Every Black History Month, we are presented an opportunity to reflect on so many aspects of Black cultures worldwide. It goes without saying that the opportunity to observe how Blackness is represented and empowered through our music is one of my favorite aspects of the month.
In honor of BHM, I’ve decided to share a some music, all of which were released at some point this decade, to enjoy during the rest of the month.
“Black” by Buddy feat. A$AP Ferg
“Black, black, black, black on black
Black, my thoughts so black”
“Black” by Compton rapper Buddy is unapologetic Blackness, through and through. From the repetitive and catchy hook to Buddy and Ferg’s verses, this song, which pays homage to “I’m Black Y’all” from CB4, is a quintessential anthem for BHM.
“Black Gold” by Esperanza Spalding (feat. Algebra Blessett)
“You are Black Gold”
Context: a man asks his sons what they learned in school; one son tells him that they spent the day [read: one day] learning about Africa. After the boy states what exactly he learned about Africa, the father tells his children that Africa is so much more than just the stereotypical pyramids and slaves; that it is a rich legacy of royalty, innovation, scientific discovery, cultural diversity, and human history. Esperanza Spalding, one of my favorite contemporary jazz musicians, together with Algebra Blessett, expand on this to create a beautiful, encouraging, self-love anthem for Black children and Black people everywhere.
“Holy” by Jamila Woods
“Woke up this morning with my mind set on loving me”
Not long ago, I discussed Jamila Woods‘ song “Holy” on this site and what it meant to me in the context of my own personal journey of self-love as a Black person. If there’s something that everybody needs, it’s a little bit of self-love, and “Holy” is dripping in it. If you’re looking for an uplifting, jubilant ode to self, look no further than this gorgeous song.
“FUBU” by Solange
“This shit is for us”
Solange Knowles‘ A Seat at the Table was one of the most profound albums of 2016, and among its numerous highlights was the song “F.U.B.U.” About the song (which is named after the clothing brand), Solange said, “I named it ‘F.U.B.U.’ because I wanted to empower, and I looked to people who have done that in their own ways. I thought of F.U.B.U. the brand, meaning ‘For Us By Us’, and what kind of power it had and how normalized it became to wear that kind of symbolism every day.”
“Deathless” by Ibeyi
“We are deathless!”
The song “Deathless,” by French Afro-Cuban sisters Lisa-Kaindé and Naomi Diaz (better known as Ibeyi), was inspired by an incident of racial profiling, in which a police officer arrested Lisa-Kaindé on the assumption that she was a drug user. The incident, which thankfully wasn’t fatal or injurious, was enough to light a spark of indignation; that led to “Deathless,” a song whose message is simple: “Whatever happens, whatever happened / we are deathless!”
“Consciousness” by Joy Postell
“I’m black and proud”
Joy Postell, being from Baltimore, has witnessed and experienced her share of unfair treatment; it’s which these in mind that she crafted the song “Consciousness,” a socially-charged song about “striving for self-awareness and self-love.” The song, from her debut album Diaspora, is driven not only by a spirit of indignation created by social injustice, but also by optimism and hope.
Your Queen Is a Reptile by Sons Of Kemet
“Your queen is not our queen.”
You’ve probably never heard of a “political” jazz album, or even thought it was possible for jazz to be political, but that’s exactly what British jazz group Sons Of Kemet released in 2018. Each song in the tracklist is named after a woman from Black world history; the title, and the monologue above, refer to the ways in which the British government (much like the U.S.) fails to represent native Black people/Black immigrants in England. If you have time, I encourage you to listen to the entire album, as it’s one of the most riveting jazz records released in the last several years.
“Django Jane” by Janelle Monae
“Yeah, we highly melanated”
“Django Jane” happens to be one of many highlights from Janelle Monae‘s third studio album Dirty Computer, which was one of the best albums of 2018. The song, put simply, is a celebration of womanhood/Black female excellence. Monae recounts her upbringing, her come-up, and her career accomplishments thus far, which include multiple Grammy nominations and an Oscar for the movie Moonlight.
“Letter to the Free” by Common feat. Bilal
“Will the U.S. ever be us?”
“Letter to the Free,” from legendary Chicago rapper Common‘s most recent album Black America Again, was on the soundtrack to Ava Duvernay’s documentary 13th; the song, much like the film, largely tackles issues relating to the the American criminal justice system and the prison-industrial complex. But I think the most powerful moments are the sung choruses, because, despite the long list of injustice that Common relays in the verses and the natural propensity to become angry or sad, Common and Bilal instead offer a piece of optimism in the form of a Negro spiritual: “Freedom / Freedom come / Hold on / Won’t be long.”