Kanye West's Wyoming Sessions Output Lands Him Atop The Charts | GRAMMY.com (2024)

Kanye West's Wyoming Sessions Output Lands Him Atop The Charts | GRAMMY.com (1)

Kanye West

Photo: Neilson Barnard/MTV1617/Getty Images

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As promised, June is unfolding an important body of work for a rediscovery of "the Kanye West sound of production"

Philip Merrill

|GRAMMYs/Jun 14, 2018 - 02:49 am

Kanye West's new album,Ye, as well as others he produced during his recent "Wyoming Sessions" are striking a chord with critics and persuading listeners and buyers to press play. For the June 16 Billboard charts, Ye is at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 — West's eighth in a row — and for the first time since the chart's 2014 launch, the Billboard Artist 100 has West at No. 1.

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All seven of Ye's tracks are in the Top 40. But the bigger story —and a gratifying surprise for some —is what Pusha T predicted in Rolling Stone on May 25 when his West-produced album Daytona came out. "I feel like through this whole month of June you're going to rediscover the Kanye West sound of production," said Pusha T. And that's exactly what's happening.

Ye was released on June 1. On June 8, West's birthday, he released the self-titled album by his new rap superduo, Kids See Ghosts, with his long-time collaborator Kid Cudi. Three albums with seven tracks each, released by a creative giant intending to prove once again his enormity. In an uncharacteristic use of superlatives, Allmusic.com's review of the album Kids See Ghostssaid it "not only emerges atop the Wyoming Sessions ranks, but also as a top release in either artist's respective catalogs." The announcement of the two albums was considered hype, and once again the power to follow hype with art is inherent in West.

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But the story is still very much in progress. On June 13, West posted the tracklist — 7 again — for the Nas album he produced, due out June 15. There is no title yet butthere is high anticipation. Superheroes have their alternate universe, but our rap universe is real, expressing the extraordinary from within. For many fans of both artists, it may seem unlikely the Nas release will disappoint. The mounting possibility of a four-by-seven epic would borderonthe type of takeover Pusha T predicted — or at very least would be a powerful demonstration.

So there's no pressure on Teyana Taylor, right? Her West-produced release isexpected on June 22. The epic saga continues and she might look like the new face in this still-changing story, but this is someone who Pharrell Williams first signed more than 10 years ago,before she began to work with West in 2012. Will all the starpower behind the Wyoming Sessions be a build up to West unveiling his secret weapon, a new star? This is a rap serial drama centered on a big and growing pile of art. Either way, Kanye West's prolific June 2018 is likely to be remembered.

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Kanye West's Wyoming Sessions Output Lands Him Atop The Charts | GRAMMY.com (2)

Nas performs at a screening of his documentary 'Nas: Time is ILLMatic' in 2014

Photo:Kimberly White/Getty Images for Hennessy

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Three decades after Nas released his debut album, 'Illmatic' remains the holy grail of East Coast rap. From poetic, pulled-from-life lyrics to its all-star cast of producers, learn how 'Illmatic' reignited New York’s rap supremacy in the mid-1990s.

Earl Hopkins

|GRAMMYs/Apr 19, 2024 - 01:59 pm

After shaking up the rap game with a breakout verse on the Main Source’s "Live at the Barbeque," a 17-year-old, chip-toothed MC named Nasir "Nas" Jones was crowned a prophet. His silk-smooth delivery and poetic rhymes on the 1991 jam were reminiscent of hip-hop greats like Kool G Rap and Rakim.

The verse — which included the line "Verbal assassin, my architect pleases. When I was 12, I went to hell for snuffin’ Jesus" — bestowed heavy expectations on the Queens native. While Nas was discovered by Main Source’s Large Professor, the young MC was soon drawing the attention of music label heads who wanted to ink a deal with the emerging artist.

"I must have rewinded that [verse] like a hundred times," former 3rd Bass rhymer MC Search said in the 2014 documentary Nas: Time Is Illmatic. "This Main Source album is brilliant, but who’s that kid? It almost felt like within a week, everybody wanted to know who that guy was."

Through Nas’ connection with Search, he found a home at Sony Music’s Columbia, and notched another memorable verse on 1992’s "Back To The Grill." But on April 19, 1994, Nas delivered the greatest debut in rap history: Illmatic.

Thirty years later,. Nas’ masterful stroke of poeticism and the gritty boom-bap loops on songs "It Ain’t Hard to Tell," "The World Is Yours," and "N.Y. State of Mind" still resonate. The album also revived the fleeting dominance of NY rap, and unexpectedly inspired other rappers to release albums with their baby pictures on the cover. Its influential power, and the amalgam of musical forces that threaded the album together, made Illmatic one of the definitive East Coast rap albums of the golden age. Few hip-hop albums have been as widely heralded for as long as Illmatic.

The landmark project chronicled Nas’ life growing up in the Queensbridge housing projects while helping restore the influence of East Coast rap on a now bicoastal scene. By '94, the West coast was taking the reins for the first time in the genre’s history. In Southern California, Dr. Dre’s The Chronic and Snoop Dogg’s Doggystyle popularized G-funk, which soon permeated the airwaves and topped the Billboard charts. Alternative West Coast acts like Oakland's Souls of Mischief and South Central's the Pharcyde were also establishing firm ground.

