meta-scriptVenezuelan Immigrant Musicians In The U.S. Carry Sound, Sentiment & Love For The Country They Left Behind |
Lara Klaus, Mafer Bandola, Sara Lucas, Pat Swoboda and Daniela Serna of LADAMA attend the U.S. Department Of State launch of Global Music Diplomacy Initiative
(From left) Lara Klaus, Mafer Bandola, Sara Lucas, Pat Swoboda and Daniela Serna of LADAMA attend the U.S. Department Of State launch of Global Music Diplomacy Initiative

Photo: Paul Morigi/Getty Images


Venezuelan Immigrant Musicians In The U.S. Carry Sound, Sentiment & Love For The Country They Left Behind

Venezuela is in the midst of a displacement crisis, with more than 7.3 million people leaving the country since 2014. Many of those immigrants are musicians, who bring their country's deep history and inventive attitude to cities like New York and Miami.

GRAMMYs/Mar 13, 2024 - 01:38 pm

Every last Sunday of the month, composer, educator and community organizer, Mafer Bandola hosts workshops at Barbés, a popular bar in Brooklyn. In these didactic shows called Pipiris Nights, she teaches attendees about the instruments, music, and dance of joropo —  a style from the grassy plains of Venezuela. 

Attendees range from curious visitors to fellow Venezuelans, many of whom are recent immigrants, longing to reconnect with their roots. At Bandola's workshop, those Venezuelans often find themselves in tears while reminiscing over the country they left behind and watching their American children learn about their heritage. 

In the past year, the number of Venezuelans living in New York has increased exponentially as part of a larger migrant crisis. In December 2023, the New York Times reported that more than 136,000 migrants have arrived in New York since the spring of 2022. Many of these migrants are from Venezuela. The NYT describes this movement as something which could lead to the first "Little Caracas" in the U.S. 

Conditions in Venezuela — including a lack of food, medicine and essential services, increased crime and political unrest — have led many musicians to leave their country in search of better opportunities and quality of life. More than 7.3 million Venezuelans have left the country since 2014, and as of 2023 the exodus is considered the largest displacement crisis in the world. This migration is creating more than a social and economic impact; Venezuelan migrant musicians are leaving aural trails wherever they settle.

Prior to the current crisis, the power and passion of Venezuelan music caught the attention of archivists for the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage in 2008. Patricia Abdelnour, then the Cultural Attaché to the Venezuelan Embassy, traveled to Venezuela with Smithsonian Folkways Recordings to explore the musical landscape of her home country. Abdelnour’s trip and work led to the recording of three albums and concerts in the U.S. for Venezuelan musicians who had never even traveled outside of Venezuela.

Y Que Viva Venezuela is one of these albums, performed by the group Maestros del Joropo which includes Alfonso Moreno, Roberto Koch, Aquiles Báez and José Martínez. In the above video, they perform alongside Venezuelan violinist, director, and member of the Music Council of UNESCO Venezuela Eddy Marcano. Marcano was recognized by the Latin GRAMMYs in 2010 for his contribution to Tesoros de la música Venezolana - Llanos.

Inside New York's "Little Caracas" music scene

Bandola's first experience in the U.S. as a musician was in 2014, when she was accepted into a month-long musical residency called  One Beat. To fill out the application, she "put each question through Google translate" because she didn’t know any English at the time, she says in Spanish via Zoom. At One Beat, Bandola met the members of LADAMA. 

Bandola is a pioneer in musica llanera, as the first woman bandolista (in some regions women accompanied musica llanera with dance and song, however, the playing was left to the working cowboys). Bandola is also the only bandolista to play an electric bandola, merging traditional and modern elements with LADAMA. 

There are plenty of styles within musica llanera, however, the most popular is Joropo. One that is accompanied by dance in festive settings. The llano work songs are sung to keep the cattle calm while they are being milked at dawn. There is an innate celebration and honoring of nature in musica llanera. The present-day style comes from a fusion of Indigenous, African, and Spanish influences, when colonization brought the Spanish style of fandango to Venezuela. LADAMA has incorporated these themes and sounds into their music by way of Bandola’s electric bandola stylings.

LADAMA toured Latin America in 2016 and 2017. During this time, Bandola endured many obstacles when traveling between countries. It was difficult for her to leave and enter Venezuela and the military at the Venezuelan airport would try to take away her instrument. 

"The ideal life for me would be to live in Venezuela and only leave to travel and tour with my music," she tells "I never thought I’d live outside of my country, only travel." 

This is a shared experience for many Venezuelan musicians who made the difficult decision to leave. In a theater production in Miami called "Papá Cuatro," Mafer shares her life and immigration story alongside Venezuelan Latin GRAMMY winner Miguel Siso and Latin GRAMMY nominee Mariaca Semprún.

After the LADAMA tour concluded, Bandola "moved from country to country, because Venezuela wasn’t an option." After some time living in Canada during the pandemic, her manager successfully expedited the process to receive an artist visa and move to the United States permanently. 

