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a guide to texas hip-hop
Megan Thee Stallion performs in Houston

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A Guide To Texas Hip-Hop: Definitive Releases, Artists & Events

From chopped & screwed to Megan Thee Stallion, Texas has grown from producing local rap celebrities to a state that superstars call home. Read on for a guide to the origins, trailblazers and ever-evolving styles that characterize Texas hip-hop.

GRAMMYs/Aug 24, 2023 - 03:59 pm

A large percentage of the globalization of hip-hop can be traced back to Texas. Nestled between the influential hubs of Los Angeles and New York, Texas has grown from being a state that produces local rap celebrities to one that superstars call home. 

Multiple cities within Texas’ borders have consistently churned out stars over the past few years, making it a unique and crucial player in making hip-hop mainstream. At its core, cities like Austin, Dallas, Houston and San Antonio are benefactors of a diverse cultural amalgamation. The rap communities that are prevalent today stand proudly on the work of those who came before. 

Yet one will never experience the same culture twice in any of Texas' cities. Our journey will take us deep into the innovative sounds and attitudes of Houston artists and music entrepreneurs. We'll shine a spotlight on the noteworthy talent that has emerged from Dallas and San Antonio since the early 2000s. Finally, we’ll take a tour of Austin, where the vibrant live music scene acts as a focal point for both local and regional accomplishments.

As we commemorate the 50th anniversary of hip-hop, it is only fitting to embark on an exploration of the impact that Texas’ rap scene has made over decades. Walk with us as we delve into its origins, celebrate the trailblazing figures who have contributed to its rise, and immerse ourselves in the ever-evolving themes and styles that have characterized this thriving musical movement.

Listen to the Spotify playlist below or visit Amazon Music, Pandora and Apple Music for an auditory accompaniment to this guide to the best of the Lonestar State.

A Brief History Of Texas Hip-Hop

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Houston was a hotbed for hip-hop talent with artists like Scarface, UGK (Underground Kingz), and Geto Boys gaining local and regional prominence. Their gritty and unapologetic lyrics delved into the harsh realities of life in urban Texas that resonated with audiences far beyond the state's borders.

Most aspiring artists in Houston faced a challenging landscape, though. Deprived of the advantages enjoyed by their counterparts in major music industry hubs like Atlanta, Los Angeles and New York, Texas’ hip-hop community was forced to take on a DIY ethos. Artists, label execs and managers took control of their own promotion, production, and distribution. Labels like James Prince's Rap-A-Lot Records, and OG Ron C and Michael “5000” Watts’ Swishahouse pioneered the path of autonomy long before the term "independent" became a status symbol. 

Texas hip-hop was again thrust onto the main stage again in the mid-2000s when artists such as Mike Jones, Slim Thug, and Paul Wall earned widespread recognition. Mike Jones made a massive impact with standout hits like "Back Then" and "Still Tippin'." These songs not only resonated with regional audiences but also cracked the Billboard Top 100, catapulting Mike Jones to national fame.

Paul Wall's 2005 album The People's Champ solidified his status as a newcomer to be respected. The album boasted four successful singles, including "Sittin' Sidewayz" featuring Big Pokey, "They Don't Know," "Girl," and the collaboration "Drive Slow" with Kanye West and GLC. Both "Sittin' Sidewayz" and "Girl" received RIAA gold certifications, selling over 500,000 copies each. 

Founded in the '90s the Screwed Up Click was a tight-knit collective of rappers, producers, and DJs who were dedicated  to representing Houston's unique rap scene. The group's members included artists like Big Hawk, Big Mello, Big Pokey, E.S.G., Lil' Keke, Fat Pat, Lil' Flip, Z-Ro, and many others. Each brought their own style and personality to the group, contributing to the diverse and rich brand of Texas rap.

The SUC's impact extended far beyond Houston, as DJ Screw's mixtapes began to circulate widely, gaining a loyal fan base across Texas and beyond. 

Tragically, DJ Screw's life was cut short in 2000 due to an accidental drug overdose, leaving a void in the rap community. In the years following DJ Screw's passing, many members of the S.U.C. enjoyed successful careers, both individually and collectively. Artists like Lil' Keke, Z-Ro and Lil' Flip achieved mainstream success while remaining deeply rooted in their Houston origins. The SUC's influence also extended to other cities and regions, with artists from all over the world incorporating chopped and screwed elements into their music.

