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The Official Student News Site of Parkway West High

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The Official Student News Site of Parkway West High

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Honoring Black artists

A+raised+fist+has+been+a+staple+piece+for+protests+amongst+the+United+States+for+decades.+The+forceful+salute+is+intertwined+with+some+of+the+most+tumultuous+events+involving+racism.+A+powerful+medium+that+artists+have+used+is+music%2C+which+has+been+used+to+push+back+against+the+constant+oppression+that+happens+in+society.
Photo by Mikalah Owens. Images from Virgin Records, Def Jam Recordings and Columbia Records
A raised fist has been a staple piece for protests amongst the United States for decades. The forceful salute is intertwined with some of the most tumultuous events involving racism. A powerful medium that artists have used is music, which has been used to push back against the constant oppression that happens in society.

From jazz, blues, R&B and hip-hop, Black artists’ creativity and talent have heavily influenced the music industry. By bringing soul, rhythm and powerful storytelling to music, they broke racial barriers within the industry and continue to inspire generations of artists. Often during Black History Month, artists like Michael Jackson, Beyoncé and 2Pac are applauded for their musical impact on society. By giving mainstream artists loads of well-deserved recognition, people, unfortunately, tend to overlook other artists who, to some, aren’t as prevailing but are just as talented.

 Blues

 

“The Complete Recordings,” Columbia Records

Robert Johnson

Although some people may not know Robert Johnson for his music, most have heard of his infamous legacy. The story goes that, sometime in the 1930s, Johnson was a desperate musician who had a late-night encounter with the devil — or an African spirit named Papa Legba. At a crossroads, he sold his soul in return for supreme talent as a musician. Less than a year later, Johnson gained seemingly overnight success as a musician and made his mark in blues music with his guitar and songwriting gift. His talent was best seen in his song, “Cross Road Blues,” which blazoned his supposed encounter with the devil. Sadly, Johnson was not able to see how much of an impact his legacy had, as he passed away at the young age of 27. Johnson’s premature death is the origin of the “27 Club,” which is a list of musicians who all passed at 27 unexpectedly. Some of the biggest names that are attached to the club are Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain and Amy Winehouse. Unfortunately, Johnson’s contribution to the origin of the “27 Club” left his music often overlooked. Johnson had an irreplaceable eerie falsetto singing voice and was an expert on the slide guitar. Even though Johnson’s recording history was only tracked for about seven months, he is recognized as a master of blues music and was credited as the first-ever rock star by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Jazz

 

“A Tribute to Jack Johnson,” Columbia Records

Miles Davis

Even 30 years after his death, Miles Davis is still a strong influence in jazz. Davis defined the sound of modern jazz, as he integrated genres like rock, funk and soul with his famous trumpet. Davis’ heavy influence is seen in multiple artists, as they sample his unmistakable sound. Most famously, in Outkast’s song, “Ain’t No Thang,” an unfamiliar screeching sound bleeds into the track. The unexpected sound was taken from Mile Davis’ “Sivad” and helped add depth and character to Outkast’s debut album. By continuing to push the boundaries of jazz, Davis encouraged other artists to explore new approaches to harmony and improvisation.

 

Rock

“Are You Gonna Go My Way,” Virgin Records

Lenny Kravitz

Now known as actor Zoe Kravitz’s dad by Gen Z, Lenny Kravitz once was known in the ‘90s for his talented blend of rock, R&B and funk. Lenny Kravitz has been making music for decades, so it’s clear that he has fans. Still, many people write him as an off-brand Prince. However, Lenny Kravitz is far more talented than most detractors are willing to admit. In 1993, Lenny Kravitz released the song, “Are You Gonna Go My Way,” which captured his unique vocal range and impressive guitar flair in the authoritative opening guitar riff. Later, in 1998, Lenny Kravitz released the album, “5,” which included some of his biggest hits: “American Woman” and “Fly Away.” Whether Lenny Kravitz is singing or playing guitar, he completely dominates the track and rightfully gains all of the attention of the listener. Lenny Kravitz has been praised for his inventive style, winning the Grammy Award for Best Rock Vocal Performance four times, and in recent years, he has been recognized as one of the most preeminent rock musicians.