The story of how she chose the venue for her joropo workshops was serendipitous and spiritual even. When she approached Oliver Conan, the French owner of Barbés, he shared that he had spent 6 months traveling and living in Venezuela. He had been inspired so much by the music and the culture of los llanos that he bought himself a cuatro (a traditional Venezuelan instrument with four strings) and learned how to play. He even has a portrait of a Venezuelan saint hung above the bar, Dr. Jose Gregorio Hernandez.

The first Pipiris Night took place in March 2022 and is still going strong.

Afro-Venezuelan tambores meet in New York City

Mafer Bandola isn't the only Venezuelan artist creating community in New York. Elsewhere in the city, Willie Quintana is making a name for himself in the sphere of Afro-Venezuelan tambores. Born in Valencia and raised in Barinas, Venezuela, Willie came from a musical family. 

In 2015, the lack of resources in Venezuela forced Quintana and his wife to move to the United States with their son. With him he brought a project that he hadn’t had the chance to develop in Venezuela;   Afro-Venezuelan drumming collective Tambor y Caña was born in NYC in 2017. 

Quintana shares that some new participants of Tambor y Caña recently arrived in the U.S.  — a few risking their lives crossing the southern border. He says these young men from small rural areas have the true authentic cadence of Afro-Venezuelan drumming. "They are insanely talented!" he shared in Spanish in a Zoom interview.

To bring traditional Venezuelan instruments into the U.S., Quintana resorted to having friends bring a few instruments at a time when they traveled between the two countries. These drums — the cumaco, the mina, the curbata, the culo e’ puya, the long drum, and the pipa corta — are quite fragile and difficult to travel with in bulk.

Tambor y Caña has since performed at impressive venues throughout New York City, including the Lincoln Center, Barclays Center, Bronx Music House, and NYC City Hall. Inspired by the work Tambor y Caña was doing, a group of women became interested in learning Afro-Venezuelan drums. Through Quintana's drumming school (Escuela de Tambor Afrovenezolano y Percusión Afrolatina), TamborEllas was born.

Much like Bandola, TamborEllas are doing important work in Afro-Venezuelan musical tradition as it is generally dominated by men. 

Tambor y Caña haven’t recorded music yet, instead focusing on leading workshops throughout New York City schools both for children and adults. Quintana has also worked with Venezuelan classical maestro Samuel Marchán, leading workshops for youth in the East River Music Project. 

A burgeoning Venezuela 2.0 in Miami

Miami is also a hub for Venezuelan artists — so much so that Mafer Bandola felt nervous about finding a community in New York because so many Venezuelan musicians had left NYC for the south Florida city. 

The largest enclave of Venezuelan immigrants is in south Florida, the city of Doral (also known as Doralzuela), and there is increasing demand for Venezuelan performers to share their work in the area. 

Nostalgia for the country and people he left behind is a recurring theme in the music of now Miami-based Latin GRAMMY-nominated singer Danny Ocean. The lyrics of "Caracas en el 2000," a track with Miami-based Venezuelan artist ELENA ROSE and Jerry Di, reminisce about the youthful joy of walking along the streets of the capital city eating traditional Venezuelan foods with friends. Ocean's fond memories resonated with Venezuelan immigrants around the world, who share the sentiment of wanting to return soon. In "Caracas en el 2000" he sings, "quiero volver, quiero volver, cuándo?" (I want to return, but when?)

Simón Grossmann, often called the "Latin Jack Johnson," started performing while he was a summer camp counselor. Encouraged by colleagues and campers, Grossman recorded his first album, Ciclo, in 2017. Today it has over 7 million streams. 

The album’s producer, Venezuelan GRAMMY nominated José Luis Pardo has also worked with DJ Afro, Rawayana, Camila Luna, and Los Amigos Invisibles. 

Grossmann released  Mujer Eléctrica in 2018 and Bahia Margarita three years later; the latter is considered to be his best work to date. In an interview with NPR, Grossmann said the album was inspired by the Venezuelan island of Margarita where he spent many childhood summers. Grossman recalled those memories during the quarantine lockdown as a form of escape and wondered "what would my adult self be doing in that place right now?"

Also known for his skillful lyricism, Migguel Anggelo is a dancer, actor, and musician who has moved away from traditional Venezuelan styles. When he was trying to get projects off the ground in Miami, he was told his experimental style was "not commercial enough" and too "poetic" for the Miami music scene. Fittingly, he even speaks in metaphors. 

"I am a Venezuelan tree, an Araguaney, the national tree from Venezuela. I am beautiful and have huge branches," Anggelo says, describing himself. "I can offer you my shade, my music. I can comfort you…I came here to give you music and shade from the sun and the rain."

