The truth is: there are so many black innovators in the music industry.
Black music has influenced trends, fashion, sound, culture and the list continues. Here are 18 influential black artists that dominate the music industry through their voice, music, business ventures, fashion, and so much more.
Each artist listed below has played a quintessential role in advocating for continued black excellence and inclusion.
“You can’t help it. An artist’s duty, as far as I’m concerned, is to reflect the times.”
Senegales-American singer, songwriter, entrepreneur and record producer, Akon released his first single, Locked Up, in 2004, which charted in the Billboard Hot 100. He is also the founder of 2 thriving record labels, Konvict Muzik and Konlive Distribution. In 2014, Akon started a project called Akon Lighting Africa which provided electricity in countries by using electricity via street lamps and solar panels, alongside also launching his own charity in Africa for underprivileged children called Konfidence Foundation. In 2018 Akon announced he was working with the Senegalese government to establish and build a tourist city with a cryptocurrency economy structure. Furthermore, he created the Solektra Solar Academy to train people in Africa about solar power. Akon is aspiring individuals to have ambitious ideas and to just go for it.
Record executive, record producer, songwriter, film producer, entrepreneur and television producer, Berry Gordy is best known as the founder of Motown Records, which continues to be recognized as one of the highest earning black owned businesses decades after it’s inception. He composed and co-composed many hits as a songwriter such as Lonely Teardrops, Do You Love Me, Shop Around, and I Want You Back. As a record producer, he signed Marvin Gaye, The Temptations, Stevie Wonder, The Supremes and many more. In 1972 he moved to Los Angeles, California where he produced the biographical film drama, Lady Sings the Blues, based on jazz singer Billie Holiday. It’s been said Gordy mastered the “Motown Sound” which includes a beautiful mix of gospel, harmony, rhythm and blues. Motown plays a vital role in the music industry because of their integration in popular music. Gordy influenced and made the motown sound distinctive through his drive, focus, and attention to detail. Which in turn, resulted in great success, many hits, and his induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. His legacy will always be one of the foundations of music.
“Don’t judge yourself by others’ standards…have your own. And don’t get caught up into the trap of changing yourself to fit the world. The world has to change to fit you. And if you stick to your principles, values and morals long enough, it will.”
Producer, cultural curator, mentor, DJ, philanthropist, and businesswoman. In 2006, Beverly Bond founded Black Girls Rock!. Her vision is to further illustrate powerful, motivating women of color and to continue to remind them of their worth. In 2010, she teamed up with B.E.T to bring Black Girls Rock to television. She is at the helm as the executive producer and the show has already amassed over 10 million views. Beverly Bond continues to inspire and empower women of color through mentorship, music, workshops and so much more.
Singer, songwriter, actress, icon, legend. After topping the charts for years both as a member of Destiny’s Child and as a solo artist, in 2010 Beyoncé started her own entertainment company, Parkwood Entertainment. Parkwood Entertainment touches on fashion, movies, and music. The company signed the popular duo Chloe X Halle. Beyonce was one of the original co-owners of the global music streaming service Tidal. In 2016, Ivy Park, her athleisure clothing line was launched and in 2019, she became a creative partner with Adidas, where she continues to develop her brand with the company.
Actress, dancer, choreographer, singer-songwriter, director and producer, Debbie Allen is a woman with many hats. She worked on popular projects such as Fame, Sweet Charity, West Side Story (on Broadway), just to name a few. In 2001, she opened her own dance academy, Debbie Allen Dance Academy. This non-profit academy teaches young dancers regardless of their financial status. Debbie Allen continues to be one of the most influential, respected women in the entertainment industry.
In 2017, the Grammy winning jazz bassist, Esperanza Spalding, camped out in a recording studio with other collaborators for exactly 77 hours. She conceived, wrote, rehearsed and recorded 10 songs in that time – while live streaming the process out to the world (as a clock on the wall counted down). Fans could tune in at all hours of the day or night and watch as Spalding and team created the masterpiece (or slept). Think The Truman Show meets Big Brother. She had an extremely exclusive physical preorder available with 7,777 vinyl records and CDs (which contained pieces of the note paper she used during the session). She sold these packages for well above the standard rate ($60 and $50 respectively, and the autographed vinyl test pressing for $250) because they were exclusive, unique and limited. She sold out of all the inventory before the live stream finished. The album has never been available for digital download or streaming.
Actress, director, producer, screenwriter, and record label owner. We were first introduced to Issa Rae in her popular Youtube series in 2011, “The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl.” The series later became the hit HBO show, Insecure. In 2019, Issa Rae started her own record label, Raedio, which has since partnered with Google to create a program highlighting up and coming artists. She became the co-owner of Hill Top + Kitchen, now with 3 locations around the Los Angeles area. Issa Rae continues to inspire and motivate black women to never give up on their dreams.
“I’m rooting for everybody black.”
