainment Digital Network, also known as “EDnet,” which employed fiber-optic networks to send high-quality video and audio great distances. Its then-revolutionary technology enabled the industry to link together talent, executives and production facilities at great cost savings. For 25 years, that company connected hundreds of recording studios worldwide in the days before the Internet could handle high-quality audio. EDnet became a part of Onstream Media, and over the decades, tens of thousands of long-distance collaboration sessions were facilitated for the music, advertising, TV, and cinema businesses. 

Best Song For Social Change Award Honorees

This Special Merit Award honors songwriter(s) of message-driven music that speaks to the social issues of our time and has demonstrated and inspired positive global impact. The finalists and recipient(s) are selected annually by a Blue-Ribbon Committee composed of a community of peers dedicated to artistic expression, the craft of songwriting and the power of songs to effect social change. See past recipients here.

In June 2023, singer-songwriter K’naan released the inspiring single and accompanying video “Refugee,” co-written by GRAMMY Award-winning songwriter Steve McEwan and GRAMMY-nominated producer Gerald Eaton (also known by his stage name, Jarvis Church). “Refugee” stands out as a distinctive musical endeavor, skillfully interweaving personal and political narratives, and serving as a tribute to refugees around the world. With the single, K’naan drew inspiration from his personal experiences, aiming to redefine the traditional perception of the term “refugee” into a symbol of resilience and strength. The song was written with the hopes of encouraging individuals to embrace the word “refugee” proudly and to give those made homeless by conflict a song that felt like home.

Read More: GRAMMY Technical Awards | The Complete List

^Denotes posthumous honoree.

2024 GRAMMY Nominations: See The Full Nominees List

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

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

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

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

GRAMMYs/Dec 12, 2023 - 08:40 pm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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