Impact’s Adaora Elliott picks 10 songs that are essential when it comes to the Black alternative rock scene.
When saying ‘Black alternative rock’, I mean any artist or group that prominently includes Black (including bi-racial) individuals who make and perform music that spans the alt-rock space including emo, punk, pop punk, punk rock, indie rock, rap rock, hard rock, grunge, nu metal, rap metal, heavy metal, progressive metal and metal.
ALT BLK ERA- Obsession: LUNAR
ALT BLK ERA are a nu metal and punk sister duo from West Bridgford. Obsession: LUNAR, released in 2022, makes perfect use of strong vocals and a heavy baseline to create a certain creepy atmosphere that mirrors the title. Its opposite, Obsession: SOLAR perfectly blends rap elements with the rock overtones of the song. With around 10 songs under their belt their SOLAR and LUNAR shtick allows us to see the full gambit of their ranges in genre, instrumentals and vocals.
King’s X- Black The Sky
King’s X have been around in one form or another since 1979 and continue to be active and talented, bringing their progressive metal, hard rock, funk and soul sound to the rock scene. They were pivotal in the early development of progressive metal and influenced Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains and Pantera. Pearl Jam’s Jeff Ament has said “Heavy music didn’t start in Seattle, it started in Katy, Texas with King’s X”. Black the Sky is the epitome of their 1994 5th studio album, ‘Dogman’. That album went in a heavier direction from their previous more gospel-inspired, alt-rock and is generally considered one of their best works. Lead vocalist and bassist Doug Pinnick said in 1999 that Black The Sky was his new standard to mix to.
Living Colour- Cult of Personality
The New York band with a wide-spanning sound (rock, heavy metal, hard rock, funk rock, alt-metal, neo-psychedelia and experimental rock with R&B influences) were another early Black alt-rock founded in 1984. Their 1988 debut album ‘Vivid’, produced several hits including their signature anthem Cult of Personality which won a Grammy for Best Hard Rock Performance in 1990.
Nova Twins- Antagonist
The Nova Twins are an alt and punk rock duo from London that fuse punk and grime to create what has been described as urban punk. The duo has collaborated with artists such as Bring Me The Horizon but their own songs show off bass and vocals to die for. Antagonist predated the album singles for their second album ‘Supernova’ signalling their new era after their 2020 debut album, ‘Who Are the Girls?’.
WILLOW ft Yves Tumor- Perfectly Not Close To Me
After WILLOW’s shift away from Alt R&B with her album ‘lately i feel EVERYTHING’, her 2022 album ‘<COPINGMECHANISM>’ was a clear maturation of that pop punk, emo sound which focuses more on a grungy and hard rock sound but mixes in elements of screamo, indie rock and some slightly softer sub-genres. This track is short but it’s a perfect collab which blends their sounds together perfectly.
Wicked Wisdom- Bleed All Over Me
Nu metal band Wicked Wisdom’s frontwoman Jada Pinkett Smith, impressed with their self-titled 2006 second album which charted on Billboard’s Top Heatseekers. Willow Smith wasn’t the first rockstar in her family, WILLOW performed a cover of this song for Jada on Mother’s Day reuniting the band. The rest of the band is also remarkable, the drummer Philip ‘Fish’ Fisher was part of the 80s band Fishbone which was another Black alt band which fused styles such as ska, punk, funk, reggae and soul.
Meet Me @ The Altar- Say It (To My Face)
Meet Me @ the Altar takes inspiration from groups like Paramore and Twenty One Pilots and got signed by Fueled By Ramen who represent emo legends such as Fall Out Boy and Panic! At The Disco. The noughties pop-punk influence shines through a lot of their songs including Say It (To My Face) which they performed live on The Colbert Show as their debut television performance. They are inspired by these groups just as much as they are a reaction to these groups, pushing back against the status quo by being an all-women, Black, LGBT+, pop-punk group that also likes to inject easycore and energetic sounds into their music.
Big Joanie- Fall Asleep
Being a trio of Black women from London definitely influences their sound and it is clear in this song from their 2018 album ‘Sistahs’. Big Joanie incorporate nineties riot grrrl with synth-heavy post-punk. They have a very retro sound which they bring to the forefront in Fall Asleep.
KennyHoopla- how will i rest in peace if I’m buried by a highway
KennyHoopla has a much more chill, indie sound than the rest of this list. He is an indie rock artist but the new wave and post-punk influence on his work is always noticeable, and this is no exception. From his 2020 EP of the same name this song is angry, haunting and beautiful. It was also his first single to chart, reaching number 8 on the Billboard magazine’s Alternative Airplay chart in July 2020.
Black Kids- I’m Not Gonna Teach Your Boyfriend How To Dance With You
You may know this song from Glee, or you may know this song from just how popular it was in the UK when it came out with their 2008 debut album ‘Partie Traumatic’. Despite the band being from Jacksonville, no one can deny that this song is not quintessential indie rock. Despite the name of the group, under half of the group are Black, something which drummer Kevin Snow explained became quite “awkward, especially for those of us who weren’t Black.”
Featured image courtesy of Markus Spiske via Unsplash. Image license found here. No changes were made to this image.
In-article videos courtesy of ALT BLK ERA, King’s X, Living Colour, Nova Twins, willowsmith, AvispaMusic, The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, Big Joanie, KennyHoopla, BlackKidsVEVO via YouTube.com. No changes were made to these videos.
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