The Music That Helped Young Women Get In Touch With Their Blackness


From pioneers in the music industry like Erykah Badu, Lauryn Hill, and Jill Scott to modern-day icons like Solange, Janelle Monáe, and Ari Lennox, Black women often create music as both an ode to their Black womanhood and social commentary of injustices rooted in misogynoir. Since the music industry has had a history of not treating them kindly, Black women have created a niche, a safe space within their lyricism that provides listeners with the chance to connect with their Blackness. These albums offer a light at a seemingly dark end of a tunnel, whether that reflects an unappreciated love of your culture or a reminder of solidarity.

It’s important to remember that Black women are not a monolith and exist in a multidimensional space within the music industry to explore genres like pop, rock, alternative R&B, and more, without being pigeonholed into a stereotypical genre that has been identified with Black culture. Artists like Rico Nasty and Willow Smith provide young Black listeners with representation of an alternative style of music with their captivating stage presence. Aluna Francis, who is known for her former electronic music duo AlunaGeorge, is an advocate for more Black dance artists to be given equal opportunities as their white counterparts throughout EDM, and she recently created her own festival, Noir Fever, to oppose this whitewashed space. Black women like Orion Sun and Arlo Parks are delivering warm melodies intertwined between the realms of indie and neo-soul. As they all create music that strays from the traditional route of R&B or hip-hop, listeners are reminded that they are multifaceted beings that can combine their knack for storytelling with their all-too-relatable cultural identity.

While existing in a predominantly white or male genre, Black female artists can build a connection for their listeners through empowering or emotional anthems that affirm Black identity and image, such as Beyoncé’s era during Lemonade. The conversation surrounding “Formation” and the singer’s unapologetic vocalization of her culture felt like a familiar feeling that most Black women can relate to. Public displays of Blackness for Black women are complex and can be a result of observing the participation of well-known Black figures like Beyoncé. Along with the Houston singer, neo-soul musician Jamila Woods expresses her adoration for Black beauty and, essentially, a manifesto to Black womanhood in her work. While weaving in the names of notorious Black writers, artists, and poets like Eartha Kitt and Zora Neale Hurston, Woods flawlessly tackles emotion policing and commemorates Blackness in her 2019 album LEGACY! LEGACY! Intertwining her identity and lyricism wasn’t a new concept for the Chicago singer, since her 2017 album HEAVN attested as the answer to questions like, “What does it mean to be a Black woman?”

Often, Black women aren’t extended the grace to express or ponder their emotions of rage, anxiety, despair, and forgiveness. In a music industry that results in little to no consequences for misogynoir, labels like the “angry Black woman” are thrown at Black women who are deemed unruly and outspoken for simply voicing our concerns and frustrations. Following the release of her 2020 track “Song 33,” Chicago rapper Noname questioned the policing of a Black woman’s tone as she coined herself the “new vanguard.” As an artist who isn’t afraid to make a controversial statement, her advocacy for Black liberation and justice for incarcerated folks is intertwined in her music, which is vital to young Black listeners that are searching for an artist that is for the people. While combining Blackness with musical expression, artists provide listeners with a socially conscious space to connect with their identity via music. These spaces of Black liberation are often accompanied by a reclamation of sexual identity, which is an intimate experience found while listening to an album like Jazmine Sullivan’s Heaux Tales. The EP combines sexually charged anthems with honest conversations surrounding heartbreak, deceit,` and love in the form of interludes. With a fan base of predominantly Black women, this nuanced album could’ve been sealed and signed as a love letter to Black women who have ever felt shamed in conversations about sex and relationships.

Meanwhile, at the intersection of Black identity and queer culture, Janelle Monáe will continue to explore what queer Black womanhood can be. The ArchAndroid and Dirty Computer are separate yet similar bodies of work where Monáe freely expressed her sexuality, womanhood, and Blackness. “Make Me Feel” was labeled the epitome of a bisexual anthem as the sexually liberated singer danced with notable actress Tessa Thompson in the playful neon music video. While tackling stereotypes of being too manly and incessant mansplaining, Monáe speaks her mind while sitting on her throne in the “Django Jane” music video. Throughout her expansive career, Monáe has given young Black queer women representation of on-air sexual fluidity, validity, and, overall, fun.

While finding meaningful music that coincidentally is worthy of being added to a playlist, there’s an unexplainable feeling of joy that can be shared when an artist seems to be speaking to the listeners throughout an entire project. For example, Houston-born artist and creative Solange Knowles is frequently praised for her third studio album, A Seat At The Table, which embodied her ethereal self while opening conversations about healing from trauma, dealing with microaggressions and policing. As she expressed her feelings of anger and vulnerability in the Lil Wayne-assisted song, “Mad,” it’s undeniable that she wrote this song with the intention of speaking to Black women and the policing of our anger. Tracks like “Don’t Touch My Hair” and “F.U.B.U.” with lyrics like “This sh*t is for us / Don’t try to come for us,” it felt as if Solange reached into the conversations of Black women with an anthem to reassure us that these feelings of rage and frustration are normal. As she lamented about her tales of sexing, drinking and spending her pain away, Solange shared her methods of coping in “Cranes In The Sky.” These themes aren’t limited to A Seat At The Table, since she continues her ode to Blackness and her Texan roots in her consequent album, When I Get Home.

Although Black female artists can be viewed as palatable for white audiences, it feels as if the act of creating songs like Solange’s “F.U.B.U.” or Monáe’s “Django Jane” is intentionally delivering a love letter to Black women listening at home. The art of storytelling has successfully been mastered by Black female artists that can produce stories of liberation, intersectionality, and self-love. Embracing your Black identity can be as minor as feeling represented within the lyrics of a beloved song or resonating with an artist’s political stance to create an empowering anthem. Often, our adored artists are influenced by their fellow Black predecessors and funnel their messages of self-love and unapologetic Blackness to their listeners.

Some of the artists covered here are Warner Music artists. Uproxx is an independent subsidiary of Warner Music Group.

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