Over the decades, Black creators have served a significant role in the pop culture canon. With greater attention being given to these creators, especially on social media, various platforms have stepped up to the plate to invest in their creative growth. At the forefront of these initiatives is YouTube. YouTube has served as a primary method of exposure for Black creators since its inception. In light of the everchanging and increased consciousness of Black creativity laying the foundation for the platform's success, YouTube has dedicated various resources to catapult Black social media creators into success. Last year, it launched a $100 million dollar initiative called the #YouTubeBlack Voices Fund that aims to "continually champion Black voices and music and make YouTube the home for Black joy and expression."
The Black Voices Fund has now ushered in its first cohort of classes that consist of music artists on one hand and creators on the other. The creator side of the grant was launched in January with the artist aspect launching last October.
"We had an application process that launched last year in June where Black creators and Black artists were able to submit applications. We went through a really extensive process of going through a lot of data for Black artists and ciphering through who we thought would make the class culturally diverse. We didn't want to just choose hip-hop and R&B artists, but also expanding to other genres, whether it's folk, pop, gospel or alternative," said said Brittany Lewis, Artist Partnerships Lead at YouTube Music who co-leads the Black Voices Fund. "Ultimately we worked to ensure that we had a class that really encompassed the diaspora. Using our gut and cultural senses played a major role in discovering and identifying artists that we knew were on the verge of breaking and having a really great year. For others, we have helped them grow their respective channels by astronomical numbers."
For the class of 2022, the program expanded to support 31 artists from the original six regions—US, Brazil, Kenya, Australia, Nigeria and South Africa— with the inclusion of Black Canadian and UK artists. Also added were 23 songwriter and producer grants, which provided a new dimension of Black music creators. Not only did this area of the fund work toward fostering the careers of new artists, they selected legacy artists who may not be signed to a label but were still passionate about creating music for a mentorship grant. These artists are a part of a six month program that provides artist development, early access to product features, feedback, and consideration for cross-functional Google opportunities. One of the artists that was able to take part in this specific area of the program was the legendary rapper Slick Rick. The fund also supports Music Moments, an investment in celebrations of Black culture, identity and experiences from the perspective of artists and industry thought leaders.
"We work really hard to make sure that we are upholding our end of the deal. It's not lost on us that the ones doing this work and deeply invested are Black. There comes a significant and invaluable amount of responsibility to be sitting in these seats. The massive upside is we have to reinvest in the very structures that got us here. For example, many of us are HBCU graduates. There is a responsibility that comes from having benefited from these experiences," says Adam McFarland, the Program Manager of Black Music & Culture at YouTube. "We throw the word privilege around a lot but we are privileged to be having this conversation and working in this capacity. Therefore, we need to use recognize our privilege the same way we want everybody else to utilize their own privilege— in ways that are going to be meaningful, impactful and move the needle."
The #YouTubeBlack Voices Creator sector of the fund highlights Black creators who have developed innovative content across the genres of fashion, comedy, politics, learning and wellness. YouTube works closely with these creators to provide support, investment in their channels and corresponding endeavors through workshops, direct dialogue and more. Through this program, they have been able to effectively support notable creators such as KevOnStage, Jay Versace, Baby Tate and Asiahn
"We now have an umbrella of work that seeks to address racial justice, equity and inclusion while embedding that into the fabric of how we operate. We want to ensure that we're dismantling structures and not creating systems that just reproduce bias. YouTube's investment in these programs is life-changing, generation changing," says Ada Hopkins who is the Strategic Partner Manager on YouTube's Top Creators team. "We're focused on delivering equitable access to opportunities. We understand that this work means having to do more if you're working with groups that are marginalized. Secondly, we are harnessing the power of our brand. We are striving to be an ally and an advocate for Black people, culture and the issues that matter to the Black community. With this, we are also building a nurturing, diverse and representative workforce where folks feel seen, safe and heard. Far too often, those who are disenfranchised both bear the brunt of the pain from our society and are also unfairly tasked with having to come up with the solutions to the problems that they didn't even create. They're also not empowered, recognized or compensated when doing so. We're very conscious of that at YouTube in the ways that it reinforces inequality through our programs and the example we set within our workplace."
"What's so powerful about the work we are able to do at YouTube and with this fund is largely due to there not being a gap between us being Black at work. We come to work, we show up and we don't have to take our Black off at work," adds Rachie Jackson the Artist Relations Manager at YouTube Music who also works on the strategic side of the community pillar of YouTube's Black Voices fund. "This allows us to then show up for artists and creators that we work with on our caseload. There is no charade."