meta-script10 Crucial Hip-Hop Albums Turning 30 In 2023: 'Enter The Wu-Tang,' 'DoggyStyle,' 'Buhloone Mindstate' & More | GRAMMY.com
10 Crucial Hip-Hop Albums Turning 30 In 2023
(Clockwise from top left): 2pac - 'Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z.'; A Tribe Called Quest - 'Midnight Marauders'; KRS-One - 'Return of the Boom Bap'; De La Soul - 'Buhloone Mindstate'; Snoop Dogg - ' DoggyStyle'; Wu-Tang Clan - 'Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)'

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10 Crucial Hip-Hop Albums Turning 30 In 2023: 'Enter The Wu-Tang,' 'DoggyStyle,' 'Buhloone Mindstate' & More

Albums released in 1993 furthered the conversation of what hip-hop was and could be. Debut albums from Mobb Deep, the Roots and Digable Planets, and peak efforts from A Tribe Called Quest and 2pac, help define the sound of the Golden Age of Hip-Hop.

GRAMMYs/Apr 7, 2023 - 01:10 pm

Most genres of music have a generally agreed-upon golden age, when creativity, experimentation, and talent set the standard for music from that genre going forward. With hip-hop, that era isn’t just generally agreed upon — it’s named. 

While the exact beginning and end are nebulous, the Golden Age of Hip-Hop is generally considered to be between the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s, and one year that undoubtedly demonstrates the significance of this era is 1993. An auspicious year for the genre, albums released in '93 furthered the conversation of what hip-hop was and could be.

Lyricism was at its peak during this period, and rappers found new ways to critique the establishment. Though oppression and discrimination were still very pervasive, rappers were more than just soldiers in the fight against it. Albums from '93 engaged in the genre's revolutionary spirit with a forthright expression of their lived experiences as Black people in America, as well as what was going on in their minds and hearts. 

Productions in 1993 were also honoring the history of the genre by putting techniques like sampling and scratching in the forefront. One of the biggest songs of 1993 (and in rap history), Cypress Hill's "Insane in the Brain," applied a squealing and unmistakable sample of which avid listeners to this day are still trying to discern the source.

1993 saw debut albums from now-essential artists, including Mobb Deep, the Roots, Snoop Doggy Dogg, and Digable Planets. At the same time, young legends including Tribe Called Quest and 2pac released work that demonstrated how they were at the peak of their game. Today, these records help define the sound of the Golden Age of Hip-Hop.

The mainstream wanted hip-hop to be a fad; to fade away along with its message of fighting the power and freedom of self-expression. But that was not destined to be the case, and taking a look back 30 years, these albums are sure to explain why.

A Tribe Called Quest - Midnight Marauders

An unnamed female host explains the title of Tribe's third album with a disjointed, monotone: 

"...In this case, we maraud for ears."

Following up 1991’s The Low End Theory was not going to be an easy task by any means, but somehow the trio of Q-Tip, Phife Dawg and Ali-Shaheed Muhammad managed to do so on this masterpiece LP.  Released in November, Tribe constructed a record that captures the culture of rappers on the rise.

The lyrics are not as forceful as those from N.W.A. and Public Enemy. Instead of throwing salvos at the government, the inherent rebellion happens in the demonstration that a rap album didn’t just have to be social commentary. The standout "Electric Relaxation" depicts the oh-so-human experience of early courtship, while "Oh My God" reflects the general reaction from the listener when they hear how adept at the craft Tribe truly is.

Midnight Marauders is a look at the humanity behind rap and that’s what the fight for equality really is — the ability to be recognized as human. That "Award Tour" that Tribe is rapping about? It’s a statement that rap and the people who create it are here to stay: "Going each and every place with a mic in their hand."

Wu-Tang Clan - Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)

Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) is not only the supergroup's first album, but it’s also their magnum opus — though not in the sense that they peaked. Wu-Tang were staking their claim in the world, and that stake has only grown larger over the last 30 years.  

The combined forces of RZA, GZA, Method Man, Raekwon, Ghostface Killah, Inspectah Deck, U-God, Masta Killa, and Ol’ Dirty Bastard (RIP) was a power that hip-hop (and really every genre of music) hadn’t seen before or since. Each MC brought a unique style and flow (to the point they have all recorded solo albums) to the record, shouting hooks like "Protect Ya Neck," and "Wu-Tang Clan Ain't Nuthing ta F' Wit." 

But the most influential track off the record was undoubtedly "C.R.E.A.M. (Cash Rules Everything Around Me)." With its silky piano-driven beat, the nine major MCs demonstrated that they could rap with as much finesse as they could power. 

Snoop Dogg - DoggyStyle

Snoop Dogg has gone through several moniker changes (from Snoop Doggy Dogg, to Snoop Dogg, to Snoop Lion), featured in major films, and become an entrepreneur in the cannabis industry, leaving an indelible effect on culture with each evolution.  

But none of that would be possible if he didn’t write "Gin & Juice," for his now classic debut album DoggyStyle. G-funk existed before Snoop came into the picture, but Snoop gave it that extra bounce — the kind that comes from a ‘64 Impala with fresh hydraulics. From '93 on, it would certainly be a doggy dog world.

Snoop and his close friend and collaborator, Dr. Dre, embodied the gangsta rap lifestyle in a literal fashion. The same year DoggyStyle was released, Snoop and his bodyguard were charged with murder when the bodyguard killed a rival gang member. They were both later acquitted of all charges in 1996.

