Black Artist Music Recommendations: 2010-2020

February is Black History Month and this year HCCS will be giving you music recommendations each week from Black artists from all-across American History. To kick-off our first week, here are some recommendations from junior HCCS member, Alex Johnson.

Kendrick Lamar: Starting off this series is probably my personal favorite artist of all time: Pulitzer-Prize winning rapper Kendrick Lamar. He’s one of the best rappers in music right now, with at least 4 really great projects in his discography, depending on who you ask. The production Kendrick has on his albums is catchy enough to be accessible, but dynamic enough to stay interesting after multiple listens.

Specifically on (in my opinion) his best album, 2015’s To Pimp a Butterfly, he combines soul, jazz, and 70s-inspired funk with more modern hip-hop production to make an all-encompassing musical expression of the Black experience. And his thought-provoking lyrics about topics like resisting temptation in order to follow God’s teaching, being Black in America, colorism, mental health, the downsides of fame, etc., as well as his skill as a writer and storyteller make Kendrick Lamar an essential figure in music. 

Start with this album: good kid, m.A.A.d city. I think To Pimp a Butterfly is a slightly better album, but GKMC is a great starting point for Kendrick. It includes songs that are more favorable to the mainstream like Swimming Pools and Poetic Justice, along with some of the best songs of his career, including maybe the best storytelling track he’s ever made: Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst. 

Or start with these songs: Swimming Pools, Alright, HUMBLE.

Anderson .Paak: Anderson .Paak is an incredibly talented vocalist, rapper, and drummer. He and his band, the Free Nationals, have created some of the best R&B/soul/funk music of the past couple decades.

The first thing that jumped out for me about .Paak is his infectious energy. He just has this sound to his voice that draws you in and gets you in a good mood, especially on his 2016 album Malibu and his 2019 album Ventura. Also, his lyrics range from funny to romantic to sincere to protesting and never stop being great. And the instrumentals he produces with the Free Nationals are incredible. Songs like Come Home and Celebrate showcase the nostalgic funk sound that .Paak does so well, while songs like Parking Lot show how they’re not afraid to branch out into more abstract soundscapes. In short, I think everyone can find something to like in Anderson .Paak’s music.

Start with this album: Malibu. Malibu is the album that introduced me to Anderson .Paak, and I think it’s a great place to start. It contains some of .Paak’s most infectious hooks, best lyrics, and most well-structured instrumentals.

Or start with these songs: Heart Don’t Stand a Chance, Come Home, Celebrate

Noname: Noname only has 2 projects out right now, but Telefone and Room 25 show so much talent in just over an hour of music. She offers sharp critiques about social issues like being a woman in America (and a woman of color), and occasionally religion as well. And her writing borders on poetry, weaving intricate literary themes and references along with straightforward, heartbreaking lines like on Casket Pretty, a devastating look at police brutality against Black Americans.

Also, Noname has stepped back from music a little in the last couple years, starting a nationwide book club that discusses topics like anti-racism, the Black experience, and the flaws with the prison industrial system, among others, through the lens of books written by POC authors. Noname is undoubtedly one of the most talented rappers making music right now, and I can’t wait to hear her next single, Rainforest.

Start with this album: Room 25. To me, Room 25 is the better of her two albums. Not to say that Telefone isn’t good, it’s also great, but Room 25 has some of Noname’s best concepts, lyrics, delivery, and instrumentals.

Or start with these songs: Window, Diddy Bop, Self

Michael Abels: Switching to instrumental music, Michael Abels is one of my favorite composers of the past few years. He’s famous for composing the scores for the award-winning movies Get Out and Us. I want to focus on his score for Us, though, because what he did for it is very impressive. The inspiration for the main aspect of the score is the Luniz and Michael Marshall song I Got 5 On It, and it’s actually played in the movie. The bass line and high synth countermelody from the original song have a horror movie sound to them, or at least they did to Michael Abels. He took those two aspects and transformed them into an incredibly tense musical background for Us that also serves the plot, which is an incredibly hard feat to pull off. I think Abels deserves much

more credit than he gets. 

Start with this album: The Us soundtrack. That’s it.

Or start with these songs: I Got 5 On It – Tethered Mix from US – you’ll hear exactly how Abels flipped the Luniz sample into this great horror movie score.

MF DOOM: MF DOOM is an enigmatic figure. He started his career as MF DOOM in the late 1990s, with his album Operation Doomsday, which established the character he was portraying, a “supervillain” who performed wearing a metal mask (or metal face —> MF, get it?) inspired by the Marvel villain Doctor Doom.

He gained underground popularity with this album because of his cartoon-sampling production and witty bars. But he truly became legendary with his landmark collaboration with the incredible producer Madlib on their 2004 album Madvillainy. Songs on here like Accordion, Meat Grinder, Curls, and All Caps became iconic for DOOM’s tight, ever-changing flows, Madlib’s production, and DOOM’s insane rhyming skill. (Like seriously, he’ll rhyme entire lines with other entire lines.) MF DOOM unfortunately passed away in October of last year, but the amount of quality music he made over his 30+ year career solidified his legend status. I’m becoming more of a fan of MF DOOM with every new song and album I listen to, and I’m sure you will too.

