meta-scriptEssential Hip-Hop Releases From The 1990s: Snoop Dogg, Digable Planets, Jay-Z & More | GRAMMY.com
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Essential Hip-Hop Releases From The 1990s: Snoop Dogg, Digable Planets, Jay-Z & More

In the '90s, hip-hop officially left the underground for full commercial fanfare. During hip-hop's golden age, rappers were multifaceted in their flow and lyrics, creating music that is now legendary.

GRAMMYs/Jul 14, 2023 - 02:11 pm

Three decades ago, hip-hop made a turn from the underground to commercial fanfare. The eclectic sensibilities of the 1980s created space for artists of all stripes, leading to the golden age of hip-hop, and releases that are now considered an integral part of the genre's canon. By the 1990s hip-hop was a chart-topping entity and enterprise, where artists were popularized through streetwear campaigns and brand deals.

In this decade, rappers were multifaceted in their flow and lyrics — whether rugged and hard-spitting, or poetic and fervently expressive. Artists like psychedelic hip-hop group De La Soul, salacious femcee Lil' Kim and Atlanta heavy-hitters Outkast expanded rap’s palette. Beats ranged from synthetic to weighty 808 drum patterns, all which redefined the genre’s 20-year presence. 

Hip-hop chronicled truth and fantasy, providing listeners both deeply resonant and vividly divergent soundtrack whose influence continues to be felt. Decades later, records released in the 1990s are legend, and many of them appeared on the 65th GRAMMY Awards stage in a massive tribute to hip-hop.Here are 10 signature albums that bridged the golden age and the digital era of hip-hop.

De La Soul - De La Soul Is Dead (1991)

By 1991, conscious hip-hop pioneers De La Soul were over the "D.A.I.S.Y. Age" introduced on their seminal debut album 3 Feet High and Rising. The Long Island trio, composed of Posdnuos, Maseo and the late Trugoy the Dove jazzed up their sound on sophomore effort De La Soul Is Dead, marking a radical transition from hip-hop "hippies" to earnest rhymesayers. 

Posdnous and Trugoy melded simple production (courtesy of Prince Paul) with complex bars on "Pease Porridge," and also explored the traumas of sexual molestation through metaphor on "Millie Pulled a Pistol on Santa." Although De La Soul Is Dead received mixed reviews, the LP was one of the first albums to earn a five-mic rating in hip-hop publication The Source. "Still progressing and proud of it, De La has successfully escaped being trapped in the sophomore jinx with grooves that are harder than a brick wall," the throwback review reads.

With De La Soul Is Dead, the group, whose back catalog just arrived on digital music services in March, evaded the dreaded sophomore slump and cemented their place in hip-hop history.

Snoop Dogg- Doggystyle (1993)

After Calvin Broadus — then performing under the moniker Snoop Doggy Dogg —  released his breakthrough album Doggystyle, West Coast rap was never the same. Playing on inspirations from classic Blaxploitation films and early funk pioneers, Snoop kept his posture smooth while rhyming over beats from Dr. Dre (who also discovered the Long Beach native), and welcomed fellow then-newcomers like The Lady of Rage, Tha Dogg Pound, Warren G and RBX as features.

Giving listeners "just a small introduction to the G-Funk era," Snoop helped usher  in a soul-laden gangsta rap  sound that stood in distinct contrast  to the East Coast’s grittiness and jazz influence. The iconic "Gin and Juice" and "Who Am I (What’s My Name?)" have long been summertime cookout staples, while the eerie "Murder Was the Case" preceded Snoop being acquitted of murder just three years later. Now a 16-time GRAMMY nominee, Doggystyle marked Snoop’s debut as a hip-hop elite.

A Tribe Called Quest - Midnight Marauders (1993)

Three albums into their career, A Tribe Called Quest didn’t let up on Midnight Marauders. The Queens-bred group, which included Q-Tip, the late Phife Dawg, Ali Shaheed Muhammad (and occasional member Jarobi White) flaunted their lyricism and expansive musical knowledge  on the 1993 release, which was navigated by a robotic "tour guide."

Q-Tip and Phife’s wordplay is nimble throughout the album, but truly spotlighted on the Trugoy the Dove-assisted "Award Tour," the amorous "Electric Relaxation" and "The Chase, Pt. II." "8 Million Stories" and "Midnight" were solo moments for Phife Dawg and Q-Tip, respectively, each who had brushed up their penmanship since ATCQ’s 1991 reinvention on The Low End Theory. Both atmospheric and imaginative, Midnight Marauders showcased ATCQ’s range as a progressive hip-hop act.

Digable Planets - Blowout Comb (1994)

Jazz rap trio Digable Planets maintained their cool just one year after winning a GRAMMY Award for Best Rap Performance By A Duo Or Group. In 1994, Ishmael "Butter Fly" Butler, Mariana "Ladybug Mecca" Vieira and Craig "Doodlebug" Irving followed with Blowout Comb, their second and final studio album. With a minimalist approach, Digable Planets trekked through urban and Afrocentric themes soundtracked by live instrumentation and spoken word.

Emotionally stirring and thematic, "Black Ego" saw Digable Planets tackling economic injustices and Black nationalism with nods to Blaxploitation films Cleopatra Jones and Superfly. The group asserted their refusal to go commercial on laidback earworm "Jettin." Seventies slang and references to New York City boroughs floated throughout Blowout Comb, and although singles "9th Wonder (Blackitolism)" and "Dial 7 (Axioms of Creamy Spies)" didn’t chart, the album reintroduced Digable Planets in their most authentic form and reached No. 32 on the Billboard 200.

2Pac - Me Against the World (1995)

With an awareness unrivaled by his  contemporaries, Tupac Shakur's penultimate album, Me Against the World, exploredhis complexities. By March 1995, the rapper had served one month in prison on sexual abuse charges, and had used his previous year of freedom to record arguably the most poignant LP of his lifetime.

On the titular track, Shakur examined impoverished Black communities and morbid thoughts of mortality. A sample of Stevie Wonder’s "That Girl" textures "So Many Tears," where 2Pac vocalizes music industry woes, his depression and even predicts an early death. "Dear Mama," (which inspired the FX docuseries of the same name), was 2Pac’s dedication to mother and former Black Panther Party member Afeni Shakur; it became the third song by a rap act to be placed in the Library of Congress.

The latter song and Me Against the World would both earn Shakur his first GRAMMY nominations. While he didn't win, both are masterpieces that signaled the rapper’s coming-of-age.

Jay-Z - Reasonable Doubt (1996)

Jay-Z gave a solid lyrical offering on his 1996 debut. A landmark album on the now-defunct Roc-A-Fella Records, the 14-track Reasonable Doubt brought mafioso and luxury rap into the ring, as Jay-Z gave semi-autobiographical tales of street life.

On "Feelin’ It," the Brooklyn rapper boasts his riches and opulent lifestyle, while the Issac Hayes-sampling "Can I Live" explores the close calls that the hustle brings. Hov’s stream-of-conscious flow highlighted production from the likes of Ski Beatz, DJ Premier and Clark Kent. 

Reasonable Doubt predicted Jay-Z’s thriving future without a doubt, as he’s since taken hip-hop’s throne as a coveted 24-time GRAMMY-winning artist (in addition to 88 nominations).

Lil’ Kim - Hard Core (1996)

Brooklynite Lil’ Kim carved out space for risque rap on her 1996 solo breakout Hard Core. Less than six months after the murder of her mentor the Notorious B.I.G., the former Junior M.A.F.I.A. member achieved solo commercial success for her provocative lyricism and appearance. Whereas many of her contemporaries adopted a more androgynous style, Lil’ Kim played up her sex appeal onstage and on record.  

The raunchy "Big Momma Thang," which samples 1978 Sylvester deep cut "Was It Something That I Said," shows Lil Kim’s allyship with queer listeners. Lil’ Kim asserted her hood dominance on "No Time," while flaunting her affection for being classily "draped in diamonds and pearls." Although Hard Core was Moderately received, Lil’ Kim’s rap successors —Doja Cat, Megan Thee Stallion and Cardi B — would later speak highly of the Queen Bee’s NSFW magnetism. Nearly 30 years later, contemporary women in hip-hop continue to strive for Lil’ Kim’s unapologetic influence.

Missy Elliott - Supa Dupa Fly (1997)

Hip-hop hadn’t witnessed fly until Missy "Misdemeanor" Elliott stepped onto the scene. The Virginia-born rapper and singer/songwriter had once been a part of R&B group Sista before partnering with producer Timbaland. The two both wrote and produced almost the entirety of Aaliyah’s 1996 album One In A Million. By the late ‘90s, Elliott’s pen was in demand, giving her the confidence to share her unconventional sound and look as a solo act.