Souls of Mischief - 93 'til Infinity

Stepping on the scene in September ‘93, Souls of Mischief were an arm of Hieroglyphics, an Oakland, California-based collective founded by Del Tha Funky Homosapien. On their debut record, the rapping quartet of Phesto, A-Plus, Opio, and Tajai took the West Coast sound to a more chill place, connecting to audiences through their love of jazz and getting real about their understanding of the world around them.

No song better represents this intention than the album's title track. Now a classic, "93 'til Infinity's" echoing horns and dreamy keys create a spacious, yet intriguing backdrop for the foursome to share stories of everyday activities: hanging out with friends, meeting girls, and going to the movies.

But that’s the point. Very few people can relate to murder charges; everyone can relate to chilling — including rappers like J.Cole, Freddie Gibbs, Joey Bada$$, who sampled the beat, and likely many more who recognize the mischievous power of chill.

2Pac - Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z.

The second album from Tupac Shakur demonstrates his staying power, consistency, and how he was going to change the course of rap forever.

The backronym "N.I.G.G.A.Z" means "Never Ignorant in Getting Goals Accomplished," and Shakur made his goals clear on this album: He was going to stand up for the principles of rap while still pushing the sound into new territory.

Though he was deep in the gritty lifestyle of gangsta rap — a lifestyle that would eventually take his life at the age of 25 — Shakur used his music and his growing platform to stand up for moral values like respecting women, an idea he explores with an entire stanza in "Keep Ya Head Up."

And in the spirit of these more humble and grounded lyrics, Shakur employs beats that are less flashy and more minimalistic, ensuring his words are heard and understood.

Mobb Deep - Juvenile Hell

Rap music is deeply ingrained into the struggles of Black Americans, and Mobb Deep went through struggles with this LP. 

Just teenagers at the time, this debut album didn’t receive any chart placements upon release causing their label, 4th & B'way Records, to quickly drop them. Production from legends like DJ Premier and Large Professor didn’t help either. Yet in listening to the single "Peer Pressure," the sole track with DJ Premier on production, it’s understandable why Mobb Deep didn’t connect off the bat.

Though the lyrics of members Prodigy and Havoc were honest and relatable, their delivery set them apart. Their use of syncopation and unconventional rhyme placements created a groove that was less club-ready and more primed for in-depth listening. 

Perhaps the idea of taking a chance on an act with a more intricate approach didn’t seem worth it at the time for a label, but Mobb Deep would prove them wrong by embracing that struggle. 

Their second album, 1995’s The Infamous, is now rightfully lauded as one of the best rap albums in history. 

The Roots - Organix

The Roots have never been typical: They hail from Philadelphia, not one of the cities traditionally prevalent in the history of rap. They perform with a band, a staunch departure from DJing which was the standard among the genre at the time. 

Today, they’re pop culture staples with a residency on "The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon" and Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson, is an Oscar and GRAMMY-winning director and author.

Yet the atypical nature that would take the Roots to the highest echelons of culture was first demonstrated on their debut album, Organix

With the live approach, there was a looser and more collaborative feel between the beats built around Thompson’s drumming and the vocals primarily delivered by Tariq "Black Thought" Trotter. The resulting energy (which the group maintains to this day) is more akin to an instrumental jam, with the music and vocalists playing off one another. 

This created tracks on Organix with longer run times like "Pass The Popcorn" which is over five minutes, "Grits" which is over six minutes, and the rap epic "The Session (Longest Posse Cut in History)" which is nearly 13 minutes. These longer raps feature a variety of artists, but Trotter is the core of this new format, demonstrating his surprising flow.

A little-known fact about the Roots is that Thompson has also served as an MC throughout the history of the group, and Organix contains a verse or two from the famous drummer.

Digable Planets - Reachin' (A New Refutation Of Time And Space)

The Golden Age of Hip-Hop saw the development of "jazz rap," a style that emphasized the already vital similarities between the genres by imbuing hip-hop beats with jazz instrumentation.  Digable Planets’ debut album, Reachin' (A New Refutation Of Time And Space), pioneered the sound.

Beyond the smooth delivery from the three MCs, Digable Planets further emphasized the influence of jazz by sampling genre greats like Sonny Rollins and Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers. It’s clear where Digable Planets grabbed the bassline and horn break of "Rebirth of Slick (Cool Like Dat)" within Art Blakey’s "Stretching," taking the first couple bars of longer improvisational sections and looping them into beats — a technique in line with all of the earliest hip-hop beats.  

From the jump, Digable Planets had the courage to apply sampling and looping to the high-flying virtuosity of bebop.

KRS-One - Return of the Boom Bap

In 1993, KRS-One (also known as "Teacha") hit the airwaves and store shelves with his debut solo album, Return of the Boom Bap, and subsequently invited everyone who wanted to listen into a classroom about the realities of life. 

Prior to going solo, KRS-One was a member of the hip-hop group Boogie Down Productions; fellow member DJ Scott La Rock was murdered in 1987. Such a tragic loss added a certain fire to the music of KRS-One, and from then on he has been committed to educating his listeners on what it means to be human.

On his debut, he launches this intention with an attack. "KRS-One Attacks" opens the album with the sampled words: "We will be here forever," and then proceeds into an instrumental basis point of boom-bap hip-hop production that sets the tone for the rest of the album. 

One song that will certainly be around for decades to come is the record’s hit song "Sound of da Police," a scathing indictment of the culturing of policing in the U.S. over heavy kicks and crisp snares. 