Start with this album: Madvillainy. Incredible flows, great production, unmatched rhyming, weird comic book references, what more could you want in a rap album?

Or start with these songs: Meat Grinder, All Caps, One Beer

Like these recommendations? Check out our Instagram page for more throughout the month!

Influential Female Artists: Women’s History Month

Lady Gaga

If I ever have the chance to meet an artist, Lady Gaga will be at the top of my list. She can do it all: she has an amazing voice, iconic dance moves, and is one of the best performers of the modern era of music. Lady Gaga is an example of a true artist and someone who defies all expectations and limitations the world puts on her. Her challenges to the world of fashion, performance, and video have paved the way for other women within the music industry to experiment artistically and without any shame or fear.

Lady Gaga gives female artists an excuse to be themselves in every way and to use their talents to advocate for the things they believe in. For example, not many people know that Lady Gaga’s famous meat dress was designed to call attention to her views about repealing the problematic “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. Lady Gaga has truly changed the music industry for all and has provided opportunity for many to express themselves freely. 

Start with her first album The Fame or honestly, the A Star is Born soundtrack. This will show the long-range of Lady Gaga’s talent and career. 

Or her songs “Speechless”, which is my favorite song of all time, and “Judas”


Samia is a Lebanese singer-songwriter from New York City. Gaining inspiration from her life experiences, Samia channels her lyrical energy into communicating her normal, everyday feelings as a young adult searching for purpose in the world. Her melancholy and biting music always grabs my attention and makes me think about the important things in the world. She is a self-proclaimed feminist and has been a social activist from a young age. One of her biggest hopes as a songwriter is that she can empower women even within her own vulnerability. 

Start with her most recent album The Baby or her songs “Someone Tell the Boys” and “Welcome to Eden”

Janis Joplin

The first queen of rock n’ roll, Janis Joplin paved the way for female rockers and helped women claim a place in the music industry. Joplin started her career in San Francisco in the 1960s which, at the time, was ruled by male artists and producers who largely rejected female voices saying that they could not compete with the success of the men.

She derived her inspiration from blues, folk, and rock n’ roll and especially admired the black artists of her day. She struggled throughout her childhood with bullying and feeling like she did not fit in. Joplin felt that blues music helped express those feelings and her discontentment with the way the world treated women and minorities. One of her biographers, Echols,  writes, “”Janis in some sense was the great unrecognized protest singer of the 1960s. No, Janis was not singing explicit protest songs. But in her voice, what people heard was somebody who was refusing the status quo.” Though she died unexpectedly and very young, Joplin’s short career brought a voice to the women in the music industry and expressed the frustration of injustice at the time. 

Start with her album Pearl which was released posthumously and is considered one of her best albums. 

Or, check out her songs “Me and Bobby McGee” and “Summertime”.

Liz Vice

Liz Vice describes herself as a storyteller and I couldn’t agree more with this characterization of Ms. Vice. Her music is a fusion of gospel and R&B with lyrics rooted in spirituality. Aside from being a phenomenal performer, Liz Vice believes that her voice is a gift from God meant to give glory to God. When she was young, she faced some health complications that now orients her music and outlook on life. Liz Vice is a great example of a woman of faith who has empowered other women to take risks in the music industry to use their gifts and talents to serve others. 

Start with her album There’s a Light to hear some Hope classic chapel songs. Or, check out her most recent single “See the Day” as her reflection on the world’s need for justice. 

More Black Artist Music Recommendations

Here’s part 3 of the Black History Month recommendations from HCCS core member, junior Alex Johnson! But if you haven’t already, check out Kworweinski Lafontant’s post about The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill and Dr. Jordan VanHemert’s post about Art Blakey and Herbie Hancock!


I went back and forth on whether or not to include Beyoncé in one of these blog posts. For me, what I’ve been trying to do with these posts is introduce these Black artists to people who might not have heard of them or to encourage people to dive deeper into these artists’ discographies. But let’s be real here, no one is gonna read this blog post and not know who Beyoncé is. She’s one of the most iconic performers of the last 20 years, with countless hits to her name, an incredible voice, and an unmistakable stage presence.

Her music has covered topics like how to navigate relationships, the long-lasting implications of how Black people have been treated in this country, and female empowerment through sensuality and self-confidence. Beyoncé is one of the best examples right now of Black excellence in pop culture, and her various projects, whether they are albums, live performances, or movies, show this with complete certainty.

Start with this album: Beyoncé. Her self-titled 2013 surprise album is not my favorite of hers (I think LEMONADE is definitely better), but Beyoncé has some absolutely incredible musical ideas. Also, the focus on sexuality and sensuality was liberating according to Beyoncé and gives some very useful context for her next album, LEMONADE.

