In an era of trending sounds and singles, Kota the Friend makes albums. His latest, Protea, is a kaleidoscope of clever wordplay, smooth hooks, and beats you can dance to. Dedicated to his wife, the 16 tracks feel like a celebration. It features guest spots from Aloe Blacc, Braxton Cook, and Samm Henshaw.
Doing things his own way is nothing new. From his early days of playing the trumpet and performing at DIY shows, the native New Yorker has stood out. Musically, he combines sounds from different eras that fit his unique flow. Aesthetically, Kota loves bright colors and playful graphics, recalling early '90s acts like A Tribe Called Quest and De La Soul.
Inspired by Pharrell Williams, he's also become an entrepreneur with his clothing line FLTBYS. The brand includes not just tees and hats, but items like journals and a water planter.
Watch Jordan Edwards and Demi Ramos interview Kota about the evolution of his sound, influences, and love for Brooklyn.
Kota the Friend
Highlights from the 2023 MTV Video Music Awards
My instant reaction: Wait… it’s the VMAs tonight? My second thought: Are the VMAs still a thing?
When I think of the VMAs, I think of vintage VMA ceremonies — from the golden age of chaotic television when they first premiered in 1980 to the infamous Taylor Swift x Kanye beef in 2009 and the Miley Cyrus twerking fiasco in 2013.
But for the past few years, the VMAs have happened not with a bang but with a whimper. Maybe it’s because COVID took the ceremony online and they, like most award shows, haven’t fully recovered.
But this year, the VMAs have solidified themselves as the award show to watch again. Despite meager attendance and lackluster performances in years past, this year’s event brought its best. All the big names showed up in their award show best: Taylor Swift, Selena Gomez, and even a mini-reunion of NSYNC. The affair was star-studded, the fashion rivaled the Met Gala, and the entertainment was top-tier.
If you missed it — like I almost did — here’s what happened at the 2023 MTV VMAs:
Who performed at the 2023 VMAs?
Like VMA shows of yore, this year’s performances were some for the books. All the hottest acts played all their best songs with all the works — from stunning choreo to studded gowns.
- Lil Wayne: The rapper opened the show with “Uproar” and “Kat Food.”
- Olivia Rodrigo: Fresh off the release of her new album, GUTS, Rodrigo gave an all-American performance. She performed her new songs “Vampire” and“Get Him Back!”
Olivia Rodrigo - "vampire" / "get him back" | 2023 VMAswww.youtube.com
- Shakira: After winning the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award, Shakira performed her hit song about her ex, soccer player Gerard Pique, “BZRP Music Sessions, Vol. 53” as well as hits like “She Wolf” and “Objection.”
- Demi Lovato: Going back to her rock roots — who can forget her angsty Disney Channel days — Demi performed rock renditions of hits like“Heart Attack,” “Sorry Not Sorry,” and “Cool for the Summer.”
- Fall Out Boy: Their rendition of Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire” was nostalgia personified.
- Nicki Minaj: It’s the summer of Barbie, and with a new Nicki album coming in November, it’s bound to be the fall of Barbz. Nicki gave us a sneak peek of an upcoming song, “Last Time I Saw You.”
- Tomorrow X Together and Anitta: This eclectic pairing collaborated on their new song “Back for More.”
- Anitta: Anitta’s solo performance was a sensual medley of songs from “Funk Generation: A Favela Love Story.”
- Kelsea Ballerini: The VMA newcomer made some eyes well up with her piano rendition of “Penthouse (Healed Version).”
- Sean 'Diddy' Combs: After receiving the Global Icon Award, Diddy proved just why his legacy in music is so enduring with a medley of his greatest hits, including songs like “I’ll Be Missing You” as a tribute to Notorious B.I.G. — especially powerful on the 50th anniversary of hip-hop.
- Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion: This one is for the hot girls. “Bongos” has never sounded better.
- Måneskin: Goth is back and Måneskin are the proof. Their rendition of “Honey (Are U Coming?)” made me want to mosh.
- Karol G: The Spanish-singing powerhouse performed “Oki Doki” and “Tá OK (Remix),” proving why she has the first No. 1 Spanish album by a female artist.
- Doja Cat: Queen of weird, Doja wowed with “Attention,” “Paint the Town Red,” and “Demons.”
- Stray Kids: This K-Pop band stunned with their genre-defying performance of “S-Class,” and “5-Star.”
- Peso Pluma: This captivating performance of “Lady Gaga” and “Genesis” upped the cool factor of the show.
- Metro Boomin’, Future, Swae Lee, NAV, and A Boogie Wit da Hoodie: This eclectic group performed “Superhero (Heroes & Villains)” and“Calling.”
- 50th anniversary of hip-hop: Tribute performances are usually pretty lackluster but it was iconic to see Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, Doug E. Fresh, Nicki Minaj, Lil Wayne, LL Cool J and Darryl “DMC” Simmons of Run-DMC.
Who won at the 2023 VMAs?
Mostly, Taylor Swift. But here were the rest of the winners:
VIDEO OF THE YEAR: Taylor Swift – “Anti-Hero”
ARTIST OF THE YEAR: Taylor Swift
SONG OF THE YEAR: Taylor Swift – “Anti-Hero”
BEST NEW ARTIST: Ice Spice
SHOW OF THE SUMMER (Social Category): Taylor Swift
GROUP OF THE YEAR (Social Category): BLACKPINK
SONG OF THE SUMMER (Social Category): Jung Kook ft. Latto – “Seven”
ALBUM OF THE YEAR (Social Category): Taylor Swift – Midnights
PUSH PERFORMANCE OF THE YEAR: April 2023: TOMORROW X TOGETHER – “Sugar Rush Ride”
BEST COLLABORATION: KAROL G, Shakira – “TQG”
BEST POP: Taylor Swift – “Anti-Hero”
BEST HIP-HOP: Nicki Minaj – “Super Freaky Girl”
BEST R&B: SZA – “Shirt”
BEST ALTERNATIVE: Lana Del Rey ft. Jon Batiste – “Candy Necklace”
BEST ROCK: Måneskin – “THE LONELIEST”
BEST LATIN: Anitta – “Funk Rave”
BEST K-POP: Stray Kids – “S-Class”
BEST AFROBEATS: Rema & Selena Gomez – “Calm Down”
VIDEO FOR GOOD: Dove Cameron – “Breakfast”
BEST DIRECTION: Taylor Swift — “Anti-Hero” — Directed by Taylor Swift
BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY: Taylor Swift — “Anti-Hero” — Cinematography by Rina Yang
BEST VISUAL EFFECTS: Taylor Swift — “Anti-Hero” — Visual Effects by Parliament
BEST CHOREOGRAPH: BLACKPINK — “Pink Venom” — Choreography by Kiel Tutin, Sienna Lalau, Lee Jung (YGX), Taryn Cheng (YGX)
BEST ART DIRECTION: Doja Cat — “Attention” — Art Direction by Spencer Graves
BEST EDITING: Olivia Rodrigo — “vampire” — Edited by Sofia Kerpan and David Checel