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  • Kai Bradner

The Emerging Underground Sound: The Significance of Black Alternative Artists

For many young black kids, it can be a struggle to find positive media representation. Being unable to see yourself in pop culture is a lonely exprience. The representation that many minority children experience is based on horrid stereotypes that perpetuate discrimination. Stereotypes have dominated pop culture from its conception; the depictions of Mammys, blaccents, and other images depicting black people in a negative light typically involve violence, drugs, abuse, and a lack of wealth. These stereotypes and cultural dynamics have crafted a certain image of what a black person should act like, sound like, and look like, upholding; white prejudices. These labels have also been forced onto black communities establishing a rigid box of what being a “normal” black person is. Goth, alternative, nerdy, and edgy kids have also been seen as weird or trying to act “white”. However, through the culmination of musical experimentation and the dominant presence of political activism in pop culture, the growing community of artists has paved the way for accepting an alternative Black identity. An example of an artist not afriad to step outside of the box is Tyler The Creator.

Tyler The Creator is at the forefront of the new alternative HIP-HOP wave; with the release of his album IGOR in 2019; Tyler displayed his experimental sound by combining genres of synth-pop neo-soul, jazz, and rap into one body of work. Though receiving a Grammy for his album, Tyler was pigeonholed into the Rap category. After his win, Tyler expressed his frustrations with the Recording Academy stating that “it sucks that whenever we – and I mean guys that look like me – do anything that’s genre-bending, they always put it in the rap or urban category”. Tyler is just one example of a black artist being told to “stay where you belong” but as Tyler the Creator once said, “Tell these Black kids they can be who they are”

Yves Tumor instantly comes to mind when thinking of a black alternative artist. The fluidity of Yves Tumor clashes directly against the rigid box of traditional masculinity that is tightly gripped by the black community. They have released 4 albums and a plethora of singles each blending together different genres to create a truly unique sound. Yves has curated an image of true expression, constantly creating art that is unafraid to be seen. Listening to Yves’ album Heaven To A Tortured Mind takes the listener on a deeply introspective journey highlighting love and boundlessness; leaving a message of having to look within to feel outside. These restrictive labels placed on Black Americans, specifically Black men, have harmed our communities tremendously. Black men have trouble expressing their emotions as when they were young, they were shamed for showing too much emotion. Statistics show that “Black men suffer from higher rates of mental health struggles. Yves Tumor has helped nourish a safe space for exploring masculinity and femininity. Artists like Yves Tumor have shown that this “image” created from generations of racism can be challenged and there is much more expression to be shared.

For Black women expression and emotion are on the opposite side of the coin from Black men. Seen as the emotional crutch of black communities, black women often carry the burdens of others. While given more of an emotional range, their own emotions are monitored. The angry black women (ABV) caricature is aggressively placed onto any emotion deemed negative. Artists Like Willow Smith, Arlo Park, Orion Sun, and Sudan Archives have worked to disregard these labels Each of these artists has experienced different genres not commonly associated with black artists like rock, hyperpop, folk, and punk. Black artists should not just be blocked into certain genres like Hip-Hop, R&B, and Rap. Willow Smith has begun to make a name for herself outside of her family's name and has taken a dynamic stance. A young black woman rockstar is not too common. Black musicians have heavily influenced rock music, while the genre seems to be dominated by white musicians there is much foundational history with black musicians. Growing up in the spotlight Willow Smith has faced painful amounts of criticism of the way she dressed, the way she talked, and now her music. Willow recently spoke about the pushback she received from her own label wanting to release a purely rock album "If I had been white, it would've been completely fine; but because I'm Black it's, 'Well... maybe let's just not'—and making it harder than it needs to be. If I go through that, every single other Black artist is getting the pushback [too].".

Willow had an explosive entrance into the rock genre with her single Transparent Soul and since then confidently held her space within the rock conversation. Willow was not afraid to put herself out there and it paid off significantly. It is important to remember as black kids that you can do and be whoever you want. The black community is not a monolith, there is much diversity and this diversity should be celebrated not discouraged. While only a few artists were discussed in this article there is ever ever-expanding amount of black alternative artists from big to small. Each artist carries a unique sense of individuality that is refreshing to see.

Here is a list of other genre-breaking artists:

Arlo Parks Sudan Archives Blvck Hippie

Moses Sumney Khazali Vagabon

Orion Sun Montrell Fish Yuno

Toro Y Moi Bedside Kites Cosmo Pyke

binki TV on the Radio MorMor


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