In Earshot: Black artists restoring soul, speaking for community

Matthew Tate, Senior Staff Columnist

I grew up on R&B, funk and soul music, primarily because of my parents. I listened to and still listen to artists like Earth, Wind & Fire, The Isley Brothers, Erykah Badu, Marvin Gaye and my personal favorite, Stevie Wonder. These artists were masters of their genres and sparked the conversation about their struggles. Rap, hip-hop and R&B were created to spread the message of what the Black community was feeling.

The artists in this exhibition have all expressed their grief and thoughts on the Black experience. They grew to be very influential during these times, much like the artists they modeled themselves after. If your music taste is like mine, these artists will appeal to you.


Saba is a rapper that experiments with synthesizers to make bouncy chill-hop. It feels like relaxed jazz without straying from hip-hop. His flow carries listeners with the beat. His lyrics are introspective and personal. Saba has worked with several artists, including Smino, 6lack, Chance the Rapper and J. Cole. If you are looking for more alternative rap that can chill you out, take a look at his album “CARE FOR ME.”


Gabriella Sarmiento Wilson, aka H.E.R., is, in my opinion, one of the more influential R&B artists in recent years. Her music is genuine and full of soul. She emulates some of the top modern R&B artists like Jill Scott, D’Angelo and Alicia Keys. She has risen in popularity and will continue to rise to great heights. I recommend listening to her “Back of My Mind” album for a few different styles and a lot of heartfelt emotions and transparency. 

Anderson .Paak

Although already well-known, Anderson .Paak blew up recently due to his collaboration with Bruno Mars. Together known as Silk Sonic, Paak and Mars created an album that brought soul to new heights. Paak has a very unique voice that seems to be everywhere nowadays. He creates his music with a specific funky flare and adds uniqueness to it when he is on the drums. Paak has explored so many genres that there is something for everyone. Having Bootsy Collins on this album will help the old heads reminisce about the Parliament-Funkadelic days. We have all heard it by now, but I think you should go groove out to “An Evening with Silk Sonic” if you haven’t yet.


Stephen Lee Bruner, or Thundercat, has had a huge influence on bringing funk to any collaborations he is a part of. Like Paak, he has a very distinct voice and is often featured as a bassist or contributing vocalist. He has worked with big names such as Badu, Flying Lotus, Childish Gambino and Kendrick Lamar. His bass playing style is also very distinct. Listening to the bass and recognizing it as Thundercat used to surprise me and be a fun game, but now it’s clear how great his influence is.

Terrace Martin, Robert Glasper, Kamasi Washington and 9th Wonder

This group is not as well known, but has appeared in some popular works. This jazz supergroup consists of Glasper, Martin, Washington and 9th Wonder, and might be one of the greatest things to happen in modern jazz. They span the realms of jazz and hip-hop for a new, updated sound. Together, they make some of the most mind-melting music I have ever heard. One of my favorite songs is by Martin and is called “Curly Martin.” It’s completely instrumental and emotional, and I highly recommend it. Their only album, “Dinner Party,” is soulful and mixes new sound with jazzy fundamentals. Watch out for “Freeze Tag;” the music is groovy and fun, but the lyrics are a bleak reminder of the state of the world.

Kendrick Lamar

This album and artist need no introduction. Lamar is very well known and his accomplishments have been well recognized. I want to highlight his most prominent work, “To Pimp a Butterfly.” “To Pimp a Butterfly” is a masterpiece, plain and simple. Lamar took funk and created a rap album that made a monumental mark on the expression of the Black experience in music. Martin, Glasper, Flying Lotus, Thundercat and several other artists came together to create this perfect album of pain, oppression and hope. It combines elements of hip-hop and jazz to create a perfect funky compilation of each genre. Its messages are about materialism, discrimination and Lamar’s personal experiences growing up as a kid and an artist. The whole album is a story, and each track is a piece. This is my favorite album, and I’m sure plenty of other people are as fond of it as I am. It will go down in history as one of the best albums of all time.

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