Photo: Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for the Recording Academy
How Hip-Hop Took Over The 2023 GRAMMYs, From The Golden Anniversary To 'God Did'
It's the 50th anniversary of hip-hop, but the 2023 GRAMMYs celebrations didn't stop at the epic, MC-saturated blowout. Here are five ways the genre took over Music's Biggest Night.
Featuring an ensemble ranging from progenitors like Grandmaster Flash and Run-DMC, to legends such as Too Short and Missy Elliott, and modern-day practitioners like Lil Baby, GloRilla and Lil Uzi Vert, the tribute segment was stunning not only on a logistical level, but on conceptual, emotional and historical planes.
But the Recording Academy's tribute to this landmark in time wasn't siphoned off to that 15-minute segment — not even close. In fact, the entirety of Music's Biggest Night radiated with the courageous, intrepid, forward-thinking spirit of hip-hop.
The tribute performance was just one of many nods to rap during GRAMMY week. Days before, Lil Wayne, Missy Elliott and Dr. Dre were honored by the Recording Academy’s Black Music Collective in a ceremony that contained performances by Snoop Dogg, 2 Chainz and Ciara. And the pre-GRAMMY gala featured a performance from Weezy, Latto and Lil Baby.
At Music’s Biggest Night, the hip-hop love roared fully to life. Here are five ways hip-hop took over the 2023 GRAMMYs, a foreshadowing of an entire year in celebration of the epochal artform — with the extended hip-hop tribute as a springboard.
GloRilla performing at the 2023 GRAMMYs. Photo: Getty Images for the Recording Academy
A Global Hip-Hop Rager For The Ages
Until Music's Biggest Night, to fit hip-hop's evolution and essence into 15 minutes would seem logistically untenable. But the Academy did the impossible.
Like with the last Super Bowl's ensemble cast of rap greats, the result was emotionally walloping, historically edifying and visually spectacular.
Most importantly, the music was exceptional — a tip of the hat to a precious form of American expression. To anyone who still subscribes to some form of stigma — you don't know what you're missing.
The Rap Categories Contained Serious Jewels
Let's take a step back, though, and examine the 2023 GRAMMYs' hip-hop nominees and winners themselves.
Kendrick Lamar was well-represented in both the General and Rap fields, and commensurately for Mr. Morale and the Big Steppers and Lamar's non-album single "The Heart Pt. 5."
For the former, Lamar won Best Rap Album; for the latter, Best Rap Song and Best Rap Performance. With the success of "The Heart Pt. 5," he is now the most-awarded artist in the latter category.
Together, these offerings comprise something of a creative and emotional watershed for Lamar. As for Pusha T, It's Almost Dry — nominated for Best Rap Album — contained some of his most crystal-sharp coke raps to date.
Plus, the sheer range of guests on DJ Khaled's GOD DID — nominated for Best Rap Album — could be the ultimate testament to his indomitable spirit, curatorial acumen and infectious sense of largesse.
Given the level of craft throughout, hip-hop isn't just ripe to be celebrated for its past, but for its boundless future.
Dr. Dre Was Presented With A Global Impact Award
At the 2023 GRAMMYs, seven-time GRAMMY winner Dr. Dre was the recipient of the inaugural Dr. Dre Global Impact Award for his multitude of achievements through his innovative, multi-decade career.
Dr. Dre was presented the award after a plethora of televised bona fides, and offered his thanks to the Recording Academy and Black Music Collective for the prestigious honor in light of the Recording Academy's celebration of the 50th anniversary of hip-hop.
A tribute to Takeoff during the 2023 GRAMMYs. Photo: Getty Images for the Recording Academy
Quavo Performed A Moving Tribute To The Late Takeoff
There's a bittersweetness to celebrating hip-hop on a global scale in 2023, as so many of its best and brightest have died far too young in recent years.
As part of the In Memoriam segment, backed by worship ensemble Maverick City Music, Quavo honored his late nephew with a soul-searing version of "Without You."
"Tears rollin' down my eyes / Can't tell you how many times I cried," he rapped before an empty microphone stand, poignantly hung with Takeoff's chain. "Days ain't the same without you / I don't know if I'm the same without you."
John Legend, Fridayy, and DJ Khaled performing at the 2023 GRAMMYs. Photo: Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images for The Recording Academy
DJ Khaled & Company Closed The Curtain With "GOD DID"
At the end of the ceremony, DJ Khaled brought out collaborators Jay-Z, John Legend, Lil Wayne, Fridayy, and Rick Ross for a rendition of GOD DID's title track, which was nominated for Song Of The Year, Best Rap Song and Best Rap Performance.
