DJ Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince In Chicago
DJ Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince are interviewed at Hotel 21 East in Chicago, Illinois in October 1989.
Raymond Boyd/Getty Images

Music Sermon: Hip-Hop Vs. The Grammys: 30 Years of Fighting The Power

Rap’s relationship with the Grammys started with a boycott when the Best Rap Song category was introduced 30 years ago, and it’s been rocky ever since.

Hip-hop and the Grammys have beef. The genre has always been marginalized by the Recording Academy, even as it grew into a superpower. This year, Kendrick Lamar, Drake, and Childish Gambino have reportedly refused to perform, and there are questions whether other luminaries will even attend - the show is no longer a can’t miss. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this has been an ongoing issue for three decades. Rap’s relationship with the Grammys started with a boycott the very first year the Best Rap Song category was introduced 30 years ago, and it’s been rocky ever since.

The year of 1988 was seminal for hip-hop. To those paying attention, the genre was proving its commercial viability through platinum albums and successful tours (even though the tours would soon face a moratorium due to increased violence). It was the year of multiple foundational releases for the young genre, including N.W.A.’s Straight Outta Compton, Run-DMC’s Tougher Than Leather, Public Enemy’s It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back, Eric B. & Rakim’s Follow the Leader, and Slick Rick’s The Adventures of Slick Rick. It was also the year hip-hop reached beyond the streets and into living rooms across the country with the premiere of Yo! MTV Raps. At the end of such a formative year, it felt appropriate – and triumphant – when National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS) announced a new category for the 1989 Grammy Awards: Best Rap Song. Nominated acts DJ Jazzy Jeff and Fresh Prince (“Parents Just Don’t Understand”), Salt-N-Pepa (“Push It”), LL Cool J (“Goin’ Back to Cali”), J.J. Fad (“Supersonic”) and Kool Moe Dee (“Wild Wild West”) celebrated along with hip-hop at large. It was a signal that the music business was finally recognizing rap as a real genre, not just rabble-rousers playing with beats.

Then, at the top of ’89, the academy pulled the rug out from under them and revealed that the Rap award would be part of the evening’s earlier, non-televised ceremony (the majority of the Grammys current 84 awards are handed out then; only 12 awards are usually presented in the telecast). Most of the acts were furious. DJ Jazzy Jeff still remembers his reaction. “(We were told) they aren’t going to televise the category. What do you mean you’re not going to televise it?” Jeff said in a recent interview with VIBE. “That sh*t don’t make sense. How you not going to televise it?”

Def Jam was always in the forefront of the fight for hip-hop’s proper positioning and recognition in the early years, with Bill Adler, head of Rush Management and Def Jam’s publicity departments, as strategist and voice. For example, in a note to The Today Show pitching future bookings of their artists after Will and Jeff appeared on the show, Adler argued, “However exotic they might seem to the rest of us, acts like Run-DMC, LL Cool J, Eric B. and Rakim, Public Enemy, and EMPD are the Rolling Stones, Elvis Presley, James Brown, Bob Dylan, and Joe Tex of the day… They are ‘the sound of young America.’”

LL, Will, and Jeff were Def Jam and Rush artists, so Adler and Russell Simmons planned to go on the offensive. If the Grammys weren’t going give rap the look it deserved, the Grammys could kiss rap’s ass.

In February, Def Jam and Rush announced a collective Grammys boycott. Salt-N-Pepa agreed to join with LL, Will and Jeff. "It's not just a threat," Adler said in his press release. "If they're not going to put us on, we're not going to attend. We think rap is important to contemporary music and rock 'n' roll, and obviously, they disagree with us." At the time, Grammys producer Pierre Cossette responded, citing “arithmetic” as the issue. “When you have 76 Grammy categories and you only have time to put 12 on air, you’ve got 64 unhappy groups of people.” He pointed at an offer for Will and Jeff to do a performance or presentation as their solution to include rap. “It’s not like we don’t want them on the show.”

J.J. Fad and Kool Moe Dee opted to attend, and Moe also accepted the presenting slot that Will and Jeff declined. J.J. Fad member Juanita Burns-Sperling has said the group didn’t want to skip what might have been their only chance to attend the Grammys. (She was right: J.J. Fad was the only act of all the groups to not have future nominations and wins.) But if she could make the choice again, she’d have done differently. “If I had known then what I know now, I definitely would have agreed to the boycott. We were so young. We didn’t know about politics or making a statement.”

