Play that funky music, white boy!
April 6, 2007 8:50 AM   Subscribe

Help me to diversify my mostly white pop music collection.

It's dawned on me that 99 percent of my music collection consists of pop music sung by white people - Beatles, Aimee Mann, Crowded House. I love good melody and harmonies, and in the 80s my tastes tended to cross genres more often - Prince, Sade, Anita Baker. Now, though, those are still about the only African-American artists in my CD collection.

I want to branch out more, but there are a few limiting factors: I absolutely hate any kind of hip-hop (I can't find melody in spoken words) or reggae. Jazz is acceptable. I recently fell in love with Corrine Bailey Rae's album, and most Prince albums are still worth a listen. Don't like india.arie or Alicia Keys that much. What good African-American artists/releases will help me expand my musical boundaries?
posted by adverb to Media & Arts (62 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
Why limit yourself to only African-American artists?

How about something from Brazil?
posted by mand0 at 9:00 AM on April 6, 2007 is a great place to learn about new music. Although very little of the music there is from the U.S., and therefore not exactly what you are asking for, it is a great place to expand your musical horizons.

Good luck!
posted by billtron at 9:02 AM on April 6, 2007 [1 favorite]

Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings -- check this post at for more current examples of retro-soul.
posted by omnidrew at 9:08 AM on April 6, 2007

My record collection is pretty white, too, but let me try and help:

Cutis Mayfield's Chicago Soul is one of my favorite compilations of all time.

Check out the following artists:

Curtis Mayfield

Charles Wright

Gil Scott Heron

John Coltrane

Miles Davis

Quincy Jones

Lowell Fulson
posted by mds35 at 9:12 AM on April 6, 2007 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Boy, you need some Dr. Nina Simone.
posted by miss lynnster at 9:17 AM on April 6, 2007 [1 favorite]

Check out Putumayo - tons of great stuff there, hard to go wrong.
posted by jbickers at 9:25 AM on April 6, 2007

I think your headline says it all -- why not funk? Dazz Band, Parliament, etc. Here's a list to get started with.

On another tangent I don't think there's any sense in stacking your collection based on whether the artist's skin color is A, B, or C. Nor should you feel any guilt over what you have. It all comes down to the genres and styles you like.
posted by calhound at 9:37 AM on April 6, 2007 [1 favorite]

Man, this sounds like that episode of Seinfeld where George wants a black friend. How about: Listen to online radio, such as RadioParadise, to get exposed to a wider field of music and buy stuff you like. You will likely end up with a larger percentage of non-white artists.
posted by DU at 9:37 AM on April 6, 2007 [2 favorites]

Best answer: If your tastes lean toward the melodic as they seem to, I'd recommend some of the less dance oriented R&B and soul like Bill Withers, Curtis Mayfield, What's Going On period Marvin Gaye, Shuggie Otis, and The Holmes Brothers.
posted by jonmc at 9:41 AM on April 6, 2007 [1 favorite]

The Meters. Seconding the "weird question, why just black?"
posted by everichon at 9:41 AM on April 6, 2007

Do they have to be "new" artists? If not, here a couple of greats:

Sam Cooke

Marvin Gaye

I would also like to put in a plug for the damn fine website Soul Sides. Some rap but but also some of old stuff and retro soul too.
posted by fair_game at 9:42 AM on April 6, 2007 [1 favorite]

I second soul sides, and I also forget: The Staples Singers, very melodic and soulful.
posted by jonmc at 9:43 AM on April 6, 2007 [1 favorite]

Check out Aaliyah. I don't like rnb, but love her.
posted by milarepa at 9:47 AM on April 6, 2007

Best answer: A couple vocalists I like are Lizz Wright and Hil St. Soul. For an instrumental set, I've really enjoyed King Curtis.
posted by hoppytoad at 9:49 AM on April 6, 2007 [1 favorite]

No collection is complete without a little soul (and, hell, the things we've heard from the 60s onward in pop probably wouldn't have happened without it.)

