meta-scriptSongbook: How Jay-Z Created The 'Blueprint' For Rap's Greatest Of All Time | GRAMMY.com
Jay-Z Songbook Hero
(L-R): Jay-Z in 2011, 2003, 1999 and 2021.

Photos (L-R): Ethan Miller/WireImage, James Devaney/WireImage, Jeff Goode/Toronto Star via Getty Images, Kevin Kane/Getty Images for The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

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Songbook: How Jay-Z Created The 'Blueprint' For Rap's Greatest Of All Time

From groundbreaking albums to star-studded collaborations, Jay-Z's discography has made the rap mogul one of the genre's biggest icons.

GRAMMYs/Jun 22, 2023 - 03:38 pm

As Jay-Z declared in 2001's "Breathe Easy," few rappers stack up when it comes to his flow, consistency, stories, charisma, and trendsetting powers — and he's backed up his claims for three decades on.

The Brooklyn rapper has cranked out chart-topping hits and street anthems across classic albums like The Blueprint and The Black Album, and he's inspired generations of rappers to take on his pen-free approach to music. But long before becoming a hip-hop icon, the young Shawn Carter first honed his musical gifts by rapping over a boombox in his childhood home in Bed-Stuy's Marcy Projects.

Nicknamed "Jazzy" for his love of music, Jay-Z split his time between exploring his newfound passion and dealing crack cocaine as a teenager. After linking with childhood friend and then-mentor Jaz-O, he adopted the moniker "Jay-Z" in the late 1980s, and eventually captivated hip-hop fans on the posse cut "Show and Prove" from Big Daddy Kane's 1994 album Daddy's Home. That moment led to the eventual release of his own single, 1995's "In My Lifetime," and the years that followed served as the coronation of one of rap's biggest stars.

After being rejected from major record labels, Jay linked with fellow New Yorkers Damon "Dame" Dash and Kareem "Biggs" Burke to establish Roc-A-Fella Records in 1996. He soon went from being an up-and-coming artist selling burned CDs out of his car to producing multi-platinum singles and No. 1 albums. 

His greatness has earned him 24 GRAMMYs to date — tied with Kanye West for the most of any rapper — and a spot in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. And with a billion-dollar business empire to match his acclaimed discography, Jay-Z has long been declared one of the greatest MCs ever. 

As he continues his rap reign, revisit some of Hov's most illustrious career moments, from memorable performances to groundbreaking album releases and legacy-defining accolades. 

Listen to GRAMMY.com's official Songbook: An Essential Guide To Jay-Z playlist on Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon Music, and Pandora. Playlist powered by GRAMMY U.

THE RISE

"Hawaiian Sophie" (1989)

A fresh-faced, hi-top faded Jay made one of his earliest appearances on wax with "Hawaiian Sophie." The 1989 record was a modest and playful hit by childhood friend Jaz-O, who let Jay contribute a few lines on the island-themed track.

Though Jay's presence was minor, he put a face to a relatively unknown name by popping up throughout the song's luau-style video. Years later, he gained the attention of legendary Brooklyn rapper Big Daddy Kane, who brought Jay on as a hype man before he broke out as a solo act and formed a more calculated, sharp-tongued lyrical style. 

Reasonable Doubt (1996)

Taking inspiration from classic films like The Godfather and Goodfellas, Jay-Z showcased his lyrical potency and storytelling ability on his critically acclaimed debut, Reasonable Doubt, in mafioso fashion. The album was the manifesto of a 26-year-old street hustler, who looked to shed the deadly perils of the drug underworld to bask in the caviar and champagne lifestyle.

He shifted from the colorful, bombastic rap style of his early career to a snappier and grounded delivery on "Coming of Age," and the Biggie Smalls-assisted "Brooklyn's Finest," while still offering a slice of mainstream appeal on "Ain't No N—" featuring Foxy Brown. Legendary producers DJ Premier ("Fried or Foe"), DJ Clark Kent ("Cashmere Thoughts"), and Ski ("Dead Presidents II") helped lay the canvas for Jay-Z to illustrate his past experiences and impending accolades and riches. 