Meanwhile, Moe did almost as much press as Will and Jeff. He was older in the game, and engaged in one of rap’s earliest and most storied beefs with LL. During his presenting slot, Moe spit some unifying few bars on behalf of his fellow nominees and hip-hop:

On behalf of all emcees
My co-workers and fellow nominees
Jazzy Jeff, J.J. Fad
Salt-n-Pepa and the boy who’s bad
We personify power and a drug free mind
And we express ourselves through rhythm and rhyme
So I think the time that the whole world knows
Rap is here to say – drummer, let’s go!

But in interviews and backstage at the awards, he separated himself from his peers, expressed his clear disapproval, and used the opportunity to take shots at Rush and LL. “One management company started (the boycott) and went to the papers and figured all the rappers would follow,” Moe said to the LA Times after the awards. “It was wrong, they were trying to turn it into a race thing.” Race was never a point in the boycott messaging. “I felt it was a negative move not to come to the Grammys. Like crying over spilled milk.” In a 2014 blog post about the boycott, Adler recounts Moe telling the Los Angeles Herald, “This wasn’t a real boycott. It was just one management company I’m not going to mention. The boycotting rappers didn’t even know what their statement was supposed to be. I asked LL Cool J and he didn’t even know what he was supposed to say. People can get turned off by little stuff like that, but it turned out ok for me.” Again, Moe and LL basically loathed each other at this point, and LL told Adler they never spoke. Adler quoted additional interviews where Moe blamed the decision not to air the award in part on hip-hop itself. “We don’t all wear gold and sneakers and I don’t like the image that’s been created. Like when LL Cool J grabbed himself at the American Music Awards when he was giving an award to Al B. Sure. That’s the kind of negative image all rappers have and I want to change that.” Respectability politics much, Moe?

Despite Kool Moe Dee’s stance (and possible hate), it was a real boycott, and it was more than just not showing up at the show. On the day of the awards – possibly at the same time as the early ceremony – Will, Jeff, Russell, Lyor Cohen and Adler were joined by Salt-N-Pepa, Kid ‘n Play, and Def Jam artists including Slick Rick, Chuck D and Flava Flav for a live press conference in L.A. Will compared the on-air snub to not being allowed to walk at your graduation.

Many outlets picked up the story after the awards, but the strongest support and solidarity in the moment came from MTV. Specifically, Yo! MTV Raps. “It’s not like there were fifty camera crews who came to see what we were talking about,” Adler expressed in VH1’s Yo! documentary. “But Yo! MTV Raps was there.”

MTV partnered with Rush to throw the biggest Grammy after party – or alterna-party - of the night, using footage for a special episode of the show. The event was flooded not only with everyone in hip-hop, but unexpected supporters like Little Richard (who is always on board in a fight for proper acknowledgment) and Malcolm Forbes. Yes, that Forbes. Oh, and Moe came, of course.

In 2016, Moe still maintained that attending would have been a better play. “The irony was, we were boycotting at a time that they were finally acknowledging us,” he said. “A much better strategy — and a much bigger hip-hop move — would have been for everybody to go to the Grammys and make our case in that space where the world was watching.” The flaw in this argument is, of course, that the world wasn’t watching. Because it wasn’t televised. Which is why they were boycotting in the first place. But Moe is an elder, elder statesmen so we’ll let him rock.

Jeff says there was no strategy; it was a decision based on pride. “It wasn’t like we were on some Malcolm X sh*t…We were fighting for legitimacy,” he told VIBE. Mainstream music and journalism were still not convinced hip-hop had staying power, and relegated the genre to the sidelines even as it was proving massively successful. “We didn’t even think about the impact of (the boycott). It was kind of like okay, you’re not doing it, Salt-N-Pepa’s not doing it, Kid 'n Play is not doing it. Oh my god, they want to interview us. We say we don’t think it’s fair…it goes all over the media…then the next year (the Recording Academy is) like hip-hop is too big for us to ignore. I am not going to sit here and act like that was the plan. It was right is right, wrong is wrong. That was wrong and we wasn’t down with that.”


The Grammys did air the Best Rap Song category the following year, but hip-hop’s issues with both the awards and the show’s production haven’t gone away.