On "Inmigrantes" Anggelo sings in Spanish, "my only frontier is my mother’s womb." He shares that he was ecstatic and surprised when he toured in Russia and audiences sang along to the English and Spanish lyrics. Migguel Anggelo has two albums, Dónde Estará Matisse and La Casa Azul, and he is currently working on his third album. He has completed residencies at the Lincoln Center, Miami Light Project, The Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts, and BRIC (Brooklyn) and hopes to continue expanding his repertoire. 

As an openly gay man from a relatively machista culture, Migguel Anggelo has inspired people to come out to their families through his performances. Migguel Anggelo wants American audiences to see that immigrants are not bad, as some American pundits like to say. 

San Juan USA brings a Venezuelan drumming festival to Miami

Approximately 100,000 people were kidnapped from West Africa and enslaved in Venezuelan territories between 1576 and 1810. Along Venezuela's coast and bordering states, their descendants now celebrate the festival of San Juan, in which they honor and worship St. John the Baptist. The cornerstone of this June event is the drumming tradition, during which traditional maraca accompanies the beat of the Afro-Venezuelan drums. The festive cycle includes many musical and dance rituals grounded in mythical and symbolic traditions which have been taught for the past 400 years. 

San Juan USA, which includes Grace Salamanca, Marcos Espinoza, and Pedro Sarabia, continues this tradition with an annual festival at the Miami Beach Bandshell. In February, San Juan USA led a dance and drumming workshop as part of a Black History Month celebration. Children gathered around the traditional drums with bright smiles and insatiable curiosity as the musicians showed them how to play the instruments. San Juan USA’s participation in such community events, underscores the importance Venezuelan artists place on educating people about the culture and musical tradition of their country.

Local Venezuelan artists are performing innovative sets at new venues, such as ZeyZey in Miami's Little River neighborhood. In February, Venezuelan DJ Venezonix and tambores group San Juan USA performed a combination of traditional Afro-Venezuelan styles with EDM and house beats. The crowd, many of whom were Venezuelan, took advantage of the venue’s large terrace to dance the traditional tambores style. The event successfully brought a modern take of traditional Venezuelan music to an audience of Venezuelan immigrants and visitors, as well as locals and tourists of other cultures. 

Luis "Papo'' Marquez — Cuban singer, composer, and producer and president of Miami recording studio PapoMusic — lived in Venezuela for many years, and collaborated with local artists. He attributes a large part of his musical formation to the time he spent working with musicians in Venezuela. "I quickly realized that Venezuelan musicians were very versatile," Marquez says via WhatsApp. 

This openness and versatility allows its musicians to adapt to many genres. Venezuela has always been receptive to international music, Marquez continues, adding that the Venezuleans he knows will learn any style of music — including pop, rock, flamenco, salsa, and jazz. 

"Venezuelans in general are very talented and hard-working people," he says in Spanish. It’s easy for them to enter any scene, specifically the American music scene, due to their outstanding preparedness. 

Marquez refers to himself as Cuban Venezuelan due to the influence the country had on his career, and their shared histories. He is proud of the impact this community of creative, well-rounded, and determined musicians have made here in the states. The success, talent and prolific nature of Venezuelan musicians is proof that, while you can take the artist out of Venezuela, but you cannot take the love and pride with which they sing and play.  

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Danny Ocean PPAH Hero
Danny Ocean

Photo: Courtesy of Danny Ocean


Press Play At Home: Danny Ocean Shows A More Intimate Side With His Yearning "Fuera Del Mercado" Performance

Danny Ocean takes to the stage — minus an audience — for an emotional performance of his new song, "Fuera Del Mercado."

GRAMMYs/Jul 7, 2022 - 05:00 pm

Fans likely know Danny Ocean best for "Me Rehúso" — his global megahit from 2017 — but the Venezuelan singer/songwriter digs into deeper and more introspective territory with his newer material, including "Fuera Del Mercado."

In this episode of Press Play at Home, watch Ocean's intimate onstage performance of the song. Though the stage is decked out for a full concert — featuring a band, lighting and even a bodyguard standing by the pit — there's no one in the audience. The empty venue makes for a rendition of the song that's introspective, and even eerie, despite its danceable beat.

"Fuera Del Mercado" translates to "Off the Market" in English. But as Ocean explained to La Mezcla, it's unfortunately not about himself going off the market — instead, it's a bittersweet goodbye to an ex.

"The story of when someone finds out that a person they like very much is going to get married, and also in the end you realize that the happiness of the other person is what is most valuable, and also your happiness," Ocean wrote.

That yearning, regret and optimism all come through in the singer/songwriter's performance, amplified by his expressive vocal delivery. The complex narratives behind "Fuera Del Mercado" are representative of what Ocean set out to do when he was making his second full-length album, @dannocean

"The process of this album has been love and hate," he told Rolling Stone, adding that he hopes fans will see a "darker Danny" in the results. "It took me a while to figure out what I wanted to say, the stories I wanted to write, visually how I wanted to express myself."