A few broad-spectrum starter soul albums:

Sam Cooke - Portrait of a Legend
Otis Redding - The Very Best of Otis Redding (Vol. 1) [Rhino]
Wilson Pickett - The Very Best of Wilson Pickett [Rhino]

...those three alone just might blow your mind; they tripped a few of my fuses when I started listening. If you like, well, plenty of other classic soul sounds out there (from Sam & Dave, to Aretha, to James Brown, to....) that might pique your interest.

Also, there was just a 50th anniversary Stax Records retrospective released (2 discs, 50 tracks) that could serve as a good intro. Hell, even Pitchfork loved it.
posted by theoddball at 9:54 AM on April 6, 2007 [2 favorites]

Kanye West. I had a friend in the same situation as you and Kanye West came pretty easy to him when I brought it up.
posted by wackybrit at 9:57 AM on April 6, 2007

Read this blog.
posted by matildaben at 10:03 AM on April 6, 2007

What, no Hootie & The Blowfish?

I keed, I keed.
posted by designbot at 10:04 AM on April 6, 2007

Alice Smith. She's damn wonderful.
posted by whitneykitty at 10:06 AM on April 6, 2007 [1 favorite]

TV On The Radio

And there's a whole universe of great music from Jamaica. Try Trojan Legends and Trojan Singles Box Sets for a good sampling of tunes that may be right up your alley (not "reggae" as most people think of it). Lots of 50/60s inspired pop & rock.
posted by afx114 at 10:07 AM on April 6, 2007 [1 favorite]

posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 10:11 AM on April 6, 2007

Amy Winehouse
Professor Green ...
posted by Methylviolet at 10:11 AM on April 6, 2007

Check out The Story of Jamaican Music.
posted by SBMike at 10:12 AM on April 6, 2007

Nobody's mentioned Sly & the Family Stone yet?
posted by SBMike at 10:14 AM on April 6, 2007

for some R&B: Di'Angelo's Voodo, any Erykah Badu

Seconding TV on the Radio,


The Roots
posted by distrakted at 10:20 AM on April 6, 2007 [1 favorite]

Less poppy, but amazing and important and everything all at once is Roberta Flack's First Take.
posted by wemayfreeze at 10:23 AM on April 6, 2007 [1 favorite]

Music has no color.
Neither do people.
Neither do rainbows.
Neither do unicorns.
Neither do hobbits. Or gargoyles.
posted by ND¢ at 10:25 AM on April 6, 2007

Why is it that people always recommend Sam Cooke & Marvin Gaye but leave out OTIS REDDING!?? I mean... OTIS!!!!!!!

You'd also like Ray Charles, btw. Anyone who says they don't like Ray? They're lying.
posted by miss lynnster at 10:26 AM on April 6, 2007

If you like Blues: Muddy Waters.

I also like Macy Gray but only her first album, On How Life Is.
posted by who squared at 10:28 AM on April 6, 2007

Robert Cray, especially the albums with the Memphis Horns
posted by Kirth Gerson at 10:29 AM on April 6, 2007

Lightnin Hopkins and Sonny Terry
posted by asuprenant at 10:45 AM on April 6, 2007

I don't know why, but I thought this thread was going to suck; then I saw the recommendation for Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings - I love her! For truly delightful, obscure soul, try some of the catalog from Numero Records - their Eccentric Soul series is great (and now I see they have a 2 CD compilation called "Good God! A Gospel Funk Hymnal" which I feel a need to own). I also second the Sarah Vaughn and Nina Simone recs.
posted by deliriouscool at 10:59 AM on April 6, 2007 [1 favorite]

Oh, seconding the online radio thread from above, Pandora will let you plug in an artist's name (like Nina Simone or John Coltrane), then it will play music like that artist for you - you can give a thumbs up to stuff you like to hear it more often. I've found good new stuff that way.
posted by deliriouscool at 11:02 AM on April 6, 2007 [1 favorite]

...Blah blah blah The Meters. Oh yes. Blah blah blah blah...
posted by phaedon at 11:11 AM on April 6, 2007 [1 favorite]

I am with you on the reggae, but no hip-hop? I think you might want to give some of it another chance. I have been trying to broaden my musical boundaries lately and have found myself liking a lot more rap than I would have thought. Stick to the pre-gangsta rap era, though. I still have a hard time getting through anything released after about 1993 or so.