Some of rap’s most important artists have never won a Grammy: Nas, Snoop, BIG, N.W.A, A Tribe Called Quest, Public Enemy, 2Pac, Ice Cube...none. A Best Rap Album category wasn’t added until 1996 – the argument up to that point was that it was a singles-based genre. And the Grammys have continued to shaft hip-hop in the four big General categories.

In 30 years, a rap album has only won the coveted Album of the Year award twice: The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill in 1999 (and that album is characterized as R&B by the Grammys so it only half-counts), and Outkast’s Speakerboxx/The Love Below in 2004.

No rap song has taken home Song of the Year or Record of the Year, and only four rap acts have won Best New Artist: Arrested Development in 1993, Lauryn Hill in 1999 (and again, the academy doesn’t consider her rap), Macklemore & Ryan Lewis in 2014 (which was a mess, but we’ll get to that), and Chance the Rapper in 2017.

Rap has become the most dominant genre in music – which, by definition, means it’s pop – yet Grammy voters can’t quite get a grasp on it. Music critic Jon Caramanica wrote in 2017 (a year that two of hip-hop’s most nominated artists, Kanye West and Jay-Z, opted out of the awards), “The hip-hop and R&B categories tend to misread the genres they aim to celebrate, favoring the established over the insurgent, the legible over the provocative (and also, when possible, white artists over black).”

Some notable snubs, to Caramonica’s point, include Kanye losing Album of the Year to Herbie Hancock - whom we love and respect, but in 2008? Come on, fam. Eminem lost AOTY to Steely Dan in 2001. Again, Steely Dan are legends, but in the new millennium? The Fugees lost to Celine Dion in 1997 (I’m not quite so mad at that one). 50 Cent lost Best New Artist to Evanescence in 2004, and promptly crashed their acceptance speech in low-key protest.

In 2014 all hell broke loose when Macklemore and Ryan Lewis won three out of four Rap categories over Kendrick Lamar. The backlash was so bad, in 2015 the Grammys left rap out of the televised awards for the first time since including it in ’90, possibly in fear of Iggy Azalea sweeping as well. Macklemore was even compelled to text Kendrick after the show to apologize.

Then there’s the tendency for the academy to vote on the safest and/or most pop-leaning choice. Arrested Development swept the rap categories against contenders including The Chronic in 1993, and Young MC’s “Bust A Move” beat out “Fight the Power” and “Me Myself and I” in 1990.

The awards have not been able to adapt to the increasingly rapid evolution of the music business overall, nor have they adapted to the expansion of hip-hop as a genre. Pop, Rock and R&B have all had categories added over the years to recognize a wider range in the genres - Best Traditional Pop Album (added after Tony Bennett’s MTV Unplugged album took home AOTY in 1995 and everyone collectively asked WTF), Best Metal Performance in Rock, and Best Urban Contemporary Album in R&B. Conversely, the Rap categories have shrunk from five to four –Best Performance by Duo or Group was retired in 2012.

NARAS has made efforts to modernize. In 2016, eligibility rules were updated to allow songs and albums that have only been released via paid streaming services. Changes to the voting process allowing online voting in 2017 increased engagement and participation with younger members, and perhaps as a result, there were no white men in last year’s Album of the Year category for the first time since 1999. But even with Jay-Z, Kendrick Lamar and Childish Gambino nominated, the award went to Bruno Mars. This year, nominees in the big four categories are expanded from five acts to eight. More representation in nominations is great, but when it continuously fails to translate into wins, it’s still insulting. Maybe more so.

Now the telecast faces the challenge of major artists opting once again to just not show up since they don’t feel valued, which leaves the performances lacking in star power and diversity, which leads to declining ratings. Over the years, Jay has been a repeat no-show, Drake has scheduled tour dates during the awards, Kanye at one point said he wasn’t coming back until they fixed the voting (he’s been back). This year, Drake and Kendrick, both nominated for AOTY and SOTY, declined performance offers. So did Childish Gambino, who’s nominated for ROTY and SOTY. Now, the question is whether they’ll show up at all.

“The fact of the matter is, we continue to have a problem with hip-hop,” longtime producer Ken Ehrlich told the New York Times this week. “When they don’t take home the big prize, the regard of the academy, and what the Grammys represent, continues to be less meaningful to the hip-hop community, which is sad.”