Or start with these songs: Crazy in Love, Formation, Irreplaceable, ***Flawless

Pharrell Williams

I don’t think people quite understand how much music Pharrell Williams has contributed to in the past 20 years. I know I didn’t for a while. But Pharrell has had an immense impact on popular music. He’s produced huge songs for artists like Frank Ocean, Ed Sheeran, Migos, Kendrick Lamar, Mac Miller, Ariana Grande, Beyoncé, Jay-Z, The Carters (which is Beyoncé AND Jay-Z), etc. He’s also made multiple projects under his own name which have given us hits like Come Get It Bae and Happy, with his group N.E.R.D., which has given us songs like Lemon with Rihanna.

He’s even done a few movie soundtracks: the Despicable Me series, the 2019 Lion King, and his collaboration with Hans Zimmer on 2016’s Hidden Figures. In 2003, a US survey found that Pharrell’s production group, the Neptunes, produced about 43% of songs on the radio at the time. Make no mistake about it, Pharrell is one of the most influential artists of the last few decades, and if you think you haven’t heard a song produced by him, you’re probably wrong. 

Start with this album: NO_ONE EVER REALLY DIES. This album shows Pharrell’s hit-making power on songs like “Lemon” and “1000”, his ability to write songs about social issues on songs like “Don’t Don’t Do It!”, and his current production style on songs like “Kites” and “Deep Down Body Thurst”.

Or start with these songs: Lemon, Kites, Hit Different (for his production style with The Neptunes)

Tracy Chapman

Tracy Chapman is probably best known for her songs “Fast Car” and “Give Me One Reason”, but what’s not as well-known is how important she was to the resurgence of folk and singer-songwriter music starting in the late 80s. On a personal note, though, Chapman’s fourth album, New Beginning, is one of the first albums I remember listening to all the way through as a kid, so her music has been a constant for most of my life as well.

But her self-titled debut, which included “Fast Car” as well as another big hit, “Talkin’ bout a Revolution”, was absolutely huge because of its simple musical construction, Chapman’s great vocals, and her focus on social issues. Tracy Chapman went on to sell over 6 million copies, and her legacy as a singer-songwriter and activist makes her very influential to this day.

Start with this album: Tracy Chapman. It’s her most popular album for a reason, so definitely check it out if you haven’t.

Or start with these songs: Fast Car, Give Me One Reason, Smoke and Ashes (a deeper cut that’s one of my personal favorites)


Thundercat is probably most well-known for his virtuosic skill on the bass. He can create incredibly groovy bass lines on songs like Mac Miller’s “What’s the Use?”, Travis Scott’s “ASTROTHUNDER” or his own song “Them Changes”, or just show off his insane chops on songs like Childish Gambino’s “II. Shadows”, or his own songs like “Uh Uh” and “How Sway”. But he doesn’t just play bass on songs, he is a really smart and talented musician behind the scenes as well.

In fact, according to a Rolling Stone article, Thundercat was actually a very integral part of the creation of Kendrick Lamar’s masterpiece To Pimp a Butterfly, introducing Kendrick to a lot of the 50s and 60s jazz and 70s funk that runs throughout that album. He’s an incredibly talented musician and once you know his sound, his contributions to a huge amount of R&B and hip-hop in the last decade are super easily recognizable and add so much personality and skill to the songs he’s on.

Start with this album: Drunk. Honestly, either of his last two albums are good starting points, but I chose this one because some of his best songs (Them Changes, Uh Uh, Walk On By, etc.) are on here.

Or start with these songs: Them Changes, Uh Uh, Black Qualls, Dragonball Durag

Billie Holiday

Billie Holiday was a jazz singer from the mid-1930s to the late 1950s, and her impact on jazz music cannot be overstated. Her style of singing was heavily inspired by contemporary jazz instrumentalists and allowed her to manipulate phrases and tempo in really innovative ways. Her improvisation was also often praised, which was only enhanced by her masterful understanding of how each song she performed worked.

Billie Holiday’s performance of the song “Strange Fruit” was also hugely influential on the start of the civil rights movement of the mid-50s and 1960s. This performance specifically was so widespread because even though the lyrical content is so heavy and haunting, Holiday’s performance is so captivating that audiences across the country couldn’t ignore it. This performance was named the Best Song of the Century by TIME magazine in 1999, and this, along with the rest of her extensive career, makes it easy to see why Billie Holiday has had such an unmistakable impact on pop culture and jazz music in America.

Start with this song: Strange Fruit. This song is a thoroughly chilling look at the rampant violence and racism against Black people in America, recorded in 1939, during the heart of the Jim Crow era. It is, in my opinion, absolutely essential listening when it comes to American protest music. 

After listening to Strange Fruit, check out these songs: Stormy Weather, Blue Moon, Moonglow

The Legacies of Art Blakey and Herbie Hancock

Jazz is Black American Music. Black Culture and jazz are inextricably linked–so much so that I like to say that when you are a jazz musician, every month is Black History Month. In this post, I am going to highlight two artists of this great art form: Art Blakey (specifically his group, the Jazz Messengers) and Herbie Hancock. 

