Grammys 2022: Cory Henry on Memorable Moments With Ye, Working With Frank Ocean, and Creating His Own Sound

Up for four awards, including “Album of the Year” and “Best Progressive R&B Album,” the musical virtuoso shares stories with

If you weren’t familiar with the name Cory Henry, please allow us to introduce you to the four-time Grammy nominee, multi-instrumentalist, and keyboard virtuoso.

Already a three-time winner as a member of Snarky Puppy for Culcha Vulcha in 2016, this Brooklyn O.G. has now called Los Angeles his home, where his first body of work, Something to Say, is up for Best Progressive R&B Album.

As one of the best kept secrets in music, period, Henry has showcased his chops amongst the likes of Ben Ellman, Kermit Ruffins’ BBQ Swingers, and Snarky Puppy, which he placed in his résumé alongside touring stints with the likes of Bruce Springsteen, The Roots, Kirk Franklin, and Yolanda Adams.

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Something to Say, which is solely produced by Henry, showcases his mastery of singing, songwriting, and multi-instrumental skill while mining 2020’s challenging emotional terrain that came with all of the things. A right on time message from an artist who is consistently living in the moment, Cory Henry has a healthy road ahead with this weekend’s 2022 Grammys.

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In addition to his own nomination, he’s also up — in the same category — as a co-producer/writer on Eric Bellinger’s New Light, up for both Album of the Year and Best Rap Album as a co-producer/writer on Kanye West’s DONDA, and he was a part of a rare Frank Ocean sighting as a featured guest on an untitled, 9-minute song, which was released on Christmas night via his Blonded Radio Beats 1 show.

An in-demand talent, Henry was able to sit down with to talk about being nominated in multiple categories and share some memorable moments recording with two living music icons. What were your initial thoughts when you found out that you weren’t only nominated once, but three times for this year’s Grammys?

Cory Henry: Man, I remember I was walking through the Chicago airport when I got a text and a friend was saying, ‘Congratulations!’ I was like, ‘For what? [laughs]’ And then I spoke to my boy, Azu, and he shared a picture with me. I remember I just started crying, walking through the airport, crying, and thanking God. I had a mask on, so I don’t think anyone was paying me any attention, but it got worse.

I got off the plane and went to my grandma’s house, cried some more, and just have been staying happy and hardworking ever since. They were tears of joy, you know. I feel really good to be recognized in this type of way. This has been a goal of mine for quite some time. To be in this light for the type of music that I love to create is also a testament to my story of taking a different path and letting the changes in my life flourish.

It has turned out to be successful [for me], so I’ve been really ecstatic and motivated since this nomination has happened. For the audience who are becoming more or less acquainted with your music, may you share a bit of background behind Something to Say?

Cory Henry: I started making Something to Say in 2018, 2019, but I didn’t have a name for it. I took some of the sessions I was writing for another project and started writing the lyrics when the world shut down [due to coronavirus]. That’s when the project became more serious. Before then, I was on tour a lot with my band, The Funk Apostles, and we were in Japan when the pandemic hit heavily in America.

Once we returned and got off the plane, everything changed drastically. Shootings and police brutality had gotten really crazy at that point and the artist who I am inspired by — Marvin Gaye, Prince, Stevie Wonder to name a few — made music that spoke to the social time they were in. I had always wanted to do that in my own way, and Something to Say was a moment to do exactly that. After I came up with the title, I started getting into songs like “Don’t Forget,” “Black Man,” and “No Guns.” I was inspired and felt like I’m doing everything I’ve seen my heroes do and still doing it my way.

That made me feel good because I come from the church, I come from a family of preachers, so giving messages has been a part of me, but I always try not to deliver them in a preachy way. Something to Say does everything that I’ve lived up to at this point: the happiness, love, joy, and a little word to wrap it all together. I’m glad that music lovers and the people are able to get that from this project and to be nominated for a Grammy is a really cool thing. You’re also nominated in the Album of the Year and Best Rap Album categories as part of the production team behind Ye’s Donda record. Could you share any memorable stories from the “24” session and how it was to work with Mr. West?

Cory Henry: [Laughs] Man, that was a movie! I got a random call from someone I can’t say who, but they wanted me to leave two hours after they called me. The whole experience was just different. I recorded with Ye on the second floor of this fancy hotel, and I had never done anything like that before. To witness his process was inspiring. They were in the middle of writing one song, while playing beats for another, and every time they played anything his energy level went up past a hundred.

I noticed that he’s all the way in, he’s in there, and that was really great for me to see. I needed to see that. Also, he’s very serious about his mission. Hearing him rant and express his truth was impressive. He’s very serious about what he is doing and that is what I took away from working on “24.” Another special moment was when we began chanting together, saying, “God’s not finished. God’s not finished.” Ye then stopped us to say a prayer and I was playing the organ while he was filled with the spirit.

I remember it feeling like we were at church. There were so many positive moments that I couldn’t believe that I was doing something of this magnitude that felt so childlike. It was all great and to be with Ye and his team for these sessions will forever be unforgettable. The type of music that Ye’s making now isn’t too far off from what he did with “Jesus Walks.” You know that he is connected to a higher power and the energy he displays when creating is through the roof. You also were one of the key ingredients for Frank Ocean’s “Iceman,” which was a song you both modified to make fresh. Could you take us through the initial process of creating the song? Were there any notes between yourself and Frank that could be shared?

Cory Henry: [Frank Ocean] knows harmonically what he is going for. At the time of “Iceman,” we were just trying to get a vibe going. We talked about our emotional states more than about chord progression. We did talk about tempo and listened to some classical pieces to get our approach off the ground.

Once we landed on those chords, we recorded about two or three different versions of that song at Electric Lady in New York City. There is something crazy when you record something that one might think is old, but when I heard it, man, I was inspired. The moments working with Frank were cool but short. We put all of this together and made for a good connection right from the top. How do you approach creating your own sound?

Cory Henry: At the core, my music is all about soul. No matter what the topic is, I feel like I’m talking directly to anyone who has a genuine and honest nature with themselves. With my sound, I mean it all from the heart. You could disagree with the message all you want, but what I place into these songs is what I hope can change the world to become the best place it can be. Do you play into predictions when it comes to awards such as the Grammys? For instance, your record is also up against Eric Bellinger, whose project, New Light, you also worked on too, correct?

Cory Henry: [Laughs] Yeah, I’m kind of up against myself. I produced and wrote on Eric Bellinger’s record as well. When it comes to Something To Say, I am really excited because all of what I do is the hard work that I put into my features, my artistry, and all of my projects. I put my entire self into them and this is a moment where everything I’ve ever loved and experienced has become this beautiful combination. Having these [Grammy] nominations just blows me away, and I am happy that I experienced these moments. This past year in music became a snapshot of my life and what I was into at the time, how I viewed the instrument of my choosing (the organ), and this long, winding road spent with family and friends.

Don’t forget to tune into the 64th Annual Grammy Awards on Sunday, Apr. 3, at 8 p.m. ET on CBS and Paramount+.

Kevin L. Clark is a screenwriter and entertainment director for BET Digital, who covers the intersection of music, film, pop culture, and social justice. Follow him on @KevitoClark.

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