The concept of Afro Futurism is imagining a future through a black cultural lens. Like a lot of science fiction, it often ends up a metaphor for life today. Here’s a list of highlights of musical afro futurists.
Sun Ra – Space Is The Place
Sun Ra took big band jazz and dipped it in acid, making truly outer space music. He said he was from Saturn, and made a movie about his adventures on Earth. It’s pretty brilliant.
Parliament – The Landing Of The Holy Mothership
George Clinton, Bootsy Collins, Bernie Worrell, the Brides of Funkenstein…all different manifestations of the ever growing, ever evolving band known as P.Funk. They made a series of concept albums throughout the 70s that functioned as party records, comedy albums, sci fi operas and black nationalist manifestos that influenced me more than any other artist in any medium.
Michael & Janet Jackson – Scream
Michael Jackson loved science fiction and fantasy, and you see that throughout his videos, like CAN YOU FEEL IT, THRILLER, REMEMBER THE TIME and this one with his sister Janet. He also wanted to buy Marvel Comics so he could play the Black Panther in a movie.
OutKast – B.O.B.
OutKast called themselves Atliens, and used spaceship imagery and more in this brilliant video.
Janelle Monae – Many Moons
Janelle took the funky robot metaphor of the Brides of Funkenstein and Parlet and took it way to the next level. Most of her videos like TIGHTROPE, ELECTRIC LADY, DANCE APOCAYIPTIC and others reflect similar themes.
Kamasi Washington – The Space Traveller’s Lullaby
In a full circle to Sun Ra, Kamasi Washington takes jazz to outer space in this epic song.
What is soul? Aretha Franklin, that’s what it is.
The underrated. Her voice is as powerful, as sincere, as moving as it ever was.
Chaka live blows me away every time.
The singer’s singer.
Her voice is a beautiful as her appearance.
I didn’t get it as a kid, but I do now.
The pinnacle of gospel music.
I didn’t understand opera until I heard her sing.
Soulful, classy, and a string of hits over decades.
She crosses all genres of music and makes it hers.
These artists wrote great songs for themselves and others, and sang the heck out of them. These are artists who deserve your complete attention. Listen deeply to their entire catalogue of music.
1. Stevie Wonder
With a body of work that covers two generations, Stevie is the artists’ artist.
Writer, producer, musician, singer, showman….he was a complete artist.
3. Curtis Mayfield
His work in gospel groups, R&B groups, as a solo artist on his own label, and writing for movies for himself and fellow legends like Gladys Knight and Aretha Franklin, and covered by greats ranging from Bob Marley to Kanye West, Curtis Mayfield is an all time great.
4. Bob Marley
More than a man, he was a movement that still inspires. The melodies, the grooves and the message are beloved worldwide.
5. Smokey Robinson
Bob Dylan called him America’s greatest poet. He defined the Motown Sound. Plus, this is one of the greatest video clips ever.
6. Bill Withers
How many great songs by Bill Withers can you sing all the way through?
7. Sly Stone
Sly Stone created the template for Prince and every other multi racial, mixed gender bands. He also wrote classic albums that you can listen to non stop.
8. Kenny “Babyface” Edmonds
He’s been in groups, a solo artist and written for others. A Babyface concert is back to back hits.
9. Cassandra Wilson
Like many jazz artists, Cassandra Wilson is also known for her covers, many of which totally reinvent the song. But she also writes great ones too. Like this one.
10. Ron Isley
I can’t think of another artist who has hits in every decade from the 50s to the 90s.
All month I’m going to assemble a list of great black artists and songs. I’ll start with great black soundtracks, since I won’t be able to do the Black Movie Soundtrack show at the Hollywood Bowl this summer.
Not only one of the greatest soundtracks, but arguably the greatest black film ever made. Beautiful black music, costumes, colors and culture…and beautiful black people!
COME BACK CHARLESTON BLUE
This sequel to COTTON COMES TO HARLEM had a great score by Quincy Jones, who had the late great Donny Hathaway sing this theme with Valarie Simpson. I’ve been wearing this song out lately.
THE HARDER THEY COME
Classic film with one of the greatest collection of reggae songs on one album. Every track is a masterpiece. But I’ve been rocking this track a lot lately so I’m serving this one up for you.
Here’s an awesome clip of Isaac Hayes creating the masterpiece soundtrack for this classic.
The greatest black soundtrack producer has to be Curtis Mayfield, with is work on Superfly, Claudine and Sparkle. Here’s a great song that was sung by Aretha Franklin on the soundtrack, then beautifully covered by En Vogue years later.
JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR
I love this movie, and Carl Anderson’s performance is one of the big reasons why. His acting and singing are so powerful!
SGT. PEPPER’S LONELY HEARTS CLUB BAND
Earth Wind and Fire take a Beatle’s classic and totally make it their own in the of the highlights of this film, directed by Michael Schultz!
Fantastic use of a classic song.
A great songwriter in Dolly Parton meets one of the greatest voices of our generation and this happens.
I can watch this opening forever.
What a debut! We first heard Snoop when Dr. Dre had him on this banging track.
Jussie Smollett and Marcus Miller collaborated on this amazing rendition of the Langston Hughes poem LET AMERICA BE AMERICA AGAIN.