Unfortunately, Will and Jeff’s sentiments from their press conference on Grammy day in 1989 still represent hip-hop’s relationship with the Grammys, now just in a different way. “We sell plenty of albums, we’re making an impact, and we think we’re being denied what is rightfully ours.”

#MusicSermon is a weekly series by Naima Cochrane that highlights the under-acknowledged and under-appreciated urban artists and sub-genres from the '90s and earlier. The series seeks to tell unknown and/or forgotten stories that connect the dots between current music, culture and the foundations of the past.

additional reporting by Stacy-Ann Ellis

From the Web

More on Vibe

Stacy-Ann Ellis

Meet Koffee, The Rising Jamaican Star Who Is Hot Like A Thermos

Back in 1962, a 17-year-old Jamaican singer/songwriter named Robert Marley recorded a song called “One Cup of Coffee” and went on to take reggae music around the world. Fast forward 55 years to 2017, when a 17-year-old Jamaican singer/songwriter named Koffee dropped her first record, “Burning,” setting her on a path to become the most talked-about new artist in dancehall reggae right now.

Koffee got her big break when veteran singer Cocoa Tea invited her onstage at the January 2018 edition of Rebel Salute, Jamaica’s biggest roots reggae festival. “She name Koffee and me name Tea,” he quipped, calling her the “next female sensation out of Jamaica.” The artist born Mikayla Simpson doesn’t actually like coffee though—she prefers hot chocolate.

After graduating from Ardenne High, the same school dancehall star Alkaline attended, Koffee turned her focus to music. She shot a live video with new roots superstar Chronixx at Marley’s Tuff Gong Studios, then dropped her breakout single “Toast,” produced by Walshy Fire of Major Lazer fame. That video has racked up 10 million+ views and made the artist, who stands just over five feet tall, a very big name on the island. Now signed to Columbia UK, Koffee will release her debut EP Rapture next month.

“Mi only spit lyrics, don't really talk a lot,” she states on the track “Raggamuffin.” But when Koffee turned up to VIBE’s Times Square headquarters, bundled up against NYC’s February chill in a hoodie, thermals, and Nike x Off-White sneakers, she opened up about her musical journey, the power of gratitude, her surprising inspirations, and how she plans to spend her birthday.


VIBE: I haven’t seen you since your EP listening in Kingston. Congratulations on an impressive body of work. Koffee: Thank you. I feel humble and proud at the same time. I really put a lot of thought into the EP, the way I structured it, and the content, the lyrics. It really means a lot to me, so I appreciate you saying that.

It’s amazing how much you’ve accomplished since Cocoa Tea brought you out on Rebel Salute. Yeah, and that was only a year and a month ago!

So how did the link with Cocoa happen? Actually, it happened through Walshy Fire. After my very first single “Burning,” Walshy reached out and sent me some riddims, in hopes of us working together, which we ended up doing. We were supposed to meet up at a studio in Florida and when we went there Cocoa Tea was already in the building. We were like, “Wow, Cocoa Tea!” Because Cocoa Tea is a reggae legend for us in Jamaica. Walshy actually introduced Cocoa to some of my music, and Cocoa was like, “Wha? Mi gonna bring her out on Rebel Salute next month!” This was in December, and Rebel Salute was in January.

Timing is everything. Rebel Salute made a huge difference. It opened me up to a lot of opportunities. Even today a lot of places that I go, people remember me from there. I was doing music before. I’d done a few shows here and there, but the audience at Rebel Salute is very important. It’s an epic stage to present yourself.

Were you nervous? Just before going out on the stage I was backstage pacing back and forth. I was trying to keep warm as well because it was chilly that night. But I was really nervous because it was my first time being in such a light.

Do you think being so young has helped you? Like, you may not overthink everything. I think you have a point. Because I’m young, my mind is a bit more pure, or uncorrupted. Experiences do have a way of taking away your mental space and the things you’re willing to try. Staying in “the comfort zone” is the most comfortable thing, but sometimes pushing yourself to step outside of that will help you overcome your fears. That, and just the drive and motivation. I definitely try to keep challenging myself.

Reggae has always been a male-dominated industry, but female artists are definitely on the rise. How do feel getting catapulted into that category? I feel like it’s a big responsibility, and “to whom much is given, much is expected.” So I don't look at it as, “Oh, I’ve made it.” But I acknowledge that I’m in a position where I have a responsibility now to fulfill and to pull through. It just pushes me to work harder, make more things happen, and just keep it going.

