meta-scriptUnearthing 'Diamonds': Lil Peep Collaborator ILoveMakonnen Shares The Story Behind Their Long-Awaited Album | GRAMMY.com
Lil Peep & iLoveMakonnen Diamonds
iLoveMakonnen and Lil Peep

Photo: Richard Stilwell

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Unearthing 'Diamonds': Lil Peep Collaborator ILoveMakonnen Shares The Story Behind Their Long-Awaited Album

Six years after it was recorded, Lil Peep and ILoveMakonnen's highly anticipated — and previously leaked — album 'Diamonds' comes out Sept. 8. Makonnen spoke with GRAMMY.com about the road to their shared release.

GRAMMYs/Sep 8, 2023 - 01:19 pm

To ILoveMakonnen, diamonds are not just forever — they're for healing. 

"We wanted to be able to heal our broken hearts and heal our fans with this music," rapper and producer ILoveMakonnen tells GRAMMY.com. "That was the whole mission behind Diamonds, to let everybody know that they are a diamond and they're waiting to be found."

Diamonds, ILoveMakonnen's newly-released album with the late Lil Peep, was   recorded in the summer of 2017 and wrapped just months before 21-year-old Peep’s death from an accidental overdose. How the record came about, and why it took so long to be released, is a story of a sudden and intense friendship, internet leakers, lawsuits, and a long-delayed happy, if bittersweet, ending. 

Makonnen first became aware of Lil Peep towards the end of 2016. Makonnen was at that point best known for his 2014 hit song "Tuesday," which benefited from a viral Drake remix. But his association with Drake’s OVO label, which started in the wake of "Tuesday," had ended and he was searching for something new. 

"I was looking online and saw some of [Peep’s] videos, and I thought that he was really intriguing and cool," Makonnen remembers. "We had some mutual friends. People would tell us, 'oh, you should check out this guy.'"

Peep was at that point a popular, if still somewhat underground, emo rap star. (Just weeks later, he would be proclaimed "the future of emo" by Pitchfork.) It took Makonnen making a dramatic announcement for the two to finally connect.

"I came out as gay in 2017, in January, and Lil Peep was one of the first people to reach out to me and tell me, ‘Thank you. I love you. You're so brave for this. I always support you. I want to meet you.’ And I was like, ‘Oh, I'm in L.A. right now. We should meet up.’"

The artists met at a mutual friend's house and "really hit it off,"Makonnen explains. "We became best friends as soon as we met. And then we got to start talking to each other more, and we would be on the phone all day."

The two already  had business ties — Makonnen's manager at the time  was business partner’s with Peep’s manager — so doing an album together seemed like the natural next step. 

They began sessions in July 2017 in Los Angeles, but getting work done proved difficult.

"Everybody in L.A. knows where we’re at and everybody’s pulling up to the studio and wants to get on the song," Makonnen recalls. "It’s just too much going on, to where me and Lil Peep can’t focus."

The duo decamped to somewhere quieter, and brought  a few trusted collaborators  to Eastcote Studios in London. 

Somewhere in the middle of this process, Peep came out as bisexual. Makonnen recalls that Peep felt two openly queer artists teaming up could make a huge impact on their young fanbases. 

"He said, ‘I feel like we can really make a change in the world by showing this because so many of us young fans and young people are dealing with all types of things,’" Makonnen remembers. "That was the start of everything that bonded us together."

The two artists were inseparable during the London sessions, staying in the same hotel and doing everything together.

"We really lived together like best friends, if not more. We were wearing each other’s clothes," Makonnen says. "It was truly special and fun. It just felt surreal. It felt like a dream. We were having so much fun and smiling and laughing the whole time." 

Throughout, Makonnen and Peep were dead-set on combining their styles. They typically began improvising melodies, while discussing what topics they wanted to talk about on each track. They addressed problems in their own lives, with hopes that fans would be able to relate.

There was a specific mission for the sound of the record as well. Peep had always loved Makonnen's songs with sad lyrics and happy-sounding music. That gave Makonnen an idea.

"I was like, ‘And your songs sound very sad!’" Makonnen says, laughing at the memory. "So I was like, we need to give that same emotion, but make it sound a little happier and friendlier so that the listener can have that sense of celebration, crying, transformation — where this music is hitting me and allowing me to let things go, but also to uplift the things in my life that have been bearing down."

