these indie creatives kicked ass in 2017 – artists, writers, poets edition

December 29, 2017
748 Picks
By Devyn Springer, AFROPUNK contributor

2017 was the year of the independent artist, or at least it was in my world. Those artists, writers, poets, and other DIY creators who made major moves and made the world rethink things from the ground up without a big record label or agency behind them; those are the artists that made 2017 an unforgettable year.

1. Santana Bellas Captures Fashion, Emotion, and Light in His Photos

Bay Area fashion photographer Santana Bellas was hard to miss this year; from the popularity of his stylish photos on social media to his features in several digital publications, Bellas was one of the many Black photographers who seemingly took 2017 by storm. In a July interview earlier this year, Bellas discussed how his identity as being both Black and gay influences his work, as well as his project “The Gentrification of Oakland,” a newspaper creative project that focuses on social justice issues and gentrification in Oakland which was started in 2016, but gained praise all across 2017. Along with being a rising fashion icon for his self-described “military inspired” styling, him and his work were featured in various outlets such as AJ+, Live Fast, OffThaRecord, Toksick, EFINKS, and here at Afropunkas well.

2.TAYLOR ALXNDR’s Queer Southern Revival, In Song

Atlanta artist TAYLOR ALXNDR refuses to be placed in any box, and 2017 was the year they showed us exactly what that means. Community organizer, drag artist, indie singer, and designer, TAYLOR ALXNDR’s artistry can be described as electric, making 2017 like a small storm leaving us excited for more lightning to come in 2018. As a drag artist, Taylor’s name garnered great buzz in the underground southern queer scene, with regular performances in Atlanta and Durham, South Carolina, including hosting a monthly drag show at one of Atlanta’s most popular bars. Their debut single “Nightwork” and accompanying music video, which explores the darker and tiring side of drag, was featured in OUT Magazine in June, and since then they’ve released several more singles and music videos, including a three song EP “NOISE.” Along with all of this, Taylor is a community organizer and co-founder of Southern Fried Queer Pride, a queer and trans arts/advocacy organization and festival that uplifts Southern TLGBQ artists and activists.

3. A World of Words With Myles E. Johnson

There are people who love to write, and then there are people that write who love words. When reading the work of writer Myles E. Johnson, which typically involves cultural critique that dissects intersections of Blackness, sexuality, gender, feminism, and justice, it becomes abundantly clear that Myles loves words. His ability to make us re-imagine conditions and possibilities is remarkable, as seen in his February New York Times piece on Beyonce that asks us to “redefine and reimagine what winning is in a white supremacist capitalist culture” (the piece even received a nod from the Queen Bey herself). More over, Johnson acquired several impressive bylines over the course of 2017, which included Catapult, Noisey, BuzzFeed, Essence, QZ, and Afropunk, as well as a popular monthly column “OkayMuva” at OkayPlayer.

4.Queen Elizabitch, Also Known asCupcakKe, Demands Attention

Few people captivated the underground hip-hop scene this year in the unique, powerful, and attention-grabbing way that CupcakKe did: with sex positive, wildly spitfire, and overtly feminist fun. If the independent Chicago rapper turned nationwide club touring artist was already an internet sensation when 2017 began, then she is ending the year as one of the most fascinating and exciting artists to watch out for in 2018. CupcakKe released her sophomore studio album Queen Elizabitch March, and since then has spent almost the entire year traveling around the US performing at venues, nightclubs, festivals, and even many Gay Pride celebrations. Her music covers everything from sex, to eating disorders, to body positivity, poverty, and colorism; she collaborated with pop heavyweight Charli XCX,, had several tour dates with fellow female rappers like Junglepussy, received praise from Rolling Stone, and even ended the year by announcing her third studio album coming in January. In short, CupcakKe’s shine is growing exponentially and can’t be stopped.

5. jayy dodd’s Poetry as a Body, Nostalgia, and Future Wrapped in One

jayy dodd is, in their own words, from Los Angeles but now based on the internet. A poet, visual/performance artist, and writer, their work marvelously speaks to culture, Blackness, queer theory, and gender, while taking on a unique and fine-tuned post-internet aesthetic. Their incredible poetry collection Mannish Tongues was released at the beginning of the year through Platypus Press, they’ve had their writing featured in various outlets including the Poetry Foundation, Lit Hub, and TAGVVERK, and their digital text videos are dazzlingly wonderful creations. “The digital age has made identity formation and visibility increasingly accessible; finally, we are able to self-document the data and language of the most disenfranchised,” they wrote for Philadelphia Printworks in a powerful piece on transitioning, failure, and technologies.