De La Soul - Buhloone Mindstate

De La Soul defined the Golden Age of Hip-Hop, putting out four albums in the celebrated period, including their September 1993 LP, Buhloone Mindstate. By 1993, De La Soul had demonstrated their ability to evolve as artists and engage with burgeoning styles like jazz rap. 

Where on early hits like "Eye Know" De La Soul were rapping at high speeds and flexing samples like Steely Dan’s "Peg," Buhloone Mindstate’s standout, "Breakadawn," embraced the more relaxed approach to rap with light jazz instrumentation and a reserved tempo to give more space for their lyrics to truly resonate. 

In the spirit of the Golden Age, the release also crosses literal and figurative borders. Figuratively in the sense that they cross musical borders by inviting jazz greats like Maceo Parker, Fred Wesley, and Pee Wee Ellis on songs like "I Am I Be" and "Patti Dooke." Literally in the sense that they invited Japanese rappers SCHA DARA PARR and Takagi Kan on to the record for the skit "Long Island Wildin'," which sees the two featured artists deliver impressive verses in their native tongue.

Though David Jude Jolicoeur’s (a.k.a.Trugoy the Dove) experimentation with sampling led to legal troubles that excluded De La Soul from streaming, that same experimentation is what inspired numerous other hip hop greats, including Yasiin Bey, Jurassic 5, Pharrell, and Tyler, the Creator.

Relive The Epic GRAMMY Tribute To Hip-Hop's 50th Anniversary With A Playlist Of Every Song Performed

Bonnaroo 2024 Recap Hero
Ethel Cain performs at Bonnaroo 2024.

Photo: Ashley Osborn for Bonnaroo 2024

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9 Epic Sets From Bonnaroo 2024: Ethel Cain, Melanie Martinez, Megan Thee Stallion & More

With an exciting mix of rising stars and big-name performers, Bonnaroo 2024 brought another year of showstopping performances to Manchester, Tennessee. Revisit some of the most intriguing sets from The Japanese House, Interpol and more.

GRAMMYs/Jun 18, 2024 - 06:40 pm

The 2024 iteration of Tennessee's Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival was an absolute scorcher — even without the 95-degree highs.

The weekend brought some of the hottest names in music for a stacked lineup of buzzy newcomers and hitmaking veterans. From the Red Hot Chili Peppers' spectacular return to touring with John Frusciante, to Dashboard Confessional's star-studded Emo Superjam, to Billy Strings joining Post Malone for "rockstar," to Chappel Roan singing to a wig, there was no shortage of unforgettable moments at The Farm. 

While this year was the literally hottest that Bonnaroovians had seen in a few years, sweating through shirts (or lack thereof) proved completely worth it as some of the biggest iconoclasts came together and brought their all. It was electrifying, whimsical and at times emotional — and the bright, sunny skies served as the perfect backdrop for it all. 

If anything, the blistering — and briefly thundery — weather was a testament to the enduring nature of music fans; folks from all over the globe will never miss a chance to watch their favorite artists. Relive the magic with nine of the most exciting sets from Bonnaroo 2024.

The Foxies Took Technical Mishaps In Stride

The Foxies performing at Bonnaroo

The Foxies | Yvonne Gougelet for Bonnaroo 2024

Nashville's premier glitterpunk exports the Foxies delivered a fun, crowd-pleasing set Thursday night on the Who stage, even despite a flurry of audio issues and technical hiccups. The Roo crowd was forgiving, though, and the band rewarded us with some of the best songs from their catalog — plus a cover of Sheryl Crow's "If It Makes You Happy."

"Summer Never Dies," "Timothee Chalamet," and "Little Monsters" all landed perfectly, but the group's personality shone brightest during their newest release, "Natural Disaster." It couldn't have been a more apt song for Bonnaroo's carefree setting — an ode to feeling free and accepting the wildest parts of yourself. 

"A huge theme while we were writing ['Natural Disaster'], for me, was when I was 20 living in Brooklyn, how I was, all the cringey stuff that I did as a young adult," The Foxies frontwoman Julia Bullock told GRAMMY.com backstage. "I wish I wouldn't have shied away from it, or been embarrassed by it — I wish I'd leaned into the cringiness. This is an anthem for that: if I could do it all over again I would just embrace the fact that we are all just weird." Indeed we are, Julia.

The Japanese House Brought Love And Light

The Japanese House performing at Bonnaroo

The Japanese House | Yvonne Gougelet for Bonnaroo 2024

Since its 2015 inception, The Japanese House has always been in the zeitgeist. Where Amber Bain's heavily layered, mournful music was inescapable during the pale-grunge Tumblr era, it now occupies a much lighter space. Coming off of a banner year and a critically acclaimed album, In the End it Always Does, Bain has been embracing her pop side like never before.

Her set was a cornucopia of new and old sounds, the most exciting part of which was her new song, "Smiley Face." Written a year ago when Bain met her current fiancée on a dating app, "Smiley Face" is bright, soft, and sploshy, fraught with the energy of someone falling deliriously in love. "[When we first met] she lived in Detroit and I lived in London, and I would stay awake until she fell asleep," Bain tells GRAMMY.com of the song. "We were in different time zones. I was running on nothing — I felt a bit high." 

Like the rest of her discography, the song held the audience in the palm of its hand, this time enveloping us in a warm, flickering glow. "I could be losing my mind but something's happening," Bain sang, naturally, with a smile on her face. 

TV Girl Delivered A Masterclass In Melodrama

"I have a bit of stage fright," revealed TV Girl singer Brad Petering before the group's second to last song. Even if he felt it, stage fright wasn't apparent during the indie pop band's hour-long performance. Their set felt like a dream; onlookers got lost in the moment, spinning, swaying and dancing in the refreshingly cool breeze. 

It fell serendipitously near the 10th anniversary of their debut, French Exit, an album that launched them into the limelight as stalwarts of indie pop. Songs like "Louise" and "Lovers Rock" felt almost nostalgic 10 years on, and newer cuts like "99.5" and "The Nighttime" blended right in. Backed by a full band — including backup singers Kiera and Mnya, whose powerhouse vocals could've made for their own show — TV Girl turned already dynamic songs like "Birds Don't Sing" and "Not Allowed" into even fuller, radiant versions of themselves. 

Ethel Cain Took Us To Church

Ethel Cain performing at Bonnaroo

Ethel Cain | Ashley Osborn for Bonnaroo 2024

Despite its small size, there was no more perfect space for an Ethel Cain set than the reserved, remote That Tent in the quiet corner of Bonnaroo. Her performance saw the quaint venue packed to the brim, 1000-odd people staring back at Cain in dumbstruck awe, as her band played through songs inspired by Christian music and Gregorian chant.

Beginning with unreleased song "Dust Bowl" and the haunting "A House in Nebraska," Cain's performance was an intense, resounding 40 minutes that traversed between peace and emotional turmoil, much like all of the songs from her breakthrough album, Preacher's Daughter. The euphoric response from her overflowing audience left little doubt that her songwriting can break down walls; she's a timeless act, and her Bonnaroo set proved it.

​​Neil Frances Set Themselves Apart

There are a number of artists with variations of the name Neil Frances — or at least that's what it looked like from this year's Bonnaroo bill. One difference in letters, and you may have found yourself at the Other Stage at 6:15pm on Saturday, seeing Neil Frances instead of Neal Francis. But, whether you've been a fan of Neil Frances for years, or you wound up there by mistake, the indie-dance duo would not have let you leave disappointed. 

Backed by a live full band, their set felt like a psychedelic ode to the club, to dancing, and to feeling free. And their live production is every bit an artistic endeavor as is being in the studio. 

"We've always preferred to play with a live band; there are so many things that we do live that are completely different from the record," the duo's Marc Gilfry told GRAMMY.com. "It's fun, it's dramatic, and we have really great musicians."

Read More: NEIL FRANCES Just Want To Have Fun & Get 'Fuzzy'

Melanie Martinez Gave Us A Peek Inside Her Mind

Melanie Martinez performing at Bonnaroo

Melanie Martinez | Dusana Risovic for Bonnaroo 2024

Adorned with bows, horns, over-the-top dresses, and a multi-eyed, alien-like prosthetic mask, Melanie Martinez was dressed exactly how you'd think she would. With a stage setup of greenery, giant mushrooms, nymphs, and various mythical elements that seemed to revel in its own kitchiness, the details of Martinez's intricately-woven performance art unfolded around the audience, song by song, immersing everyone in a world of weird, elaborate fun.

Her dancers wove through a delicately choreographed, three-act narrative, taking the crowd through her three albums in chronological order, telling the story of the Cry Baby character, who first appears in her debut album, Cry Baby. The character transforms from baby to child to young adult, and finally, to a fully grown, pink-skinned being in the third act. Martinez's set was artistry in every sense of the word, taking fans through the ups and downs of youth and coming-of-age through rich metaphor and lyrical imagery — and prompting delighted sing-alongs as a result.

Interpol Were A Quiet Gem

Interpol performing at Bonnaroo

Interpol | Ismael Quintanilla III for Bonnaroo 2024

More than 25 years into their career, there's still something very disarming about Interpol. Maybe it's their effortless, NYC cool, or that they still know how to build the type of tension that gives you chills. Or maybe it's that they're men of very few onstage words — and when they do speak, you feel as though you've been given a gift.

Three things can be true, and they were for Interpol's Bonnaroo set Friday Night. Not ones to waste time talking, the three-piece rock band played an unbelievably tight 75-minute set, mostly sticking to a reliable selection of early hits, largely from their 2004 album, Antics. The crowd didn't seem put-off by the lack of chatter, as everybody had some singing along to do — because it was impossible not to.

Milky Chance Never Stopped Dancing

Milky Chance performing at Bonnaroo

Milky Chance | Douglas Mason for Bonnaroo 2024

Milky Chance wants you to dance. The German duo-turned-quad may have steadily transformed since their early folk days, but they've never abandoned their ability to make every beat danceable and each chorus undeniable. And on stage, they were having a ball.

With a set that included both 2012 hit "Stolen Dance" and their latest, "Naked and Alive,'' their evolution from folk renegades to breezier, disco-pop pundits is on full display — and we're glad they brought us all along for the ride. 

Speaking to GRAMMY.com backstage, bassist Philipp Dausch discussed their journey: "It was quite a process to become the band we wanted to be. Our music has always been in-between electronic and folky, so we put a lot of work into becoming that band on stage as well. We love rhythms and beats. We like when music moves you."

Megan Thee Stallion Declared This A "Self-Love Summer"

Megan Thee Stallion performing at Bonnaroo

Megan Thee Stallion | Pooneh Ghana for Bonnaroo 2024

No one is doing it like Meg. A highlight of day four — and perhaps the entire weekend — was Megan Thee Stallion's riotous, yet charming Sunday night set. Clad in a yellow-ombre bodysuit and welcomed by a crowd chanting her name, the Houston hottie commanded the What stage in a manner that suggested it won't be too long until she's in the headlining slot.