As the record neared completion, Peep and Makonnen visualized what would come next: a joint tour, a merch line. Makonnen says he planned to perform some of the new tunes in a Vegas-style live act where he would play piano and a suit-clad Peep would sing. 

"I was telling Peep, you’re going to be like Frank Sinatra," Makonnen says.

Makonnen and Peep split after London, with plans to reconvene and mix the album after their respective tours wound down. That never happened, and after Peep’s death fans wondered about the fate of the album that he once proclaimed the best of the century. 

In spring 2020, after conflicting reports about whether the album would ever be released, it leaked to the internet. Makonnen recalls how it happened: People involved in the album got emails from someone claiming to be him, asking for its contents.

That wasn’t the end of the hacking. Many of Makonnen’s other unreleased songs — he claims about 500 in total — were stolen by hackers as well.

"After that happened, I literally had a nervous breakdown," he says. "I was shaking and sweating and got sick for three days. I felt doomed and destroyed. My mom had to really help talk me back up."

Following that debacle, Makonnen tried to put Diamonds out of his mind. "I didn’t even like listening to it," he says. "It just brings back too many memories."

But in early 2023, Peep’s mother Liza won back control of her son’s music following a lawsuit settlement with his record label. That cleared the way for the album to be finished, at long last. The entire Diamonds team reconvened in Los Angeles to mix the album.

The project is 22 songs long, reflecting pretty much all the finished material from the sessions. But that wasn’t Makonnen and Peep’s original vision.

"We had a lot of songs," Makonnen admits. "We maybe weren’t going to put out all of these songs if he was still alive and we were down to edit it. But since he passed and we didn’t get to that point, I felt it would be best to show all that we did. We had a lot of fun creating this stuff."

The release of Diamonds is bittersweet for iLoveMakonnen. On one hand, he’s still extremely proud of the music. On the other, he’s reminded of the loss of his best friend. 

"A lot of emotions I’ve had buried down in my subconscious and in my heart that I haven’t been able to express because I never felt like the time was right, I’m happy to be able to speak about now," he says.

"It’s a weird feeling in your throat. I’m happy, I want to laugh, but I feel like crying."

Listen To GRAMMY.com's 50th Anniversary Of Hip-Hop Playlist: 50 Songs That Show The Genre's Evolution

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How Hip-Hop And R&B Crushed Their Competition: Can Rock Bounce Back?

Chart success, streaming, GRAMMYs and smashing guitars — how the R&B and hip-hop genres beat rock at its own game

GRAMMYs/Feb 20, 2018 - 03:20 am

There was a time in the not so distant past when hip-hop was likened to disco. A flash in the pan genre defined by its hyperbolic expression of sound and style, disco fizzled out in the early '80s once the fashion and sonic trends attached to it expired.

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Hip-hop was presumably following in its footsteps, especially when so many break records were layered with disco samples to create the early framework of hip-hop's sound — think the Sugarhill Gang's 1979 hit "Rapper's Delight" (GRAMMY Hall Of Fame, 2014), which sampled Chic's 1979 No. 1 smash, "Good Times."

But hip-hop persevered and brought with it an evolution of the R&B genre as well. Combined, the two genres became unstoppable, eclipsing a flimsy stigma of being confined to an "urban" box. Now, four and a half decades since hip-hop's inception, the genre has seemingly taken the music industry over along with R&B, beating rock at its own game. How did we get here?

Theoretically, the move has been gradual, though 2017 marked a quantifiable shift leaning in hip-hop and R&B's favor. First, there are the sales figures: Hip-hop and R&B accounted for 25 percent of music consumption in 2017, with rock trailing at 23 percent. Add to that an uptick in audio streaming in 2017 by 72 percent — with 29 percent of music streamed online being hip-hop and R&B combined, matching rock and pop, which also combined for 29 percent of music streamed online. The two previously gigantic leaders in major genres are now neck-and-neck with the "underdogs" of R&B and hip-hop.

