Corbin’s Music Corner: 10 Most Influential Black Artists in the Last 10 Years

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As Black History Month ends, I would like to highlight some of the most important and influential black artists of the last 10 years. Some whose names will not be forgotten and some who will even be named in the same breath as Prince, Michael Jackson, and Jimi Hendrix. Before we begin, this list is not in any order, just the 10 artists that I think will have us talking many years down the line.

1. Kendrick Lamar

This first artist is particularly close to my heart. The Compton rapper has produced some of my favorite work of all time, not just the 2010s. From his debut Good Kid M.A.A.D. City, to his breakthrough To Pimp A Butterfly, to the legacy cementing DAMN. up until the vulnerable side of Kendrick with Mr. Morale and The Big Steppers, to say Kendrick has been an influence is an understatement. All of his albums have been released to critical acclaim. He has won countless awards, with THREE Best Rap Album awards to his name. Every time Kendrick touches something, it turns to gold.

2. Beyonce

This one should come as no surprise to anyone who listens to music. Beyonce has dominated the music scene ever since she departed Destiny’s Child (which was a very popular trio) to go on her own and I’m sure she doesn’t regret it. Beyonce has racked up multiple best albums for different genres including dance, urban contemporary, surround sound and contemporary R&B. Beyonce has provided a voice and an outlet for young, black girls in the world and has given this generation someone to look up to, in and out of the music scene.

3. Rihanna

At 16 Rihanna moved to the U.S. from Barbados and had to work for every opportunity she got. Rihanna was brought to the forefront of music in the mid-to-late 2000s by Jay-Z and Def Jam and within months, had a hit in “Pon de Replay.” Fast forward eighteen years and Rihanna is performing in the Super Bowl. Instead of asking which is better between Beyonce and Rihanna, why not acknowledge the fact that two black women were able to reach the pinnacle of the music industry?

4. The Weeknd

The Weeknd’s earliest known success with music was in the early 2010s with a series of EPs, later known as Trilogy. Following this, The Weeknd released his first major album Beauty Behind The Madness, and started a string of wildly successful R&B albums. Currently, The Weeknd is working on his last project, at least under The Weeknd moniker.

5. Nicki Minaj

“The Queen of Rap” is hardly a nickname. Nicki Minaj, despite her issues, has become the most recognizable female rapper…maybe of all time? She’s developed a cult-like following with the “Barbz” with her empowering music. It’s hard to argue with them too with hit after hit after hit. Some may disagree, but I would ask for any other female rapper, especially in the 2010s who was as synonymous with the genre as Nicki. Others came up later in the decade like Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion, but none can do it better than the Queen.

6. Lil Wayne

I’d argue rap wouldn’t be where it is today without Lil Wayne. The man quite literally is the bridge between what I’d consider to be rap’s first Golden Age in the 1990s with names like Tupac, Biggie, and A Tribe Called Quest and its second Golden Age in the 2010s. Sure there were some mainstream rap acts in the 2000s like Jay-Z, Eminem, and 50 Cent, but they were all vestiges of that former golden age. All had ties to or were brought up during the East Coast/West Coast beef that dominated a decade in music. Lil Wayne was able to help pioneer modern trap music as we know it with his Tha Carter series setting new highs for the genre. Not to mention, Wayne’s label YoungMoney helped show the world Minaj and Drake in the late 2000s.

7. Pharrell Williams

Pharrell is someone who embodies hip-hop so much, that fans can instantly tell when his production notes have been laid on a song. Pharrell Williams is considered one of the greatest producers of all time and certainly of the 2000s. His unique, funky style of producing was unlike anything heard in rap music. However, it caught the eyes of many and Pharrell never let up from there. He’s done everything from music, fashion, and acting. He’s done all that he can in his space and made sure to leave his mark on the music scene. Just ask some of the artists on this list and they will tell you his importance in the music industry.

8. Frank Ocean

If you didn’t read the top paragraph where I stated this was not in order, you were probably up in arms when you saw Frank Ocean listed this low. I’d argue that Ocean is just as important as anyone on this list. Even if in some world, you have never heard of Frank Ocean, I can guarantee you have heard a snippet of one of his songs. The craziest part about that guarantee? He only has two solo albums and a handful of singles (officially) released. The diehard fans have been able to procure unreleased material on SoundCloud and YouTube. Still, I think that goes to show his sway when individuals are illegally downloading the music of a guy with barely any music out.

9. Janelle Monae

Monae flies under the radar, especially compared to other names on this list, but let’s not be mistaken…she has taken risks with her music and they have paid off. Monae is considered one of the leading voices in R&B and like Pharrell, was able to spin that off into Hollywood where she has starred in many movies such as “Hidden Figures” and “Moonlight”. After getting discovered by OutKast’s Big Boi, Monae has gone on to be a trailblazer and like Beyonce and Rihanna, is another example of a black woman reaching success in multiple industries.

10. Childish Gambino

The last artist here is another who has dipped his toe into multiple projects at once, which shows the influence of an artist—their ability to effectively excel in different arts. Donald Glover has captivated audiences with his TV series “Atlanta” and has made listeners feel with his albums “Because the Internet” and “Awaken, My Love!” as Childish Gambino. His success in music is not as mainstream as some like Travis Scott or Drake but Gambino also splits his time between so much. It almost makes you wonder how big he would be as a musical artist if he stuck to it full-time or released more music.
Written by: Corbin Hubert

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