In many parts of the world — including and especially the United States — music history, past and present, has been influenced by traditions and techniques first developed by black musicians. We have both early and modern innovators to thank for genres like jazz, blues, rock, R&B, hip-hop, gospel and even country.
In honor of Black History Month, we’re shining a light on four stations that celebrate black artists’ contributions to music across the globe. Immerse yourself in the revolutionary sounds of hip-hop, R&B, house and African-Caribbean music, and read notes from our curators on the history of each genre.
For nearly 45 years, hip-hop has helped amplify the next generation of African-American wordsmiths. Changing the game with the power of the voice, spoken word artists like the Last Poets, Gil Scott Heron and the Watts Prophets set the stage and tone. By combining their rhymes with the call-and-response rhythms of James Brown’s soul music, rap’s pioneers sparked a culture of awareness and transformation. Artists like N.W.A. and Public Enemy fought the power, while groups like Boogie Down Productions, the Coup, Dead Prez and X-Clan used the mic to broadcast the black experience in America. The revolution continues, with lyricists like Kendrick Lamar, Common, Jay-Z, Talib Kweli, Killer Mike and Logic carrying the torch forward.
Hear all these artists and more on Pandora’s Hip-Hop Revolution.
– J Boogie
R&B and soul were birthed in the black community during the 1940s, with the roots of both genres dating to the jazz era. R&B stands for “rhythm and blues,” an updated name for what was once termed “race music.” These musical styles soundtracked the Civil Rights Movement, and told some of America’s most important stories throughout the 20th century. Now, more than 50 years later, both R&B and soul are more vibrant and dominant than ever. Much like forefathers Marvin Gaye and James Brown, artists like Beyoncé, Bruno Mars and Ledesi continue to make chart-topping masterworks. Powered by electric instrumentation and a jazz-, blues- and gospel-driven sound, these artists have become some of the most influential forces in contemporary music.
Hear all these artists and more on Pandora’s R&B/Soul.
One of dance music’s most cherished subgenres, house music was cultivated in bedrooms and underground clubs in Chicago during the mid-1980s. DJs playing dance clubs like the Warehouse and the Music Box spun disco records, extending and altering them in front of an audience. This technique eventually developed into a musical form all its own, and ignited a fanbase that transcend cultural boundaries.
House music is firmly rooted in African American and LGBT culture. It emerged in part as a positive underground response to the often hostile “disco sucks” movement of the late 1970s, which went to great lengths to malign black music (most symbolically at Chicago’s infamous “Disco Demolition Night,” during which attendees blew up a crate of disco records). The backlash against disco and the budding house scene drove black producers to embrace the era’s digital technology. Frankie Knuckles, known as “The Godfather of House Music,” created some of the genre’s earliest hits armed with little more than rudimentary drum machines and synthesizers. His success inspired other black experimenters like DJ Pierre, Jesse Saunders, Phuture and Marshall Jefferson to test the limits of electronic instruments and incorporate elements of styles like jazz, synthpop, dub reggae and hip-hop into their songs.
This unique form of black music became an important building block for modern dance, and eventually spread to places like London, New York and Detroit. It has since become ubiquitous around the world.
Hear all these artists and more on Pandora’s Classic House.
Today’s African music and dancehall-infused American pop are a testament to the long relationship between Africa and its diasporic peoples. Most importantly, these latest musical fusions serve as reminders of how interconnected these regions have always been. From the African and Caribbean influences that populated Congo Square (out of which jazz emerged) to the intercontinental give-and-take that occurs today between West Africa, Jamaica and the West, this musical dialogue is ongoing. Listen to Nigeria’s biggest stars — Wizkid, Davido or Tekno — alongside Jamaica’s very own Alkaline, Busy Signal and Chronixx, and it becomes clear that many of these artists are as much a product of hip-hop as any of their American counterparts. Rap’s global reach, combined with local musical traditions, has created rhythms that may sound new, but are really part of a centuries-long musical conversation.
Hear all these artists and more on Pandora’s Passport.