The mecca of hip-hop was no longer atop the leaderboard, but with his first full-length release, Nas was inspired to reclaim New York’s dominance and rekindle Queenbridge’s spark from the late 1980s. "I had to represent," Nas said in a 2019 interview with Drink Champs. "The pressure was on the borough and my project. And just getting into the game, you had to have something to say, so I definitely had to push the pen hard because, if not, it would’ve never [flown]."

Queensbrige is home to the largest housing project in the U.S., and birthed pioneers like MC Shan, Marley Marl, and the fearsome Juice Crew. They fell to South Bronx’s KRS-One and the Boogie Down Productions collective in the infamous "Bridge Wars," which left the Long Island City section seeking a new heir. And Nas, inspired by the lyrical warfare, took up the mantle.

Nas and Large Professor hired legendary producers DJ Premier, Pete Rock, Q-Tip, L.E.S, and others to work on Illmatic. They set the sonic lines, and Nas filled the gaps in spoken word form.

Read more: A Guide To New York Hip-Hop: Unpacking The Sound Of Rap's Birthplace From The Bronx To Staten Island

From their first studio session together, Q-Tip knew Nas’ skills were unlike any other he’d seen before. "You automatically knew," the A Tribe Called Quest legend (and fellow son of Queens) said in an interview with Red Bull Music Academy. "When Large Professor first played him for me, I heard him on the Live at the Barbeque,’ but then Large [Professor] played me his s— and I was like, ‘This dude is crazy, you know what I’m saying?’ I knew it was going to be the impact it was."

The project was a storybook of lived experiences, even down to the iconic album cover. Nas peeled back the layers of street violence, mass incarceration, and generations of disenfranchisem*nt throughout the 10-track LP. "Memory Lane (Sitin’ in da Park)" and "One Time 4 Your Mind" transported listeners to the hardened corners of Queens, where the air was filled with marijuana smoke and the distant whispers from street hustlers.

On the Tri-State anthem "N.Y. State of Mind," Nas’ creative equilibrium was at full balance. In Time Is Illmatic, Nas said the song’s early placement on the LP was intentional. He knew it would "bring [listeners] to hell and back."

"One Love" captured the pain of incarceration, with Nas’ descriptive story of distrust and heartbreak overlaying a chillingly euphoric beat. The AZ-assisted "Life’s a Bitch" is a celebratory toast to survival, and "It Ain’t Hard to Tell" is a masterful showcase of braggadocious rap.

The topics that I talk about were topics that were around before ‘Illmatic’; streets, social economic status, people’s struggles," Nas told Clash magazine. "I just told it crazy real, and it just talks about how to live in the circ*mstances and goes beyond, dreaming at the same time. Never just stay in the situation that you’re in."

The album was showered with praise upon release, with the Source blessing the album with a highly-coveted five-mic review. The rare score was administered by former Hot 97 radio personality and then-Source intern Minya Oh, who declared it one of the best albums she had ever heard. "Lyrically, the whole s— is on point. No cliched metaphors, no gimmicks. Never too abstract, never superficial."

The rave responses didn’t initially translate to album sales. Ilmatic debuted at No. 12 on the Billboard 200, only selling around 60,000 copies in its first week. The low sales were attributed to pre-Internet leaks, with renderings of Illmatic in circulation up to a year before its official release date, according to Clash. The standout singles also failed to scratch the charts.

Illmatic eventually sold more than two million copies, but the underwhelming start surprised DJ Premier. "We knew it was going to be that big of a deal, that’s why I never understood why it didn’t go like super platinum quick," Premier said to Mass Appeal. "I thought it was going to be super fast and it didn’t. I thought this one was going to be a big platinum album."

But three decades after its release, Illmatic influenced several generations of rap stars and retained its status as one of the best albums in rap history. In 2020, Rolling Stone ranked the album no. 44 on its list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.

Large Professor, who continued to work with Nas on later albums, said Illmatic is a pillar of hip-hop history. "It’s one of the roots of the tree of hip-hop because a lot of styles came from that. A lot of rhyme styles. He got people thinking outside of the norm," the producer said to HipHopDX in 2014. The stuff that he was rhyming was just crazy, man. But, it’s definitely one of the roots that hold the tree of hip-hop up strong."

Nas’ contributions has placed him among the best MCs of all time, and justifiably so. He’s continued to deliver No. 1 albums and hit singles throughout the decades, and scored his first GRAMMY Award for Best Rap Album in 2021 after more than a dozen nominations.

While Nas no longer listens to Illmatic and avoids celebrating the project, telling Haute Living that it’s "corny" to continue championing one album when he’s done so many others. But fans’ continued admiration for the album proves that his early goals were met. The reputation of East Coast rap and Queensbridge was restored, and Nas’ legacy will forever be immortalized. Mission accomplished, Esco.

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

Kanye West's Wyoming Sessions Output Lands Him Atop The Charts | GRAMMY.com (3)

(L-R) Rihanna in 2023, 2006 and 2010.

Photos: Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Roc Nation, Greetsia Tent/WireImage, Kevin Mazur/WireImage

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As the world eagerly awaits Rihanna's musical comeback, GRAMMY.com takes a deep dive into the superstar's catalog and celebrates her evolution from teen idol to beloved icon.

