meta-script10 Must-See Exhibitions And Activations Celebrating The 50th Anniversary Of Hip-Hop | GRAMMY.com
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A gallery wall inside Fotografiska's "Hip-Hop: Conscious, Unconscious" exhibit in New York City

Photo courtesy of Fotografiska 

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10 Must-See Exhibitions And Activations Celebrating The 50th Anniversary Of Hip-Hop

In honor of hip-hop’s golden anniversary, check out 10 must-see exhibits, activations and programs that celebrate the history and enduring legacy of the boundary-pushing genre.

GRAMMYs/May 15, 2023 - 01:04 pm

On Aug. 11, 1973, Clive Campbell, an 18-year-old performer known by the stage name DJ Kool Herc, and his sister Cindy co-organized a school fundraiser that became widely credited as the birthplace of hip-hop. From that Bronx apartment building community room emerged a wide-reaching movement that not only changed the lives of the artists who helped the genre evolve, but the lives of fans who summarily immersed themselves in the sound and culture of hip-hop.

Fifty years later, hip-hop has weaved itself into the cultural fabric of the world. Elements of the genre can be found throughout fashion, film, photography, dance, technology, language and art. Beyond its cultural impact, hip-hop serves as a platform for artists to highlight social concerns, such as discrimination, mental health issues, police brutality, and the inequalities that marginalized communities face. And by speaking truth to power, countless emcees and music makers have given a voice to the voiceless through their art. 

Celebrations surrounding the golden anniversary of hip-hop have been going on throughout 2023, though many will ramp up this summer to coincide with the 50th anniversary of Kool Herc and Cindy's original Bronx jam. Here are 10 exhibitions, events and activations that celebrate the artistry, history, impact and evolution of the cultural movement.

"Hip-Hop: Conscious, Unconscious" 

Through May 20

Nas’ Mass Appeal Records has partnered with Fotografiska New York for a hip-hop photography exhibition that explores four of the genre’s core elements: rapping, DJing, breakdancing and graffiti.   

Featuring 200 portraits, "Conscious, Unconscious" takes visitors through five decades of hip-hop (1972–2022), highlighting little-known connections between different artists and offering a closer look at pioneering women emcees, the various subcultures that arose across the country, and the gender disparities that exist within the male-dominated industry.  

"We made a thoughtful effort to have the presence of women accurately represented, not overtly singling them out in any way," exhibit Co-Curator Sacha Jenkins said in a statement. "You’ll turn a corner and there will be a stunning portrait of Eve or a rare and intimate shot of Lil’ Kim that most visitors won’t have seen before."

40th Anniversary Screening Of Wild Style 

June 11

From Breaking to Belly and Eight Mile, hip-hop cinema has helped extend the genre’s global reach by fusing sound with entertaining narratives that allow viewers to immerse themselves in the culture. To commemorate the 40th anniversary of Wild Style — the first hip-hop motion picture — the National Hip-Hop Museum will  hold a screening at Zero Space NYC on June 11 in conjunction with Five Points Fest. 

Director Charlie Ahearn and cast members will attend the event, which will also feature DJ sets and live graffiti painting.

"The Culture: Hip Hop and Contemporary Art in the 21st Century"

Through July 16

Mobile technology and the emergence of social media in the aughts helped bring hip-hop to the world, further cementing it as a major cultural influence. The Baltimore Museum of Art's "The Culture" exhibit explores the intersection between art, fashion, technology, and music over the past 20 years. 

The exhibit features paintings, sculptures, fashion, music videos and memorabilia, including the Vivienne Westwood buffalo hat Pharrell donned for the 2014 GRAMMYs and one of Virgil Abloh’s last collaborations with Louis Vuitton. 

"Rhythm, Bass and Place: Through the Lens" 

Through June 24

This five-month-long series curated by Lynnée Denise explores the connectivity of Black music, tracking the African diaspora through performances, screenings, and curated conversations on themes like kinship, sacred traditions, Afrofuturism, literature and liberation. 

At Harlem's Caribbean Cultural Center African Diaspora Institute, visitors can take a walk down memory lane at the "Through the Lens" exhibition, which explores different elements of Black music. Black-and-white photos captured by documentarians Joe Conzo Jr. showcase hip-hop and Latin music in New York in the 1970s and '80s, while Malik Yusef Cumbo's portraits feature the likes of Snoop Dogg and reggae singer Dawn Penn.​​

"[R]Evolution of Hip Hop"

Through June 30

At a pop-up in the Bronx for the forthcoming Universal Hip-Hop Museum, visitors can take an interactive trip through hip-hop’s golden era — 1986–1990 — in an exhibit focusing on the five pillars of the cultural movement: MCng, DJing, breakdancing, aerosol art, and knowledge. The exhibition includes original artwork, a giant interactive boombox, platinum plaques, sneakers, all-access passes, fliers, posters, recording equipment, Adidas sweatsuits worn by Run DMC, and a notepad with original lyrics from beatboxing pioneer Biz Markie and more.

"We’re providing visitors with a sneak preview of what we’re doing with the museum that opens in 2024," Rocky Bucano, president of the UHMM, told Billboard. "And for me personally, the responsibility of making sure that we have a space to amplify and magnify and inform people all around the world about what hip-hop actually is, is so important."

KRS-One’s "Birthplace of Hip-Hop" Initiative 

Aug. 11 - TBD

Prolific emcee and preservationist KRS-One is marking the golden anniversary by hosting a series of events at the birthplace of hip-hop: the community center at 1520 Sedgwick Avenue in the Bronx, where DJ Kool Herc held the fundraiser that would spawn one of the most impactful cultural movements of the last century. 