But per Nielsen's 2017 year-end report, eight of the top 10 albums were, in fact, hip-hop or R&B albums, including Drake and Kendrick Lamar for More Life and DAMN., respectively. Meanwhile, Drake and Lamar held down the top two spots on the list of most popular artists based on total consumption (sales and streaming), while Bruno Mars, Eminem, Future, The Weeknd, and Lil Uzi Vert were also among the other artists that proved hip-hop and R&B were the most widely consumed collective genres this past year.

The 60th GRAMMY Awards further punctuated that claim, as artists like Jay-Z and SZA found homes in the General Four categories, with Mars — who earned Record, Album and Song Of The Year — and Lamar sweeping wins across the board.

Phrases like "the death of rock and roll" have been continually tossed around since this cycle of news arrived. The latest strike against rock came when Coachella announced that for the first time in its 19-year existence there wouldn't be a rock act headlining the festival. The three headliners for the 2018 installment will be Beyoncé, Eminem and The Weeknd.

"I think it speaks to the strength of the music and the strength of the fan base," explains Jeriel Johnson, Executive Director of the Recording Academy Washington, D.C. Chapter. "The fans dictate who shows up on those stages."

While the 2017 tallies may suggest that sales and streams have finally caught up, industry insiders have seen the trends shifting over the last 5 to 10 years.

"Now so, even more than ever, music can be created and put out so much more quickly so when something is happening, urban music is reflecting that really quickly."

"R&B and hip-hop have always had a huge influence and impact on our culture, regardless of the time period — from fashion to slang to our tastes in music [and] cars," says GRAMMY-nominated producer Harvey Mason Jr.

However, with rap artists growing into cross-cultural icons, hip-hop poured into rock and vice versa.

"I immediately think of artists like Run-DMC, Lil Wayne, Jay-Z, Kanye West, and Kid Cudi. These are a few of the pioneers who helped lay down the foundation for artists like Post Malone, Lil Uzi, [the late] Lil Peep, and Lil Pump to become the new generation of artists to continue the push forward the borders of hip-hop," explains Matthew Bernal manager of media for Republic Records. "From their trend-setting fashion, genre-bending sounds and riot-like live performances, millennials grew up watching these icons and the influence is clear in their music today."

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Artists such as Rae Sremmurd, who released the groundbreaking "Black Beatles" with Gucci Mane in 2016, extended that aesthetic — the music video for the hit single showed the duo breaking TV sets with electric guitars.

"Post Malone's 'Rockstar,' which was the No. 1 song on the Billboard Hot 100 for eight consecutive weeks last year, is a strong indication of how today's hip-hop artists view themselves: as rock stars," continues Bernal.

"Urban culture is the new rock," adds GRAMMY-winning producer Rodney "Darkchild" Jerkins. "[In] every era there's a change that takes place, and right now Migos, Kendrick Lamar — they're the new rock stars."

"I feel like it was bound to happen," says Nicole Johnson, industry relations at music streaming service Pandora. "Back in the day, rock and roll was started by an urban genre and urban people. But then it became 'sex, drugs, and rock and roll' and, now, isn't that what these hip-hop [artists] are now talking about? Here are rappers just living their best lives, being themselves, tattooing their faces if they feel like it, wearing dresses on the cover of their album if they feel like it. It's all about self-expression."

Johnson adds that Pandora's Next Big Sound has been driven by hip-hop and R&B as of late, leading to the service's launch of the weekly urban station, The Sauce. "There are now so many [sub]genres within hip-hop, of course, it's gonna take over.”

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But in the wake of hip-hop and R&B's takeover, so was the digital boom. Urban music jumped onboard streaming services early, with platforms like SoundCloud birthing its own scene, SoundCloud rap, which has given way to artists such as Chance The Rapper and Rico Nasty who have equally dominated the space as other hip-hop artists.

"I think R&B/hip-hop is benefitting from changes in technology," says Mason, underscoring how today's fast turnaround in music creation has placed hip-hop and R&B at a unique vantage point, especially when it comes to topical music. "R&B and hip-hop really seem to have their ear to the ground culturally and in society with everything our country is going through.

"It just seems to be such a transparent outlet for people with feelings and opinions, and now so, even more than ever, music can be created and put out so much more quickly so when something is happening, urban music is reflecting that really quickly."

So where will we go from here? Is rock really fading away? And, if so, can it come back? While the cyclical nature of music would reflect an inevitable return, perhaps rock will have to once again evolve the way hip-hop and R&B had to in order to rise up.

