Celebrating the Diaspora One Song at a Time: Music by Black Artists You May Have Missed in 2019: A Guide J-L


For Omar Higgins

“We were a hundred different kinds of people, doing every little thing you could think of, and some things you’d never think about at all.

“The variety in our lives was something else.” — Walter Dean Myers

“I just wish it was OK for Black people, in general, to step outside the box and it not be like, “Yo, get back in the motherfucking box real quick, nigga! What the fuck are you doing?” Like niggas can’t do anything? Niggas have to do one thing or nothing. It’s like we can’t do many things at once. There’s no room or margin of error with niggas to step outside the box.” – JPEGMAFIA

“The whole idea is for young African American kids to feel comfortable doing whatever it is they want musically.” — Omar Higgins

““Society cages souls that dare to be free and stand as themselves,…I want to reflect the constant battle-like run between encasement of social norms and cultural institutions, and the fight to break out of that. We end up deciding to fight and break out of the matrix.” – Abdu Ali

Every year I have the same takeaway, that it was a great year for music. There’s so much great stuff out there if you choose to seek it out. This list came about because of a stray thought. I was already starting to sketch out what some of my favorite albums of the year were. I realized that, if I wanted to, I could have a top 10 list featuring only black artists, and it would be a legit list filled with good music. As the day went on, the idea grew.

The large body of music made by black creatives in 2019 covers any and every genre you can think of and ventures into uncharted territory hinting at directions that may lead to the future. From old blues heads to youngbloods carrying on the tradition; from walls of noise to dreamy bedroom pop; from the controlled chaos of free jazz to the smooth sounds of R&B. Black expression is alive, bold, and doing well.

I can’t (and won’t) guarantee that you’ll love everything here. But there’s some great music and talent on display and I think you can find something you like.

A couple of brief notes. Due to the project’s size, it will be broken up into 5 parts with approximately 25 songs per day. I compiled information about each artist into a set template for each one. Website, social media, and further song/album info is linked in each section. If I couldn’t find such info, or if it didn’t appear to be available, there is no embedded link. In most cases, I linked to the songs on Youtube. If there was an official video, it was embedded into the post, if there was no video, I embedded the link into the text. I have a Spotify playlist and will make it available when this project is complete.

Name: J-E-T-S (Feat. Mykki Blanco)

More Info: Website|Facebook|Twitter|Instagram

Selected Song: “Play” (Bandcamp|Youtube)

Bio: “Mykki Blanco, is an American rapper, performance artist, poet and activist.”

Name: James BKS

More Info: Website|Facebook|Twitter|Instagram

Selected Song: “New Breed (feat. Q-Tip, Idris Elba & Little Simz)” (Bandcamp|Youtube)

Bio: James BKS is a French-Cameroonian artist and producer who worked with world famous rap figures before starting his own musical project.

Name: Jamila Woods

More Info: Website|Facebook|Twitter|Instagram

Selected Song and Album: “Muddy” from Legacy! Legacy! (Bandcamp|Youtube)

Bio: Jamila Woods is a Chicago-based American singer, songwriter and poet.

Name: Jennah Bell

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Selected Song and Album: “Chapter 3: The Hatchet” from Anchors & Elephants (Bandcamp|Youtube)

Bio: Oakland native, longtime Brooklyn resident, and now Los Angeles newcomer Jennah Bell, has been passionately described as the sum of music’s best parts; drawing influences from genres such as Folk, Soul, R&B, Rock, and Pop.

Name: Jessy Wilson

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Selected Song and Album: “Clap Your Hands” from Phase (Bandcamp|Youtube)

Bio: DescriptionJessy Wilson is an American singer from Brooklyn and former member of the rock duo Muddy Magnolias.

Name: John Dee Holeman

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Selected Song and Album: “She Moves Me” from album (Bandcamp|Youtube)

Bio: Born in 1929, John Dee Holeman is an American Piedmont blues guitarist, singer, and songwriter. His music includes elements of Texas blues, R&B and African-American string-band music.

Name: Jontavious Willis

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Selected Song and Album: “The World is a Tangle” from Spectacular Class (Bandcamp|Youtube)

Bio: Every generation or so, a young bluesman bursts onto the scene and sends a jolt through the blues community.  Jontavious Willis may just have that effect on people. The gifted musician delivers a timeless album that features dynamic vocals and all types of blues: Delta, Piedmont, Texas, and Gospel. His stand-out fingerpicking, flat-picking, and slide prowess are also on display.