Before we get into that, though, we have to have a bit of a history lesson. In the mid 1950’s, there was a movement among jazz musicians to write music that had soul. Music that grooved. Music that was based on the Black popular music of the time: Doo-wop, R&B, soul, and gospel. 

This subgenre’s inspirations were not a stretch, by any means, as the musicians who created it were simply striving to create music that grooved like the music that they grew up listening to. Critical to this was the element of the blues–not the songform, but rather the blues feeling that came from the Black Church. The rhythms danced. The raw, emotive power of the saxophone and trumpet reigned supreme. The hard bop era led the music into a new realm of soulful possibilities.

Concurrently, the Civil Rights era rose to a fever pitch. The Civil Rights Act of 1957 was the first in a line of social changes brought on through the ongoing fight for equality. Still, the fight raged on, and many musicians expressed these sentiments in their music. 

Having struck out on his own after performing as a sideman for a number of years, pianist Herbie Hancock recorded his seventh studio album as a bandleader in 1969. Dedicated to the memory of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., this was Hancock’s final record on Blue Note. A statement of social justice, this album. 

In and of itself, this album is noteworthy for its unconventional instrumentation featuring Hancock on piano, Johnny Coles on flugelhorn, Gamett Brown on trombone, Buster Williams on bass, Tootie Heath on drums, Tony Studd and Jack Jeffers on bass trombone, Hubert Laws on flute, Jerome Richardson and Romeo Penque on bass clarinet, and the unmistakable sound of Joe Henderson on tenor saxophone.

Known for his orchestrational prowess, Hancock’s compositions are timeless. The first track, I Have A Dream, begins with a bassline that establishes the groove of the entire track. With a lyrical, floating melody initially presented by the alto flute, Heath provides the tracks heartbeat with Williams’ bass providing an element of harmonic and rhythmic stability. The track is named for Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. 

The title track, The Prisoner, “illustrates how black people have been prisoners in the United States for a long time” according to Hancock. Punctuated by Henderson’s fiery tenor saxophone sound, this song illustrates the urgency of civil rights. This album is a must-listen; it is a time capsule into the 20th Century Civil Rights era–a perfect image of the emotions and textures that demanded change and liberation from unjust laws and oppressive actions. 

Recorded in 1977, Art Blakey’s album In My Prime Volume I., showed that the seminal figure in hard bop drumming had no shortage of energy on the bandstand. Consisting of several important recordings of the band, the reason I am bringing this particular record into focus is because of Blakey’s political leanings. According to alto saxophonist Bobby Watson, featured on this record, Blakey was not one to make overt political statements. However, the statement he did make was that he often opened concerts with Lift Every Voice and Sing, the Black National Anthem. Lift Every Voice and Sing is featured on this album with Blakey’s emphasis on rudimental drumming techniques put into syncopated places in the song. James Williams opens with a powerful gospel piano introduction giving way to the melody in the wind instruments. The strains of this hymn are accompanied by blues interjections of Watson’s soulful alto saxophone, and though it lasts only a few minutes, this rendition is impactful. 

The hard bop was one during which the jazz idiom returned to its roots of gospel, the blues, R&B, and soul. While these two artists represent just a few proponents of the hard bop sound, their impact cannot be overstated.

Review: The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill

Lauryn Hill is one of the greatest rappers of all time, and that’s only a fraction of what she does. She is a soulful singer, a former member of the Fugees, a songwriter and producer, and a woman of faith and values. She’s tied in with reggae roots as well (fun fact: she is Bob Marley’s daughter-in-law) and is quite critical of pop culture. The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill is her only solo album and it is a masterpiece, to say the least. Winning 5 Grammys from this album alone, Lauryn Hill broke barriers for female rappers and artists in general. Her work is a staple of black culture and is known throughout the Americas and Caribbean. While she isn’t very active today her work is still very relevant, especially Miseducation. Here’s a quick breakdown of every track: 

Intro – This intro creatively showcases the framework for this album. Taking attendance for a day of class devoted to teaching young ones about love, it becomes apparent that little miss Lauryn Hill is absent. Thus, her miseducation was born. Love was something that she would have to learn on her own throughout life. And it won’t always go well…

Lost Ones – Love for oneself. In a time when hip-hop was rampant with misogyny, Lauryn Hill infuses Christian values into this track to show that she’s choosing a separate path. One that leads higher up and further in, to the high country of the holy trinity where the air is thin but the glory is thick, to quote Trygve yet again. This serves as the intro to her Christian undertone throughout the album. Listening to the following songs, the signs of Christianity may be lost to an untrained ear, but check back in to Tell Him for the undeniable truth.

Ex-Factor – No lesson on love would be complete without discussing when things don’t go well. In a society filled with divorces, single parents, and relational frustration in general, this song is an anthem to anyone that has gone through that; namely those with an “Ex.”

