Groundbreaking Black musicians you should listen to

By Riley Dauber
Elm Staff Writer

Black musicians are the blueprint for modern day music. From musicians like Rufus Thomas influencing Elvis, to the impact musicians such as Jay-Z and Kanye West have had on the modern rap scene, the music we listen to today has been highly influenced by Black artists.

 Despite the influence that Black musicians have had on the modern music industry, they are often overlooked despite their talents.

Doja Cat

As an artist, Doja Cat is a perfect example of what it means to use the internet to your advantage, but not let it overcome your career.

“Doja Cat is the latest musician with an uncanny ability to turn whatever she touches into social media gold…although she’s mastered the art of dominating internet culture — from her bizarre viral hit ‘Mooo!’ (with lyrics like “b***h I’m a cow”) to the endless loops of her music on TikTok — she’s proved she’s not just that with her sparkly new album ‘Hot Pink’ and a late show performance that was the talk of the town,” Evening Star writer Megan Hills said.

Getting her start on Soundcloud, singer and rapper Doja Cat has now released three albums and received mass fame thanks to her cultural influence.

 Her single “Say So” blew up on TikTok thanks to a dance trend, and she had a very successful 2020 and 2021 because of its popularity.

Sleeper hit “Streets” is arguably the best song on the album, and even underrated tracks like “Addicted” and “Better Than Me” have great verses and choruses.

At the 2021 Grammy Awards, she was nominated for Best New Artist, Record of the Year, and Best Pop Solo Performance for “Say So.”

Later that year, she released her third album, “Planet Her,” which consisted of space-themed music videos and earworm tunes. She also collaborated with SZA, Ariana Grande, and The Weeknd.

What makes Doja Cat so great is her creativity, both with her music videos and onstage performances. During the pandemic, she performed “Say So” on nearly every late night show and at varying award shows.

She switched up the performance each time with different outfits and aesthetics, making the song new and interesting. Her attitude is carefree, but her dedication is evident.

Lil Nas X

Famous for his country hit “Old Town Road,” Lil Nas X also had a very successful 2021 with the release of his debut album, “Montero.” The album has heavy pop and rap influences, and examines his sexuality and rise to fame.

The lead single, “Montero (Call Me By Your Name),” caused controversy last summer for its music video, which showed Lil Nas X heading to Hell on a stripper pole and giving the devil a lap dance.

Despite the controversy, the song was a summer hit and was the perfect introduction to Lil Nas X’s transition to pop, despite the fact that he gained popularity from a country song.

The album is great from beginning to end, with upbeat dance numbers and slow ballads where he reflects on growing up gay and looking for love. “Industry Baby,” where he collaborates with rapper Jack Harlow, is a certified bop, but the whole album deserves a listen.

“Even from his perch at the top of the charts, Lil Nas is still an outlier. There aren’t many Black stars in country music; there aren’t many queer stars in hip-hop. There aren’t many queer Black stars in American culture, point-blank. The fact that Lil Nas has risen so far and so fast testifies not only to his skill, but also to the erosion of the systems that for generations kept artists like him on the sidelines,” Time Magazine writer Andrew Chow said.

Lil Nas X is also an amazing performer, with entertaining and flashy live performances as well as gorgeous music videos. He currently has five nominations for the 2022 Grammy Awards.

Chloe x Halle

Sister duo Chloe x Halle is a must-listen group. They got their start on Disney Channel and were also mentored by Beyoncé. In 2020, they released their second album, “Ungodly Hour.”

The best part of the album is the sisters’ ability to harmonize with each other effortlessly. Their vocals are truly impressive and top-notch.

As artists, the sisters emphasize their view on how they have influenced the music industry and taken steps for other Black female musicians looking to make it.

“I feel like I’m so happy to be alive right now because there are so many amazing young, especially Black, girls, who are on the rise who you see and you’re just looking at each other like, ‘Wow, keep going,’” Chloe said in an interview with Nylon Magazine.