"Real hot girl s—," she screamed at the crowd, who didn't hesitate to scream back. It was clear she was on a high; not only was it her first Bonnaroo set, but it also followed back-to-back sold-out shows in her hometown of Houston, making it an absolutely monumental weekend for the rapper. 

Her and her dancers shook, twerked, and rolled through each hit without ever losing breath control — even during what she deemed the "personal section" of her set. And that portion was aptly-named; beneath the ass-shaking and thumping beats, "Cobra" brought about an air of sadness during an otherwise infectiously playful and positive performance. 

The lyrics chronicle her mental health struggles over the years amidst personal traumas and virulent online abuse. "Man, I miss my parents," she sang of her late parents, on what happened to be Father's Day. But shortly after the poignant moment, Megan quickly returned to her signature body-moving, sex-positve calling cards, "WAP," "Savage," and "Body," during which she declared this summer a "Self-Love Summer." That's some Real Hot Girl S— we can get behind.

15 LGBTQIA+ Artists Performing At 2024 Summer Festivals

Queer country feature hero
(L-R) Orville Peck, Allison Russell, Lily Rose, Adeem the Artist, Jaime Wyatt

Photos (L-R): Jeff Hahne/Getty Images, Erika Goldring/Getty Images, Erika Goldring/Getty Images, Jason Kempin/Getty Images for Americana Music Association, Frazer Harrison/Getty Images for Stagecoach

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How Queer Country Artists Are Creating Space For Inclusive Stories In The Genre

As country music continues its global explosion, the genre is seeing a growing number of artists in the LGBTQIA+ community — including Adeem the Artist, Lily Rose and Jaime Wyatt — blaze a trail toward acceptance.

GRAMMYs/Jun 18, 2024 - 04:36 pm

When country singer/songwriter Jaime Wyatt announced she was queer with the release of her second album, 2020's Neon Cross, she was convinced doing so would destroy her career. Instead, something shifted — not only was she more free to be herself and to date women openly, but many fans reacted positively, too.

"Several times on the road I've had fans come up to me with their same sex partner, and they're like, 'Hey, we feel safe here. It's so awesome because we both love country music, and we're not out of the closet, and we're not out to our families, but we can be here,'" Wyatt says.

Modern country music is generally perceived as a conservative genre, and deep-rooted cultural and industry biases have long excluded LGBTQIA+ (and BIPOC) artists and stories from the genre. For example, in 2010, when successful mainstream country artist Chely Wright came out, her career stalled and record sales halved. Kacey Musgraves was criticized for lyrics supporting same-sex love in her beloved anthem, "Follow Your Arrow." More recently, even, Wyatt walked out of a recording session after the owner of the space asked if she was singing "'some gay s—.'"

But Wyatt is also one of a growing number of country artists who, in recent years, have blazed a trail through country music and toward acceptance. Among them, Adeem the Artist, Mya Byrne, Brandi Carlile, Brandy Clark, Mary Gauthier, Lizzy No, Orville Peck, Lily Rose, and Allison Russell. Together, they're celebrating queerness alongside their love for the genre, and pushing it into diversity with patience, tenacity, and darn good country music.

"If you listen to popular music, or if you listen to hip-hop music, it feels like there's a broader diversity to a lot of subcultures as far as what you're able to access," nonbinary country singer/songwriter Adeem the Artist says. "Whereas with country music, it's very linear, it's very myopic, and singular in its expression."

By way of broadening country's storytelling, Adeem plays a honky-tonk blend of classic and '90s country music that's sonically aligned with the deep musical traditions in Tennessee, where they now live. Lyrically, though, their propensity for gorgeous, frankly worded songs complicate stereotypical southern narratives in rare and provocative ways. On White Trash Revelry, their 2022 studio album, they grapple with racism, economic entrapment, gun violence, and family heritage. And their latest, Anniversary, released in May, includes songs about mental health, the poignance of parenthood, and the pain and fear of being a queer person in a world that threatens their existence.

Indeed, some of the places in the U.S. with the strongest ties to country music remain the least hospitable to queer people. Just last year, Tennessee, home of Nashville, the country music capital of the world, passed a total of 10 bills aimed at LGBTQIA+ people, while Texas, perhaps country music's second-best known state, passed 20 percent of all anti-LGBTQIA+ legislation in the U.S. What's more, LGBTQIA+ people and culture have been targeted by numerous attacks around the world — including the Pulse nightclub and Club Q shootings stateside — in the last few years alone.

For many, the consequences of not coming out, of not sharing their full selves with the world, are risky, too. Growing up, Wyatt had no role model to show her it was okay to be queer. She struggled for years with mental health and substance abuse and was convicted of robbing her heroin dealer as a young adult. "I needed to see someone who looked like me when I was a young child," Wyatt says. "And maybe I wouldn't have been a dope fiend in jail."

But while straight white men comprise most of country music's standard slate of forebearers, women and people in the BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ communities have contributed to the genre since its beginning. Notably, it was Sister Rosetta Tharpe, a queer Black woman, who in the 1950s introduced reverb to gospel and rhythm and blues music — and in doing so, she forever changed guitar playing, and inspired some of country music's biggest trailblazers, from Elvis to Johnny Cash.

