12 Black artists paving the way for all genres: your Press Play-list for Black History Month

Bart Carmody, Arts Editor

While Black History Month is a time to educate ourselves on Black history and celebrate Black creativity, it’s important to recognize that Black excellence greatly exceeds the single month of February.

There is an abundance of Black artists out there that are not only creating huge waves in their respective genres today, but are paving the way for these genres for years to come.

We’ve curated 12 tracks from up-and-coming Black artists that are pioneering a variety of genres, and are sure to continue shining throughout 2021 and beyond.

Here’s your Press Play-list for Black History Month 2021.

Native Son – “Riot!”

With the release of his debut EP “Metro Dread,” NYC’s Native Son is barreling towards his well-deserved spot in the limelight. The project’s intro track, “Riot!,” starts our playlist off perfectly, as the song’s rapidly-marching drums lead off into an all-out jam consisting of gloriously strident vocals, smooth synths and contagious bass progressions. The music video, shot by Jack Henry, is just as enjoyable as the song’s sound, with Native Son narrating the song’s story in a fourth-wall-breaking fashion, amidst spliced-together footage of the artist excitably dancing in the city’s subway stations. While sonically, the song is catchy, the lyrics hold a far deeper tone, delving into the unjust consequences that Black people faced as a result of attending Black Lives Matter protests. Native Son told DIY Magazine, “‘Riot!’ is a song about the experiences of two of my close friends who are really involved in the marches for Black Lives around New York City. I wrote this song after a protest which ended badly, and it serves as a response to the portrayal of mostly peaceful protestors as members of the riotous mob that has tried to hijack many of the demonstrations.” He went on, “I chose to tell their stories – and my own – to remind people that we’re not just dots on a TV screen. ‘Riot!’ is a reminder that for some, the fight for justice has become more of a home for them than where they live.” “Metro Dread” stays consistent in this way throughout the tracklist, in that while the songs are buoyant and incredibly catchy, Native Son also touches upon a multitude of important topics, such as police brutality in his song “Brown Water,” and pandemic struggles  in “Domme Kinderen.” With an astounding start to his discography, we’re eager to see what Native Son has up next.

Meet Me @ The Altar – “Garden”

Largely dominated by white artists since its breakthrough in the 1990s, the pop-punk genre has yet to see a vast amount of diversity. Enter: Meet Me @ The Altar, a trio of Black and Latinx women that are leaving such an impression on pop-punk that just last year, they got signed to Fueled By Ramen, home of bands Paramore and Twenty One Pilots. In their already-impressive discography, the band is consistently creating sugar-rush punk anthems, with their newest single “Garden” being a notable standout. The song is an all-out throwback to those mid-90s, head-thrashing punk bangers, complete with an enormous, triumphant chorus and a mid-song riff-filled breakdown that is sure to start some unforgettable moshpits at their post-pandemic concerts. Be sure to also check out the recently-released acoustic version of the song to see just how multi-talented the band is.


As relentless as ever, Baltimore rapper/producer JPEGMAFIA has delivered yet another project this year. While his new EP, titled “EP2!,” is no departure from his trademark glitchy production and in-your-face delivery, Peggy has continued to expand his sound vastly. The artist’s new single “THIS ONES FOR US!” showcases the artist’s flair for melodies and buoyant production, without losing his clever and unapologetically blatant lyricism. As he sings “White boys scared of the Peg in private, but postin’ they black squares now/When you see me, better say it with your chest and you better have a vest ’cause I don’t waste rounds,” it’s clear that Peggy has still yet to hold back any punches since his debut album in 2016, and will be continuously changing the rap game for years to come.

R3FRENCE – “Lie To Me”

University senior Justin Winley, AKA R3FRENCE, has been consistently dropping some of the smoothest alternative R&B music out for some time now. Citing artists like Kendrick Lamar, Frank Ocean, Childish Gambino and SZA as his biggest musical influences, his inspirations are clear in his work, but R3FRENCE’s music holds certain tender candidness to it. One of his newest singles, titled “Lie To Me,” sounds like a long, love-ridden drive on a neon-lit road stretching infinitely. R3FRENCE longingly sings over the chorus, “Lie to me / Baby we could lie to be / Together can’t you see? / Happy in our debris,” making for a beautifully painstaking love story about self-deception in an effort towards an effortless love. When speaking to The Pace Press last year, Winley said that the listener stepping out of their comfort zone is of the utmost importance to his art, adding “You see a lot of hashtags on the internet about supporting Black artists or Black businesses, but you don’t want to just arbitrarily support something that doesn’t mean anything to you. I think it’s important to broaden your horizons, as you might find that an artist of any color or background speaks to you in a way that you may not have expected.” Step into R3FRENCE’s brutally honest sound with “Lie To Me,” as well as the track’s just-as-lovely accompanying singles, “MayBe So” and “Apocalove.”