When Texas Hip-Hop Became Mainstream

UGK has left an indelible mark on rap culture, shaping the genre with their unique style and lyrical prowess. As the pioneers of Texas hip-hop, the duo consisting of Bun B and the late Pimp C brought their distinctive Texas flavor to the forefront of the rap scene. 

A prime example of their impact can be found in their collaboration with Jay-Z on the song "Big Pimpin'." Released in 2000, its bouncy production and memorable verses, specifically Pimp C’s final verse, was a perfect blend of UGK's signature Southern drawl and vivid storytelling. "Big Pimpin'" not only expanded UGK's reach but also solidified Jay-Z's place as a crossover artist, bridging the gap between East and South.

Texas hip-hop was again thrust onto the main stage again in the mid-2000s when artists such as Mike Jones, Slim Thug, and Paul Wall earned widespread recognition. Mike Jones made a massive impact with standout hits like "Back Then" and "Still Tippin'." These songs not only resonated with regional audiences but also cracked the Billboard Top 100, catapulting Mike Jones to national fame. 

Paul Wall's 2005 album The People's Champ solidified his status as a newcomer to be respected. The album boasted four successful singles, including "Sittin' Sidewayz" featuring Big Pokey, "They Don't Know," "Girl," and the collaboration "Drive Slow" with Kanye West and GLC. Both "Sittin' Sidewayz" and "Girl" received RIAA gold certifications, selling over 500,000 copies each. 

Less than half a decade later in Dallas, Dorrough made waves with his breakout single "Ice Cream Paint Job," which earned multiple accolades. The song peaked at No. 5 on Billboard's Hot Rap Songs chart in 2009, cementing Dorrough's place as a rising star nationally. Beyond its chart success, "Ice Cream Paint Job" also became a cultural staple that inspired a slew of spinoff freestyles — the most notable coming from Lil Wayne and his iconic mixtape No Ceilings.  

GRAMMY-winning Artists like Megan Thee Stallion and Travis Scott have kept Texas in the spotlight. In 2019, Megan made a significant impact with her ability to balance empowering lyricism with entertainment. Her hits like “Body” and “Cash S—” took over airwaves around the world, earning her widespread adoration, multiple awards, and a massive global fan base. Moreover, Megan and Beyonce’s “Savage Remix” propelled them to become the first women to win a GRAMMY for Best Rap Song in 2021. 

Originally from Missouri City, Texas, Scott blended various musical genres to create a distinctive sound that has attracted artists like Drake, Future, and more. His albums, including Rodeo, Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight, and ASTROWORLD received critical acclaim and commercial success. Scott’s elaborate live performances and ability to transcend traditional boundaries earned him a cult-like following and cemented his status as a top-tier artist internationally. 

Dallas-dwelling Nigerian American Tobe Nwigwe has carved an indelible niche within the industry with his extraordinary blend of hip-hop, soul, and gospel influences. His dynamic songs transcend conventional boundaries, fusing socially conscious lyrics with captivating melodies. Not to mention, his music videos are visual feasts characterized by vibrant aesthetics and compelling storytelling. For his efforts, Nwigwe was nominated for BestNew Artist at the 2023 GRAMMYs.

Major Promoters, Events & Festivals In Texas Hip-Hop

During the early 2010s, Austin-based concert promoters like ScoreMore Shows took the lead in organizing multi-city tours in Texas that featured then-up-and-coming artists such as J. Cole, Wiz Khalifa, and Big Sean. These tours provided budding rap artists with a precious chance to open for more established acts, gaining exposure and experience. 

In addition to ScoreMore, C3 Presents used and continues to use its Austin City Limits Festival to attract hundreds of thousands of attendees from across the country. 2014’s festival saw an unofficial farewell performance from Outkast — a show that many fans had been waiting years to see. In 2017, Jay-Z brought out hits spanning across his 20+ year career, demonstrating why he’s one of the most decorated GRAMMY winners. 