Her 1997 debut, Supa Dupa Fly, redefined what it meant to be a woman in rap. Over Timbaland's bass-thumping production, Elliott went full-on futuristic. She humorously teased her sexuality on the audacious "Sock It 2 Me," while the bouncy "The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)" sampled Memphis soul vocalist Ann Peebles with peculiar lyrics like "my finger waves these days, they fall like Humpty." 

Two decades before being inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and receiving the Black Music Collective's Recording Academy Honors award, Elliott took the rap world by storm. Ahead of its time yet heralded, Supa Dupa Fly and Elliott’s one of a kind style showed the artist’s peers and successors how to be creative anomalies.

Outkast - Aquemini (1998)

The South had something to say on Outkast’s third album Aquemini. The duo of André 3000 and Big Boi asserted their southern charm and immaculate rhyme schemes on the 16-track album that catapulted them to stardom. As the two rappers perfected their individualism, Aquemini also showed 3000 and Big Boi seamlessly meshing their styles together.

More spacey than their sophomore album ATLiens, Outkast doubled up on their down home twang on the funky (but controversial) "Rosa Parks." The two questioned reality from dystopian technology on the surreal "Synthesizer" with P-Funk legend George Clinton. Listeners can visualize a juke joint scene on the reggae-tinged "SpottieOttieDopaliscious," where 3000 and Big Boi intertwine tales of a violent nightclub encounter and a cursed romance. 

Aquemini ushered a turn in Dirty South hip-hop, where the region gained national respect for its storytelling, realism and unique flow.

Dr. Dre - 2001 (1999)

Super producer and rapper Dr. Dre brought out the all-stars on his 1999 sophomore solo album 2001. The LP reunited the now seven-time GRAMMY-winner with his prodigies Snoop Dogg, Eminem, Xzibit, Nate Dogg and Kurupt, while ushering in a new age of West Coast rap. Seven years after his groundbreaking debut album The Chronic, the former N.W.A. member was "Still D.R.E."

On the aforementioned track, written entirely by Jay-Z, Dr. Dre flexed his near 15-year impact in hip-hop. "The Watcher" detailed the Compton native reaching music industry plateaus despite paranoia of "a new era of gangstas." Strip club anthem "The Next Episode" harkened back to Dre and Snoop’s "Nuthin’ But A 'G' Thang," while "Let’s Get High" captured a raunchy house party. On 2001, now certified 6x platinum, Dr. Dre was at his most carefree while setting the bar high for a new generation of hip-hop.

Essential Hip-Hop Releases From The 1980s: Slick Rick, RUN-D.M.C., De La Soul & More

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

Photo: Theo Wargo/Getty Images for Coachella

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

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

GRAMMYs/May 20, 2024 - 03:10 pm

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

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

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

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

J. Cole Apologized To Kendrick Lamar

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

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

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

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

SiR Spoke Candidly About Depression & Sobriety

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

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

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

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

Big Sean Educated His Audience About Anxiety & Depression 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Joe Budden Opens Up About His Darkest Times 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eminem Got Honest About Depression While In Rehab

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

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

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

Logic Sparked Change With A Number

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

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

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

Kid Cudi Opened Up About Suicidal Urges 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rico Wade
Rico Wade at The Dungeon II Studios in Atlanta, Georgia in 2002.

Photo: Julia Beverly/Getty Images

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Remembering Producer Rico Wade, Helped Define The Sound Of Southern Hip-Hop

Rico Wade, legendary producer and one-third of Organized Noize, who helped forge the sound of Atlanta hip-hop and propelled artists like OutKast, Ludacris, and TLC to fame, has died at 52.

GRAMMYs/Apr 17, 2024 - 08:08 pm

Hip-hop has lost another legend. Rico Wade, an integral part of the bedrock of Southern hip-hop, the godfather of modern Atlanta rap, and one-third of the production crew Organized Noize with Patrick "Sleepy" Brown and Ray Murray, has died. He was 52. 

Wade was a force that helped launch the careers of OutKast, Goodie Mob, Ludacris, and Future, and produced and co-wrote hits for artists including TLC's "Waterfalls," as part of a mid-'90s Southern hip-hop renaissance. The epicenter of this revolution was the Dungeon, his mother's basement in East Point, Georgia. The location built a reputation as a haven for Dungeon Family artists like André "André 3000" Benjamin and Antwan "Big Boi" Patton among a generation of ATL creatives formulating their own flavor of Southern rap. 

