Graphic: The Recording Academy
Recording Academy Honors will celebrate honorees during the GRAMMY Week event presented by the Black Music Collective at the Hollywood Palladium on Feb. 2, 2023.
Just days before the 2023 GRAMMYs, revered GRAMMY Award-winning artists Dr. Dre, Missy Elliott, and Lil Wayne and music executive Sylvia Rhone will be honored at the Recording Academy Honors Presented By The Black Music Collective event during GRAMMY Week 2023. All four honorees will receive the Recording Academy Global Impact Award for their personal and professional achievements in the music industry.
The second annual Black Music Collective event and official GRAMMY Week event, which takes place Thursday, Feb. 2, at the Hollywood Palladium in Los Angeles and is sponsored by Amazon Music and Google Pixel Phone, will once again feature first-time GRAMMY nominee Adam Blackstone as the musical director of the evening; Recording Academy Board of Trustees Vice Chair Rico Love will also return to Chair the event.
"I am so thrilled to honor and celebrate these four giants in the music industry," Recording Academy CEO Harvey Mason jr. said. "Last year’s inaugural event was such a highlight during GRAMMY Week and now with Dre, Missy, Wayne and Sylvia there to pay tribute to this year, it's definitely going to be another night to remember. I continue to be proud of the work of our Black Music Collective as it's a vital part of what we do here at the Academy."
Read More: "Black Music Saved The World": How The Recording Academy Honors Presented By The Black Music Collective Celebrated Positive Change For The Culture & Community
Dr. Dre is a seven-time GRAMMY Award-winning artist, producer, founder, entrepreneur, philanthropist, and CEO of Aftermath Entertainment and Beats Electronics. Dr. Dre began his career as a member of the World Class Wreckin’ Cru. Shortly after, he co-founded the revolutionary group N.W.A. The Compton, California, native embarked on his solo career in 1992 when he released his solo debut album The Chronic, which has been certified triple platinum by the RIAA, reached the top 10 on the Billboard 200 and won a GRAMMY for Best Rap Solo Performance ("Let Me Ride"). Dre launched Aftermath Entertainment in 1996, where over the years, he discovered hip-hop superstars such as 50 Cent, The Game, Kendrick Lamar, Anderson Paak, and Eminem. Jimmy Iovine and Dre established Beats Electronics in 2008 and later launched Beats Music, which were both acquired by Apple in 2014. Among many other accolades, Dre won a GRAMMY and an Emmy for the HBO docuseries The Defiant Ones, and the Pepsi Super Bowl LVI Halftime Show Starring Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Mary J. Blige, Eminem, Kendrick Lamar and 50 Cent took home three Emmys. In 2013, the USC Jimmy Iovine and Andre Young Academy for Arts, Technology and the Business of Innovation was funded and established. In 2022, they expanded their efforts to the Los Angeles Unified School District by opening the Iovine and Young Center (IYC) Integrated Design, Technology, and Entrepreneurship (IDTE) Magnet, a new high school that will offer students grounding in the same cutting-edge curriculum.
Read More: Dr. Dre's The Chronic: 25 Years Later
Missy 'Misdemeanor' Elliott has remained relevant as a true visionary and pioneer for women in hip-hop for over 25 years. Her experimental sound and groundbreaking music videos changed the music landscape and challenged artists not to conform to the norm. The multi-GRAMMY-Award-winning rapper, singer, songwriter, and producer made an immediate impact on the music industry with her critically acclaimed debut album Supa Dupa Fly – produced by her longtime production partner Timbaland – which debuted at No. 3 on the Billboard 200 and went on to achieve platinum certification by the RIAA. The Virginia native has produced for and collaborated with artists such as Aaliyah, Beyoncé, Janet Jackson, Mariah Carey, Ciara, Lil' Kim, J. Cole, Busta Rhymes, Ludacris, Chris Brown, and Lil Wayne. Among other awards and accolades, Elliott became the first woman rapper inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame and has received honorary doctorates from Berklee College of Music and, most recently, Norfolk State University. In 2022, Elliott was honored in her hometown of Portsmouth with her own street name “Missy Elliott Blvd,” furthermore declaring October 17 to be Missy Elliott Day by the Commonwealth of Virginia. Missy is now the latest addition to the Madame Tussauds Wax Museum, where her figure is a recreation of her 2019 MTV Video Music Awards appearance. In 2021, Elliott received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Read More: Revisiting Supa Dupa Fly At 25: Missy Elliott Is Still Inspired By Her Debut Record
Lil Wayne has left a lasting impact on the culture as a five-time GRAMMY Award-winning, multiplatinum rap icon, Young Money Entertainment founder and CEO, Young Money APAA Sports founder, acclaimed author, pro skater, and philanthropist. By 2020, he cemented his legacy forever as "one of the best-selling artists of all time," tallying sales in excess of 100 million records worldwide with 25 million albums and 90 million digital tracks sold in the United States alone. In 2022, Wayne earned his first diamond certification from the RIAA with his generational smash hit “Lollipop” featuring Static Major. Among many milestones, he emerged as "the first male artist to surpass Elvis Presley with the most entries on the Billboard Hot 100," logging a staggering 183 entries – the third most of all time. Simultaneously, Wayne owns and operates Young Money Entertainment, the company that ignited the careers of Drake, Nicki Minaj, Tyga, and many more. The committed philanthropist founded the One Family Foundation, with the mission of giving power to the youth by providing them with opportunities to practice their talents and skills and inspiring them to dream beyond their circumstances.
