2012 was the year of the quirky black girl. From Solange’s long awaited release of her dynamic EP True to newcomer Emeli Sande’s performance at the Olympics and Janelle Monae’s memorable acceptance speech at Black Girls Rock!, black women who proudly walk to the beat of a different drum in the music industry are poised to take over. To celebrate quirky black girls in music we compiled a list of 30 pop divas, emcees, R&B song-birds, and soul singers who are on the come up. If you adore Sade, or keep Elle Varner and Lianne La Havas on repeat in your iPod, then you’ll probably love the innovative music created by the women below.
Demae Chioma Wodu of A Yellow Man
Demae is an effortlessly fashionable vocalist and one-third of the British hip-hop group A Yellow Man. Her dreamy vocals aptly compliment her band’s rhymes and beats which are fiercely reminiscent of hip-hop’s glory days. You can see Demae in the clip for A Yellow Man’s single “3000 Miles of Youth” here.
This Southern emcee just might be in the vanguard of a rising class of female rappers who prize art over sexuality and pay homage to hip-hop when it was in its youth. Born Marlanna Evans, this North Carolina native was signed to hip-hop icon 9th Wonder’s label Jamla and released her first album The Idea of Beautiful in 2012. Watch the clip for her single “The Drums” (featuring Heather Victoria, Soul Council) here.
ROCK, FOLK, & ALTERNATIVE
Al Spx of the band Cold Specks
Al Spx of the band Cold Specks
Somalian-Canadian singer Al Spx’s voice is simply haunting. Her live performances are bare and raw with Spex trilling over pared down piano, guitar, and percussion. Spx’s music combines the rawness of gospel music with the dark sound of Goth. You can watch her performance of the song “Winter Solstice” here.
Rahel Debebe-Dessalegne of Hejira
Rahel Debebe-Dessalegne is one-fourth of the London-based band Hejira. Rahel’s ghostly vocals lend heart to Hejira’s first eclectic single “Gypsy of the Soul.” You can listen to “Gypsy of the Soul” here.
Lolah Brown is a vocal titan who has honed her craft as a backup singer for John Legend, Rihanna, and Nicki Minaj. Her solo project Black Lily is packed with a rawness that is reminiscent of R&B songstress Tweet. You can listen to one of our favorites from Black Lily, “Movin’ On,” here.
Canadian singer Rochelle Jordan (a.k.a. RO-JOE) fits in comfortably among the new school of R&B singers like The Weeknd and Miguel. Her vocals range from light and airy to soulful giving a nod to the R&B divas that came before her.. You can listen to the track “Visions” from her project Pressure here.
One of musician Andy Allo’s biggest claims to fame is being the protégé of music icon Prince. The Cameroonian-born singer-songwriter stepped into the limelight when she was tapped to play guitar and sing for the Purple One’s band New Power Generation. Her sophomore project Superconductor was released in November 2012. Watch the video for her funk and horn-driven single “People Pleaser” here.
Songsmith Stacey Barthe got her start crafting tunes for some of the music industry’s biggest names: Britney Spears, Rihanna, and Kelly Rowland. You can listen to her single “Without You” (featuring Frank Ocean) here.
California-born R&B vocalist Phlo Finister manages to combine grit and soft 1960s femininity as she evokes Twiggy in her image and Aaliyah in her 90s R&B-infused music. She released her second EP Poster Girl in December 2012. You can watch her video for the single "Hotel Miami" here.
Sjzerdene (pronounced JhurDEEN) is a twenty-something British singer whose sound is a poignant fusion of psychedelic pop and vintage blues. Her track "Turn," from her EP Patchwork will transport you to another dimension as her other-worldly soprano soars over a lovely crescendo of bass, percussion, and guitar. Listen to "Turn" here.
POP & ELECTRONICA
Singer Shareese Ballard, known by her stage name “Res,” has captivated us since 2001 with her hit single “They-Say Vision” from the album How I do. Since then Res’ innovative career has included collaborations with Talib Kweli and Gnarls Barkley. You can listen to her cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams” here.
Jolanda Porter of Wishes and Thieves
It is Jolanda Porter’s dreamy vocals that drive the symphony of electro-pop that the band Wishes and Thieves is known for. Porter, the band’s lead singer, was named one of Music’s Most Stylish Girls by Lucky Magazine in 2011. You can watch the video for her group’s single “Let You In” here.
Independent pop singer Nuela Charles’ newest project Aware artfully blends soul, pop, trip-hop and R&B. Charles has been likened to Corinne Bailey Rae and Jill Scott. Our favorite is the reggae-infused song “Good in Me.” You can listen to it here.
DJ Oroma Elewa
Profiled in Vogue for her keen fashion sense, former fashion editor turned DJ Oroma Elewa is a true renaissance woman. This entrepreneurial style maven has rubbed shoulders with Solange Knowles and Theophilus London in between crafting innovative mixes for the dance floor. You can listen to her latest mix which features Nina Simone, Jeremih, and J-Dilla here.