Every March, thousands of artists and fans from around the globe flock to Austin for SXSW, ready to experience a week’s worth of emerging talent. In 2009, Kid Cudi’s profile grew during Kanye West's Fader Fort show, where West shared the stage with his G.O.O.D. Music signees like Common, Consequence, and Erykah Badu. But it was Kudi who stole the spotlight. His vocals had been featured on West’s then-latest album, 808s & Heartbreak. Cudi mesmerized the audience with renditions of "Day 'N' Nite" and "Welcome To Heartbreak."

Odd Future arrived at the week-long festival in 2011 as one of the most talked about artists slated to perform. This momentum was fueled by their recent appearance on a Billboard cover and a performance on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon. The group commenced their Austin journey with a notable showcase at the mtvU Woodies. Odd Future’s popularity grew exponentially following their electrifying performance at the Fader Fort and several other showcases throughout the week. 

Iconic venues like the Mohawk, Antone's, Emos and Empire Control Room in Austin have become bustling centers for nurturing local hip-hop talent. The House of Blues in revered grounds for Houstonians, offering aspiring artists a coveted platform to showcase their talents and break into the music scene. Elsewhere in the city, Warehouse Live held one of Drake’s earliest concerts in 2009; he returned five years later for an intimate performance during Houston Appreciation Week. Dallas takes pride in venues like Trees, which have played a pivotal role in supporting and fostering emerging artists. San Antonio's Paper Tiger (formerly known as White Rabbit) has also been instrumental in providing a nurturing space for the city's up-and-comers. 

Because of Texas' variety of venues and festivals, the next generation of superstars found fertile ground to establish themselves, build fan bases, and keep Texas as a contributor to rap’s globalization.

Rising Artists In Texas Hip-Hop

As the state’s rap legacy thrives, a wave of talented artists emerges, poised and prepared to embrace the heritage bestowed upon them by their predecessors. There are frontrunners believed to be the next big sensation in every town, each of whom sits on the brink of stardom.

Maxo Kream: Hailing from Houston, Maxo Kream gained recognition for his raw and unfiltered portrayal of street life and the harsh realities of his upbringing. With a unique blend of Southern rap and trap influences, Kream often draws from personal experiences, reflecting on his past struggles and triumphs. His breakthrough came with the release of his 2018 mixtape Punken, which garnered critical acclaim. 

Monaleo: Monaleo's 2020 debut epitomized the essence of Texas. The Houston resident's infectious breakout track "Beating Down Yo Block," reverberated with unabashed energy. The song's clever use of samples from Yungstar, a fellow Houstonian, and his song "Knockin' Pictures Off The Wall" added a nostalgic touch. In 2023, she released her debut Where the Flowers Don’t Die

Magna Carda: Led by charismatic vocalist Megz Kelli and masterful producer Dougie Do as the, Austin's Magna Carda’s music transcends state lines. Kelli's vocals and soul-stirring storytelling blend seamlessly with Do's finely honed beats, creating a mesmerizing concoction of jazz, hip-hop, and neo-soul. Their performances are an immersive experience, captivating audiences from all walks of life. Their magnetic presence has earned them a devoted following across the country. 

That Mexican OT: Hailing from Houston, That Mexican OT showcases an impeccable blend of his Mexican heritage and the Southern flair that characterizes his hometown. Notably, he joined forces with the renowned Houston legend Paul Wall for a collaborative 2023 song "Johnny Dang." 

Riders Against the Storm: Composed of husband-and-wife duo Chaka and Qi Dada, Austin-based Riders Against the Storm (RAS) embraces themes of social justice, empowerment, and unity, resonating deeply with their diverse audience. Beyond their artistic contributions, RAS has been dedicated to community engagement and advocacy. They have actively supported various charitable causes, mentoring young artists, and using their platform to uplift marginalized voices.

The Future Of Texas Hip-Hop

No matter how popular its residents become, Texas will forever remain rooted in its humble beginnings. It’s inspiring to think that a community of rappers, DJs, executives, and producers turned a state that lacked immediate connections to major outlets into a global epicenter consistently birthing remarkable talent. 

But somewhere within the state’s lines is the next rap star who has yet to release their first song. Miles away, there’s a living legend who will never call another place home. The state will continue to adopt many and serve as a warm second home for out-of-town talent looking for a community dedicated to achieving notable status in hip-hop. 

