How Solange, Beyonce & Common Brought Pain & Healing In 2016 With Their Pro-Black Power Projects

Solange Knowles at Refinery 29's '29 Rooms' opening in New York.
Matteo Prandoni/

Solange Knowles at Refinery 29's '29 Rooms' opening in New York. 

History shows that oppression always breeds great black art: be it dance, plays, television dramas and especially music. If you recall the rise of the Black Power movement in the ‘60s and ‘70s when youth organized, protested or simply longed to tell stories of social injustice, including ones of police brutality and systemic racism, anthems like Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On?” and James Brown's "Say It Loud -- I’m Black and I’m Proud" rang out to illustrate an authentic picture of the deep-rooted black plight and generate black empowerment.

As the continued national conversation about race and the black experience in America arguably reached fever pitch this year, artists like Solange, Beyoncé and Common followed in the footsteps of raw, talented narrators such as Billie Holiday and Nina Simone to provide blacks with racially charged soundtracks for our pain and healing.

Amid an increasing amount of reported deaths of unarmed black men and women, the Black Lives Matter movement and the political storm playing out on CNN post-Donald Trump's election win, Solo’s A Seat at the Table and Bey’s Lemonade proved to be as timely and influential as Kendrick Lamar’s 2015 black power hit, “Alright.” Solange placed everyday micro-aggressions (“Don’t Touch My Hair”) and depression (“Mad”) against glittering production while her older sis explored unapologetic sexual liberation (“Sorry”) and the unification of black women (“Formation”) backed by a handful of genres.

For blacks, especially women, it was the jarring honesty of each surprise project that emancipated the soul and invoked black pride. Their respective pro-black masterpieces are heralded as safe spaces where black women can feel understood during a time where we often feel stifled or dismissed. Their LPs also earned them membership into the elite group of siblings who’ve scored No. 1 and several Grammy nods.

However, black power projects of 2016 didn’t simply discuss the day-to-day, nuanced adversities of life and love. There was also resilience tucked away between bars. On Common’s Black America Again, the Chicago rapper reignited the hope that blacks can rewrite their story, one filled with equality ("The Day Women Took Over") and freedom ("Joy and Peace").

It’s no surprise that black artists continue to turn to the mic to shed light on the state of black America. With the prevalence of social injustices heightened through social media and an overall wokeness, many blacks still struggle with their place in the world and have leaned on sonic expression in hopes of better days. But to truly gauge the necessity of pro-black sounds crafted specifically to uplift and relate to black people in today’s society, look no further than Solange’s “Interlude: Tina Taught Me.”

"Part of it is accepting that it’s so much beauty in being black," the Knowles matriarch says during one of the LP’s most poignant moments. "It really saddens me when we’re not allowed to express that pride in being black, and that if you do, it’s considered anti-white."

Nevertheless, the celebration of blackness on wax barely leaves room for those who are offended or misunderstand. Prime example? On Kendrick Lamar’s Untitled, Unmastered., the modern-day music messiah almost uncomfortably weighs in on racial stereotypes and politics, likening white people to greed. And while it may go over people’s heads, to quote Solange, "some sh-t is for us."

But if the black power releases of the year have taught listeners anything, it’s that black people still have a lot to celebrate despite a somewhat nationwide intolerance of blackness. And as long as racial inequities continue to raid this country, there will be black artists recording music to remind us that we gon’ be alright.

Billboard Year in Music 2016


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