To Zion – With Ex-Factor being about love gone wrong, To Zion is simply about love that is gone. Passed onto another life, Lauryn speaks truth to those that have lost a loved one. Much of Lauryn’s diction in this song suggests that she is specifically speaking to those who have lost a child, perhaps the most innocent lost love of all. Carlos Santanna brings such an emotional flare to this song with his soulful mastery of the guitar. This is indeed a soulful song, that cries out and laments about a soul that has gone to join God in heaven. And if you stick around past the music, you’ll hear a class discussion that speaks to the definition of love in a real sense. (Additional layer of context: Lauryn has a child named Zion).

Doo Wop (That Thing) – A playful and lively warning to everyone, Doo Wop cautions those in the pursuit of love to watch out for the pitfall of lust. Namely, those that are only into you for sex (that thing). In a time when conversations about sex tend to be one-sided and frame men as predators looking for sex, Lauryn Hill emphasizes that this lustful obsession goes both ways. We all need to watch out because there are dangers on the path to love.

Superstar – This song is a callout to other artists of the time; consider this one the love of music or of doing music justice. Her hook says it all: “Come on baby, light my fire/ Everything that you drop is so tired/ Music is supposed to inspire/ How come we ain’t getting no higher.” Again, music of this time was rampant with misogyny and just generally lacking Christian values. Lauryn Hill has proven to be an artist that seeks to use her music to share a deeper message on life and how we should live it. Superstar serves as a message to her fellow artists to step their game up, consider the higher purpose for what they create, and adjust accordingly. This is another song that continues to point to her upcoming final cry in Tell Him.

Final Hour – Lauryn’s still rolling from the virtues of Superstar right into Final Hour. As the title suggests, this is a song that doesn’t hide its Christian roots. Lauryn points to the final hour, that moment when we all meet God at the pearly gates of Heaven, as the true focus. So she rebukes money and power and implores us all to “keep [our] eyes on the final hour.”

When It Hurts so BadEx-Factor was an introduction to the idea of reciprocity, but this song is a heartfelt case study turned into testimony. Lauryn gets vulnerable and shows that this lesson on love was hard-learned, absent from that one day in class. Musically, this song boasts the versatility of Lauryn Hill, going from the lyrically exuberant rap in Final Hour straight to soulful punches of the song here. Stay after the music to hear a quick class session about the influence of technology on love, from an era pre-social media nonetheless.

I Used to Love Him – Love gone wrong is a deep subject and thus requires many lectures. This one comes with the guest of Mary J. Blige, who adds to the soulful reminiscence of past love and mistakes. More importantly, this is a story of growth and the knowledge of better that comes with it, which doesn’t come without Lauryn giving credit where it’s due: to God.

Forgive Them Father – Is there another love quite like forgiveness? Lauryn Hill prays forgiveness for those that have fallen to the traps of love, and issues melodic warnings to those that haven’t yet.

Every Ghetto, Every City – Love of community is real, and Lauryn soulfully makes sure to show love to her humble beginnings.  We can’t forget where we’re from since it brought us to where we are.

Nothing Even Matters – The beat and vocals can truly float you away, carrying you right into the thralls of love. It’s there that Lauryn and D’Angelo proclaim that nothing [else] even matters.

Everything is Everything – In direct titular contrast from the previous track, this song finds roots in self-love amidst change. “Let’s love ourselves then we can’t fail” is a line that sums up this song quite well.

The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill – This song flexes Lauryn’s musical range with stunning mastery. The love here? Destiny, Self, God, Lament. You decide.

Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You – We are nearly at the grand finale, and this song is purely on love gone right. And it sounds like this is love with a person, but is it?

Tell Him – This is the grand finale. Every song pointed to this one in some way, with sometimes subtle and sometimes overt references to faith in God. If you’re not careful, you’ll take the lyrics and apply them to humans. But make no mistake, “Him” is God. It was God that Lauryn couldn’t take her eyes off of in the previous track, and this song is a no-doubt-about-it proclamation of her love and need for God. It was love for God that appeared in every other form of love that the rest of the album explored; the good and the bad. Lauryn ends on the greatest love that exists, and in knowing this, her education is finally complete.

Black Artist Music Recommendations: Week 2

Here’s week 2 of Black History Month with more artist recommendations from junior HCCS member, Alex Johnson. But be on the lookout for a special post about Ms. Lauryn Hill from BSU member Kworweinski Lafontant!

Cory Henry: Jazz is one of the most influential genres in American music history, and it is a Black art form. That’s not to say that non-Black people aren’t allowed to perform it, but it’s really great to see a Black person being one of the best artists in a Black art form, and that’s one of the reasons I love Cory Henry. He rose to fame through his involvement in the band Snarky Puppy, and specifically through the Snarky Puppy song Lingus, which is the first song I heard with him on it. Cory Henry is an absolutely insane keyboardist, and oh my goodness, his solo on Lingus is a spiritual experience.

