Black Artists in the Alternative Community
    • MONDAY, JUNE 05, 2017

    • Posted by: Larisha Paul

    Growing up, I listened to a lot of mainstream R&B and pop music, mainly because that was what my mom listened to. I would come home from school and she would be blasting Beyoncé's "Dangerously in Love" or literally any and everything by Michael Jackson. I didn't know that I wanted to be a writer at the time–I didn't know what I wanted to do at all, really. Whenever someone who I'd never seen before said, "I haven't seen you since you were a baby! What do you want to be when you grow up?" (Can I just quickly say how opposed I am to evoking existential crises in 6 year olds–I know even less now as an adult than I did then) my response usually came from what I had seen other people of color do. It is because of this that I'm so grateful to have grown up in a household where I was able to see black excellence plastered all around me. I would watch 106 & Park (that isn't a thing anymore, right?) and see artists of color absolutely thriving, and I'd think to myself, "they're superstars, and they look like me, so I could do that too, right?"

    What I didn't anticipate was that once I reached an age where I was able to seek out new music on my own, I would grow up to be drawn away from mainstream pop and R&B and instead would fall down the rabbit hole of alternative and indie music. Today, as I discover a multitude of new alternative artists and bands I've started to notice that the representation of people of color in this genre is a polar opposite to that of the other. For a moment I thought that there could be a natural divide, because maybe people of color don't really listen to alternative music–but no, that can't be it. I'm a person of color and I listen to alternative music, and I have friends who are people of color and they listen to the same music that I do. So what is it? Where are my non-white indie kings and queens?

    To this day, one of the most profound indie artists providing representation of the black community in this genre is FKA twigs. When I first heard her track "Two Weeks" I was overcome with both excitement and confusion, I wasn't exactly sure which genre she fit into, or if she fit into just one. Regardless, I came to appreciate just what it was that she was bringing to the table. In an interview with The Guardian, she states how this was the opinion of many when she first began to release music, because no one knew what she looked like at the time. When her photo came out, however, the comments changed from "what genre is she?" to "now she's an R&B singer." People allowed her physical appearance to dictate how they heard her music, which just isn't how sight and hearing work. The danger with doing this to an artist is that it reduces them while backing them into the corner of the box they've been placed in. You can't dismiss an artist's work based solely on their race and the genre you think they should stick to on the same basis–this is a surefire way to overlook some true talents that could revolutionize the industry and lay the groundwork for those artists of color to come.

    At the end of the day, there is never going to be a shortage of black artists. Solange and Rihanna aren't going anywhere, and neither are Kendrick Lamar and Kanye West. There are artists breaking through their respective genres on a regular basis, such as Khalid and Vince Staples. All of these people are providing representation where their voice is needed and able, but that can only go so far. Maybe I'm looking too closely, or not looking close enough at all, but I shouldn't have to dig through masses of alternative albums just to find a handful of projects by new artists who aren't white. There are too many vacant slots within that genre that need to be filled. This isn't to say that there are zero artists representing the alternative/indie genre, just that there aren't as many as there should be. That being said, I leave you all with this to think over, as well as a list of songs by alternative/indie artists of color for you to check out.

    1. LION BABE

    2. SZA

    3. Jorja Smith

    4. Denitia and Sene

    5. 6LACK & Jhene Aiko

    6. Vagabon

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