"The 50th Anniversary of Hip Hop is a global movement that speaks to the grit, voice, and power of how it came to be in the first place — we used our voices when they tried to silence us. We used our creativity when they tried to stifle us. We created the culture because we wanted to stand out and stand up for our artistry," the rapper said in a statement. "Hip Hop is the people’s movement. I am excited to showcase this to the world in the space where it all began at 1520 Sedgwick in the Community Center. It feels right to be here, where it all began."

Upcoming events include educational and historical programs, photo exhibits, a logo-making competition and a series of Hip-Hop Kultural Specialist courses taught by KRS-One. 

Second-Annual Hip-Hop Block Party

Aug. 12

In homage to the school fundraiser-turned-neighborhood block party that birthed the movement, the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington D.C. will host its second-annual hip-hop block party this summer. 

"The origins of hip-hop and rap rest in community where people gathered together in basements, on street corners, neighborhood dance parties and community shows to tell the stories of the people and places that brought it to life in a language all its own," Dwandalyn Reece, associate director for curatorial affairs at NMAAHC, said in a statement about the 2022 event.

Attendees can enjoy live musical performances, immersive art, interactive graffiti and breakdancing activities, and an outdoor exhibition of hip-hop artifacts. And it wouldn’t be an epic summer party without good eats: The museum’s Club Café will be cooking up a hip-hop-inspired menu to mark the occasion. 

Last year’s inaugural celebration featured dance workshops, a panel discussion with hip-hop trailblazers Bun B, Roxanne Shanté, and Chuck D, performances from J.Period, D Smoke, DJ Heat and The Halluci Nation and a late-night dance party with a live set from Salt-n-Pepa’s DJ Spinderella.  

"Contact High: A Visual History of Hip-Hop"

Through Jan. 7, 2024

Seattle’s Museum of Pop Culture’s "Contact High" exhibit highlights hip-hop’s vibrant aesthetic, showcasing more than 170 images from the genre’s 50-year history. 

With photos dating back to the ‘70s, there’s a little something for everyone to enjoy, but ‘90s hip-hop and R&B fans in particular, will love this collection. Among the exhibit's images are never-before-seen contact sheets and photos of the genre’s biggest stars like Aaliyah, Wu-Tang Clan, Notorious B.I.G., Diddy, Tupac Shakur, Beastie Boys and more.

"From the Feet Up: 50 Years of Sneaks & Beats" 

Ongoing

Run-DMC helped bring street style to the mainstream with their 1986 ode to Adidas, and sneakers have since become interlinked with the genre and its artists — from Eazy E’s love for Nike Cortez to Nelly’s "Air Forces Ones." This immersive exhibition at Mana Contemporary in Jersey City, New Jersey chronicles hip-hop’s long-running relationship with sneakers and how notable emcees helped propel different brands to commercial success.  

Curated by avid sneaker collector Sean Williams, "From the Feet Up" features 50 sneakers designed and worn by various artists, including Public Enemy’s "Fear of a Black Planet" Pumas, De La Soul’s collab with Nike, as well as kicks worn by Beyoncé, Tupac and more. Visitors can also view the 2015 sneaker-culture documentary Laced Up in the backroom gallery after checking out the exhibit.

"The Message: The Revolutionary Power of Hip-Hop"

Ongoing

Nashville’s National Museum of African American Music will celebrate the culture all year long with an interactive exhibit that examines the origins of hip-hop, how music makers used technology, like sampling, to evolve the sound as well as the socio-political messages that many artists incorporated into their lyrics. 

Visitors also get the chance to create their own custom beats inside the exhibit as they learn about the genre's pioneers. 

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

picture of walkman and cassette tapes

Photo: Oscar Sánchez Photography

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The Unending Evolution Of The Mixtape: "Without Mixtapes, There Would Be No Hip-Hop"

Today, the mixtape holds a variety of meanings — from a curated playlist to a non-label hip-hop release. From the dawn of the cassette to the internet-based culture of mixtape-making, musicians in hip-hop have developed their style via this format.

GRAMMYs/Oct 30, 2023 - 01:12 pm

"Living in the Bronx, we got to hear all the latest music. If a party was on a Friday or a Saturday, by Monday the mixtapes would already be in my neighborhood," Paradise Gray says, beaming.

Now the chief curator and advisor for the soon-to-open Universal Hip Hop Museum in the Bronx — not to mention the co-host of the A&E TV show "Hip-Hop Relics," which follows the quest for genre relics alongside the likes of LL Cool J and Ice T — Gray grew up consuming countless mixtapes from the likes of the L Brothers, Grandmaster Flash, and the Cold Crush Brothers. 

"The amount of music and the way it was curated was incredible, and having it on tape was way more valuable than hearing it on the radio because the radio didn’t have a rewind button," he says with a laugh. While the general public may have moved onto other formats, those cassettes are making a comeback and mixtapes continue to pervade every aspect of pop culture — both in their musical impact and nostalgic glory.

Today, the mixtape holds a whole swath of meanings — from a curated playlist to a non-label hip-hop release. But back in the early ‘70s, kids like Gray raised on everything from Motown to Thelonious Monk, George Clinton to James Brown were blending their influences. 

"The first tapes were used to record people at places like a park jam, a party, a community gathering," explains Regan Sommer McCoy, founder of the Mixtape Museum, a repository of physical tape collections, nostalgic storytelling, and more. "They were called party tapes then, and people would make copies to give out to friends that couldn’t be there, so they could hear if the DJ was hot or not." 