Currently, Cory Henry is making solo music (and music with The Funk Apostles) that is much more gospel-oriented, which is more in line with how he got his start in music: playing the Hammond organ in church. More than his technical skill, though, Cory Henry just brings so much joy to his music and it shows through his jazz performances and his current gospel work, and at the end of the day, his joy just transfers to you.

Start with this album: We Like It Here for his jazz stuff, Art of Love for his work with the Funk Apostles.

Or start with these songs: Lingus, Shofukan

Childish Gambino: There’s a website that lets you put in your name and gives you a new name inspired by the stage names of the Wu-Tang Clan. And I don’t think the creators of the website ever knew it would be used by one of the most prolific creators of the last decade: Donald Glover a.k.a. Childish Gambino. Under the name Childish Gambino, Donald Glover has released 4 studio projects along with a few mixtapes, and to be honest, some of them can be hit-or-miss at times.

But for me, the most impressive part of Childish Gambino’s music is the way he’s able to weave intricate narratives through his music that carry over into other media, like the screenplay and short film he released with his 2013 project, because the internet, or the tie-ins between his 2016 album, “Awaken, My Love!” and his incredible FX show Atlanta. And when you add the complex way he speaks about being Black in America on “Awaken, My Love!”, his 2018 song This is America and his 2019 film Guava Island, you get an all-around talented and thoroughly interesting artist.

Start with this album: because the internet. It has a lot of his most popular songs and some of his best ideas. It’s not his best, but it’s a pretty good place to start. (After that, though, listen to “Awaken, My Love!”, it’s amazing)

Or start with these songs: 3005, This Is America, Redbone

Dinner Party: This is an interesting one, because Dinner Party is actually not one artist, but a supergroup consisting of four incredibly talented musicians.

Terrace Martin is an incredible producer and multi-instrumentalist who’s produced for artists like Kendrick Lamar, YG, Travis Scott, Talib Kweli, Lalah Hathaway, and alt-J. Kamasi Washington is one of the best saxophone players in jazz right now, performing with artists like Kendrick Lamar, Flying Lotus, Thundercat, St. Vincent, and Run the Jewels. Robert Glasper is one of the best jazz pianists right now, performing with artists like Kendrick Lamar, Mac Miller, Common, Brittany Howard, and Anderson .Paak. Finally, 9th Wonder is a prolific hip-hop producer, making songs with artists like Kendrick Lamar, Anderson .Paak, 2 Chainz, Rapsody, and Black Thought. (the through-line between these artists is Kendrick Lamar, obviously)

And last year, these four incredible and acclaimed artists came together for two projects of really great jazz-rap tracks that sound warm and smooth while discussing some hard-hitting issues. I hope they all continue to work together, because two 7-track EPs is not enough of this great music.

Start with this album: Dinner Party. The first album they released, it has all the instrumentals, which can stand alone really well. These are enhanced, though, on their follow-up, Dinner Party: Dessert, which brings in a really great guest list to sing and rap over these beats.

Or start with these songs: Freeze Tag (feat. Cordae), Love You Bad (feat. Malaya)

Lianne La Havas: Lianne La Havas is powerful in how understated she is. She isn’t trying to be braggadocious or in your face or overly energetic or anything like that. She’s just a really great performer doing her thing, and I appreciate that so much. Her voice is absolutely breathtaking; she has such an amazing vocal range and there’s this wistful quality to her voice that just enhances her emotional range. And her vibrato is insanely good, I’m blown away every time I hear it.

Her musicianship is really amazing too, you can hear that in the live band sessions put on her 2020 self-titled album. She knows how to craft a song with a clear arc from beginning to end better than almost any R&B/soul artist out right now. But beyond all the more analytical and technical ways to describe her work, the songs she makes are just really great. Lianne La Havas is one of the most talented voices in neo-soul and R&B right now, and even though she sometimes takes her time releasing music (there was a 5-year period between her 2015 album and her most recent one), but the end product is always worth the wait.

Start with this album: Her self-titled. Dynamic, organic, naturally-evolving songs. Incredible vocals. Tight, perfectly-performed instrumentals. This is one of the best R&B albums in the past couple decades, hands down.

Or start with these songs: Bittersweet, Sour Flower, Weird Fishes, Green & Gold

Musical Memory Lane

We are nearing the end of the semester, people. Final papers, projects, and presentations are waiting just around the corner and the time of cramming for exams is here. To help us all during this time, Hope College Concert Series has compiled all of our playlists for you in one space!

We have it all: chill playlists, groovy playlists, and bangerz only. During this finals week, check out some of our playlists and crank out those last few assignments of the semester!

Chill Playlists

Looking for something to help you focus while studying? Look no further! We have 4 playlists to help you get through those long hours n the library.

Student Congress: HCCS Bops: Have you heard music playing in the Pine Grove recently? This is (most likely) the playlist that has been used!

GRACYN//MOLLY: Seriously, you have to check out this essence playlist from two of our core members.

NATE//ALEX: Another essence playlist that features Nate and Alex’s favorite music!

Study Jamz: Your song suggestions from the beginning of the year. Revisit those study songs and crank out your papers and projects!