"It'll rebound in a different kind of way, I believe," says Jerkins. "Someone will come along and do it in a newer and cooler way. But right now? Hip-hop, R&B — that's pop. Because pop music is anything that's popular."

(Kathy Iandoli has penned pieces for Pitchfork, VICE, Maxim, O, Cosmopolitan, The Village Voice, Rolling Stone, Billboard, and more. She co-authored the book Commissary Kitchen with Mobb Deep's late Albert "Prodigy" Johnson, and is a professor of music business at select universities throughout New York and New Jersey.)

Rapper Lil Peep in 2017

Lil Peep

Photo: Jacopo Raule/Getty Images

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Lil Peep, Alt-Rock/Hip-Hop Fusion Rapper, Dies At 21

Fans and fellow artists take to social media to mourn the young artist

GRAMMYs/Nov 17, 2017 - 12:28 am

American rapper, singer, and producer Lil Peep — née Gustav Åhr — died Nov. 16 prior to a tour appearance in Tucson, Ariz. A spokesperson for the Tucson Police Department has confirmed that evidence was found on the rapper's tour bus indicating the cause of death to be a drug overdose, according to The New York Times.

The SoundCloud rapper and rising alt-pop star was on tour in support of his debut album, Come Over When You're Sober, Pt. 1. He died just two weeks following his 21st birthday. 

Best known for his self-produced bedroom-recorded tracks such as "Crybaby" and "Hellboy," Lil Peep built a rabid online fanbase through his unique blend of emo-rock hooks and trap-inspired rapping. References to heavy drug use as self-medication to deal with severe depression were a staple of the young rapper's songwriting, and his soul-baring acknowledgement of his real-life trials and mood swings forged a powerful connection with a fanbase built almost entirely via SoundCloud and Instagram.

"I suffer from depression and some days I wake up and I’m like, 'F***, I wish I didn’t wake up,'" he said in an interview with Pitchfork. "That's the side of myself that I express through music. That's my channel for letting all that s*** out."

Lil Peep began his career in music after leaving high school early and earning his degree via online courses. He began releasing self-produced music on YouTube and SoundCloud, where he discovered an unexpectedly fervent fanbase, prompting him to release his first mixtape Lil Peep Part One in 2015.

Though ostensibly a rapper, Lil Peep drew acclaim from his fans and music critics alike for his refusal to be pinned down by the conventions of any one genre, often sampling artists such as Underoath, Brand New, the Postal Service, Oasis, and the Microphones to build the sonic bed for his Southern-rap inspired vocal deliveries. His lyrical content — touching equally on themes of relationships, revenge, angst, and self-harm — prompted Pitchfork to label him as an artist who was "reinventing heart-on-sleeve agony for a new generation."

Lil Peep was vocal on social media and in his songwriting about his close relationship with his mother. She has released a statement through a representative of First Access Entertainment, stating she remains "very, very proud of him and everything he was able to achieve in his short life," and that she is "truly grateful to the fans and the people who have supported and loved him."

CyHi The Prynce Gives The Scoop Behind 'No Dope On Sundays'

Billie Eilish in Brooklyn, New York in May 2024
Billie Eilish at the 'HIT ME HARD AND SOFT' release party in Brooklyn, New York on May 15, 2024.

Photo: Arturo Holmes/Getty Images for ABA

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Billie Eilish Fully Embraces Herself On 'Hit Me Hard And Soft': 5 Takeaways From The New Album

On her third album, Billie Eilish returns to "the girl that I was" — and as a result, 'HIT ME HARD AND SOFT' celebrates all of the weird, sexual, beautiful, vulnerable parts of her artistry.

GRAMMYs/May 17, 2024 - 07:50 pm

Billie Eilish has never been one to shy away from her feelings. In fact, she doubles down on them.

Since her debut EP, 2017's Don't Smile At Me, the pop star has held listeners' hands as she guides them through the darkest pages of her diary. The EP found a teenage Eilish navigating heartbreak while her blockbuster debut album, WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO? — which swept the General Field Categories (Album Of The Year, Record Of The Year, Song Of The Year and Best New Artist) at the 2020 GRAMMYs — was a chilling and raw look into her depression-fueled nightmares. And 2021's Happier Than Ever had her confronting misogyny and the weight of fame.

