Music, Social Media, and Me: How I Learned to Appreciate Past and Present Black Musicians

As a teenager, I realized that I couldn't connect to today's black music at all. Until I entered high school, I pretended to like rap and R&B to fit in, then I met a Hispanic girl who introduced me to alternative rock and I turned my back on black music. Little did I know social media would led me back to it.

During my first semester of college in 2010, I had to a survey paper on any topic for an Intro to Psychology class. The topic I chose was music. For the paper's literature review, I had to do research on the history of music. This is when I discovered blues, jazz, funk, and classic rock for the first time.

Of all the genres mentioned, early rock n' roll was the one that awed me the most. For I had discovered that some of the pioneers of rock music were black musicians like Chuck Berry and Little Richard. Chuck Berry became a favorite of mine when I watched old clips of his wild, energetic guitar playing on YouTube.

YouTube also helped me dip my toes into blues and jazz. It was amazing to see that people had uploaded songs and performances from people like Cab Calloway, Louis Armstrong, and B.B. King. After my father's death in 2012, I developed a love for blues and jazz through Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughan, Ella and Louis duets, and Cab Calloway. Doing this helped me understand my father's love for old music.

YouTube made me realize that there was more to black music than rap and R&B and that old music could be enjoyable. It wasn't until 2012 that I found black music from today that I liked. Through an article on the cultural news site Flavorwire, I stumbled on my first indie rap song, "Cleanin' Out My Closet" by Angel Haze.

I must admit that I was skeptical of the song before I even heard it. When you feel like you have to listen to a particular genre, you are more reluctant to give that genre a chance. However, the article won me over and I ended up admiring the rawness of "Cleanin' Out My Closet", even if it did make me wince sometimes.

From there, I ended up following Angel Haze's personal YouTube channel where she had uploaded songs from mixtapes. I also followed her Facebook and Soundcloud pages. Through her rap, R&B, and pop covers of songs like Miley's Cyrus's "Wrecking Ball" and Mackelmore's "Same Love", I became a fan.

A similar process occurred when I decided to check out Janelle Monáe. In the fall of 2013, I had discovered her via a TIME magazine article and was skeptical. Once I listened to her album The ArchAndroid on YouTube, I was pleasantly surprised.

I had finally found a female black singer from today I related to! Here was someone who was different because she wore black and white tuxedoes and had music that was empowering, socially conscious, eclectic, creative, and pleasant. Also, live performances of songs like "Come Alive (War of The Roses)" and music videos like "Many Moons" were fun to watch on YouTube.

 Yet, Janelle Monáe was a part of something that I wouldn't discover until I heard about a black male 70's punk rock band called Death. Earlier this year, I watched a documentary on Death and wondered if there any bands like them today. One day, I googled the words "black punk rock bands" and the Wikipedia page for Afropunk came up in the search.

From there, I found the website for Afropunk and discovered the multi-media and multi-genre movement that it was.  Since I had gained eclectic music taste, no skepticism existed. I went wild looking up and downloading songs. Artists and bands like Kimya Dawson, Divinity Roxx, and Noisettes became a few of many favorites. Right now, I have over fifty Afropunk songs on my iPod.

Social media has done for me what regular radio hasn't. It has given me music from the past and present that I enjoy. Blogs, YouTube, and community websites has shown me that the black music of the past has been preserved and that there is authentic black music today that builds on the past.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock

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