Seated horizontally in an opulent, Last Supper-esque tableau, the stars sang their hooks while bathed in purple light, closing out the 2023 GRAMMYs with laconic flair.
It was a fitting conclusion to Music's Biggest Night, one that placed hip-hop where it belongs: on the top shelf.
Essential Hip-Hop Releases From The 1990s: Snoop Dogg, Digable Planets, Jay-Z & More
In the '90s, hip-hop officially left the underground for full commercial fanfare. During hip-hop's golden age, rappers were multifaceted in their flow and lyrics, creating music that is now legendary.
Three decades ago, hip-hop made a turn from the underground to commercial fanfare. The eclectic sensibilities of the 1980s created space for artists of all stripes, leading to the golden age of hip-hop, and releases that are now considered an integral part of the genre's canon. By the 1990s hip-hop was a chart-topping entity and enterprise, where artists were popularized through streetwear campaigns and brand deals.
In this decade, rappers were multifaceted in their flow and lyrics — whether rugged and hard-spitting, or poetic and fervently expressive. Artists like psychedelic hip-hop group De La Soul, salacious femcee Lil' Kim and Atlanta heavy-hitters Outkast expanded rap’s palette. Beats ranged from synthetic to weighty 808 drum patterns, all which redefined the genre’s 20-year presence.
Hip-hop chronicled truth and fantasy, providing listeners both deeply resonant and vividly divergent soundtrack whose influence continues to be felt. Decades later, records released in the 1990s are legend, and many of them appeared on the 65th GRAMMY Awards stage in a massive tribute to hip-hop.Here are 10 signature albums that bridged the golden age and the digital era of hip-hop.
De La Soul - De La Soul Is Dead (1991)
By 1991, conscious hip-hop pioneers De La Soul were over the "D.A.I.S.Y. Age" introduced on their seminal debut album 3 Feet High and Rising. The Long Island trio, composed of Posdnuos, Maseo and the late Trugoy the Dove jazzed up their sound on sophomore effort De La Soul Is Dead, marking a radical transition from hip-hop "hippies" to earnest rhymesayers.
Posdnous and Trugoy melded simple production (courtesy of Prince Paul) with complex bars on "Pease Porridge," and also explored the traumas of sexual molestation through metaphor on "Millie Pulled a Pistol on Santa." Although De La Soul Is Dead received mixed reviews, the LP was one of the first albums to earn a five-mic rating in hip-hop publication The Source. "Still progressing and proud of it, De La has successfully escaped being trapped in the sophomore jinx with grooves that are harder than a brick wall," the throwback review reads.
With De La Soul Is Dead, the group, whose back catalog just arrived on digital music services in March, evaded the dreaded sophomore slump and cemented their place in hip-hop history.
Snoop Dogg- Doggystyle (1993)
After Calvin Broadus — then performing under the moniker Snoop Doggy Dogg — released his breakthrough album Doggystyle, West Coast rap was never the same. Playing on inspirations from classic Blaxploitation films and early funk pioneers, Snoop kept his posture smooth while rhyming over beats from Dr. Dre (who also discovered the Long Beach native), and welcomed fellow then-newcomers like The Lady of Rage, Tha Dogg Pound, Warren G and RBX as features.
Giving listeners "just a small introduction to the G-Funk era," Snoop helped usher in a soul-laden gangsta rap sound that stood in distinct contrast to the East Coast’s grittiness and jazz influence. The iconic "Gin and Juice" and "Who Am I (What’s My Name?)" have long been summertime cookout staples, while the eerie "Murder Was the Case" preceded Snoop being acquitted of murder just three years later. Now a 16-time GRAMMY nominee, Doggystyle marked Snoop’s debut as a hip-hop elite.
A Tribe Called Quest - Midnight Marauders (1993)
Three albums into their career, A Tribe Called Quest didn’t let up on Midnight Marauders. The Queens-bred group, which included Q-Tip, the late Phife Dawg, Ali Shaheed Muhammad (and occasional member Jarobi White) flaunted their lyricism and expansive musical knowledge on the 1993 release, which was navigated by a robotic "tour guide."
