American society has been sculpted by the hard work and strength of the Black community dating back hundreds of years. More specifically, our Black community is the foundation for all music genres and the expansion seen within each. In the words of Bruno Mars, “When you say ‘black music,’ understand you are talking about rock, jazz, funk, R&B, reggae, funk, too-woo, hip-hop, and Motown, Black music is what gives America its swag.” Unarguably, Mr. Mars is correct. During these times of pain and struggle, it is our job, especially as music and art lovers to stand aside those who have impacted and innovated our culture more than we could ever thank them for.
Louis Armstrong revolutionized jazz, a powerful solo-based instrumental art in the late 20’s. Billie Holiday was a bold badass who was one of the first great singers to lyricize the racial injustices and horrors of lynching. Her song “Strange Fruit” was seen as a powerful “declaration of war” but a catalyst for the powerful songs that came after. From Chuck Berry to Little Richard, Aretha Franklin to Jimi Hendricks, Fela Kuti to DJ Kool, Bob Marley to Frankie Knuckles, MJ to Prince, Public Enemy and N.W.A. to Whitney Houston, Tupac to Jay-Z, Beyonce to Kendrick, Leon Bridges to Chance… the list could go on forever but all of these iconic musicians all have something different in their musical ability and generation, however, one thing that remains consistent among all is the stories of inequality faced within their communities and race as a whole.
It is often recognized in society that the impact of black artists predominantly lies within the majority-black genres, such as hip-hop, jazz, blues, and soul. The powerful impact they’ve had on genres seen as prominently white, such as pop, electronic, folk, and rock ’n’ roll have become incredibly overlooked. Black musicians not only have influenced every genre in American musics’ history, but have also seamlessly merged different genres together to create something new.
I have always found music to be one of the most powerful tools for exploiting and aiding change necessary to be made in society. Music has the ability to unify people of both shared and contradicting opinions. Most importantly, it becomes a strategic platform for artists to pave the way for listeners to gain a better understanding of the reality lived by minorities in America. By shining light on every situation in a not-so-overbearing way for listeners to grasp a different perspective or hold one they didn’t even know had existed.
Next time you find yourself listening to music made by a Black artist, recognize the importance and poetry behind each word being expressed. Their words have been acting as a protest for decades and we have barely reciprocated the importance. One thing everyone can do to support Black artists is listening to AND understanding the message and stories projected by our Black musicians to better educate themselves and become more aware allies. Our Black communities have cried out for justice for far too long and it's time we reciprocate their lyrical messages and fight for a REAL change so that in 5 years from now we can feel the slightest bit of hope when listening to lyrics that don’t express the horrifying social injustices still being discussed 10, 20, 30, 40, 50, 60, 70, and on years later. The only way we can support our favorite artists are through supporting the Black community in America and all over the world as a whole.