LAVA LA RUE – “Magpie”

When London popstar/rapper Lava La Rue was seen chatting with Tyler, The Creator at a 2019 FACE Magazine x Converse event in Brixton Village, people knew she was going to be big. Now, with the release of her EP “Butter-Fly” released on Feb. 19, she’s making noise in the genres of bedroom pop and alternative rap. With her butter-like flows, syrupy melodies and dreamy production, it’s like Lava’s discography is slowly building a soundtrack to the fall-head-over-heels scene of an 80’s coming-to-age movie. And appropriately, many of Lava’s songs are about love; the song “Magpie” specifically explores a crush on somebody that she desires so bad, she ignores the inevitable heartbreak. The production is harmony-filled and riddled with sweet, crisp percussion as Lava wistfully sings “Why can’t you just sit right next to me? / Break it down, then take my misery.” Telling queer love stories like the one introduced in “Magpie” is important to Lava, as in an interview with DJ Booth, she said “When people define queer pop as a genre, what they’re doing is highlighting the absence of these kinds of narratives in the industry. All they’re doing is [saying] this isn’t a common narrative because we’ve been hearing the same narrative in music for so long. When it is someone that just so happens [to not be] a guy or not cis, it becomes a headline. As much as it is revolutionary because they’re reclaiming something, it is funny when it gets almost branded as a genre.” Lava has made it clear that she doesn’t want her music to be restricted or defined to one label or genre – she just wants her voice to be recognized. And if she continues the quality output she’s had thus far, eventually, she’ll be impossible to avoid.

Yves Tumor – “Kerosene!”

Yves Tumor is possibly the true-and-through rockstar of our generation. If that sounds like a bold statement, well, it is, but their discography is sure to back it up. Their latest album “Heaven to a Tortured Mind” was a transition into a more mainstream sound in comparison to their last two projects, but the unearthly, ethereal, and downright mind-blowing sound that Tumor has captured so flawlessly in the past still carries over. The track “Kerosene!,” featuring Diana Gordon, is perhaps the most applicable instance of this sound. With its electric guitar sections sounding like fighter jets and roaring yet elegant vocal harmonies, the track is an unmistakable glam-rock ballad, sounding like a Prince B-Side that you’d only find in a warped, alternate dimension. The music video for this track is just as dramatic and encapsulating as the song, as Tumor, an artist also known for their admirably over-the-top music videos, tells a bizarre, almost otherworldly story. While Tumor does have an incredible discography under their belt already, it’s certain that they’re far from done.

Fana Hues – “Yellow”

Genre-defying singer/songwriter Fana Hues is long overdue for her spot in the mainstream. Her 2020 debut project, “Hues,” features the artist stunningly swaying from sound to sound, from one track sounding like an enchanting R&B love letter, to another being a drum-and-bass heavy soul track, to another featuring show-stopping falsettos from Hues and bone-chilling organ-like synths. As the narrative of “Hues” explores the painful tribulations of a toxic relationship, the project’s outro, “Yellow,” feels like a breath of fresh air. While Hues impeccably showcases her talent to write a tragic love story throughout the project, it’s delightful to hear her laugh and joke on the outro track; it’s nearly impossible to not sing along to the delightfully braggadocious line, “He’ll love me all night long if I say so (If I say so) / I ain’t even gonna check the bill ’cause it’s paid for.” Nothing is said without intention in this project; Hues herself told Teeth Magazine: “I want people, with this project, to see me as a full human being with a full spectrum of emotions. When writing the project, even though these songs sometimes write themselves, everything is still done with intention. I don’t make music just for the sake of making music. Everything has a purpose. I really wanted that to come across in this project. And I hope it does.”

Ecco2k – “Peroxide”

Out of all the members of Sweden-hailing Drain Gang, nobody captures beauty in melancholy quite like Ecco2k. The singer, rapper and producer released his debut solo album “E” in 2019, and the record stands as a direct testament to Ecco2k’s beautiful melodies and glistening bubblegum-trap production. The song “Peroxide” is a picturesque piece of the artist’s euphoric melancholia, as the two driving forces between ecstasy and sadness are present both within the production and the lyrics. The track’s fluttering synth production is cut in the middle by a cold, hollow and ambient interlude that, as minimalistic as it is in comparison to the rest of the song, stands just as hypnotic. Even Ecco2k seems self-aware in his juxtaposing joy on this track, as he even laughs when uttering sorrowful lines such as “Trust me it gets so much worse.” Ecco2k is surely changing trap music with his work, and we’re excited to see what he introduces to the genre next.

