Grammy nominations are proof that North Carolina music is about to explode

 By Cameron Lee

November 29, 2017

North Carolina’s music scene is exploding, but not in the genres we’re typically used to. With a steep tradition of folk, country, Americana, and bluegrass music that has historically resonated with the Carolinas, the Tar Heel state has had a recent surge of hip-hop, R&B, and indie music, and the 2018 Grammy nominations are proof the world is paying attention. In recent years, J.Cole, Anthony Hamilton, The Avett Brothers, Carolina Chocolate Drops, and Fantasia have received nominations, but a couple of new artists are garnering national attention including Durham’s electronic indie pop duo Sylvan Esso and rap artist Rapsody.

Anthony Hamilton and the Hamiltones

Charlotte native Anthony Hamilton is no stranger to the Grammys as he’s been nominated for a staggering 17 awards with a win in 2009 for Best Traditional R&B Vocal Performance for “You’ve Got The Love I Need.” Since then, he’s got the nod ten more times in various categories. This year, he is nominated for the song “What I’m Feelin’” with his incredible vocal group, the Hamiltones. When asked about his thoughts on his recent nominations Hamilton expressed his gratitude: “North Carolina is a great place for art, especially music. We’ve got a lot of soul and culture. My work speaks to the people and reflects life’s highs and lows. It’s always a great feeling to be recognized for bringing love through music,” he said. For the Hamiltones, since their first viral video of Drake’s “Hotline Bling” and the massive virality of their “Put Some Respeck On It” video, it’s been a whirlwind: “We were totally lost for words when we found out, but all we could do was think back on how many years we put in collectively as a group and individually,” said Corey “2E” Williams of the Hamiltones. “Ultimately, together, we made it happen as a team. It’s a great feeling to be considered for a Grammy,” James “J-Vito Tillman added. Antonio “Tony Lelo” Bowers from the group also tells us there is new music coming soon: “We’ve been working day and night, and can’t put an exact date on it yet, but stay tuned.”

Rapsody Performing at Roc Nation’s Made in America Festival 2017. Photo by Andre Jones for CLTure

Snow Hill native Rapsody is nominated for Best Rap Album for her sophomore full-length album, Laila’s Wisdom, putting her in an impressive group with the likes of Jay-Z, Kendrick Lamar, Tyler, The Creator, and Migos. Rapsody has slowly risen up the hip-hop ranks since her days with North Carolina’s Kooley High in the mid 2000s. Her career shifted directions when famed Durham music producer 9th Wonder (Little Brother, Jay-Z’s “Threat,” and Kendrick Lamar’s “DUCKWORTH.”) brought her under his wing in 2008 signing Rapsody to his label. Since then, 9th Wonder’s record label Jamla merged with Jay-Z’s Roc Nation and Rapsody signed to Hov’s mega company in mid 2016. She broke through to a nationwide audience with her 2015 collaboration on “Complexion (A Zulu Love)” on Kendrick Lamar’s critically acclaimed album, To Pimp a Butterfly. Her latest album Laila’s Wisdom is an intricate and introspective look at her journey through relationships, love, and life trials that includes impressive contributions from artists like Black Thought, Anderson .Paak, Kendrick Lamar, Terrace Martin, and BJ the Chicago Kid. The album was praised by several industry titans and was immediately received as one of the best rap albums of 2017 after its release in late September.

Sylvan Esso in Charlotte, NC January 16, 2015. Photo by Carter Short for CLTure

Durham’s Sylvan Esso is nominated for Best Electronic/Dance album, the duo formed in 2012 from a collaborative project with Amelia Meath of indie folk rock trio Mountain Man and Nick Sanborn of psychedelic folk band Megafaun. A remix from a chance meeting between Sanborn and Meath turned into new brand of electronic indie folk synth music that spread across the internet like a sonic boom. The duo’s sound has been tough to categorize as music appreciators ranging from indie rock fans from their 2014 NPR debut of “Hey Mami,” to indie-pop and EDM festival-goers have been deeply drawn to their music. They have travelled the world as a popular festival act and are now are getting the credit they deserve as a transformative musical duo. Their 2017 follow-up to their debut self-titled album, What Now, follows the same magical formula of Sanborn’s intelligent electronic music with more abstract staticky sounds blended with Meath’s sultry voice and wonderfully abstruse lyrics.

Lute (upper left), Elevator Jay (upper right), Rainbow Kitten Surprise (lower left), and King Mez (lower right)

With these recent nominations and up-and-coming artists like rapper King Mez (Raleigh, NC) who has recently worked with Dr. Dre on his latest album Compton, Asheville’s Rainbow Kitten Surprise, who has played festivals like Austin City Limits, Bonnaroo, and Shaky Knees, and Charlotte’s own Elevator Jay along with Dreamville artist Lute, North Carolina’s future looks bright. It’s time we collectively start appreciating the incredible talent coming from our state.

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