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what kind of music Teresajenee makes. Her latest project Electric Yellow is a riot of velvet vocals over synth, soul, discotrap, and jazz that sometimes feels like Jill Scott, then Frank Ocean or David Guetta. Perhaps the best moniker for Teresajenee is that of electro-soul singer, a title that Afropunk.com gave her. You can listen to the title track "Electric Yellow" here.
Roses Gabor is a UK-based singer whose breathy voice has appeared on many a dance track. Gabor offers a dance-driven blend of pop, R&B, and rap. You can watch the pop art-inspired visuals for her single “Stars” here.
Newcomer Jade Novah caught our attention when she demonstrated her vocal prowess in a cover of Rihanna’s “Diamonds” that garnered over 11 million views on YouTube as of the writing of this article. On her mixtape Shades of Jade she lends her sleek vocals to a range of covers from pop music’s biggest acts: Beyoncé, Justin Bieber, and Adele. Watch the video for her cover of "Diamonds" here.
You could probably compare Freddie Hefner’s pop-infused hip-hop and R&B to Azalea Banks or Nicki Minaj. However, unlike the many rappers who have attempted to add singing to their repertoire, Hefner is actually a gifted vocalist. She is also a pioneer of a new sound called strap. You can listen to her single “Under-Doggy” [Explicit] here.
Tanzanian-born and UK-bred Lulu James describes her unique sound as “21st Century soul.” Armed with a voice that’s been called “deep and cold and pulsing,” James began singing “in [her] grandmother’s choir in a little village in Tanzania” when she was just a little girl. Watch the visuals for her hypnotic track “Be Safe” here.
SOUL & JAZZ
This Texas-born singer-songwriter is poised to be an heir apparent to the late Amy Winehouse. Lee is completely at home performing the kind of songs that made your grandparents push back the coffee table and breakout their record player. Watch her video for “Win Her Heart” here.
Georgia Anne Muldrow
Mos Def’s opinion of soul singer Georgia Anne Muldrow says it all: “She’s like Flack, Nina Simone, Ella she’s something else, she’s like religion.” Muldrow might be one of contemporary black music’s best kept secrets. This psychedelic artist has worked with not only Mos Def but Erykah Badu and Bilal. We think you’ll love her 70’s inspired title track from her 2012 project Seeds as much as we did. Watch the visuals for "Seeds" here.
Brooklyn-bred singer Amma Whatt’s sound is a self-described union of world music, R&B, and acoustic alternative. Her upbeat, jazzy, acoustic music reminds us of India Arie. Listen to the track “Good for You” from Amma’s EP Maybe here.
British songbird Laura Mvula’s music has been called a mash-up of “Billie Holiday with the Beach Boys.” This self-deprecating artist has also been compared to Nina Simone and was dubbed “the voice of 2013” by the London Evening Standard. Her album Sing to the Moon is slated to be released next month. Watch Laura perform her track: “Father Father” here.
Music is in Emily King’s bones. Hers is the kind of plaintive, melodic voice that only a daughter born to two New York City jazz singers could have. Her first album East Side Story was released via J Records in 2007. Now an independent artist, she released her EP Seven last year. King first caught our ear when she sang these words with conviction on her track “Radio”: “Been to the mountains and the valley, seen the Holy Land too; but ain’t no preacher like Aretha when I’m feelin’ real blue.” You can listen to “Radio” here.
Taylor Simone is a multi-faceted composer and singer-songwriter whose music is resplendent with the influence of Sarah Vaughn’s jazz, Erykah Badu’s neo-soul, and Anita Baker’s smooth R&B. Her track “Scared to Love You” is a piano-driven anthem for anyone who has ever struggled through love. Listen to it here.
King is a lovely trio comprised of twin sisters Paris and Amber Strother and their bandmate Anita Bias. They first came onto the scene with their airy brand of soul in 2011 and their 3-track EP The Story. Watch the video for their single “The Story” here.
Denitia Odigie makes music that is as smooth as butter. This independent Brooklyn-based musician crafts tunes that blends Sade’s grace with the acoustic soul of Lianne Lahavas. You can listen to the studio version of her single “Weekend” here.
This Cameroonian crooner has been said to have “the voice of a modern-day Afro-European Ella Fitzgerald.” Ntjam Rosie is an ever-evolving artist who has been influenced by Grace Jones’ style and the music of Stevie Wonder and Miriam Makeba. She is slated to release a new album called At the Back of Beyond next month. Watch the video for “Space of You”, a single from her previous album Elle here.
Kiah Victoria got her first taste of the spotlight at age ten when she landed the role of Nala in Disney's production of The Lion King on Broadway. Now as a young woman this artist delivers vocals that are as ethereal as they are emotive. She caught our attention with her rendition of Frank Ocean’s iconic track: “Thinkin Bout You.” Listen to it here.
Assita Camara is a writer residing somewhere below the Mason-Dixon. She writes about culture at her blog The Afro-Modernist and crafts prose about culture, herstory, and life at her philosophie. You can follow her tweets about music, poetry, and technology at @assitawrites