Q-Tip and Phife’s wordplay is nimble throughout the album, but truly spotlighted on the Trugoy the Dove-assisted "Award Tour," the amorous "Electric Relaxation" and "The Chase, Pt. II." "8 Million Stories" and "Midnight" were solo moments for Phife Dawg and Q-Tip, respectively, each who had brushed up their penmanship since ATCQ’s 1991 reinvention on The Low End Theory. Both atmospheric and imaginative, Midnight Marauders showcased ATCQ’s range as a progressive hip-hop act.
Digable Planets - Blowout Comb (1994)
Jazz rap trio Digable Planets maintained their cool just one year after winning a GRAMMY Award for Best Rap Performance By A Duo Or Group. In 1994, Ishmael "Butter Fly" Butler, Mariana "Ladybug Mecca" Vieira and Craig "Doodlebug" Irving followed with Blowout Comb, their second and final studio album. With a minimalist approach, Digable Planets trekked through urban and Afrocentric themes soundtracked by live instrumentation and spoken word.
Emotionally stirring and thematic, "Black Ego" saw Digable Planets tackling economic injustices and Black nationalism with nods to Blaxploitation films Cleopatra Jones and Superfly. The group asserted their refusal to go commercial on laidback earworm "Jettin." Seventies slang and references to New York City boroughs floated throughout Blowout Comb, and although singles "9th Wonder (Blackitolism)" and "Dial 7 (Axioms of Creamy Spies)" didn’t chart, the album reintroduced Digable Planets in their most authentic form and reached No. 32 on the Billboard 200.
2Pac - Me Against the World (1995)
With an awareness unrivaled by his contemporaries, Tupac Shakur's penultimate album, Me Against the World, exploredhis complexities. By March 1995, the rapper had served one month in prison on sexual abuse charges, and had used his previous year of freedom to record arguably the most poignant LP of his lifetime.
On the titular track, Shakur examined impoverished Black communities and morbid thoughts of mortality. A sample of Stevie Wonder’s "That Girl" textures "So Many Tears," where 2Pac vocalizes music industry woes, his depression and even predicts an early death. "Dear Mama," (which inspired the FX docuseries of the same name), was 2Pac’s dedication to mother and former Black Panther Party member Afeni Shakur; it became the third song by a rap act to be placed in the Library of Congress.
The latter song and Me Against the World would both earn Shakur his first GRAMMY nominations. While he didn't win, both are masterpieces that signaled the rapper’s coming-of-age.
Jay-Z - Reasonable Doubt (1996)
Jay-Z gave a solid lyrical offering on his 1996 debut. A landmark album on the now-defunct Roc-A-Fella Records, the 14-track Reasonable Doubt brought mafioso and luxury rap into the ring, as Jay-Z gave semi-autobiographical tales of street life.
On "Feelin’ It," the Brooklyn rapper boasts his riches and opulent lifestyle, while the Issac Hayes-sampling "Can I Live" explores the close calls that the hustle brings. Hov’s stream-of-conscious flow highlighted production from the likes of Ski Beatz, DJ Premier and Clark Kent.
Reasonable Doubt predicted Jay-Z’s thriving future without a doubt, as he’s since taken hip-hop’s throne as a coveted 24-time GRAMMY-winning artist (in addition to 88 nominations).
Lil’ Kim - Hard Core (1996)
Brooklynite Lil’ Kim carved out space for risque rap on her 1996 solo breakout Hard Core. Less than six months after the murder of her mentor the Notorious B.I.G., the former Junior M.A.F.I.A. member achieved solo commercial success for her provocative lyricism and appearance. Whereas many of her contemporaries adopted a more androgynous style, Lil’ Kim played up her sex appeal onstage and on record.
The raunchy "Big Momma Thang," which samples 1978 Sylvester deep cut "Was It Something That I Said," shows Lil Kim’s allyship with queer listeners. Lil’ Kim asserted her hood dominance on "No Time," while flaunting her affection for being classily "draped in diamonds and pearls." Although Hard Core was Moderately received, Lil’ Kim’s rap successors —Doja Cat, Megan Thee Stallion and Cardi B — would later speak highly of the Queen Bee’s NSFW magnetism. Nearly 30 years later, contemporary women in hip-hop continue to strive for Lil’ Kim’s unapologetic influence.
Missy Elliott - Supa Dupa Fly (1997)
Hip-hop hadn’t witnessed fly until Missy "Misdemeanor" Elliott stepped onto the scene. The Virginia-born rapper and singer/songwriter had once been a part of R&B group Sista before partnering with producer Timbaland. The two both wrote and produced almost the entirety of Aaliyah’s 1996 album One In A Million. By the late ‘90s, Elliott’s pen was in demand, giving her the confidence to share her unconventional sound and look as a solo act.
