The 1970s was a special era for Black culture in all areas, including politics, entertainment, sports and fashion. Within a 10-year span, Shirley Chisolm became the first Black presidential candidate to run for a major party nomination; disco and hip-hop emerged in their infancy as funk reigned supreme; and Blaxploitation films like Shaft and Coffy provided Black actors lead roles on-screen, along with family sitcoms such as Good Times, Sanford and Son and The Jeffersons.
The '70s also saw the mainstream rise of Black athletes such as NBA legend Walt Clyde Frazier, who was also admired for his incomparable style, and boxing titan Muhammad Ali, who fought both inside and outside the ring for Black people’s civil rights. Perhaps the most iconic and most often referenced relic of the '70s is Don Cornelius’ Soul Train, which has gone on to influence countless musicians to reconnect with the trends of that time.
As of 2020, it’ll officially be 50 years since the dawn of America’s Blackest decade, and today’s biggest artists are still inspired by the era. In that spirit, we revisit some of music’s best modern-day homages to the '70s.
Migos took us on a Soul Train-inspired “Culture Ride” for their “Walk It Talk It” video featuring Drake. The name of the group’s fictional show is a nod to their album Culture. Jamie Foxx made a cameo in the visual as host Ron Delirious, an obvious homage to Don Cornelius. The set was filled with Afros, ruffled shirts, bell bottoms, roller skating, the iconic Soul Train scramble board and OffSet pop-locking on the Soul Train line. Drake came out rocking a Jheri curl that looked like it was still dripping. Overall, it was fun seeing rappers go retro.
Beyoncé loves the 1970s and has referenced the decade throughout her career. When she starred in Austin Powers in Goldmember, she played Foxxy Cleopatra, a character based on heroines in Blaxploitation films who kicked a** and saved the day. She also stayed in character for “Work It Out,” from the film’s soundtrack. Years later, Bey would go on to throw a star-studded 1970s-themed birthday party.
In their “RNP” video, YBN Cordae and Anderson .Paak adopted the personas of “Big Play Cordae” and “Sweet Shot Anderson,” two fictional 1970s kingpins who moonlight as star basketball players. Comedian Hannibal Buress made a cameo as an angry coach whose team is losing at the YBN Summer Classic, until Big Play and Sweet Shot make a surprise appearance. Jay Pharaoh is also featured as an announcer. The mini-film borrowed Blaxploitation aesthetics with cheesy one-liners and over the top drama, capturing the off-beat magic of what made pop culture so special during that decade.
The mixtape art for Megan Thee Stallion’s Fever, released in May, was another nod to the 1970s Blaxploitation genre of film. For the visual for the song “Realer,” a track off the mixtape, Thee Stallion starred in her own mini-film in which she and her fellow Hotties toted pistols as they hunted their adversary, “Ill Will Jackson.” With her confidence and conviction, Thee Stallion’s project matched the forceful energy of Pam Grier, a Black heroine who took down bad guys in films like Coffy and Foxy Brown.
Ol' Dirty Bastard’s “I Got Your Money” music video was an unusual mash-up of footage from the 1975 Blaxploitation comedy film Dolemite, and Soul Train-inspired scenes from his 1995 video for “Shimmy Shimmy Ya.” Although ODB didn’t shoot any new footage of himself for “I Got Your Money,” he was able to introduce a new generation of Millennials and Gen X to the unforgettable visuals of '70s iconography.
In 2007, autotune Snoop stepped into a 1970s (and 1980s) R&B-crooning alter ego for the visual for “Sensual Seduction.” Throughout the video, Snoop rocks a press and curl, an Afro, Jheri curls, and an array of flashy bright suits. The rapper and the accompanying models dance in front of a green screen that rolls footage of glittery disco balls, floating beds in space, and gems and jewels reminiscent of the special effects for videos like Michael Jackson’s 1979 visual for “Don’t Stop 'Til You Get Enough.”
Kelly Rowland has been vying to play the late 1970s disco and dance icon Donna Summer in a biographical film for years. Although Rowland has yet to be granted her wish, she recently reminded fans of why she would be the perfect fit this past Halloween. Rowland recreated one of Summer’s elaborate stage costumes in which she wore an all-white ensemble draped in white feathers. Rowland was a spitting image of the singer and proved, once more, why she needs to be cast as the film's star.
(Photo L-R: Kelly Rowland/@kellyrowland and Allan Tannenbaum/Getty Images)