Princess Gabbara

|GRAMMYs/Feb 20, 2024 - 06:37 pm

A chance meeting changed Rihanna's life.

The singer was just 15 years old when she met producer Evan Rogers, who was vacationing with his wife in Barbados. Rogers recognized Rihanna's potential, and invited her to an audition in his hotel suite.

Shortly after her 16th birthday, Rihanna left her home country for the U.S. to record a demo, which included her breakthrough hit "Pon de Replay." The demo found its way into Jay-Z's hands, and Hov signed the teen artist to Def Jam and the label expedited her 2005 debut album, aptly titled Music of the Sun.

"When I left Barbados, I didn't look back," Rihanna told Entertainment Weekly in 2007. "I wanted to do what I had to do [to succeed], even if it meant moving to America."

Twenty years later, Rihanna is a renowned entertainer-turned-mogul. She has sold over 40 million albums worldwide, garnered over 12 billion Spotify streams, achieved 14 Billboard Hot 100 chart-toppers, and won nine GRAMMY Awards. Even her business ventures have been a massive success, as her Fenty Beauty brand is worth $2.8 billion.

Though it's been close to a decade since Rihanna's last studio album, 2016's ANTI, she reminded the world of her reign with her 2023 Super Bowl halftime show — which also marked her first time taking the stage in five years. Performing hit after hit while unveiling a baby bump, her 13-minute set became one of the most-watched halftime shows of all time with over 121 million viewers.

In honor of Rihanna's 36th birthday on Feb. 20, GRAMMY.com is revisiting the monstrous hits, ambitious projects, brow-raising visuals, and iconic collabs that propelled her to international stardom — and why it's all put her in a league of her own.

A New Island Girl In Town

True to her Carribean heritage, Rihanna's dancehall-inspired debut single "Pon de Replay" earned the then 17-year-old Barbados native her first entry on the Hot 100 at an impressive No. 2. Her official introduction to the world also hit No. 1 on the Billboard Dance Club Songs chart; she boasts 33 on the tally, second behind only the Queen of Pop herself, Madonna.

Follow-up single "If It's Lovin' That You Want" stalled at No. 36 on the Hot 100, but still whetted fans' appetite — as did her debut album, Music of the Sun, which is mostly comprised of dance-pop and dancehall tracks with hints of R&B (like "Willing to Wait"). Plus, her reimagining of Dawn Penn's 1994 reggae classic "You Don't Love Me (No, No, No)" is still so fun to listen to after all these years.

A mere eight months later, Rihanna's sophom*ore effort, 2006's A Girl Like Me, arrived to an eager audience. Defying the sophom*ore slump, she celebrated her first No. 1 with the ubiquitous lead single "SOS," which famously samples Soft Cell's 1981 hit, "Tainted Love." While A Girl Like Me is filled with high-energy, danceable tracks (including the nostalgic "Break It Off" with Sean Paul), Rihanna's second single was the melodramatic ballad "Unfaithful."

Penned by then-labelmate Ne-Yo, "Unfaithful" peaked at No. 6 on the Hot 100. More importantly, it showed a different side to Rihanna, proving that she could channel deep emotion when the performance calls for it. It also marked Rihanna's first time veering away from her "girl next door" image, as the song's subject matter deals with infidelity.

A Girl Like Me contains many fan favorites, from the laid-back "We Ride" to standouts "Dem Haters" and "Kisses Don't Lie." The latter is a reggae-rock hybrid that sounds like a catalyst for some of Rihanna's edgier tunes like "Breakin' Dishes" from 2007's Good Girl Gone Bad era. Touching ballads"Final Goodbye" and "A Million Miles Away" showcase her voice beautifully, foreshadowing later big-vocal numbers like "Love on the Brain."

An Icon In The Making

Rihanna was a familiar face by 2007, but with the arrival of her third studio album, Good Girl Gone Bad, she graduated from cookie-cutter pop star to bonafide icon.

Produced by Tricky Stewart, the LP's juggernaut lead single "Umbrella" featuring Jay-Z skyrocketed to No. 1 in 17 countries. Between striking images of Rihanna's silver-painted silhouette in the accompanying video and the now-iconic "ella-ella, eh, eh, eh" hook, "Umbrella" thrust the then 19-year-old into another stratosphere. Her confident delivery also commanded attention in a way fans and critics hadn't heard before.

The transformative era also birthed the gritty "Shut Up and Drive," on which Rihanna channels her inner rock star. The next two singles cracked the top 10: an affectionate duet with Ne-Yo, "Hate That I Love You," which showed off Rihanna's softer side, and the party-starting, Michael Jackson-sampling "Don't Stop the Music," which cemented her place in the digital era.

The melancholy "Rehab" is a clever metaphor for lost love, co-written by Timbaland and Justin Timberlake. Despite being Good Girl Gone Bad's lowest-charting single, Timberlake heralded the song as "the bridge for her to be accepted as an adult in the music industry."

Good Girl Gone Bad remains Rihanna's best-selling album and marks her greatest reinvention as she adopted a more rebellious sound. She also won her first GRAMMY in 2008 (Best Rap/Sung Collaboration for "Umbrella") and scored four other nominations, including Record Of The Year. The album's reissue spawned two more No. 1s: "Take a Bow" and "Disturbia," the latter of which acts like a prelude to Rated R, which saw Rihanna exploring darker themes.