"We're deeply saddened by the passing of Rico Wade, one of Atlanta’s most prolific music producers," said Recording Academy CEO Harvey Mason jr. "Rico's influential contributions to the Atlanta music scene beginning in the 1990s helped foster the rise of some of hip-hop’s most prominent artists and played a pivotal role in shaping the genre as we know it today. Our hearts go out to his family, friends, and all those whose lives he influenced.” 

Wade was nominated for two GRAMMYs during his lifetime including Record Of The Year for TLC's "Waterfalls" and Album Of The Year for OutKast's Stankonia. 

“Rico left an indelible mark on music and culture around the world and for that, the South will always have something to say,” said Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens in an issued statement echoing the famous battle cry of André 3000's 1995 Source Awards Best New Artist acceptance speech

It's been more than 30 years since OutKast dropped their first-ever single "Player's Ball" in 1993 and on that track Wade's voice is the first. He sets the tone for the legendary duo's entire career and Southern hip-hop at the same time with the introduction: "Man, the scene was so thick/ Lowriders, '77 Sevilles, El Dogs/ Nothin' but them 'Lacs/ All the players, all the hustlers/ I'm talkin' 'bout a Black man heaven here/ You know what I'm sayin'?"

"Rico Wade brought us to his house studio, where I heard the most interesting music production I'd ever heard from Atlanta," André 3000 told the Recording Academy in a 2019 interview reflecting on his experience working on OutKast's debut album Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik. "It was Rico, Ray, and Sleepy's vision to make sure [OutKast would put] Southern lifestyle first. I was just playing my part the best I could."

Outkast's Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik would go on to sell 500,000 records and became certified platinum within a year. "When we were working on the OutKast vibe, even though there were two members in the group, we all considered ourselves OutKast at the time — including all of Organized Noize and the Goodie Mob members who appeared on the album," Murray told the Recording Academy in 2019. 

Read more: OutKast Examine Their Southern Experience On 'Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik'

Organized Noize signed a publishing deal with L.A. Reid and Babyface's label LaFace Records in 1993, setting the foundation for their work on OutKast's seminal "Player's Ball" single. It was a lasting connection that would serve the rest of Wade's career.  

Wade would continue to work with Reid during Reid's tenure as chairman and CEO of Epic Records from 2013 to 2017, building a hub for hip-hop artists at the label including Wade's cousin, Atlanta rapper Future. Future would become the first artist ever on the Billboard charts to debut back-to-back albums at No. 1 with his 2017 release HNDRXX. In March, Future and Metro Boomin jointly released another No.1 album, We Don’t Trust You

Wade nurtured Future's talents through his Dungeon connects. The two didn't meet until Future was well into his teens, but once they did Wade quickly put his cousin's clear drive and talent to use, introducing him to the Dungeon Family and bringing him into the studio to work on in-house production projects including Ludacris' "Blueberry Yum Yum" (Red Light District), which earned Future a songwriting credit in 2004.

“That's how he ended up writing the record for Ludacris, becoming part of a group that could make music, and getting a record deal,” Wade told Complex in 2013. “It showed him that the music industry money is real."

Inspired by his cousin, Future studied the industry through the in-roads made by Wade. “I took everything I learned from him and applied it to my everyday craft from being in the studio,” Future told Complex. "Just knowing how to feel records so I know how to make songs and write for people to keep around and go to the next level.” His devotion to Wade's tutelage and legacy is apparent in the Olde English script tattooed across his arms that matches Wade's own markings — "DUNGEON" appears on the right and "FAMILY" on the left. 

Killer Mike, a constant collaborator who worked with Wade on his latest album Michael which swept the 2024 GRAMMYs rap categories with three wins for Best Rap Album, Best Rap Song, and Best Rap Performance, announced Wade's passing in an Instagram post on Sunday. "I don't have the words to express my deep and profound sense of loss. I am Praying for your wife and Children. I am praying for the Wade family. I am praying for us all," Killer Mike wrote. "I deeply appreciate your acceptance into The Dungeon Family, mentorship, Friendship and Brotherhood. Idk where I would be without ya'll." 