Name: JS Ondara

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Selected Song and Album: “American Dream” from Tales of America (Bandcamp|Youtube)

Bio: “Ondara was born in Nairobi, Kenya where he was madly in love with the American and British rock music he’d hear on the radio. But his family couldn’t afford a guitar. He had big dreams to become a musician in the U.S., so about five years ago, he moved to Minneapolis… in the middle of winter. At the time, he didn’t even play an instrument.” (Source)

Name: Junglepussy

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Selected Song: “Spiders” (Bandcamp|Youtube)

Bio: Junglepussy, is an American rapper and actress based in New York City.

Name: Junius Paul

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Selected Song and Album: “You Are Free to Choose” from Ism (Bandcamp|Youtube)

Bio: Junius Paul is a composer, bandleader & acoustic and electric bassist from Chicago

Name: K.a.a.n

More Info: Website|Facebook|Twitter|Instagram

Selected Song and Album: “All is There” from I.C.a.B.S. (Bandcamp|Youtube)

Bio: K.A.A.N. is an American rapper from Maryland. He is best known for his fast-rhyming Chopper style, vast vocabulary, and cynical lyrics based on mental health issues, abuse, politics, and religion, along with struggling to grow his fanbase. 

Name: Kaleta and Super Yamba Band

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Selected Song and Album: “Adjotò” from Mèdaho (Bandcamp|Youtube)

Bio: Brooklyn afro-funksters Kaleta & Super Yamba Band are fronted by Afrobeat and Juju veteran Leon Ligan-Majek a.k.a. Kaleta. The singer, guitarist and percussionist from the West African country of Benin Republic lived his adolescent life in Lagos, Nigeria where Afrobeat was born. Kaleta performed and toured the world with the gods, Fela Kuti and King Sunny Ade, along with Majek Fashek and more recently Lauryn Hill.

Name: Kel Assouf

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Selected Song and Album: “Tenere” from Black Tenere (Bandcamp|Youtube)

Bio: “In 2006, Anana Harouna arrived in Brussels after a long exile and created a new band: Kel Assouf. Since then he explored various styles and formulas gathering musicians from African and European countries. The band recorded two albums with Igloo Records: two completely different stories, from tradition to deep rock. With one foot in the desert and the other in Europe, Anana Harouna sings about Sahara, Niger and Brussels. The melodies and rhythms are directly inspired by Berber music. His short sentences, laid on scales and rhythms from traditional keltamasheq music, remind us the concision of Japanese haiku. With a new minimalist power trio, surrounded by Sofyann Ben Youssef on the organ and the Moog SUB 37, and Olivier Penu on drums, Anana Harouna’s revolt against injustices is made explicit by the saturated voice of his guitar. The African trance rhythms melted into the energy of vintage rock move us to a dancefloor somewhere between London and Niamey – a powerful groove machine!”

Name: Kelly Bell Band

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Selected Song and Album: “Long Train” from Know My Name (Bandcamp|Youtube)

Bio: Imagine Muddy Waters wearing a Bob Marley T-shirt riding on Black Sabbath’s tour bus on their way to a Parliament Funkadelic concert, listening to Sammy Davis Junior on an 8-track tape humming a Run DMC song, that would be close to what we do.

Name: Kentavius Jones

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Selected Song and Album: “Rogue Train” from Bohemian Beatbox (Bandcamp|Youtube)

Bio: “Music has always been a part of my life from my most infantile stages of existence. My mother was raised in a church where music was central to worship and my father was a DJ. Between the hymns and the vinyl, I was provided the soundtrack of my childhood. The latter part of my teenage years found me fully immersed in sonic exploration. In my senior of high school, I picked up the guitar and began singing. Using my ears as my guide, I learned how to play everything from Radiohead to Ray Charles. Dave Matthews to Marvin Gaye. The Pixies to James Brown. My first band was a rock band that formed while I was attending Washington College. That’s where songwriting came into play. After many band incarnations and tons of shows, my individual artistry took shape. My influences are broad and vast and I am a sum of those influences. My style is a combination of singer songwriter and soul with an indie sensibility. I’ve shared the stage with Snarky Puppy, Mint Condition and the Roots.”

Name: Kesswa

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Selected Song and Album: “To Find” from Soften (Bandcamp|Youtube)

Bio: Experimental singer and songwriter from Detroit.

Name: Kevin Abstract

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Selected Song and Album: “American Problem” from Arizona Baby (Bandcamp|Youtube)

Bio: Kevin Abstract is an American rapper, singer-songwriter, and director, and is a founding member of Brockhampton.

