“The Blackness.” That is the first lyric you hear off “Optimistic,” from gospel group, Sounds of Blackness — an ideal name for this collection if it wasn’t already taken.
Recently, there has been a reemergence of black artists being more upfront about who their music is for and what it is about: the black community. Before, it was legendary musicians like Nina Simone, Marvin Gaye, and later, Public Enemy, a rap group whose music was so loud and purposeful that they could intimidate others with their racial pride.
Unapologetically black is what we like to call it.
Yet alongside introspective tunes that reflected or discussed the community’s indiosyncracies, there are also the songs that make little sense but have somehow become staples at any black function. It’s for a good time, and some of the blackest songs are always at the forefront of that rotation.
So as we get into this beautiful February 2018, with Black Panther on the horizon and Get Out winning an Oscar for the culture soon after (speaking it into existence), for your Black History Month enjoyment, I give you 21 of the blackest songs to date!
21. Redbone — Childish Gambino (2016)
On the surface, this song is simply about paranoia and infidelity in a relationship with a familiar sample. But with the often used phrase “stay woke” as a part of the chorus, this song became an anthem lasting well throughout 2017, and on.
20. DNA. — Kendrick Lamar (2017)
Kung Fu Kenny breaks.it.down. for us about what he finds in his DNA including: joy, pain, loyalty and royalty. By juxtaposing his lyrics with *foolish* FOX News commentary about the “African-American community,” Kendrick pounds into our minds the true strengths in blackness.
19. Electric Boogie — Marcia Griffiths (1980)
My Jamaican self had to bring this one into the mix. There’s nothing like watching folks do the “Electric Slide,” most with their own rendition of the classic party dance. Just watch the video!
18. The Story of O.J. — JAY-Z (2017)
It hasn’t been reported if OJ Simpson has reached out to Jay since his release from prison. And even if there a couple digs at the Juice, the majority of the song is more like being in an African-American business practices class with Professor Carter anyways. It’s not always about you, OJ.
17. Buffalo Soldier — Bob Marley & the Wailers (1983)
“Buffalo Soldier” was the nickname given to black soldiers and at one point to all Army regiments that were composed mostly of black men. I learned about this from Mr. Marley instead of where I probably should of learned it… in school.
16. Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)— Marvin Gaye (1971)
Recently used in an episode of ABC’s blackish, the song’s parenthetical title encompasses a single feeling many black people have gone through. It really stinks that what Gaye sings about in the ‘70s somehow still applies today.
15. New Agenda — Janet Jackson (1993)
One of the most candid tracks I have heard about black women, this is by far Janet’s blackest song. Off her third album Janet and with a feature from Public Enemy’s Chuck D, Janet roars for her identity to not only be seen but appreciated.
14. Poison — Bell Biv DeVoe (1990)
Honestly, this song is pretty misogynistic, but damnit does it bump?! If a DJ knows what they’re doing, they’ll start it out with the bridge so everybody can sing like Ricky Bell, and grab a partner for kid n’ play when the beat drops.
13. Alright — Kendrick Lamar (2015)
At a time when we were seeing black people killed by police at what felt like everyday and “Black Lives Matter” seemed to fall on deaf ears, Kendrick recorded this track with the simple reminder that even though we’re still fighting, “we gon’ be alright.”
12. Crack Music — Kanye West ft. The Game (2005)
“That’s that crack music n*gga. That real black music n*gga.”
I mean he says it right there! A point-by-point breakdown critiquing the government’s involvement of hindering the black community – one can only imagine Kanye bumped this on the way to that Hurricane Katrina telethon.
11. Straight Outta Compton — N.W.A. (1988)
The first of many from the group who brought another facet of hardcore rap to the mainstream. Rapping about what they know, N.W.A. gave the world a look into their everyday reality in one of the blackest neighborhoods, Compton, California.
10. Scream — Michael Jackson & Janet Jackson (1995)
Honestly, I’m putting this on the list more so for the music video. The audacity of Michael and Janet to make one of the most expensive videos to date for a song that basically says “mind your business, stop lying on me, and pay attention to the actual injustices going on.” Well okay then.
9. Fight the Power — Public Enemy (1990)
Perhaps one of the greatest protest songs ever, PE’s call to the community’s strength and potential remains a backdrop for the continuous fight against systemic injustices.
8. Back that Azz Up — Juvenile (1999)
Question: drop this in a room full of black people and what will happen? A) The ladies all start stretching. B) The guys start stretching. Or C) Everybody starts stretching ’cause when the beat drops it’s going down.
The answer is C. It’s always C.
7. F.U.B.U. — Solange (2016)
For us. By us. A brand; a phrase; an anthem. Thank you for reminding us Solange.
6. Wipe Me Down — Foxx ft. Lil Boosie & Webbie (2006)
One of my favorites on the list because it also doubles as a testament to faith. In the opening verse, how Foxx declares he got to the club with no gas, but will still pay for everyone’s drinks? That’s a testimony for the culture.
5. Formation — Beyoncé (2016)
Bey knew exactly what she was doing when she dropped the visual before the single. There could be no misinterpretation of what she was saying. Basically: “My momma’s black, my daddy’s black, so I’m blackety-black-black, now everybody black: let’s go.” And we went.
4. Say it Loud: I’m Black and I’m Proud — James Brown (1968)
Because if you say it quietly, the people in the back won’t be able to hear you.
3. To Be Young, Gifted and Black — Nina Simone (1970)
It’s purely in the lyrics. Nina’s choice to confidently sing within her blackness composed a collection of some of the most racially conscious songs. But this one always give me chills as if she’s singing about my own potential as a young adult. “To be young, gifted and black is where it’s at.”
2. Swag Surfin’ — F.L.Y. (Fast Life Yungstaz) (2009)
I was in high school when this song dropped and I could never imagine it would literally bring the community together. It graduated from a regular ol’ jam to a communal dance that could change the mood of a night. Because of this song, I’ll wrap my arm around whoever is next to me and surf with them, all in the name of swag.
1. Before I Let Go — Maze featuring Frankie Beverly (1981)
I’m not sure what it is about this song. I don’t know who decided that this is the official “get up and dance” trigger for the community. I’m not even sure Frankie and them knew that recording this single about letting go of your lover would turn into the ultimate cookout jam. But I’m not here to question its existence, I just want to say th- *dun dun dun dun dundundun whoaaaaaaaa hoooooo…*
Here’s the playlist which includes a couple others that didn’t make my list!