The album was among his best releases in the '90s, and helped establish his foothold in the industry through the new millennium. While Reasonable Doubt didn't reach platinum status until six years after its 1996 release, the project elevated Jay's profile as an emerging MC with a penchant for vivid street tales and mainstream edge. 

Vol. 2... Hard Knock Life (1998)

Jay-Z's third album is possibly the most impactful in his career. Not only did it notch his first GRAMMY (for Best Rap Album at the 1999 GRAMMYs), but it remains his best-selling album with more than 5 million copies sold. It also started an 11-album streak of No. 1 releases.

The project was a medley of pop-oriented singles such as "Can I Get A…" and club records like the piano-laced hit "Money, Cash, Hoes." It also offered street classics like "Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem)," which showcased his musical versatility and mainstream appeal. 

Aside from the Stevie J-produced "Ride Or Die," Jay veered away from the Bad Boy production style of Vol. 2's predecessor, In My Lifetime, Vol. 1. He enlisted Ruff Ryders producer Swizz Beatz for "Coming of Age (Da Sequel)," and producers Timbaland, Jermaine Dupri, Irv Gotti, and Kid Capri were also tapped for the project, creating a lush palette of club bangers and records indicative of the shiny-suit era of late '90s hip-hop. 

THE ANTHEMS

"Imaginary Players" (1997)

If it wasn't for Hov, rappers may still be drinking beer over champagne, rocking silver charms over platinum, and driving Range Rover 4.0 SEs instead of 4.6 HSEs. Not only did Jay shift the motor and champagne industry with his second album, but he altered the rap game, too. And "Imaginary Players" was proof.

The In My Life, Vol. 1 cut was a collective side-eye to frauds masked as street hustlers, and signaled Jay-Z's early trendsetting powers. The song didn't graze the Billboard charts as high as singles "Who You Wit," "The City Is Mine" and "(Always Be My) Sunshine," but it grew into a street anthem and blueprint for the real go-getters to shine among the fakes. 

"Big Pimpin'" (1999)

For years, "Big Pimpin'" was the ultimate summer anthem. The single from Vol 3… Life and Times of S. Carter showcased Jay's ability to produce hit records with artists from other regions. It also laid the ground for future collaborations between Jay-Z and Timbaland, who went on to produce tracks like "Dirt Off Your Shoulder," "The Bounce," "Tom Ford," and others.

Music aside, the song's video is reflective of the flashy, big-budget era of the late 1990s and early 2000s. Shot during the Trinidad and Tobago Carnival, the video's yacht views, sand-filled beaches, and cigar smoke complimented the song's tropical sound and inspired listeners to wrap themselves in linen garments, kick back and enjoy the Caribbean breeze. 

The Blueprint (2001)

Regarded as the best album in his catalog, 2001's The Blueprint encapsulated all of the elements that made Jay-Z a lyrical titan and fixture in music. Between the boundless braggadocio on "The Rules Back," the tales of chaotic romance on "Girls. Girls, Girls," and a snapshot of his uprising on "Blueprint ("Momma Loves Me"), the album captured it all.

While "The Takeover" sparked one of the era's most contentious rap beefs, and forced Queens rapper Nas to snap back with a poignant blow of his own in "Ether," the album was riddled with some of Jay's biggest records during the 2000s. Street anthems like "Izzo (H.O.V.A.)" had rap fans of all ages spelling out the song's title, and soul-stirring album cuts like "Song Cry" had listeners barely holding onto their tears. 

The Black Album (2003)

Jay's eighth studio effort was pegged as the final one by the Brooklyn MC. And while he eventually returned for Kingdom Come three years later, 2003's The Black Album would've been the perfect end to an already historic rap career.

On "December 4th," Jay kicked off the album with a call back to his origins. "They say they never really miss you 'til you dead or you gone/ So on that note I'm leaving after this song/ See you ain't got to feel no way about Jay so long/ At least let me tell you why I'm this way, hold on." 

Jay goes on to outline his successes on "What More Can I Say," then incites fans to level up their sexy on "Change Clothes." Between experimental records like the DJ Quik-produced "Justify My Thug" and the soulful "Lucifer," The Black Album is also filled with stadium-rocking anthems. 

