A Few Underappreciated Black Female Artists You Need to Know

So when doing my research (ahem, Spotify browsing) to compile a list for this article, I noticed that I had a lot of trouble finding black female artists that weren’t, say, Beyoncé or Rihanna.  

I’m not at all saying that I don’t love them, because let’s face it- there’s a good chance that Beyonce’s Lemonade is being played at full volume in my car, or that Rihanna’s “Kiss It Better” is giving me motivation during my treks to class.

What I am saying is that I want more. We need more.

And anybody who knows me knows that I love music. Not even just one genre or artist, but all the genres and artists.

So here is a list of black female artists of a broad range of styles, that you need to know. (But don’t know well enough, if at all!) I know there are many I’ve missed, and I’d love to hear all about them! These are just some of my favorites.

1. Nina Simone

I went through a huge Nina Simone phase when I was 13 and it was life-changing. All of her songs, whether they are her originals or covers, are perfect and haunting and will make you feel new feelings. And as far as Black History Month is concerned, I don’t think you could pick a better representative- she even wrote a song called “Young, Gifted & Black” in addition to the civil rights activism she performed during her life.

One song to try: Mood Indigo

2. Sister Nancy

My girl Sister Nancy (a “dancehall” DJ and singer who has made waves in the reggae world) is all about women being successful and in addition to being a professional BOSS, she has spent a lot of time as an accountant. Sister Nancy does not care about your opinions; only about living life the way she wants. You may have heard her song “Bam Bam,” or even a piece of it- my research tells me it’s been sampled in 73 other songs, including Kanye’s “Famous.”

One song to try: Ain’t No Stopping Nancy

3. Emeli Sandé

Like most people, I was jamming to Emeli Sandé’s “Next to Me” in 2012. I had high hopes for her, but her career didn’t take off the way I had imagined. I knew the rest of that album was pure dynamite, but the rest of the world was oblivious to that heavenly voice, and she definitely did not get the praise she deserved. That could be why she didn’t put out another album until 2016.

One song to try: Tenderly

4. Busi Mhlongo

There isn’t a lot of information out there about the lovely Busi Mhlongo, but what I did find was that she was an “initiated sangoma.” To put it simply, this means she was a healer, and focused a lot on spirituality. Apparently it influenced a lot of her music, which I think is really cool. It’s also worth noting that her songs are not in English. I’ve always had an interest in world music, and have played Busi Mhlongo on my school radio show, in my car, around my house, and pretty much everywhere else. My roommate doesn’t normally like the music I like, and calls it “hippie dippie crap,” but when Busi’s on, we get pumped.

One song to try: Yehlisan’Umoya Ma-Afrika, Soul II Black Remix

5. The Crystals

Unfortunately I wasn’t alive in the ‘60s when The Crystals were at their peak, and sadly, as I am writing this, I just found out that one of them died. What I don’t understand is why a lot of musical acts from the ‘60s have had timeless popularity, yet The Crystals were pretty much excluded from that. I think they deserve popularity even still, and for that reason, I’m declaring them drastically underrated.

One song to try: Da Doo Ron Ron

6. Julia Lee (And Her Boyfriends)

I heard of Julia Lee at the recommendation of another Julia I know, and was not disappointed at all. What first got me was loving the “And Her Boyfriends” part. JULIA is the star of the show, and basically, who cares about the boyfriends? Certainly not her, and that must be why she had so many. (A lesson: men are a dime a dozen!) The internet even described her as being a part of “dirty blues.” GO GIRL. I only wish I had heard of her sooner.

One song to try: King Size Papa

7. Princess Nokia

My friend Spencer kept telling me to check out her music and I resisted, until one day, we were in my car and he played her for me. For days after, on my own, I listened to that song on repeat! Then he showed me more and I loved that too. Her songs are rooted in feminism, and even better, her song “Mine” has a full-on speech that starts with, “PLEASE DO NOT ASK ME OR ANY BLACK OR BROWN WOMEN IF OUR HAIR IS REAL OR NOT.” Yes girl. TELL THEM.

One song to try: Excellent

8. Nao

She came up as a recommendation on my Spotify Discover Weekly and I had to know more. I came to learn that she was trained in vocal jazz, and if you know me, you know that I love jazz! I’m definitely looking forward to hearing more from this lovely lady.

One song to try: Inhale Exhale

9. Sharon Jones (& The Dap-Kings)

Sharon Jones is the role model you never knew you needed. She didn’t start releasing music until she was 40, which is proof that it’s never too late to make your dreams come true. She suffered from bile duct cancer and later suffered a stroke while watching the results of the 2016 U.S. presidential election- you know, the one Trump won. She also joked that his victory was what caused the stroke, and died less than two weeks after it all happened. Her death was sad, but someday, I also want to die making jokes at other people’s expense.

One song to try: Pick It Up, Lay It In The Cut

10. Santigold

Santigold was another recommendation from my friend Julia, although I had heard of her before that, too. She had a song called “Girls,” on the show, you guessed it- Girls. She also had a song “Radio” in Paper Towns and overall has just worked with a lot of different people, yet you still probably haven’t heard of her! Give her a listen!

One song to try: God From The Machine

(Image courtesy of Google.)