It’s that time again. Time to share even more reasons as to why it’s so damn bomb to be Black. This year I’ve decided to incorporate one of my FAVORITE things in life…music. This year for Black History Month I decided to look at 28 classic songs every Black person should know. EVERY day of February, I’ll be discussing a song, that as a Black Person of a certain age, that you should know from TOP to BOTTOM. I’m talking add libs, I’m talking bridges and breakdowns. Shiiiiii… I’m talking about musical breaks and instrument solos that you hum and harmonize when there ain’t a lyric in sight.
These are songs we cling to. Songs that hold a special kind of nostalgia and can bring us back to specific moments in our lives that make us smile. They are songs that breed community without even trying, songs that when the beat drop, you know it’s about to be a FULL on chorus whether you’re just chillin’ at home with a few of your people, or at a wedding reception with 100s of people on the dancefloor. They’re songs that are just undeniably good. Classics that are, and always will be for the Culture. So, that being said, if you keep track like you should… you’ll have a full playlist of 28 classic songs. You’re welcome! You’ll also be hyper aware of the era I grew up in by some of my choices. Again, you’re welcome. Enjoy!
You can also listen to the playlist:
28 Classic Songs Every Black Person Should Know
I wonder if Tevin Campbell knew he had pure gold with this one when he was recording “Can We Talk?” With this song, he legit spoke the minds of all the shy teenage youth who were trying to get up the nerve to talk to their crush over there in the corner with the oversized Nautica button up on, or the knee high stockings with the pleated skirts (you know you had one of those fits).
When I first heard “MotownPhilly”, I knew the voices singing it were gonna be huge. My adolescent self felt it in my gut. The song was just too damn perfect for them not to. They were four Black Men who could saaaaang, not sing, saaaaaaaang. They were clean cut, dressed fly AF and just full of positive fun filled vibes that drew you right on in. They were Boyz II Men and this was their debut single.
How I was able to learn EVERY single word of Salt-N-Pepa’s “Shoop” song?! My Mom wouldn’t even let me watch the video. She said their short shorts were inappropriate, so you know I wanted a pair. Either way it proves, preteens are resourceful when need be.
“Nice & Slow” has one of the best opening lyrics in the history of R&B. This is not an opinion, it’s a fact. If you, as a black person born between 1980-1990, are ever asked where Usher was, at 7 o’ clock on the dot, you BETTER answer in his “drop top, cruising the streets…” For him to be anyplace else is just unacceptable.
“I’ll give you the sun, the rain, the moon, the stars, and the mountains. I’ll give you the world…” What woman wouldn’t want this to be sung to them? This is probably why even though it was released 32 years ago, “Ready or Not” by After 7 still stands the test of time. I’m sure this song has been played at countless weddings, proms in the 90s, and blaring from car radios in front of your girl’s house when you know you done messed up.
“Ready or Not” was released in 1989, and featured on the group’s third album, their self-titled release. The song is written and produced by Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds.
This classic is catchy AF. It’s the song you hear once in the morning and is stuck in your head ALL day, but in a good way. I say that because if you listen to this song, 9 out of 10 times, it will lead you down the New Edition rabbit hole and next thing you know, you’re singing “Candy Girl” and “Can You Stand The Rain” at the top of your lungs too.
On one hand, “No Scrubs” is an undeniable anthem, on the other hand it was played SO much when it first came out, I think I’d be okay if I didn’t have to hear it again for quite some time. With that being said, I’d be remiss if I didn’t admit that it is indeed the PRIME go to song to sing when you and your girls are talking about a dude that you are NOT feeling. When I say not feeling, I mean the Brother is exhibiting numerous “Scrub like” tendencies, i.e. “Hanging out the passenger side of his best friend’s ride…” trying to holla at you.
If your childhood was as blessed as mine, when you were younger and “Before I Let Go” by Maze featuring Frankie Beverly came on at the cookout, you would automatically roll your eyes. Instantly, you knew all your Aunties and Uncles, Mom and Dad and pretty much anyone over the age of 40 was about to get up and show out. They would not only dance, but you’d also be hit with the barrage of “What you know bout this right here?!” Funny thing is, because you heard it so many times in your youth, you know EXACTLY “what that is right here” in your adulthood!
You know there couldn’t be a list like this without at least one Michael Jackson classic. There were quite a few to pick from, but there was one thing that just edged “Rock With You” out over the rest, the bedazzled jumpsuit he wore in the video. Not too many could pull that off but MJ made it look normal and effortless, but then again almost everything he did looked effortless. But, enough about his fashion choices let’s get into the gem that is “Rock With You”.
I’m a fan of Luther Vandross all around, but especially big Luther. That’s the time when he was really churning out the hits, and “Never Too Much” is no exception. I’m gonna go ahead and say that if you ask a lot of people their Top 5 Male R&B vocalists, Luther gonna be in there somewhere. His voice is transcendent. Luther can heal your heart and break it in the same damn song. His vocals were velvety and perfect. Big Luther (and Little Luther) just never hit bad notes. It wasn’t in his DNA.
First we gotta talk about Coko’s voice. Damn. When she comes in with that, “I try hard, to fight it…no way can I denyyyy it.” You know you’re listening to a seasoned singer. Like black people seasoning, not the bland white people potato salad kind. SWV can’t work if it’s not those particular three voices together, that’s for sure, but you also can’t deny that once Coko starts singing, she commands the song. They all complement each other, and make hits in the process of doing so.
“I been really tryyyyyyyyyying baby…” Now Marvin Gaye know he ain’t have to try that hard, he was a whole sex symbol with a voice that made panties drop with a note and “Let’s Get It On” solidified that. It’s the song people play when they wanna get in on, point blank period. I hear it and think about what it might have been like at basement parties back in the day with the red light on as it played.
“I would like to get to know if I could be, the kind of girl that you could be down for…” Yes Sis! Get straight to the point! No use in wasting his time or yours. From the minute I first heard Brandy’s debut single, “I Wanna Be Down” she had a fan in me for life. Brandy was me! A shy girl who wanted to get to know a cute boy, all the while looking too fly in her braids and whatever non-belly showing outfit that was Mom approved. She was my official friend in my head and there was no turning back.
My teenage self wanted somebody to have a “Love Jones for my body and my skin tone so bad!” “I’ll Be There for You/You’re All I Need to Get By” is the quintessential hood love story. Method Man and Mary J Blige are the perfect combination. It’s a love song, but the beat is grimey and gutter. I actually believe that’s a big part of it’s appeal. Whoever linked those two up knew what they were doing. What dude you know don’t F with Method Man?! And by the time this song dropped Mary had all the ladies in her corner after dropping “What’s the 411?” and “My Life”. It was predestined for them to get together.