In 1973 — four years after the Stonewall uprising kickstarted a widespread gay liberation movement — Patrick Haggerty and his band Lavender Country released what is generally considered the first gay country album. But after it sold out its first pressing of 1000 copies, the album was mostly forgotten until 1999, when the Journal of Country Music published an article hailing Haggerty as "the lost pioneer of out gay country music." Haggerty began performing again and in 2014, indie label Paradise of Bachelors reissued the Lavender Country album, securing Haggerty status as a grandfather figure to queer country.

Haggerty's reissue landed in a different world than the album's original run. In the interim, a handful of artists released more queer country music, including Jeff Miller, aka "John Deere Diva," known for his George Strait parody, "Not Really Strait," as well as Doug Stevens and the Outband's When Love Is Right and Sid Spencer's Out-N-About Again, which put lyrically gay songs to country music.

In 2011, shortly before the Lavender Country reissue, queer country singer/songwriter and music scholar Karen Pittleman convened the first Gay Ole Opry in Brooklyn's now defunct Public Assembly performance space, launching more than a decade of queer country events, tours and a far-reaching network of performers and supporters. And in 2015, gay marriage became legal nationwide.

As progress has accelerated culturally in the near decade since, it has in country music, too. In 2018, Paisley Fields' debut album Glitter and Sawdust merged cowboy grit with queer raunch. In 2019, Lil Nas X's "Old Town Road" provoked country music to re-consider the nature and identity of country music. In 2021, T.J. Osborne of the Brothers Osborne became the first openly gay male artist signed to a major record label; a year later, the duo's song "Younger Me" — which was written in response to T.J.'s coming out — became the first country song with an LGBTQIA+ theme to win a GRAMMY. And this Pride Month, longtime LGBTQIA+ supporter (and GLAAD's 2023 Excellence in Media Award recipient) Maren Morris declared on Instagram, "happy to be the B in LGBTQ+."

Read More: 9 Times Queer Artists Made History At The GRAMMYs: From Elton John's Collab With BSB To Kim & Sam's "Unholy" Union

"We as queer fans deserve to have songs that speaks specifically to us," says Rachel Cholst, a queer writer and educator. "And if that means putting in same gender pronouns, then we deserve that too. And if that makes a straight person uncomfortable, I don't know what to tell you. I've grown up my entire life having to internally change the pronouns to the love songs that really moved me."

Cholst started writing about music when she realized she couldn't be the only queer country fan out there. Her work aims to make queer country music accessible, and she has run the Adobe and Teardrops blog for more than a decade. In 2022, Cholst launched Rainbow Rodeo, a zine about queer country music, which appears bi-annually in print and regularly online.

"Everyone just assumed that country music is this one thing, and it never occurred to them to go look for it. That tells you a lot about how country music wants to present itself as an industry," Cholst says. "If we erase anyone who's not straight, anyone who's not white, then what you're saying is, you want those people to be erased from the conversation, from the culture."

Beyond using she/her pronouns in love songs (which she didn't get to do on her first album, Felony Blues), Wyatt's powerful, steely queer country music complicates social consciousness. Incisive and elegant in her delivery, she's equally compelling chronicling her conviction and jail time on Felony Blues, confronting demons and figuring out who she is on her Shooter Jennings-produced second album, Neon Cross, and outlining her hopes and frustrations for the world on her third album, 2023's sultry, groovy, Feel Good.

Wyatt's knack for catchy and advocacy-laced country bangers is clearest in "Rattlesnake Girl," one of her most popular songs. In it, she offers an anthemic celebration of joy unfettered: "I see my sweet friends out on the weekend/ They all look happy and gay," and a barbed warning to anyone who might impinge on that happiness: "Thank you kindly, don't walk behind me/ I've seen people slip that way/ And if you try me, boot heels beside me/ I might have to make your day."

Queer country music means something a little different to each artist. For many, it's about much more than simply being a queer person performing country music. Adeem the Artist considers queer country its own genre, complete with specific rules — many of which have nothing to do with sexual or gender orientation.

"It is explicitly political in nature. It is often kind of raunchy," they assert. "There's an element to queer country that is confrontational, that is willing to create discomfort for the sake of a relief that leans towards some greater social awareness."

To some degree, raising awareness and representation — which is essential for inclusion and acceptance — requires a bit of self-tokenization, Adeem says. "The very, very basic act of referring to me as a person who is queer, who is trans, who is nonbinary, who is whatever, those labels only do good as much as they illuminate the differences between us and the fact that I am more difficult for some people to relate with."

Adeem and Wyatt both operate within the alt-country scene, which has been marginally more inclusive than mainstream country over the years. Recently, though, rising country musician Lily Rose cracked through with her viral breakup single, 2020's "Villain." On her latest EP, Runnin' Outta Time (which she released in May), she sings a high-octane pop/country mix about her values and relationships. It's a well-worn country music landscape that has been almost exclusively dominated by heterosexual white men.

"To be one of the first to literally [and] figuratively, carry the flag... it makes me really proud. And it has its heavy moments for sure," Rose says. "Night after night, when I get to meet fans and see comments on social media that they feel seen for the first time in the genre, it's really special and it makes every single second of hard work to get here worth it."