On "99 Problems," Jay raps over zingy guitar riffs for a bold track that's reminiscent of Run DMC and Aerosmith's 1986 smash "Walk This Way." Both songs were produced by Rick Rubin, who provided the rock-induced, bare-bones beat for Hov to unleash on snarky law enforcers and uninformed rap critics. 

The Timbaland-produced "Dirt Off Your Shoulder" is a middle finger to the dream killers envious of others' success. The platinum-selling record even inspired Barack Obama to use a shoulder-brushing motion when running against then-rival Hillary Clinton during his 2008 Democratic nomination campaign. 

THE COLLABS

"Numb/Encore" (2004)

After dropping a live album with The Roots and releasing two critically panned collaborations with R. Kelly, Jay made a creative pivot with Collision Course (EP). The rapper teamed up with Linkin Park for a hip-rock project that was inspired by Danger Mouse's The Grey Album, and mashed hits like "Jigga What, Jigga Who," "Dirt Off Your Shoulder," "Big Pimpin'" and with songs from Linkin Park's Meteora and Hybrid Theory releases.

The album received mixed reviews, but the project's lone single "Numb/Encore" won Best Rap/Sung Collaboration at the 48th GRAMMY Awards and helped the EP land a No. 1 spot on the Billboard 200. 

"Empire State of Mind" (2009)

Fifteen years after Nas' "N.Y. State of Mind," Jay made his own dedication to New York City with "Empire State of Mind." The record is an ode to the city that shaped him, and the millions of other natives who, like him, hustled in various boroughs to get by (and have a closet full of New York Yankees hats).

The Alicia Keys-assisted track touched the hearts of New Yorkers everywhere, including Harlem and Brooklyn native Lil Mama, who notoriously hopped on stage with Keys and Jay during their performance at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards. The Blueprint 3 single took home two gramophones at the 53rd GRAMMY Awards for Best Rap-Sung Collaboration and Best Rap Song. 

Watch the Throne (2011)

After teaming up on classic songs like "Never Let Me Down" and "Diamonds From Sierra Leone (Remix)," Jay and Kanye West came together for a full-length project in 2011. The two rap giants combined their musical genius for Watch the Throne, an explorative and enthralling body of work filled with genre-melding hits coated with top-tier production and memorable features.

Watch the Throne was an exercise in musical cohesion and set the bar for collab projects to follow, given the commercial success and critical reception it received upon its release. Jay served as the lyrical orator, while West was the sonic architect and more animated showman. 

Between glossy trap songs like "H.A.M." and "N—s In Paris, and the pop-extravagance of "Lift Off," Jay and Kanye tell fervent tales of their ghetto origins on "Murder To Excellence," visions of their children's lives on "New Day," and give listeners soul-stirring jams like "The Joy" and "Otis." Each track was nourished from the well of Jay and Kanye's artistry, and done without either rapper leaving the other to dry. 

"Holy Grail" (2013)

The same year Jay-Z and Justin Timberlake came together for the hit "Suit & Tie," the pair delivered another smash with "Holy Grail." The song's origins began in the sessions for Watch the Throne, but Hov feared it would get lost in the shuffle — so he decided to build 2013's Magna Carta… Holy Grail around the enthralling record.

An explosive track about the allure and destruction of fame, it became the lead single for MCHG, selling over 3 million copies and winning Best Rap/Sung Collaboration at the 2014 GRAMMYs. A year after its release, Billboard placed the record at No. 25 on the publication's Top 100 Hot Rap Songs of all-time list. 

EVERYTHING IS LOVE (2018)

Prior to 2018, Jay-Z and his wife, Beyoncé, blessed fans with culture-shifting collaborations like "Crazy in Love," "03 Bonnie and Clyde," and "Drunk in Love." These songs prompted fans to call for a full-length project from the power duo, and after years of anticipation, the power couple delivered 2018's EVERYTHING IS LOVE.

The album came as a surprise to fans, with many jarred by the rumors surrounding Jay and Beyoncé's marriage following the release of Bey's searing 2016 project Lemonade (as well as Jay's honest response with 4:44 — more on that later). While the speculations and alleged drama continue to swirl online, the two stars came together for a nine-track album that gave listeners a behind-the-scenes look at life at the Carter residence. 