Sylvia Rhone has set the pace for the music industry as one of the most impactful, influential, and important executives in history. She has devoted her professional life to music, she broke a glass ceiling for the first time, and changed the landscape forever as the “only African American and first woman ever” to be named Chairwoman and CEO of Elektra Entertainment Group in 1994. She made history once more in 2019 when Sony Music Entertainment selected her as Chairwoman and C.E.O of Epic Records, enshrining her as "the first woman CEO of a major record label owned by a Fortune 500 company and the first Black woman to attain such a title." Along the way, Rhone has impressively left an indelible imprint on pop, hip-hop, rock, heavy metal, R&B, soul, and electronic music with an impeccable track record. She has shepherded the success of everyone from Missy Elliott, Anita Baker, the late Ol’ Dirty Bastard, Jason Mraz, Busta Rhymes, Pantera, and Metallica to Lil Wayne, Kelly Rowland, Akon, Kid Cudi, Nicki Minaj, A Tribe Called Quest, Fabolous, Tamia, and Gerald Levert, just to name a few. Currently, she is at the helm of Epic Records where she has overseen historic releases from Future, Travis Scott, 21 Savage, DJ Khaled, Camila Cabello, and many more. A music industry trailblazer for four decades, Rhone has catalyzed the careers of artists who have changed music and the world at large — and she will continue to do so.
2023 GRAMMY Nominations: See The Complete Nominees List
Graphic: The Recording Academy
Celebrate ahead of Music's Biggest Night on Feb. 5, 2023, with this spirited playlist of every Rap nominee at the 2023 GRAMMYs.
Rap music in 2022 included dynamic influences from R&B, pop, soul, electronica, and nu metal.
The Recording Academy's 2023 GRAMMY nominees for four rap categories reflect this eclectic genre’s shift in creativity and culture — and now you can hear all of the nominees in one playlist.
Up for Best Rap Performance are Doja Cat for "Vegas," Gunna & Future featuring Young Thug for "pushin P," Hitkidd and GloRilla for "F.N.F. (Let's Go)," Kendrick Lamar for "The Heart Part 5," and DJ Khaled featuring Rick Ross, Lil Wayne, Jay-Z, John Legend & Fridayy for "GOD DID."
DJ Khaled, Kendrick Lamar and Future are also nominated in the other three rap categories: Best Melodic Rap Performance, Best Rap Song and Best Rap Album. Nominees for Best Melodic Rap Performance include DJ Khaled, Future and SZA for "BEAUTIFUL"; Future, Drake and Tems for "WAIT FOR U"; Jack Harlow for "First Class"; Kendrick Lamar, Blxst and Amanda Reifer for "Die Hard'; and Latto for "Big Energy (Live)."
For Best Rap Song, nominees include Jack Harlow featuring Drake for "Churchill Downs," Kendrick Lamar for "The Heart Part 5," Gunna & Future featuring Young Thug for "pushin P," Future featuring Drake & Tems' "WAIT FOR U," and DJ Khaled featuring Rick Ross, Lil Wayne, Jay-Z, John Legend & Fridayy for "GOD DID."
For Best Rap Album, DJ Khaled's GOD DID, Future's I Never Liked You, Jack Harlow's Come Home The Kids Miss You, Kendrick Lamar's Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers, and Pusha T's It's Almost Dry are all nominated for their resonant originality and prowess.
Listen to all of the above songs and albums in this comprehensive playlist of the Rap GRAMMY nominees at the 2023 GRAMMYs.