How 1994 Changed The Game For Hip-Hop

A black-and-white photo of pioneering rap group Run-DMC
Run-DMC

Photo: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

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'Run-DMC' At 40: The Debut Album That Paved The Way For Hip-Hop's Future

Forty years ago, Run-DMC released their groundbreaking self-titled album, which would undeniably change the course of hip-hop. Here's how three guys from Queens, New York, defined what it meant to be "old school" with a record that remains influential.

GRAMMYs/Mar 27, 2024 - 03:49 pm

"You don't know that people are going to 40 years later call you up and say, ‘Can you talk about this record from 40 years ago?’"

That was Cory Robbins, former president of Profile Records, reaction to speaking to Grammy.com about one of the first albums his then-fledgling label released. Run-DMC’s self-titled debut made its way into the world four decades ago this week on March 27, 1984 and established the group, in Robbins’ words, "the Beatles of hip-hop." 

Rarely in music, or anything else, is there a clear demarcation between old and new. Styles change gradually, and artistic movements usually get contextualized, and often even named, after they’ve already passed from the scene. But Run-DMC the album, and the singles that led up to it, were a definitive breaking point. Rap before it instantly, and eternally, became “old school.” And three guys from Hollis, Queens — Joseph "Run" Simmons, Jason "Jam Master Jay" Mizell, Darryl "D.M.C." McDaniels — helped turn a burgeoning genre on its head.

What exactly was different about Run-DMC? Some of the answers can be glimpsed by a look at the record’s opening song. "Hard Times" is a cover of a Kurtis Blow track from his 1980 debut album. The connection makes sense. Kurtis and Run’s older brother Russell Simmons met in college, and Russell quickly became the rapper’s manager. That led to Run working as Kurtis’ DJ. Larry Smith, who produced Run-DMC, even played on Kurtis’ original version of the song.

But despite those tie-ins, the two takes on "Hard Times" are night and day. Kurtis Blow’s is exactly what rap music was in its earliest recorded form: a full band playing something familiar (in this case, a James Brown-esque groove, bridge and percussion breakdown inclusive.)

What Run-DMC does with it is entirely different. The song is stripped down to its bare essence. There’s a drum machine, a sole repeated keyboard stab, vocals, and… well, that’s about it. No solos, no guitar, no band at all. Run and DMC are trading off lines in an aggressive near-shout. It’s simple and ruthlessly effective, a throwback to the then-fading culture of live park jams. But it was so starkly different from other rap recordings of the time, which were pretty much all in the style of Blow’s record, that it felt new and vital.

"Production-wise, Sugar Hill [the record label that released many key early rap singles] built themselves on the model of Motown, which is to say, they had their own production studios and they had a house band and they recorded on the premises," explains Bill Adler, who handled PR for Run-DMC and other key rap acts at the time.

"They made magnificent records, but that’s not how rap was performed in parks," he continues. "It’s not how it was performed live by the kids who were actually making the music."

Run-DMC’s musical aesthetic was, in some ways, a lucky accident. Larry Smith, the musician who produced the album, had worked with a band previously. In fact, the reason two of the songs on the album bear the subtitle "Krush Groove" is because the drum patterns are taken from his band Orange Krush’s song “Action.”

Read more: Essential Hip-Hop Releases From The 1970s: Kurtis Blow, Grandmaster Flash, Sugarhill Gang & More

But by the time sessions for Run-DMC came around, the money had run out and, despite his desire to have the music done by a full band, Smith was forced to go without them and rely on a drum machine. 

His artistic partner on the production side was Russell Simmons. Simmons, who has been accused over the past seven years of numerous instances of sexual assault dating back decades, was back in 1983-4 the person providing the creative vision to match Smith’s musical knowledge.

Orange Krush’s drummer Trevor Gale remembered the dynamic like this (as quoted in Geoff Edgers’ Walk This Way: Run-DMC, Aerosmith, and the Song that Changed American Music Forever): “Larry was the guy who said, 'Play four bars, stop on the fifth bar, come back in on the fourth beat of the fifth bar.' Russell was the guy that was there that said, ‘I don’t like how that feels. Make it sound like mashed potato with gravy on it.’”

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It wasn’t just the music that set Run-DMC apart from its predecessors. Their look was also starkly different, and that influenced everything about the group, including the way their audience viewed them.

Most of the first generation of recorded rappers were, Bill Adler remembers, influenced visually by either Michael Jackson or George Clinton and Parliament-Funkadelic. Run-DMC was different.