Announced in the middle of their second On The Run stadium tour, EVERYTHING IS LOVE celebrated the power of black love and family life while exploring unadulterated extravagance. Like their past collaborations, Beyoncé's soothing, high-powered vocals helped elevate Jay's bars and artistry. 

Together, they combined their collective powers for stories about rowdy tour stops and endless shopping sprees on "APES—" and "BOSS," and Beyoncé adorned the album with emotion-filled love ballads like "SUMMER." The couple even exchanged braggadocious rhymes about the strength of their union on "LOVEHAPPY," and the fun they have together outside the lines of celebrity on "HEARD ABOUT US" — proving they had not only weathered the storm, but came out stronger together.

THE LEGACY

4:44 (2017)

Arguably one of Jay's most complete and honest bodies of work, 4:44 is a vivid look at the artist's triumphs and failures as Shawn Carter the man. On the opening track "Kill Jay Z," he sheds his ego-fueled moniker to reveal his early upbringing in Bed-Stuy on "Marcy Me," the discovery of his mother's sexuality on "Smile" and the issues surrounding his marriage on the title track.

While the late-career album was largely viewed as a response to Beyoncé's Lemonade album,  4:44 also painted a portrait of Black America, unveiled the pathway to generational wealth on "The Story of O.J.," and the value of shared successes on "Family Feud" and "Legacy."  

The rapper veered from the commercial sound of Blueprint 3, and the gumbo of trap and luxury-soaked beats on Magna Carta… Holy Grail, to deliver deeply personal messages over No I.D.'s grounded, sample-heavy production. 

The artist hasn't released another solo project since 4:44, but if it is in fact his last album, it's certainly a stellar way to close the door on a legendary music career. The 2017 release was praised by critics and garnered three nominations at the 60th GRAMMY Awards, including Song Of The Year and Album Of The Year. 

"GOD DID" (2022)

The GRAMMY-nominated song had plenty of star power thanks to John Legend, Lil Wayne, Rick Ross, Fridayy and producer DJ Khaled — but Jay-Z's verse tilted the hip-hop world on its axis. 

On "GOD DID," Jay spit one of the best verses in his catalog. "I be speaking to the souls of men/ Those of them willing to die for the existence that this cold world has chose for them/ Kicking snow off a frozen Timb (woo)/ Back and forth on this turnpike, really took a toll on them." The MC detailed his journey across state lines to live out his street dreams, the drama and misfortunes that followed his tracks, and how he leveraged his powers to become one of the first rappers to reach billionaire status.

He encapsulated it all within a four-minute verse, closing out the track touching on his legacy — and proclaiming that he is in fact one of rap's all-time greats. "I just got a million off a sync/ Without risking a million years tryna get it out the sink (woo)/ Hov big/ They said they don't know me internationally, n—s on the road did/ I see a lot of Hov in Giggs/ Me and Meek could never beef, I freed that n—a from a whole bid/ Hov did/ Next time we have a discussion who the GOAT, you donkeys know this."

Killer Mike Says His New Album, 'Michael,' Is "Like A Prodigal Son Coming Home"

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

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

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

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

GRAMMYs/Jun 19, 2024 - 01:51 pm

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

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

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

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

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

Kumar Bent (and the Original Fyah)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lila Iké

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

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

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

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

Hezron

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

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

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

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

Iotosh

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mortimer

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

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

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

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

Hector "Roots" Lewis

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

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

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

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

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

Hempress Sativa

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

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

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

Learn more: The Women Essential To Reggae And Dancehall

Tarrus Riley

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

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

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

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

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

Samory I

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

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

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

Romain Virgo

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

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

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

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

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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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Normani in 2023
Normani attends Elle's Women In Hollywood event in 2023.

Photo: MICHAEL TRAN/AFP via Getty Images

list

Breaking Down Normani's Journey To 'Dopamine': How Her Debut Album Showcases Resilience & Star Power

The wait for Normani's first album, 'Dopamine,' is officially over. Upon the album's arrival, reflect on all of the major moments that have happened in the six years since she made her solo debut.