She could have easily succumbed to the pop star pressures for her third studio album, HIT ME HARD AND SOFT, out today (May 17). Instead, she reverts to her sonic safe space: creating intimate melodies with her brother and day-one collaborator, FINNEAS. Only this time, the lyrics are more mature and the production is more ambitious.

"This whole process has felt like I'm coming back to the girl that I was. I've been grieving her," Eilish told Rolling Stone about how HIT ME HARD AND SOFT revisited elements of WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO? "I've been looking for her in everything, and it's almost like she got drowned by the world and the media. I don't remember when she went away."

Here are five takeaways from Billie Eilish's new album, HIT ME HARD AND SOFT, where Old Billie is resuscitated and comforted by New Billie. 

Heartbreaking Ballads Are Her Sweet Spot

Tenderness remains at Eilish's core, and it's beautifully highlighted on HIT ME HARD AND SOFT. Despite her love for eccentric electro-pop beats, ballads have always been the singer's strong suit. After she first displayed that in her debut single, 2015's "ocean eyes," Eilish won two GRAMMYs and an Oscar for her delicate Barbie soundtrack standout, "What Was I Made For?" — and the magic of her melancholic balladry returned on the new album.

HIT ME's album opener, "SKINNY," mimics the self-reflection of Happier Than Ever's "Getting Older" opener, where she painfully sings about Hollywood's body image standards. "People say I look happy just because I got skinny/ But the old me is still me and maybe the real me/ And I think she's pretty," she muses. 

"WILDFLOWER" cuts in the album's center like a knife to the chest. Eilish's comparisons to a lover's ex-girlfriend are devastating over a bare piano melody — the simplest production on the LP: "You say no one knows you so well/ But every time you touch me, I just wonder how she felt."

HIT ME Isn't Afraid To Get A Little Weird

What makes Eilish so intriguing is her effortless balance between misery and mischief. On lead single "LUNCH," the singer/songwriter taps into the playful attitude of WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO? smash "bad guy."

Over an upbeat and kooky production, she lets her carnal fantasies about devouring a woman run wild. The fantasies continue on "THE DINER," with Eilish stepping into the stalker mindset that may be inspired by her own life (she was granted a five-year restraining order against an alleged stalker last year). "I came in through the kitchen lookin' for something to eat/ I left a calling card so they would know that it was me," she winks on the chorus.

She Lays The "Whisper Singing" Criticism To Rest

Eilish's subdued voice has been chided as much as it's been lauded. She first gave naysayers the middle finger on Happier Than Ever's title track, nearly screaming in the song's latter half. On her latest album, she showcases her range even further, from bold belts to delicate falsettos.

The gauzy synths and vocal yearning of "BIRDS OF A FEATHER" is the perfect summer anthem, soundtracking the feeling of kissing your lover as the salty Los Angeles breeze runs through your hair. On the second half of "THE GREATEST," she unleashes a wail-filled fury. 

"HIT ME HARD AND SOFT was really the first time that I was aware of the things that I could do, the ways I could play with my voice, and actually did that," she recently told NPR Music. "That's one thing I feel very proud of with this album — my bravery, vocally."

Her Vulnerability Hasn't Waned

Eilish is quite the paradox, as her superpower is her emotional fragility. Her music has doubled as confessionals since the beginning of her career, and that relatable vulnerability threads HIT ME together. Despite its lighthearted nature, "LUNCH" marks the first time the singer has discussed her sexuality in a song.

"That song was actually part of what helped me become who I am, to be real," Eilish told  Rolling Stone of "LUNCH." "I wrote some of it before even doing anything with a girl, and then wrote the rest after. I've been in love with girls for my whole life, but I just didn't understand — until, last year, I realized I wanted my face in a vagina. I was never planning on talking about my sexuality ever, in a million years. It's really frustrating to me that it came up."

Then there's "SKINNY," which is a raw insight into how much social media's discussions of her body and fame affected her. "When I step off the stage, I'm a bird in a cage/ I'm a dog in a dog pound," she sings. "BLUE," the album's closer, finds Eilish accepting her state of post-breakup sorrow: "I'd like to mean it when I say I'm over you, but that's still not true."