Her 1997 debut, Supa Dupa Fly, redefined what it meant to be a woman in rap. Over Timbaland's bass-thumping production, Elliott went full-on futuristic. She humorously teased her sexuality on the audacious "Sock It 2 Me," while the bouncy "The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)" sampled Memphis soul vocalist Ann Peebles with peculiar lyrics like "my finger waves these days, they fall like Humpty."
Two decades before being inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and receiving the Black Music Collective's Recording Academy Honors award, Elliott took the rap world by storm. Ahead of its time yet heralded, Supa Dupa Fly and Elliott’s one of a kind style showed the artist’s peers and successors how to be creative anomalies.
Outkast - Aquemini (1998)
The South had something to say on Outkast’s third album Aquemini. The duo of André 3000 and Big Boi asserted their southern charm and immaculate rhyme schemes on the 16-track album that catapulted them to stardom. As the two rappers perfected their individualism, Aquemini also showed 3000 and Big Boi seamlessly meshing their styles together.
More spacey than their sophomore album ATLiens, Outkast doubled up on their down home twang on the funky (but controversial) "Rosa Parks." The two questioned reality from dystopian technology on the surreal "Synthesizer" with P-Funk legend George Clinton. Listeners can visualize a juke joint scene on the reggae-tinged "SpottieOttieDopaliscious," where 3000 and Big Boi intertwine tales of a violent nightclub encounter and a cursed romance.
Aquemini ushered a turn in Dirty South hip-hop, where the region gained national respect for its storytelling, realism and unique flow.
Dr. Dre - 2001 (1999)
Super producer and rapper Dr. Dre brought out the all-stars on his 1999 sophomore solo album 2001. The LP reunited the now seven-time GRAMMY-winner with his prodigies Snoop Dogg, Eminem, Xzibit, Nate Dogg and Kurupt, while ushering in a new age of West Coast rap. Seven years after his groundbreaking debut album The Chronic, the former N.W.A. member was "Still D.R.E."
On the aforementioned track, written entirely by Jay-Z, Dr. Dre flexed his near 15-year impact in hip-hop. "The Watcher" detailed the Compton native reaching music industry plateaus despite paranoia of "a new era of gangstas." Strip club anthem "The Next Episode" harkened back to Dre and Snoop’s "Nuthin’ But A 'G' Thang," while "Let’s Get High" captured a raunchy house party. On 2001, now certified 6x platinum, Dr. Dre was at his most carefree while setting the bar high for a new generation of hip-hop.
Photo: Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for the Recording Academy
The 2023 GRAMMYs Nominated For Three Emmys: See The Categories Below
In an awards show crossover to remember, the 2023 GRAMMYs telecast has been nominated in three prestigious categories at the 2023 Emmy Awards.
An Emmy for the GRAMMYs? It's happened before, and it could happen again.
The 2023 Emmys nominations list has been revealed, and Music's Biggest Night is well represented.
The 2023 GRAMMYs have been nominated for Emmy Awards in the Outstanding Production Design For A Variety Special, Outstanding Lighting Design/Lighting Direction For A Variety Special and Outstanding Sound Mixing For A Variety Series Or Special categories.
In the first category, the 2023 GRAMMYs compete with "The Oscars," "Encanto At The Hollywood Bowl," "Carol Burnett: 90 Years Of Laughter + Love," and "The Apple Music Super Bowl LVII Halftime Show Starring Rihanna."
The second category also contains "Encanto At The Hollywood Bowl," as well as "2022 Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame Induction Ceremony," "75th Annual Tony Awards," and "The Weeknd Live At SoFi Stadium."
Also nominated in the third category are "Bono & The Edge: A Sort Of Homecoming With Dave Letterman," "Elton John Live: Farewell From Dodger Stadium," "Saturday Night Live • Co-Hosts: Steve Martin & Martin Short," and "Taylor Hawkins Tribute Concert."
Check out the complete list here, and watch this space to see if the GRAMMYs will take home the world's most prestigious TV award!
Photo: Al Pereira/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
10 Albums That Showcase The Deep Connection Between Hip-Hop And Jazz: De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest, Kendrick Lamar & More
Hip-hop and jazz are two branches of Black American music; their essences have always swirled together. Here are 10 albums that prove this.
Kassa Overall is tired of talking about the connections between jazz and rap. He had to do it when he released his last two albums, and he has to do it again regarding his latest one.
"They go together naturally," he once said. "They're from the same tree as far as where they come from, which is Black music in America. You don't have to over-mix them. It goes together already."
Expand this outward, and it applies to all Black American musics; it's not a stretch to connect gospel and blues, nor soul and R&B. Accordingly, jazz and rap contain much of the same DNA — from their rhythmic complexity to its improvisational component to its emphasis on the performer's personality.
Whether in sampling, the rhythmic backbone, or any number of other facets, jazz and rap have always been simpatico; just watch this video of the ‘40s and ‘50s vocal group the Jubilaries, which is billed as the “first rap song” and is currently circling TikTok. And as Overall points out to GRAMMY.com, even jazz greats like Louis Armstrong or Dizzy Gillespie had “Lil B and Danny Brown energy.”
De La Soul — 3 Feet High and Rising (1989)
Featuring samples by everyone from Johnny Cash to Hall and Oates to the Turtles, their playful, iridescent, psychedelic 1989 debut, 3 Feet High and Rising, is the perfect portal to who Robert Christgau called "radically unlike any rap you or anybody else has ever heard,"
3 Feet High and Rising consistently ranks on lists of the greatest hip-hop albums of all time. In 2010, the Library of Congress added it to the National Recording Registry.
A Tribe Called Quest — The Low End Theory (1991)
If one were to itemize the most prodigious jazz-rap acts, four-time GRAMMY nominees A Tribe Called Quest belong near the top of the list. Their unforgettable tunes; intricate, genre-blending approach; and Afrocentric POV, put them at the forefront of jazz-rap.
There are several worthy gateways to the legendary discography of Q-Tip, Phife Dawg, Ali Shaheed Muhammad, and Jarobi White,, like 1993's Midnight Marauders and 1996's Beats, Rhymes and Life.
But their 1991 album The Low End Theory, was a consolidation and a watershed. From "Buggin' Out" to "Check the "Rhime" to "Scenario" — featuring Busta Rhymes, Charlie Brown and Dinco D — The Low End Theory contains the essence of Tribe’s vibrant, inventive personality.
Dream Warriors — And Now the Legacy Begins (1991)
Representing Canada are Dream Warriors, whose And Now the Legacy Begins was a landmark for alternative hip-hop.
King Lou and Capital Q's 1991 debut eschewed tough-guy posturing in favor of potent imagination and playful wit. Christgau nailed it once again with his characterization: "West Indian daisy age from boogie-down Toronto."
Its single "My Definition of a Boombastic Jazz Style" samples "Soul Bossa Nova" by 28-time GRAMMY winner Quincy Jones — who, among all the other components of his legacy, is one of jazz's finest arrangers. The tune would go on to become the Austin Powers theme song; in that regard, too, Dream Warriors were ahead of their time.
The Pharcyde — Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde (1992)
All of Black American music was fair game to producer J-Swift; on the Pharcyde's classic debut Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde, he sampled jazzers like Donald Byrd and Roy Ayers alongside Marvin Gaye, Jimi Hendrix, Sly and the Family Stone, and more. Over these beds of music, Fatlip, SlimKid 3, Imani, and Bootie Brown spit comedic bars with blue humor aplenty.
"I'm so slick that they need to call me, "Grease"/ 'Cause I slips and I slides When I rides on the beast" Imani raps in "Oh S—," in a representative moment. "Imani and your mom, sittin' in a tree/ K-I-S-S (I-N-G)."
All in all, the madcap, infectious Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde is a pivotal entry in the jazz-rap pantheon. One reviewer put it best: "[It] reaffirms every positive stereotype you've ever heard about hip-hop while simultaneously exploding every negative myth."
Digable Planets — Reachin' (A New Refutation of Time and Space) (1993)
Digable Planets' Ishmael Butler once chalked up the prevalent jazz samples on their debut as such: "I just went and got the records that I had around me," he said. "And a lot of those were my dad's s—. which was lots of jazz." It fits Digable Planets like a glove.
"Rebirth of Slick (Cool Like Dat)" contains multiple elements of Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers' "Stretching"; "Escapism (Gettin' Free" incorporates the hook from Herbie Hancock's "Watermelon Man"; and "It's Good to Be Here" samples Grant Green's "Samba de Orpheus. Throughout Reachin', Butler, Craig Irving and Mary Ann Viera proselytize Black liberation in a multiplicity of forms.