GRAMMYs/Jun 14, 2024 - 09:39 pm

All eyes are on Normani as her long-awaited debut album, Dopamine, arrives to eager fans and critics alike on June 14. It arrives more than six years after Normani made her solo debut post-Fifth Harmony — and though she has released a number of singles since, even her most loyal listeners were bewildered by the delay of her debut project. But the 28-year-old has been strategic in building something timeless.

"I took the time to learn and develop my sound. I wanted to be different and create a body of work that's unique but still fresh and exciting," Normani tells GRAMMY.com. "There were many days of trial and error trying to perfect something that embodies who I am and the type of artist I wanted to be. I always knew that I had to trust myself even when others doubted me and questioned my hunger."

On the highly anticipated Dopamine, Normani's womanhood and artistic breadth effortlessly glides across its 13 tracks. She makes no apologies for her sexier image and music after years of "feeling safe with being seen, but not too seen," as she told Teen Vogue in 2020. That newfound confidence translates into a musical paradise that's a far cry from her Fifth Harmony days. Up until now, the world has only received Normani's talent in snippets here and there; Dopamine finally gives us the full dose.

As you dig into Dopamine, take a look at a complete breakdown of every major moment that's led to Normani's long-awaited debut project.

2018: She Re-Introduced Herself As An R&B Star

A mere month prior to Fifth Harmony's hiatus announcement, a then 21-year-old Normani teamed up with Khalid for her first-ever single as a solo act, "Love Lies." Penned for the Love, Simon soundtrack, the sultry R&B number foreshadowed Normani's imminent success outside of Fifth Harmony; not only did it crack the top 10 on the Billboard Hot 100, but it hit No. 1 on both Billboard's Mainstream Top 40 and Radio Songs charts.

At the tail end of 2018, Normani delivered another R&B jam, the hazy, slow-burning duet with 6lack, "Waves," which found success on multiple R&B charts. Though somewhat forgotten compared to "Motivation" and "Wild Side" (more on those later), "Waves" shows off Normani's vocal range as she laments over an on-again, off-again relationship.

2019: She Celebrated A Global Smash & Massive Opening Act Slot

Normani struck gold again in 2019 when she teamed up with Sam Smith for "Dancing With a Stranger," which became the most-played radio song in the world that year, according to Forbes. Sonically speaking, the disco-tinged oasis marked new territory for Normani — and it paid off in a big way as it boasts over a billion Spotify streams and remains her biggest single to date.

The singer's star continued shining bright into that summer, when she served as the opener for the North American leg of Ariana Grande's Sweetener Tour. The arena trek marked her first opportunity to show off her performing skills, and further prove her prowess as a solo act.

On the heels of the international success of "Dancing With a Stranger" and touring with Grande, Normani released her first fully solo single, "Motivation." The bubbly track presented a poppier side and offered a fun moment with its Y2K-inspired video, even igniting a viral dance challenge. But it seemingly wasn't indicative of the direction she was headed; at the time, Normani admitted to The Cut that she "didn't feel like it represented" her as an artist.

Still, "Motivation" served as a pivotal moment for Normani. It became a top 20 hit on Billboard's Mainstream Top 40 chart, and she delivered a showstopping performance of the song at the MTV Video Music Awards — which even earned the title of 2019's best performance from Harper's Bazaar.

2020 & 2021: She Teamed Up With Two Of Rap's Biggest Female Stars

The next couple of years saw Normani continue linking up with several of her peers. She first joined forces with Megan Thee Stallion for the anthemic "Diamonds" — which brilliantly samples Marilyn Monroe's "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend" — off the Birds of Prey soundtrack. Soon after, she teamed up with Megan again — this time, for a jaw-dropping cameo in the video for the chart-topping smash "WAP" with Cardi B.

"WAP" drew criticism for its sexually explicit lyrics (and equally racy video), but the message aligned perfectly with Normani's mission to champion and represent Black women in and outside of the music industry. 

