In the music industry, it is difficult for many artists, especially Black entertainers, to have full control over their artistry. Unfortunately, their creativity is usually usurped by executives who are not in tune with true works of art, focusing solely on sales. Once they have a formula that works on the charts, they love to stick to it for as long as possible, usually resulting in the same type of songs being played over and over again on the radio. To add insult to injury, Black artists are usually molded into certain stereotypes that are detrimental within the Black community and project a false image of Black culture to the world. The authentic artistry of talented Black men and women turns into a propaganda machine which is disheartening, especially to those of us who remember groundbreaking mainstream artists like Prince, Marvin Gaye, Grace Jones, A Tribe Called Quest, Queen Latifah, Wu-Tang Clan, Lauryn Hill, Outkast, and Erykah Badu, to name a few. Therefore, it is always refreshing to see a fearless Black artist follow their lead by creating art from the heart and not letting their status change their scope. This two-part series is my small token of appreciation for 10 current Black artists that march to the beat of their own drum. Here are the second 5 artists:
1. Lianne La Havas – The polished soul singer. Started as a sweet acoustic storyteller, Lianna La Havas began her career with Is Your Love Big Enough? – a collection of love stories that were intricate and well spelled out as if each song was meant to be a short film – the kind of short film that would be awarded at Sundance and possibly nominated for an Oscar. Or maybe I’m the only one with that weird thought? In any event, her natural elegance and crisp singing stand out in an oversaturated crowd of autotune. On her second album, Blood, the UK-bred singer/songwriter showed her ambitious nature that was evident on the first album’s track, Forget. In Blood, she reaches deeper into the R&B crates, digging up some raw, authentic gems that cover some jazz, some soul, some pop, some doo-wop, and some reggae, becoming more versatile with her artistry and more in tune with her originality.
2. Frank Ocean – The elusive crooner. Nowadays, there are very few artists that are able to release albums years apart from one another. Usually, the more established artists take this chance, hoping their die-hard fans will be supportive no matter how long it takes for their next project to be completed. Most newcomers only hold out for a year at the longest, taking the Rihanna approach to the music game by releasing album after album back to back while they are still hot on the charts. However, for Frank Ocean, he took a huge risk as a relatively new artist by waiting 4 years before releasing his latest project, Blond – an album that had a totally different vibe from his beloved Channel Orange. Without too much promotion, Blond caught the attention of many, gaining much critical acclaim. The singer, who started as a member of the group Odd Future, is unmoved by the industry standards, going along his own ebb and flow through his music, content, and marketing while becoming one of the most mysterious and elusive artists today.
3. Esperanza Spalding – The free flowing bassist and singer. Esperanza Spalding is mostly known for her jazz-infused records but throughout her discography, there is a noticeable pattern where she takes the most traditional jazz stylings and stretches them as far as possible, especially with her latest record, Emily’s D+Evolution where she takes on a whole new sound and persona. Marcus J. Moore of Pitchfork Media praised the album, stating, “The lyrics are elusive at first, darting behind fast-moving songs and delivered in impressionistic, conversational bursts that recall the delivery of Joni Mitchell. But the fearless generosity behind them communicates itself loud and clear, and it’s a spirit that animates the entire album. With it, Spalding has once again redefined an already singular career, dictating a vision entirely on her own terms”. (Source) She evolved from mainly playing bass with a few vocals on her debut record to singing in multiple languages and styles on her second self-titled record, Esperanza to channeling some more classical vibes with Chamber Music Society to taking the R&B/pop route in her own way with Radio Music Society, and went totally left with Emily’s D+Evolution, making her a supreme multifaceted artist and musician who truly creates whatever she wants, whenever she wants with impressive style and execution.
4. Azealia Banks – The eclectic rapper. Breaking onto the scene with her catchy 212, Azealia Banks blazed onto the scene with a unique brand of hip-hop – a mashup of her New York delivery, sexual lyrics ala Lil’ Kim and Foxy Brown and 90’s-like house beats. The combination works perfectly for the controversial rapper, who also sings on the majority of her records. This unique blend of sounds is the perfect match for the artist who does and says whatever she wants, oftentimes getting her into hot water on social media and beyond. Unfortunately, her antics can overshadow her incredible work but hopefully, one day soon, she will be able to focus on her talent and push the envelope with just her rhymes and melodies only.
5. J. Cole – The underrated but not underrated hip hop artist. He’s the underdog in the mainstream but yet super popular amongst the people. I guess you can say J Cole is the people’s hip-hop artist. Known for his reliability to the everyday man, Cole has gained a captivated audience that feels connected to him due to his honesty, vulnerability, and inspiration. Recently, he released his latest album, 4 Your Eyez Only, where he shares a more sensitive side, showing love to his wife and daughter in the songs, She’s Mine Pt 1 and 2 and Folding Clothes. In the latter song, he is literally talking about folding clothes for his wife as a sign of showing love to her. If that’s not relatable to the common man and woman, I don’t know what is. Through this record, he has also been able to challenge the dominant definition of Black masculinity, redefining what really makes a “real nigga” – is it the material wealth, the physical strength, the rough exterior or perhaps the genuine love for those around him? By the end of the record, you’ll know that Cole believes that ‘love’ is the true basis of a real Black man, which makes sense for a guy who once said “I’ve got a feeling that there’s somethin’ more/Something that holds us together/Something that holds us together/The strangest feeling but I can’t be sure/Something that’s old as forever/Something that’s old as forever/Love, love, love, love.” and for that, we will always have love for J. Cole.