Anita Baker

Your Essential Playlist: 20 Must-Have Tracks from Iconic Black Musicians

Discover the transformative tracks by Black artists that redefined various music genres. Dive into our curated list of 20 must-have songs for your playlist.


Feb. 20 2024, Published 11:16 a.m. ET

Black musicians have shaped the landscape of modern music, contributing to the rich tapestry of global music culture for all to further explore. From cultural roots to ethnic influences there is so much depth and breadth to Black music that there will never be a day we run out of music to make and lyrics to sing. The power of Black voices traditionally was told through songs and spoken words and that tradition continues today. Whether it is the smooth notes of jazz, the hypertones of African pop, or the classic sounds of R&B or Soul, Black musicians are making names for themselves!

As noted by Babble, music at some of the earliest recordings was influenced by Black musicians: "Black music’s influence emerged far earlier than many realize, with the earliest recorded commercial music. In the late 19th century, formerly enslaved George W. Johnson was one of the first people to record music using the phonograph."

Here’s a list of 20 iconic Black musicians and notable songs from their discography that you should check out. Whether you are a lover of Black music or entering the genre for the first time these songs are sure to capture your soul and mind, as well as your ears!

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1. Anita Baker: “Sweet Love”

“Sweet Love” seamlessly fuses soul, jazz, and R&B and helped diversify and mature the genre’s sound for a new generation.

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2. Janet Jackson: “Control”

“Control” sold 14 million copies and the song’s unique tempo helped her become an R&B trailblazer for those singing today.

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3. Charlie Wilson: “Charlie, Last Name Wilson”

"Charlie Last Name Wilson" allowed Wilson to showcase his ability to easily switch between R&B and funk, earning him the moniker “Uncle Charlie.”

4. Usher: “U Remind Me”

“U Remind Me” won Usher his first Grammy and contributed to the evolution of contemporary, mature R&B sounds.

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5. Beyonce: “Daddy Lessons”

Beyonce’s “Daddy Lessons” blends country and blues and stands as a testament to African-American’s rich history.

6. Lauryn Hill: “Doo Wop (That Thing)”

The socially conscious lyrics and catchy tempo of Hill's "Doo Wop (That Thing)" made way for musicians to challenge cultural norms.

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7. Jasmine Sullivan: “Pick Up Your Feelings”

This soulful track showcases Jasmine’s extremely powerful vocals and adds to the overall prowess of "Pick Up Your Feelings" as a track.

8. Kendrick Lamar: “Loyalty” (ft. Rihanna)

Lamar's song “Loyalty” explores ideas of constancy, trust, and loyalty- contributing to the storytelling aspects of rap.

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9. Ciara: “Oh” (ft. Ludacris)

Simple in the title, "Oh" By Ciara and Ludacris has an infectious beat that contributed to the contemporary R&B movement of the 2000s.

10. Rihanna: “Work” (ft. Drake)

“Work” combines Caribbean-infused sounds with catchy vocals and quickly became a cultural phenomenon upon its release.

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11. Janelle Monae: “I Like That”

From her album Dirty Computer, "I Like That" embraces eclectic style, offering a new perspective within pop and R&B spaces.

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12. Tyler the Creator: “A Boy is A Gun”

Tyler the Creator’s song, "A Boy is A Gun," breaks the boundaries of what hip-hop is, appealing to those unfamiliar with the genre.

13. Frank Ocean: “Thinking Bout You”

“Thinking Bout You” conveys great emotional depth and defies rigid R&B characterizations and Black music in general.

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14. Ari Lennox: “BMO”

The track "BMO" combines R&B and soul, and Lennox's laidback vocals stand out in the ever-changing contemporary R&B landscape.

15. Mickey Guyton: “Better Than You Left Me”

Guyton’s "Better Than You Left Me" addresses themes of resilience and heartbreak and adds to her impact as a rare Black woman in country music.

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16. Outkast: “The Way You Move”

This dance-worthy track combines funk and hip-hop and uniquely approaches both landscapes, its easy to love the beat of "The Way You Move".

17. Ckay: “Love Nwantiti”

“Love Nwantinti” infuses a laid-back beat with romantic lyrics and puts Afrobeats on more music lover’s radars.

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18. Tiwa Savage: “Sugarcane”

Savage’s 2017 track "Sugarcane" presents the singer’s Nigerian roots through an R&B lens and shows the vastness of global Black culture.

19. Megan Thee Stallion: “Savage”

“Savage” became a viral sensation on TikTok when it came out and it highlights the fun, lighthearted side of the hip-hop genre.

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20. Baby Keem: “Trademark USA”

With its quirky production, “Trademark USA” adds to the layer of variety and innovation seen in the hip-hop genre today.

Enjoying the Music — Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow

Black music has always been essential to the community as a whole. Trailblazers and inspirational game-changers like the musicians featured here continue the great tradition of Black music. Banded PR noted in 2022 that "Black musicians have shaped the music industry through social change, poetry, and the creativity of the sonic sound of blues rock and Rock N Roll jazz, along with other genres of music."

From roots anchored in the songs of slaves to the inspirational beats and lyrics of modern Soul and Hip-Hip and more, Black musicians are transforming the industry for the better. Find your new favorite song today and start with this list!

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