 

“Bad Brains,” SST Records

Bad Brains

Initially a jazz group under the name Mind Power, the band soon rebranded itself under the name Bad Brains upon hearing the Ramones song, “Bad Brain.” They became one of the most explosive and influential punk bands. While Bad Brains were different from the other punk bands that were circling in the ‘80s because of their skin tone, their attitude on the stage and in their music set them apart from their counterparts. One of the defining characteristics of Bad Brains’ music was their raw energy and intensity. The band’s songs were played with furious drumming, lightning-fast guitar riffs and frantic vocals that made their energy a hallmark in hardcore music. Songs like “I Against I” and “Banned in D.C.” are staple pieces in punk and heavily influenced Minor Threat and Red Hot Chili Peppers.

 

 “Private Dancer,” Capitol Records

Tina Turner

The title “The Queen of Rock and Roll” belongs to Tina Turner, who released the hits “What’s Love Got to Do With It,” “Proud Mary” and “River Deep — Mountain High.” Turner had explosive energy which made her an unforgettable live performer. With her potent, raspy voice and risqué dancing style, Turner instantly made an impression in the ‘60s and ‘70s. Turner’s talent was awarded multiple times over her lengthy career, as she was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1991 — and then re-inducted in 2021 — received a Kennedy Center Honor in 2005 and a Grammy Lifetime Achievement award in 2018. Sadly, Turner passed away May 24, 2023 from kidney disease and intestinal cancer, which she had been battling for many years.  

 

Hip hop

“The Source,” Sugar Hill Records

Grandmaster Flash

Credited for pioneering the sound and early style of hip-hop, Grandmaster Flash introduced innovative DJ techniques that have been fundamental in the genre. Flash used backspinning, scratching and other manipulative techniques on vinyl to help create breakbeats — sampled drum beats used in early funk and jazz — which were made for MCs to center rhymes around in the ‘70s and ‘80s. In 2007, Flash was the first hip-hop DJ to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and has received many reputable awards such as the Lifetime Achievement Award from the RIAA and the Bill Gates’ Vanguard Award. Today, Flash is remembered for introducing a style of hip-hop that is still praised and practiced.

 

“Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers),” Loud Records

Wu-Tang Clan 

The year was 1993 when a ten-man rap group from Staten Island, New York would revolutionize the state of hip-hop. The talented MCs called themselves the Wu-Tang Clan, and their sound was epochal. The rap group gained massive success in 1993 with their album, “Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers).” Leading members MC and RZA drove the group to massive success with original sampling techniques and by changing the pitch and speed of their tracks. Because of this, Wu-Tang Clan didn’t only rely on genius producing. The large group made a significant impact on the rap game with their raw, cheeky and explicit lyrics. They were able to control their individual voices and flow techniques to the point where the group could rely on each other’s vocal and lyric ability to create a solid rhythm and beat. When looking at Wu-Tang Clan’s discography, the song that stands out the most is, “Uzi (Pinky Ring)” from their 2001 album, “Wu-Tang Iron Flag.” The song is carried by an enriching trumpet pattern that fits well around the group’s individual verses. With as many people as there are in Wu-Tang Clan, it is shocking that they don’t rap over each other. Instead, they all have their own style that blends well with a comprehensive flow and individual trademark sound. If the whole group is not included in a song, it feels like there is a huge element missing from it. The Wu-Tang Clan rely on each other like how rhyme needs rhythm, and their unmistakable flow has helped form rappers like Jay-Z, Nas and The Notorious B.I.G. — making Wu-Tang Clan one of the most vital rap groups.