FINNEAS Has Unlocked A New Production Level

FINNEAS — Eilish's brother, producer and confidant — has grown as much as his younger sister since they first began creating music together. He continues to challenge himself both lyrically and sonically to excitedly push Eilish to her creative limits. He explores a myriad of sounds on the album, with many playing like a two-for-one genre special. Named after Studio Ghibli's Spirited Away heroine, the glittery melody and thumping bassline on "CHIHIRO" transport you into an anime video game. 

The first half of "L'AMOUR DE MA VIE" is deceptively simple with its plucking acoustic guitar strings, but soon finds itself under the glare of a disco ball with Eilish's vocals funneled through a vocoder. "BITTERSUITE" is arguably the best reflection of Finneas' experimentation: it starts out with Daft Punk-esque synths before dragging itself across a grim, bass-heavy floor. Then, it crawls into cheeky elevator music territory before ending with an alien-like taunt.

HIT ME HARD AND SOFT is begging to be played live, as seen with fans' raucous reactions after the singer's listening parties at Brooklyn's Barclays Center and Los Angeles' Kia Forum. Fortunately for fans in North America, Australia and Europe, it won't be long before she brings the album to life — HIT ME HARD AND SOFT: THE TOUR  kicks off on Sept. 29 in Québec, Canada.

All Things Billie Eilish

Slash
Slash

interview

Slash's New Blues Ball: How His Collaborations Album 'Orgy Of The Damned' Came Together

On his new album, 'Orgy Of The Damned,' Slash recruits several friends — from Aerosmith's Steven Tyler to Demi Lovato — to jam on blues classics. The rock legend details how the project was "an accumulation of stuff I've learned over the years."

GRAMMYs/May 17, 2024 - 06:56 pm

In the pantheon of rock guitar gods, Slash ranks high on the list of legends. Many fans have passionately discussed his work — but if you ask him how he views his evolution over the last four decades, he doesn't offer a detailed analysis.

"As a person, I live very much in the moment, not too far in the past and not very far in the future either," Slash asserts. "So it's hard for me to really look at everything I'm doing in the bigger scheme of things."

While his latest endeavor — his new studio album, Orgy Of The Damned — may seem different to many who know him as the shredding guitarist in Guns N' Roses, Slash's Snakepit, Velvet Revolver, and his four albums with Myles Kennedy and the Conspirators, it's a prime example of his living-in-the-moment ethos. And, perhaps most importantly to Slash, it goes back to what has always been at the heart of his playing: the blues.

Orgy Of The Damned strips back much of the heavier side of his playing for a 12-track homage to the songs and artists that have long inspired him. And he recruited several of his rock cohorts — the likes of AC/DC's Brian Johnson, Aerosmith's Steven Tyler, Gary Clark Jr., Iggy Pop, Beth Hart, and Dorothy, among others — to jam on vintage blues tunes with him, from "Hoochie Coochie Man" to "Born Under A Bad Sign."

But don't be skeptical of his current venture — there's plenty of fire in these interpretations; they just have a different energy than his harder rocking material. The album also includes one new Slash original, the majestic instrumental "Metal Chestnut," a nice showcase for his tastefully melodic and expressive playing.

The initial seed for the project was planted with the guitarist's late '90s group Slash's Blues Ball, which jammed on genre classics. Those live, spontaneous collaborations appealed to him, so when he had a small open window to get something done recently, he jumped at the chance to finally make a full-on blues album.

Released May 17, Orgy Of The Damned serves as an authentic bridge from his musical roots to his many hard rock endeavors. It also sees a full-circle moment: two Blues Ball bandmates, bassist Johnny Griparic and keyboardist Teddy Andreadis, helped lay down the basic tracks. Further seizing on his blues exploration, Slash will be headlining his own touring blues festival called S.E.R.P.E.N.T. in July and August, with support acts including the Warren Haynes Band, Keb' Mo', ZZ Ward, and Eric Gales.

Part of what has kept Slash's career so intriguing is the diversity he embraces. While many heavy rockers stay in their lane, Slash has always traveled down other roads. And though most of his Orgy Of The Damned guests are more in his world, he's collaborated with the likes of Michael Jackson, Carole King and Ray Charles — further proof that he's one of rock's genre-bending greats.

