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Sunday, December 3, 2023
December 3 , 2023

‘Blacker the berry, sweeter the juice’: A playlist celebrating black excellence

With Black History Month now in full swing, it is time to get real about how we– as staff and students who work at and attend a Primarily White Institution (PWI)– can pay our respects and get involved. While there are undoubtedly a plethora of events throughout the city (@umiamiubs on Instagram is a good place to find on-campus opportunities), music is a surefire way for those who don’t know where to start.

That’s where we come in. Thanks to UM junior Makelsey Page, we present “blacker the berry, sweeter the juice,” a Spotify compilation featuring black artists at the top of their game, black artists looking to uplift and empower their community and historic songs integral to the black experience. And, while Black History surely extends far beyond this short, fifteen-song playlist, we all have to start somewhere. Some highlights include:

“Feeling Good” – Nina Simone

Originally written for the musical “The Roar of the Greasepaint – The Smell of the Crowd,” Nina Simone’s 1965 classic “Feeling Good” features an optimism that seems almost impossible for a black woman of the time. But, the added touch of Simone’s smooth, soulful voice and raw emotion offers a vulnerability that reminds us of the unimaginable pain and struggle she faced. Now almost 60 years old, Simone’s “Feeling Good” is forever an integral part of black history and the perfect place to begin this Black History Month.

“BROWN SKIN GIRL” – Blue Ivy, SAINt JHN, Beyoncé, WizKid

With lyrics that read “brown skin girl / your skin just like pearls / the best thing in the world / never trade you for anybody else,” Beyoncé and daughter Blue Ivy’s 2019 hit is a beautiful love letter to the beauty of black womanhood. A standout track from the “Lion King” soundtrack, the lyrics encourage young black girls to love themselves and celebrate their afrocentric features. “Brown Skin Girl” is unapologetically black, something much needed in a society that often celebrates light skin and european features as the epitome of beauty.

“Keep Ya Head Up” – Tupac

The 1993 hit single by late Tupac Shakur was released as an ode to Latasha Harlins, a 15-year-old black girl shot in the head by a Korean convenience store owner who accused her of stealing. The song later became interpreted as an overall celebration and message to black woman, encouraging them to “keep ya head up.” “And when he tells you you ain’t nothin’,” Shakur raps. “Don’t believe him.”

“Alright” – Kendrick Lamar

Described by NPR as the “sound of black life’s duality,” Kendrick Lamar’s “Alright” is undoubtedly one of the songs that defined the last decade. The fourth single off Lamar’s album “To Pimp a Butterfly” turned from a party song to a protest anthem during summer 2015 when a young activist played it during an intermission of a three-day Black Lives Matter conference at Cleveland State University. With a chorus that repeats “we gone be alright” over and over, “Alright” is equal parts a fun banger and an empowering anthem.

“Good as Hell” – Lizzo

Rising to fame in early 2019 after years of undiscovered work and continuing to be unapologetically comfortable with herself despite society’s disapproval, Lizzo is the epitome of a black woman at the top of her game. As such, she and her music have already left their mark on the world and earned a rightful place on this playlist. No song is more fitting than her hit “Good as Hell,” which delivers three minutes of pure pop bliss while simultaneously celebrating life and confidence and everything that comes with self love.

“Whipped Cream” – Ari Lennox

R&B newcomer Ari Lennox bares her soul on “Whipped Cream,” a song documenting a hardship many of us know all too well– the pain of breaking up with someone with which you imagined spending the rest of your life. Though not necessarily “empowering” like other songs listed, “Whipped Cream” is fresh; it’s real. It offers a much needed dose of reality. In a society that so often regards black women as invincible, as ones who can carry the weight of the world on their shoulders without ever breaking a sweat, Lennox’s vulnerability and candor is refreshing.

“Ex-Factor” – Lauryn Hill

When it comes to black women in music, Lauryn Hill is legendary. While many may recognize the catchy hook from Drake’s hit single “Nice for What,” Hill’s 1998 song “Ex-Factor” was and still is an iconic moment in black culture. This song and the album on which is was released– “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill” – stood the test of time, still being regarded as one of the best to date. Her debut solo album, “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill” broke the standing record for first-week sales by a female artist at the time and won her five awards (of ten nominations) at the 51st annual Grammys.

“The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” – Gil Scott-Heron

A poem and song by soul and jazz artist Gil Scott-Heron, “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” originated the phrase that would later become a slogan for the Black Power Movement. The song urges black Americans to wake up and realize that they can no longer pretend that things are fine, no longer rely on cheesy sitcoms as relief from the horrors of the real world. The revolution, whether they liked it or not, was coming. This track is black history at its finest.

Click here to listen to the full playlist.

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