As the form became more popular, DJs like Kid Capri or Brucie B would start recording their club sets as well. "The recordings would sometimes include the DJ shouting out people who were in the room — and if you were in Harlem, maybe there were a few drug dealers in the room who even paid for a shoutout," she adds with a laugh.

McCoy is a longtime devotee of the form and a music industry professional (including a stint as manager of hip-hop legends Clipse). And the more she explored, the more she affirmed that these early tapes are an unparalleled document of a moment in music history. 

Gray remembers making his own tapes as a young man in the late ‘70s, discovering the creativity that the new cassette technology could offer. 

"We had two recorders, and we would keep the breaks extended even before we were conscious of what we were doing, sampling from cassette to cassette," he says. "We couldn’t afford turntables, but me and my childhood DJ partner, DJ Bob Rock, would make hip-hop practice tapes with the breakbeats and then put them on 8-track. We took over our neighborhood with those tapes because that’s what everybody had in their cars."

Zack Taylor, director of Cassette: A Documentary Mixtape, suggests that the freedom and control Gray felt were a driving force in the ubiquity of mixtapes during hip-hop's early days. 

"By all accounts, the music industry in those days was doing everything it could to stifle hip-hop, to hold it back, label it as low-class output," he says. "But the mixtape represented creativity on a personal level. DJ Hollywood, Kool Herc, DJ Clue, these were people who didn’t have the support of a label or an infrastructure, but if they had $100 they could go buy a whole bunch of blank tapes, stay up late on Friday, and have the tapes ready on 125th Street in Harlem on Saturday morning with their blends.

And while some were relishing the individual creativity that cassettes could offer, others were enthused by the ability to listen to music in a more portable way, or merely thrilled by the opportunity to record their favorite songs off the radio. Within this space, talented musicians were finding their footing in a new landscape and developing signature styles.

"There was no such thing as hip-hop at the time — it was really the microcosm of the worldwide Afro-indigenous culture," Gray says. "It’s a sample of everything, not just the breakbeats." Artists were as free to indulge in snippets of Brahms as they were the Delfonics, stringing together their own mixes or making unique blends that would soundtrack an experience that was specific  to their own.

Gray also notes that obsessives like the Bronx-based Tape Master would hit up various parties and clubs to document the moment and share the music, in turn allowing this self-defined movement to spread.

A big element of the tapes’ spread was a service called the OJs — a sort of proto-Uber where New Yorkers who owned expensive cars would offer them as a cab service. "If you were going to the club, at least once or twice you would want to show up in the OJ, a Cadillac or an Oldsmobile, and have them playing the hot new hip-hop tapes while they drove you around so everyone could see you and hear you," Gray says.

Listening to those mixtapes as a child, McCoy began to piece together the larger movement, the tapes acting as a sort of encyclopedia with something for everyone. "If I was interested in more R&B blends, I knew that someone like DJ Finesse from Queens would have R&B Blends volume 1 through a million," she explains. "And then I would go to camp every summer, and we would all bring our tapes and mix and swap them. There was a boy from California at camp and I’d get an entirely new sound."

"You couldn't get too hot…because then the RIAA is going to come in"

After first acting as a proving ground for talented DJs, mixtapes became intertwined with lyricists. Many prominent rappers — from Too Short to MC Hammer — started out by selling mixtapes of their work from the trunk of their car, showing up wherever they might find demand. DJs also started recording their sets in professional studios, toeing the line between commercial release and self-distribution — often based on whether there was enough demand to draw the industry’s attention. "You couldn’t get too hot, like DJ Drama, because then the RIAA is going to come in," McCoy says.

Eventually, these DJs would be hired on for entire projects with lyricists or even labels, uniting their voices in their unique blending style. "People like 50 Cent or Diddy would make tapes for their label," McCoy adds. Those artists would hire someone like  DJ Whoo Kid to put together an entire tape with the label’s artists featured. "And then the big labels came in, and it got real messy."

Jehnie Burns, author of Mixtape Nostalgia: Culture, Memory, and Representation, argues that this move towards more structured recording processes ties back to the way hip-hop’s origins were separate from the mainstream — both by exclusion and intention.

“Mainstream releases would have to be worried about getting samples approved, making sure it was something that would sell, but hip-hop was often being made by people with something interesting to say that didn’t fit into that mold," Burns says. "It had a lot of similarities to the early days of punk — where local culture was so important, local community, local issues. Mixtapes are able to speak to that community in a way that they understand it and care about."

And when enough of a groundswell happens in a relatively new genre, some artists will work out ways to fit its ethos into the corporate music structure while others will continue to push in the indie world.

McCoy had first hand experience with that thin line while working with Clipse — an experience that proved foundational to the Mixtape Museum. At the time, the duo of Pusha T and No Malice had their contract transferred from Arista to Jive. When their work on Hell Hath No Fury began getting pushback, the duo attempted to get out of their obligation with their new label. "They were going to court with Jive and not able to drop their album, so they were like, ‘F— you, we’ll put out a mixtape,’" McCoy recalls. While label structures might mean trying to force Clipse into a certain box, the freedom of a mixtape meant they would be able to experiment and use their own musical language.