"Their fashion sense was very street oriented," Adler explains. "And that was something that emanated from Jam Master Jay. Jason just always had a ton of style. He got a lot of his sartorial style from his older brother, Marvin Thompson. Jay looked up to his older brother and kind of dressed the way that Marvin did, including the Stetson hat. 

"When Run and D told Russ, Jason is going to be our deejay, Russell got one look at Jay and said, ‘Okay, from now on, you guys are going to dress like him.’"

Run, DMC, and Jay looked like their audience. That not only set them apart from the costumed likes of Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, it also cemented the group’s relationship with their listeners. 

"When you saw Run-DMC, you didn’t see celebrity. You saw yourself," DMC said in the group’s recent docuseries

Read more: 20 Iconic Hip-Hop Style Moments: From Run-D.M.C. To Runways

Another thing that set Run-DMC (the album) and Run-DMC (the group) apart from what came before was the fact that they released a cohesive rap album. Nine songs that all belonged together, not just a collection of already-released singles and some novelties. Rappers had released albums prior to Run-DMC, but that’s exactly what they were: hits and some other stuff — sung love ballads or rock and roll covers, or other experiments rightfully near-forgotten.

"There were a few [rap] albums [at the time], but they were pretty crappy. They were usually just a bunch of singles thrown together," Cory Robbins recalls.

Not this album. It set a template that lasted for years: Some social commentary, some bragging, a song or two to show off the DJ. A balance of records aimed at the radio and at the hard-core fans. You can still see traces of Run-DMC in pretty much every rap album released today.

Listeners and critics reacted. The album got a four-star review in Rolling Stone with “the music…that backs these tracks is surprisingly varied, for all its bare bones” and an A minus from Robert Christgau who claimed “It's easily the canniest and most formally sustained rap album ever.” Just nine months after its release, Run-DMC was certified gold, the first rap LP ever to earn that honor. "Rock Box" also single-handedly invented rap-rock, thanks to Eddie Martinez’s loud guitars. 

There is another major way in which the record was revolutionary. The video for "Rock Box" was the first rap video to ever get into regular rotation on MTV and, the first true rap video ever played on the channel at all, period. Run-DMC’s rise to MTV fame represented a significant moment in breaking racial barriers in mainstream music broadcasting. 

"There’s no overstating the importance of that video," Adler tells me. vIt broke through the color line at MTV and opened the door to a cataclysmic change." 

"Everybody watched MTV forty years ago," Robbins agrees. "It was a phenomenal thing nationwide. Even if we got three or four plays a week of ‘Rock Box’ on MTV, that did move the needle."

All of this: the new musical style, the relatable image, the MTV pathbreaking, and the attendant critical love and huge sales (well over 10 times what their label head was expecting when he commissioned the album from a reluctant Russell Simmons — "I hoping it would sell thirty or forty thousand," Robbins says now): all of it contributed to making Run-DMC what it is: a game-changer.

"It was the first serious rap album," Robbins tells me. And while you could well accuse him of bias — the group making an album at all was his idea in the first place — he’s absolutely right. 

Run-DMC changed everything. It split the rap world into old school and new school, and things would never be the same.

Perhaps the record’s only flaw is one that wouldn’t be discovered for years. As we’re about to get off the phone, Robbins tells me about a mistake on the cover, one he didn’t notice until the record was printed and it was too late. 

There was something (Robbins doesn’t quite recall what) between Run and DMC in the cover photo. The art director didn’t like it and proceeded to airbrush it out. But he missed something. On the vinyl, if you look between the letters "M" and "C,", you can see DMC’s disembodied left hand, floating ghost-like in mid-air. While it was an oversight, it’s hard not to see this as a sign, a sort of premonition that the album itself would hang over all of hip-hop, with an influence that might be hard to see at first, but that never goes away. 

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Megan Thee Stallion (Center) and (from L to R:) J-Hope, Jin, Jungkook, V, RM, Suga, and Jimin of BTS attend the 64th Annual GRAMMY Awards at MGM Grand Garden Arena on April 03, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Megan Thee Stallion (Center) and (from L to R:) J-Hope, Jin, Jungkook, V, RM, Suga, and Jimin of BTS attend the 64th Annual GRAMMY Awards at MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada on April 03, 2022.