Check it out on Amazon Music, Pandora, Spotify, and Apple Music — we'll see you at Music's Biggest Night on Sunday, Feb. 5!
Playlist powered by GRAMMY U.
2023 GRAMMY Nominations: See The Complete Nominees List
Photo courtesy of the artist
Kingston-born reggae star Kabaka Pyramid is one of a handful of artists bringing positivity back into the genre. His messages of consciousness are more powerful than ever on his third album, 'The Kalling' — and now, he’s a GRAMMY nominee because of it.
Kabaka Pyramid answers to a higher power — and his third album, fittingly titled The Kalling, is a testament to his beliefs.
The Kingston-born rapper, singer and producer is one of a handful of artists bringing positivity back into reggae, often channeling the empowered, political, and spiritual vibes of roots artists. Kabaka Pyramid is often labeled a "reggae revivalist" for this reason, but The Kalling manages to be both classic and incredibly of the moment. And while his previous albums Victory Rock and Kontraband are testaments of lyrical and genre-blending prowess, Kabaka's latest is a notable ascension.
One of five nominees for Best Reggae Album at the 65th GRAMMY Awards, The Kalling showcases Kabaka's passion for using hip-hop, soul and dancehall to iterate on the sound of conscious reggae. The record also overflows with messages of growth, contemplation of addiction, and gratitude — an antidote to some of the more crude attitudes present in Kabaka's favorite genres.
"The older I got, the more I felt responsible to represent myself in a certain way," Kabaka tells GRAMMY.com from his home in Miami. “I wanted to inspire, like how artists like Sizzla and Damian Marley inspired me. I wanted to have a similar effect, and I knew I needed to put out positive music to do that.”
Kabaka called upon his community to achieve this vision. The Kalling was produced by the reggae scion also known as Jr Gong, and features the late icon Peter Tosh in addition to Buju Banton, Jesse Royal and fellow 2023 nominee Protoje. Together, they created an album that pulls from contemporary pop, rap and '80s era reggae, with songs that are meditative ("Stand Up"), club-ready ("Energy" and "Mystik Man"), and fit for a kickback ("Mary Jane").
Ahead of the 2023 GRAMMYs, the first-time nominee spoke to GRAMMY.com about inspiring higher vibrations through music and action.
Was the GRAMMY nomination a milestone you were working towards, or one that caught you by surprise?
I was shouting, screaming, everything; a couple tears of joy. I'm probably the only person on my team and label that it kind of caught by surprise. I just always thought that the GRAMMY was just this huge thing and something that is best if I don't think about it too much, because I feel like that can lead to disappointment.
So I was just more focused on putting in the work and really representing myself with the music, and then let the awards come. But it's definitely a huge achievement for me. I wouldn't have dreamed of it when I was back in high school, but here I am now, so I have to give thanks.
It's cool to reflect on how far you've come — like, man, I'm living out my dreams from high school or dreams you didn't even know you had.
I'm 37 now, so it's been a 20-year journey since I first started to pencil down some lyrics. And most people start super early, whether they're in the church, or in the choir, or whatever it is. Or they come from a musical family, so they watch their parents do it or whatever. But for me, it wasn't that.
I always loved music, particularly hip-hop and dancehall. So I was just inspired by music, but I never thought of it as something I'd actually be doing until around 17, 18. That's when I realized that I have a talent for actually writing lyrics. And from then it was just working on my voice. A lot of self recording at home, home studios over the years, different places.
Tell me a bit about the creation of the album; what was going on in your life at that time?
The recording and writing and stuff was mostly throughout the pandemic. For the first few months, I was in Jamaica; Damien was sending me beats that he was working on from his studio in Miami. And eventually, I flew up and we started just going at it together in studio and from just jam sessions with me, him and his musicians, just coming up with ideas from scratch.
There were some conversations about what we want to do differently from the last album and what kind of song we wanted to go for, what kind of vibe. We wanted some traditional reggae, we wanted some hip-hop vibes in it, wanted to sample some classic reggae records as well as some soulful stuff. "Grateful" was a soul record that was sampled, and of course, "Mystik Man" [featuring] Peter Tosh is originally "Fade Away" by Junior Byles, a classic reggae record too.
Over two years, it just slowly but surely started to shape itself. We did "The Kalling" and Protoje and Jesse came to studio while Stephen [Marley] was recording, and they ended up dropping their verses that night. And I knew from that night that this would end up being the title track for the album. And we just kind of themed the whole album around "The Kalling." Having a higher calling, a higher purpose to the music, tying it into the teachings of Rastafari and what it means to me. It was just a beautiful process.