I love the line in your song “Raggamuffin” where you say, “Mi give them heart attack inna mi halter back.” Was that inspired by Althea & Donna’s “Uptown Top Rankin’” from the ‘70s? Yeah, I love that song. That’s the thing, I would say that every artist is an influence to me. Growing up, I would hear these songs being played by people next door, down the road, all around. Just in the Jamaican environment on a whole. So those songs definitely do have an influence on me, the messages from those times. Once you hear it, it’s in your head. You know it now and it really makes a difference in how you think, how you speak, and everything.

When people think of a female dancehall artist they usually think of colorful hair, long nails… But you seem to have your own swag. How would you describe your style? I would definitely say unique, but at the same time, it is natural to me and not calculated. I don't put a name to it and say, “I’m gonna be this way.” I just kind of flow and whatever you see is me doing what I feel. Like, I’m not sure what these pants are, but I bought them in Berlin. I got this hoodie in the UK—I’m not sure what brand this is either. I was just trying to keep warm. My friend Ayesha from the UK styled me with this top recently for a shoot.

There’s a line on “Burning” where you talk about “Koffee pon di street, tank top inna di heat / Jeans pants an’ Crocs / No socks pon mi feet / Knapsack mi a beat / Well pack up an’ it neat.” Was that your real-life dress code in 2017? Yeah, I remember at that time that’s how I used to roll. You know in Jamaica it’s hot, so I probably had my tank top and my jeans on, or my shorts. And I had this one pair of grey Crocs that I just wore everywhere. And I always have my knapsack. So yeah, that was my reality at that moment.

How far away does that feel, now that you have a stylist and travel the world? That’s amazing. It’s a transition that’s really beautiful and something I really appreciate.

I have a feeling you’re going to re-introduce words like “appreciate” and “give thanks” into pop culture. I hope to start a wave of gratitude. Even by writing that song “Toast,” when I say “We haffi give thanks like we really supposed to,” it reminds me to be grateful. I aspire to be humble and I pray and ask God to help me be grateful. I try to maintain it and I hope that will inspire other people to do the same.

Let’s talk about “Toast.” On the chorus, you say “We nah rise and boast.” But then again, a lot of reggae and dancehall artists are very “boasy.” That’s part of the culture. When I say “Wi nah rise and boast” it means that no matter what happens along the journey, we’re still gonna remain the same. We gonna big up we friend and hold a vibes. I’m just making it clear that we never come fe hype.

You can spit pretty fast, but I feel like some people may be missing some of the things you say. But if you listen carefully you’re talking about real things. Thank you for noticing that. When I wrote “Raggamuffin,” a lot of my musical influence came from artists like Protoje and Chronixx. Chronixx has basically been an advocate for the youths, so his message had an impact on me. When I was vibing to the beat, I wanted to cover myself, cover my country where I come from, good things and bad things, and the music, reggae itself.

Growing up, did you see inner city kids not being looked after by their own government and their own people? Most definitely. I wouldn't say that the government is responsible for the lives of everybody as citizens. But there are some general things that need the government’s attention and they don't pay the attention that they should. They'd rather focus on things that can garner income. There are roads that need to be fixed in places that tourists don't necessarily visit. And nobody cares about those roads. Minor injustices, major injustices—just things that really need to be spoken about so that people can think about it and look into it.

BDP used the term Edutainment—education and entertainment. Is that something you present in your music? Yes, it’s definitely something I aim for. I think that it’s important to keep people interested enough to want to absorb what you are saying. And then it’s equally important to present something that is worth absorbing. Something productive, something inspiring, motivating. Just mixing both so that you have their attention and you’re also delivering something that’s worth their attention.

You were still in school when you did your song “Burning.” As a new artist did you have to convince the producers to work with you? Gratefully, no I didn't have to convince them. Because I did a tribute to Usain Bolt before that. I wrote a song with my guitar titled “Legend” and posted a video of me performing it with my guitar on Instagram.

Usain came across it and reposted it, so that garnered a lot of attention. People from the music industry reached out to me, and in that group of people was Upsetta records with their Ouji Riddim. They sent it to my first manager like, “Let’s see what she can do” and so forth.

