Every February, we celebrate Black History Month, 28 days dedicated to honoring African Americans’ contributions to U.S. history, beginning in 1976. Although typically understood as an American tradition, Black History Month is also celebrated in Canada, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands.
Without integral contributions from countless black musicians over the last century, the music industry would be unrecognizable today. From the innovators behind jazz, blues and rock n’ roll to R&B, soul, and hip-hop, these artists have used their talents to push popular music forward for generations.
While most of us can name a myriad of these historical figures whose music we have loved and grown up with, we want to encourage our readers to look to the next generation as this Black History Month comes to an end. Below are some of our favorite, up-and-coming artists.
Jorja Smith is a British singer/songwriter with a classic R&B sound powerful enough to evoke comparisons to legends like Alicia Keys and Lauryn Hill. After her self-released debut, “Blue Lights,” which likened the blue lights of police cars to “feeling guilty without actually being guilty” in 2016, her soulful music drew the attention of Drake, leading to a breakthrough feature on his song, “Get It Together” in 2017. By the end of last year, Billboard named Smith an R&B artist to watch in 2018, and she received the Brit Awards 2018 Critics’ Choice Award for “future British recording talent.” This same award has also been previously given to British superstars Adele, Sam Smith, and Ellie Goulding.
Dublin-born rapper Rejjie Snow is poised to become one of the most distinctive rising hip-hop stars of 2018. His debut EP, Dear Annie, included a collaboration with left-of-center artist/producer, KAYTRANADA. The result will be released in three parts, with part one already available on all streaming platforms. With a woozy soul and hip-hop infused sound, Dear Annie has solidified Snow’s position as an artist on the rise who is comfortable blazing his own trail to hip hop stardom.
South Central L.A. native, Duckwrth, is a rapper, singer, and graphic designer, descended from the likes of Outkast, Goodie Mob, and N.E.R.D. With a chaotic, belligerent energy, he is one of the most entertaining performing artists today. His first release under a new deal with Republic Records, an XTRA UUGLY Mixtape, is full of funk-disco jams, including an ode to Michael Jackson (“MICHUUL.”), with an almost iconoclastic edge. A self-described “punk at heart,” Duckwrth’s rebellious energy has led to touring engagements with artists like Rich Chigga and Anderson .Paak.
The son of an Afro-Latino percussionist, Kweku Collins began playing music at the age of four. By the age of 18, the young artist/producer emerged from middle-class suburbia to become one of Chicago’s most distinctive and heralded new rappers, earning him a record deal just prior to his high school graduation with local niche label, Closed Sessions. Proving his dexterity as an artist, his work has been described as everything from “folk-leaning” to “Afro-inspired” and “neo-soul-esque,” and has led him to be featured in a promo for Marvel’s “Black Panther” and to be named a “Red Bull Sound Select Artist.”
Brooklyn-based artist and producer, Cautious Clay, presents his commentary on romance and the condition of the modern 20-something in the recently released singles, “Juliet & Caesar,” “Joshua Tree,” and “Cold War.” These electro-R&B singles are merely the beginning of the highly anticipated EP, Bloodtype, which debuted February 21. His distinctive minimalistic and thematic approach to his work situates him as a new R&B talent, not merely replacing an old star but creating a new space for himself.
L.A. based female rapper Saweetie’s rise to hip-hop prominence in 2017 was nearly an overnight success story. Her hit single, “Icy Girl,” was a viral sensation on YouTube, currently sitting at over 10 million views. Debased from a sample of Khia’s, “My Neck, My Back,” Saweetie’s lyrics are indicative of a upbeat braggadocio which manages to avoid narcissism. With an EP set to be released in 2018, the recent USC grad reveals herself as an empowered force-to-be-reckoned-with who trusts her talents have placed her at the verge of stardom.
Zimbabwean-born, London-raised artist, KWAYE defies all labels. His music is essentially a collision of dissimilar cultures and time periods, resulting in an almost indiscernible but addictive sonic identity. With music that is global with a pop appeal, KWAYE’s virtuosic writing manages to master a balance between personal experience and universal relatability. He has been compared to the likes of Michael Jackson, Toni Braxton, and D’Angelo. According to KWAYE, his goal is to “showcase the beauty and art of Africa” through his music, and to become a “real international artist.”
Famously-crude sex rapper CupcakKe is more than she appears at first glance. Behind the absurdity and vulgarity of her biggest hits, lies a myriad of other tracks, tackling subjects like LGBTQ rights, sexual assault, and police brutality. The politically outspoken proponent for civil rights and sexual freedom is perhaps not the most palatable for all audiences, but it is certain that her message will create an impact. While a larger-than-life caricature on the surface, she is down-to-earth artist at her core with a mission to improve the world… and have a little fun in the meantime.
Cosmo Pyke first rose to international attention with his appearance in Frank Ocean’s “Nikes” music video, but the singer, songwriter, skater, spray paint artist, and model has been crafting and releasing his own work ever since. With a self-described “spacey, beautiful, lazy” sound, Pyke speaks to what he knows best: the conventions of small town, middle-class life with a socially conscious lens. With a beautifully jazzy, King Krule-esque sound, the magic of his work is that it is largely moving, despite being centered on conventionally un-moving subjects.
The itinerant artist/producer, Amber Mark, remains one of the most captivating new artists. With a sound that is certainly pop but also likens comparison to Bossanova, R&B, and house, Mark draws influences from the many places she has lived during her lifetime, including but not limited to Miami, Berlin, New York, and India. The global citizen is just as skilled of a producer as she is a singer, helping her cultivate the entirety of her creative process singlehandedly. Mark first emerged after posting the song “S P A C E” on Soundcloud and has since signed a label deal and released the album 3:33 AM.