But when someone from the group’s camp dropped 10,000 copies of We Got It 4 Cheap, Vol. 1 (hosted by DJ Clinton Sparks) at McCoy’s Stuyvesant Town apartment, the realities of distributing a mixtape came to bear. Luckily, she had a helping hand in the form of Justo Faison — her then-boyfriend and the founder of the Annual Mixtape Awards. The annual awards honored innovative musicians pushing boundaries in the mixtape form, and Faison had fittingly amassed quite the collection of tapes, vinyl, and other early hip-hop memorabilia.

"I couldn't make a song, but because of the cassette, I could make an album"

After Faison passed in 2005, McCoy and a friend looked around his apartment, wondering what they could do to honor him. "I didn’t know what it meant yet, but I looked around the room and just said ‘Mixtape Museum,’" she remembers. And when she started working in academia, she continued pushing and researching, focused on adding emphasis to the artform that Faison had championed as well.

As the years have passed, countless people have felt that same endless nostalgic draw to the mixtape — as evidenced by the countless memoirs, novels, and films centered on the form. Everyone that made their own mixtape had a unique perspective, a unique purpose, and a yearning to make a document of it, something that would live on longer than a simple playlist.

"Making a mixtape was super empowering," Taylor says. "I couldn’t make a song, but because of the cassette, I could make an album."

Half a century on, the term "mixtape" remains relevant and meaningful. Even kids growing up today, post-8-track, post-cassette, post-CD, post-mp3 know what a mixtape is and the importance it can hold.

"Mixtape has become shorthand for this personal, eclectic collection," Burns says. "There’s a nostalgia factor because Gen X is coming to a certain age, a connection to a slower life less reliant on technology."

In hip-hop specifically, where the term continues to refer to a non-label or non-LP project, it continues to hold the meaning of a testing ground for experimentation and a connection to a niche community.

When Taylor set out in 2011 to make his documentary as an obituary to the mixtape, the Oxford English Dictionary had announced that they’d be removing the word cassette from their printed pages.

"To most people it was dead, but it was starting to have a real revival," he says. "If it were ever going to die, it would’ve happened already. But the portability and personalization will never be replaced." To this day, when shooting commercials, Taylor brings his tape deck (made by new French manufacturer We Are Rewind) and his pleather case of cassettes rather than sticking with a Spotify playlist.

"People are so much more excited to come up and talk about tapes, even from other sets," he says with a laugh. Burns similarly continues to see the advantages mixtapes hold over streaming — especially when it comes to the inability to skip around and the endless ability to rewind and start again. "You’re not skipping tracks or shuffling. You have to listen in the order that someone intentionally put it together," she says.

Perhaps it's that intentionality and experimentation that have allowed the mixtape to constantly evolve and stay relevant. Gray certainly sees it that way.

"Mixtapes are like time machines, musical magic," he says. "And every generation’s youth has the right to make it what they want it to be. Without mixtapes, there would be no hip-hop."

And while some older aficionados may be especially protective of the golden age of hip-hop, Gray sees the mixtape’s place as a living, breathing entity as essential to the genre’s development.

"The mixtape is one of the most invaluable tools that we have available because the internet is a cesspool and needs a filter," he says with a laugh. "Mixtape DJs are filters of culture and vibration. Back in the day, you knew to expect a certain level of quality with a tape from K Slay, Kid Capri, Red Alert, Chuck Chillout, Marley Marl. Today, you know that you’ve got some serious sounds coming out your speakers if it’s that kind of artist curating it."

The Recording Academy And CBS Announce “A GRAMMY Salute To 50 Years Of Hip-Hop” Live Concert Special Featuring Performances By Common, LL COOL J, Queen Latifah, Questlove, De La Soul, Remy Ma & More; Airing Dec. 10

nas performs at documentary screeening in 2014
Nas performs at a screening of his documentary 'Nas: Time is ILLMatic' in 2014

Photo: Kimberly White/Getty Images for Hennessy

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6 Must-Watch Hip-Hop Documentaries: 'Hip-Hop x Siempre,' 'My Mic Sounds Nice' & More...

Myriad documentaries have followed the journeys of hip-hop artists and unpacked the impact of hip-hop culture. In celebration of the genre's 50th anniversary, que up docs that shine a light on some of the biggest names and events in hip-hop history.

GRAMMYs/Jul 18, 2023 - 03:58 pm

Given its social and cultural impact on our lives, it’s hard to believe that hip-hop is only celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. From its beginnings at a party in the Bronx, the culture of hip-hop bloomed and has spread to every corner of the globe. 

Filmmakers have been commemorating hip-hop — from its MCs and DJs, to b-boys and girls and fashion icons  — in all its glory for decades. Myriad documentaries follow the lives, journeys, successes and downfalls of hip-hop artists from across the U.S. and beyond. As we celebrate hip-hop’s birthday this August, here are five essential hip-hop documentaries to reflect on the magnitude of 50 years of groundbreaking culture.

Wild Style

Also considered the first ever hip-hop motion picture, Wild Style is so close to the truth that it’s more of a documentary. Offering a glimpse into 1981 New York, it stars real-life graffiti artists, musicians, rappers and dancers, portraying hip-hop as a cultural phenomenon alongside genres like punk and new wave.

Featuring some iconic names including Fab Five Freddy, Lady Pink, the Rock Steady Crew and the Cold Crush Brothers, the film’s vague plot doesn’t matter. Instead, Wild Style captures the essence and grit of New York City when hip-hop was on the precipice. It’s a hugely influential and inspirational part of the canon and a crucial historical document. 

