A diverse playlist to celebrate decades of influential black music

“Jab FOREVER” by Skinny Banton

The song “Jab FOREVER” by Grenadian Soca artist, Skinny Banton, rings with black pride. It has an infectious rhythm and melody that pulsates in your veins and encourages celebration. While the song hints to elements of Grenada’s carnival (Jab is French patois for “Devil” — a folklore character in carnival celebrations), it also speaks to the transatlantic slave trade. Despite all of the horrible things that black people have endured, we still rise to greatness. Over the powerful beat that carries throughout the song, it is a note to respect your roots and never forget where you came from, as the chorus echoes: “Black as ever, we go be black forever”.

– Thandiwe Gregg

“Zombie” by Fela Kuti

Fela Kuti is not only a well-known African artist, but he is a political activist who used music as a means to fight for the lack of freedom in his native country: Nigeria. Fela Kuti’s music was the epitome of the African musical genre — Afrobeats.

This song, was released in 1976 and starts off with the strong sound of the horn as a way to reveal an important message to the ‘zombie’ — that being a soldier of the Nigerian Army. Given the political strains that those who identify as ‘black’ face, “Zombie” is a must-have on this playlist. Music is used as a means of expression, and this song accurately expresses liberty and freedom from systematic control that minorities tend to face. Black power!

– Kanisha Bortey


“Happiest Man Alive” by Machel Montano

Soca is a Caribbean musical genre which originated in Trinidad and Tobago, but has developed significantly as a style of music all across the Caribbean islands. It is played in a wide range of countries worldwide.

Trinidadian soca singer, Machel Montano has been one of the most influential soca artists in the world. “Happiest Man Alive” is one of those energetic, feel good types of songs that brings people together to say we’re alive and we’re proud of who we are.

– Destiny Charles

“Mortal Man” by Kendrick Lamar

Kendrick Lamar’s 2015 album To Pimp a Butterfly took the world by storm.

Packed with allusions and dramatizations concerning myriad facets of Black history, the album is undoubtedly in a league of its own. The final track, “Mortal Man,” is the ideal reflection of all of the systematic issues the album addresses. It scrutinizes both historical and contemporary perspectives on blackness, while taking an intimate glance at his attempt to grapple the power and influence that his fame provides.

– Khadijah Plummer

“Don’t Touch My Hair” by Solange Knowles

The title of this song is pretty self-explanatory. Solange wrote this song as a means to express the fact that black women should accept the strands they wear and that nothing should compromise how they choose to wear them. The politics that come with black hair are unsettling. Black girls are taught to hate their hair the moment they realize what ‘beauty’ means in Western society. When you see a black girl rock her new braids and her edges are laid, you can marvel at it — but please, do not touch it!

– Kanisha Bortey

“War” by Bob Marley & The Wailers

The beauty of Reggae music is in its ability to stay true to the origin stories of Afro-Caribbean culture, honouring Africa as the motherland with early Rastafarian principles from leaders like Marcus Garvey. The 1976 song “War” by Bob Marley & The Wailers is one of countless examples of the way Reggae is not an umbrella genre for Jamaican music, but is an activist avenue for the African-Caribbean diaspora and all those who can relate.

Reggae also conveniently has a worldwide reach with its infectious, Ska-inspired rhythm. This song was directly inspired by a speech from Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia that was addressed to the United Nations in 1963.

– Cheyenne Gold

“Rhythm Nation” by Janet Jackson

It would be terrible if one of the Jacksons were not on this playlist. Janet Jackson released “Rhythm Nation” in 1989 for one reason only: to bring the many individuals from different backgrounds together and unite everyone through their love of music.

Not only that, her military-style dance in the music video reveals social consciousness from a political standpoint by using an upbeat sound. Jackson notes that we should “join voices in protest to social injustice” — completely relevant to our 21st century generation.

Her music was influential back then and continues to be influential even today. You go Janet!

– Kanisha Bortey

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