The day after Runnin' Out of Time dropped, Rose made her Grand Ole Opry debut with two songs from the album, "Back Pew" and "Two Flowers"; Adeem and Wyatt also played the Opry for the first time in the last year as well. The Opry, one of country music's oldest and most lauded tastemakers, has welcomed a number of queer artists in the last few years, signaling a subtle shift toward a more inclusive country music institution. (In addition, all three artists recently scored high-profile touring spots: Rose with Shania Twain and Sam Hunt, Adeem with Tyler Childers and Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit; and Wyatt wrapped up her first headlining tour.)

For Pittleman, an essential part of making music is ensuring space for anyone who wants to make music to do so, regardless of how they look or identify. "Most people who like country music, they just want to hear country music," Pittleman says. "I want to have a good time, too. But you have to ask at a certain point, 'Who is invited to the good time?'"

As she insists, there's a long way to go. In a digital world, radio play doesn't offer a complete picture, but it remains a dominant force in country music. For decades, women have been played sparingly on country radio and artists of color and queer musicians featured far less, a shortcoming which SongData's principal investigator, Jada Watson, spent years studying. Her research concludes that women country artists are played roughly 29 percent of the time, Black artists 5 percent, and other artists of color 7 percent. Queer artists, Watson estimates, make up less than 1 percent of radio play.

"The real problem is who's making those decisions; who has the power and as a result, who has the power and the resources to record their music, to distribute their music, to get it out on a broader scale," Pittleman suggests. "We have to make sure that everyone who's called to make the music has the resources and the power to make it and bring it into the world."

And in spite of multitude setbacks and naysayers, queer artists are creating country music. As Pittleman wrote in a 2020 essay in the Journal of Popular Music Studies titled "You're My Country Music," one of the joys of singing queer country music is making country music, plain and simple. "The point is to mark the deepest moments of human connection, our truest hopes and heartbreaks, and turn them into a sound that gives us joy and strength," she says.

"Because sometimes you love a culture that doesn't love you back," Pittleman continues on the Gay Ole Opry's about page. "We do it because we love the music and want to build a community to support queer country musicians. We do it because everybody needs a honky-tonk angel to hold them tight. We do it because we believe in country music for all."

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grammy u monthly member playlist updated look

news

Press Play On GRAMMY U Mixtape: Sunscreen & Suntans Monthly Member Playlist

The GRAMMY U Mixtape is a monthly, genre-spanning playlist to quench your thirst for new tunes, all from our talented members. This summer playlist is a vibrant mix of bubblegum pop and soulful tunes that will have you bopping as you soak up the sun.

GRAMMYs/Jun 18, 2024 - 01:38 pm

Did you know that among all GRAMMY U members, songwriting and performance are some of the most sought after fields of study? This playlist dedicates a space to hear what these members are creating today!

The GRAMMY U Mixtape, now available for your listening pleasure, highlights the creations and fresh ideas that members are bringing to this industry directly on the Recording Academy's Spotify, Apple Music, and Amazon Music pages. Our goal is to celebrate GRAMMY U members, as well as the time and effort they put into making original music — from the songwriting process to the final production of the track.

Each month, we accept submissions and feature 15 to 25 songs that match each month’s theme. This summer playlist is vibrant mix of bubblegum pop and soulful tunes that will have you bopping and singing as you soak up the sun. So, what’s stopping you? Press play on GRAMMY U’s Mixtape and listen now on Spotify, Apple Music and Amazon Music.

Want to be featured on the next playlist? Submit your songs today! We are currently accepting submissions for songs of all genres for consideration for our next playlist. Whether you write pop, rock, hip-hop, jazz, or classical, we want to hear from you. Music must be written and/or produced by the member (an original song) and you must be able to submit a Spotify, Apple Music and/or Amazon Music link to the song. Artists must be a GRAMMY U member to submit.

About GRAMMY U:

GRAMMY U is a program that connects aspiring professionals and creatives ages 18-29 with the music industry's brightest and most talented minds. We provide a community for emerging professionals and creatives in addition to various opportunities and tools necessary to start a career in music. Throughout the program year, events and initiatives touch on all facets of the industry, including business, technology, and the creative process.

As part of the Recording Academy's mission to ensure the recorded arts remain a thriving part of our shared cultural heritage, GRAMMY U establishes the necessary foundation for music’s next generation to flourish.

Not a member, but want to submit to our playlist? Apply for GRAMMY U Membership here.

Former GRAMMY U Reps Heather Howard, Sophie Griffiths and Samantha Kopec contributed to this article.

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RIIZE press photo
RIIZE

Photo: SM Entertainment

interview

K-Pop Group RIIZE Detail Every Track On New Compilation 'RIIZING – The 1st Mini Album'

In an interview, the rising K-pop boy group discuss the creative process behind each track on their brand new EP — including the album's new song, "Boom Boom Bass."

GRAMMYs/Jun 18, 2024 - 01:37 pm

While RIIZE might be a more recent addition to the K-pop scene, you wouldn’t be able to tell. 

The sextet of Sungchan, Anton, Wonbin, Sohee, Eunseok and Shotaro took the industry by storm last September with their debut single "Get A Guitar." The catchy, retro-synth pop song sold over a million copies in the first week of its release.  

From their debut in 2023, RIIZE was determined to carve out a space for themselves in the expansive K-pop landscape by performing "emo pop" — emotional ballads that still manage to be danceable, evoking the sounds of older gen groups like Got 7 and Super Junior — while also experimenting with other genres. The brightly alluring "Love 119" and disco whirlwind "Talk Saxy" allowed RIIZE to continue their ascent, and netted the group Favorite New Artist and Rookie Of The Year honors at multiple Korean award ceremonies last year.  