Below, Slash discusses some of the most memorable collabs from Orgy Of The Damned, as well as from his wide-spanning career.

I was just listening to "Living For The City," which is my favorite track on the album.

Wow, that's awesome. That was the track that I knew was going to be the most left of center for the average person, but that was my favorite song when [Stevie Wonder's 1973 album] Innervisions came out when I was, like, 9 years old. I loved that song. This record's origins go back to a blues band that I put together back in the '90s.

Slash's Blues Ball.

Right. We used to play "Superstition," that Stevie Wonder song. I did not want to record that [for Orgy Of The Damned], but I still wanted to do a Stevie Wonder song. So it gave me the opportunity to do "Living For The City," which is probably the most complicated of all the songs to learn. I thought we did a pretty good job, and Tash [Neal] sang it great. I'm glad you dig it because you're probably the first person that's actually singled that song out.

With the Blues Ball, you performed Hoyt Axton's "The Pusher" and Robert Johnson's "Crossroads," and they surface here. Isn't it amazing it took this long to record a collection like this?

[Blues Ball] was a fun thrown-together thing that we did when I [was in, I] guess you call it, a transitional period. I'd left Guns N' Roses [in 1996], and it was right before I put together a second incarnation of Snakepit.

I'd been doing a lot of jamming with a lot of blues guys. I'd known Teddy [Andreadis] for a while and been jamming with him at The Baked Potato for years prior to this. So during this period, I got together with Ted and Johnny [Griparic], and we started with this Blues Ball thing. We started touring around the country with it, and then even made it to Europe. It was just fun.

Then Snakepit happened, and then Velvet Revolver. These were more or less serious bands that I was involved in. Blues Ball was really just for the fun of it, so it didn't really take precedence. But all these years later, I was on tour with Guns N' Roses, and we had a three-week break or whatever it was. I thought, I want to make that f—ing record now.

It had been stewing in the back of my mind subconsciously. So I called Teddy and Johnny, and I said, Hey, let's go in the studio and just put together a set and go and record it. We got an old set list from 1998, picked some songs from an app, picked some other songs that I've always wanted to do that I haven't gotten a chance to do.

Then I had the idea of getting Tash Neal involved, because this guy is just an amazing singer/guitar player that I had worked with in a blues thing a couple years prior to that. So we had the nucleus of this band.

Then I thought, Let's bring in a bunch of guest singers to do this. I don't want to try to do a traditional blues record, because I think that's going to just sound corny. So I definitely wanted this to be more eclectic than that, and more of, like, Slash's take on these certain songs, as opposed to it being, like, "blues." It was very off-the-cuff and very loose.

It's refreshing to hear Brian Johnson singing in his lower register on "Killing Floor" like he did in the '70s with Geordie, before he got into AC/DC. Were you expecting him to sound like that?

You know, I didn't know what he was gonna sing it like. He was so enthusiastic about doing a Howlin' Wolf cover.

I think he was one of the first calls that I made, and it was really encouraging the way that he reacted to the idea of the song. So I went to a studio in Florida. We'd already recorded all the music, and he just fell into it in that register.

I think he was more or less trying to keep it in the same feel and in the same sort of tone as the original, which was great. I always say this — because it happened for like two seconds, he sang a bit in the upper register — but it definitely sounded like AC/DC doing a cover of Howlin' Wolf. We're not AC/DC, but he felt more comfortable doing it in the register that Howlin' Wolf did. I just thought it sounded really great.

You chose to have Demi Lovato sing "Papa Was A Rolling Stone." Why did you pick her?

We used to do "Papa Was A Rolling Stone" back in Snakepit, actually, and Johnny played bass. We had this guy named Rod Jackson, who was the singer, and he was incredible. He did a great f—ing interpretation of the Temptations singing it.

When it came to doing it for this record, I wanted to have something different, and the idea of having a young girl's voice telling the story of talking to her mom to find out about her infamous late father, just made sense to me. And Demi was the first person that I thought of. She's got such a great, soulful voice, but it's also got a certain kind of youth to it.

When I told her about it, she reacted like Brian did: "Wow, I would love to do that." There's some deeper meaning about the song to her and her personal life or her experience. We went to the studio, and she just belted it out. It was a lot of fun to do it with her, with that kind of zeal.