"Fuera Del Mercado" is one of 16 songs on @dannocean, which is available on all streaming platforms now. Enjoy the video above, and check back to for more episodes of Press Play at Home.

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Dillon Francis and Diplo GRAMMY Museum Event 2024
Dillon Francis (left) and Diplo at the GRAMMY Museum on May 15, 2024.

Photo: Courtesy of the Recording Academy™️/photo by Rebecca Sapp, Getty Images


Dillon Francis & Diplo In Conversation: 5 Things We Learned From The GRAMMY Museum Event

In honor of Dillon Francis' breakthrough hit "Get Low" turning 10 this year, the DJ/producer sat down with one of his longtime dance buds, Diplo, at the GRAMMY Museum. Check out five revelations from the career-spanning (and highly entertaining) chat.

GRAMMYs/May 20, 2024 - 08:30 pm

Dillon Francis and Diplo have respectively built massive careers within dance music — but as they proved on May 15, they may have been just as successful doing stand-up comedy.

The two producers came together at the GRAMMY Museum's Clive Davis Theater for a wisecracking exchange, marking the 10-year anniversary of Francis' breakthrough song with DJ Snake, the platinum-certified "Get Low." It also felt like a celebration of 

their longstanding friendship — which predates "Get Low" — as the conversation was filled with humorous anecdotes, insider stories about key moments in Francis' career, and some of Francis' favorite memories with Diplo.

Since "Get Low," Francis has had a mercurial music trajectory. Though he's released three studio albums and a number of EPs, his landmark mixtapes — 2015's This Mixtape Is Fire and last year's This Mixtape is Fire TOO — are the key highlights. Like many dance acts, collaboration has been at the core of Francis' work, particularly within the electronic community; he's teamed up with the likes of Skrillex, Calvin Harris, Martin Garrix, Kygo, Alison Wonderland, Illenium, Alesso, and even Diplo's trio Major Lazer

More recently, Francis has released collaborations with Ship Wrek, Space Rangers and Sophie Powers, and the moombahton Pero Like EP with Good Times Ahead. The EP includes the bouncy "LA On Acid," whose video — which premiered at the South By Southwest Festival in March — features Diplo in its opening sequencing, along with cameos from Euphoria's Chloe Cherry, Righteous Gemstones' Tony Cavalero and Master of None's Eric Wareheim.

Three days after stopping by the GRAMMY Museum, Francis headed out to Las Vegas to perform at North America's largest electronic dance music festival, Electric Daisy Carnival, on May 18. It was one of many festival appearances for Francis this summer, along with one of several trips to Las Vegas, as he has a residency at the Wynn's XS Nightclub.

Below, take a look at five takeaways from Francis' spirited conversation with Diplo at the GRAMMY Museum.

Francis Met Diplo By Sliding Into His Twitter DMs

The two met in person 16 years ago in Francis' hometown of Los Angeles. Before that, Francis would send Diplo demos for consideration for the latter's record label, Mad Decent. Once Francis realized Diplo had heard his song "Masta Blasta," he slid into Diplo's Twitter DMs — and never left. "I was harassing him so much," Francis quipped. "'Let's please hang out right now. God, please let me come and hang out.'"

Diplo invited him to a bar, and they watched the Phillies (Diplo's team) lose. "It was one of my first blind dates," Diplo said. "I tried to make [Dillon] my ghost producer." 

Shortly after their first meeting, the pair worked together on a dubstep remix for Kelly Rowland's "Motivation" — and the more exposure he had to Francis' production skills, the more convinced Diplo was of his talent. "[Dillon is] too good to be my ghost producer. He's already better than me. We got to do a real record with this guy."

Francis' Superior Social Media Skills Began As A Class Assignment In High School

Francis' comedic online presence is the perfect combination of humor and authenticity, adding another layer to his appeal alongside his music. He traced his savvy skills back to his time at Los Angeles County High School for the Arts and a new genres course he took. His teacher considered everything as art, and their creations could be whatever they wanted.

"My friend and I would make comedy videos, basic sketch shows, and we passed the class with flying colors," Francis recalled. "When Vine came around, I did what I did in that class. It was another way of doing stuff I love to do, which is making people laugh."

Diplo then chimed in with a hilariously fitting observation. "You are the Weird Al Yankovic of electronic music," he said. "You had bangers, but you made them funny and you made them accessible to people."

He also commended Francis for opening his eyes to what social media can do for a creator. "You put me onto interaction on social media in different ways," Diplo added. "I don't think any other electronic music DJs were putting their personality out there like you did. You were the first one to do that properly."

Francis' Musical Education Came From Collaboration

As Francis revealed, he dropped out of college after a semester. But as someone who has built his career on collaboration, he's learned everything he needs to know by working with other artists. In fact, he thinks of working with other producers as interning. 

"It's my favorite thing to do," he said. "They're going to learn the way that you produce, you're going learn the way they produce. You can cross-pollinate your ideas and come away with new ways to make music. I feel like it also helps with evolving as an artist."

