October is Black History Month. In honour of that, I have decided to take this time to give a little shine to several artists who have been highly influential to various genres of black music, but who are often overlooked. From revolutionaries to those taken too soon, here’s my countdown of those who should never be forgotten.
1. J Dilla
This guy is arguably the greatest hip-hop producer of all time. Practically no-one in hip-hop or RnB can claim to have not been influenced by this guy on some level. In fact, despite his unfortunate and untimely death, his vault is so large that to get a beat of his granted to you by Ma’Dukes is one of the Holy Grails of hip-hop. This guy is all over so many incredible artists’ work (from Common to A Tribe Called Quest). Despite seeing many people wear images of him on t-shirts and hoodies, all I can truly hope is that they know who they are carrying on your chest when they do.
Listen to: Donuts
2. Gil Scott Heron
The revolution will not be televised.
This is a quote that’s probably very familiar to you. The man who penned this is the one and only Gil Scott Heron. A jazz musician and spoken word poet, he had an influence reaching far down through various genres and fields. Referred to as “the godfather of rap” and the “black Bob Dylan”, this legend has been sampled by Dr Dre, Mos Def, MF Doom, and Kanye West just to name a few. A pioneer within poetry, jazz, and soul, he is all too frequently left out of discussions of great musicians and writers.
Listen to: Pieces of a Man
3. DJ Kool Herc
The Godfather of Hip-Hop, this man is the reason all DJs you ever come across now use two turntables. Creator of the “merry go round” technique of isolating an instrumental section of a track (and looping it via two copies of the same record for the dancers of early 70s New York), this man helped set the foundation for a culture that is arguably one of the most significant social developments of the 20th century. I don’t really need to say much more do I?
Listen to: Let Me Clear My Throat
4. Frankie Knuckles
As we’re all aware, house music is massive right now. The charts are full of it and everybody is cutting shapes in the club – house is really experiencing its time in the sun in the UK. Unfortunately last year, this pioneer of house passed away and yet, for the most part, no-one seemed to notice. Playing a key role in the development and subsequent initial exposure of house and its rise out of Chicago, Frankie Knuckles is the reason you even have Rudimental and Disclosure. Please remember that.
Listen to: Your Love
5. George Clinton
I was going to drop James Brown in this list, but I don’t think he’s that overlooked really. Instead, I opted for the man: George Clinton. A pioneer of funk music alongside James Brown and Sly Stone, he developed his own twist on the genre labelled “P-Funk”. This, in turn, was a huge influence on artists like Dre and their creation of West Coast Hip-Hop or “G Funk”. This guy has rocked with Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Tupac, Ice Cube, Kendrick Lamar, and Wu Tang Clan. The fact you’ll know every name listed there (but probably not his) proves my point spectacularly, I think.
Listen to: Parliament
Hopefully you have all learnt something today. Black history goes beyond slavery or black contribution to music or the arts, but this is my little input in an area I’m passionate about. Hopefully it exposes you to some great new music – after all: what is earth without art?