Also, you might want to check out some old school Jamaican ska. I absolutely HATE reggae but love ska. Go figure.

Also, I might have missed it above, but you should definitely check out as much Motown as you can get your hands on. This box set is fantastic.
posted by sbrollins at 11:25 AM on April 6, 2007 [1 favorite]

Art Tatum. Sidney Bechet. Meade "Lux" Lewis. King Oliver. Louis Armstrong. Ramsey Lewis. Billy Taylor. Charlie Parker. Dizzy Gillespie. Clark Terry. Erroll Garner. Coleman Hawkins. Sonny Rollins. Benny Carter. Ben Webster. Lester Young. Duke Ellington. Oscar Peterson. Billy Strayhorn. Thelonious Monk. Carmen McRae. Nancy Wilson. Sarah Vaughan. Wynton Marsalis. Branford Marsalis. Ellis Marsalis, Jr. Wes Montgomery. Nat King Cole. McCoy Tyner. Tito Puente.

What, no Mingus?
posted by SBMike at 11:39 AM on April 6, 2007

I still have a hard time getting through anything released after about 1993 or so.

I find that intriguing, because some modern hip-hop is decidedly white in flavor. Take Kayne West's Late Registration.. it was produced by Jon Brion of all people and almost sounds like a lost Fiona Apple album or something. The new Jay Z stuff is similarly musical, and even the new Snoop Dogg slips into the whole strings + orchestration bit (although his lyrics remain as pompous as ever).
posted by wackybrit at 11:57 AM on April 6, 2007

Bootsy, Afrika, and (a reach, but worth it, have faith) Sun Ra.

and this is outside your specs, but for the love of all that is holy get ahold of some Fela Kuti.
posted by everichon at 12:00 PM on April 6, 2007 [1 favorite]

PLEASE try MC Solaar, a French rapper. Yeah, I know you don't like hip-hop, but his second album Prose Combat is just fantastic - jazzy, and, from my admittedly awful French, witty and clever. Most of the rest of my record collection is also hideously white indie-rock bollocks but I just can't get enough of that album.

While I'm recommending things you don't like: you say you don't like reggae, and I'm not big on the roots stuff, but have you tried rocksteady, which was essentially a precursor to reggae? Someone's already mentioned the Trojan box sets - the stuff that came over to Britain in the 60s is particularly fun.

On preview: I think the music journalist David Quantick got Fela Kuti right when he described his music as "sounding like a cross between James Brown and the SAS".
posted by terrynutkins at 12:21 PM on April 6, 2007 [1 favorite]

Jill Scott
posted by milarepa at 12:25 PM on April 6, 2007

I can't say I understand why you want to select music this way, but if this is what you want, you should check out some blues artists. I'd recommend James Blood Ulmer's Birthright, Otis Taylor's White African, and Junior Kimbrough's All Night Long. The classics are more obvous: BB King, Muddy Waters, Memphis Minnie, etc.
posted by smorange at 12:36 PM on April 6, 2007 [1 favorite]

And if terrynutkins can mention Solaar, I'm going to suggest Les Nubians, who are slightly afro and hip-hop inflected but generally nice French R-n-B.
posted by everichon at 12:42 PM on April 6, 2007

How about Japanese pop like Pizzicato 5 or Puffy AmiYumi?
posted by Andy Harwood at 12:44 PM on April 6, 2007

Response by poster: mand0, you have a good point! "Diversify" can be read as branching out in all directions...

sbrollins: I actually did like some Run-DMC and Tone Loc, but it was almost more of a novelty thing.

I'd like to try more Motown/60s era. Most all we get exposed to are the "My Girl"/Supremes shtick, but I've always liked the Phil Spector/girl group era.