Diplo agreed, noting that Francis' time as a young producer, interning at studios, learning from producers and gaining relationships in the process was essential to his career. "Not to encourage more people to drop out of college," he joked.

Furious 7 Was A Key Player In The Success Of "Get Low"

Diplo pointed out that "Get Low" had its crossover moment after being included in the soundtrack for Furious 7, the 2015 installment of the Fast and Furious franchise. He asserted that it is special for a producer to have a song in a big movie, as he experienced with M.I.A.'s "Paper Planes" (which he co-wrote and co-produced) after it was featured in 2008's Pineapple Express.  

As Francis recalled, "Get Low" was already well-received and being played by the DJ community, with about five million plays on Spotify before Furious 7. But once it was part of Furious 7 — first in the trailer and then in the film — it ramped up significantly (and now has more than 200 million Spotify streams as of press time).

"This is when people were buying music on iTunes," Francis remembers. "From the trailer, it peaked at number 5 or something like that, which is huge for any artist in dance music. We're not usually on that chart. To be right next to Selena Gomez with a song that says, 'Get low when the whistle goes,' is crazy."

He Had A Life-Altering Turning Point At 18

After Diplo concluded his questions, Francis took a few from the audience. In response to one fan about what he would have done differently early in his career, Francis opened up about one of the worst moments in his life — which actually turned into a great learning experience. 

As he explained, at the age of 18, Francis was charged with a DUI (which was eventually downgraded to wet reckless). His parents spent their savings on a lawyer; he lost his car; he lost his license for a year; he did the DUI classes. And all of it put things into perspective.

"That was the first moment where I realized, things can get messed up and lost," he said. "I was like, 'I need to figure out my career. I'm going to go make money and I'm going to pay [my parents] back.' That was a very big driving factor for me."

Now 36, Francis views the incident as one of the best things to ever happen to him — and, in turn, for his path in dance music. "If that didn't happen, I don't think I would be sitting here on the stage today."

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Kid Cudi performs at Coachella 2024
Kid Cudi, whose music often discusses mental health, performs at Coachella 2024.

Photo: Theo Wargo/Getty Images for Coachella


10 Times Hip-Hop Has Given A Voice To Mental Health: Eminem, J. Cole, Logic & More Speak Out

From the message of "The Message" to Joe Budden's vulnerable podcast and Jay-Z speaking about the importance of therapy, read on for moments in the history of hip-hop where mental health was at the forefront.

GRAMMYs/May 20, 2024 - 03:10 pm

In a world of braggadocio lyrics, where weakness is often looked down upon, hip-hop can often seem far from a safe place to discuss mental health. 

But underneath its rugged exterior, hip-hop culture and its artists have long been proponents of well-being and discussing the importance of taking care of one's mental health. Openness about these topics has grown in recent years, including a 2022 panel discussion around hip-hop and mental health, co-hosted by the GRAMMY Museum, the Recording Academy's Black Music Collective, and MusicCares in partnership with the Universal Hip-Hop Museum. 

"Artists are in a fight-or-flight mode when it comes to being in this game," said Eric Brooks, former VP of Marketing & Promotions at Priority Records who worked with NWA and Dr. Dre. "And there need to be strategies on how to deal with the inner battles that only happen in the mind and body."  

The panel only scratched the surface of the many times hip-hop culture has illuminated critical mental health issues that often remain hidden or under-discussed in the music industry. In recognition of Mental Health Awareness Month, read on for 10 times hip-hop has shone a light on mental health. 

J. Cole Apologized To Kendrick Lamar

A long-simmering beef between Drake and Kendrick Lamar was reignited in March 2024 when Metro Boomin' and Future released "Like That." The track featured a scathing verse from Kendrick, where he took aim at  Drake and J. Cole, and referenced the pair's collaborative song "First Person Shooter." 

The single begged for a response, and J. Cole, under what was presumably a significant amount of pressure, surprise-released his Might Delete Later. The album featured "7 Minute Drill," in which Cole calls Kendrick's To Pimp, A Butterfly boring. 

But the same week Cole's album came out, he apologized to Kendrick onstage at his Dreamville Fest, saying it didn't sit right with his spirit and that he "felt terrible" since it was released. Cole added that the song didn’t sit right with him spiritually and he was unable to sleep. Cole subsequently removed "7 Minute Drill" from streaming services. 

Strong debate followed about whether or not Cole should have removed the song. However, many heralded Cole’s maturity in the decision and said it was an important example of not doing things that don’t align with one's true emotions, and avoiding allowing others expectations of you weight down your own physical and mental health.

SiR Spoke Candidly About Depression & Sobriety

Although an R&B artist, TDE singer SiR is hip-hop adjacent, having collaborated with former labelmate Kendrick Lamar on tracks like "D'Evils" and "Hair Down." SiR recently spoke with about the troubles that followed him after the release of his 2019 album Chasing Summer.