6. Bocafloja Explores Hip-Hop, Blackness, and Latinidad

When it comes to supporting, creating space for, and honoring independent creators, Mexico born/Brooklyn based rapper and poet Bocafloja might be one of the most dedicated artists. He spent 2016 traveling around the world giving special screenings of his documentary Nana Dijo, which explores anti-Blackness in Latin America, which lead to him releasing the highly popular documentary online for free viewing this year. Alongside traveling around doing panel, lectures, and performances, Bocafloja helps run Quilomboarte, a multi-disciplinary creative conglomerate of independent artists who all create with the goal of decolonial transgression. Bocafloja helped push important conversations throughout the year on anti-Blackness and Latinidad, as well as hip-hop, capitalism, and politics.

7. Bilphena Yahwom & Nnennaya Amuchie Bring Womanist Education to Baltimore

When two Black women come together to organize free political education, you know it’s going to be lit. And that’s exactly what it was when writers, organizers, and artists Bilphena Yahwon and Nnennaya Amuchie held their For Black Girls Considering Womanism Because Feminism Is Not Enuf workshop in november. Bilphena is the owner and curator of, a platform made to provide space to creators and thinkers of color, and is a womanist writer and social justice advocate whose work in 2017 covered race, gender, and the immigrant experience. Nnennaya is a reproductive justice attorney, prison abolitionist organizer, and writer who published her debut poetry collection Ako na Uchein March. Separately, the two women are advocates/organizers who spent 2017 putting in tons of work, but a highlight from the year is the womanism workshop where Black women/femmes came together to discuss the origins, history, geographic expressions, and artistic expressions of womanism.

8. Aurielle Marie’s Poetry Turns Theory to Art

Atlanta organizer turned west coast poet-writer transplant, Aurielle’s 2017 was one spent largely dwelling in words. Her writing quietly took the poetry world by storm, as she completed several writing fellowships and residencies over the year, and her poem “Egungunwon a Blue Mesa poetry prize and received a Pushcart nomination, and was voted into Glass Poetry’s 100 Recommended Reads for 2017. Moreover, she also grabbed some impressive bylines this year, including Essence, NBC, and Allure. Her review of Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN. titled “Hip-Hop & Holiness: A Queer Black Woman’s Exploration of DAMN.” is one of the best album reviews of the year.

9. Kevin Abstract, Brockhampton, and Hip-Hop’s Turning Point

This year we made a lot of room for creative weirdness to flourish in hip-hop, in ways that we haven’t really seen since the days of Outkast’s supreme reign. And, helping lead this charge of beautiful weirdness was hip-hop collectiveBrockhampton,led by rapper Kevin Abstract, that went from small underground buzz to full on internet sensation after the release of their first albumSaturationin June. The success and critical acclaim ofSaturation, which was followed bySaturation 2andSaturation 3shortly after, eventually lead to Brockhampton having their very own TV show on VIceland titledAmerican Boyband, which followed their adventures touring and recording music. Their music is at the forefront of a movement seeking to redefine hip-hop, approach it from new and fresh angles, and challenge normal conventions of queerphobia within hip-hop music as well.

10.When Khia Says “Next Case,” She Means NEXT CASE

There is no way I could round out this list praising independent, underground, and DIY artists without shouting out rapper and songwriter Khia, who has spent the past 15 years putting out over 8 albums as an independent artist. Khia, along with co-host TS Madison, spent the better half of 2017 being, well, messy. Her popular internet talk show “The Queen’s Court” became an internet staple, garnering over 300,000 view per episode as Khia reads celebrities and their drama to filth. What makes the show so sensational, aside from its hilarity, is that Khia has 15 years of industry experience and wisdom that she laces her shade with, and it comes across clearly in the ways she discusses people. In December, Khia placed the show on iTunes as a podcastand within 24 hours it shot up to the #1 ranking on the iTunes podcast chart. When it comes to independent artistry, Khia is an underrated big dog in the game who has spent years delivering club anthems, and now she’s making us laugh, too.