Black History Month: Music Milestones – 1990-Now

Today we’re finishing up our Black History Month: Music Milestones series with 10 more milestones that took place in the 1990s through now. If you haven’t already, be sure to read the previous articles covering events from 1890 to 1939, from 1940 to 1959, and from 1960 to 1989!


1995 – Queen Latifah and Salt-N-Pepa win Grammy Awards for Best Rap Performance

The Recording Academy introduced the Grammy Award for the Best Rap Performance at the February 1989 ceremony. After two years, they split the category into two awards: one for solo artists and one for duos/groups. At the 1995 awards, Queen Latifah won the Solo award for “U.N.I.T.Y.” and Salt-N-Pepa won the group award for “None of Your Business.” Thus, the 37th Annual Grammy Awards mark both the first female winner of the Best Solo Rap Performance, and the first all-women win of the Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group. Two years prior, the mixed-gender group Arrested Development won the Award. They were also the first rap group to win the Best New Artist Grammy Award.

Read more about Queen Latifah and Salt-N-Pepa.

1999 – TLC is the first all-women group to earn a RIAA diamond-certified album

In 1994, TLC released their second album CrazySexyCool. Five years later, RIAA certified the album Diamond for over 10 million copies sold. The group, made of Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes, Rozanda “Chilli” Thomas, and Tionne “T-Boz” Watkins, was the first all-women ensemble to earn Diamond status in the US. In 2016, Billboard ranked all 92 Diamond-Certified albums from best to worst. They ranked CrazySexyCool as the 7th best, right above The Beatle’s white album.

To this day, the only all-women group who has sold more copies of a single album (worldwide) than TLC is The Spice Girls with 1996’s Spice.

Read more about TLC and their record CrazySexyCool

1999 – The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill wins Album of the Year

In February 1999, Lauryn Hill took home the Grammy Award for Album of the Year for her debut album The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. This marks the first time a hip hop album won the award (though the Academy officially classified it as an R&B record). Hill took home 5 solo Grammys that night, becoming the first woman to do so. In total, Hill has won 8 Grammy Awards – 2 for her work with The Fugees and 6 solo Grammys. Just last week RIAA diamond-certified the album, making Lauryn Hill the first female rapper to reach diamond status.

Though Lauryn Hill was the first woman to win the Best Rap Album Award as part of The Fugees in 1997, it wasn’t until 2019 that Cardi B became the first solo female artist to win the award.

Read more about Lauryn Hill, and learn more about hip hop at the Grammys with this article about hip hop firsts at the Grammys and Billboard’s article A History of Hip-Hop’s Complicated Relationship with the Grammys.


2003 – The Billboard Hot 100’s Top 10 songs are all by Black artists

History was made in early October of 2003. For the first time, the Billboard Hot 100’s top 10 were all songs performed by Black artists. At the top of the charts was Beyoncé (ft. Sean Paul) with “Baby Boy.”

The history-making tracks were:

  1. “Baby Boy” by Beyoncé ft. Sean Paul
  2. “Shake Ya Tailfeather” by Nelly, P. Diddy, and Murphy Lee
  3. “Get Low” by Lil Jon & The East Side Boyz ft. Ying Yang Twins
  4. “Right Thurr” by Chingy
  5. “Frontin'” by Pharrell ft. Jay-Z
  6. “Damn!” by YoungBloodZ ft. Lil Jon
  7. “P.I.M.P.” by 50 Cent
  8. “Into You” by Fabolous ft. Tamia Or Ashanti
  9. “Stand Up” by Ludacris ft. Shawna
  10. “Where is the Love?” by Black Eyed Peas

View the full Hot 100 on October 11, 2003 on Billboard’s website

2009 – Decade-end achievement lists

From 2000-2009, Beyoncé garnered 64 RIAA certifications, the most of any artist for the decade. In true 2000s fashion, 19 of these certifications were for ringtones. Beyoncé, of course, was also the highest-selling female artist for the decade. Billboard named her the female artist of the decade.

In the later half of the decade, album sales slowed due to availability of file sharing services and the ability to purchase individual tracks from digital retailers like iTunes. And yet, 50 Cent, Kayne West, and Lil Wayne still made history with their album sales. Of the 20 best one-week sales for albums calculated by SoundScan (from its start in 1991 until the end of 2009), only 3 albums from 2005-2009 made the list. These were 50 Cent’s “The Massacre” with 1.1 million sales, Kayne West’s “Graduation” with 957k sales, and Lil Wayne’s “Tha Carter III” with 1 million sales.