Shygirl – “SLIME”

It’s a shame that clubs and dance floors aren’t open, because if they were, you’d be hearing London-based rapper/singer Shygirl blasted at every spot. Shygirl is perhaps the most exciting instance of experimentation in pop and electronic music at the moment; her 2020 debut LP “ALIAS” is a seven-track, 19-minute stretch of unceasing, unforgiving and uncanny freakiness. One of the standouts from this project, “SLIME,” captures Shygirl’s dark and sexy sound perfectly, as the production’s bass booms maliciously yet flirtatiously throughout, and the trap instrumental just seems to slide beneath Shygirl’s lyrics – very aptly on a track literally called, “SLIME.” And in accompaniment to her dark and in-your-face production, her lyrics are quite blunt as well, as Shygirl opens her second verse with the lines: She came to fuck / Tell me now, if you’re looking to get down / In the back, in the front / On the highway in your truck.” Shygirl is not your typical pop star – her music is cutting and unsettling, yet something about her delivery over such menacing production makes you want to get into the mindset that she makes clear on “SLIME”: “She a baddie for the season or a baddie for the night.”

Ian Isiah – “Princess Pouty”

Ian Isiah is known to be unrestricted by any one genre. From the futuristic afro-fusion banger “Killup,” to the gloomily gorgeous jazz-driven “Loose Truth,” Isiah has proven himself as an unequivocal renaissance man of sound. One of the biggest hits off his most recent project “AUTINE” is yet another instance of Isiah showing his boundless talent. “Princess Pouty” is a funky, synthful anthem with hyper-robotic vocal effects and dazzling synths that all sound straight out of a 1970s club bop. Through both his musical and visual work, Isiah has always expressed freedom of sexuality, gender and identity, and this track is no exception. The contagiously joyful music video explores this idea as well, as Isiah marches and dances throughout a barren Coney Island dressed as a care-free, cheerfully childish clown. We’re never quite sure what Isiah has up his sleeve next, but one thing’s for certain – it’s sure to wow us.

Ja-Len – “Lottery”

NYC rapper Ja-Len only has a few tracks out on streaming at the moment, yet he’s already catching people’s eyes. His newest single “Lottery” is a perfect demonstration of the artist’s multitalented brilliance; his catchy and suave hook on “Lottery” is only perfectly contrasted by his cutthroat verses. As Ja-Len smoothly slides over the track’s beat with ease, the production amazingly begins to take a new form, transitioning from booming bass and trap hi-hats over a choir-like humming, to a distant synthesized horn that sounds like something you’d hear in a Pi’erre Bourne track. And as effortlessly poised as Ja-Len may sound on this track, his lyrics delve into a deeper undertone, and as he raps “Get it at any cost / Already lost so many friends / Don’t shoot before the stars / I’m tryna be the better man,” his brutally honest lyricism is only amplified by his fierce delivery. Ja-Len is sure to be next up, and if you’ve been lucky enough to catch any Instagram snippets, you know we’re in for more good music.

Cosmo Pyke – “A Piper For Janet”

UK singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Cosmo Pyke is one of the most enigmatic artists out right now (second none to Frank Ocean, who, coincidentally, he is pals with). After his five-track debut EP in 2017, Pyke disappeared from the spotlight for three years. The EP, albeit five tracks, was a sweet collection of oftentimes reggae-infused alternative ballads that left fans begging for more. Sounds on the EP ranged from the upbeat and sunny “Chronic Sunshine,” to the gloomy, eight-minute-long self-exposé “Great Dane.” Now, three years after his disappearance, Pyke has returned with a more jazz-centric sound on his new EP, “A Piper For Janet.” The project’s title track is the biggest hit from the EP, and whether it’s Pyke’s new direction of production or the sheer enjoyment of finally hearing Pyke’s loveable gritty voice again, it’s for sure a stand-out. As the artist ushers you into the ballad with a beautifully plucking guitar intro, it’s not long before it’s met with a symphony of reverberating trumpets, funky piano sections and Pyke’s twirling vocals. “A Piper For Janet,” as a project, holds a certain sense of maturity to it, both sonically and lyrically, and is some of Pyke’s most profound music yet, exploring a variety of sounds while still sounding vastly different than his first EP. Much like many of the artists in the list thus far, Pyke refuses to be constrained to a single genre.