We’ve been delving into the past, seeking out the origins of dance music. Following an era of funk and disco, house music was birthed underground by incredible Black artists of Chicago, Detroit, and New York. Inspired by the sounds and dance culture of disco and this new age of technology, we saw a movement spearheaded by the marginalized (Black, Latinx, women, and LGBTQ+) and brought into mainstream culture.
Names like Frankie Knuckles, Larry Levan, and Derrick May and places like the Warehouse and Paradise Garage brought us through the 80s and 90s, inspiring multiple waves of techno, garage, and house. These early innovators have inspired the next generation of artists to produce, create new sounds, and build up the world’s most multifaceted musical community.
In this segment, we’re taking a look at the Black artists who have shaped our modern world, in terms of electronic music. They’ve topped charts, sold out stadiums, toured worldwide, and invented countless subgenres.
Black Electronic Artists of the NOW
Carl Cox has to be one of the biggest names in electronic music. The Brit got his start DJing in the 80s as house and techno exploded in popularity. Although the scene was bustling in America, it made its way across the pond and Cox is seen as one of the forefathers of the British rave scene. Carl became a household name in the early 90s after he released his single “I Want You (Forever)”. His popularity and talent landed him gigs worldwide, a residency on BBC Radio 1, and ultimately his own record label, Intec Records (now Intec Digital). There is no one in the scene that is more closely associated with Ibiza, the island of dance music. In 2001, Cox began what would become a 15-year residency at Space Ibiza ending the decade and a half with a ten-hour vinyl set before the club closed its doors forever. The closure of Space Ibiza sparked rumours that Cox would retire, but this veteran can’t be stopped. Cox continues to take the mainstage at countless music festivals and has his own curated stage at Ultra called Carl Cox & Friends, featuring hand-selected acts. His now-defunct radio show Global Radio amassed 17 million monthly listeners making it clear that Carl Cox is one of the most important and influential artists of house and techno music.
Native to South Africa, Black Coffee (nee Nkosinathi Innocent Maphumulo), got an early education in music. A jazz major, Black Coffee understands the intricacies of music production. He and two schoolmates formed a group called SHANA (Simple Hot and Naturally African) and were signed by Melt 2000. But it was in 2003 when Maphumulo broke onto the dance music scene after being selected to participate in the Red Bull Music Academy. His debut album, “Black Coffee” came out in 2005 and he has since released four other studio albums. He has performed globally on big festival stages like Coachella and Ultra, has worked with the likes of David Guetta, Usher, and Drake, earned himself top spots on best DJ lists, and hit #1 on iTunes. Black Coffee continues to blow other artists out of the water, producing innovative and flawlessly executed tracks that certainly earns himself a spot of this list of crucial Black artists of the present.
A pioneer of dubstep, Benga, a.k.a. Adegbenga Adejumo produced his first banger at age 15. The UK producer used to frequent the Big Apple Record shop. It’s here he got himself noticed and the label went on to release his first single “Skank”. This single propelled him to the forefront of UK dubstep alongside his BFF, Skream. He released his debut album “Diary of an Afro Warrior” in 2008. He has topped charts, presented on BBC Radio 1, and continued to forge a path in the dubstep genre. In 2018, Benga spoke up about his mental health illnesses, crediting his single Psychosis as a sort of musical therapy and means of coping. He has mentioned that his time spent in the hospital and recovering has allowed him to look differently at the music he is producing and given him the space to evolve.
Honey Redmond, better known as Honey Dijon, takes us back to the queer roots of dance music. As a transgender woman, she has always used her voice to advocate for trans rights and awareness and honour that dance music was started by queer people of colour. Born in Chicago, she threw herself into the techno music movement and clubbing. It was in her hometown she found mentorship from some of the greats before making her way to New York City. In New York, she gained notoriety for her DJ skills as well as her fashion sense. Her ability to seamlessly glide through multiple genres and undeniable stage presence got her noticed by some big names in fashion, producing the soundtrack to the 2017 Supreme x Louis Vuitton runway show. She continues to forge her own path in the industry, playing festivals worldwide, and being a positive role model for women, but more specifically Black women in the electronic industry.
Jlin, Jerrilyn Patton, comes from Gary, Indiana. She grew up on jazz music and during university, she found herself in the thralls of Chicago footwork. The talented producer has since come to reject herself as a footwork producer, describing her music as EDM. She credits her finding her own sound after her mom listened to one of her remixes and told her it was great but what did she sound like? It was at that point she stopped listening to other people tracks and emulating a certain sound. In 2008, she released “Erotic Heat” and caught the attention of DJ Rashad and Planet Mu founder Mike Paradinas, who included the track on the label’s compilation album Bangs & Works, Vol. 2. In 2015, Jlin experienced international acclaim following the release of her album Dark Energy garnering praise from high-profile publications like the New York Times, Pitchfork, Dummy, and The Wire. Her next album Black Orchid and most recent work Autobiography are countless reminders of Jlin’s raw talent and unique sound.
Maya Shipman, better know as Suzi Analogue, was born in Baltimore but has since relocated to New York. Crediting her name as a counterpart to RZA’s alter-ego Bobby Digital, Suzi Analogue stays true to it, releasing most of her music on vinyl or tape. She sprang into the public eye in 2009 with the collective Klipmode. She started her own label, Never Normal Records, in 2013. She uses her voice to speak up about what it is like to be a woman in a male-dominated industry and collabs with other female trailblazers, like TOKiMONSTER. She has hit the decks of Boiler Room and topped Pitchfork charts. She also made her way to Uganda to teach production to up and coming artists. Her sound can be described as international and inclusive, seamlessly blending hip hop, soul, sythensizers, and electro sounds.
Born Louis Kevin Celestin, the Haitian-Canadian is best known under the moniker KAYTRANADA. A natural talent, he began DJing at 14. Chronically shy, he used music as a release. In 2010, he started posting his tracks to Soundcloud, but it wasn’t until 2012 when he released a bootleg remixed version of Janet Jackson’s “If” that he blew up. The track went viral. His remixes went on to become nightclub soundtracks. Now openly gay, the artist speaks at length of how accepting his true self and coming out affected his mental wellbeing. Through this, he has come to find his own sound and now only keeps the bootleg remixes for himself. He has since toured the world and opened for Madonna twice. In 2015, he signed to XL Recordings and released his debut album 99.9%. Celestin has collabed with big names like Anderson Paak, Vic Menson, and most notably Craig David. In 2016, he won the Polaris Prize for the album. In 2019, he released another album, Bubba, which has topped Billboard’s Dance/Electronic Albums chart.
Ras G, born Gregory Shorter, Jr., described his music as ghetto sci-fi, subsequently naming his record label this. Without any formal musical training, Ras G became a crate-digger at an early age searching markets and fairs for old albums. In the 2000s, he began releasing music and catching the attention of the industry. His work ethic was incredible. He would release multiple albums in a year. His proficiency as a producer led him to work with names like Thundercat and Flying Lotus. His two most popular albums Brotha from Anotha Planet and Back on the Planet were released under Brainfeeder Records. Up until his death in 2019, Shorter stayed true to his otherworldly, Afrofuturist sound. As his health declined, he continued to work at Poobah Record Shop in Pasadena where he swore by his open-door policy, bringing in people of all kinds to introduce them to new music.