Photo: Emma McIntyre/Getty Images for The Recording Academy

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9 Essential K-Pop/Western Collabs: From BTS And Megan Thee Stallion, To IVE And Saweetie

From Jungkook and Usher's tribute to their shared musical idol, to BLACKPINK and Selena Gomez' sugary sweet collab, K-pop and Western artists of all genres are joining forces to create killer hits.

GRAMMYs/Feb 27, 2024 - 02:12 pm

It’s impossible to ignore the growing global popularity of K-pop. Although Korean pop has been around for decades, the genre's meteoric worldwide success over the past 10 years is reminiscent of Beatlemania and the early 2000s American boy band craze. With a steady increase year-over-year in album sales and K-pop groups touring the U.S. and Europe, interest in K-pop shows no signs of slowing down.

Initially launched in South Korea as a music subgenre with Western pop, R&B and hip-hop influences in the '90s, the K-pop industry is valued at around $10 billion.

Given the worldwide appetite for K-pop, several Western musicians are keen to partner with K-pop acts crossing over into more international markets, often with songs sung partially or entirely in English. While K-pop artists do not need Western artists to be successful — BTS sold out London’s Wembley stadium in under 90 minutes back in 2019, and BLACKPINK made Coachella history twice with performances in 2019 and 2023 — K-pop's massive fanbase and multi-genre influence make it an ideal collaboration for everyone from rappers and singers to electronic DJs.

But don’t take our word for it. Here are nine of the most iconic K-Pop/Western collaborations (not in any order; they are all great songs!).

Usher and Jungkook - "Standing Next to You (Usher Remix)" (2024)

The maknae (the youngest member of the group) of global K-pop superstars BTS and the King of R&B are both having banner years: Jungkook released his debut solo album, and Usher just performed at the Super Bowl

The Bangtan Boys have cited Usher as a significant influence (even singing a callback to his 2001 hit "U Got It Bad" in their No. 1 song, "Butter"), so BTS fans were delighted when the Jungkook tapped Usher for a remix of "Standing Next to You." The song marks the fourth single from his Billboard 200 chart-topping debut album, Golden

Both singers count Michael Jackson as a major influence. In their collaboration video, Usher and Jungkook pay tribute to the King of Pop as they slide, pop, and lock across the slick floor of an abandoned warehouse. 

John Legend and Wendy of Red Velvet - "Written in the Stars" (2018)

R&B singer/pianist John Legend was the perfect choice for an R&B ballad with Wendy, the main vocalist of K-pop quintet Red Velvet. The final song on the five-track SM Station x 0, a digital music project, "Written in the Stars," is a beautiful, mid-tempo love song. A bit of a departure from K-pop’s typical upbeat sound, Wendy and Legend are in perfect harmony over a warm yet melancholic rhythm.

As Red Velvet’s main vocalist, Wendy was the ideal voice for this collaboration. Additionally, she split her childhood between Canada and the U.S., and has been comfortable singing in English since Red Velvet debuted in 2014. This wasn't her first collab with a Western artist: In 2017, she released an English-language version of the pop ballad "Vente Pa’Ca" with Ricky Martin

BLACKPINK and Selena Gomez - "Ice Cream" (2020)

A powerhouse debut single, BLACKPINK collaborated with pop royalty Selena Gomez on the massive 2020 hit "Ice Cream."

An electropop-bubblegum fusion filled with dairy double entendres, "Ice Cream" was an enormous success for both Gomez and the BLACKPINK girls. The track peaked at No. 13 on the Billboard Hot 100 and has racked up nearly 900 million YouTube views to date. 

Written by a consortium of hitmakers, including Ariana Grande and BLACKPINK’s longtime songwriter and producer Teddy Park (a former K-pop idol himself), "Ice Cream" shows that YG Entertainment’s golden foursome and Gomez were the correct partnership for this track. The pop-trap bop marked the first time a K-pop girl group broke the Top 20 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and immediately solidified BLACKPINK as global superstars. 

Snoop Dogg and Monsta X - "How We Do" (2022)

West Coast rap godfather Snoop Dogg has quietly become one of the go-to Western acts for K-pop collabs, working with Psy, BTS, Girls’ Generation and 2NE1. K-pop is the Dogg Father's "guilty pleasure," and he performed at the Mnet Asian Music Awards with Dr. Dre in 2011. Without Snoop's love of K-pop, the world might not have gotten this fun and energetic collaboration with Snoop and Monsta X, a five-member boy group under Starship Entertainment.