What do those Rastafari teachings mean to you and how are they presented on this album?
For me, Rastafari is first and foremost about knowing where you come from, seeing yourself as royalty, as kings and queens — especially for Black people who have been through slavery and coming to the West by force. So it's really a reconnection to Africa, but it applies to anybody that wants to reconnect with who they are, where they're from, and their identity.
We practice a vegan diet, ital, and man and woman relationships — being wholesome, the family unit. These are all Rastafari is and is coming from his Imperial Majesty, the emperor of Ethiopia. Ethiopia being the country that was never colonized in Africa, that really maintained their identity. That's really where Rastafari culture and expression stems from.
This record also has a lot of messaging around being aware of yourself and your addictions, and things that you're doing in your daily life that might not be so healthy. Was that something that you've been thinking about for a long time, or was it something that came to you during this production process?
As Rasta, we reason about these things all the time. It's all about looking at how we live, what's our mentality towards life. And a song like "Addiction" just came out of countless reasonings about social media, about our phones, about the radiation and our phones give off. I don't sleep with my phone near me because I wake up with headaches.
I felt like that song was so important because with the pandemic, we're taught to social distance, we're taught to stay inside and we just turned to our phones and our devices. So we're even more technologically oriented now after the pandemic than even before. It’s kind of continuing from a song I did from Kontrabrand called "Everywhere I Go."
The Kalling is much more centered in traditional reggae, though "Energy" is sort of pop and R&B, and the opening track from your last record is a pop tune. Yet you're branded as this revival reggae artist. What are your thoughts on that?
The whole revival thing came about in like 2011, 2012 when my first reggae project came out; Protoje's album was out, Chronixx [had] transitioned from being a producer/songwriter to being a recording artist, and he took Jamaica by storm. We started going to Europe with our bands, and I think that is what really cemented the whole idea of a revival, because …there was kind of a dying down of Jamaicans coming with their bands. And you had [Jamaican artists using] these backing bands that were local in Europe because it was more economical. And then a lot of artists couldn't travel anymore because of what I consider their freedom of speech being questioned and violated. So you had a lot of key artists that couldn't travel.
So because of that, when we came on the scene, it was very refreshing for people to see these young acts in their 20s coming with their bands and sacrificing where we could have made more money if we went with backing bands, or with track shows or whatever. And then not only that though, we were sampling Black Uhuru records and Sly and Robbie bass lines, and drum and bass.
If you check my song "Revival," "Here Comes Trouble" [by] Chronixx, and Protoje's "Kingston Be Wise," all of these tracks kind of brought back an '80s vibe. And then when we translate them on stage with the bands, people felt like it was a revival of the '70s and '80s.
Musically we definitely fuse a lot of the sounds. There's modern elements, there's hip-hop elements, R&B, pop elements to it too, because we're all influenced by that. We're in an era where artists kind of have more creative control with their sound — it's not like you just go to one producer that has one sound. We can call on different producers, we produce ourselves and the stuff that we are influenced by, that's what we try and recreate.
So it's partially a revival of sound but also a revival of style and performance.
Are there any tracks on The Kalling that you're particularly proud of?
"Mystik Man," I’m really proud of that, especially with the whole Peter Tosh family behind the song. We were able to list it officially as featuring Peter Tosh, so I have a song with one of my idols. Overall, his life, what he represents, his mission — him and Sizzla are right up there in terms of who inspire me the most. "Addiction" from a songwriting perspective, I'm really proud of that one.
I'm proud of the fact that I stuck to my roots. When I was early in my career, I couldn't sing to save my life; rapping was easier for me to do. I was working on my reggae, but I wouldn't let anybody hear those songs. So doing a song like "Kontraband pt. 2" where I'm rapping with this Jamaican accent, [or] "Mystik Man," — being able to represent that and still maintain my identity as a Jamaican [and] as a reggae artist, and to get nominated, is a great achievement for me.
I read in Dancehall Magazine that you think that the subject of a lot of Jamaican music is holding artists back. How did you try to combat that notion on The Kalling?
I think my music is naturally more wholesome. It's more readily accessible to older and the young. Maybe it can be a bit too deep for some people, but just generally speaking, I don't put a bunch of slack lyrics or derogatory lyrics to women or violence, gun violence. And that's kind of typical for Jamaican music. But I feel these younger artists are kind of pushing the limits of it. There's a lot of talk about drug use now in songs, and scamming, and all of them kind of things.