There’s this thing in Jamaica called Sixth Form. It’s like you graduate high school and there’s an extra two years that you can do as like a pre-college. I applied for it and didn’t get through. Right after that, I did the tribute to Usain Bolt and then Upsetta sent me the Ouji Riddim. I was in a state of mind where I felt disappointed. I felt the need to motivate myself, so I was like “Come with the fire the city burning!”

How does your mom feel about all of this? I started writing lyrics at 14 years old, but she didn't find out until I was 16, when she saw me perform at a competition in school. I invited her there and she was taken aback, like, “Wow! So this what you've been doing?” (Laughs) She wanted me to do academics like every parent wants. And she was little disappointed when I didn't get through to Sixth Form. But over time, as I wrote more and performed more, she began to trust my talent and just trust the process. So she started appreciating the music and now she's fully on board.

What did your mother think of “dancehall pon the street,” like you sing about in your song “Raggamuffin”? As you know I’ve been living with mommy since I was a baby up until I was 17, so being under her roof I didn't go out much. I was always in the house just chilling and stuff. I know that there’s a dance on like every corner. lf you are driving, you always hear music playing. You have the oldies dancehall, you have the new dancehall—everybody just hold a vibe. That’s basically where that line comes from.

Do you go to dances now? I’ve been going to a few parties and getting out, but I haven't been to like a dance dance. I’ve been to Dub Club, you get some really good music there. But Dub Club is like a relaxed kinda vibe.

You recently performed at Bob Marley’s 74th birthday celebration in Kingston. Do you still listen to his music? Most definitely! Bob has set such a great and amazing foundation for the music, the industry, the genre itself, the country, the youth... He’s set such a great example that you haffi really learn from it and take a lot from it so that you know where you’re coming from. You haffi understand how to execute in honor of such people.

What are some of your favorite Bob songs? Well, I performed “Who the Cap Fit” that night, so that’s one of my favorites. And I like “Is This Love” and “Natural Mystic.” That’s just a few.

I know that’s a hard question. What about a dancehall legend like Super Cat? Hmm… “Mud Up” woulda be my favorite Super Cat.

Really?! Yeah, because of the flow he has on it, not necessarily the content. See, I’m from Spanish Town. Jamaicans on a whole, we like vibes. We like lyrics that, as we would say, “it slap!” It touches you, and really hits that spot. So I listen to a lot of different things, and the lyrics that I listen to aren't always conscious. But what I derive from music is not necessarily the message. Sometimes the flow that you’re hearing, that’s the wave for the moment. It may not be the best for the youth, but that’s what people like to vibe to. So you take that vibe, put a positive message to it, and that’s the spin. So I listen very widely.

One of my favorite songs on your new EP is the “Rapture” remix. It was dope that you got together with Govana on that. When I first wrote “Rapture,” Govana had recently done a song called “Bake Bean” that took off in Jamaica. When him drop that, it’s like the flow really resonate with me. I was like, “This is dope.” So when I did “Rapture” I was listening back to it and thought I should probably try to get Govana on this track. And it turned out so sick!

That’s cool to have the credibility where other artists respond to you like that. Because I'm sure it’s not always that easy. No, it’s not always easy. Me haffi give thanks for the way people have been responding.

So no one has kissed their teeth and said, “Nah man”? (Laughs) No, not yet. (Laughs) But what I have to appreciate is just when another artist really listens and pays attention. Sometimes an artist can be good and they don't get the response or the attention that they deserve. Some people don't want to listen, so I give a lot of respect to who is willing to listen.

Well Govana has given you that “crown” in his verse, which reminds me—how did the song “Throne” come about? I remember Walshy sent me that riddim in the first batch of riddims that he sent me. The riddim for “Toast” was also in that batch, but I started with “Throne.” It was basically like a challenge for me. I was like “How am I gonna spit on this?” Because the riddim sounded so dynamic. I was like “mi haffi mash this up!” Hence the fast spit-fire kind of vibe.

What music are you currently listening to on your phone? I don’t listen to my own songs that much. I’m vibing to Mr Eazi. I’ve been going in on the Afrobeats. Burna Boy. Smino the rapper. And I’ve been going in even more on Bob Marley.

Well, it’s reggae month right now. So there’s lots of legendary birthdays—Bob Marley, Dennis Brown. That makes the month even more significant! By the way, I’m born in February also. (Laughs) February 16th.