"The 'WAP' video I was really, really excited to be a part of, just because I feel like we're in a time in music where women — and Black women — are really on top, which is something I feel like we haven't seen in a very, very long time," she told Teen Vogue. "Where I come from, we were all about female empowerment. The fact that I could be a part of such a special moment embracing our sexuality, in which I definitely think there's a double standard, [was exciting] to be a part of it."

In 2021, Normani took her turn with Cardi B on another fiery track, "Wild Side," which saw her return to her R&B foundation while also continuing her artistic evolution. From sampling Aaliyah's "One in a Million" to executing the intricate choreography seen in the Tanu Muino-directed video, the '90s-inspired slow jam — which closes out Dopamine — whet fans' appetite and established Normani as a force to be reckoned with in R&B and beyond.

2022: She Traversed Several Different Musical Worlds

Keeping fans on their toes, Normani veered away slightly from her signature R&B sound by incorporating synth-pop into the one-off single "Fair." The mid-tempo track put the spotlight on her vulnerability; the lyrics deal with watching a past lover move on as if you never existed.

"This one is really unique and different for me. Probably not what everyone is expecting," she said in an Instagram story ahead of the release.

A few months later, Normani dove deeper into the dance genre by lending her light and airy vocals to Calvin Harris' "New to You," a collaboration that also featured Tinashe and Offset. But she never strayed too far from her R&B stylings, as she also teamed up with childhood friend Josh Levi for a remix of his song "Don't They" that summer.

2023: She Ushered In A New Era

Though 2023 didn't see any new music from Normani, she made some business moves that indicated she was ready for a reset. That May, Normani parted ways with S10 Entertainment and Brandon Silverstein after signing a new management deal with Brandon Creed and Lydia Asrat — signifying a new chapter and much-needed change in direction. 

"The transition signified a new beginning, filled with hopes of  moving forward and getting things done that were important to me," Normani tells GRAMMY.com. "I was faced with many obstacles over the years, some that you would not believe. But through it all, my faith in God kept me aligned with what I felt was right for me."

A couple months later, Normani launched a partnership with Bose that saw her give a first preview of the assertive Dopamine track "Candy Paint." She also offered some insight to the album delays, which partially stemmed from her parents' health struggles.

"It was hard feeling misunderstood because of the lack of knowledge people had for my circumstances in real-time. I don't even know if I had the energy to explain — my emotional, spiritual and mental endurance was really tested," she explained to Dazed. "When my parents got sick, I didn't have the mental capacity to even try to be creative, but I pushed myself anyway. If it weren't for them, I probably wouldn't have, but I know it's what got them through such a tough time — they needed to see me persevere and push through and continue to move forward."

As she shared with Bose, crafting Dopamine ended up being a creative outlet for Normani and offered a sign of hope for her and her parents during their respective treatments.

"(When my mom was going through chemo) the thing that really kept her going was getting on FaceTime and being like, 'How are the sessions going?' She's always so eager to hear the new records we've been working on," she said. "And then a year later, when my dad ended up being diagnosed, he would say mid treatment, 'I'm ready for you to take over the world.'"

2024: She Completed A Hard-Fought Journey

By the beginning of 2024, even Normani couldn't help but acknowledge how long fans had been waiting for her debut LP. She facetiously launched a website called wheresthedamnalbum.com — but it actually served as the official kickoff to the album campaign.

Two months after she shared the album's title and stunning cover art on the site, Normani delivered the guitar-driven lead single "1:59" arrived, as well as a release date for Dopamine.

Despite a series of false starts and personal challenges, Dopamine is proof that Normani is as resilient as they come — and this project was well worth the wait. Opening tracks "Big Boy" and "Still" flex her swag, whereas Janet Jackson-coded tunes like "All Yours" and "Lights On" (co-written with Victoria Monét) ooze sensual vibes. While the album mostly caters to her R&B foundation, she touches on her dance music dabblings with the house-leaning"Take My Time." 

Dopamine even offered a full-circle moment for Normani, who has cited Brandy as one of her biggest musical inspirations. The R&B trailblazer lends background vocals to "Insomnia," which also features hypnotic production from Stargate

As Normani embraces her close-up, she's keenly aware that the stakes are high, but it's a moment she's been ready for all along.

