Consider it your soundtrack for February.
Songs for Black History Month: Old & New Classics
Black artists have dominated the music industry throughout history with their artistry and influence.
Going as far back as Billie Holiday, Ma Rainey, Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Chuck Berry, James Brown, and B.B. King, Black artists have given us music that will always be remembered and used for inspiration.
One of Kendrick Lamar’s most popular songs, m.A.A.d city, samples B.B. King’s Chains and Things.
Kanye West’s Blood on the Leaves samples Nina Simone’s cover of Strange Fruit by Billie Holiday.
Jay-Z and Kanye’s Otis from Watch the Throne samples Otis Redding’s Try a Little Tenderness.
Kanye West and Jamie Foxx’s Gold Digger samples Ray Charles’ I Got a Woman.
These are just a handful of instances where modern Black artists incorporate the work of famous Black musicians to develop new sounds.
The influence on music doesn’t stop there. Current popular music continues to evolve based on music from the past, whether it’s from the 50s or the early 2000s.
Here’s another example: Doja Cat’s Streets, which was released in her 2019 album Pink, samples B2K’s Streets Is Callin’ from the 2000 movie You Got Served. Streets has recently gained more popularity thanks to the TikTok trend, #SilhouetteChallenge.
Lloyd and Lil Wayne’s You samples Jay-Z’s Song Cry from The Blueprint.
I could go on and on, but let’s switch gears.
Black artists have created chart-topping music since the beginning of music charts. Let’s take the Billboard Hot 100 chart as an example. The first Hot 100 chart was released on August 4, 1958. Yakety Yak by The Coasters, an African American R&B/Rock and Roll vocal group, took the 7th spot.
Think of Michael Jackson, a celeb artist with multiple #1s on the Hot 100 chart, including hit faves like Billie Jean and Black Or White.
Or Lil Nas X, whose debut single Old Town Road topped the Billboard Hot 100 back in April 2019 and had a record-breaking 17-week run on the top of the U.S. charts.
As a matter of fact, as of publishing this article, Billboard’s Hot 100 chart features 7 songs in the top 10 by Black artists or featured by Black artists.
Last year, the Black Lives Matter movement heavily influenced music that was created by Black and non-Black artists. Check out our list of celebrity activists who have been champions for social justice.
H.E.R.’s I Can’t Breathe, Beyoncé’s BLACK PARADE, and Lil Baby’s The Bigger Picture are just a few that were released in 2020 after the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.
Whether the music is made for a cause or just for our entertainment —cough cough Savage by Megan Thee Stallion or Say So by Doja Cat––Black artists have proved they can create a beautifully diverse spectrum of music, in any genre, and in any era.
Songs for Black History Month: Emerging Black Artists
Emanuel is an artist to watch right now. His song, Black Woman, is currently in the number 1 spot of Spotify’s Black Lives Matter playlist. According to Atwood Magazine, the song Black Woman celebrates “the strength, beauty, spirit, and contributions of Black women everywhere.” Emanuel released his second EP, Alt Therapy Session 2: Transformation, in December 2020.
According to The New York Times, Arlo Parks has ardent fans, among them Billie Eilish, Michelle Obama and Wyclef Jean. Arlo is a British poet and singer whose popular songs include Cola —which has been featured in the HBO series I May Destroy You––and Eugene from her debut album, Collapsed In Sunbeams, which released Friday, January 29th, 2021.
18-year-old German singer/songwriter Zoe Wees released her latest empowering single, Girls Like Us, on January 12, 2021. Speaking to uDiscover Music, Zoe says “It is not easy to call yourself beautiful but being confident helps you to accept and love yourself.” Zoe is signed to Capitol Records and is definitely one to watch.
Up and coming Miami rapper Aklesso released his debut album in December 2020 titled My Life is a Beautiful Mess. According to the Miami New Times, Aklesso conceptualizes “hope” in the album’s latest single Worst Year, featuring Gawvi. Ear Milk says Worst Year “takes a snapshot of one of the hardest years the country has faced due to the pandemic and civil injustice.”
Vogue highlights the 9 Black musicians to obsess over in 2021 including Mustafa, Dua Saleh, and Tems.
Buzzfeed reported the 27 Underrated Black Musicians You Need To Listen To Now back in 2019 including Cautious Clay, Pink Sweat$, and Lizzo. Pretty sure Pink Sweat$ and Lizzo have surpassed the “emerging artist” title at this point!
You can celebrate Black History Month with our Black History Month playlist on Spotify featuring the songs mentioned here plus more throwbacks and current music from Black artists we think you’ll love!
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