The scenario Michael Keaton’s character in Multiplicity wants to create, is a fitting representation of the current music landscape: a pool of successful male artists existing as slight variants of a single mold. Women, on the other hand, seemingly must maintain an inviting look, sex appeal, and possess loads of talent just to exist in a space where they are unfairly and lazily compared to one another. Much like most industries that are considered “for men,” there is a glass ceiling atop the small room female musicians are expected to share happily.
Although blame could and should be placed on the patriarchal structure, EBONY has chosen to highlight some of the superlative girls on the mic this Black Music Month, who are not only demanding their seats at the table but also repurposing what is offered. These women are telling our stories in bold, captivating and wondrous ways, shifting the belief that this is a man’s world.
Get to better know the queens of musical creativity listed below.
In the time of the selfie and Snapchat face filters, H.E.R. (Having Everything Revealed) has chosen to keep her face shielded from the spotlight so the music remains a focal point. Born Gabriella Wilson, the singer is signed to RCA Records and released two EPs, H.E.R.: Vol. 1 and H.E.R.: Vol. 2. Her music explores romantic love, heartbreak and yearning over dark beats that capture the heaviness of her emotions. The debut project made iTunes’ Best of 2016 R&B/Soul Albums list.
She is currently a performer on Chris Brown’s Heartbreak on a Full Moon Tour.
The Grammy Award-winning band is comprised of twin sisters Amber and Paris Strother and their close friend, producer Anita Bia. In 2011, they independently released their debut project, The Story EP, a three-song project with soulful and a distinctive approach to R&B. The group got the attention of music icon Prince, who invited the trio to open for him at his 21-Night Stand Tour at the Los Angeles Forum later that year.
The group’s first studio album, We Are King, released in February 2016, it was nominated for Best Urban Contemporary Album, making KING the first independent band to be nominated in that category.
This Philly-born rapper is an artist who seems to have perfected creating music in the social media era. Her debut visual album, Whack World, released last month and is 15 minutes long but full of tantalizing hooks and great use of imagination. The project, unlike other musical offerings, exists in its entirety on Instagram and other streaming platforms. In the one-minute long tracks, Whack puts her spin on rap, R&B and country. The short film that accompanies her album is the surreal version of a funhouse depicting the 22-year-old caught between a whimsical dreamland and toxic nightmare.
Formerly known as L.A., this Brooklyn-born artist presents her fearless feminity in raps. She creates songs that detail her plight as a Black woman who is of Panamian, Jamaican and Haitian descent, often commenting on battling depression, gentrification, cultural appropriation in addition to empowering female cuts such as “Glo Up.”
In 2016, she released B(LA)K and Teen Nite at Empire, in which she presents her aggressive, tongue-twisting raps over eerie jazz cuts reminiscent of the buzzing alt-rap scene of the Golden Era of hip-hop, when what you said meant just as much as how it was delivered. Alcindor is perfecting the representation of the Black millennial girl in her artistry.
She has performed at the Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn Academy of Music and is one of the first rap acts to be an artist in residence at National Sawdust, a nonprofit, artist-led venue in the borough.
The British-born singer may have the song of the summer with “Boo’d Up,” a catchy love tune that appeals to multiple generations and both genders. The 23-year-old first gained attention on social media with her 15-second rap song covers on Instagram. She soon began sharing her original material, and her song “She Don’t” was played on Drake’s OVO Sound music show. Mai was later signed to DJ Mustard’s 10 Summers Records. Her heartwrenching melodies are filled with messages about self-love and heartbreak.
The singer-songwriter originally hails from Detroit. When she was 12, her family moved to New Jersey and all 10 members of her immediate family are musicians. The Boyds would sing on New York City subway platforms, on the steps of the Met and in Central Park. After JAY-Z heard them in 2016, Victory was signed to Roc Nation. Her debut EP, Broken Instrument, possesses immaculate songwriting, jazzy vocals and soulful production.
The 30-year-old is a rapper and singer who is changing preconceived notions about body image and representation in media. Lizzo is signed to Atlantic Records, and her first solo EP, Coconut Oil, was released in October 2016. It was ranked No. 14 in Rolling Stone’s “20 Best Pop Albums of 2016.” Overall, Lizzo’s music marries her daring personality, humor and wit into self-empowering female anthems.
The Michigan-born rapper moved to Brooklyn to pursue her music career when she was 17 years old. Scott’s mother is Puerto Rican, her father is African-American, she couples those cultures in her music. Her breakout moment occurred in 2010 when her “Monster” freestyle went viral. Since then, she’s worked with Kendrick Lamar, Bodega Bamz, Joell Ortiz and Salaam Remi.