Groovy Tunes

Whether it’s 70s music, indie/alternative vibes, or jazzy riffs, these playlists have got it all! If you are looking for something to get you moving during finals, check out one of these:

Groovin around the Globe: International students contributed to this playlist and was made alongside the Album of the Week initiative from Hope College Student Congress.

CAM//MOLLY: An essence playlist from two core members. If you want to know our favorite songs, check this out!

Josh’s Playlist: Another essence playlist from our core member out in Oregon!

One Day Vacay: This playlist is a compilation of all student suggestions! Listen here if you need to take a break from studying and pretend you’re on vacation.

Bangerz ONLY

MICHAEL//GINA: Our co-directors put together this bangin’ playlist just for you!

WOMXN POWER: In honor of RBG (peace be upon her), we made this playlist to highlight female artists!

HCCS ~End of Summer~: Our very first playlist from this academic year! Throw it back with us to those sunny days in August… we can all pretend we are at the beach.

A Little Bit of Everything

MICHAEL//CAM: Check this one out! It has a mix of everything but is generally more upbeat.

sp00ky szn: Halloween-themed! If you’re feeling sp00ky about finals, maybe this one is for you!

~~earworms: Do you just need to hear those songs that have been stuck in your head? We have a whole playlist of those songs for you here!

NATE//ELISEO: And finally, our last essence playlist from two of our core members!

Let us know which playlist you like best! We wish you all the best this week and hope this music helps to keep you sane!

A Warm Hello From Oregon

Hey HCCS blog-readers! For those of you who don’t know me, I’m Josh, a junior HCCS member, and I’m studying off-campus this semester at the Oregon Extension in Lincoln, OR. I arrived here in Lincoln, a little cluster of houses (whose population grew by about 250% with the arrival of our cohort of 28 students) for the OE on August 17 and am here until the middle of December.

The only reason this program is possible this semester is because of a two-week quarantine that we all participated in upon our arrival. We were each given a tent, our own silverware and plates, and a campsite out in the woods surrounding our small campus. We spent two weeks attempting to get to know each other from a 6ft away and exploring our surroundings. Reflecting on those first two weeks especially, as well as the rest of my experience here at the OE has really accentuated the value of music in building community.

“Cabin 6 Concert Series”

As we trickled in from various states across the country, one of the interns awaited our arrival from the porch with his guitar. Music was a commonly discussed topic during our socially distanced meals creating conversation and providing a way to relate to one another. After our 2-week quarantine concluded and we were officially in a Covid-free bubble, a dance party was thrown in the newly erected pagoda.

I’ve noticed the prevalence of music continue throughout the semester thus far. An open mic night we had was one of my favorite nights of the semester up until now. Not only did I get to hear great music from my very talented classmates and professors, but it resulted in some wonderful conversations. Asking about talents I had no idea about led to chats about friend’s childhoods, families, passions, and goals for the future.

My cabin has also decided to start the “Cabin 6 Concert Series” We play one song each night on our porch for our classmates who live in the neighboring cabins. Once everyone is out on their porch, the humorously horrible singing commences. Despite the general ineptitude of the band (currently consisting of 5 singers, a guitarist, and myself banging a coconut husk on the railing), we have a great time and there’s always laughter. We’re most likely the least musically-gifted cabin here but, no matter the quality, live music creates community through a shared experience. It brings people together and allows us to find connections. 

Thanks to these experiences, there are countless songs that will never fail to make me think of this place and the people I’ve met here. We’ve started building an OE2020 playlist and it’s growing to an absurd length. Music, and especially live music (no matter the quality), creates community through a shared experience. It brings people together and allows us to find connections.

HCCS Fall Fest-ival Line-Up

Have you heard about the mini festival Concert Series is hosting on October 30th? If not, no worries! Check us out between the BSC and the Campus Ministries building from 3- 7 to see some of your favorite student performers from Hope! Want to know who is playing? Well, we’ve got our line-up for you right here:

Jake Lindell and the Cronies

Jake Lindell is a singer/songwriter from Holland, MI. He is currently a senior at Hope College and play the cello, piano, and guitar, and he sings. He started writing songs his freshman year in college, if you don’t count his brief spell of song writing in the second grade. Since then, he has written over 20 songs and has started getting into recording. He currently has two songs on Spotify; Memories and Rain. And, he is currently in the process of recording five more songs for an EP that he hopes to release later this year or early next year. Music is a huge passion of his and he knows it will be a big part of his life moving forward even if he doesn’t get the opportunity to do it full time. If you get the chance and want to check out his music, look up Jake Lindell on Spotify. He is also on many other platforms including Apple Music, iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, Pandora, and many more.

Hope College Jazz Faculty Duo

The Hope College Jazz Faculty will be performing as a duo featuring Dr. Jordan VanHemert and Professor Lisa Sung. 