You collaborate with Chris Stapleton on Fleetwood Mac's "Oh Well" by Peter Green. I'm assuming the original version of that song inspired "Double Talkin' Jive" by GN'R?

It did not, but now that you mention it, because of the classical interlude thing at the end... Is that what you're talking about? I never thought about it.

I mean the overall vibe of the song.

"Oh Well" was a song that I didn't hear until I was about 12 years old. It was on KMET, a local radio station in LA. I didn't even know there was a Fleetwood Mac before Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham. I always loved that song, and I think it probably had a big influence on me without me even really realizing it. So no, it didn't have a direct influence on "Double Talkin' Jive," but I get it now that you bring it up.

Was there something new that you learned in making this album? Were your collaborators surprised by their own performances?

I think Gary Clark is just this really f—ing wonderful guitar player. When I got "Crossroads," the idea originally was "Crossroads Blues," which is the original Robert Johnson version. And I called Gary and said, "Would you want to play with me on this thing?"

He and I only just met, so I didn't know what his response was going to be. But apparently, he was a big Guns N' Roses fan — I get the idea, anyway. We changed it to the Cream version just because I needed to have something that was a little bit more upbeat. So when we got together and played, we solo-ed it off each other.

When I listen back to it, his playing is just so f—ing smooth, natural, and tasty. There was a lot of that going on throughout the making of the whole record — acclimating to the song and to the feel of it, just in the moment.

I think that's all an accumulation of stuff that I've learned over the years. The record probably would be way different if I did it 20 years ago, so I don't know what that evolution is. But it does exist. The growth thing — God help us if you don't have it.

You've collaborated with a lot of people over the years — Michael Jackson, Carole King, Lemmy, B.B. King, Fergie. Were there any particular moments that were daunting or really challenging? And was there any collaboration that produced something you didn't expect?

All those are a great example of the growth thing, because that's how you really grow as a musician. Learning how to adapt to playing with other people, and playing with people who are better than you — that really helps you blossom as a player.

Playing with Carole King [in 1993] was a really educational experience because she taught me a lot about something that I thought that I did naturally, but she helped me to fine tune it, which was soloing within the context of the song. [It was] really just a couple of words that she said to me during this take that stuck with me. I can't remember exactly what they were, but it was something having to do with making room for the vocal. It was really in passing, but it was important knowledge.

The session that really was the hardest one that I ever did was [when] I was working with Ray Charles before he passed away. I played on his "God Bless America [Again]" record [on 2002's Ray Charles Sings for America], just doing my thing. It was no big deal. But he asked me to play some standards for the biopic on him [2004's Ray], and he thought that I could just sit in with his band playing all these Ray Charles standards.

That was something that they gave me the chord charts for, and it was over my head. It was all these chord changes. I wasn't familiar with the music, and most of it was either a jazz or bebop kind of a thing, and it wasn't my natural feel.

I remember taking the chord charts home, those kinds you get in a f—ing songbook. They're all kinds of versions of chords that wouldn't be the version that you would play.

That was one of those really tough sessions that I really learned when I got in over my head with something. But a lot of the other ones I fall into more naturally because I have a feel for it.

That's how those marriages happen in the first place — you have this common interest of a song, so you just feel comfortable doing it because it's in your wheelhouse, even though it's a different kind of music than what everybody's familiar with you doing. You find that you can play and be yourself in a lot of different styles. Some are a little bit challenging, but it's fun.

Are there any people you'd like to collaborate with? Or any styles of music you'd like to explore?

When you say styles, I don't really have a wish list for that. Things just happen. I was just working with this composer, Bear McCreary. We did a song on this epic record that's basically a soundtrack for this whole graphic novel thing, and the compositions are very intense. He's very particular about feel, and about the way each one of these parts has to be played, and so on. That was a little bit challenging. We're going to go do it live at some point coming up.

There's people that I would love to play with, but it's really not like that. It's just whatever opportunities present themselves. It's not like there's a lot of forethought as to who you get to play with, or seeking people out. Except for when you're doing a record where you have people come in and sing on your record, and you have to call them up and beg and plead — "Will you come and do this?"

But I always say Stevie Wonder. I think everybody would like to play with Stevie Wonder at some point.

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