"I hope [fans] see the passion and the hard work that I have put into creating something so special," she tells GRAMMY.com. "I love my fans and how they have been patiently waiting and supporting me over the years. I hope the wait was worth it for them and they are proud of what we have accomplished together."

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PJ Morton
PJ Morton

Photo: Patrick Melon

interview

On 'Cape Town To Cairo,' PJ Morton Connects New Orleans To The Motherland — One Day At A Time

Maroon 5 keyboardist PJ Morton details creating his new album in an intuitive and freewheeling manner while traveling up and down the African continent.

GRAMMYs/Jun 12, 2024 - 01:40 pm

Maroon 5 keyboardist PJ Morton's guest-stuffed new album, Cape Town to Cairo, is built on an attention-grabbing conceit. He wrote and recorded it within a 30-day span, while journeying the African continent, visiting Johannesburg, Lagos, Accra, up to Cairo, back down to South Africa.

But a good story is just that, and the entire project — which features Fireboy DML, Mádé Kuti, the Soweto Spiritual Singers, and others — would collapse without quality songs. "The songs were the main thing," the five-time GRAMMY winner says. "It doesn't matter who I have on these songs if I don't have any good songs, so that was the priority."

It's a chicken-or-egg situation; the raw materials of Cape Town to Cairo are solid, but the guests helped them truly pop. Of Nigerian native Fireboy DML, who Morton worked with in his home country: "I had a bit of my song 'Count on Me' already, and he sat there and wrote that in 20 minutes," he says, with awe still palpable in his voice.

Elsewhere, Morton hails South African trumpeter and composer Ndabo Zulu's sense of instrumental space on "All the Dreamers" (which also features singer/songwriter Aṣa), and on the highlife "Who You Are," Mádé Kuti's channeling of his grandfather Fela Kuti's essence.

What was Morton's primary takeaway from the experience? Most of us abstractly understand how much Africa influenced American music; it's another ballgame altogether to witness it firsthand — as this native New Orleanian did.

"When I'm in Lagos, Nigeria, and I'm seeing the horn players play, I'm like, Man, this feels like home," Morton enthuses. "I'm in Ghana, and I hear highlife, I'm like, This feels like a second line or something. And then, I eat jollof rice, and I'm like, Man, this is jambalaya. This is their version."

Read on for the full interview about Cape Town to Cairo, and what Maroon 5's working on in 2024.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

When our CEO, Harvey Mason jr., traveled Africa, he called the experience "mind-bending," "game-changing" and "eye-opening." What was your reaction?

Oh, man. That was constantly happening for me over and over. When someone says, "Welcome home," or I look at money and see a Black man on the money, I'm like, Man. This is a different place, and so much love.

But for me, it was all the connections I was making to my home. I mean, being from New Orleans, a lot of the food, the music, the way they dance in the streets, and the way they celebrate, it just was really a bunch of connections happening for me. I'd say it was a life-changing trip for me.

I totally hear that syncopation and swing in Maroon 5.

Yeah. This is a big statement, but ultimately all our music is African music. It's hard to unsee once you see that. Now, all I see and hear is Africa a lot of times. We've used those three chords and the truth forever. These banjos, these things were created in Africa.

I've been in Maroon 14 years, and I think a reason I connected with the guys is because we're influenced by the same things — even in different worlds that we didn't realize were the same things.

Can you talk about the process of making Cape Town to Cairo while on the road?

That's what was so crazy about this — I created the album in 30 days while in Africa from scratch.

So, there was no time to process and then put it together, which was also just fascinating — something I never do. I take my time. I'm intricate. I cross every T and dot every I, so this was an experiment in trusting my instincts and just trusting what I know that has gotten me this far in music.

That was a really interesting part — because I had to quickly process what I was feeling, or not even fully process, but allow my soul and my body to process it and just write whatever was coming out, and create whatever music that was happening in South Africa.

Sounds like a heavy readjustment of your usual thinking.

As soon as I stepped on the ground and the first day we were in the studio, everybody was kind of on edge because they didn't know what I was going to write. I didn't know what I was going to write, but three songs came immediately.

Three ideas came that very first day I was in the studio, and that kind of relaxed me a bit, but that was the process. It was feel where you are, go in the studio, write some melodies, create some music, come back a few days later, put lyrics to that, and then redo.

