Underground Artists Innovating with New Sounds
By Nikki Walton
We all have that one friend. They are the go-to for the latest drip, get us reservations at that exclusive, just-opened restaurant we hadn’t even heard of yet, and STAY sending us new music– the tracks and artists that become our favs. The ones that change our lives and slide in the rotation of our playlist. But today, YOU’RE that lit friend!
This Black Music Month (BMM), Xfinity is putting you on to emerging and underground artists– the ones that are blending genres, experimenting with crazy collaborations, and creating fire but lowkey mixtapes– so that you can finally put your squad on!
BMM is a month-long observance that celebrates the history and cultural impact of African American musicians by highlighting the different genres and styles of music that they have created, inspired, and fostered. It also celebrates the artists who are giving us the collabs we didn’t know we needed, showing us that we’re more powerful together, and that co-creation is key. Check them out, and then go drop that fire in your group chat. You’re welcome!
A Nigerian-American R&B Duo, Van Jess puts a ‘90s-inspired twist on their soulful sound. First-generation Nigerian immigrants, these sisters were raised in California and started singing together at an early age. They were originally inspired by ‘90s R&B acts like SWV, Xcape, TLC, Jodeci, Brandy, Envogue, and later by Jill Scott and Erykah Badu. A cover of ‘Headlines’ by Drake went viral in 2011, and by 2018, they were signed to RCA! Recently featured on the Tamron Hall Show and Revolt TV, they frequently collaborate with ground-breaking artists like Kaytranada, Phony Ppl, Ari Lennox, Masego, Goldlink, and more. These days, it’s common for vocalists to find inspiration in the past. When it comes to Van Jess, they blend images of the past, present, and future into their mini-masterpiece 2021 EP Homegrown. “We’ve always channeled nostalgia in our music and been inspired by old records,” Jessica told the Herald. “But one thing that happened for us (during quarantine) was that we looked through old photo albums of our parents in Nigeria in the ’70s and that really inspired the visual elements of the project. We thought it would be really cool to pay tribute to them and also showcase our roots being Nigerian and also American. Considering that the music touches on old school elements, I think it all came together in terms of the visual and sound experience colliding in a way I think is really special.”
Hailing from New Orleans, Luke James is a singer, songwriter, and actor that blends contemporary creative talents like Jazmine Sullivan and old soul Marvin Gaye. As the co-star of the hit TV show, the Chi, he got his start as a background singer for Tyrese. His very first mixtape (circa 2011) earned him a Grammy nod and he’s since collabed with A$AP Ferg, BJ The Chicago Kid, Ro James, Big K.R.I.T., Kirk Franklin, and Samoht. In 2020 he was nominated for another Grammy for his song, “to feel love/d” in the category Best R&B Album. Little known fact: much of his 2013 was dedicated to opening for Beyonce, after appearing in the music video for “Run the World (Girls).” Since then, he has soared to the top, signing a record deal with Big Dog Label Island and releasing his first single “I Want You” shortly afterward. James is a multi-faceted powerhouse who is capable of hitting a soaring falsetto like few other vocalists today. If his body of work weren’t already enough to intrigue you, then stay tuned – Luke James is one to watch.
An American hip hop duo hailing from ATL, Olu (Johnny Venus), and WowGr8 (aka Doctur Dot – born Eian Parker) formed EarthGang when they were just in high school. Over the years, they have curated a strong collective of rappers, producers, and vocalists into what is now known as Spillage Village. Collaboration and innovation are what sets them apart, as they’ve concurrently worked together on every aspect of their projects since those early school days. Influenced by a diverse range of artists, from T-Pain to Lauryn Hill, you can’t pinpoint EarthGang to a specific sound as they’re made up of so many. The duo released their debut album Shallow Graves For Toys with great reception in 2013, and they’ve been making noise ever since! They signed to J. Cole’s Dreamville Records in 2015 and their 2019 album Mirrorland charted on the Billboard Top 100. They push boundaries like psychedelic rap pioneers of the past, Outkast and Future to name a few and continue to do things their way. In 2020, EarthGang reconnected with their Spillage Village counterparts for the release of Spilligion, the collective’s fourth album and first for Dreamville.
This Black Music Month, make sure you celebrate all the underground artists on The Black Experience on Xfinity who are killing the game. The showcase honors the rich and influential music legacy of Black musicians across all genres. Whether it’s blending sounds or collaborating on a fire mixtape, you know it’s better when we’re together!