Happy Earthstrong! Were you keeping that quiet? I just remembered. I’ll be 19!

Wow—you’re gonna be out of the teens soon. What you gonna do on your 19th birthday? Wowwwww—I dunno. I’m gonna see when I get to Jamaica which party. I’ll probably just try and go to a dance or something. That ah go be mad!

Continue Reading
Getty Images

Solitary Alignment: 5 Self-Affirming Reads For Single Ladies On Valentine’s Day

Ahh, the Feast of Saint Valentine—the Hallmark holiday that strikes us with its arrow each year, for better or for worse, depending on your bae status. While the romantic holiday is adored and celebrated by many, if you’re still reeling over, say, your ex’s refusal to commit, chances are Feb. 14 is more of a heartache for you than anything.

But as a wise woman once said, “If they liked it then they should’ve put a ring on it.” So whether V-Day has you scared of lonely or sulking over a lost love, as another wise woman once said, they “would be SUPER lucky to even set eyes on you this Valentine’s Day. That’s it. That’s the gift.” Shout out to The Slumflower.

Sure, having a bae on Valentine’s Day is cool, but so is reminding yourself why you’re just fine without one (cue Webbie’s “Independent”). In fact, single folks have better relationships overall, according to the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships. You know how the old adage goes: love yourself before loving someone else.

For this Valentine’s Day, VIBE Vixen rounds up a nourishing list of books for our sisters doin’ it for themselves. Consider this your reminder of how badass you are—because you are! Oh, oh, oh. *Beyoncé voice*

Continue Reading
Johnny Nunez

'So Far Gone': Re-Reviewing Drake's Iconic Mixtape 10 Years Later

“Draaaake?! Draaaake?! Aubrey Graham in a wheelchair... Draaaake?!”

Soulja Boy’s viral rant, while hilarious to 15 million viewers who watched The Breakfast Club interview, seems almost silly to contemplate now in a musical climate so easily dominated by the OVO frontrunner. But in 2009, at the release of Drake’s breakout mixtape, So Far Gone, Soulja’s questions of Drake’s influence and placement on the hip-hop spectrum actually mimicked the inquiries fans may have been asking at the time. Even Drizzy seemed to share those same contemplations on the project as he reflected his newfound stardom and the future that would unfold as a result.

So Far Gone, however, diminished those ounces of doubt. Ten years later, the 18-track project still comes together as one of the most cohesive mixtapes of this decade and has become the building block to one of the sturdiest foundations of a hip-hop artist to date. Revisiting So Far Gone and taking its temperature anew, we get a glimpse of how the personas of the emotional rapper came to be such inescapable and successful forces within the music industry at that time.


View this post on Instagram


@futuretheprince a decade ago you were Dj’ing all ages [email protected] a decade ago you were scared to share your [email protected] a decade ago you worked at a clothing store selling someone else’s [email protected] a decade ago you were in a basement with pink insulation walls figuring out fruity [email protected] a decade ago we were handing out flyers promoting club [email protected] a decade ago you were working the makeup counter at Beverly [email protected] a decade ago your moms house was my safe place and we really ran through the 6 everyday [email protected] a decade ago you were a legend and you will remain that [email protected] a decade ago you promoted me as if you were getting a cut of my [email protected] a decade ago you were the first person to recognize potential and give me a [email protected] a decade ago you came to the Beverly Wilshire Hotel and laid a verse for an unknown artist from [email protected] a decade ago you emailed me the cover art for something that would change my life [email protected] a decade ago you came to my release party at 6 Degrees and made me the biggest artist in the city off your presence [email protected] a decade ago I rapped over your beat cause you just made the best shit and even though you stay wildin on twitter these days I will never forget what you contributed to the game and my career...Portia I don’t know your IG but a decade ago you told me to rap over June 27th and bonded me and Houston Texas [email protected] a decade ago you took a chance on MySpace and introduced me to [email protected] a decade ago you took me out of Toronto and gave me the biggest blessing anybody has ever given me...I will never forget anybody involved in this journey even if you don’t fit in this caption...So Far Gone streaming everywhere for the first time ever Thursday. 🙏🏽

