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