13 Artists You Can't Ignore this #BlackHistoryMonth
The number thirteen is commonly perceived as an unlucky number, but not for your melanin-enriched friends. The thirteenth amendment declared slavery unconstitutional, so in honor of #BlackHistoryMonth, here's to a diverse listing of thirteen artists you must listen to this February. Whitewashing not included.
If you haven't heard of SZA, you probably haven't looked at any of Spotify's indie playlists. You can find her wistful voice accompanied by Rihanna, ScHoolboy Q, and Chance the Rapper. Let her take you through three different genres in one song and you'll understand us when we say she set a new standard for artists of all genres. If ABRA, Noname, and Kelela and were a clique SZA's the Regina George - minus the pettiness.
Turn your sound on and check out this interactive site for her new album (Pssst! You'll want to click this. It's a virtual masterpiece!): https://szactrl.com/
"The generations before you didn't march on Washington for you to fail chemistry." - a quip almost every educated middle-class black kid has heard before. But not everyone needs a Bachelor's to be successful. Kweku Collins proves that real education rarely comes from school. He started challenging ageism as a high school freshman when music called to him louder than college did. A Chicago gem, he proves that an examined life is the best education. If you like Kid Cudi or King Krule you'll love this Chicago kid.
BJ the Chicago Kid
Speaking of Chicago kids... here's an incredibly talented one. You wouldn't be able to tell from his age, but BJ the Chicago Kid has written for, performed with and inspired the likes of Stevie Wonder, Mary Mary, Kanye West and Twista. He's a 32 year old with a firm grasp on the salience of sexism in our society. It's been a year since his last album, but he certainly gave us enough to hold us over until his next one.
A Stevie Wonder Greatest Hits album likely conjures images of lovely babies and writings on the wall, but his best hits are much more political than "Isn't She Lovely" and "Superstition." One minute into his address to President Richard Nixon called "You Haven't Done Nothin" and you'll immediately realize he isn't the whitewashed Motown singer you're used to hearing over your grocery store intercom. His music will be the anthem of all black birthday parties for generations to come.
You can't celebrate black history without celebrating the multitude of identities that constitute "Blackness." Xenia Rubios, reminds us that the Black Experience is not one-dimensional and our brown brothers and sisters are inextricably linked with Black history. This Afro-Latina queen experiments with sounds to create a syncopated journey through issues of immigration and navigate her latina experience in America.
Watch her live on: NPR's Tiny Desk
Shout out to D.C.! As the name implies, Diamond District, a hip-hop trio of veteran rappers, hails from the nation's capital. In the last decade, the black population in D.C. has shrunk by about 10 percent. These three call attention to the issue of gentrification in an effort to save the integrity of the one American city where taxation without representation is still a persisting issue.
Listen to SYD's new album and you'll fall in love the juxtaposition of her melodic voice with strong hip-hop beats. SYD produced for Odd Future with her bother until becoming the forefront of one of Atlanta's fastest rising bands, The Internet, and challenges our heteronormaitve culture to 90s inspired beats on the new album Fin.
Christianity has always been an anchor in the black community. Despite being the epicenter of civil rights movements, the Church is rarely regarded as a leader in progressive ideology. Grammy-award winning rapper Lecrae calls into question the follies of church culture while paying hommage to his faith. He actively denounces sexism and addresses race relations not only through his music, but through community outreach and journalism. Christian rap's come a long way since The Cross Movement, much of its progress being owed to Lacrae's songwriting, production and mentorship.
Calling all House of Card fans: This one's for you! To be black in America is, as James Baldwin would say, to exist in opposition of the white force of the world. The arbitrary nature of race leaves little room for varied identities. K. Raydio never adhered to these binary rules of race, but instead burst into the music industry creating a space for herself and other people of color who don't wholly identify themselves as one race.
Have you ever really listened to J. Cole? He came out swinging in his newest album, released exactly two years after 2014 Forest Hills Drive. Allegedly a letter to his slain friend's daughter, 4 Your Eyez Only examines the Black Experience with a refreshingly feminist lens. This profoundly personal album sheds light on the resilience of black men in America without leaving black women in the shadows. Like Kendrick Lamar's, his lyrics are often ironically heard at party scenes by the very people he calls into question.
If you need proof that activism is 24/7 job destined to burnout those who chose to espouse it, just take a look at Josephine Baker. Perhaps the most eccentric civil rights activist of the 20th century, Baker was a trailblazer who fled from American racism to find success in Paris as an avante garde (and notoriously risque) singer and dancer. Despite her fame in France, she soon realized that in America, the stress of stardom, slander and subjugation does not come a la carte. You might not know her music but you know those who she influenced including Bey and Angelina Jolie.
You may have known Solange was a genius in the past but she finally has a well-deserved Grammy to show for it. Her latest album, A Seat at the Table, is a combination of funk, rap and R&B and features a slew of black artists that helped her secure the No.1 spot on Billboard 200 last October. Her expressions of gratitude, defiance, and self-love are the epitome of Black Girl Magic.
Alicia Keys is on her #NoMakeupMonday game, except she's doing it everyday. Much like her new look, her new album, HERE, is real AF. This isn't the same Alicia you grew up listening to. This album is a battle cry; it calls attention to the black woman experience in a way her music never has before. Listen to her fusion of the gospel, spoken word and R&B but don't ignore the nods to womanism, black liberation, and LBGTQ rights.