Hip-Hop Evolution

This four-part docuseries provides an overview of how hip-hop works and, as its name suggests, plots its evolution from emergence to global recognition. In making the film, MC Shad Kabango intended to explore how hip-hop made a name for itself in the music industry. Through the memories of stars like DJ Kool Herc himself, the Sugarhill Gang, Russell Simmons and Public Enemy, he discovers that the real legacy of hip-hop is how it allowed those without a voice to have their say. 

Now four seasons in, this series covers every decade, style and corner of American hip-hop, highlighting the contributions of women like Queen Latifah and Monie Love. Charting key events from Kool Herc's first block party to the early 2020s, this multi-award-winning series is the perfect place to start if you want an overview of hip-hop's development from the perspective of the people who’ve led the way.  

Nas: Time is ILLMatic

This 2014 documentary unpacks the events that led to Nas’ 1994 debut album ILLMatic. Through interviews with his father, brother and East Coast hip-hop legends like Pharrell, Alicia Keys and Busta Rhymes, it not only delves into the process of making the album, but of the social context in which he made it. 

The artist said he made ILLMatic with the intention of showing people that hip-hop was changing and becoming something more real. "I tried to capture it like no one else could," he says

The documentary’s producers came to make the film from a similar perspective. Co-Producer Erik Parker was writing for Vibe Magazine at the time of the album’s 10th anniversary and realized he couldn’t fit everything he wanted to say about it into a written article. He contacted One9 and together they decided to make this film.

Together, they ended up delving much deeper into the culture and wanted to reflect the feel of the streets that infuses the album itself. The result is a timeless and absorbing documentary that captures the real essence of the hip-hop scene. 

My Mic Sounds Nice: A Truth About Women And Hip-Hop

Women are often left out of the conversation around hip-hop, despite their huge successes and significant contributions to the genre. This documentary by renowned filmmaker Ava DuVernay seeks to redress this by focusing on the careers of legends like Missy Elliot, Salt-N-Pepa, Eve, and MC Lyte.  

Through interviews with these artists and and more, My Mic Sounds Nice offers a unique and insightful angle to the discourse around the issues women face in the industry — from sexual objectification to lower pay. With commentary from those who have dominated the rap and hip-hop world for decades but often haven't received the same accolades as their male counterparts, My Mic Sounds Nice is a must-see film.

The Art of Organized Noize

Focusing on a label rather than the artist, The Art of Organized Noize explores the pioneering producers behind the Dirty South sound. Organized Noize producers Rico Wade, Ray Murray and Sleepy Brown detail how Atlanta shaped the hip-hop world. 

Record label Organized Noize was responsible for supporting the careers of Diddy, Outkast and L.A Reid amongst others — which it famously did from the confines of a dungeon. In a basement room, the Dungeon Family (OutKast, Goodie Mob, Organized Noize and a bunch of local artists) holed up, smoking weed and creating music that would define the region and popular hip-hop. 

Organized Noize built an extraordinary sense of community and comradeship, which comes in interviews with some of its famed roster, as well as from admirers from further afield.

Hip-Hop x Siempre

Although historically left out of conversations about the genre, “Latinos have been an inherent part of hip-hop from its start," Rocio Guerrero, Head of Global Latin at Amazon Music, said in a statement. To wit, Amazon's documentary Hip-Hop x Siempre details the contributions of Latinx artists throughout the culture's 50-year run. 

The Amazon Original includes interviews with Fat Joe, Cypress Hill's B-Real, N.O.R.E., and Residente, and up-and-coming acts such as Eladio Carrión, Villano Antillano, Myke Towers and Snow Tha Product. 

"Latino artists take inspiration from Hip Hop beats and lyrics, infusing them with traditional Latin rhythms to make the genre our own, ultimately aiding in its global reach and relevance,” Guerrero continued, adding that the documentary honors "this shared history and its impact on our culture by highlighting the diverse and intergenerational voices that are part of the movement."

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Hector "Roots" Lewis, Romain Virgo, Iotosh, Lila Iké, Samory I and Tarrus Riley in collage
(From left) Hector "Roots" Lewis, Romain Virgo, Iotosh, Lila Iké, Samory I, Tarrus Riley

Photos: Courtesy of the artist; Johnny Louis/Getty Images; Courtesy of the artist; Yannick Reid; Horace Freeman; Courtesy of the artist

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10 Artists Shaping Contemporary Reggae: Samory I, Lila Iké, Iotosh & Others

In honor of Caribbean American Heritage Month, meet 10 artists who are shaping the sound of contemporary reggae. From veterans who are hitting great strides, to promising newcomers, these acts showcase reggae's wide appeal.

GRAMMYs/Jun 19, 2024 - 01:51 pm

The result of audacious experimentation by studio musicians and producers, reggae originated  in Jamaica circa 1968 in Kingston, Jamaica. Along with its various subgenres of lovers rock, roots, dub and dancehall, reggae has influenced many music forms and found adoring audiences all over the world.

An authentic expression of the singers and musicians’ surroundings and experiences, reggae evolved from its 1960s forerunners, ska and rocksteady, shaped by contemporary influences such as American jazz and R&B, and mento, Jamaican folk music. Likewise, today’s reggae music makers draw from genres such as hip-hop (especially its trap strain) to create a generationally distinctive sound that still remains tethered to Jamaica's musical history.  

