my black is….. everything!

February 12, 2021

Music has always been a part of our history and with each era, the sounds changed to reflect the environment. Whether in mourning, celebration, or communicating with the spiritual world, song and dance have always been a part of our identity. Over time, we’ve seen the creation of music change and grow to a point where everyone can practically be a musician these days, but what creates timeless classics is the ability to use music as a capsule to capture what is going on culturally so that future generations can learn. The great Nina Simone once put elegantly in an interview where she said, “You can’t help it. An artist’s duty, as far as I’m concerned, is to reflect the times.” A Tribe Called Quest in their politically charged 2016 single, “We The People”, calling out Trump’s divisive proposition to ban Muslims and build a wall to keep Mexicans out perfectly showed how artists can capture people’s feelings through music. Throughout history, Black people have defied every systematic tool of oppression by channeling their anger to songs that have inspired generations and continue to be relevant today. In 1970, when Gil Scott-Heron first proclaimed that “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” he created a tag-line for Black activism, and the phrase has become a cultural lexicon that reminds us the rebellion starts from within before we can change the world. We’ve seen this phrase reworked in music over the decades, sampled by artists like Common, Jay Electronica in his classic “Exhibit C”, Travis Scott, and also used in documentaries and literature. Today’s artists owe a great deal to artists such as Billie Holiday, Fela Kuti, Herbie Hancock, and many others who used their art radically to fight the system.

Black music has been a large part of fashion culture, influencing the trends of an era. Remember when Black kids wore shell-toe Adidas sneakers because of RUN DMC? Or how you can’t think of a red leather jacket without being reminded of Michael Jackson’s iconic Thriller video? If you look back, you can tell which songs were number one on the charts based on the fashion of that time. When Marvin Gaye changed his style from suits to more casual denim pants and shirts, he incorporated aviator sunglasses and spotted a beanie which became a must-have accessory for that era. Kris Kross burst into the music scene by force and had every kid wearing their clothes backward, a choice of style which confused a lot of parents, but was a cross-cultural shift for Black people. Even within the culture of hip-hop, we’ve seen artists like Andre 3000 from Outkast break down barriers of masculinity with his androgenous outfits that defy the style norm in the genre.

There are moments in history that are unimaginable without the voice of Black artists acting as a soundtrack. Songs like Earth Wind & Fire’s September have become synonymous with a fresh start, a new beginning to a better time. The music industry would not be the multi-billion dollar industry it is today without the many Black artists who have poured in blood, sweat, and tears into their craft. I mean, even the greatest hip hop group, Wu-Tang, admitted that Cash Rules Everything Around Me.

You can listen to Sony’s playlist featuring 100 songs from some of the artists who have shaped our culture and continue to do so here: