Alt-music choices for black teens
January 2, 2007 10:46 PM   Subscribe

If you're young, black and alternative who or what do you listen to?

I'm thinking of an angsty teen who has grown to hate top-40 and mainstream R&B/rap.

Is there an underground scene of bands that sing Doo-Wop or play Jump Blues, 60s Soul or 70s Funk (not all together)? I'm familiar with Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings, but they seem like they'd be a little too old for a teen to see as cool (or relate to.)

Is Rhymesayers' stuff in the ballpark? My impression here in Minnesota that Atmosphere is a phenom among white kids, but don't know how they're received in other parts of the US along with the rest of the label mates.
posted by DonnieSticks to Society & Culture (42 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
There's a band from DC that are kind of similar to Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings, but a bit more modern called the Ambitions. There's also a lot of really good non-mainstream hip-hop like Spank Rock, Blackalicious, Jurassic 5, etc. If you're willing to go more into indie-rock with a soul influence, I'd also recommend TV On the Radio.
posted by youcancallmeal at 10:51 PM on January 2, 2007

Young, black, and alternative I am not. I'm 33, caucasian, and a complete tool. However, you might want to take a listen to the following bands that Daniel Dumile is involved with or are similar to Daniel Dumile to fill your alternative needs:

MD Doom
Viktor Vaughn
King Geedorah

For guilty, read not hip enough for the hipster set, pleasures try:

Jurassic 5
The Roots

And if you want to kick it old school, nothing quite beats:

A Tribe Called Quest
De La Soul
Gang Starr.

I've linked to, which includes samples and provides a pretty nice way to find similar artists of reasonable quality.
posted by sequential at 11:08 PM on January 2, 2007 [2 favorites]

More music that tends to be popular with the "backpack" sect (agreeing with most everything that's been posted thus far, especially MF Doom whose entire fanbase is the group you've described):
Anyone on NYC's Def Jux label (In particular: Cannibal Ox, Murs, El-P)
7l & Esoteric
CunninLynguists (whose album A Piece of Strange is hip hop album of the year)
Old Wu-Tang (Enter the 36 Chambers, Raekwon's Only Built 4 Cuban Linx are classic albums)
Nas' Illmatic
Big L
Masta Ace

Not strictly hip hop:
Massive Attack
DJ Shadow
Handsome Boy Modeling School
posted by cosmic osmo at 11:41 PM on January 2, 2007

If you're young, black and alternative who or what do you listen to?

Um, the same stuff you listen to if you're young, white and alternative: alternative music.
posted by caek at 2:38 AM on January 3, 2007 [1 favorite]

posted by rongorongo at 2:59 AM on January 3, 2007

Is there an underground scene of bands that sing Doo-Wop or play Jump Blues, 60s Soul or 70s Funk (not all together)?

There is, and they were all very active in the 40s, 50s, 60s, and 70s. It's not a certain style of music you don't like, it's NEW music you don't like. Do a search online for Northern Soul. Find good MP3 blogs that post copies of rare, old recordings. I like The Dorktones, Little Steven and Beware of the Blog for good downloads of funk, punk, jazz, and garage from the days of yesteryear (and bands inspired by them). Sometimes you have to sort through a lot of cruft to find something you really love but part of the fun is the discovery, right?

The only trouble with classic bands is that you will rarely (or never) get a chance to see them live. But you can still have the thrill of discovering records at thrift stores and turning your buds onto music you adore.
posted by Brittanie at 4:08 AM on January 3, 2007 [1 favorite]

24-7 spyz
TV on the Radio
and tons more bands and artists @ the Black Rock Coalition

or what caek said above.
posted by stavx at 4:31 AM on January 3, 2007

You might found this documentary useful: Afropunk
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:21 AM on January 3, 2007

Illmatic and Cannibal Ox are not even close to being in the same category as the 50's-'70s-style music in the question...
posted by Kirklander at 5:40 AM on January 3, 2007

I'm not too familiar with the scenes you describe, unfortunately. On the general topic of alternatives to mainstream rap and Top 40 that might be appealing, here's what I've got:

cosmic osmo already mentioned Def Jux (and I second pretty much everything he recommends), but I feel like I should mention one of their artists specifically: Mr. Lif. Very politically and socially conscious rap with more of an old-school sound. Just awesome. Along those lines, there's also the Coup and Dead Prez. I'm not as familiar with their stuff, but what I've heard is great.

I'm also a fan of Jedi Mind Tricks, which is a bit harder to describe... more sample-based and lyrical, I guess. Still amazing.

Outside of rap, it's hard to go wrong with Bad Brains. They're old-school hardcore punk with some reggae influences, and their music still influences a lot of groups today (and not just in hardcore).

What might also help is to search music site forums or reviews (even the comments on amazon) for the artists you have in mind, and see which current artists people are comparing them to; or even checking out the 'other people who bought this CD also bought' feature. And don't necessarily assume that older stuff wouldn't appeal to your teen -- good music is universal.

Hope this helped.
posted by AV at 6:04 AM on January 3, 2007

Check out Kenna's album, "New Sacred Cow". Great beats, and a good singer to boot.
Nth-ing Blackalicious and Jedi Mind Tricks and Atmosphere.
posted by nursegracer at 6:22 AM on January 3, 2007

I think there's a weird assumption here: that a black teenager is going to different music than a white teenager or somehow limit his (or her) selections to something that seems race-appropriate.

I've met, seen, or befriended a number of people who fit your demographic who are into metal or indie rock. Pretty much everything else mentioned in the thread applies, but I really don't think any of it is race-centric.
posted by mikeh at 6:40 AM on January 3, 2007 [1 favorite]

caek: 'alternative music' is, de facto, "new white angsty rock". Why would that necessarily be the music that all non-mainstream-lovin' teenagers would listen to?
posted by Kololo at 6:43 AM on January 3, 2007

Kololo: very true, but all the suggestions so far are frat-boy hip-hop (Jurrasic 5, I'm looking at you) or excrutiatingly middle-aged funk-soul. That seems like a pretty good description of what college kids imagine "alternative black teens" listen to, rather than what they actually listen to, which presumably is not restricted to music by black people. Anyway, I've taken this to Talk.
posted by caek at 6:57 AM on January 3, 2007

If 'alternative' means not going along with what the mainstream feeds you, then my impression is that racial stereotyping ceases to be an important arbiter of taste. My only experience of an underground scene is in extreme metal. Whilst this is streotypically a white boy scene, in NYC at least, there is a very diverse audience for death and black metal (even for NS white power bands!). I am less familiar with the hardcore scene, but I think that is the same. I see no reason why an angsty black teen who rejected Top 40 R&B rubbish would necessarily go for the types of stereotpyical black-people-music you suggest
posted by nowonmai at 7:03 AM on January 3, 2007

I suggest Robert Randolph and the Family Band.
posted by LouMac at 7:10 AM on January 3, 2007

Wait, what question do you want answered? Because while not personally of the melanin persuasion, I do have more black acquaintances than jonmc. There's underground hip hop, though you're right in that the Rhymesayers bring an almost exclusively white audience here, but people like Subterraneous and Binarry Star don't. Then there's a lot of black kids at the punk shows I go to (well, to be honest, always the same five black kids), and they make a decent showing at the metal and industrial events. There are a lot of black guys into techno here, especially if they're gay, and a fair number come to events like The Bang, our hipster dance party.

If you really want to know, get on ILX and ask Dan Perry. He's got great taste, and is one of the broadest-minded music loving young guys, black or white, that I know of.

But if you're a young black guy, trying to find music, lemme know, and I can help you with that too. I'll charitably choose to believe that you were just idly curious, and happened to frame your post in a tone-deaf manner.
posted by klangklangston at 7:42 AM on January 3, 2007

Hey, I resembled the teenager you describe, back in the 80s, here's what I did:

Listened to stuff other than black radio stations. I grew up in Baltimore, so WHFS was a real up opener.

Today, with all the internet streaming stations, there's gotta be something that appeals.

I like Rat Patrol radio for that WWII, big band feel.

Specific Doo Wop internet radio: Doo Wop Tower and Doo Wop Cafe.

And there's always WOXY for general alternative.

I like buying stuff off of mperia, because it's not mainstream and cheap and it has sections on Funk, and Retro Soul.

The most useful thing was watching movies and digging up the soundtrack if I heard a song I liked. For instance, watching "Pump Up Volume" lead me to the soundtrack and which introduced me to Concrete Blond, Leanard Cohen, Robert Johnson, Soundgarden, Sonic Youth, Pixies and most importantly (he said in hushed, reverent tones), The Cowboy Junkies. None of these bands are 60s doo wop or 70s funk, just examples of how I found non mainstream stuff.

So, find some Doo Wop and 70s funk movies and listen to their soundracks for ideas.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:50 AM on January 3, 2007 [2 favorites]

Among the teenagers I encounter at work, two seem to fit your description. One likes (e.g.) Nina Simone and Joni Mitchell and Joanna Newsom, and the other likes (e.g.) Krautrock and No-Wave and industrial music. Based on this small sample, I don't really think that these kinds of racial generalizations are likely to be very accurate.
posted by box at 8:15 AM on January 3, 2007

Illmatic and Cannibal Ox are not even close to being in the same category as the 50's-'70s-style music in the question...

No, but they are in the same category as Rhymesayers and Atmosphere in the question, which is why I mentioned them.
posted by cosmic osmo at 9:25 AM on January 3, 2007

Jamie Lidell might be a good bet. Also, what about The Bell Rays or The Dirtbombs or The Detroit Cobras? They all have a 60s/70s sound and/or cover that era. (Actually, the Detroit scene in general--of which the last two bands are a part--is a good bet. And the Scandinavians seem to like that sound as well.Oh dear, I've generalised about an entire region)

What's wrong with just getting him/her some comps from those original eras? It's all such great stuff, and theres a ton of it.
posted by veronica sawyer at 9:33 AM on January 3, 2007

Speaking in my capacity as a cracker tetragenarian, I'd go with AV and stavx and get him the first Fishbone EP and Rock for Light by Bad Brains.
posted by Eothele at 9:49 AM on January 3, 2007

Response by poster: For the record, I am the OP and am a mid-30s white guy. I'm not looking to buy anything for anyone, I'm just curious if there's a general consensus to the question(s). Everyone I've asked in the past month (all white guys in their 30s) give me a blank stare and shoulder shrug.

If I had to use my own experience then I'd say some of us delve into the jukebox for the classics, but there's new music you listen to as a teen that truly defines that time for you and you can look back and say "so and so was the be all end all when I grew up." For some it's top-40, for others it's an alternative. The question is, what is that alternative? It could very well be "alternative music", but I doubt it.

As far as The Bell Rays, Dirtbombs, Sharon Jones and other similar bands go, when these bands play in cities that aren't as milquetoast as Minneapolis, what's the audience like? I've been to shows by most and damn if there's ever a non-white in attendance.
posted by DonnieSticks at 10:33 AM on January 3, 2007

[@ OP's request, my comment reposted from the asinine MeTa thread]

One of the Mp3 blogs I read is called Soul Sides that showcases some good older, newer, and revival black sounds. One new decent soul revival band that I bought through their recommendation was Nicole Willis. (And, I sincerely apologize: they are Finnish!)

Just following reviews of certain revival bands will likely bring similar new bands if you enjoy them:

I'm willing to go on record as saying that this among the best "nuevo-soul/funk" albums I've ever heard (a field that may seem small but actually covers a lot of ground including Sharon Jones, the Dap-Kings, The Whitehead Brothers, El Michels Affair, etc.

For some great older soul mixes I highly recommend WFMU's Downtown Soulville, I listen to the show's copious archives weekly.
posted by dgaicun at 10:45 AM on January 3, 2007

The Dirtbombs play here all the time, and there's a fair number of black folk. Though the most integrated show I saw here (non-rap) was The Walkmen, who sucked. Also, a lot of black hipsters came out for whasserface Feist (who also sucked).
posted by klangklangston at 10:46 AM on January 3, 2007

As far as The Bell Rays, Dirtbombs, Sharon Jones and other similar bands go, when these bands play in cities that aren't as milquetoast as Minneapolis, what's the audience like? I've been to shows by most and damn if there's ever a non-white in attendance.

I saw the Detroit Cobras play in NY a month or so ago and recall seeing five or six college-age black women in a crowd of ~50 people (lousy turnout). If you go to shows in any city, you see the same nonwhite people, because they have the same taste as you, I guess. I know I sound glib, but I don't know what else to say about it, because it's a giant and weighty discussion for another day. (On that topic, I do recommend watching Afropunk if you get the chance.)
posted by veronica sawyer at 10:49 AM on January 3, 2007

The new TV on the Radio is very good.
posted by ludwig_van at 11:29 AM on January 3, 2007

Seconded, for all audiences.
posted by adamgreenfield at 12:00 PM on January 3, 2007

Second the Robert Randolph and the Family Band suggestion.

North Mississippi All-Stars.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 12:20 PM on January 3, 2007

posted by ND¢ at 12:22 PM on January 3, 2007

Young, altenative black kids only ever listen to one song, looped endlessly on worn-out cassette tapes on beat-up Walkmen, spinning like old wives tales on records in their parlours, because its topical and ego-boosting nature WARMS THEIR HEARTS. I hear it in the houses of young, alternative black kids everywhere, all the time, non-stop, because of its relavant, pertinent, spirit-gratifying message; young black kids listen to this because it fits the bill, it's what the doctor ordered, it is TIMELESS, and self-explanatory, because the title of the song is "To be Young, Gifted and Black," and it's by Nina Simone.
posted by Milkman Dan at 1:32 PM on January 3, 2007 [2 favorites]

The Bellrays. Equal parts punky hard rock and soul vocals. When I saw them live, the audience was roughly 20% black, if that means anything. But they were 20something+ mostly.
posted by jonmc at 1:58 PM on January 3, 2007

Georgia Anne Muldrow.
I specifically recommend her track "Simply A Joy", which can be found on Chrome Children (the latest Stones Throw label sampler released in conjunction with Adult Swim). Chrome Children is an excellent sample of bleeding edge 'alternative' hip hop and soul music. Muldrow's two releases are high quality tunes as well, only too short!
posted by carsonb at 4:42 PM on January 3, 2007

Thank Gawwwwd for this question.

TV on the Radio
All-American Rejects
Green Day
Maroon 5

Cree Summer had a fabulous CD out a few years ago. Don't know what happened to her but the CD was produced by Lenny Kravitz and stays in my workout CD collection.

He might also appreciate Jeff Buckley...well...just cuz.

A bit older, black, grew up on old-school hip-hop but get sickened by most of the new stuff.
posted by notjustfoxybrown at 5:37 PM on January 3, 2007

I don't know what jump blues is, but I nth Robert Randolph and the Family Band, and North Mississippi Allstars. Also, Victor Wooten from Bela Fleck has his own band that plays music with more of a soul sound than Bela Fleck and he has released some incredible cds. I think a lot of younger bands playing the blues are in the jamband scene. Robert Randolph and the Family Band and North Missippi Allstars regularly play all the big jamband music festivals like Bonarroo, Wakarusa, High Sierra, 10000 Lakes, etc. Also, Gov't Mule is an incredible rock/blues band.
posted by gt2 at 12:03 AM on January 4, 2007

Jump blues is the precursor to 50s R&B/proto-rock. It's what got revived a couple years back and called "swing" for no good reason by people like the Big Bad Voodoo Daddies and Cherry Poppin' Daddies and probably a lot of other bands with Daddies in their names. Except that jump blues is about a thousand times more fun than the white revival of it.
posted by klangklangston at 7:44 AM on January 4, 2007

NO ONE should be listening to Nickleback.
posted by nuclear_soup at 12:01 PM on January 4, 2007

Sage Francis.
Bastard Pop is the new hotness. If I had time, I'd be all over that.

/puts on "Radio Soulwax" #8 again.
posted by now i'm piste at 1:57 AM on January 5, 2007

I haven't been a teen for about three years now, but I'm certainly what most would call "young", "black", and "alternative".

I'm gathering from the OP's information that the young man in question - despite being a young black male - might not be too interested in rap. Shock horror, and shit. Fair enough, but some of the artists (and caveats) mentioned in this thread are worth following up on.

If dude likes soul stuff though, and is looking for something new, I'd recommend looking up soultronica. It's a new, emerging genre that includes people like J*Davey and Sa-Ra. Very black, very hip, very funky. Might be a little left-field for some people though.

And on the old soul tip, try Darondo. I have an old/new record by him that is pretty brilliant.
and nuclear_soup, I think notjustfoxybrown was joking. Right?
posted by dihutenosa at 8:02 AM on January 5, 2007 [1 favorite]

Not quite a teen anymore but:

TV on the Radio

Not because I am black and so are they (well, four out of the five members)....but because they are not trying to sound like anyone. They are in fact one of the few rock groups out there still coming up with fresh and original ideas to record on their albums. Well, with the exception of that amazing cover they do of the Pixies song "Mr. Grieves". They are, to me at least, simply amazing.
posted by grobey22 at 3:29 PM on January 6, 2007

What? I like they're not necessarily alternative but they are an alternative to hip-hop.
posted by notjustfoxybrown at 9:49 AM on January 9, 2007

They're an alternative to good music, too.
posted by ludwig_van at 4:46 PM on January 9, 2007

« Older St Petersberg for dummies   |   Gum trauma causes painful white blister? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.