Thanks to all for the great feedback! Looks like Pandora and iTunes is going to get a workout this weekend...
posted by adverb at 12:56 PM on April 6, 2007

Response by poster: Andy, Puffy AmiYumi is awesome - any group with a Jellyfish/Andy Sturmer connection is essential for me...
posted by adverb at 12:58 PM on April 6, 2007

It seems like this has degenerated into name-your-favorite-black-artist. I mean for chrissakes, she loves Corrine Bailey Rae, she's not going to like Gil Scott Heron or Afrika Bambaataa. Norah Jones is the only artist I can think of that's as boring as Corinne Bailey Rae, but she's not exactly black.
posted by electroboy at 1:09 PM on April 6, 2007 [1 favorite]

Tone Loc? Jesus, you do need our help honey...
posted by miss lynnster at 1:16 PM on April 6, 2007

posted by kirkaracha at 2:12 PM on April 6, 2007

I'm going to suggest Les Nubians, who are slightly afro and hip-hop inflected but generally nice French R-n-B.

Also, if you liked classic Sade, I bet you'd really enjoy "Tabou" from their album Princesses Nubiennes.

If you're willing to expand to more stuff from around the world, I heartily heartily second the Johnny Clegg Juluka/Savuka rec; jazz and rock and various Zulu pop styles all blended together, incredibly catchy stuff. I've gotten so many friends hooked on this, even ones who hadn't really explored "world music" before.

Since you seem to go for really soulful female vocals, you might perhaps like the Israeli/Moroccan singer Ishtar's solo work, which typically blends Middle Eastern and Eurodisco sounds.

And if you're willing to give hip-hop a second chance, do check out Kanye and MC Solaar, or if it's easier to focus on the grooves with stuff that's not in English, I just adore Manau. Or check out Native American/First Nations hip-hop like RedCloud or Shadowyze or War Party or Tru Rez Crew. For that matter, there are some wonderful female Native vocalists -- a cappella trio Ulali have amazing harmonies, and group leader Pura Fe has incredible bluesy solo work.

There's also all sorts of gorgeous music being made in Hawai'i that doesn't get a great deal of exposure on the mainland -- check out Amy Gilliom or Keali'i Reichel for a start.

As for jazz is it that nobody has mentioned Billie Holiday yet?
posted by Smilla's Sense of Snark at 3:12 PM on April 6, 2007 [1 favorite]

another vote for Roberta Flack.

Also: Mary J. Blige, Seal, Usher, Al Green, TLC, Thelma Houston, The Brothers Johnson, Earth Wind & Fire, Bad Brains, George Clinton, The Gap Band, The Temptations, Chaka Khan,

and some hiphoppy stuff you might even like: Cypress Hill, 2pac, Missy Elliott, Public Enemy, Ludacris, N.E.R.D. , A Tribe Called Quest, Clouddead, De La Soul, Southernplayalisticadillaclassik (by Outcast),
posted by culberjo at 3:20 PM on April 6, 2007 [1 favorite]

Coltrane. That is all.
posted by Ironmouth at 3:53 PM on April 6, 2007

I don't see a reason to put a color-test to your music collection. Why not just listen to what you like and don't worry about what color they are? I know plenty of African-Americans who have been raised on rap and hip-hop and don't own a single song by a white artist. They also aren't worrying about seeking help in diversifying their mostly black music collection. I mean, we're people who mostly enjoy music for the fact we like the music, not because the artists are a certain color. Just my two cents. But if you feel this is important to you - don't forget any and all Motown!
posted by Gerard Sorme at 4:16 PM on April 6, 2007 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: OK, after looking over some of the replies, I feel a need to clarify myself. I'm not wringing my hands over the need to represent all races in my collection; it's more of a "Boy, am I one-dimensional; there's got to be more good music out there besides alternative and power pop" (done mostly by white folk). African-American artists dominate R&B, funk and jazz genres, and I haven't heard much in those areas in the past 15-20 years. My apologies for any confusion caused by bringing color into it.
posted by adverb at 5:19 PM on April 6, 2007

You know me... I can go on about the jazz vocalists. So here's a smattering for a start... Joe Williams, Dinah Washington, Billie Holiday, Nat King Cole... and I like a bunch of white people too but I won't mention them. Okay yes I will Anita O'Day, June Christy, Julie London, Peggy Lee, Blossom Dearie.
posted by miss lynnster at 5:25 PM on April 6, 2007

Best answer: Funk
There's a box set of lesser known funk/soul called What It Is that came out last year and it's on itunes for $40 (but the packaging is beautiful). It's a fantastically varied compilation and very accessible; you'd know for sure if you can do the funk-thing if you grabbed even a disc worth of tracks. There are enough covers of popular tracks that you'll be able to identify with it as you discover new sounds and sub-styles.

I've recently been exploring some of the great blues women who seem to get commonly overlooked (at least by my music circle). Try Big Mama Thornton whose "Hound Dog" was adapted into the Elvis repetoire (her delivery actually makes sense, and she belts it). If you find you like her, there's plenty to explore from that era. Also, Buddy Guy is a stud, and one of few musicians whose work outside of their prime era I really appreciate.

There have been a number of amazing, remastered John Coltrane releases in recent years. The Thelonius Monk Quartet with John Coltrane at Carnegie Hall is fantastic and has exceptional audio quality (especially considering its a live recording); I'm also partial to John Coltrane's Coltrane. My tastes are certainly not definitive as I'm not a student/scholar of the music. Jazz can be tricky for beginners since a good quantity of stuff that is historically appreciated can be difficult to appreciate outside of a historical context. Reviews on pop music sites (pop matters or pitchfork) can be telling as long as you read the review and don't trust the number rating.

(Incidentally, the super white Bad Plus might be an interesting gateway, particularly the album These Are the Vistas, which has deconstructed covers of Blondie, Aphex Twin and Blondie.)

Hip Hop
Oh come on! If you're serious about this musical expedition, you need to grab a copy of the Fugees' The Score; if for no other reason, than simply to know. Understand that hip hop is like melodic poetry, an explosion of words tied intricately and intimately to beats and melodies. It's not show tunes, and that's why it's refreshing to have even one track in your library (maybe "Killing Me Softly"?). I feel like you're making an unfair and inaccurate dismissal of the [arguably most important] genre [of the last thirty years] by saying you can't find melody in spoken words. A large precentage of hip hop is more sung than white pop music, so I feel like you're either dismissing hip hop too quickly or... I dunno. Maybe I'm overreacting... but "hate" is such a strong word, and "absolutely" only makes it stronger. Maybe I just can't believe that someone can be adequately exposed to the music and not find a thread of beauty in it. No Common? No Kanye? White people love Jurassic 5... How about them?

Miscellany Tacked On After the Point
This seems like a decent, tangential oppurtunity to pull this clip from Stormy Weather out of the ole Google Video archive; Cab Calloway is great and the dancing isn't bad either.

Early Stevie Wonder is super great.

I haven't gone too far beyond this, but here's Barbara Lynn being fantastic (was having trouble with the direct youtube).
posted by pokermonk at 6:03 PM on April 6, 2007

How about them?: By "them" I mean Jurassic 5, not white people.

Blondie, Aphex Twin and Blondie: By the second Blondie I mean Nirvana.
posted by pokermonk at 6:08 PM on April 6, 2007

This is a completely weird question. You have very conservative taste in music, but piling up your collection with black artists who were favourites of middle class white people twenty years ago is not going to do you any favours.
posted by dydecker at 8:39 PM on April 6, 2007 [3 favorites]

There's Lou Reed if you consider Jews non-white.

Oh, and Lou Rawls (non-white, gentile) has good stuff.
posted by time to put your air goggles on! at 11:57 PM on April 6, 2007

Oh, and if you don't mind Spanish lyrics I HIGHLY recommend Juanes.
posted by time to put your air goggles on! at 12:00 AM on April 7, 2007 [1 favorite]

Paranda, Aurelio Martinez.

Zap Mama.
posted by micayetoca at 4:21 PM on April 7, 2007 [1 favorite]

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