A post shared by champagnepapi (@champagnepapi) on Feb 13, 2019 at 3:27am PST

With his follow-up to Comeback Season (2007), Drake interrupted the hip-hop landscape with introspective songs that played up relationships instead of violence and street life through a healthy mix of confident raps and charming vocals. The idea of “emotional rapping” was so novice that it seemed uncool or too feminine in a male-dominated genre (Lil Wayne’s No Ceilings, Nicki Minaj’s Beam Me Up Scotty, and J. Cole’s The Warm Up also created noise at the time), but Drake’s ability to reach his female audience while still resonating with the masses was irrefutable. The somber tone of “Sooner Than Later,” sung in his lower register, perfectly conveys his efforts to reach an estranged lover before she’s gone for good. “The girl or the world? / They say someone gotta lose / I thought that I can have it all, do I really got to choose,” Drake ponders on the record.

In addition to lyrical content, Drake’s audacity to sing on heavily R&B-inspired tracks is unmatched. We saw that on “Houstatlantavegas”—possibly the genesis of his infatuation with strippers (“Hey there, pretty girl/You know, exactly what you got/And I don't blame you at all/You can't resist it/Especially when the lights so bright/And the money so right/And it's comin in every single night,” he crooned)—a seductive song that listens as an open love letter to a mysterious working girl. The romanticization of this woman is reminiscent of T-Pain’s 2005 single “In Luv With a Stripper,” but it seesawed back and forth between velvety refrains and confident bars that captured the allure in a way that felt both sexy and humanizing. The girl was no longer just a stripper, but one who dreamed of making it out of her hometown.

His singing may have seemed comparable to Kanye West, who had just released his predominantly auto-tuned album 808s & Heartbreak just a year before (Drizzy actually sampled Kanye’s “Say You Will” from the same album, flipping it to be a rap track). Even so, Drake dared to pair his vocals alongside talented voices within the R&B space, proving that he could sing just as much as he could rap. “A Night Off” was an incredibly bold and ambitious move. Drake had cojones to pair his sensuous crooning with the high notes of a certified songbird like Lloyd, but somehow it worked. This was the vulnerability that would give him his “Heartbreak Drake” persona, and he won for it.

While his vulnerability would be his gateway into the industry, Drake wanted to remind fans that he was still very much a rapper and a force to be reckoned with. In comparison to “A Night Off,” Drizzy flexed his flows on “Successful,” while Trey Songz held down the chorus. The materialism that was an undeniable 2009 rap music theme stood on the forefront as the eerie harmony led into Songz’s hook, fully encapsulating the desperation of a rookie attempting to overcome struggles and bolster from nothing to everything.

A seasoned Drake would surely not equate his success to simply h*es and cars, but its message, while simple, was honest and provided insight into a naïve conversation on what fame meant to a newcomer. Drake went harder on “Uptown,” though. The rapper had no choice to flex cocky bars over the Boi-1da-produced beat in order to keep up with its A-list features, Lil Wayne and Bun B.

This reminder of Drake The Rapper was also prevalent in his sampling. He demonstrated his understanding of hip-hop’s rich history on songs like “November 18th,” where DJ Screw provided the perfect assist with a chopped and screwed sample of Kris Kross’ “Da Streets Ain’t Right” (which also borrowed from Notorious B.I.G’s 1994 single, “Warning”). Although the track held a lot of weight in its instrumentals, Drizzy forged his own story by illustrating the day Lil Wayne called him, which in turn changed the course of his fate. Likewise, a purely-rapping-no-hook Drake over Jay-Z's original “Ignorant Sh*t” on his version, “Ignant Sh*t,” is quite nice. Yes, breaking away from the usual blueprint of breaks and harmonious choruses makes it teeter on the exhausting side, but the song’s lyrical content was a time capsule of the last decade (“Rest in peace to Heath Ledger, but I’m no Joker”).

The entirety of So Far Gone set the pace for Drake’s career in the years to come, but the tape’s final track, “The Calm,” foreshadowed his position in the landscape of hip-hop the most. “Leader of the new school, it’s proven and it’s known / I’m sitting in a chair, but in the future it’s a throne,” he prophesied. The electronic and muffled beat leads in to Drake’s reflection about a sense of alienation in the industry and his personal life that surely has continued well into the 2010s. While he is now one of the most commercially sought after talents in pop culture, his artistry has often been questioned by his musical peers. But even then, like the song said, Drake has always known that things were going to work out in his favor: “Everything will be okay and it won’t even take that long.”

Continue Reading

Top Stories