Throughout the album, Chloe and Halle have an undeniably glamorous energy; you want to be like them, with their immense talent. The album’s themes revolve around womanhood and relationships, with relatable messages for listeners.

They’re cool, even when they’re threatening murder in “Tipsy” and blackmail in “Busy Boy.”

Labrinth

Receiving recent notoriety for his work on the “Euphoria” soundtrack, Labrinth, née Timothy Lee McKenzie, is a British musician.

His work on “Euphoria” has shot him into popularity, with songs such as “Still Don’t Know My Name,” and “All For Us,” trending on platforms like TikTok.

Altough his popularity today comes from his work on the “Euphoria” soundtrack, Labrinth’s discography contains much more.

“10 years ago the musician dominated the charts and picked up awards for his releases alongside Tinie Tempah. Singles including ‘Pass Out,’ ‘Frisky,’ and ‘Earthquake,’ put him at the forefront of a scene where artists like Plan B, Tinchy Stryder, and Example made music which bridged the gap between pop, grime, and rap,” Esquire writer Olivia Ovenden said.

Labrinth’s experiences in the music history is one that was common for Black artists trying to make it in the early 2000s — Black musicians trying to appeal to misunderstanding label heads.

“A lot of the label guys were old white men thinking, ‘Would my daughter listen to this?’” Labrinth said in the interview with Esquire. “Now that we have social media you’re getting Stormzy able to be unfiltered and the audience show that’s what they wanted in the first place.”

Labrinth’s discography is a vast, almost spiritual experience, so give it a listen if you get a chance.

SZA

Singer-songwriter SZA has gained popularity over the years, thanks to the 2017 release of her album “Ctrl” and her recent singles and collaboration with Doja Cat.

“SZA (pronounced Sizza) has emerged as a prominent voice among a new generation of female R&B artists that also includes Kehlani, H.E.R. and Kelela. These musicians are fueling the genre’s resurgence, critics say, by appealing to a broader audience with a modern sound that draws on other styles of music while retaining strong R&B roots,” Wall Street Journal writer Jaewon Kang said.

Her singles “Good Days” and “I Hate U” are great examples of her talent, and were very popular online. The same can be said of “Kiss Me More,” her summer hit with Doja Cat. The song is pop perfection, and their vocals work well together.

“Good Days,” released in 2020, is a personal look at mental health and how we keep looking for “good days,” even if they only exist in our head.

On the other hand, “I Hate U” is a snarky dedication to a current lover who caused harm to the relationship. The production stands out on the track with its dreamy and soulful aspects.

Then there’s her 2017 album “Ctrl,” which highlights SZA’s vocals and songwriting skills. The opening track, “Supermodel,” is a pleading stream of consciousness about the end of a relationship, but she still wants someone to love.

Arlo Parks

British singer-songwriter Arlo Parks has a dreamy sound reminiscent of other popular singer-songwriters.

What makes her different, however, are her lyrics, which read like poetry.

When COVID-19 hit, Parks was worried that, as an up and coming musician, she would be forgotten in the midst of the pandemic.

“Instead, her songs became a comfort blanket for a weary year. Parks has a talent for writing intimate songs that tackle tough subjects — depression, sexuality, alcoholism, prejudice — with wisdom and tenderness,” BBC News writer Mark Savage said.

On her debut album, “Collapsed in Sunbeams,” she paints vivid pictures of warm summer days and hurtful, cold nights. Some songs begin or end with a few lines of poetry, making them stand out and contributing to the imagery within her music.

Stand-outs on the album include “Hurt” and “Hope.” Their repetitive nature assures listeners that everything is going to be okay, and Arlo Parks’ vocals are so comforting that you can’t help but believe her.

There are many other Black artists that deserve your attention. If you follow the link below, you will find a playlist with the aforementioned artists, along with other artists, including Frank Ocean, Lauryn Hill, and Ari Lennox.

Photo Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Featured Photo Caption: SZA has received notoriety on TikTok as of late thanks to her song “I Hate U,” which was unreleased when it began to trend. Currently, fans are waiting on a new album from the artist, with her last album “Ctrl,” being released in 2017.

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