"I was a full-blown addict, and it started from a string of depression [and] relationship issues and issues at home that I wasn't dealing with," SiR says. After the Los Angeles-based singer had hit rock bottom, he found the spark he needed to do something about it. His initial rehab stint was the first step on the road to change.  

"I was there for 21 days [in 2021]. [The] second time, I was there for two months and the third time wasn't technically rehab…I did personal therapy, and, man, [that] did wonders," he recalls. 

SiR also tackled the stigma many Black communities place on therapy and seeking help for mental health issues. "I would've never done something like that if I was in any other position, so I'm thankful for my issues because they led me to a lot of self-reflection and forgiveness," SiR says.

Big Sean Educated His Audience About Anxiety & Depression 

One of the biggest challenges in addressing anxiety and depression is the feeling that those issues must be kept under wraps.  In 2021, Big Sean and his mother released a series of videos in conjunction with Mental Health Awareness Month, in which the GRAMMY nominee opened up about his battles with depression and anxiety. 

In one of those videos, Sean and his mother discussed  the importance of sleep and circadian rhythms when managing depression and mental health issues. In an industry that prioritizes the grind, the hip-hop community often overlooks sleep — much to its detriment.

"Sleep is the most overlooked, disrespected aspect of our well-being," said Myra Anderson, Executive Director & President of the Sean Anderson Foundation and Big Sean's mother. "Even one day without good sleep can mess up your hormones severely." 

As a busy recording artist, Sean concurs that, for him, a lack of sleep contributes to challenges with anxiety. “If I’m not in the right mindset, I don’t get the right sleep,” says Sean in the mental health video series. “Then that anxiety rides high, and my thoughts are racing. I’m somebody that lives in my head.”

G.Herbo's "PTSD" Addressed The Impact Of Street Violence

Eastside Chicago's G. Herbo is an artist vital to the city's drill music scene. On "PTSD," the title track of his 2020 album, Herbo raps about his struggles coping with violence and loss. 

"I can't sleep 'cause it's a war zone in my head / My killers good, they know I'm hands-on with the bread / A million dollars ahead, I'm still angry and seeing red / How the f*ck I'm 'posed to have fun? All my n— dead."  

The lyrics echoed the realities of what G. Herbo grew up seeing in O-Block, considered by many to be one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in Chicago. But it wasn't just a song title; G. Herbo was diagnosed with PTSD in 2019 and began therapy to manage it, showing that even rap's most hardened have opened themselves up to professional help. 

"I'm so glad that I did go to therapy," G. Herbo told in July 2020. "I'm glad that I did take that leap of faith to just go talk to somebody about my situation and just my thoughts and get 'em to a person with an unbiased opinion." 

Joe Budden Opens Up About His Darkest Times 

In 2017, on the "Grass Routes Podcast," rapper-turned-podcaster Joe Budden opened up about multiple suicide attempts and his lifelong battle with depression. 

"For me, there have been times where I've actually attempted suicide," Budden shared. "As open as I've been when it comes to mental health, it wasn't until retirement from rapping that I was able to dive into some of the things the fans have seen." 

Never one to shy away from rapping about his mental health struggles, Budden songs like "Whatever It Takes" peel back the layers on an artist fighting his demons: "See, I'm depressed lately, but nobody understands / That I'm depressed lately, I'm sorta feelin repressed lately." 

Budden continued to be a champion for mental health that year, including on his former Complex show "Everyday Struggle," where Budden broke down while discussing the suicide death of fellow rapper Styles P's daughter. 

In recent years, Budden has uses his wildly popular "The Joe Budden Podcast" as a tool to discuss his own struggles and raise awareness of mental health issues. 

Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five Broadcast A Serious "Message"

Hip-hop culture has long used rap as a tool to highlight mental health and the everyday struggles of its community. Released in 1982, Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five's "The Message" is an early, effective example of vulnerability in hip-hop.

"The Message" described the mental health impacts of poverty and inner-city struggle, describing desperate feelings and calling for support in underserved communities: "I can't take the smell, can't take the noise / Got no money to move out, I guess I got no choice." Perhaps the most recognizable lyric comes from Melle Mel, who raps, "Don't push me cause I'm close to the edge/I'm trying not to lose my head." 

Eminem Got Honest About Depression While In Rehab

On "Reaching Out," Queen and Paul Rodgers sing "Lately I've been hard to reach / I've been too long on my own / everybody has a private world where they can be alone." These lyrics were sampled on the intro to Eminem's 2009 single "Beautiful," a raw tale of the rapper's struggles with depression. Half of the song was written while Eminem was in rehab, including lyrics like "I'm just so f—king depressed/I just can't seem to get out this slump." 

The lyrics pierced the core of Eminem's audience, who were able to see the parallels between the struggles of a rap superstar and their own issues. The song reached the Top 20 of the Billboard Hot 100 and was nominated for a Best Rap Solo Performance GRAMMY Award. In an interview with MTV about the song, Eminem said it was an important outlet for him at a challenging time. 