In the 2020s, the Best Reggae Album GRAMMY winners reflect the diverse musical palette that comprises contemporary reggae. EDM influences and reggaeton (a genre built upon digitized dancehall reggae riddims) remixes dominate the 2024 winner Julian Marley’s Colors of Royal. The award’s 2023 recipient — Kabaka Pyramid's The Kalling, produced by Damian and Stephen Marley — intertwines traditional roots reggae with Kabaka’s love of hip-hop. The late, great Toots Hibbert was posthumously awarded the 2021 GRAMMY for Time Tough, a hard rocking, R&B influenced gem that captured Toots’ soulful exuberance. In 2020 Koffee became the youngest and first female awardee in the category for Rapture, which features the most experimental soundscapes among this decade’s winners. Ironically, the most traditional approach to reggae is heard on American reggae band SOJA’s 2022 winner, Beauty in the Silence.

Read more: Lighters Up! 10 Essential Reggae Hip-Hop Fusions

In honor of Caribbean American Heritage Month, which was officially designated by a Presidential proclamation in June 2006, here are 10 Jamaican artists who are shaping contemporary reggae. Some are veterans who are currently hitting the greatest strides of their professional lives, others are newcomers at the threshold of extremely promising careers. All are committed to their craft and upholding reggae, even if their music ocassionally sounds unlike the reggae of a generation ago.

Kumar Bent (and the Original Fyah)

In the mid 2010s, Jamaican band Raging Fyah had a significant impact on the American reggae circuit, with their burnished, inspirational roots reggae brand as heard on such songs as "Nah Look Back" and "Judgement Day." They toured the U.S. with American reggae outfits including Stick Figure, Iration and Tribal Seeds, and supported Ali Campbell’s version of UB40 in the UK. Raging Fyah’s album Everlasting was nominated for a 2017 Best Reggae Album GRAMMY.

The following year, charismatic lead singer and principal songwriter Kumar Bent (along with guitarist Courtland "Gizmo" White, who passed away in 2023) left due to differences with their bandmates.

In 2023 Kumar teamed up with Raging Fyah alumni, drummer Anthony Watson, keyboardist Demar Gayle and backing vocalist/engineer Mahlon Moving to create The Original Fyah. In February they performed at the band’s annual Wickie Wackie festival in Jamaica and they’ve recorded an album due for upcoming release (Demar has since moved on to other projects.)

Kumar, 35, a classically trained pianist, has recorded two solo albums, including Tales of Reality with Swiss studio band 18th Parallel; they’ll tour Europe together in October. Kumar’s acoustic guitar sets have opened several dates for stalwart Jamaican band Third World this year.

Each of his musical endeavors are focused on bolstering Jamaica’s signature rhythm.

"Reggae from the 1970s and ‘80s was special because Jamaican artists made the songs exactly how they felt, and found an audience with the sounds they created," Kumar tells GRAMMY.com. "If we (Jamaicans) keep making R&B, hip-hop sounding music, we are giving away what we have for something else that we are not as good at."

Lila Iké

Lila Iké's multifarious influences run deep. "I am a Jamaican artist who is influenced by different music and you’re going to hear that coming through," she said in a June 2020 interview with The Daily Beast, following the release of her debut EP The ExPerience

While Jamaican music expanded beyond what Iké called "the purist reggae vibe," she told The Daily Beast that "it’s important to maintain the music’s indigenousness. I incorporate that into the rhythms I use and my singing style because I want young people to know, this music doesn’t start where you hear it, it has transcended many years and changes." 

Born Alecia Grey, she chose the name Lila, which means blooming flower, and Iké, a Yoruba word meaning the Power of God. Her vocals are a singular, mesmerizing blend of smoky, soulful expressions with a laid back yet poignant rendering. Lila’s effortless versatility is rooted in her upbringing in the rural community of Christiana. Her mother listened to a wide range of music, R&B, jazz, soul, country and reggae, with Lila, her mom and sisters singing along to all of it. 

Lila moved to Kingston to pursue her musical ambitions; she performed on open mic nights and posted her songs on social media. Protoje reached out to her via Twitter with an invitation to record. From that initial meeting, Protoje has managed and mentored her career. Through his label In.Digg,Nation Collective’s deal with RCA Records, Lila will release her debut album later this year; Protoje also produced the album’s first single, the reggae/R&B slow jam duet "He Loves Us Both" featuring H.E.R.

Hezron

A passionate singer whose vocals marry the grit of Otis Redding with the cool of Marvin Gaye, singer/songwriter and musician Hezron has yet to achieve the widespread impact his talents merit, although he's been planting seeds since 2010. That year, his single "So In Love" was the first of Hezron's substantial musical fruits and exceptional catalog.

On his 2022 self-produced, remarkable album Man on a Mission, Hezron explores a range of Jamaican music and history. On the rousing ska track "Plant A Seed," Hezron's guttural, gospel inflected delivery is reminiscent of Toots Hibbert as he warns his critics, "You think you bury me and done but you only planted a seed." The album also features a scorching R&B jam "Tik Tok I’m Coming"; an acoustic, mystical acknowledgement of Rastafari, "Walk In Love and Light"; and a stirring plea to "Save The Children." The album’s title track is a spirited reggae anthem offering support to anyone in pursuit of their goals while underscoring Hezron’s own purpose.

"Man on a Mission is about my personal journey, the obstacles I’ve had to overcome in the music business and beyond. I’m telling myself, telling the world, this man is on a mission to restore Jamaican music to a prominent place internationally," Hezron tells GRAMMY.com. 

In November 2023 Hezron embarked on a global mission: a two-month tour of Ghana, followed, this year, by summer shows in Canada and the U.S. before returning to Africa, with dates in Ivory Coast, Kenya, and South Africa.

