Redbrick Music’s writers and editors highlight their favourite black artists in celebration of Black History Month

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Caitlin Duff – Stevie Wonder

Stevie Wonder is a pioneer of R&B music and his influence can still be felt throughout the industry. Having been blinded at birth, it may have seemed that a successful music career was not an option for him. However, he was signed at the age of 11 and became the youngest person to ever top the Billboard Hot 100 at the age of 13. Many refer to the early 1970s as Wonder’s ‘classic period’ with many of his greatest hits being released during this time including ‘Superstition’ and ‘Higher Ground.’ During this time he won the Grammy Award for Album of the Year an incredible three times for his albums Innervisions, Fulfillingness’ First Finale and Songs in the Key of Life. Stylistically, Wonder’s music is characterised by funky synths and soulful vocals. This is perhaps my favourite thing about Stevie Wonder’s music. There is always such variety in his albums from soulful romantic ballads to uptempo funky tunes. His lyrics are often politically charged in songs such as ‘Black Man’ which celebrates the achievements of Black Americans. If you are going to listen to any Stevie Wonder, I’d recommend this song in particular.

Lorcan Drury – Janelle Monáe

Janelle Monáe is undoubtedly one of the most innovative and intriguing musicians of our era. As a queer, non-binary, Black artist, she has a distinct outlook on life, incorporating this into their music. To put it very simply, she is an icon. Her first taste of major commercial success with her feature on fun.’s single ‘We Are Young’ in 2011, which topped the charts in over 10 countries, thus gaining her a larger fanbase. From then on, she has received eight Grammy nominations, won an MTV Video Music Award and the ASCAP Vanguard Award, and awards with the Billboard Women in Music Rising Star Award and the Trailblazer Award. Her most recent album, Dirty Computer, is my favourite project of hers and is a testament to her ingenuity. Released in 2018, it serves as a critique on the American political landscape. It is a celebration of freedom and femininity, perfectly distilling how political pop does not have to compromise strong ideologies for catchy hooks. She has also ventured into acting, most famously appearing in Moonlight as Teresa, as well as voice-acting in Rio 2 and The Lady and the Tramp (2019). Finally, I have to mention her incredible fashion sense: from her signature ‘tuxedo wardrobe’ style, to her jaw-dropping 2019 MET Gala outfit. She has proven time and time again how Black queer people are an integral part of our world. 

Ellie Harris – Nova Twins

For Black History Month, I wanted to draw attention to the Nova Twins – a British rock duo who incorporate elements of punk, glam, and metal into their music. Comprised of two black women, Amy Love and Georgia South, the band is at the fore of shaking up the alternative rock scene, which has long been dominated by white men. Winning ‘Best U.K. Breakthrough Band’ in the 2020 Heavy Music Awards, their exciting style is finally being recognised and celebrated by the wider rock community, something which will only continue as Nova Twins keep releasing music. I was lucky enough to watch them perform live as one of the support acts for Bring Me The Horizon earlier this year, and was blown away by their powerful instrumentals and hard-hitting vocals, as well as their dominant stage presence. After releasing their debut album, Who Are the Girls?, last year, I cannot wait to see what Nova Twins create next.

Sammy Andrews – Arlo Parks

Arlo Parks is one of the most exciting voices in British music at the moment. With the 2021 Mercury Prize, the Brit Award for Best New Artist and nominations for Best British Female Solo Artist and Album of the Year under her belt, she is absolutely unstoppable. Her debut album Collapsed in Sunbeams received critical acclaim, and with its warmth, it is not hard to see why. Cohesively drawing upon sonic influences from funk, hip-hop and jazz to rock and even sprinkling spoken word poetry throughout, Collapsed in Sunbeams is a brilliant testament to Parks’ artistic versatility. Drawing from these musical genres with such strong black origins, Parks offers a new generation’s voice to such a rich history – a young bisexual woman finding her place in the modern world. Lyrically and poetically, she dives into mental health, queer desire, and body image, making her music deeply personal but also deeply relevant. The vulnerable honesty in ‘Eugene’ and self-acceptance in ‘Green Eyes’ stand as testament to this. Parks has emerged as an artist with a message that we all need to hear: softness in the face of struggle and compassion both for the world and yourself.

James West – Robert Johnson

Robert Johnson (1911 – 1938) is one of the most famous blues guitarists of all time. Famously associated with the legend that he sold his soul to the devil for mastery of the guitar, he composed many famous blues standards which are still popular today. He is particularly associated with the Delta blues style (originating from the Mississippi Delta) however he was known throughout his life as being able to play guitar in a more country or jazz style as well. Although he achieved little commercial success in his life, he attended two recording sessions where he recorded 29 different songs. After his death, these sessions were rereleased as King of the Delta Blues Singers. This album had particular impact on the British Blues movement inspiring guitarists like Eric Clapton, Keith Richards and Peter Green. Arguably because of this Johnson’s greatest impact has been on the development of rock music, where his work has been covered on the Rolling Stones album Exile on Main Street and Cream’s album Wheels of Fire. Johnson has been praised for both his lyrics and his guitar playing and his songs have been recorded by several different artists. Some of his most famous work includes the songs ‘Cross Road Blues’ (popularised by Cream as ‘Crossroads,’)  ‘Sweet Home Chicago’ (as seen in the film ‘The Blues Brothers,’) ‘Come on in my Kitchen’ and ‘They’re Red Hot.’ Eric Clapton once remarked that Johnson ‘was the most important blues singer that ever lived.’

Aimée Sargeant – Kendrick Lamar

April 2021 marks four years since DAMN was released, yet to me it still only feels like yesterday. I still recommend this album to my friends and family, even after four years. Kendrick Lamar is an icon within the hip-hop industry, with his fourth LP, DAMN taking this to another level as the rapper combines the timeless version of rap with the modern. It received critical acclaim when it was released in 2017, and has been ranked 175th on Rolling Stone’s updated list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. Placed exactly 19 places above Michael Jackson’s iconic album, Bad, this was an impressive feat for an album that is relatively new. This is an album which sounds aggressive at one point, and then is calming at another. To add to the achievements of Kendrick Lamar, DAMN won a Pulitzer Prize for Music – a first for a rap album. But I can understand why it won, it has an iconic state within the music industry for pushing boundaries. The album uses elements of trap, R&B, and pop, making it loud and abrasive. Gaining his first number one hit, ‘HUMBLE,’ the seemingly plain and repetitive nature of the beat is a masterpiece. The textural depth that Kendrick creates allows his lyrics to sit centre stage. DAMN also released popular singles such as: ‘LOYALTY’ and ‘LOVE.’ It is no surprise that Lamar is so popular, he is able to articulate lyrics a way no other artist can, as well as creating emotionally rich songs – ‘FEAR.’ DAMN really created a timeless album that is next-level and could never be recreated by any artist, other than Kendrick himself.

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