Nine months before the release of 2009's Rated R, Rihanna was assaulted by then-boyfriend Chris Brown. On the deeply personal album, she translated her pain into art. Through lead single "Russian Roulette" and bitingly catchy anthems "Stupid in Love," "Fire Bomb," "Photographs," "Cold Case Love," and "The Last Song," Rihanna explored her angst and confusion.

But to focus solely on the domestic violence incident undermines Rihanna's artistic vision.

Following three multi-platinum albums in a three-year span, Rihanna's rebranding as a rebel at heart reached its apex. The singer had grown in leaps and bounds while taking musical risks, even penning nine of Rated R's 13 tracks (she had no writing credits on Good Girl Gone Bad).

The road to Rihanna's most badass anthems — including "Bitch Better Have My Money" — can be traced back to Rated R. Case in point: Her bravado is loud and clear on "Hard," "Wait Your Turn," and "G4L." On "Rockstar 101," which features legendary rocker Slash, Rihanna declares her power: "Six inch walker/ Big sh— talker/ I never play the victim/ I'd rather be a stalker."

Badgal RiRi returned to her dancehall roots on her fifth No. 1 "Rude Boy," which offsets the album's harrowing motif. Final single "Te Amo" didn't chart, but garnered a great deal of attention as the Latin-infused Stargate production depicts Rihanna being enticed by a female love interest.

Rated R showcased Rihanna's undeniable star power, and allowed her to shed her good-girl image once and for all.

A Partygoer's Dream

Following the career-pivoting Rated R, 2010's Loud offered a welcome return to the West Indian artist's earlier sound. The album feels like one big celebration of life, as evidenced by Rihanna's fire-engine red hair and No. 1 singles "Only Girl (In the World)" and "What's My Name?" (the latter of which was Rih's first collaboration with Drake).

Best described as "Don't Stop the Music" 2.0, the effervescent "Only Girl" marked her eminent return to the dance floor and took home a GRAMMY for Best Dance Recording in 2011. While "What's My Name?" may not outshine Rih and Drizzy's other collabs — including 2011's "Take Care" or 2016's "Work" — the second she sings, "Hey, boy, I really wanna see if you can go downtown with a girl like me," it's impossible not to whine your waist to the riddim.

Easily one of Rihanna's most overlooked hits, "Cheers (Drink to That)" is built around an unexpected sample of Avril Lavigne's 2002 hit "I'm With You," but it works surprisingly well as a party anthem. That same carefree spirit can be heard in the feminist track "Raining Men," which features Nicki Minaj — their first of two collabs, as they joined forces again for "Fly," the final single off the rapper's iconic Pink Friday album.

A playful ode to sadomasochism and bondage, "S&M" contains some of Rihanna's most provocative lyrics: "Sticks and stones may break my bones/ But chains and whips excite me," she declares on the chorus.

Banned in 11 countries upon its release, the accompanying video features Rihanna tied up in pink rope, dancing with a blowup doll, and donning a Playboy bunny-esque costume as damning newsreels about herself flash across the screen. But Rihanna's love of kink made her an even bigger star: "S&M" produced a remix with Britney Spears and earned Rihanna her 10th No. 1 single. With this feat, she became the youngest artist to attain the most chart-toppers in a five-year span.

On "Man Down," Rihanna's patois is in full effect as she takes listeners through a gripping tale about murdering her abuser. "What started out as a simple altercation/ Turned into a real sticky situation," she laments in the opening verse, amplified by siren noises in the background. There's something so satisfying about Rihanna's Bajan accent as she unfurls "Rum-pum-pum-pum" repeatedly over an intensifying reggae beat that would make Sister Nancy and Bob Marley proud.

Nominated for Album Of The Year at the 2021 GRAMMYs, Loud is Rihanna's second most commercially successful LP — and for good reason. It was especially refreshing to see Rihanna emerge from one of the darkest periods of her life as exuberant as ever.

An Unapologetic Queen

Sonically and thematically, Talk That Talk doesn't break new ground, but Rih's DGAF attitude is front and center with plenty of sexual innuendos: Songs like "S&M" and "Rude Boy" seem pretty tame next to "co*ckiness (Love It)," which features longtime friend-turned-boyfriend A$AP Rocky on its remix. "Suck my co*ckiness/ Lick my persuasion/ Eat my poison/ And swallow your pride down, down," she commands in the tantalizing chorus.

At just over a minute long, "Birthday Cake" leaves nothing to the imagination ("It's not even my birthday, but he wanna lick the icing off"). Rihanna controversially released a full-length version in the form of a remix with Chris Brown.

On an album that mostly sees Rihanna singing about her sexual fantasies, "We All Want Love" pulls back the curtain as it reveals her desire for true love: "And some say love ain't worth the buck/ But I'll give my last dime/ To have what I've only been dreaming about."

Her longing continues in "Where Have You Been," which flaunts Rihanna's versatility, flipping Geoff Mack's 1959 country song "I've Been Everywhere" into an infectious EDM banger. Lead single "We Found Love" is undeniably the biggest hit to stem from the Talk That Talk era, spending 10 consecutive weeks atop the Hot 100.

