Artist of the Month: Black History Month
by Bernadette Harding , Adjwou Mesgana Waiss , Rainna Yarborough , Lily Jones and Sam Baumann
In honor of Black History Month, several of Byte’s feature writers have compiled a group of trailblazing Black artists who have impacted the music scene in profound and exciting ways. These artists push the envelope and dare to create within an industry that often fails to recognize their innovation and creativity.
Mesgana Waiss: nelovesbias
As hip-hop continues to dominate the charts and airways, the uniqueness of its subgenres never fails to amaze me. If you are a devout fan of the artform and looking to spice up your party playlist, look no further than nelovesbias. The Washington D.C.-based rapper and model has secured his place in the underground rap scene. He has garnered over a million Spotify streams for his viral hit “Infinity” featuring Mene Gene. It has stayed in my rotation for over a year now. The song samples Steve Lacy’s “Some but it is nelovebias’ slap happy vocals and chipper cadence that transforms the infectious drill beat. The music video like the song, is a display of perfect chaos.
His artistry knows no bounds and allows him to create great music to fit any vibe or mood. This versatility is showcased on “Obedience” a standout track from of his 2021 EP N****z Call Me Bias. He recently attended the Recording Academy Honors hosted by Black Music Collective, which makes me anticipate an organic rise to superstardom for nelovebias sometime in the near future. Until then, you can find nelovesbias’ latest single “Cruella” on all streaming platforms.
Rainna Yarborough: Flo
Since I was young, girl groups have always been a favorite of mine. I am always looking for new groups to listen to. In the past year, Flo has started to gain momentum as a popular Black girl group. Based out of the U.K., this group formed in 2019 under Island Records but didn’t release their debut single “Cardboard Box” until March 2022. According to an interview with BBC it was because they were in artist development. However, the song quickly became a sensation on the internet, with 26 million streams on Spotify and seven million views on YouTube. Flo won the BBC Sound of 2023 an honor previously given to other well-known artists such as Adele and Pink Pantheress. It is undeniably clear that fans are more than excited to get the Flo experience, live. The group recently announced their first North American tour, which won’t start until April, has already sold out. I’m sad that I can’t attend a show, as I became a fan after seeing their song go viral on TikTok. However, I will be rooting for their success. In the meantime, you can stream Flo’s newest single “Losing You” and get into the easy, fun vibes they bring as a group.
Bernadette Harding: Swamp Dogg
This 80-year-old R&B rascal has managed to maintain a career in music since the release of his first track, “Heartsick Troublesome Downout Blues” in the ‘50s under the name Little Jerry Williams. This name was a fitting title for the then 12-year-old, whose raspy vocals carried the soul of a man beyond his years, hinting at the long career to come, spanning more than 60 years in the music industry.
In the 70s he created the pseudonym Swamp Dogg, who acted as an alter-ego for Williams’ exploration into mature themes. In a 2020 interview with NPR he spoke about rebranding himself and music, “I needed an alter ego because I wanted to say some things. I wanted to be able to talk about sex, religion, politics; I wanted to sing about everything.” While most of his peers have fallen off the scene, it is Williams’ timeless reinvention that keeps him relevant and in touch with modern music. In 2022 he released, I Need a Job…So I Can Buy More Auto-Tune, wittingly titled to reference his 2018 comeback, Love, Loss, and Auto-Tune, this once again established Williams as a wacky force of nature, exploring life through pleasure and pain. The cleverness of Williams feels almost Gen Z in nature on “Lonely” as he laughs at himself and languishes in self pity for loving someone who will never commit. Even as Williams ages, his music continues to maintain relevance and enjoy new exciting waves of reinvention.
Lily Jones: Iyaz
In the early 2000s, Iyaz’s music was relatively popular with radio stations and TV channels like Disney or Nickelodeon. Iyaz’s most famous song is titled “Replay.” When I was a kid, I remember there being a time when you could not go anywhere without hearing this iconic tune. I first became acquainted with Iyaz’s music through shows like Hannah Montana and Big Time Rush. I was an avid watcher of Hannah Montana, and I remember when Iyaz collaborated on “Gonna Get This” with Hannah Montana. The track sounded unique and different from any of the other Hannah Montana songs, and it piqued my interest in Iyaz. Iyaz also did a collaboration with Big Time Rush on their song “If I Ruled the World.” Iyaz currently has two albums, “Replay” and “Aurora” with Aurora being released in 2015. He has not released any full length albums since then, but has opted to release singles and feature on others’ tracks. In 2022, Iyaz was featured on a few songs, including a song with Gabby B called “Dance All Night.” In 2023, Iyaz was featured on a remix of “Replay” with MoonLander.
Sam Baumann: Leon Bridges
Leon Bridges has been able to introduce soul music to a new generation of listeners. The Fort Worth native’s first album Coming Home is heavily influenced by the works of Sam Cooke and Otis Redding. This is especially apparent in the Grammy-nominated track “River” that has a soft guitar lick that builds toward an explosion of melodic sounds. Bridges taps into that ’60s nostalgia and builds upon it to create his own unique sound. This sonic evolution can be observed on his latest album Good Thing and Texas Sun. He released his first album as a 26-year-old and has since been nominated for six Grammys and won for best traditional R&B vocal performance. His other nominations include best R&B album for his debut album Coming Home and best music video for his song “River” I was lucky enough to see him live at Bourbon and Beyond in Louisville, Kentucky. He played for only 45 minutes, but Bridges and his band owned the stage. Bridges dawned a leopard print outfit straight out of a ’60’s magazine catalogue. During the set, he changed and manipulated the crowd’s energy from wild dancing to booming jazz tunes to slowly swaying against blues ballads. Anyone who can make a crowd do both in such a short time frame is certain to become a household name. I highly recommend his first album to anyone who is an old soul and his latest work for those who need a good cry. You can find his work on any music streaming service.