Race is (to say the least) complicated in the United States. I won’t pretend that it isn’t.
So, allow me to begin this blog by stating a few things. Firstly, these are purely my own opinions as a music fan. I am a music fan first, and will listen to anyone’s musical creations at least once regardless of color or ancestry. The intention behind this post is to celebrate music and the special people who created it whom have had an impact on me. Yes, they’re black, and I thought that Black History Month was an amazing time to honor them. Period.
That’s all we’re discussing when it comes to race here. I’m not qualified to speak on race relations or black ancestry any further. I can only discuss how these black artists have influenced me. That’s the focus here.
If you’ve been following my blog or socials since their inception in October of 2018, you know that you’ve seen these artists mentioned by me before. I just haven’t explained why they’ve had an impact on me. Today is the day to do that.
I would say hip-hop entered my life as a fifth grader in Pittsburgh. You see, my neighborhood (while still largely nuclear family-type suburbs at the time) was close enough to downtown Pittsburgh to be influenced by what was popular there. Hip-hop music and WAMO 100 were huge in the late 90s and early 2000s. That spread to us.
Don’t get me wrong, we still bumped Britney and Christina, but there was plenty of room for Jay-Z, Diddy (Puffy or Puffy Daddy at the time), Destiny’s Child and Nelly too.
I love that part about where I grew up. The lines of musical influence and what was “mainstream” for us were very blurred, and that was okay.
As I got older, I dove into the artists who influenced them, and payed attention. I ended up loving their influences too.
The black artists who I want to thank during Black History Month for inspiring me, are:
- Beyoncé: Between her huge solo career and success with Destiny’s Child, you cannot ignore the power she was which was built in the music world first. For women, no one exemplifies #bossbabe vibes better. In my opinion, she’s my generation’s Whitney Houston – but with edge. Growing up, she also made it okay to be curvy and I appreciated that! I love her relationship with her girls Michelle and Kelly, and that inspires me to stay close to my girlfriends too.
- Jay-Z: Moving on to B’s husband, Jay – I love their relationship, firstly. It’s admirable to me that they showed the ups and downs of their marriage publicly. When it comes to Jay as a solo act, we all know he’s a dope rapper but he’s also a talented entrepreneur. He’s not afraid to talk himself up in his raps, or collaborate with other rappers and business folks. He knows his worth and demands that it be recognized. He really does know how to move in a “room full of vultures,” and I’m taking notes.
- Lizzo: DUH. Ancestry aside, she’s making money moves and boss moves for all women right now just by being “her” and loving herself publicly. Musically, I love the revival of the 80s Prince sound she’s put her own twist on. She shows off some gospel and hip-hop vibes on Cuz I Love You too. That whole album is a breath of fresh air.
- Nas: LEGEND. Want to get a clue as to what it’s like to be black in New York when you’re not familiar? Throw on Illmatic. I don’t know if any other rapper does that better. His pride for his city, and the comfort he offers in “One Love” is magic.
- Nicki Minaj: “Pink wig, thick ass, give em’ whiplash.” Name another hip-hop verse that’s recited by so many people. Her verse in “Monster” is certainly one of them. She’s unapologetically her. She’s a woman who knows what she wants and I think we need to see more of that. In fashion, this woman has inspired me to experiment with my looks too.
- Mos Def: Lyrically, I love that Mos Def has touched on how hard life can be not just for black Americans but all Americans. “Mathematics” exposes a lot of BS we need to talk about. It’s still in regular rotation on my playlists.
- Jimi Hendrix: You don’t explore rock n’ roll without encountering this man. Period. What he’s done for the guitar as an instrument is unspeakable.
- N.W.A: Critical of our system and government? You have my attention. Showing this with some of the most creative rappers and producers in the game? Now you really have my attention. Doing this all using language that relates to me and so many others listening? That’s genius.
- Ice Cube: You knew I was going here next. Cube made his name with N.W.A but he’s carved out an impressive career in entertainment as a whole on his own. Friday is still in heavy movie rotation in my apartment because every line just kills comedically. As a creative, he’s shown me that there are no restrictions to the type of content you can create if you don’t want there to be.
- Diddy: A businessman who got to dip his toe into music too? I’m in. Again, he’s shows that there is no box if you don’t want there to be.
- Lil’ Kim: She made it okay for a woman to express herself in fashion and (if we’re being honest) sexually via her raps. To me, she was the first of her kind to do that in hip-hop. There is no Nicki Minaj or Cardi B without her.
- TLC: If I had a daughter, I’d want her to look up to these ladies. They were always your homegirls from down the street. They were natural. They weren’t flashy. Yet, they sang and rapped about real facts of life. Look at the lyrics in “Waterfalls” for this. There is a reason it was a hit and still stands today. It’s real. RIP Left Eye who wasn’t afraid to be “crazy” and inspires me to do the same. Also, can I use whatever non-aging elixir Chili is using?
- Destiny’s Child: We know these ladies are talented. There’s a reason they rose so quickly. But, for my white self, (other than TLC) I’d never seen a group of strong black women just own a stage as they did. That fascinated me. Their genuine friendship is truly something to treasure and model your own friendships after.
- Whitney Houston: My mum introduced me to her. Speechless. What a voice.
- Brandy: She made it okay to be wholesome, and yet has remained very vulnerable in the public eye. She shares her struggles. Oh, and that Monica collaboration is iconic.
- Aaliyah: In the same vein of TLC, she too was another homegirl you knew. It was obvious that she had a great voice, but the creativity behind her music videos is what resonated with me. I loved the spacey vibes of “Try Again” and more rustic “Are You That Somebody?” too. I could see her as a huge actress and musician even today.
- Prince: Much like Jimi Hendrix, Prince and The Revolution did some amazing things for the guitar as an instrument. I love that he went on to create his own purple world. I’m also pretty sure that as a Minnesotan it’s illegal for me not to mention him.
- Kanye West: Say what you want about this controversial figure, but he’s written some of the best raps in the game. Sunday Service is blowing up. He’s a force in fashion now too. I admire his entrepreneurial spirit, and the ride or die vibes he and Kim give off in their relationship.
- Eve: Actress, fashion designer, and rapper!? Yes, please.
- Lauryn Hill: One of the most soulful voices that I’ve ever heard. Period. She also stands for female empowerment.
- Tupac: A tragic story, but some of the best raps in the game undoubtedly.
- Snoop Dogg: I don’t know many other figures that people of all colors just love. He’s one that does. I’m a huge fan of his delivery and flow. He’s the “king of the coast” for a reason.
- Queen Latifah: She’s another figure that has crossed racial lines and made a solid career for herself in becoming an entertainer that we all love. She’s an important woman when it comes to female empowerment. Remember, “Ladies First”?
- Mary J. Blige: A woman who can sing her ass off and triumph over drama? Yes, please.
- Cardi B: Right now, she’s huge. I love that she doesn’t change how she speaks for anyone. She is who she is. She’s not afraid to call out injustice either. I want to see what she does in the fashion world.
- Wiz Khalifa: Alright, I’ll admit the Pittsburgh bias here. He’s written some bangers for us in “Black and Yellow,” “Work Hard, Play Hard” and “Cowboy.” His come-up is inspiring. Love the relationship he shows with his son!
- Howlin’ Wolf: That voice. That rasp. Love it.
- Stevie Wonder: The man has overcome so much, and written so many hits that have inspired a lot of artists within all genres of music. His impact is undeniable.
- Living Colour: Writing about real things with a rock vibe. I’m in!
These are just a few black artists that have had an impact on me. How about you?