On June 17, they'll release RIIZING - The 1st Mini Album. The compilation record features all of the rookie group's releases plus an additional song "Boom Boom Bass," and demonstrates their versatility and willingness to experiment with genres. With their output compiled, it's easy to see that RIIZE's youthful energy and distinct personalities truly shine. 

Learn more: 11 Rookie K-Pop Acts To Know In 2024: NCT Wish, RIIZE, Kiss Of Life & More

"We wanted to reflect on how far we’ve come from our debut days and growing as artists," Anton tells GRAMMY.com over a video call from L.A. "[The album is] a culmination of our journey and experiences as young adults who are pursuing their dreams."

It’s clear that RIIZE are enjoying the ride they're on together. They laugh at each other's jokes and finish each other's sentences, demonstrating that there's deep friendship behind their already tight harmonious connection. The group is in the midst of an international fan-con tour that runs through the summer — an experience that will, likely, deepen their already close bond. 

In an interview, they offer a track-by-track breakdown of RIIZING - The 1st Mini Album, including the creative process behind each song, how they keep themselves motivated, and their musical dreams for the future. 

"Siren" is your pre-debut song and was one of your most anticipated releases. Can you share a bit about the creation process and how it felt to release this song to the world? 

Shotaro: We have a lot of fond memories when we think of "Siren" as it reminds us of our trainee days. We recorded the song while we were still rookies and shot the video in L.A. I remember being in the studio and encouraging each other to give our best deep voices to make our voices shine. 

Eunseok: I think a large part of why people like "Siren" so much is the rhythmic drum beats and soft piano riffs that creates this high rush vibe. The chorus is my favorite, and was the most fun to sing as it’s very addictive to sing along to.

Your most recent song, "Impossible" is a house track about being determined and never  giving up. Were you nervous at all venturing into a new genre? 

Anton: Growth and youth is a huge part of our music, and that’s something we sought to achieve with "Impossible." House music is a genre that is not usually seen in K-pop, but this is something we wanted to experiment with. So we learned firsthand from long-time house music creatives and input their suggestions into the recording. It was a new experience that allowed us to deep dive into a genre we wouldn’t normally be familiar with.

Sohee: The recording was a little difficult at first, because the vocal keys were a bit higher than our usual pitch. But I feel like we successfully encapsulated the genre very well.

Your new song — the special addition to the EP — is called "Boom Boom Bass." It's a disco-influenced track about playing bass guitar; does anyone in RIIZE have experience playing that instrument?  

Wonbin: We do have experience playing the bass guitar. Getting to recreate those moments in the studio was awesome, and you can hear the excitement in our voices. The song also showcases a totally different side of us that fans haven’t seen before: it’s disco but funk and still pop.

"Love 119" is one of your most successful songs. Can you take me back to the day you recorded it? 

Sungchan: "Love 119" captures the feeling of falling in love for the first time in a dreamy and melancholic manner. We decided to recreate that in the studio and put a lot of our emotions into it by channeling good energy. 

Wonbin: The song samples a beloved Korean song, "Emergency Room," released by the band called IZI in 2005. The song captures the distinct charm of emotional pop, offering a different appeal compared to "Get A Guitar," "Memories," and "Talk Saxy."

Shotaro: We aimed to create choreography that many people could follow. While brainstorming in the practice room with Wonbin, he and I came up with dance moves like the "1-1-9" gesture, that you see in the video. The song has a really bright vibe, making it fun for us to perform. 

Can you detail the creative process behind "Talk Saxy"?  

Sohee: We started creating "Talk Saxy" right after performing at KCON L.A. in July last year and we learned the choreography almost immediately.

We wanted to embody a more confident and breezy sound but still within our niche genre of emotional pop. It took a few weeks of practice to get the perfect take and I think the song helped expand our musical sound by a large mile.

Read more: 9 Thrilling Moments From KCON 2023 L.A.: Stray Kids, RIIZE, Taemin & More 

One of your more recent singles, "9 Days," focuses on your journey as a band. Did you find yourselves feeling nostalgic in the studio?   

Sungchan: "9 days" has a more natural feel because while we were making the song, we had to reference back to our trainee days in practice. The lyrics are a very detailed description of our trainee days and who we were before debuting.  

Anton: I would say we had a fun time in the studio because it felt like we were finally telling our story ourselves and being able to share that with our fans is the best.  

"Honestly" reminisces about past love. What, or who, were you thinking about while recording it? 

Wonbin: I think we really aimed to capture the theme of putting yourself first and saying a final goodbye to someone you thought the world of. That resonates throughout the song, especially in the lyrics. It’s an emo pop ballad at its core.

"One Kiss" was RIIZE's first foray into emo pop and sets you apart from other groups as you highlight your vulnerability. How did you go about finding that sound?  

Anton: I see "One Kiss" as a song made with our fans in mind, we had a hands on approach with making the video as we wanted it to come from our hearts. 

Sohee: I would not say we have found our sound yet as we are still growing and experimenting. We hope to create more good songs like "One Kiss" in the future.

You’re in the midst of a fan-con tour, what has been your favorite city to tour so far?

Shotaro: We love every city equally, we started off in Korea and felt right at home. In Japan, we had so much eye contact with the crowd as they were very hands on. Previously, in Mexico, the crowd's energy was infectious and awesome.

What are your plans for the second half of this year?

Sungchan: We plan on finishing off our fan-con tour by the end of August. Our fans can expect to see us at end of the year award shows with bigger and better performances from last year.

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