I've seen artists that are on the verge of breaking into mainstream do collaborations with other mainstream acts, but then it's just crazy curse words in the song and super derogatory lyrics. I could see somebody at a radio station like, "no, I can't playlist this because it's too difficult." Especially, being an international artist. So it's trying not to shoot ourselves in the foot by having too extreme lyrics.
How did you meet Damien Marley and what did he bring to this project?
I met him at the Bob Marley Museum, I think it was around 2013. He was shooting some videos with Nas for Distant Relatives.
The first time working with him, he sent me a riddim that he wanted to do a juggling [on]. It was originally a Wayne Marshall record, but he wanted to voice some other artists on it and Chronixx, Juliann Marley, others are on it too. I wrote the song "Well Done" on it, and we all loved the song. I was there when the song was being mixed and prepared, and that's when we really bonded, and we started to just hold our vibe, reason about music.
We played football at the field at his house. And it just felt like a brother kind of relationship from early. He's like a mentor to me; I ask him advice and everything musically. And just being with him, I learned so much about sharpening up my songwriting skills and making my lyrics more potent and more absorbable for people. From there, we just grew to the point where we had a discussion about doing two albums at minimum, and we did Kontrabrand.
He produced five of the tracks [on The Kalling], but it was all put together in his studio, [and] he executive produced the project. I wanted to give him the chance of doing a whole entire album. I felt like there was enough versatility with his production style to do it. I think he really did an excellent job. It's almost like it doesn't make sense to not do an album with him anymore.
Is there somebody who gave you props about this record that were really meaningful?
I just got a very long voicemail from Pressure Buss Pipe, who is an artist I'm really inspired by. He was telling me how much I stepped up with this album, and I'm just in the right gear now. It was really a heartfelt voice note. He's somebody that I listen to a lot, and his vocal ability inspires me, and his songwriting. I have five, six, maybe seven songs with him too.
I should say Protoje was one of the first people to call me when I got nominated. And obviously, I congratulated him as well. And even how excited Damian is [means a lot], because he's not somebody that gets excited very easy. There’s not many others who can impress you more than Damian Marley, you know what I mean?
Why did you want to feature Protoje on The Kalling and, together, what are you guys showcasing about contemporary Jamaican music?
Protoje is somebody I always want to collaborate with. He was instrumental in the start of my career; most of [my 2011 EP] Rebel Music was recorded at his home studio. About four of the beats were beats that he gave me and from other producers. Europe knew about me because Protoje kind of helped me to get my name out there. And I respect him so much.
We're all about innovation. I think Protoje's [nominated] album is super cool. The intro and "Family" and "Hills" kind of go back to his original, more hip-hop flavor. Both of us have evolved so much vocally; I love the vocal tones that he experimented with on his album. And sonically, he's always pushing the genre further and I really appreciate that about him. And similar with me, there's so much versatility around the album, but still rooted in reggae.
The two of you are nominated in a category that has a next generation artist and very established musicians. How do these nominees reflect the state of reggae?
It means a lot for everybody now because of who won last year. Big up to SOJA; I really think they put in a lot of work in this music industry, especially in the U.S. And they unified the whole U.S. reggae industry on their album; they featured all of the major acts in the U.S. and I really think it was effective.
But people see it and say, "Oh, reggae is being taken away from Jamaica" and there was a lot of backlash for that. Based on that, it's very refreshing to see an all-Jamaican lineup of artists; artists that have done so much for the industry who have been on the frontline internationally, who put out wholesome music too. It's not like any real slackness is being represented.
I would hope that this lineup of artists inspires the younger generation that you can do music without all of the negativity and it can reach the highest level. It's not that the U.S. is greater than any other nation, but it's our biggest market for the music. So to be recognized within the U.S. with this GRAMMY Award is tremendous, and everybody feels it and appreciates it.
There’s so much versatility represented: Shaggy, did a Frank Sinatra cover album. Sean Paul is modern dancehall pop. Koffee is kind of similar, but there's so much fusion going on there and she's so lyrical and so young and, just blowing up all over the place. Me and Protoje are kind of in a similar bracket. It's an interesting group.
Speaking of the next generation, who or what are you listening to these days that's giving you life? Anybody you want to big up?
There's a bunch of artists, Medicine, who actually did some songwriting on my album. Irie Soldier, Nattali Rize, Runkus, Royal Blue, Blvk H3ro, Imeru Tefari, Five Star. There's a bunch of artists out there that's doing good music, and I'm always here to support them and want to do some more production with them as well. The future is bright, for sure.
