In 1969 Nina Simone performed “To Be Young Gifted and Black” at the Harlem Cultural Festival to a primarily white audience. Simone introduced the song with a bit of a disclaimer before launching into her composition by stating “this is not addressed primarily to white people, though it does not put you down in any way. It simply ignores you”. 47 years later, the idea of black empowerment still seems to make non-black people uncomfortable, where even the world’s biggest pop star, Beyonce, came under severe scrutiny after her performance in the halftime Superbowl and paying homage to the Black Panthers movement 50 years after its “formation” and sparked the hashtag #BoycottBeyonce
In a sense this aims to do the same, this list doesn’t intend to dismiss literally the thousands upon thousands of white/non-black artists that exist, burt rather the intended purpose is to inject some melanin into the sea of ivory that is the music industry. In Simone’s words “ For my people need all the inspiration and love that they can get”
Junglepussy, born Shayna McHayle, a 24 year old rapper of Jamaican/Trinidadian heritage, launches into the opening track of her second album Pregnant with Success by asking the listener if they are “willing to feel strange for awhile?”. Frankly, her album feels anything but strange, instead feeling refreshing and unrelentingly honest. She leads us into her world through her warm and infectious verses about the frustration she feels toward her (in)significant other who never even called her an Uber, addresses the colorism that exists among black women, and all the while nonchalantly rapping about “only taking dick from the back” within the same breath. McHayle, asserts her sexual prowess and inserts humor and personality into her songs. All these factors in mind help paint her as the multidimensional and complex individual we all wish we could portray ourselves to be to the world with half of the ease she does. McHayle asks us to globetrot to Junglepussy Metropolis and it’s not a trip you’ll regret, even giving a shoutout to our girl Nina.
Aye Nako is a DIY band based out of Brooklyn whose vocalist, Mars Ganito, is both Filipino and black. The band also consists of bassist Joe McCann, guitarist Jade Payne, and drummer Angie Boylan who make up this queer, multi-racial, multi-gendered set of musicians. Self-described as queercore, anti-capitalist, and LGBTQ-friendly, as a means to acknowledge that their lived experiences differ from the cis-white-male-narrative prevalent in pop punk and how it influences their sound. Aye Nako (which roughly translates to “omg”) come ferociously with their aggressively melodic sound, and on their latest album, The Blackest Eye, it’s easy to forget that behind the catchy riffs some of the lyrics discuss abuse and how we are socialized into remaining silent because we are told it’s just “the type of a lie a girl would make”. While pop-punk is already an emotionally driven genre, their introspective lyrics about racial identity and social awareness feel reinvigorating to a genre whose tropes about “being sick of this town” have become more than cliché
Lizzo, born Melissa Jefferson opens her latest album, Big Grrrl Small World, with a rapping homage to her contemporary Kanye West. Midway through the same track she lunges into a jazzy and reflective middle section only to culminate the track with an echoey fade out of her yelling “ain’t i a woman” intended to emote anti-slavery speaker, Sojourner Truth. All of this occurs in the span of less than 4 minutes, Lizzo has described this song as her thesis statement, her “blackness and womanhood crammed into 3 minutes and 56 seconds. While this track exemplifies why she labels herself as “no-genre hip-hop” as she is a songstress, rapper, and entertainer all in one, that’s not all there is to say about her as an artist. Lizzo, who’s album title seems allude to having been influenced by the riot grrrl movement (fitting as she opened up for Sleater-Kinney’s reunion tour last year) uses her voice to not only talk about empowering women and learning to love herself and her black skin in tracks like “My Skin” but also urged the big girls to asses their place in the world, “let the big girls tell it, we can take over the world”. Lizzo is giving the people who don’t have a place in this small world a big voice and a platform to express themselves in.
Son Little, born Aaron Livingston, is a musician who on his self-titled debut album admits to have been influenced by both Grizzly Bear and Kendrick Lamar and his vast influences show. Part Son House, part Tom Waits-like vocals, Son Little goes from moody-bluesy tunes to spacey-and-hollowed out tracks as demonstrated in album opener, “I’m Gone”. Son Little’s vision as an artist is to make albums, that resurrect the concept of sitting down and actively listening to and enjoying an album. Not background music while performing household chores, not sounds to fill the in-betweens during commutes, and with lyrics like as introspective and heartfelt as “ Won’t just sit here and let them treat me like a slave//Oh can I, love the world and hate how it makes me feel” it’s hard to do anything but pay close attention.
Sumney, 25 year old Ghanaian-American, has collected a wide array of established artists as fans as his rise to fame continues such as Solange, Sufjan Stevens, and TV On The Radio’s Dave Sitek and Karen O. His tender whisper-like vocals, reminiscent of Nick Drake, captivate the listener and takes us from the trenches of the deep jungle in tracks like “Mumblin” to the outer limits of space in “Man On the Moon”. His music is intimate, both lyrically and sonically, it almost makes the listener feel like an intruder into the innermost thoughts of the artist, but we’re content to be given access.