The song appears in The Spongebob Movie: Sponge On The Run in a dance segment where Snoop, decked out in a pink and purple Western suit, is accompanied by zombie dancers. Though we do not see the members of Monsta X, their harmonious crooning is the perfect accent to Snoop Dogg’s trademark casual West Coast flow.

BTS and Steven Aoki - "MIC Drop (Steve Aoki remix)" (2017)

No K-pop list is complete with a nod to the magnificent seven, and "MIC Drop" is one of their catchiest Western collabs to date. 

"Mic Drop" is quintessential BTS: a nod to hip-hop with a heavy bass line and fun choreography. While the original version of "MIC Drop" is excellent, the remix with EDM superstar DJ Steve Aoki and rapper Desiigner cracked the Top 40 on the Billboard Hot 100 — the first of many hits for the Bulletproof Boy Scouts. 

Released at a time when BTS were just starting their ascent to chart-topping Western dominance, the track's boastful lyrics and tension-building electro-trap production offered an excellent introduction to the group that would soon become international superstars. 

JYJ, Kanye West and Malik Yusef - "Ayyy Girl" (2010)

A truly deep K-pop cut, you’d be hard-pressed to find many people who know that Kanye West collaborated with a first-generation K-pop group over 13 years ago. Released as the lead single on JYJ’s English-language album The Beginning, West’s signature bravado and wordplay are on full display over a track that sounds like the Neptunes produced it.

The song garnered attention in the U.S., but after a string of bad luck (including a severely delayed U.S. visa process and issues with their management company, SM Entertainment), JYJ could not capitalize on their American success. The group continued to see success in Korea and Japan in the early 2010s but never made a splash in the Western market again.

IVE and Saweetie - "All Night" (2024)

A reimagining of Icona Pop’s 2013 song of the same name, "All Night," sees fourth-generation K-pop girl group IVE partner with rap’s resident glamor girl Saweetie for a funky, electronic-infused pop song that’s perfect for dancing from dusk till dawn. 

"All Night" is the first English song for the Starship Entertainment-backed group. Interestingly, none of the members of IVE have individual lines in the song, choosing instead to sing the lyrics in a six-part harmony. This choice is exciting but fun, giving listeners the feeling that they are more than welcome to sing along. 

The girl group embarked on their first 24-date world tour in January 2024, with stops in the U.S., Asia, Europe and South America. Given their quest for global dominance, there’s a good chance "All Night" won’t be IVE's last English-language release.

BTS and Megan Thee Stallion - "Butter (Remix)" (2021)

BTS’ "Butter" had already spent three weeks atop the Billboard charts and was declared the "song of the summer" when the group’s label announced Houston rapper Megan Thee Stallion as the guest star for the song’s remix in late August 2021. The GRAMMY-nominated septet is no stranger to collaborating with Western musicians, having worked with Halsey, Jason Derulo, and Coldplay

Though only slightly altered from the original (Megan’s verse was added in place of the song’s second original verse, along with several ad-libs), the remix was praised by both fans and critics alike, catapulting the song’s return back to the No. 1. Although the collaborators did not release a new music video featuring the group and the self-proclaimed "Hot Girl Coach," three members of BTS’ "dance line" (members J-Hope, Jungkook and Jimin) released a specially choreographed dance video. Additionally, Megan was a surprise guest during BTS’ record-breaking Permission to Dance LA concert in November of the same year.

LE SSERAFIM and Niles Rodgers - "Unforgiven" (2023)

GRAMMY Lifetime Achievement Award recipient Nile Rodgers' first foray into K-pop was a partnership with LE SSERAFIM, a fourth-gen girl group from the same parent company behind BTS. "Unforgiven" was released earlier this year as the lead single from the group’s debut album of the same name. 

A darker take on the familiar K-pop formula with A Western feel and look (the young quintuplet dons cowboy hats, boots and bolo ties in the song’s accompanying music video), "Unforgiven" is about rebellion and being a fierce, strong and independent risk taker. That riskiness drew Rodgers' ear. 

"It seems like a lot of the K-pop that I'm hearing lately, the…chord changes are a lot more interesting than what's been happening [in other music fields] over the last few years," he told GRAMMY.com in 2023. "I come from a jazz background, so to hear chord changes like that is really cool. They’re not afraid, which is great to me."

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