Black Music Month 2024: The New Guardians of Rock

These artists prove that Black creativity still has a place within the genre.

The evolution of technology has revolutionized how music is consumed and discovered on a global scale. Streaming apps like Spotify and Apple Music have put an entire world of songs at our fingertips. This always-connected generation has ignited a new wave of music discovery and passion. Budding artists no longer need a big mainstream record label to find success. They can connect with fans directly and create the music they genuinely want, free from the constraints of the industry.

This newfound freedom has birthed a new wave of Black rock musicians. These creative talents are gaining worldwide recognition, influenced by diverse genres like punk, metal, and rockabilly. They defy traditional expectations, showing the world that they can be whatever kind of artist they choose to be. Today, we celebrate the new Black vanguards of rock music.

Gary Clark Jr.

Photo by Jeremychanphotography/Getty Images

Multi-talented musician Gary Clark Jr. has spent the past two decades creating imaginative rock music fusing blues, soul, and hip-hop elements. Pushing the boundaries of the genre, the Austin, Texas native has characterized his work with high-level guitar skills and emotive songwriting. His latest project, released in March and titled JPEG Raw, serves as a significant evolution through tracks like “Maktub.” The project also adds to Clark Jr.’s already impressive resume of collaborations, including George Clinton and Stevie Wonder. It’s safe to say that the four-time Grammy-winning artist is on his way to earning some more golden gramophones.

Black Music Month 2024: The Black Pioneers of Rock

Brittany Howard:

Born and raised in Athens, Alabama, Brittany Howard had already solidified herself as rock royalty by being the front-woman of the four-time Grammy Award-winning band Alabama Shakes.  The band's guitarist, vocalist, and songwriter contributed to modern classic songs like “Hold On” alongside “This Feeling.” Once the group went on indefinite hiatus, Howard released her 2019 debut as a solo artist through Jaime. The album’s “Stay High” lead single earned her a Grammy for Best Rock Song. This year, she dropped the fantastic follow-up What Now, which was also critically well-received. 

Fantastic Negrito: 

Born Xavier Amin Dphrepaulezz, Fantastic Negrito is an impactful black rock artist known for his extraordinary storytelling and resilience. His last full-length album, "White Jesus Black Problems," explores themes of racism, capitalism, and freedom, inspired by his seventh-generation grandparents' interracial romance in 1750s Virginia. Negrito has also won three consecutive GRAMMY Awards for Best Contemporary Blues Album and collaborated with artists like Sting and E-40. He has toured with Sturgill Simpson and Chris Cornell and performed at festivals like Lollapalooza and Glastonbury. His story and music highlight the power of love and the enduring resilience of humanity.

Benjamin Booker: 

Guitarist Benjamin Booker fuses postwar electric blues with garage punk and soul, epitomizing the modern renaissance of garage rock with his raw, soulful voice. His debut album, released in August 2014, was produced by Andrija Tokic, known for his work with the Alabama Shakes, and received critical acclaim. Booker has toured with Jack White, participating in a Lead Belly jam session. Initially part of a duo with drummer Max Norton, he pursued a solo career. His live album, Live at Third Man Records, came out in 2015. Booker's second album, Witness (2017), features a collaboration with Mavis Staples, inspired by his time in Mexico City, addressing issues of racial violence.

Willow Smith: 

Though Willow Smith was already a pop star in the making with two famous parents before entering adulthood, the multi-hyphenate creative went through some reinventions before becoming the face of Black Gen-Z-ers’ reclamation of rock. In 2021, Smith ventured into pop-punk with "Transparent Soul" featuring Travis Barker. This track and two other Barker collaborations were included in her album Lately I Feel Everything, influenced by Paramore and My Chemical Romance. The album featured guests Avril Lavigne, Tierra Whack, and Cherry Glazerr, peaking at number five on the Top Alternative Albums chart and entering the Top 50 of the Billboard 200.

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