Celebrating Black Artists: Part Two

SZA, a modern artist, leads the Technique’s next slew of great Black artists. The soulful singer-songwriter burst onto the scene with “Ctrl” in 2017 // Photo courtesy of RCA Records

This is the second installment of the Technique’s new multi-part segment to celebrate Black artists’ place in art, popular culture and entertainment. The previous writings took readers from classic musicians like Stevie Wonder to up-and-coming rappers like JID. Here again are some of the Technique staff’s favorites that demand attention and praise.

SZA

Maya Flores, Assistant Entertainment Editor

While SZA began an independent music career in 2012 with the release of her debut EP “See.SZA.Run” and eventually wrote for female musicians like Nicki Minaj, Rihanna and Beyonce, she took off with the release of “Ctrl.” Released in 2017, her debut studio album was met with both commercial and critical success. It charted at number three on the US Billboard 200, received four grammy nominations and led to SZA being nominated for Best New Artist that year. The album combines lo-fi alternative vibes with classic R&B and soul staples, making it perfect for easy listening. Many tracks like the dreamy “Drew Barrymore” and the hypnotic “The Weekend” have become playlist staples. Features from Travis Scott and Kendrick Lamar contrast with SZA’s soft vocals and add welcome dimension to the tracks “Love Galore,” and “Doves In The Wind,” respectively. 

Since the release of “Ctrl,” SZA has appeared on several other artist’s tracks, most notably Kendrick Lamar’s “All the Stars,” which was a part of Marvel’s “Black Panther” soundtrack. While there is no confirmed album, she is working on music; on May 25, 2020 SZA tweeted teasing the possible release of new music. SZA has shown herself to be a talented artist, beloved performer and cultural icon, and the world eagerly awaits whatever she does next.

Ryan Coogler

Jack Cronin, Entertainment Editor

The general public might be well-acquainted with Ryan Coogler’s work even if they do not know him by name. In film circles, the young director from Oakland is something of a wunderkind: a 34-year-old minority filmmaker who has already achieved the heights of critical and box office success. Most viewers have seen 2018’s “Black Panther,” which took the cookie-cutter Marvel formula and boldly reimagined it as a racial, social commentary. It was the first installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe that featured a minority lead, placing an undue burden on Coogler not to mess it up. Not only did he avoid blowing his opportunity, but the young Oakland native completely knocked it out of the park, putting countless other superhero movies to shame.

But Coogler’s success is not unique to the MCU. In his 2015 passion project, he also relaunched the “Rocky” franchise with the exceptional “Creed.” The boxing production is both a remarkable feat as a sports movie and as a social commentary. Coogler’s first claim to fame, however, might be his best and least known film: 2013’s Sundance Film Festival triumph “Fruitvale Station.” Starring Michael B. Jordan (“Just Mercy”) as the late Oscar Grant III whose life was tragically taken at the hands of a police officer, Coogler takes viewers through the last 24 hours of Grant’s life via both fictional and real-life footage. With only three movies to his name thus far, the sky is the limit for the generational voice and talent of Ryan Coogler.

Parliament-Funkadelic

Journey Sherman, Opinions Editor

Led by mover, shaker and innovator George Clinton, sister groups Parliament and Funkadelic defined the funk genre over 50 years ago. Both groups combined afrofuturistic ideology with an experimental-psychedelic funk sound. The results were peculiar, unprecedented and undoubtedly groovy. Some of their most notable songs are “Give Up The Funk.” “Dr.Funkenstein” and “One Nation Under Groove.” These innovative groups have had a lasting effect on music and have even had their music sampled countless times by present-day artists. 

Brittany Howard

Taylor Gray, Editor-in-Chief

The music of Grammy-winning artist Brittany Howard is one of the best things to come out of the state of Alabama in the past decade. She came onto the mainstream scene in 2012 as the lead singer and guitarist of the southern rock band Alabama Shakes with their debut album “Boys & Girls.” Howard went solo in 2019 with the release of her first independent album “Jaime,” which featured a more experimental sound compared to her work with the Alabama Shakes. 

What makes Brittany Howard so notable is the way she defied the look and sound of traditional southern rock groups that established their mark in the scene before her, such as Lynyrd Skynyrd and The Allman Brothers Band. Howard, a plus-sized lesbian Black woman, is not what most expect to be the face and lead of a southern rock group. But she is, and she does a dang good job at it. Her dominant stage presence, unique voice and extremely emotional powerhouse vocals are enough to make a grown man cry during her concerts. Anyone who has not yet listened to her music is certainly missing out on the awe-inspiring journey that Howard’s musical talent has to offer the world. 

Ray Charles

Sophia Tone, News Editor

Ray Charles holds an incredibly special place in American music history. Though he was born in Albany, Georgia, the rhythm and blues singer grew up in Florida in the post-Depression era. He was famously blind but, more importantly, was a creative visionary in the racially exclusive mid-century music industry. He pioneered soul music by merging gospel and blues and released a number of songs based on classic church hymns, including “This Little Girl Of Mine.” After his 1954 hit single “I Got A Woman,” he went on to have decades of success and was nicknamed “The Genius” by Atlantic Records. He was a strong defender of humanitarian causes — in 1961, he refused to play for segregated audiences, and he financially supported Martin Luther King, Jr., as well as other civil rights activists. He was also a stalwart advocate for people with disabilities and founded a center for hearing disorders in 1986.