Boosting Calvin Harris' career, "We Found Love" presents one juxtaposition after the other: dark yet gleaming, euphoric yet sobering, fraught yet hopeful. Rihanna relies on more than just evocative lyrics to tell her story; accompanying synthesizers and alarm bells help to paint a picture as well. Met with controversy, its intense visuals portraying a drug-fueled, toxic relationship — and featuringwhat many speculated was a Chris Brown look-alike — earned RiRi a GRAMMY for Best Long Form Music Video in 2013.

Seven years into an already extraordinary career, 2012's Unapologetic became Rihanna's first album to debut at No. 1 on the all-genre Billboard 200 chart. Its lead single "Diamonds" resonated in an equally major way, giving Rih her 12th No. 1 on the Hot 100.

Written by Sia, the power ballad kicked off another exciting era for the Barbadian singer, who unleashes an impassioned vocal performance. One of Rihanna's most precious offerings to date, "Diamonds" emerged as a self-love mantra due to its uplifting "Shine bright like a diamond" chant.

Vocally, Rihanna's strength lies in her ability to evoke raw emotion à la "Stay." Featuring Mikky Ekko, the stripped-down, slow-burning piano ballad narrowly missed the top spot on the Hot 100 but gave Rihanna her 24th top 10 hit, surpassing Whitney Houston's record of 23 in 2013.

Her swagger is boisterous in "Phresh Out the Runway," "Jump," and strip club anthem "Pour It Up," but "Nobody's Business" really drives home the album's theme of being unbothered. Her decision to join forces with Chris Brown yet again perplexed fans and critics alike, though the track itself is an irresistible production that features a genius interpolation of Michael Jackson's "The Way You Make Me Feel."

Further down the track list, "Love Without Tragedy / Mother Mary" is as autobiographical as it gets, and further taps into Rihanna's emotionally vulnerable side. "Mr. Jesus, I'd love to be a queen/ But I'm from the left side of an island/ Never thought this many people would even know my name," she pleads in the seven-minute two-parter.

Unapologetic spawned fewer hit singles compared to Rihanna's previous efforts. Its win for Best Urban Contemporary Album at the 2014 GRAMMYs, however, proved that Rihanna's reign wasn't letting up anytime soon.

While recording her then-forthcoming album, ANTI, Rihanna delivered what is arguably the single most unapologetic moment of her career: "Bitch Better Have My Money." The backstory is almost inconceivable given Rihanna's awe-inspiring billionaire status, but in 2009, Rihanna faced bankruptcy due to her accountants mishandling her funds— and thus "Bitch" was born six years later in 2015.

With lyrics like "Your wife in the backseat of my brand new foreign car" over a cryptic-sounding trap beat and an accompanying video depicting kidnapping and torturing her debtors, "Bitch" is not for the faint-hearted. The one-off single is so quintessentially Rihanna that it notably kicked off her Super Bowl halftime show.

An In-Demand Collaborator

While bestowing hit after hit on her own, Rihanna generously lent her distinct voice to some of her biggest peers. 2008 marks one of the earliest instances of her Midas touch: She flirts with funk in Maroon 5's underappreciated "If I Never See Your Face Again" before hopping on T.I.'s "Live Your Life," which shot straight to No. 1 on the Hot 100.

In 2009, Rihanna joined Jay-Z and Kanye West for the militant "Run This Town," sounding defiant as ever in the intro. She was called upon again for West's horn-laden "All of the Lights," flying solo on the hook followed by a star-studded choir that included Alicia Keys, John Legend, Fergie, and Elton John. Both larger-than-life productions won GRAMMYs for Best Rap/Sung Collaboration in 2010 and 2012, respectively.

In between joining forces with Hov and Ye, Rihanna assisted Eminem in "Love the Way You Lie," which struck a nerve with many for its gut-wrenching lyrics shedding a light on abusive relationships. (Rih recorded an equally moving sequel for her Loud album.) Three years later, the two confronted their inner demons in "The Monster," and their musical chemistry scored a GRAMMY in 2015 for Best Rap/Sung Collaboration.

Amid smash collabs, Rihanna and Coldplay's intricate "Princess of China" number gets lost in the shuffle, but it speaks to her charm as it's the band's first album (2011's Mylo Xyloto) to feature another artist. Another overlooked jam, her sultry "Can't Remember to Forget You" duet with Shakira sees both stars trade lines about struggling to let go of an undeserving lover.

On paper, a collaboration between Rihanna, Kanye West, and Sir Paul McCartney may seem strange, but the unlikely trio is further proof that opposites attract. Their "FourFiveSeconds" is a pop-folk hybrid with a universal message about carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders. It's yet another example of Rihanna's willingness to push past her comfort zone to create something unique.

A year later, Rihanna got listeners on their feet by way of the Taylor Swift-penned "This Is What You Came For" with Calvin Harris. Understated compared to the duo's previous megahits ("We Found Love" and "Where Have You Been"), Harris' signature DJing style and Rih's ethereal vocals are a perfect match.