Her latest project, CREATURE!, released in July 2017 is an in-depth look into Afro-Latina womanhood. She often touches upon the mental anxiety one faces in society, the oppression of the Black woman and she is an open bisexual with Buddhist principles.
This Ethiopian American is a singer and songwriter who gained the attention of Solange Knowles. She began her music career in 2013 with the release of the mixtape Cut 4 Me, and has served as the opening act for the singer mentioned above. Her music is a blend of jazz, R&B and electronic sounds, and she often sings about the duality of love. Her 2015 project, Hallucinogen, depicts the journey of a relationship in reverse chronological order.
Take Me Apart, her latest offering, was released in 2017 and received wide critical acclaim on year-end lists of a number of publications including Rolling Stone. Kelela self-identifies as queer, which allows for an openness in the way she writes her music, not conforming to limiting gender roles.
The Dominican singer rose to fame after appearing on VH1’s Love and Hip Hop: Miami, on which she spoke openly about the anti-Blackness found in the Latin community. La Negra classifies herself as Black and Afro-Latina. Hours after the show premiered, she signed a record deal with BMG and was later named as the show’s breakout star by Billboard.
This 21-year-old, born in New York City and raised in Maryland, marries the story of her life with her ferocious rap music. Nasty does what many in the music industry are reluctant to do: change her image on a whim. Her ability to shape-shift helps her experiment with different sounds, styles and flows, creating a genre all its own. Sugar Trap, as she calls it, represents the rambunctious nature of youth on wax.
Given her success Nasty, who became a mother at 18 and lived in Prince George’s County, defied a number of statistics. After building up a buzz she secured a deal with Atlantic Records and released her project Nasty on June 15.
The Chicago native, formerly known as Noname Gypsy, dropped the latter part of her moniker after learning about its ethnic connotation. She is a rapper and slam poet who gained attention for her verse on Chance the Rapper’s “Lost” from his second mixtape, Acid Rap. Noname has proved she can hold her own among her male peers in the Windy City having been featured on much of the work coming out of that creative renaissance. Her debut, Telefone, received critical acclaim for its storytelling of the racism and oppression faced by Chicago youth.
One of the most talked-about songs on her project is “Bye Bye Baby,” a song that paints abortion as an act of love.
Woods is a modern-day Nina Simone, creating unapologetically Black anthems and healing music, regarding the oppression that can be found in her hometown of Chicago. She delivered the perfect balance for Chance the Rapper on his gospel-inspired songs “Sunday Candy” and “Blessings.” She was also the Black voice on Macklemore’s “White Privilege II.”
Her debut project, Heavn, is the soundtrack to self-care, mixing her poetry with melody. Outside of her music, Woods, the associate artistic director of Young Chicago Authors, mentors the next generation of Chicago writers.
The East London native is a singer-songwriter and producer who describes her music as “wonky funk.” She blends R&B, soul, funk and electric music. NAO studied vocal jazz and started her career as a backup singer for UK artists. Her debut album, For All We Know, was released in July 2016, and received a Brit Award nomination for Best British Female Solo Artist.
Her breakout single, “Bad Blood,” had all the pieces to create the perfect song: ethereal vocals, hypnotizing production and evocative lyrics about love.
Born Melesha Ogarro, the British native is of Caribbean descent and has effortlessly merged hip-hop, dancehall and grime into her infectious sound. She had a series of viral YouTube freestyles dubbed “Queen’s Speech.” The fourth installment was used in a Samsung commercial introducing Ogarro to an influx of American fans. The rapper delivers hard-hitting punchlines with her thick British accent negating the notion that UK rappers are dainty and polite.
Isis Valentino and Alex Belle make up the Atlanta duo signed to Janelle Monae’s Wondaland Records. They are showcasing Afrofuturism with their blend of soul and R&B. St. Beauty has performed at Afropunk, and their songs “Holographic Lover” and “Borders” were featured on Issa Rae’s hit HBO series, Insecure.
Their debut project, Running to the Sun, which is as bright and heartwarming as the title suggests, was released at the beginning of the year.
In celebration of Black Music Month, we feature genre-bending musicians and newer gospel voices, which you can check them out here: Deeper Than Rap and Get Your Praise On. Let us know if there’s anyone you’d like to see featured on any of these lists.
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Christina Santi is a news and culture writer for EBONY.com. Born and raised in the Bronx, New York, she considers herself a well-read, not so traditional feminist with a heavy interest in music, fashion and pop culture. Christina currently lives in New York City, where she refers to her Cuban & Jamaican descent often while writing about her experiences as a first-generation Afro-Latinx in America. She also devotes time writing personalized reading material for her tutees and turning ideas into words for streetwear brand, PUER By Noel Bronson.