Pitchfork nailed it when it declared, "Reachin' is an album about freedom — from convention, from oppression, from the limits imposed by the space-time continuum."
Gang Starr — Daily Operation (1992)
In the realm of Gang Starr, spiritual consciousness and street poetry coalesce. Given that jazz trucks in both concepts, it's a natural ingredient for DJ Premier and Guru's finest work.
One of their first masterpieces, Daily Operation, contains some of jazz's greatest minds within its grooves. "The Place Where We Dwell" samples the Cannonball Adderley Quintet's "Fun"; Charles Mingus' "II B.S" is on "I'm the Man"; the late piano magician Ahmad Jamal's "Ghetto Child" pops up on "The Illest Brother."
Throughout their career, DJ Premier and Guru only honed their relaxed chemistry; jazz elements help give their music a natural swing and sway. (Their musical partnership continues to this day; Gang Starr is releasing music this very week.)
The Roots — Things Fall Apart (1999)
Three-time GRAMMY winners The Roots' genius blend of live instrumentation and conscious bars launched them far past any "jazz-rap" conversation and into mainstream culture, via their role as the house band on "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon."
Elements of limbic, angular jazz can be found throughout their discography, but their major label debut Do You Want More?!!!??! might be the most effective entryway into their blend of jazz and rap. ("Silent Treatment" features a bona fide jazz singer as a guest, Cassandra Wilson.)
Whether it’s the burbling "Distortion to Static," or the jazz-fusion-y "I Remain Calm," or the knockabout "Essaywhuman?!!!??!", venture forth into the Roots' discography; they're a hub of so many spokes of Black American music.
Madlib — Shades of Blue (2003)
As jazz-rap connections go, Madlib's Shades of Blue is one of the most pointed and direct.
Therein, he raids the Blue Note Records vault and remixes luminaries from Wayne Shorter ("Footprints") to Bobby Hutcherson ("Montara") to Ronnie Foster ("Mystic Brew," flipped into "Mystic Bounce"). In the medley "Peace/Dolphin Dance," Horace Silver and Herbie Hencock's titular works meet in the ether.
Elsewhere, Shades of Blue offers new interpretations of Blue Note classics by Madlib's fictional ensembles Yesterday's New Quintet, Morgan Adams Quartet Plus Two, Sound Direction, and the Joe McDuphrey Experience — all of whom are just Madlib playing every instrument.
In recent years, Blue Note has been hurtling forward with a slew of inspired new signings — some veterans, some newcomers. Through that lens, Shades of Blue provides a kaleidoscopic view of the storied jazz repository's past while paving the way for its future.
Kendrick Lamar — To Pimp a Butterfly (2015)
While hip-hop has had a direct line to jazz for decades — as evidenced by previous entries on this list — Lamar solidified and codified it for the 21st century in this sequence of teeming, ambitious songs about Black culture, mental health and institutional racism.
"Kendrick reached a certain level with his rap that allowed him to move like a horn player," Overall told Tidal in 2020. And regarding Lamar’s present and future jazz-rap comminglings, Overall adds, "He opened up the floodgates of creative possibilities."
Kassa Overall — Animals (2023)
The pieces of Overall's brilliance have been there from the beginning, but never had he combined them to more thrilling effect than on Animals — where jazz musicians like pianists Kris Davis and Vijay Iyer commingle with rappers like Danny Brown and Lil B.
"I would rather people hear my music and not think it's a jazz-rap collage," Overall once told GRAMMY.com. "What if you don't relate it to anything else? What does it sound like to you?"
When it comes to the gonzo Danny Brown and Wiki collaboration "Clock Ticking," the Theo Croker-assisted "The Lava is Calm," and the inspired meltdown of "Going Up," featuring Lil B, Shabazz Palaces and Francis & the Lights — this music sounds like nothing else.
Over the decades, Black American musicians have swirled together jazz and rap into a cyclone of innovation, heart and brilliance — and there’s seemingly no limit to the iterations it can take on.
Photo: Pat Greenhouse/The Boston Globe via Getty Images
Hip-Hop Education: How 50 Years Of Music & Culture Impact Curricula Worldwide
The study of hip-hop has evolved significantly — from socio-cultural studies, to deep dives on specific artists — as has its use as a pedagogical tool. A curriculum without hip-hop would "be an incomplete education of our world," one professor notes.