In 2017, Rih, DJ Khaled and Bryson Tiller dropped the song of the summer with "Wild Thoughts," which heavily borrows from Carlos Santana's 1999 GRAMMY-winning "Maria Maria." It may be DJ Khaled's song, but RiRi owns it from the very moment she utters, "I don't know if you could take it/ Know you wanna see me nakey, nakey, naked." The bop reached No. 2 on the Hot 100.

She spits bars in Kendrick Lamar's "Loyalty" and "Lemon" with N.E.R.D., the latter of which comes close to rivaling your favorite rappers' verses: "You can catch me, Rih, in the new La Ferrar'/ And the truck behind me got arms/ Yeah, longer than LeBron/ Just waitin' for my thumb like The Fonz."

No matter what genre Rihanna touches or what artist she links up with, she brings her full self to each session whilst completely immersing herself into the music — taking on different personas to make the collab well worth it.

An Artist Fully Realized

With 13 No. 1s and twice as many top 10 hits under her belt, Rihanna set out to create timeless music instead of chasing a radio-friendly formula with her 2016 magnum opus, ANTI.

But that shift began with 2015's criminally underrated "American Oxygen." Her most political statement at the time, the goosebump-inducing lyrics detail Rihanna's journey as an immigrant, foreshadowing her then soon-to-be massive Fenty Beauty success. "We sweat for a nickel and a dime/ Turn it into an empire," she sings in the chorus.

Released four years after Unapologetic — her longest gap between albums at the time — ANTI illustrated Rihanna's greater desire for quality over quantity. "I needed the music to match my growth," she told Vogue in 2016 about the making of ANTI. "I didn't want to get caught up with anything the world liked, anything the radio liked, anything that I liked, that I've already heard. I just wanted it to be me."

The black-and-white, red paint-splattered album cover signals a rebirth, featuring a real-life image of Rihanna as a child. ANTI lives up to its name in its first 40 seconds, via opening track "Consideration." The minute she declares, "I got to do things my own way, darling," it's apparent that ANTI is not your average Rihanna album.

Lead single "Work" is the closest to pre-ANTI Rihanna on an album that defies expectations. But the dancehall masterpiece is one of a kind for Rih's refusal to water down the Jamaican patois (different from her native language of Bajan Creole) — proving that she is fully aware of her impact as one of the biggest Caribbean-born artists to make it in the U.S.

Many non-understanding listeners described it as "gibberish" at the time. Yet, the general public didn't seem to mind: About a month after its release, "Work" became Rihanna's 14th and longest-running chart-topper on the Hot 100. Weeks later, ANTI became her second LP to top the Billboard 200 chart. Subsequently, Rihanna held the No. 1 spots on the Billboard 200 and Hot 100 simultaneously, her second time achieving such an impressive feat.

Read More: How Rihanna's "Work" Reinvigorated Dancehall

ANTI is full of pleasant surprises that show off her artistry. Rihanna comes out of left field with the Prince-inspired "Kiss It Better," the album's second single, which sees the superstar falling back on addictive sex that "feels like crack" to justify a destructive relationship. "Same Ol' Mistakes" is a cover of psychedelic rock band Tame Impala's "New Person, Same Old Mistakes" — her first time remaking another artist's song for her own album since "You Don't Love Me (No, No, No)" on Music of the Sun. The Western-themed "Desperado" lends itself particularly well to covers by country artists, while the Dido-sampling "Never Ending" conveys the uncertainty she feels about entering a new relationship.

Elsewhere on ANTI, Rihanna drunk dials an ex ("Higher"), compares smoking weed to her lover ("James Joint"), and chastises a guy for getting emotionally attached after their fling ("Needed Me"). The latter song contains one of Rihanna's most empowering lyrics: "Didn't they tell you that I was a savage?/ F— ya white horse and ya carriage," she asserts in the pre-chorus.

Her voice sounds stronger than ever on "Love on the Brain," a doo-wop ballad resembling Etta James. But Rihanna makes it her own thanks to the bluntness of lines like "It beats me black and blue but it f— me so good."

The deep cuts on ANTI aren't merely fillers, and even rival some of the album's biggest hits. For instance, "Sex with Me" is featured on the deluxe edition as a bonus track, but managed to crack the Hot 100 at No. 83 and reach No. 8 on the R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay chart. Furthermore, the deluxe edition consists of 16 tracks, half of which topped the Dance Club Songs chart — smashing the record (previously held by Katy Perry's Teenage Dream) for the most No. 1s from a single album.

Accolades aside, ANTI is proof that magic happens when an artist of Rihanna's caliber follows their own instincts in pursuit of creating a body of work — one that can outlast them and continue to inspire generations to come.

Ever since ANTI, Rihanna's devoted fanbase has been begging for a new album, with Rih playfully trolling them with responses like "I lost it" and Instagram captions that read, "Me listening to R9 by myself and refusing to release it."

Her much-awaited return to music came at the tail end of 2022. The hitmaker twice contributed to the GRAMMY-nominated Black Panther: Wakanda Forever soundtrack: "Born Again" and "Lift Me Up," the latter of which helped Rihanna score her first Oscar and Golden Globe nominations in 2022 and 2023, respectively. With the glorious "Lift Me Up," she found herself in the top 10 for the first time since 2017's "Wild Thoughts."

While the world is still anticipating her ninth studio album, Rihanna — now a mom of two boys — continues to make her own rules and move at her own pace. But as she's proven time and time again, it's always worth the wait.