Name: Khaos Light

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Selected Song and Album: “The Truth” from album (Bandcamp|Youtube)

Bio: I’m a hip hop artist who raps to Math Rock, Djent and Instrumental Rock

Name: Kid Creole

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Selected Song: “Checkin’ My Colonies” from album (Bandcamp|Youtube)

Bio: Kid Creole, is an American musician, singer and songwriter best known for co-founding Dr. Buzzard’s Original Savannah Band and subsequently forming and leading Kid Creole and the Coconuts.

Name: Kokoroko

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Selected Song and Album: “Adwa” from Kokoroko (Bandcamp|Youtube)

Bio: KOKOROKO channel the greats of West Africa through a jazz-rooted approach, building on the foundations laid by Fela Kuti, Tony Allen and Ebo Taylor; they lace interrelated influences together into a soul shaking, horn fueled sound. They draw from the music they grew up with, the echoes of Afrobeat and highlife heard in melodies, drum patterns and harmonised vocals.

Name: Leyla McCalla

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Selected Song and Album: “Money is King” from The Capitalist Blues (Bandcamp|Youtube)

Bio: “Leyla McCalla finds inspiration from a variety of sources, whether it is her Haitian heritage, living in New Orleans or dancing at Cajun Mardi Gras. Leyla, a multi-instrumentalist, is a cellist and singer whose distinctive sound is impossible to replicate.

Leyla’s music reflects her eclectic and diverse life experiences, projecting a respect for eloquent simplicity that is rarely achieved. Born in New York City to Haitian emigrant parents, Leyla was raised in suburban New Jersey. As a teenager, she relocated to Accra, Ghana for two years. Upon her return, she attended Smith College for a year before transferring to New York University where she studied cello performance and chamber music. Armed with Bach’s Cello Suites, Leyla moved to New Orleans to play cello on the streets of the French Quarter.

It is the move to New Orleans that signaled a journey of musical and cultural discovery for Leyla. “New Orleans always felt like home to me,” she recalls. “The more I learned about the history of Louisiana, its ties to Haiti and French speaking culture, the more sense of belonging I felt and continue to feel.” Most recently, Leyla has fallen in love with the late Louisiana Creole fiddlers Canray Fontenot and Bébé Carrière and has explored their fiddling styles on the cello.

Leyla’s move to New Orleans also signaled a new stage in her career. It was while playing on the street that she caught the attention of Tim Duffy, the founder and director of the Music Maker Relief Foundation. He invited Leyla to join the Music Maker Relief Foundation family and introduced her to the Carolina Chocolate Drops, a renowned African-American string band.”

Name: Liza Colby Sound

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Selected Song and Album: “Cool Hand” from Object to Impossible Destination (Bandcamp|Youtube)

Bio: Part shaman, part seductress, Liza Colby was born to earn the Queen Of Rock N’ Roll mantle. Her music is for sinful Saturday nights, and redemptive Sunday mornings. It’s heartbreak music; it’s music of sexual liberation; it’s music for when it matters most. It’s The Liza Colby Sound. It’s the music we need in these times.

Imagine Led Zeppelin at Madison Square Garden meets James Brown at the Apollo. Picture Tina Turner prowling the stage like Iggy Pop with vocals that conjure Aretha Franklin and Humble Pie’s Steve Marriott. Hyperbolic? Nah, come to a show, and look out for The Liza Colby Sound

Name: Loraine James

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Selected Song and Album: “Dark as F**k – feat Le3 bLACK” from (Bandcamp|Youtube)

Bio: Loraine James was enticed into the world of music making through her mother, who would go from playing the steel pans to blaring out music from Metallica to Calypso. Having grown up in Enfield, London, she credits the multiculturalism in the city for “broadening my mind and ears”, having listened to jazz, electronica, uk drill and grime, and the results of this exposure can be heard on the mix-up of For You And I.

Name: Los Coast

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Selected Song and Album: “Monsters” from album Samsara (Bandcamp|Youtube)

Bio: The visionary Austin, TX combo Los Coast delivers a fresh blast of punchy psychedelic-pop-soul that effortlessly incorporates a wide range of genres. The band’s seamlessly soulful songcraft incorporates the band’s distinctive grooves along with the inventive compositions and commanding vocals of principal members Trey Privott (lead vocals, guitar) and John Courtney (guitar, keyboards, vocals)

Name: Lucky Daye

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Selected Song and Album: “Roll Some Mo” from Painted (Bandcamp|Youtube)

Bio: Lucky Daye, is an American singer and songwriter from New Orleans, Louisiana.

Name: Lynda Dawn

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Selected Song and Album: “Fonk Street” from At First Light (Bandcamp|Youtube)

Bio: Lynda Dawn is a vocalist, producer and songwriter from London. Exploring the sonic spectrum between soul, funk and jazz she draws upon her musically inclined upbringing to deliver a distinctive style of storytelling.