But it was far from the first time Eminem has discussed mental health. One of the earliest examples was in his song "Stan," where Eminem rapped from the perspective of an obsessed fan who ended up killing himself and his wife after Eminem failed to respond to his fan mail. In a 2000 interview, Eminem told MTV that he wrote the song to warn fans not to take his lyrics literally. 

Logic Sparked Change With A Number

One of the most impactful moments hip-hop has seen regarding mental health and sparking change was when Logic released his song "1-800-273-8255" in 2017. The record, named after the real National Suicide Lifeline Prevention phone number, which is now 988, hit the top three on the US Billboard Hot 100.

Following the song's release, the British Medical Journal released a study sharing data that showed the song contributed to a 27 percent increase in calls to the prevention hotline that year and may have even contributed to an actual reduction in deaths by suicide. 

Logic's single further proved that rap music's impact extends well beyond charts and sales. "1-800-273-8255" highlighted the connection artists have with their fans, as well as the ways music can be a tool to cope with challenges like mental health and suicidal thoughts. 

Kid Cudi Opened Up About Suicidal Urges 

Cleveland's own Kid Cudi has never shied away from putting his emotions on record, rapping vividly throughout his career about his struggles with mental health. Cudi records, like the hit single "Pursuit of Happiness," are brutally honest about trying to find happiness in a world filled with trials and tribulations. 

In a 2022 interview with Esquire, Cudi recalled checking himself into rehab in 2016 for depression and suicidal urges. He had been using drugs to manage the weight of his stardom and even suffered a stroke while in rehab. "Everything was f—ed," Cudi said. 

Cudi took a break to develop stability, returning to the spotlight with the 2018 project Kids See Ghosts in collaboration with Kanye West.. Today, Cudi and his music remain pillars of strength for those facing similar challenges.   

Jay-Z Detailed The Importance Of Therapy & Getting Out Of "Survival Mode"

In 2017, Jay-Z released his critically acclaimed thirteenth studio album. 4:44 was packed with lessons on family, mental health, and personal growth.

An interview with the New York Times, Jay-Z discussed how helpful therapy had been to him. Therapy helped the rap superstar in his interactions with other people — something that had been hardened growing up as a black man in Marcy Projects. "I grew so much from the experience," he told the Times.

"I think the most important thing I got is that everything is connected. Every emotion is connected, and it comes from somewhere. I understand that, instead of reacting to that with anger, I can provide a softer landing and maybe, 'Aw, man, is you O.K.? You're in this space where you're hurting, and you think I see you, so you don't want me to look at you. And you don't want me to see you,'" he said. "You don't want me to see your pain."

The album also unpacked Jay-Z's infidelity. "I'll f— up a good thing if you let me," he raps on "Family Feud." In the same interview, Jay-Z shared that growing up in the hood put him into "survival mode," impacting his abilities to be a good partner and husband earlier in life. 

"You shut down all emotions. So even with women, you gonna shut down emotionally, so you can't connect," he reflected. "In my case, like it's, it's deep. And then all the things happen from there: infidelity." 

"I Made My ADHD Into My Strength": Understanding The Link Between Rap & Neurodivergence

Billie Eilish in Brooklyn, New York in May 2024
Billie Eilish at the 'HIT ME HARD AND SOFT' release party in Brooklyn, New York on May 15, 2024.

Photo: Arturo Holmes/Getty Images for ABA


Billie Eilish Fully Embraces Herself On 'Hit Me Hard And Soft': 5 Takeaways From The New Album

On her third album, Billie Eilish returns to "the girl that I was" — and as a result, 'HIT ME HARD AND SOFT' celebrates all of the weird, sexual, beautiful, vulnerable parts of her artistry.

GRAMMYs/May 17, 2024 - 07:50 pm

Billie Eilish has never been one to shy away from her feelings. In fact, she doubles down on them.

Since her debut EP, 2017's Don't Smile At Me, the pop star has held listeners' hands as she guides them through the darkest pages of her diary. The EP found a teenage Eilish navigating heartbreak while her blockbuster debut album, WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO? — which swept the General Field Categories (Album Of The Year, Record Of The Year, Song Of The Year and Best New Artist) at the 2020 GRAMMYs — was a chilling and raw look into her depression-fueled nightmares. And 2021's Happier Than Ever had her confronting misogyny and the weight of fame.

She could have easily succumbed to the pop star pressures for her third studio album, HIT ME HARD AND SOFT, out today (May 17). Instead, she reverts to her sonic safe space: creating intimate melodies with her brother and day-one collaborator, FINNEAS. Only this time, the lyrics are more mature and the production is more ambitious.

"This whole process has felt like I'm coming back to the girl that I was. I've been grieving her," Eilish told Rolling Stone about how HIT ME HARD AND SOFT revisited elements of WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO? "I've been looking for her in everything, and it's almost like she got drowned by the world and the media. I don't remember when she went away."