Iotosh

A self-taught multi-instrumentalist, songwriter and vocalist, Iotosh (born Iotosh Poyser) made his name as a producer who can seamlessly blend disparate influences into progressive reggae soundscapes. He’s produced singles for several marquee acts who emerged from Jamaica’s reggae revival movement of the previous decade including Koffee’s "West Indies," the title track on Jah9’s Note to Self featuring Chronixx, and Jesse Royal’s "Rich Forever", featuring Vybz Kartel. He also produced five of the 10 tracks on Protoje’s GRAMMY-nominated album Third Time’s The Charm.

Iotosh’s parents (Canadian music TV journalist Michele Geister and Jamaican singer/songwriter/producer Ragnam Poyser) came from different musical worlds, so he heard a multiplicity of genres growing up, including hip-hop, rock, funk, soul, reggae and R&B. Iotosh wanted to replicate all of those sounds when he started making music, which led to his genre blurring approach. 

As an artist, his 2023 breakout single the meditative "Fill My Cup" (featuring Protoje on the remix) was followed this year by "Bad News," which explores grief that follows losing a loved one, both on one-drop reggae rhythms. He describes his debut eight-track EP, due in September, as "a mix of traditional reggae and elements of contemporary music, pop, hip-hop and R&B." 

"In my productions, I try to have some identifiable Jamaican aspects, usually the bassline, which I play live," Iotosh tells GRAMMY.com. "Reggae is based on a universal message, it’s peace and love but contextually it comes from a place of enlightening people about forces of oppression. If that message is in the music, it’s still reggae, no matter what it sounds like." 

Iotosh will make his New York City debut on July 7 at Federation Sound’s 25th Anniversary show, Coney Island Amphitheater.

Read more: Meet The First-Time GRAMMY Nominee: Kabaka Pyramid On Embracing His Voice & The Bold Future Of Reggae

Mortimer

Producer Winta James first heard Mortimer while working on sing-jay Protoje’s acclaimed 2015 album Ancient Future, and decided he was the right singer to provide the evocative hook on the opening track, "Protection." About a year after they recorded the song, Mortimer became the first artist Winta signed to his company Overstand Entertainment.

In 2019 Mortimer (born Mortimer McPherson) released his impressive EP, Fight the Fight;  single "Lightning," was especially noteworthy for its roots-meets-lovers rock sound anchored in a heavy bass and delicately embellished with a steel guitar. Mortimer’s sublime high register vocals express a refreshingly vulnerable perspective: "Girl, my love grows stronger each day, baby please don't hurt me just because you know I'll forgive." 

"The songs that get me the most are coming from a place deep within," Mortimer told me in a January 2020 interview. "I started out writing what I thought was expected of me as a Rasta, militant, social commentaries, but it was missing something. Before I am a Rastaman, I am a human being, so I dig deep, expressing my feelings simply, truthfully."

Mortimer’s debut album is due in September and his latest single, "Not A Day Goes By," addresses his struggles with depression: "I’ve given up 1000 times, I’ve even tried to take my own life," he sings in a haunting tone. Mental health struggles remain a taboo topic in reggae and popular music overall; Mortimer’s raw, confessional lyrics demonstrate his courageousness as an artist, and that bravery will hopefully inspire others going through similar struggles to speak out and get the help they need.

Hector "Roots" Lewis

Earlier this year, Hector "Roots" Lewis made his acting debut in the biopic Bob Marley: One Love, earning enthusiastic reviews for his portrayal of the late Carlton "Carly" Barrett, the longstanding, influential drummer with Bob Marley and The Wailers.  Formerly the percussionist and backing vocalist with Chronixx’s band Zinc Fence Redemption, Hector is blazing his own trail as a vocalist, songwriter and musician. 

The son of the late Jamaican lover’s rock and gospel singer Barbara Jones, Hector’s profound love for music began as a child. In 2021, Chronixx launched his Soul Circle Music label with Hector’s single "Ups and Downs," an energetic funky romp that’s a testament to music’s healing powers.  The song’s lyric "never disrespect cuz mama set a foundation" directly references Hector’s mother as the primary motivating force for his musical pursuits. 

In 2022 Hector toured the U.S. as the lead singer with California reggae band Tribal Seeds (when lead singer Steven Jacobo took a hiatus) taking his dynamic instrumental and vocal abilities to a wider audience. The same year, Hector released his five-track debut EP, D’Rootsman, which includes regal, soulful reggae ("King Said"), 1990s dancehall flavor ("Nuh Betta Than Yard") and R&B accented jams "Good Connection." 

Co-produced with Johnny Cosmic, Hector’s latest single "Possibility" boasts an irresistible bass heavy reggae groove. On his Instagram page, Hector dedicates "Possibility" to people who are facing the terrors of "warfare, colonialism, depression and oppression," urging them to "believe in the "Possibility" that they can be free from that suffering." 

Read more: 7 Things We Learned Watching 'Bob Marley: One Love' 

Hempress Sativa

The daughter of Albert "Ilawi Malawi" Johnson, musician and legendary selector with Jah Love sound system, Hempress Sativa was raised in a Rastafarian household where music played an essential role in their lives. Performing since her early teens, she developed an impressive lyrical prowess and an exceptional vocal flow, effortlessly switching between singing and deejaying. 

Consistently bringing a positive Rasta woman vibration to each track she touches, Hempress Sativa’s most recent album Chakra is a sophisticated mix of reggae rhythms, Afrobeats ("Take Me Home," featuring Kelissa), neo-soul ("The Best") and cavernous echo and reverb dub effects ("Sound the Trumpet"), a call to action for spiritual warriors. On "Top Rank Queens" Hempress Sativa trades verses with veterans Sister Nancy and Sister Carol, each celebrating their deeply held values and formidable mic skills as Rastafari female deejays. 

