Redirecting the Sound – Seven Female & Non-Binary Black Artists Whose Music Has Made My Year.
GEN B. Contributor Kiah Olowu breaks down an end-of year insight into her favourite listens past and present
For a reason I can’t pinpoint, most of the music I listen to is by male artists. I have thousands of saved songs, so listening to new music almost feels like homework. As a Black woman, and aspiring musician who loves the genres that aren’t just dominated by men: (alt) R&B, hip-hop, and pop, to name a few, I made a conscious effort to revisit and carry on listening to the people that look like me.
Here is a list of the Black women and non-binary folk I’ve been listening to this year.
Favourite songs: ‘All the way’ ‘Bring You Shame’
I found Denai Moore in the ‘appears on’ section of Kwabs’ Spotify profile. I was intrigued because I hadn’t heard him do a duet with anyone but Nao, and my curiosity paid off. Throughout We Used to Bloom, Denai Moore’s distinctive voice sings confessional lyrics in a raw way I haven’t heard in a long time. Some songs make you want to cry, not because they’re sad but because they make you feel like the world around you has stopped – ‘All the Way’ ft. Kwabs is one of those songs.
Favourite songs: ‘DYWM’ ‘Saturn’ ‘Adore You’
Before this year I hadn’t listened to a Nao project, but listened to songs like ‘Bad Blood,’ and her collaborations with Disclosure and Mura Musa. From the first listen I was impressed at how cinematic and carefully crafted For All We Know is. I’ve listened to ‘DYWM’ nearly every day for the past six months – every second sounds better than the last. I also can’t write this without mentioning that ‘Saturn’ ft. Kwabs (I promise this isn’t just about Kwabs) is everything a duet should be. I’ll always be in awe of Nao’s vocal range, and ability to write a love song.
Favourite songs: ‘Hit ‘Em wit da Hee’ ‘I’m Talkin’’
After spending so long in my saved albums, I finally decided to listen to Supa Dupa Fly this year, and it’s the Hip – Hop and R&B blend I’ve been missing. Missy is as good a singer as she is a rapper and producer, which is something I’ve always known but listening to this album reiterated this for me. I love to hear musicians, rightfully so, bragging about their talents, so when Missy said “my style of rapping, I’m such a good rapper,” I couldn’t help but agree.
Favourite songs: ‘Offence’ ‘King of Hearts’ ‘You Should Call Mum’
The release of SIMBI cemented the more or less undisputed recognition of Little Simz as a heavyweight in UK rap, and music in general. Again, I’m a little behind so this year I’ve been listening to GREY Area and Drop 6. Simz’ pen and flow are undeniably great – ‘Offence’ is my favourite demonstration of this. She raps with honesty and, what I like most in a rapper, charisma. Her music as a whole is something to be admired. You can’t help but want her to win.
Favourite songs: ‘Full Moon’ ‘Who Is She 2 To U’ ‘Talk About Our Love’
I’ve always loved Brandy’s voice – she represents the deep tone (sometimes raspy) babes. I don’t know if frequently seeing that video, you know the one, of Brandy performing ‘Afrodisiac’ jogged my memory, but something made me revisit her music this year. Listening to Afrodisiac and Full Moon reminded me of my childhood. I can still see the ‘Talk About Our Love’ video clearly in my mind. Almost twenty years later, I can only conclude that whoever was listening to early 2000 Brandy was really enjoying.
Favourite songs: ‘Sugar Mama’ ‘Cat Scratch’ ‘Warm Pants’
I can thank COLOURS for introducing me to Dua Saleh. Their performance of ‘Sugar Mama,’ sound and subject matter wise, was refreshing to me and unlike anything I’d heard before. The combination of haunting vocals, rapping, and personality that comes through their poetically descriptive (and dirty) lyrics made me want to listen more. Every song on Nūr feels like a story being told and that’s why their music stands out in
Favourite songs: ‘Ice T’ ‘Free Mind’ ‘The Key’
Last November, I took a leap of faith and clicked on a Spotify link I kept seeing on twitter – the song was ‘Free Mind.’ It’s rare for a song to instantly make me want to play it a hundred times, but ‘Free Mind’ did. Staying on brand, I only listened to For Broken ears this January. This was around the time I decided to restart my musical journey and start writing songs again – Tems’ tone, song writing, genre bending were the first things to inspire me in a long time. She deserves all the accolades.
And she couldn’t have put it more succinctly, “crazy tings are happenin.”