In its 50th year, hip-hop is in a remarkable place of leadership. Despite the mainstream forces that long sidelined hip-hop its rightful impact for decades, what began as a cultural expression now has significantly impacted business, music and culture on a global scale.
Beginning in the 1990s, hip-hop music and culture emerged as a key pedagogical tool in education at all levels. From dancing and rhyming in K-12 classrooms to university-level classes and archives, artist-centric studies and fellowships, the use of hip-hop in education has evolved significantly over the decades.
Teaching Hip-Hop As History
What hip-hop artists have been expressing about race, violence, economic class and beyond for the past 50 years is used as a powerful education tool in the present. Dan Charnas, Associate Arts Professor at New York University, suggests that hip-hop is crucial in overall education. His popular course on the late producer and composer J. Dilla — who produced for artists including A Tribe Called Quest, Common and Janet Jackson — inspired Charnas to write the New York Times bestseller Dilla Time.
"Hip-hop is just part of a longer popular music tradition which sits very squarely in any history — cultural, music or otherwise. So teaching hip-hop is just teaching history," Charnas tells GRAMMY.com, adding that not incorporating hip-hop into his curriculum would "be an incomplete education of our world.
"It’s funny," he continues, citing an episode of [Rick Rubin's] podcast. "When I was on last year, he’s like, ‘So you teach hip-hop, what’s that like?’ It was such a weird question! He says when he was a student at Tisch, where I teach, hip-hop was the thing you did instead of school. He comes from a generation that had no context for it being somewhat academic."
Charnas certainly isn't the first academic to study hip-hop. He cites Brown University professor Tricia Rose’s 1994 book Black Noise: Rap Music and Black Culture in Contemporary America as a key breakthrough to pave the way for hip-hop scholarship.
The study of hip-hop has also experienced significant development — from history-focused socio-cultural studies, to deep dives on specific artists. Decades after Howard University began talking about hip-hop studies in 1991 and the University of California, Berkeley created a course to study the late rapper Tupac Shakur in 1997, 17-time GRAMMY winner Kendrick Lamar is now the subject of dedicated college courses around the country. Lamar is among the artists who exemplify the way hip-hop culture transcends genre and form, whose work is a living document of society.
Good kid, m.A.A.d city has themes of "gang violence, you’ve got child-family development in the inner city, you’ve got drug use and the war on drugs, you’ve got sex slavery, human trafficking — a lot of the things that are hot-button issues for today are just inherent in the world of Compton, California," Georgia Regents University instructor Adam Diehl told *USA Today.
Diehl introduced a course on Lamar in 2014, and today lectures on hip-hop at Augusta University. What if people had said, ‘we shouldn’t study Toni Morrison or Hemingway or Emily Dickinson because they’re too new?" he continued to USA Today. "Everything was new or too popular or too risqué at the time, but I just think that great stories last and the story of good kid, m.A.A.d city, is lasting."
"In my literature courses, music is considered a critical text," said Dr. Regina N. Bradley, an assistant professor of English and African Diaspora Studies at Kennesaw State University in Georgia. In one class, her students delve into Black protest songs. In another, they examine the music of Southern rap trailblazers like Outkast. Both help students connect the past to the present.
"Music is pedagogy. It’s an archive and so real," she explained. "When you can show and prove to students that the history of civil rights for Black folks is not linear but cyclical, they understand and value that their experiences and what they are witnessing on a daily basis are reflections of the past in the present. History lives in the music; it lives in the culture… As a professor, it is my job to show students the dots, connect them a little bit and set them on their own journeys of discovery."
Hip-hop is also used as a tool for teaching K-12 students in a wide variety of ways, whether it’s learning and performing rhymes in math classes or analyzing current issues like police brutality and social justice. Nonprofits such as Oakland’s Hip Hop For Change work with local schools to teach foundational elements such as MCing, DJing, graffiti and breakdancing. Like colleagues around the country, their instructors also use the culture to share practical knowledge about the world.
Hip-Hop Archives And Fellowships Advance Studies Of The Form
The creation of hip-hop archives and fellowships at universities have been a significant educational development over the past 15 years, beginning when Cornell University opened The Cornell Hip-Hop Collection in 2007. The CHHC features over a quarter million digital and physical artifacts, including recordings, party flyers, graffiti art, magazines, books and personal archives. Media from artists and documentarians such as MC Grandmaster Caz, photographers Joe Conzo and Ernie Paniccioli, film director Charlie Ahearn (best known for the seminal hip-hop movie Wild Style) and former Def Jam publicist and author Bill Adler are all at CHHC.