Hempress Sativa is featured in the documentary Bam Bam The Sister Nancy Story, (which premiered at the Tribeca Festival on June 7) recounting the legendary toaster’s influence on her own artistry. Speaking specifically about Sister Carol, Hempress tells GRAMMY.com, "She is my mentor and to see her, as a Rastafari woman from back in the 1970s, maintain her standards and principles, gives me the confidence moving forward that I, too, can find a space within this industry where I can wholeheartedly be myself."

Learn more: The Women Essential To Reggae And Dancehall

Tarrus Riley

One of the most popular reggae songs of the 2000s was Tarrus Riley’s dulcet lover’s rock tribute to women "She’s Royal." Released in 2006 and included on his acclaimed album Parables, "She’s Royal" catapulted Tarrus to reggae stardom; the song’s video has surpassed 114 million YouTube views.

Tarrus has maintained a steady output of hit singles, while his live performances with the Blak Soil Band, led by saxophonist Dean Fraser, have established a gold standard for live reggae in this generation. Tarrus’s expressive, dynamic tenor is adaptable to numerous styles, from the stunning soft rocker "Jah Will", to the thunderous percussion driven celebration of African identity, "Shaka Zulu Pickney" and the EDM power ballad "Powerful," a U.S. certified gold single produced by Major Lazer, featuring Ellie Goulding

His 2014 album Love Situation offered a gorgeous tribute to Jamaica’s rocksteady era (during which time his father, the late Jimmy Riley, started out as a singer in the harmony group the Sensations). Tarrus’s most recent album 2020’s Healing, includes meditative reggae ("Family Tree"), trap dancehall with Teejay referencing racial and political sparring on "Babylon Warfare," and the pop dancehall flavored hit "Lighter" featuring Shenseea (the song’s video has surpassed 102 million views). 

Healing’s title track ponders what the new normal will be like, "without a simple hug, so tight and warm and snug/what will this new life be like, without a simple kiss, Jah knows I'd hate to miss."

Recorded and released at the height of the pandemic, Healing is deserving much greater recognition for its luminous production (by Tarrus, Dean Fraser and Shane Brown) brilliant musicianship, nuanced songwriting and forthright expression of the myriad, conflicting emotions many underwent during the lockdowns.

Samory I

Samory I is among the most compelling Jamaican voices of this generation, whose mesmeric tone is both a guttural cry and a clarion call to collective mobilization. Born Samory Tour Frazer (after Samory Touré, who resisted French colonial rule in 19th century west Africa), Samory I released his critically acclaimed debut album, Black Gold, in 2017.  

His latest release Strength is produced by Winta James, and was the only reggae title included on Rolling Stone’s Best 100 albums of 2023. The modern roots reggae masterpiece features the affirming "Crown," on which Samory commands, "I stand my ground, I will not crumble/I keep my crown here in this jungle."  Mortimer is featured on "History of Violence," which details the generational trauma that plagues ghetto residents over a classic soul-reggae riddim. "Blood in the Streets" is a blistering roots reggae anthem, an anguished exploration of the conditions that have led to the violence: "Shame to say the system that should be protecting Is still the reason we suffer/The perpetrators blame the victims, do they even listen? Can they hear us from the gutter?" 

Despite the societal and personal suffering that’s conveyed ("My Son" bemoans the death of Samory’s firstborn), Samory I offers "Jah Love" urging the wronged and the wrongdoers to ‘Show no hate, hold no grudge, seek Jah love," It’s an inspirational conclusion to Strength, rooted in Rastafari’s deeply meshed mysticism and militancy.

Romain Virgo

There’s a scene in the video for Romain Virgo’s 2024 hit "Been there Before" where he sits alone in an  empty room cradling a gold object with three shooting stars; those familiar Romain’s career beginnings will recognize it as the trophy the then 17-year-old won in the Jamaica’s talent contest Digicel Rising Stars, in 2007. "Been There Before" is a compelling sketch of Romain’s life’s struggles, yearning for something better, as set to a throbbing bassline: "To be someone was my heart’s desire/so me never stop send up prayer," he sings in a melancholy, quavering tone.

Growing up poor in St. Ann, Jamaica, the trophy represents the contest victory that changed Romain’s life. One of the Rising Star prizes was a recording contract with Greensleeves/VP Records. On March 1, Romain released his fourth album for VP The Gentleman, one of 2024’s finest reggae releases, evidencing Romain’s increasing sophistication as a writer and nuanced vocalist.

Throughout his career Romain has vacillated between romantic lover’s rock stylings ("Stars Across The Sky"), reggae covers of pop hits (Sam Smith’s "Stay With Me") that are so good, you’ll likely forget the originals, and organic, tightly knitted collabs including the aforementioned "Been There Before" featuring Masicka, all of which has created Romain’s large, loyal fan base and a hectic international performance schedule.

Yet, Romain’s greatest success might be maintaining the wholesome, humble personality that captivated Jamaican audiences when he won Rising Stars 17 years ago. "People have seen me grow in front of their eyes," Romain tells GRAMMY.com. "I enjoy singing positive music, knowing my songs won’t negatively impact kids. Being a husband and father now comes with much more responsibility in holding on to those values, it feels like a transition from a gentle boy into a gentleman." 

Remembering Coxsone Dodd: 10 Essential Productions From The Architect Of Jamaican Music

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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.

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