Local black artists to check out
The Scene looks back at some of D.C.’s top artists as Black History Month comes to a close,
Constant political drama often clouds the music culture hidden within the nation’s capital, but a thriving artistic scene still exists in the District and tells the story of the city’s rich history and colorful inhabitants. The District’s impact on music can be seen from Go-Go music, which originated in the city, to hardcore punk, reggae and hip-hop, which have developed a whole new sound since being influenced by the District’s diverse background. For the District’s African American community, music has become a source of hope, history and joy in wake of the "Chocolate City's" increasing wave of gentrification.
February marked Black History Month, a period that observes important events and figures of African Americans. Here are some local black artists The Scene enjoyed listening to this month,
Duke Ellington- It Don’t Mean a Thing
Perhaps DC’s most well-known musical alumni, Duke Ellington stands as one of America’s greatest composers, bandleaders and recording artists. With a jazz career spanning fifty years, Ellington innovated the music industry with his extensive and technically complex jazz compositions. DC’s pride in Ellington comes alive with monuments to his name, such as the Duke Ellington Memorial Bridge and the Duke Ellington School of the Arts.
Black Heat- The Jungle
Pioneers of DC’s Go-Go music, a subgenre of funk with hints of rhythm and blues, Black Heat holds a pivotal place in DC history with its hand in giving birth to a genre that brought a community together in celebration of its black history. Focusing on instrumentals, along with its minimal lyrics, Black Heat’s created its music with an intense precision and consistently encourages crowds to move to the beat. Although the band never reached superstar notoriety, its impact on today’s music can be seen in samples of songs by N.W.A, The Notorious B.I.G., Wu Tang Clan and Biz Markie.
Bad Brains- I Against I
Originally presenting itself as a jazz group in the 80s, D.C. hardcore punk band Bad Brains has transformed itself over the years with a musical versatility that keeps fans guessing. Bad Brains developed an early reputation for their uniquely jazz, reggae, hip-hop and soul influenced punk, along with the relative novelty in being one of the only all-black punk bands in D.C. With such a unique sound, DC’s punk scene quickly began to take notice of its talents, cementing the group a place of revenance in DC music history.
Marvin Gaye- Got to Give It Up
Although Marvin Gaye has established himself today as a household name to anyone acquainted with the greats of American Soul, many aren’t aware that he was born and raised in D.C. and can trace his musical roots to his time with his first group, the D.C. Tones. With a phenomenal range and talent for writing music, Gaye quickly became discovered in DC’s U street corridor and went on to create super hits such as, "Let's Get It On," "Sexual Healing" and "I Heard it Through the Grapevine."
Goldlink- Sober Thoughts
Using an upbeat fusion of hip-hop, indie rhythms and house music, 22-year-old MC Goldlink creates work with a beat that invites a listener to dance. Along with being a great party starter, his rhymes are thought-provoking, touching on existentialism and youth culture. You can hear the DC in Goldlink’s dance beats with notes of Go-Go music and lyrical references to the African American history and DC culture he was raised on.
Oddisee- Own Appeal
Creating rap that is honest to his existence and influenced by his cultural upbringing, Sudanese-American rapper and producer Oddisee effectively blends soul, rap and the instrumental elements of Sudan and the Arab world in his music. Having moved beyond the District to New York, his pride in his roots remains and can be heard in his regular lyrical and stylistic references to his D.C. upbringing, even giving a shout-out to Tenleytown on his track, “Killing Time.” Careful to not allow himself to become pigeonholed as a rapper, Oddisee also creates equally effective songs comprised of solely instrumentals.
Kelela- A Message
D.C. bred Ethiopian-American and AU alum, Kelela explores emotional themes of her everyday life with a style of R&B that veers from the traditions of the genre with its use of dreamy, melodic and robotic sounding tunes. With an artistic process that is uniquely collaborative, her illustrative and expressive music videos show how much care she puts into every step of her artistic process. In the short time between her 2013 album “CUT 4 ME,” and her most recent EP, “Hallucinogen,” Major artists such as Solange and Björk have taken notice to the D.C. native, and help her rise to success. Kelela’s quick ascent in the music world shows that she has a bright future ahead of her in both the DMV and beyond.
Wale- The Matrimony
Arguably the first artist to put DC’s hip-hop scene on the global map, rapper Wale has gone from local phenomenon to global hip-hop legend. As a 2009 XXL Freshman, Wale was noted for a reputation of innovative lyrics and Go-Go inspired beats that he still holds today. His inaugural album, “The Mixtape About Nothing” (2008) plays an interesting contrast to his most recent work, “The Album About Nothing” (2015). In these albums listeners can hear his undoubted growth as a lyricist, while still exhibiting thematic consistency with the clever Seinfeld-inspired dialogues that reference pop culture and politics.
Shy Glizzy- Cut It
At only 23 years old, D.C. rapper Shy Glizzy has made a name for himself as one of the most promising artists to watch in the DMV. With a unique voice and real and raw lyrics, he gives an honest portrayal of his upbringing in Southeast D.C and holds true to the musical content that's present in the quadrant with his use of trap beats. He's an undoubted success in making party music that never fails to bring a room together and has already worked with some of the biggest names in hip-hop such as 2 Chainz, Meek Mill and ASAP Rocky.