5 Black Artists Using Music To Inspire And Tackle Important Social Issues That You Should Know

I’ll have to admit, as great 2014 was on a personal level, it was a really hard year for me witnessing the violence against our women and men of color. The needless deaths at the hands of law enforcement broke my heart and I couldn’t figure out a way to properly express myself — being the only girl I have a tendency to go right for the jugular during a debate, it’s how I survived having two older brothers. Also, how can one really talk about a subject that is so insane you can’t wrap your head around it? So, I looked towards music to help quiet my always busy brain.

This list is presented by Kristin from Black Girl Nerds


Leyla McCalla

I’m a fan of the Carolina Chocolate Drops. I love how this group of young people have embraced the history of American music and made it accessible to all audiences. When I saw them live a couple of years ago I learned about Leyla McCalla — her personal story is phenomenal — and fell in love with her style. The night they announced the grand jury wasn’t going to indict the officers for the death of Eric Garner I was at The Hamilton Live in DC to see her. Last year, Leyla released “Vari-colored Songs: A Tribute to Langston Hughes,” a solo album which put some of Hughes’ poetry to music. I needed this — her beautiful voice and Hughes’ beautiful prose shut out all the anger and horrific comments I had been reading via social media. At one point during her performance, Leyla explained that she wasn’t planning on performing “Song for a Dark Girl,” but felt the need to in the memory of Michael Brown. After scattered applause, the venue fell silent, which is kinda hard considering there are two bars in it. Such a quiet, yet powerful song. By the time she finished I was hiding my face from a coworker and his wife who were sitting next to me as tears were falling.

A Blerd Reflects on the Social Issues of 2014

I will always remember 2014 as the year America was reminded of its social issues. On the heels of the popularization of “post-racial,” the universe stood puzzled at our collective blindness and punished our hubris by revealing Donald Sterling, Sony emails and Don Lemon journalism. None of these things were new; we just collectively packed away and ignored them, like “organizing” your room by piling all your loose belongings in an overstuffed closet. The year came with other reminders as well, from cultural appropriation to domestic abuse and corrupt policing. For many of us, 2014 was the reminder we never needed.

Following the release of Donald Sterling’s voicemails and news of his history being brought to public light, fans promised a boycott at the same time others searched Hub Stub for reduced ticket prices. In the first home game following the news, reports claimed the Golden State Warriors were prepared to shake hands with the Clippers and walk off the court, refusing to play if Sterling was present. He was banned from the game and the show went on so we didn’t see if the players had the fortitude to back their claims, but the whole fiasco begged the question – how do my convictions weigh against my entertainment?

A person can be an artist of anything – for an actor, their art can be a film; for a chef, their lasagna. I can cherish the beauty of someone’s work without consideration of his or her history, relationships or personal life. Or can’t I? As consumers of art, when do we separate the art from the artist?

When it comes to being aware as a media consumer, sometimes I feel like Cypher in The Matrix:

“I know what you’re thinking, ’cause right now I’m thinking the same thing… I’ve been thinking it ever since I got here: Why, oh why, didn’t I take the blue pill?”

One of my favorite quotes is an inspirational line attributed to Bill Cosby. I recited it to myself in times of intimidation, fear and nervousness. It was the entire movie of 8 Mile encapsulated in a dozen words, with Rabbit making eye contact in the mirror through his black eye. It says, “You have to want it more than you are afraid of it.” In light of the flood of sexual misconduct claims against Cosby and his handling of the allegations, I found myself uncomfortable with my favorite quote.

Read more from Jordan Calhoun at Black Nerd Problems