Black Music Month: Celebrating Black Alternative Artists Defying Boundaries, From Past to Present

From pioneering Bad Brains to the new styles of SZA and Blood Orange, we honor trailblazing Black alternative artists who defy genres and inspire with their unparalleled creativity.

For decades, Black artists endured a profound sense of alienation within mainstream America until the tides of pop music shifted to embrace their influence. From the soul-stirring harmonies of Motown in the late 1960s to the commanding presence of hip-hop today, the ingenious spirit of Black musicians has resonated globally, igniting inspiration far and wide. Yet, there remain those who defy even these expansive categories.

These alternative artists are pioneers, their creativity brewing beneath the surface long before gaining recognition. They meld disparate genres into something entirely novel and exhilarating—more than just music, a manifest style that no one can replicate. As we celebrate Black Music Month, let's honor these trailblazing Black alternative artists who dared to be different and continue to set the world alight with their unique artistic visions.

Bad Brains

Bad Brains emerged in Washington, D.C., in the late 1970s, infusing the punk scene with an unprecedented blazing and revolutionary energy. Their dynamic performances and rapid musical tempo marked a significant departure from the norm, embodying their "positive mental attitude" ethos inspired by self-help philosophies. This ideology contrasted sharply with the prevailing punk nihilism, offering a hopeful and vibrant alternative. Bad Brains not only accelerated the tempo of punk music but also integrated elements of reggae, embodying their spiritual and cultural defiance. Their influence extended beyond music, inspiring the D.I.Y ethos in American hardcore and shaping the sound and spirit of future generations.

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Fishbone is a pivotal band in the evolution of Black music and pop culture, blending deep funk, high-energy punk, and frantic ska. Formed in Los Angeles in 1979, they broke new ground with their eclectic sound and vibrant stage presence. Their work, especially albums like Truth and Soul, expanded their audience and influenced the broader music scene by integrating diverse musical styles and sharp social commentary. Despite never achieving mainstream success, Fishbone's impact on alternative rock and the third-wave ska revival is profound, securing them a permanent place in the history of innovative musical fusion and cultural expression in Black music.

Living Colour

Living Colour's rise in the 1980s significantly impacted Black music by reintroducing the diversity that had diminished in rock since the 1970s. The band's eclectic mix, spearheaded by members with varied musical backgrounds, bridged the gap between rock and other genres, influencing a more inclusive musical scene. Their debut album, Vivid, especially with hits like "Cult of Personality," challenged the racial and stylistic boundaries prevalent in rock music at the time. Living Colour not only revived the spirit of earlier diverse acts like Jimi Hendrix but also paved the way for subsequent bands that blended music styles and messages, like Rage Against the Machine and Sevendust, fostering a more open-minded approach to rock music and its potential for cultural commentary.

Tracy Chapman

Tracy Chapman's profound impact on modern music can be attributed to her distinctive storytelling and timeless appeal. Emerging from the Boston folk scene in the late 1980s, her debut album brought the singer-songwriter back into the cultural limelight, marked by its Grammy-winning success and multi-platinum sales. Chapman's music, characterized by its simple melodies and socially aware lyrics, has resonated deeply with audiences worldwide. Despite the changing musical landscape, she has consistently stayed true to her artistic vision, avoiding fleeting trends to focus on the depth and sincerity of her work. In a nod to her enduring influence, country music artist Luke Combs recently covered Chapman’s iconic track "Fast Car," reintroducing her powerful narratives to a new generation and further cementing her role as a pivotal figure in music history. 

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TV on the Radio

TV on the Radio, originating as Brooklyn experimenters, evolved into a critically acclaimed force through the 2000s and 2010s. Known for blending post-punk, electronic, and atmospheric elements, they began with David Andrew Sitek and vocalist Tunde Adebimpe merging their solo projects. Their early work, notably the Young Liars EP and their debut album Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes,' won the 2004 Shortlist Music Prize and set the stage for their innovative sound. The band's journey included collaborative albums like Return to Cookie Mountain and Dear Science.' Despite a brief hiatus, they continued influencing with albums like Seeds, maintaining their distinctive blend of music and visual artistry.