Meet The First-Time GRAMMY Nominee: Cimafunk On Creating The New Sound Of Cuba & Redefining Latin Alternative
Photo: Raúl González
Cimafunk's music isn't just about having a good time; the Cuban artist wants to encourage listeners to enjoy themselves as people. His second album, 'El Alimento,' is up for a GRAMMY Award for Best Latin Rock Or Alternative Album.
Havana’s signature sounds are next to impossible to ignore; reggaetón, Santeria drums and timba music pump through the city’s major cultural spaces and punctuate its seams. Together, all of these sounds create a symphony in the streets of a global musical mecca.
Circa 2019, Cimfunk’s breakout hit "Me Voy" was at the center of this symphony — booming from the windows of vintage cars and into the streets from balconies, and streaming from cell phones attempting to catch a shaky internet connection in a park. The song was seemingly everywhere, commanding attention with its loud, look at me tone and funky rhythm.
Fast forward to present and Cimafunk has exploded on a global scale. The 33-year-old first time GRAMMY nominee is now a trailblazing creator whose music unites Afro-Cuban rhythms and African American funk. His second album, 2021's El Alimento, is nominated for Best Latin Rock Or Alternative Album at the 2023 GRAMMYs alongside Rosalía, Tinta y Tiempo, Jorge Drexler, Gaby Moreno and Fito Paez.
Sonically, El Alimento is a simultaneous pull back and forward in time. Cimafunk’s fresh take on funk mixed with classic cha cha, Afrobeats, rap, rock and more, all oscillate from marginal to central sounds throughout the album. In doing so, he not only criss-crosses varying genres, but creates his own way of being in his music.
Cimafunk captures Cuba’s playful cadence on "Te Quema La Bemba," where fast street slang laced with rap beats transitions into a grounding, elegant mashup with cha cha undertones. "Salvaje" — a linkup with Latin jazz master Chucho Valdes and Stax Records session player Lester Snell — follows this lead, as Cimafunk drops into slower ballads with deeper, denser vocals, adding a sense of gravity to the song and his style at large. "Rompelo," another notable track with Lupe Fiasco, stands out for its stellar rap groove.
Cimafunk collaborated with funk godfather George Clinton on El Alimento's "Funk Aspirin" — an explosive, explicitly funk tune that's also synchronistic with Cuba’s vibrant tropical tones. "Cimafunk is the one, the next one," Clinton tells GRAMMY.com. "He takes it back while keeping it in the now. It’s like what we do, always reinventing the funk to keep it fresh."
Cimafunk’s music is as much informed by Afrocuban rhythms and African American funk as it is Havana’s vibrant live music culture and strong communal ties. With his nine piece band — who consist mostly of musicians from Cuba’s most reputable music schools — Cimafunk's live shows feel more like full body funk therapy than solely sonic journeys.
In an interview in English with snippets of Spanish, Cimafunk outlined his roots and rise to success as a funkadelic force to be reckoned with. Often responding to interview questions through breaking out in melody and movement to express his thoughts and experiences, he exhibits his signature high energy funk flavor not only in his music, but his entire way of being.
You gained ground as an artist playing live shows first in Havana and then in the U.S. and internationally. Is there anything about the live music scene in Havana that you think plays out in your own presentation?
Yes, of course. Everything about the live music scene in Havana inspired me. At one point, some friends and I united a band, and we were in Havana and traveling. We started to see the bands in the capital and I fell in love with that.
I also understood how to develop the live show in Cuba because there you got a crowd that knows a lot of cultural music inside and out; they know exactly where and how you are playing. We listened to excellent musicians as kids, [and] we are born listening to music not only on the radio, but on the street, etc. So when you play [there], you really gotta do it right; you gotta understand what the people need and what they don’t. At the same time, the only real thing you're gonna give to the people is being yourself and enjoying yourself.
I learned from everyone there [in Havana], especially through the live shows. My main "school" was working in live performance there. At one point I realized the live show is my domain, that the live show was "the weapon." That realization was a moment of consciousness, about how I can develop myself.
Did you grow up in a musical environment? What was your home environment like?
I always had a connection with music as a kid. I sang in a choir at a Baptist church, where my whole family was going. After high school, I was living at a school and singing at all the parties.
I started singing reggaetón, [which was just starting to get off the ground then in Cuba] because it was "the scene" for the girls.
I also grew up with a lot of music in my home. Even as a kid living in the forest without internet or CDaccess, I was listening to Stevie Wonder and Madonna, because my uncle had a car and a cassette player in the car. My mom taught English so she loved this music too.