Texas will undoubtedly remain revered and referenced in songs for decades to come due to the contributions of the aforementioned artists. While the future of its rap scene remains uncertain, whatever lies ahead will undoubtedly match the enormity of the state itself.

A Guide To Southern Hip-Hop: Definitive Releases, Artists & Subgenres From The Dirty South

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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.

15 LGBTQIA+ Artists Performing At 2024 Summer Festivals

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(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."

Why 2024 Is The Year Women In Country Music Will Finally Have Their Moment

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.

15 Must-Hear Albums In May 2024: Dua Lipa, Billie Eilish, Sia, Zayn & More

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.

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

 

Kirk Franklin performs at a Junteenth 2024 event in front of the White House in Washington D.C.
Kirk Franklin performs during a 2024 Junteenth Concert in front of the White House in Washington D.C.

Photo: Brendan Smialowski

list

5 Free Musical Events To Celebrate Juneteenth 2024: Juneteenth Village Fest, ACLT Summer Of Soul & More

On June 19, America will celebrate Juneteenth, the federal holiday commemorating the end of slavery in the United States. If you're looking for free musical events to attend, here's a cross section of what's happening around the nation.

GRAMMYs/Jun 18, 2024 - 01:18 pm

Juneteenth is the United States' newest federal holiday, and arguably its most overdue. On June 19, Americans of all colors and creeds will join together to celebrate the anniversary of the termination of legal slavery in the U.S., a milestone that was also long overdue in 1865, decades after many nations, including Great Britain, Denmark, and Mexico, had already abolished it. 

Black Americans have given the world a universe of musical genius, among countless other cultural contributions, and these nationwide celebrations will be filled with music.

No matter where you reside, a Juneteenth celebration is likely happening nearby. As a music lover on GRAMMY.com, you know that free events are always a treat. Accordingly, here's a list of free Juneteenth musical events scattered around the country — so you can move your body while celebrating the Black community.

Need a refresher on how Black music touches everything, everywhere? Check out these free programs — you just might learn something.

Wave Hill's Juneteenth Celebration

The Bronx, New York

All details here

If you're in New York City, plenty of Juneteenth celebrations are sure to abound — and one special one's up in the Bronx. At the well-known public garden Wave Hill, there'll be picnicking, artmaking, and of course, music. Check out a fantastic performance by the singer, dancer, actor, and educator Bahati Barton, followed by a dance performance by Jamel Gaines Creative Outlet. All ages are welcome; bring folding chairs and blankets and enjoy the show.

Manhattan Beach's 2024 Juneteenth Celebration & Concert

Manhattan Beach, California

All details here

This Juneteenth bash has a serious serving of live music for those of you on the westside of Los Angeles. From late morning into mid-afternoon, enjoy Charis Reese, DJ Slatterose, the Clayton Cameron Ensemble and more, while enjoying art, cuisine and more from Black-owned businesses. Indeed, Manhattan Beach will offer up something for everyone on this most important of days.

Juneteenth Village Fest

Chicago, Illinois

All details here

Chicago is one of the most important cities in Black American history and culture, and naturally, they do Juneteenth right. The lineup for Juneteenth Village Fest at Douglass Park is free and open to the public, but the lineup would be worth shelling out for: Common, Dead Prez and Domani headline, with additional performances by Bella Bahhs, Liz Toussaint, and more.

Juneteenth Freedom Fest

Seattle, Washington

All details here

Aptly staged at Jimi Hendrix Park up in Seattle, Juneteenth Freedom Fest will be the latest offering from the Summer of Soul Series. This event boasts more than 100 marketplace and food vendors, a plethora of family-friendly entertainment, community resources, and performances by Vic Daggs II, Zaina the Phenom, Ambient Village, and many more.

Black Music Month: Rhythms of Liberations from Juneteenth to Beyond

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

All details here

Leave it to Philly to throw a truly musical Juneteenth — and not stop there. The African American Museum in Philadelphia has programmed amazing events every Saturday from June 8 to 29, tipping its hat to Black genres — country, folk, R&B, neo-soul, and beyond — across a series of toe-tapping, instructive events.

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