And so, we did from South Africa, we started in Cape Town, obviously to Cairo, but with Cape Town. Then we went to Johannesburg, and all in between this, I was doing shows. We were doing concerts. I was doing radio interviews, TV interviews. I really wanted to just engulf myself as fast as I could.

When we got to Lagos, we landed on Fela Kuti's birthday, who's the father of Afrobeat. And man, it was so inspiring for me. I went in the studio the next day in Lagos, and the same thing happened — three songs just like that, three ideas.

One thing that was also different from my process is, sequencing is so important to me, but I couldn't leave Africa without knowing that these songs worked together. So I had to kind of work through that process in a truncated period of time, but I'm so proud of what happened. It's just really listening to my instincts, and it is raw emotion, this album is.

Some of the songs, I didn't realize what I was talking about until after I listened to them, and it was like, oh, I thought I was talking about this, but I'm talking about this.

Such as?

"Please Be Good to Me," specifically, it was like, I thought it was like a sexy love song, vibe song, but I feel like I'm talking to Africa.

Like, Take me to another place. I don't need to be in control. I've promised all these people I'm going to write an album in 30 days. Continent, please be good to me. Just give it to me. I have bad writer's block sometimes, so I was hoping that didn't happen, and it worked out.

Fela Kuti… speaking of people who should be on money. But what's his significance to you, personally?

I just think the way he was a fighter, the way he was a band leader, I really pride myself on musicianship.

Again, being from New Orleans — Afro Orleans is the name of my new band that we're going out with in the summer, and it's the horns, it's the percussion and all of that. So it is in that spirit of Fela. Also, his grandson, Mádé Kuti, is on one of the songs, "Who You Are."

He's the first person that made me pay attention to African music in general. My gateway was Fela. And so, to connect it this way, and to finally be in Lagos where he did it — to be at the shrine — was just special.

You made Cape Town to Cairo in such an intuitive and freewheeling manner. How did you ensure an album came out the other end, and not a bunch of outtakes or something?

It was trial and error, man, because initially I was trying to do so much stuff that I was like, Wait, I lost my voice. You know what I'm saying? I was just trying to do too much, and I was like, OK, let's kind of refocus and keep the main thing. So, I had to cancel some interviews; I had to cancel some things and really focus on the main things.

For me, it was trusting those ideas, the things that felt good. What happens in the studio with me is, sometimes I'll have a good idea, but I'm like, well, I can beat that. Let me try to beat it, and then I'll try to beat it. Sometimes, that first one was the one that was supposed to happen, but technically I'm beating it.

But am I beating it? I don't know, because maybe it wanted to come out in that pure form, and not have me get in the way with all my knowledge and years of [experience].

So I started to really trust that. I really just was like, OK, first idea, let's go. This first melody, that's what came out. Let's go with that. Then, I would write lyrics to my mumble track of the melody that I felt right, that moved me immediately. Thankfully, I've been writing songs for a long time, and we got to it, man.

But you're right — it wasn't just about writing songs in 30 days. It's about writing a complete album that I thought was good in 30 days, which is a completely different thing. But I just locked in, man, and I'm still kind of tripping that it happened this way, but I can literally place every song and remember where I was because it's such a short period of time.

I can't wait to fully see the footage of me creating from scratch. We're working on the documentary now, but I've never seen myself make something from nothing [like] this. So, I'm excited to see the inception to the full thing.

What's Maroon 5 up to?

We just did Questlove's podcast and talked about it a little bit, but we're definitely working on a record. Adam's been on fire writing lately, and we just finished the residency in Vegas days ago. We'll be back in Vegas in September, at Park MGM.

But it's going great, man. The music is coming out really cool. I joined at a unique time, which is after Hands All Over and before "Moves Like Jagger" and all of that stuff. It was a transition when Adam started to bring in co-work, and Hands All Over is the last time they didn't use co-writers.

So, now it's back to just him writing, and it's refreshing. I can't lie. It's exciting.

2024 GRAMMYs: How The New Best African Music Performance GRAMMY Category Is A Massive Win For The World