A first for the West Coast, UCLA’s Hip-Hop Initiative followed the CHHC in 2022. The university’s Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies is creating a digital archive and offering postdoctoral fellowships, among other missions. Public Enemy’s Chuck D is the Hip-Hop Initiative’s first artist-in-residence.
"It’s been incredible to witness and mentor so many students as they reach into the histories and experiences of the communities that gave rise to hip-hop," UCLA professor and advisory board member Cheryl Keyes said in a statement. "There's a richness and depth and context that are yet to be discovered and revealed, and this initiative will support much more of that."
"As we celebrate 50 years of hip-hop music and cultural history, the rigorous study of the culture offers us a wealth of intellectual insight into the massive social and political impact of Black music, Black history and Black people on global culture — from language, dance, visual art and fashion to electoral politics, political activism and more," added Associate Director and Initiative Leader H. Samy Alim.
One of the most prominent universities in the United States offers resident fellowships for the advanced study of hip-hop music and culture. In 2013, The Hiphop Archive and Research Institute (HARI) and the Hutchins Center for African & African American Research at Harvard University launched the Nasir Jones Hiphop Fellowship. Named after GRAMMY-winning hip-hop artist Nas, the fellowship is funded by an anonymous donor. Past recipients include Dr. Bradley of Kennesaw State. (Harvard’s HARI also offers an additional resident fellowship.)
"Hip-hop is important like computer science," Nas said in a press conference announcing the Jones fellowship. "The world is changing. If you want to understand the youth, listen to the music. This is what’s happening right underneath your nose."
Having fellowships and archives help ensure the continued study of hip-hop and offer hope to solidify its legacy for the next 50 years and beyond.
Teaching The Elements
As hip-hop education broadens and deepens at every academic level, there may also be the formation of more dedicated schools and increased educational attention to the original elements of hip-hop: DJing, MCing, beatboxing, graffiti art and breakdancing.
The foundational history and practice of DJing is now taught in courses at major institutions, including Stanford University and New School in New York City, and incorporated into curricula at music production schools such as Berklee College of Music in Boston and Pyramind in San Francisco. One-off workshops and day classes are also sometimes offered at select record stores such as Superior Elevation in Brooklyn.
Dedicated technical DJ schools are training future stars on and offline. After teaching DJ skills to private and college students for years, Queens, N.Y.-based DJ Rob Swift started his own Brolic Army DJ School to teach advanced skills, host masterclasses with other legends and host student challenges online.
Another excelling technical DJ school is Beat Junkie Institute of Sound (BJIOS), which trains students in DJing and production both online and at a brick and mortar location in Glendale, California. Like their friend and colleague Swift and his X-Ecutioners crew, the Beat Junkies DJs came to international prominence in the '90s as champions on the world battle DJ circuit.
As with MCing, graffiti and breakdancing, women DJs have been both influential and underrepresented in rap culture, but that may be changing. BJIOS has a supportive division for women and girls called Ladies of Sound to serve over half of the student body and offers a yearly scholarship for women in honor of the late Pam The Funkstress, the DJ of choice for Prince on his final tour, in conjunction with Pyramind and the Purple Pam Foundation.
A Future In Physical Education
The world is at the precipice of a new frontier in hip-hop influenced physical education thanks to breakdancing, which will be an official Olympic sport beginning with the Paris 2024 Games. This official recognition could foster the need for new learning opportunities all across the globe at K-12 schools, universities, dance studios and specialized sports schools.
This is already starting to happen on the academic front on the East Coast. Philadelphia’s Hip-Hop Fundamentals brings professional breakdancing workshops into K-12 schools, using movement alongside academic and social teaching.
Princeton University lecturer and Hearst Choreographer-in-Residence Raphael Xavier offers a college course called Introduction to Breaking: Deciphering its Power that "gives equal weight to scholarly study and embodied practice, using both approaches to explore the flow, power and cultural contexts of Breaking."
Hip-hop has grown from being dismissed as a short-term fad to becoming a vital lens for studying the world. The acceleration of the latter over the past 15 years alone suggests much more to come for hip-hop and education.
The most important teacher of this culture is hip-hop music, and it will continue to evolve intellectually, spiritually and physically over time and all across the planet. In that respect, the educational potential has only just begun to be understood.