The Rihanna Essentials: 15 Singles To Celebrate The Singer's Endless Pop Reign

Kanye West's Wyoming Sessions Output Lands Him Atop The Charts | GRAMMY.com (4)

Notorious B.I.G. in Brooklyn, 1994

Photo: Clarence Davis/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images

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With debuts from major artists including Biggie and Outkast, to the apex of boom bap, the dominance of multi-producer albums, and the arrival of the South as an epicenter of hip-hop, 1994 was one of the most important years in the culture's history.

Shawn Setaro

|GRAMMYs/Feb 13, 2024 - 05:22 pm

While significant attention was devoted to the celebration of hip-hop in 2023 — an acknowledgement of what is widely acknowledged as its 50th anniversary — another important anniversary in hip-hop is happening this year as well. Specifically, it’s been 30 years since 1994, when a new generation entered the music industry and set the genre on a course that in many ways continues until today.

There are many ways to look at 1994: lists of great albums (here’s a top 50 to get you started); a look back at what fans and tastemakers were actually listening to at the time; the best overlooked obscurities. But the best way to really understand why a single 365 three decades ago had such an impact is to narrow our focus to look at the important debut albums released that year.

An artist’s or group’s debut is their entry into the wider musical conversation, their first full statement about who they are and where in the landscape they see themselves. The debuts released in 1994 — which include the Notorious B.I.G.'s Ready to Die, Nas' Illmatic and Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik from Outkast — were notable not only in their own right, but because of the insight they give us into wider trends in rap.

Read on for some of the ways that 1994's debut records demonstrated what was happening in rap at the time, and showed us the way forward.

Hip-Hop Became More Than Just An East & West Coast Thing

The debut albums that moved rap music in 1994 were geographically varied, which was important for a music scene that was still, from a national perspective, largely tied to the media centers at the coasts. Yes, there were New York artists (Biggie and Nas most notably, as well as O.C., Jeru the Damaja, the Beatnuts, and Keith Murray). The West Coast G-funk domination, which began in late 1992 with Dr. Dre’s The Chronic, continued with Dre’s step brother Warren G.

But the huge number of important debuts from other places around the country in 1994 showed that rap music had developed mature scenes in multiple cities — scenes that fans from around the country were starting to pay significant attention to.

To begin with, there was Houston. The Geto Boys were arguably the first artists from the city to gain national attention (and controversy) several years prior. By 1994, the city’s scene had expanded enough to allow a variety of notable debuts, of wildly different styles, to make their way into the marketplace.

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The Rap-A-Lot label that first brought the Geto Boys to the world’s attention branched out with Big Mike’s Somethin’ Serious and the Odd Squad’s Fadanuf Fa Erybody!! Both had bluesy, soulful sounds that were quickly becoming the label’s trademark — in no small part due to their main producers, N.O. Joe and Mike Dean. In addition, an entirely separate style centered around the slowed-down mixes of DJ Screw began to expand outside of the South Side with the debut release by Screwed Up Click member E.S.G.

There were also notable debut albums by artists and groups from Cleveland (Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, Creepin on ah Come Up), Oakland (Saafir and Casual), and of course Atlanta — more about that last one later.

1994 Saw The Pinnacle Of Boom-Bap

Popularized by KRS-One’s 1993 album Return of the Boom Bap, the term "boom bap" started as an onomatopoeic way of referring to the sound of a standard rap drum pattern — the "boom" of a kick drum on the downbeat, followed by the "bap" of a snare on the backbeat.

The style that would grow to be associated with that name (though it was not much-used at the time) was at its apex in 1994. A handful of primarily East Coast producers and groups were beginning a new sonic conversation, using innovations like filtered bass lines while competing to see who could flip the now standard sample sources in ever-more creative ways.

Most of the producers at the height of this style — DJ Premier, Buckwild, RZA, Large Professor, Pete Rock and the Beatnuts, to name a few — worked on notable debuts that year. Premier produced all of Jeru the Damaja’s The Sun Rises in the East. Buckwild helmed nearly the entirety of O.C.’s debut Word…Life. RZA was responsible for Method Man’s Tical. The Beatnuts took care of their own full-length Street Level. Easy Mo Bee and Premier both played a part in Biggie’s Ready to Die. And then there was Illmatic, which featured a veritable who’s who of production elites: Premier, L.E.S., Large Professor, Pete Rock, and Q-Tip.

The work the producers did on these records was some of the best of their respective careers. Even now, putting on tracks like O.C.’s "Time’s Up" (Buckwild), Jeru’s "Come Clean" (Premier), Meth’s "Bring the Pain" (RZA), Biggie’s "The What" (Easy Mo Bee), or Nas’ "The World Is Yours" (Pete Rock) will get heads nodding.

Major Releases Balanced Street Sounds & Commercial Appeal

"Rap is not pop/If you call it that, then stop," spit Q-Tip on 1991’s "Check the Rhime." Two years later, De La Soul were adamant that "It might blow up, but it won’t go pop." In 1994, the division between rap and pop — under attack at least since Biz Markie made something for the radio back in the ‘80s — began to collapse entirely thanks to the team of the Notorious B.I.G. and his label head and producer Sean "Puffy" Combs.