Here are five takeaways from Billie Eilish's new album, HIT ME HARD AND SOFT, where Old Billie is resuscitated and comforted by New Billie. 

Heartbreaking Ballads Are Her Sweet Spot

Tenderness remains at Eilish's core, and it's beautifully highlighted on HIT ME HARD AND SOFT. Despite her love for eccentric electro-pop beats, ballads have always been the singer's strong suit. After she first displayed that in her debut single, 2015's "ocean eyes," Eilish won two GRAMMYs and an Oscar for her delicate Barbie soundtrack standout, "What Was I Made For?" — and the magic of her melancholic balladry returned on the new album.

HIT ME's album opener, "SKINNY," mimics the self-reflection of Happier Than Ever's "Getting Older" opener, where she painfully sings about Hollywood's body image standards. "People say I look happy just because I got skinny/ But the old me is still me and maybe the real me/ And I think she's pretty," she muses. 

"WILDFLOWER" cuts in the album's center like a knife to the chest. Eilish's comparisons to a lover's ex-girlfriend are devastating over a bare piano melody — the simplest production on the LP: "You say no one knows you so well/ But every time you touch me, I just wonder how she felt."

HIT ME Isn't Afraid To Get A Little Weird

What makes Eilish so intriguing is her effortless balance between misery and mischief. On lead single "LUNCH," the singer/songwriter taps into the playful attitude of WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO? smash "bad guy."

Over an upbeat and kooky production, she lets her carnal fantasies about devouring a woman run wild. The fantasies continue on "THE DINER," with Eilish stepping into the stalker mindset that may be inspired by her own life (she was granted a five-year restraining order against an alleged stalker last year). "I came in through the kitchen lookin' for something to eat/ I left a calling card so they would know that it was me," she winks on the chorus.

She Lays The "Whisper Singing" Criticism To Rest

Eilish's subdued voice has been chided as much as it's been lauded. She first gave naysayers the middle finger on Happier Than Ever's title track, nearly screaming in the song's latter half. On her latest album, she showcases her range even further, from bold belts to delicate falsettos.

The gauzy synths and vocal yearning of "BIRDS OF A FEATHER" is the perfect summer anthem, soundtracking the feeling of kissing your lover as the salty Los Angeles breeze runs through your hair. On the second half of "THE GREATEST," she unleashes a wail-filled fury. 

"HIT ME HARD AND SOFT was really the first time that I was aware of the things that I could do, the ways I could play with my voice, and actually did that," she recently told NPR Music. "That's one thing I feel very proud of with this album — my bravery, vocally."

Her Vulnerability Hasn't Waned

Eilish is quite the paradox, as her superpower is her emotional fragility. Her music has doubled as confessionals since the beginning of her career, and that relatable vulnerability threads HIT ME together. Despite its lighthearted nature, "LUNCH" marks the first time the singer has discussed her sexuality in a song.

"That song was actually part of what helped me become who I am, to be real," Eilish told  Rolling Stone of "LUNCH." "I wrote some of it before even doing anything with a girl, and then wrote the rest after. I've been in love with girls for my whole life, but I just didn't understand — until, last year, I realized I wanted my face in a vagina. I was never planning on talking about my sexuality ever, in a million years. It's really frustrating to me that it came up."

Then there's "SKINNY," which is a raw insight into how much social media's discussions of her body and fame affected her. "When I step off the stage, I'm a bird in a cage/ I'm a dog in a dog pound," she sings. "BLUE," the album's closer, finds Eilish accepting her state of post-breakup sorrow: "I'd like to mean it when I say I'm over you, but that's still not true."

FINNEAS Has Unlocked A New Production Level

FINNEAS — Eilish's brother, producer and confidant — has grown as much as his younger sister since they first began creating music together. He continues to challenge himself both lyrically and sonically to excitedly push Eilish to her creative limits. He explores a myriad of sounds on the album, with many playing like a two-for-one genre special. Named after Studio Ghibli's Spirited Away heroine, the glittery melody and thumping bassline on "CHIHIRO" transport you into an anime video game. 

The first half of "L'AMOUR DE MA VIE" is deceptively simple with its plucking acoustic guitar strings, but soon finds itself under the glare of a disco ball with Eilish's vocals funneled through a vocoder. "BITTERSUITE" is arguably the best reflection of Finneas' experimentation: it starts out with Daft Punk-esque synths before dragging itself across a grim, bass-heavy floor. Then, it crawls into cheeky elevator music territory before ending with an alien-like taunt.

HIT ME HARD AND SOFT is begging to be played live, as seen with fans' raucous reactions after the singer's listening parties at Brooklyn's Barclays Center and Los Angeles' Kia Forum. Fortunately for fans in North America, Australia and Europe, it won't be long before she brings the album to life — HIT ME HARD AND SOFT: THE TOUR  kicks off on Sept. 29 in Québec, Canada.

All Things Billie Eilish