Childish Gambino raps about the exploitation of black pain by white Americans in his music video for "This is America." - Courtesy of Childish Gambino YouTube channel

This is the second of a two-part series about African-American musical artists.

In honor of Black History month, I decided to write about the top five living and dead African-American music artists of all time. This article features the living musicians. As an African-American myself, I’m proud of my culture and the talented musicians that have helped to shape not only my culture, but the entire world viewpoint throughout history. African-Americans have a rich history of music that will stand the test of time and continue for generations to come.

#5:  Janelle Monáe (Kansas City, Kansas)

Janelle Monáe is one of the best artists in the world today. Mixing in science fiction, electronic, pop and R&B music, Monáe creates a style of music that stands out from the crowd. It’s unique and so original that attempting to explain it only diminishes its value. You only need to listen to her music and be in awe of this talented musician. From her albums “The ArchAndroid” and “The Electric Lady” (which reached number five on the Billboard charts) to her latest album “Dirty Computer,” Monáe is constantly telling interesting stories throughout the albums that she makes. There truly isn’t an artist out there like her.

#4: Childish Gambino (California)

Did anyone else expect the guy from TV’s “Community” to become a multi-talented actor, content creator and musician? Childish Gambino’s career, in general, is insane and crazy to wrap your head around. Staying in the music side of things, Gambino’s 2018 hit “This is America” was an instant classic song. Touching on the racial tension, discrimination and stereotypes that affect the lives of African Americans today, this song made an entire country stop and think about these different aspects, which spurred important conversations that dominated last year. His songs “Feels like Summer,” “Redbone” and “ V. 3005” showcase the ranges of emotions and vibes that Gambino can express and connect to. With each song that he makes, you can see his growth as a person and musician.

#3: Kendrick Lamar (Compton, California)

Kendrick Lamar, for me, is the best rapper alive today. From his first mixtape “Youngest Head N*gga in Charge,” released at the age of just 16, to albums like “To Pimp a Butterfly” and “DAMN.,” Lamar is ahead of his time, making music that people from all walks of life can connect to. Lamar examines what it’s like to be an African-American living in America today and talks about the numerous racial injustices that we have faced as a culture throughout history. He made history just last year, winning a Pulitzer Prize for Music for “DAMN.”— the first of its genre to ever win the award. Songs like “HUMBLE.,” “Swimming Pools,” “ Poetic Justice” and “How Much A Dollar Cost” helped to make Lamar a household name.

#2: Janet Jackson (Gary, Indiana)

Janet Jackson will finally get into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this year, a long overdue recognition. Jackson has been in the music industry for over 50 years and is still on top of her game. Her albums “Control” and “Rhythm Nation 1814” are two of the best pop albums of all time that still hold up today. Her songs “Nasty,” “Rhythm Nation,” “Escapade,” “When I Think Of You” and “Again” are just some of the songs that made Jackson one of the faces for African American music throughout the 1980s and early 1990s. Her wide influence upon music as a whole is undeniable. Artists like Kendrick Lamar, Beyoncé , Drake, Ciara, Britney Spears, Mariah Carey, Mary J. Blige, Aaliyah and countless others were influenced and impacted by the music that Jackson has made. She has also won numerous awards and still holds musical records, like most consecutive top ten song appearances by a female artist in history, of which she has eighteen.

#1: Beyoncé (Houston, Texas)

Whenever Beyoncé’s career ends, a compelling case can be made as to why she is the best female African-American musical artist of all time, and among the top five most influential African-American artists ever. Hands down, the impact that she has had on women, black culture and the world is so important. As a member of Destiny’s Child, she made hits like “Say My Name,” “Survivor” and “Independent Woman.” They were the best-selling female group of their time and were number one on the charts numerous times. After going solo, she made history by becoming the first and only person in history to have their first six albums debut at number one on the Billboard charts. Albums like “ Dangerously in Love,” “Beyoncé” and others are such great albums that can be listened to for hours on repeat. She has always been on the right side of issues when relating to controversial topics. She is a supporter of feminism, LGBTQ rights, civil rights and black rights. She has spoken out on the many injustices that these minority groups have faced and on the police brutality that African-Americans face today, as evidenced by her comments on Trayvon Martin. Beyoncé has used the power and influence she has in the world to give a voice to the voiceless and empower groups that have felt marginalized. Through her music, as highlighted by her album “Lemonade,” Beyoncé is able to connect with people and write about personal struggles and relationships. By doing so, the artistic and musical abilities she has are beyond evident. Beyoncé is an icon. She is someone who for three decades has produced great albums, legendary live performances and made a positive impact on the lives of other African-Americans.

For questions/comments about this story, email arts@thewhitonline.com or tweet @TheWhitOnline.

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