 

“My Life,” Uptown Records

Mary J. Blige

With songs like “Family Affair” and “Real Love,”  Blige made her mark in music as the “Queen of Hip-Hop Soul.” Blige has a smooth voice and strong enough presence that allowed her to hold her own when creating classic hip-hop collaborations with rappers Method Man, Notorious B.I.G. and Jay-Z. Blige, along with Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, 50 Cent, Kendrick Lamar and Eminem, performed at the Superbowl LVI Halftime Show. The talented artists put on one of the best Halftime Shows in history, but unsurprisingly, Blige was the only one to receive backlash. A number of conservative viewers expressed outrage over the performance, with some viewers claiming that it was too sexual and provocative for family audiences. Blige responded to the ill reactions by saying she was unfazed by the haters. Blige wears the crown not just for her assertive personality or mastering singing R&B melodies over intimidating hip-hop beats, but also because her songwriting serves as a memoir of her life. Through Blige’s soulful voice and enticing lyrics, she tells stories about being in love, the heartache it causes and expresses feminism. With her signature sound, Blige undeniably played an important role in creating a space in hip-hop for female artists. 

NFL

 

“The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill,” 

Ms. Lauryn Hill

Already famous from her previous group the Fugees, Hill released the album, “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill” which was the breakout solo album fans were waiting for. Hill gained solo success with the song, “Doo Wop (That Thing)” which addresses how women, specifically women of color, are portrayed. In a lot of hip-hop, women of color can be illustrated as sexual objects — which led to some men owning toxic dominance and masculinity. In a time when men in hip-hop used music as a way to be blatantly misogynistic, Hill used her platform to challenge bigotry in the scene. Hill’s music and activism helped influence artists like SZA and Adele.

 

Ms. Lauryn Hill
“Blonde,” Def Jam Recordings

Frank Ocean

The line, “Met her at Coachella” off of the song, “Novacane” worked as the perfect set opener for Frank Ocean at Coachella 2023. Many people were looking forward to Ocean being the headliner for the California-based festival. Instead, fans were met with an offsetting, shortened set done by the alternative hip-hop artist. Unfortunately, this was people’s reintroduction to the reclusive artist since Ocean had stepped out of the public eye in 2020 after his 18-year-old brother passed away in a car accident. Coachella was supposed to be Ocean’s first performance back. Fan opinions on Ocean quickly changed after the unfortunate set. It is easy to recognize the anger towards Ocean, especially for people who were in the crowd for hours waiting for him. However, it is wrong for people now to ignore Ocean’s impactful influence on music and culture and only focus on his Coachella performance. Ultimately, Ocean’s discography has tracks that are vital to Gen Z’s teenage years. Ocean’s hit song, “Thinkin’ Bout You” instantly became a success — and Vine. The 2016 album “Blonde” has the mesmerizing track, “White Ferrari” which was a notable breakup anthem for years. In a sense, for years Ocean just got it with his music. Through his lyrics, he was able to communicate experiences and feelings that people could not express on their own.

 

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About the Contributor
Mikalah Owens, Staff Writer
Pronouns: she/her Grade: 12 Years on staff: 2 What is your favorite piece of literature? “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape” by Peter Hedges. Who is your hero? That’s tough. I wanna say Henry Rollins since he’s gone through so much trauma and has overcome that and grown as a person; that’s really inspiring. Realistically, probably my Uncle. If you could only eat one thing for the rest of your life, what would it be? I don’t know… probably fries or something.
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  • L

    Lauren HolcombFeb 2, 2024 at 10:36 am

    this is great! a lot of people have no idea that most mainstream genres were either created by or perfected by black artists

    Reply
  • W

    Will GonsiorFeb 1, 2024 at 9:43 am

    THIS IS AWESOME MIKALAH
    aside from the part where you mentioned the 27 club without name-dropping Janis Joplin
    BUT OTHER THAN THAT THIS IS AWESOME

    Reply