We had a big family. We were always dancing in the house and every Sunday, we were dancing– salsa and other types. Everybody loved music and we all listened to music the whole day. In any house, at some point, many types of music would be playing — Mexican music, reggaetón, Lionel Richie, or Michael Jackson, that was my fave. Also, Los van van, and all traditional and popular bands from Cuba like Charanga Habanera. We had a lot of variety of music around because we were a lot of people.
You refer to your band as "La Tribu," (the tribe). Can you tell me more about your relationship with them and why you call them a "tribe?"
We have nine people and everybody is a special character. The band members are all really good musicians. We are like family; we spend more time together than our own blood family. We’ve developed healthy relationships. We party all the time. We are always joking, just having fun and feeling good, and spreading this happiness. We have that special vibe. The audience feels that and the live show is really good for that reason. The groove tells you the truth!
You just finished your second tour showcasing your second album, El Alimento. What is different about this album compared to your first album, 2017's Terapia?
There are similarities in my philosophy, which is love your body and your way to be. Love yourself, enjoy yourself, and party with that — your flesh and your soul. I think the difference is the quality. I made a really good team with the producer in the second album, Jack Splash. But the two albums are both special; one is not better than the other.
El Alimento is nominated for a GRAMMY Award for Best Latin Rock Or Alternative Album; how do you see yourself and your music reflected in this category?
When you make an album, you say "this is gonna be rock or salsa." But for me, it’s difficult because this album has everything inside.
When you hear "Funk Aspirin" for instance, it’s like an acid, it's heavy, you can feel the rock and roll there.
Have you always thought of your music defined as "alternative"?
I remember some friends asked about this a long time ago-in 2019 or '18. And I said, originally I didn’t want it to be "alternative," but at the end it is.
I’m not 100 percent into the concept of [being defined as] a musical style. Everybody got their own vibe and different way to talk about the groove and I’m doing it my way. My way is alternative too. I’m always trying to mix sound and the groove.
Are there any significant experiences that stick out to you that helped you get yourself off the ground as an artist in Cuba?
At first, I was studying medicine… I had always grown up with this mindset that I had to be a good professional, everyone in my family had that kind of mentality.
But I had traveled to Havana and experienced the live music scene there. The environment there was super active — lots of music, a little bit of a hippie vibe, combined with, like, a rap groove. Everyone was super friendly.
I went back to my hometown [in Pinar Del Rio], and I was sitting there listening to my professor in the hospital, and I was like my mind is not here in this place.
So at some point, I moved to Havana to pursue music. I was alone for two years playing music, but also doing other jobs — painting cars, cleaning and doing whatever to get money. I was living with friends and family to pay for basic stuff. But after two years I woke up and was like I’m tired of this, I gotta find a solution because I can’t keep waiting. That’s what I tell kids now — don’t wait until someone comes to you, or for some label. Don’t wait for anybody. Just do your thing. Nobody is going to come for you if you don’t know how to find your own way.
Were there any specific musicians in Havana that mentored or guided you during this time?
[When I was in Havana] I figured out where the house of this big musician, Raul Paz, was, who is from my hometown. I was like if I’m gonna ask for help, I’m gonna ask for someone from my home town.
So I went up and said "I’m from your hometown," and he said, "I’m having lunch with the family, come back in 15 minutes." When I returned he was still eating with the family. But he said come to the studio in the back of his house. I played a few of my songs for him on the guitar. He said, "you got good songs bro. One of these songs I can put on an album." And I said "I’m not interested in that 100 percent; I’m most interested in work. I need money like now, ASAP."
So he said he needed someone for a big show at one of the biggest theaters in Cuba, the Karl Marx Theatre. He told me we have two weeks of rehearsal with some other musicians.The show was all Black people. Everyone was in suits, and dressed super elegant, but I had no clothes. I was wearing like broken jeans my sister had given me that were super tight. I had big white glasses and white shoes. It all looked like Latin pimp clothes. [Laughs.]
Anyway, they put that show on live TV for the whole country, so in that moment everyone saw me. The public kept me in their mind because I was dressed differently with a funky vibe. After that opportunity, everything started to happen. [Raul] took me under his wing. Even now, I keep doing what I did with him — I try to find a direct contact. I’m like this is who I am, if you like it, lets connect.
How did funk music in Cuba influence you? What did it teach you on your path?
That you gotta ‘fight,’ and also how to be a master of improvisation…It’s like salsa bands in the '90s — all these big people jamming, making improv — fighting.
I learned that with [Havana funk band] Interactivo, how to develop the groove and to release myself to say whatever I was feeling in the moment. And also how everyone is doing their own part.
How did you come to merge funk and Afro-Cuban rhythms? What does that connection represent for you?
Black music. All this information our ancestors brought and expressed in different places. Black roots, for me it’s that. We came here as slaves — my ancestors, and they gave the continent music, love, vibe, energy.
And that drove the inspiration for your name too?
My grandparents suffered that more than me. They grew up with this kind of idea that we gotta be Black educated people with money, a good life, good clothes, clean, smelling good, decent — proud. I started to deal with this and myself in and through music. I started to feel so much of this pain my grandparents felt, but also so much love for us, and for myself. Then I started to change.
For me the cimarrón was the equivalent of the new Afro-Cuban way to be and communicate about music, culture, sports, etc. [Historically], the cimarrón was a proud Black person. He didn’t feel like he was a slave. Instead he said, I’m a king, So the cimarrónes got together and created a village. They sang and danced in different ways, talked in a different language. They were together building a new society.
For me "Cimafunk" is a new way of life where you are proud [that] you can be yourself. You’re not going to question that you will be successful. So, ‘Cima’ is from this Cimarron heritage and "funk" is from the funky music I love.
I’ve heard you claim your music is more about celebration and joy than politics. Yet because your music combines Afro-Cuban rhythms and African American funk, do you think your music indirectly connects the US and Cuba?
This connection is not indirect. This musical and cultural exchange between our two countries has always been there.
I’m Cuban and I’m so happy to be an Afro-Latin person and artist. I’m really proud to have that in my existence. It’s a lot of power and rhythm and groove. But my music is not just talking about "enjoying your night." It’s talking about enjoying you as a person.
I’ve heard you reference Fela Kuti, quoting "music is the weapon." How does that philosophy resonate with you in regard to connecting the U.S. and Cuba?
Music is the weapon. But the weapon is not for hurting. The weapon is something to heal yourself. That’s what Fela was saying from my conception: Music is about love, enjoying yourself, pleasure and revolution. That experience with art is something you need to figure out for yourself; you got to deal with you first. That is music for me. Music saved me. It brought me out of this difficult place. But when music gave me the groove, everything changed.
What direction do you see your music moving in the future?
Everything is growing since I started, and that’s a good feeling. With the vibe we are working on now, everyone [on my team] is on fire. So the future is gonna be nice, with good people around, having fun.
I want to keep exploring different musical styles, especially in the groove. I’ll keep playing with the rhythms, knowledge and vibe, without killing the soul.
2023 GRAMMY Nominations: See The Complete Nominees List
Graphic: The Recording Academy
Ahead of Music's Biggest Night on Feb. 5, 2023, revel with this extensive playlist of every rock nominee at the 2023 GRAMMYs.
From the thrills of post punk to heavy metal, rock music electrified 2022. The 2023 GRAMMY nominees for the rock field cruised through the year with prowess and versatility — and now you can listen to all of the nominees on one playlist.
Up for Best Rock Performance are Bryan Adams' "So Happy It Hurts," Beck's "Old Man," The Black Keys' "Wild Child," Brandi Carlile's "Broken Horses," Idles' "Crawl!," Turnstile's "Holiday," and Ozzy Osbourne's "Patient Number 9" with Jeff Beck.
Osbourne returns, with another nomination for Best Metal Performance for "Degradation Rules" alongside collaborator Tony Iommi. Other nominees in this category include Ghost's "Call Me Little Sunshine," Megadeth's "We'll Be Back," Muse's "Kill Or Be Killed," and Turnstile's "Blackout."
The nominees for Best Rock Song gleam with spunk. Up for the award are Red Hot Chili Peppers' "Black Summer," Turnstile's "Turnstile's Blackout," Brandi Carlile's "Broken Horses," The War On Drugs' "Harmonia's Dream," and Ozzy Ozbourne's "Patient Number 9" with Jeff Beck.
In the Best Rock Album category, Machine Gun Kelly and Spoon earned their first GRAMMY nominations with Mainstream Sellout and Lucifer On The Sofa, respectively. The Black Keys' Dropout Boogie, Elvis Costello & The Imposters' The Boy Named If, Idles' Crawler, and Ozzy Osbourne's Patient Number 9 were also honored in the category.
Listen to all of the above albums in this immersive playlist of the Rock GRAMMY nominees at the 2023 GRAMMYs.
Check it out on Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon Music, and Pandora — we'll see you at Music's Biggest Night on Sunday, Feb. 5!
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2023 GRAMMY Nominations: See The Complete Nominees List
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