Flo Rida had the best selling digital song of the decade with “Low” – 4x platinum. Lil Wayne had the hottest ringtone with “Lollipop” – 5x platinum.

Usher dominated the Billboard Hot 100 throughout the decade. He had 13 Top 20 singles, including 7 number one hits, which held 41 collective weeks at the top of the charts (the most of any artist in the 2000s).

Timbaland and Pharrell Williams owned the Songwriters and Producers charts: Timbaland was the top Songwriter with 63 charting hits, Pharrell was no. 2. For Producers, Pharrell’s production duo was number 1, with Timbaland at no. 2.

Read more about the Billboard and RIAA achievements of the decade.


2012 – Tupac “performed” via hologram at Coachella

In 2012, Tupac posthumously made history with the infamous Coachella hologram ‘performance’ during Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre’s headlining set. Of course, the events weren’t without controversy.

Read more about how the hologram came to be and about Tupac himself.

2015 – Rihanna surpasses 100 million RIAA song certifications

In 2015, Rihanna hit a major milestone when she became the first artist to reach 100 million RIAA song certifications. To this day, only 6 artists have cracked 100 million certified units of digital singles. Drake is currently number one with 163.5 million units and Rihanna is second with 137 million.

Read more about Rihanna

2018 – Kendrick Lamar wins the Pulitzer Prize

In 2018, Kendrick Lamar made headlines as the winner of the Pulitzer Prize in the Music category. The win is historic as it’s the first time in the Prize’s nearly 80-year history that the award was won by a composition outside of the classical or jazz genres. The board calls Lamar’s 2017 DAMN. “a virtuosic song collection unified by its vernacular authenticity and rhythmic dynamism that offers affecting vignettes capturing the complexity of modern African-American life.” In more accessible English, it’s a damn good album.

Read more about Kendrick Lamar

2018 – Beyoncé headlines Coachella

In 2018, Queen Bey ruled Coachella with a two hour headlining set. Her much-anticipated performance was so iconic that many renamed the event Beychella. She was the first Black woman to headline the festival, and only the third woman to ever do so.

The performance, which was postponed from 2017 due to the star’s pregnancy, brought Black culture to the forefront in many ways. “For most of the night,” writes a New York Times critic, “the 36-year-old star was backed by an ecstatic marching band, in the manner of historically black college football halftime shows. The choice instantly reoriented her music, sidelining its connections to pop and framing it squarely in a lineage of Southern black musical traditions from New Orleans second line marches to Houston’s chopped-and-screwed hip-hop.”

Beyoncé also sang “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” a song often called “The Black National Anthem.” Her performance also sampled, Malcolm X, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Nina Simone, and many others.

The performance also featured an unexpected Destiny’s Child reunion, and a Solange appearance.

In an Instagram post, Beyonce’s mother Tina Knowles shared how, before the performance, she was worried that “the predominately white audience at Coachella would be confused by all of the Black culture.” Beyoncé reportedly replied to her that she has a “responsibility to do what’s best for the world and not what is most popular,” and that she hopes her performance will encourage young people to research Black culture, and enroll in HBCUs.

Beyoncé’s documentary Homecoming is available on Netflix. The film dives deep into the details of her historic performance.

Read more about Beyoncé and her iconic Coachella performance.

2019 – “This is America” wins Song and Record of the Year

In 2018, Childish Gambino (Donald Glover) went viral with “This is America.” In 2019, he brought home 4 Grammys. The 61st Grammy Awards marks the first time a rap song has won the Song and Record of the Year awards.

Glover was notably absent from the awards, having also turned down a performance opportunity, and his producer stepped up to accept the award for him. It’s unclear whether he was too busy to attend, or skipped the ceremony in protest of the Academy’s track record of passing over Black artists.

At the ceremony, Drake, who attended the event for the first time since 2013, got cut off during his acceptance speech after critiquing the Academy’s bias.

Read more about Childish Gambino and check out an analysis of the symbolism in the “This is America” video.

If you haven’t already, be sure to read our other Black History Month content, including Punk Rock Bookshelf BHM Edition, and our essential resource list.

What have you learned or shared this Black History Month? Let us know in the comments!

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