Biggie was the hardcore rhymer who wanted to impress his peers while spitting about "Party & Bulls—." Puff was the businessman who wanted his artist to sell millions and be on the radio. The result of their yin-and-yang was Ready to Die, an album that perfectly balanced these ambitions.

This template — hardcore songs like "Machine Gun Funk" for the die-hards, sing-a-longs like "Juicy" for the newly curious — is one that Big’s good friend Jay-Z would employ while climbing to his current iconic status.

Solo Stars Broke Out Of Crews

One major thing that happened in 1994 is that new artists were created not out of whole cloth, but out of existing rap crews. Warren G exploded into stardom with his debut Regulate… G Funk Era. He came out of the Death Row Records axis — he was Dre’s stepbrother, and had been in a group with a pre-fame Snoop Dogg. Across the country, Method Man sprang out of the Wu-Tang collective and within a year had his own hit single with "I’ll Be There For You/You’re All I Need To Get By."

Anyone who listened to the Odd Squad’s album could tell that there was a group member bound for solo success: Devin the Dude. Keith Murray popped out of the Def Squad. Casual came out of the Bay Area’s Hieroglyphics.

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This would be the model for years to come: Create a group of artists and attempt, one by one, to break them out as stars. You could see it in Roc-a-fella, Ruff Ryders, and countless other crews towards the end of the ‘90s and the beginning of the new millennium.

Multi-Producer Albums Began To Dominate

Illmatic was not the first rap album to feature multiple prominent producers. However, it quickly became the most influential. The album’s near-universal critical acclaim — it earned a perfect five-mic score in The Source — meant that its strategy of gathering all of the top production talent together for one album would quickly become the standard.

Within less than a decade, the production credits on major rap albums would begin to look nearly identical: names like the Neptunes, Timbaland, Premier, Kanye West, and the Trackmasters would pop up on album after album. By the time Jay-Z said he’d get you "bling like the Neptunes sound," it became de rigueur to have a Neptunes beat on your album, and to fill out the rest of the tracklist with other big names (and perhaps a few lesser-known ones to save money).

The South Got Something To Say

If there’s one city that can safely be said to be the center of rap music for the past decade or so, it’s Atlanta. While the ATL has had rappers of note since Shy-D and Raheem the Dream, it was a group that debuted in 1994 that really set the stage for the city’s takeover.

Outkast’s Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik was the work of two young, ambitious teenagers, along with the production collective Organized Noize. The group’s first video was directed by none other than Puffy. Biggie fell so in love with the city that he toyed with moving there.

Outkast's debut album won Best New Artist and Best New Rap of the Year at the 1995 Source Awards, though the duo of André 3000 and Big Boi walked on stage to accept their award to a chorus of boos. The disrespect only pushed André to affirm the South's place on the rap map, famously telling the audience, "The South got something to say."

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Outkast’s success meant that they kept on making innovative albums for several more years, as did other members of their Dungeon Family crew. This brought energy and attention to the city, as did the success of Jermain Dupri’s So So Def label. Then came the "snap" movement of the 2000s, and of course trap music, which had its roots in aughts-era Atlanta artists like T.I. and producers like Shawty Redd and DJ Toomp.

But in the 2010s a new artist would make Atlanta explode, and he traced his lineage straight back to the Dungeon. Future is the first cousin of Organized Noize member Rico Wade, and was part of the so-called "second generation" of the Dungeon Family back when he went by "Meathead." His world-beating success over the past decade-plus has been a cornerstone in Atlanta’s rise to the top of the rap world. Young Thug, who has cited Future as an influence, has sparked a veritable ecosystem of sound-alikes and proteges, some of whom have themselves gone on to be major artists.

Atlanta’s reign at the top of the rap world, some theorize, may finally be coming to an end, at least in part because of police pressure. But the city has had a decade-plus run as the de facto capital of rap, and that’s thanks in no small part to Outkast.

Why 1998 Was Hip-Hop's Most Mature Year: From The Rise Of The Underground To Artist Masterworks

Kanye West's Wyoming Sessions Output Lands Him Atop The Charts | GRAMMY.com (5)

(L-R) Lil Jon, Usher, and Ludacris perform at Madison Square Garden in 2004.

Photo: Frank Micelotta/Getty Images

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Ready to feel old? Put on this playlist of hits that made 2004 a year of belt-along jams and unforgettable hooks, including Daddy Yankee's "Gasolina" and Ashlee Simpson's "Pieces Of Me."

Taylor Weatherby

|GRAMMYs/Jan 8, 2024 - 04:20 pm

A quick Google search of "top 2004 songs" can be summarized simply: What a time to be alive.

While it was arguably the year of Usher — who scored four Billboard Hot 100 chart-toppers in 2004, including the year's biggest song, the Lil Jon- and Ludacris-assisted "Yeah!" — there were countless hits that have aged impeccably. Even 20 years later, there isn't a dance floor or karaoke bar that wouldn't go wild for J-Kwon's "Tipsy" or Kelly Clarkson's "Since U Been Gone."

Whether you were jamming to them on your iPod Mini or ripping them off of Limewire, revisit 24 tracks that made an impact — and still serve up the vibes 20 years later.

Listen on Spotify, Amazon Music, or Apple Music below.

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