Celebrate Black History Month With Artists Who Have Paved the Way
This February, we’ve been celebrating Black History Month by highlighting iconic and influential Black artists who have paved the way in music. Here is a recap of our featured artists who have each uniquely made an impact. Keep reading for more, download each track on BPM Supreme, and continue honoring Black History all year!
Artist: Tracy Chapman
Title: Fast Car
One of the most recognizable voices of her time, Tracy Chapman, is a Grammy Award-winning artist credited for reviving the singer-songwriter style in the late ’80s and ’90s. A long time apartheid activist, Chapman’s songs offered a social critique heard around the world. One of her best-known hits, “Fast Car,” told a realistic story about escaping poverty and was nominated for both Record of the Year and Song of the Year at the 1988 Grammy Awards.
Artist: Chaka Khan
Title: I Feel For You
Chaka Khan, born Yvette Marie Stevens, has a musical career spanning five decades. Often referred to as the “Queen of Funk,” Khan has topped the charts across multiple genres, including R&B, dance, and mainstream pop. In 1984, Khan embraced early rap and hip hop with her crossover hit with “I Feel for You” featuring Grandmaster Melle Mel.
Artist: James Brown
Title: Funky Drummer
James Brown has been called the “Godfather of Soul,” the inventor of Funk music, and one of the most influential musical artists of the 20th century. With a career spanning more than 50 years, Brown became known for songs that addressed social prejudices and the need for black empowerment, including the 1968 hit “Say It Loud – I’m Black and I’m Proud.” He is also one of the most sampled Black artists of all time, with “Funky Drummer” released in 1970 standing as the 4th most-sampled song of all time! Brown was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1986.
Artist: Green Velvet
Title: La La Land
Growing up in Chicago, Green Velvet, born Curtis Alan Jones, first heard house music on the radio in the mid-’80s. He immediately fell in love with the sound and by the early ’90s began releasing original house/techno tracks using many of his own vocals (then under the moniker Cajmere). Now a household name in dance music, Jones is best known for club hits like “Percolator,” “Answering Machine,” and “La La Land.” As Green Velvet, Jones has influenced a distinct sound in techno music that features recorded vocals alongside bold percussion and repetitive laser-like leads.
Artist: Todd Terry
Title: Black Again
As a pioneering house music producer in the mid-’80s, Todd Terry is said to have defined New York house music by blending hip hop breaks with the sounds of Chicago house and classic disco. Terry’s productions showcased unique energy that influenced a range of dance music, including driving the rise in popularity of Acid House. Today, Terry continues to create music that moves dance floors across the world and in 2020 released “Black Again,” a funky house track that brings back a classic vibe.
Artist: Carl Cox
Title: PURE (El Rancho Mix)
Starting as a mobile DJ at the age of 15, Carl Cox broke through an emerging British rave scene and worked his way up to become one of the world’s top house/techno producers. During his career spanning more than 30 years, Cox has had many achievements, including a successful record label, his own “Carl Cox & Friends” stage at festivals like Ultra and Tomorrowland, and a 15-year residency at the world-renowned nightclub Space Ibiza. Known for playing his sets with three decks, Cox has undoubtedly progressed the sound of techno and dance music from the early ’90s through today. In 2020, Cox released “PURE” on his label 23rd Century Records and described the track as a “techno beast.”
Artist: Dr. Dre
Title: Still D.R.E.
Genre: Hip Hop
Dr. Dre, born Andre Romelle Young, has earned multiple titles through his work as a rapper, record producer, audio engineer, record executive, and entrepreneur. Credited with advancing the West Coast influence on hip hop in the early ‘90s, Dre has been a part of many legendary projects, including overseeing the careers of superstars like 2Pac, Snoop Dogg, Xzibit, The Game, and Kendrick Lamar. From the mid-‘80s through today, Dre has continually evolved his sound as an artist and remains a staple in the music industry, inspiring countless musicians throughout his career.
Artist: Quincy Jones
Title: Body Heat
Legendary record producer, multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, composer, and film/television producer, Quincy Jones, has a career spanning over 60 years. Emerging as a Jazz conductor in the 1950s, Jones made waves in the industry through his work with artists like Frank Sinatra and Michael Jackson. He has won 28 Grammys with a record 80 nominations, and in 1968 he and his songwriting partner were the first African-Americans to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Song. Jones is recognized by Time Magazine as one of the most influential jazz musicians of the 20th century and was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2013.
Artist: Puff Daddy
Title: Can’t Nobody Hold Me Down
Genre: Hip Hop
Sean John Combs, a.k.a. Puff Daddy, P. Diddy, Puffy, or Diddy, is the definition of a mogul. A rapper, singer, songwriter, record producer, record executive, entrepreneur, and actor, Combs has helped launch the careers of talent like Mary J. Blige and Jodeci, as well as Mariah Carey, Method Man, Boyz II Men, and Lil’ Kim under his record label, Bad Boy Entertainment. His debut album, No Way Out, won the Grammy for Best Rap Album in 1998, and included his first chart-topping single, “Can’t Nobody Hold Me Down.” Beyond his massive music career, Combs’ business portfolio includes everything from fashion to restaurant brands. His entrepreneurial spirit is matched with his philanthropic work, which includes numerous social programs to help students and inner city youth.
Artist: Juice WRLD
Title: Lucid Dreams
Genre: Hip Hop
Jarad Anthony Higgins, a.k.a. Juice WRLD, began exploring his creativity as an artist via Soundcloud in 2015. Two years later, he would release his first full-length EP that included his breakout hit “Lucid Dreams,” which has since been streamed over one billion times. Sadly, Higgins passed away on December 8, 2019, but his signature style of alternative guitar riffs combined with deep lyrical content has served as a significant inspiration for the modern generation of bedroom producers. In 2020, his first posthumous album, Legends Never Die, debuted at number one on the Billboard 200 and was the most successful posthumous chart debut in over 20 years.
Title: Song 33
Genre: Hip Hop
Fatimah Nyeema Warner, a.k.a. Noname, is a rapper, poet, and producer from Chicago with a background in slam poetry. She first gained attention after appearing on a mixtape by Chance The Rapper in 2013, then solidified her success with the release of her first mixtape in 2016. Noname’s style of deep, open-ended conversations throughout her music led to rave reviews and Rolling Stone calling the mixtape “the most thought-provoking hip hop” of the year.
From starting a book club that directly supports locally-owned and Black-owned businesses to performing on NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert Series, Noname has proved her range as an artist and continues to showcase her talent as a part of the newer generation of creators.
Genre: Hip Hop
Cordae Amari Dunston was inspired from an early age by his father’s classic hip hop collection and started writing rap lyrics at fifteen. He began gaining attention by remixing popular songs such as Eminem’s “My Name Is,” and in 2019, released his Grammy-nominated debut album, The Lost Boy. Dunston has often been called “ahead of his time,” and Respect Magazine said, “he is a mix of the old and new school, and the deliverance and perception of his music sets himself apart from the new generation of rappers these days.”
A vocal supporter of the Black Lives Matter movement, Dunston participated in a Black Lives Matter protest back in 2016, and in 2020 was arrested for participating in a peaceful protest surrounding the murder of Breonna Taylor.
Want More? Listen to our Black History Month Playlist.