Dr. Jordan VanHemert is a professional saxophonist and assistant professor at Hope College. He currently works closely with the students in the jazz area in the Jazz Arts Collective ensembles as well as other chamber groups. He has connected his students with many big names such as Benny Golson, Alexa Tarantino, Dr. Damani Phillips, as well as collaborated with Derek Brown, a Hope alumni and saxophone player, to record his album in Hope’s studio. Dr. VanHemert deeply dedicates himself to his students and has also worked on diversity initiatives with Vanessa Greene for the campus community. Professor Lisa Sung will join him!

The Mother Buskers

Founded in 2019, The Mother Buskers started playing together first on Hope College Worship team before venturing into the Hope College Coffeehouse scene. Hannah Baird (vocals and auxiliary), Mallory Shinn (vocals and guitar/banjo), and Anna Kate Peterson (vocals and rhythm) make up this dynamic female trio. Their voices almost melt together and if you haven’t heard them harmonize, then you are missing out on something really special! These goofy gals have a passion for music and are known for going with the flow and playing good jams. Whether it’s Cough Syrup by Young the Giant or No Diggity by Blackstreet, these ladies sure know how to get their audience grooving. Look out for them at 4:30pm outside Campus Ministries during Fall Fest and be sure to bring your friends!

Pet Shop

Pet Shop formed in late 2018 (originally as “That Jazz Trio”) and have been a Hope favorite ever since. The core trio was composed of Dylan Sherman on bass, Carlos Flores on drums, and Michael Pineda on sax/guitar/vox, but they have expanded to give opportunities to any musicians that want to jam with them! During Fall Fest, you will see Joe Wilkins and Cadence Tennant on keyboard, Danny Wade on trumpet, and Houston & Matthew Patton on saxophone along with two of the three members of the core trio.
A classic Pet Shop move is combining a standard jazz set towards the beginning of a set to get the audience warmed up, and then bringing in the heat later in the set with funky covers and original music that makes people want to get up and dance. Be sure to catch Pet Shop at Fall Fest and at Coffeehouse, and go to their website to buy some stickers!

The final group of the night will be Hope’s Brazilian Drumming Ensemble. To find out more about this group and how it was started, please visit this article written about the founding director of the group, Dr. Fashun.

Have any questions for us? Feel free to reach out! Otherwise, don’t forget to follow us on Spotify and we hope to see you there!

Our Favorite Live Concert Memories

Our Concert Series members have been missing the live concert scene these past few months and we are sure you have too. However, we are excited to announce that on Friday, October 30th, we will be hosting our first live concert of the semester!! This fun Fall Fest event will feature all your favorite student artists from Hope College from 3-7pm in front of the Campus Ministries building. We can’t wait to see you there!

In preparation for this concert, our fearless co-director, Gina, and Nate, one of our core members share their favorite live concert memories below. Reminisce with us and get excited for some live music!

Nate and The Gaslight Anthem

When I think about what concerts have meant to me, it connects me with what music as a whole has connected me with. One of the things that I love about music is the power we have to share it with each other, and concerts are the same way.

When I was a kid, one of the ways in which I would discover new music is through my dad. He would always play music around the house or in the car, and much of what I heard went on to shape my current taste. One of the bands he introduced me to is The Gaslight Anthem, and they became a very frequent sound in our house. Soon enough, this band even became a fixture in my extended family, as my uncle and cousin were introduced to them.

In 2018, we got to see them play in Toronto. The show had so much energy, and by the end I had no voice. It was by far the best show I have ever seen, but what made it so special was the fact that I was there with my dad, uncle, and cousin. Being able to share the experience with the ones I love made it a lasting experience, and I still remember to this day how I felt walking away. I think that everyone should try to experience this at least once in their life, as the memories I made at that show will last forever. 

Gina and Sam Smith

I don’t know if it’s the crowd screaming, the fact that my voice is gone the next day, or the thrill of singing your favorite songs with the ones who actually wrote it! Either way, concerts make people feel alive, and personally, I couldn’t agree more.

I’ve gone to all types of concerts whether it be small and intimate or a summer festival! I think my favorite concert memory though would be when I was 14 and I went to Lollapalooza for the first time. I was OBSESSED with Sam Smith at the time and had already gone to see him twice in concert. But twice just wasn’t enough for little old me and I somehow convinced my parents to let me go see him at Lolla. I was psyched!

It was at that concert where I learned to love the culture of a music festival and how music makes people feel. My sister and I were squished in a crowd of thousands, waiting to see Sam Smith. People from all over the country were brought together in this one field waiting to lose our voices from screaming and singing too loud together. People were happy, people were smiling, and everyone was content in that moment.

At concerts like these you can’t help but feel young. Not in a bad way, but in the best way. Sam Smith sounded the best he ever had. It was the music, it was the stars above my head, it was the flashing lights, and the thrill of being young! I fell in love with how music made people feel and continued to chase that feeling by exploring more and more artists and going to more and more types of concerts.

And, as always…

Don’t forget to follow us on Spotify for our weekly playlists! Feel free to reach out to us on our Instagram with song/playlist suggestions as well.