Born Santi White in Philadelphia, Santigold is a versatile artist known for her fusion of punk, reggae, grime, electronic, and indie rock. She started her career in the music industry as an A&R representative and songwriter before launching her solo career. Santigold's debut album in 2008, self-titled Santogold, was acclaimed for its innovative blend of styles and vocal prowess. Her music has continually evolved, addressing themes like capitalism and cultural appropriation while maintaining an eclectic and bold sound. Her albums, including 99 Cents and Spirituals, showcase her skill in blending diverse musical genres with sharp social commentary. Santigold's work is celebrated for its boundary-pushing creativity and her strong feminist perspective in the music industry.

FKA Twigs

FKA Twigs, born Tahliah Barnett, is a multi-talented English artist blending music, dance, and filmmaking. Trained in classical music, she merges her vocal prowess with experimental electronic and industrial beats, producing a unique sound influenced by icons like Kate Bush and Janet Jackson. Her early work, including the critically acclaimed albums EP2 and LP1, received significant attention for their innovative strength and emotional depth. Post-2019, her music evolved into lighter collaborations, exemplified by her 2022 mixtape Caprisongs. Raised by a dancer mother, Barnett felt isolated during her education due to her mixed heritage but found her calling in music after her initial forays into dance. She achieved fame with her nuanced sound and visual storytelling, pushing the boundaries of artistry.

Blood Orange

Devonté Hynes, known as Blood Orange, has evolved significantly from his days in the dance-punk band Test Icicles and his Lightspeed Champion persona. Since initiating Blood Orange in 2011 with his album Coastal Grooves, Hynes has blended soul, funk, post-punk, and chillwave, addressing themes of identity, sexuality, and spirituality. His albums, including Cupid Deluxe, Freetown Sound, and Negro Swan, have achieved success on Billboard's R&B and independent charts. Hynes is also a sought-after collaborator, working with artists like Solange, Carly Rae Jepsen, and Philip Glass, and has ventured into film scoring and classical composition. His work continues to be deeply personal and resonates with a diverse audience.

Moses Sumney

Los Angeles-based singer/songwriter Moses Sumney first gained recognition in 2014 with his unique blend of soul, art pop, indie rock, folk, and ambient R&B. His debut EP, Mid-City Island, featured the hit "Man on the Moon," and his reputation soared with high-profile openings for artists like Solange and James Blake. His 2017 album, Aromanticism, offered a deep reflection on themes of lovelessness and solitude, garnering critical acclaim. Sumney's ambitious projects continued with the 2020 double album Græ and the 2021 concert album film Live from Blackalachia, both showcasing his evolving artistry and complex identity.


Josiah Wise, known as serpentwithfeet, combines R&B, gospel, classical, and electronic music to articulate his experiences as a gay Black man. His training in classical music and gospel, which originated from a religious Baltimore family, shaped his expressive vocals and deeply textured music. Starting with his 2016 debut EP, Blisters, and progressing to albums like 'Soil' and 'Deacon', Wise has evolved from brooding tones to a lighter, happier sound. His journey includes overcoming classical career setbacks, engaging with Philly's neo-soul scene, and eventually gaining recognition in New York. His recent works, Heart of Brick and Grip, continue to explore themes of Black queer identity and romance, integrating a wide range of musical influences and collaborations, including Björk and Ty Dolla $ign.


SZA, born Solána Imani Rowe, emerged as a unique voice in R&B with her poetic style and emotive vocals. Early on, she released EPs and collaborated with artists like Kendrick Lamar and Rihanna. Her breakthrough came with her 2017 album, Ctrl, which earned multiple Grammy nominations and platinum hits. In 2022, her second album, SOS, topped charts and included hits like "Kill Bill," securing her multiple Grammy wins. SZA's career, marked by dreamy EPs, high-profile collaborations, and chart-topping success, reflects her broad influences from Billie Holiday to Wu-Tang Clan and a strong connection with fans through her deeply personal music.

Channel Tres

Channel Tres, the stage name of Sheldon Young, is a versatile artist from Lynwood and Compton, California. Raised by his great-grandparents, he started in music by playing drums for his school choir. He expanded into producing and songwriting, heavily influenced by Midwest house music. His first major releases came after signing with Godmode Music, where he debuted with the Channel Tres EP in 2018. Known for collaborations with artists like SG Lewis, Robyn, and Disclosure, he's a sought-after act in clubs and festivals. His latest work includes the EP Real Cultural Shi and singles with Diplo and Kaytranada.

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