Actor, rapper, songwriter, singer, and entrepreneur. In 2015, Jaden Smith launched his first company, JUST Water. He noticed the heavy amount of plastic used to produce water bottles and wanted to change that. The change became a paper based bottle with a cap made from sugar cane. Smith wasn’t done though, so he started 501CThree which provides water filtration for a low cost to the residents of Flint, Michigan. He has also joined the shoemaking business, teaming up with New Balance in 2021. The shoes showcase his love for originality and uniqueness. In 2016, his gender fluid clothing company, MSFTSrep, was launched. Jaden continues to elevate his brand and remind individuals there is beauty in being unique.
Singer, songwriter, entrepreneur, actress, rapper, and phenomenal performer. She is an artist who continues to reinvent herself and break barriers. Her musical career started in 2003 with her release of her demo album title, The Audition. In 2015, Janelle launched her own label called Wondaland Records. In 2016, she made her film debut in the movie, Hidden Figures. She also appeared in the Oscar winning movie, Moonlight. Her 3rd studio album, Dirty Computer was released in 2018 and was chosen as “The Best Album of the Year” by several publications. Janelle is known to fuse funk, hip-hop, soul, and RnB into her music. She continues to push boundaries and is one the most thought provoking artists of our time.
Rapper, songwriter, record executive, entrepreneur and the list continues because he continues to break barriers. Jay Z is well known and widely respected as one of the most influential Hip-Hop artists in history. He was the former CEO of Def Jam Records, where he signed and promoted artists such as Rihanne, Kanye West, and J.Cole. In 1999, he founded the clothing line RocaWear. In 2003, he founded the luxury sports bar chain, The 40/40 Club. From 2003-2013 he was part owner of the Brooklyn Nets NBA team. In 2015, he was one of the original superstar musician co-owners of the newly rebranded streaming service TIDAL. In 2018, he started his entertainment company, Roc Nation. In 2020, he launched a line of cannabis products. And this past year, he was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. On top of all his success, Jay Z also gives back to the community through the Shawn Carter Foundation.
Mary J. Blige
Singer, songwriter, actress and entrepreneur, Mary J. Blige is commonly referred to as the “Queen of Hip-Hop Soul.” Her music career started in 1991, when she signed to Uptown Records. In 1992, she released one of her most popular albums, What’s the 411, which blends R&B and Hip-Hop. Her album, My Life, was released in 1994 and is one the most memorable albums from her. Both albums were featured on the Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest albums. Blige also has had major success in TV and film. She is known for roles in shows and movies such as Power, The Umbrella Academy, and Rock of Ages. In 2004, she launched her own record label, Matriarch Records, and in 2010 she launched her perfume called My Life, which broke sales records. In 2021, she started her own wine business called Sun Goddess Wines. Her story is told through her music and in her performances. Mary J. Blige is the definition of perseverance. She encourages black women to love themselves. She continues to make hit songs and will forever be the “Queen of Hip-Hop Soul.”
“You either learn from your experiences or go back and do the same thing, and I learned from my experiences.”
-Mary J. Blige
Rapper, entrepreneur, community activist and father, Nipsey Hussle held an influential presence in the music industry and in his community. He collaborated with big name artists such as Drake, Big Sean, Snoop Dogg and Jay-Z. In 2010, Hussle created his own record label, All Money In Records. In 2017, Hussle opened The Marathon Clothing Store in the Crenshaw commercial district, which was important to him because he wanted to invest in and provide opportunities for his neighborhood. In 2018, he released his album Victory Lap which was nominated for best rap album at the Grammys. Nipsey Hussle was one of the most influential Hip Hop artists of all time and his legacy continues to motivate, inspire and influence artists in the music industry and in the community.
Record producer, musician, songwriter, composer, arranger, TV and film producer, Quincy Jones’s inspiring career spans 70 years of continuous achievement in various mediums. He held a top position at a major American record label and produced Michael Jackson’s Thriller, one of the best-selling albums of all time. He helped create The Institute for Black American Music. He has a record 80 Grammy Award nominations, resulting in 28 Grammy wins. He produced the popular TV series, The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. In 2013, he was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and was named one of the most influential jazz musicians of all time. In 2017 Quincy and his partners started Qwest TV. The first subscription video on demand of hand-picked concerts, documentaries, interviews and archive films for music spanning jazz, soul, funk, blues, hip-hop, global sounds, electronic and classical. A global hub for music and culture. In 2017, he entered the world of ETF (Exchange-Traded Investment fund) and it is titled as, The Quincy Jones Streaming, Music, Media, & Entertainment, ETF. Quincy Jones will always be a legend and proves you can be successful in many mediums.
“I never cared about money or fame, and I don’t care now. I follow the groove, and money always follows.”
Barbadian singer, actress, fashion designer, and entrepreneur. With sales of her music surpassing $250 million, Rihanna is one of the best selling artists of all time. Aside from music, she has taken over the beauty industry. Rihanna created Fenty Beauty because she did not see enough representation for all skin types. Her makeup line is available for all skin types and is valued at $2.8 billion. Rihanna transformed the beauty industry and she included her skin care line Fenty Skin and her lingerie line, Savage X Fenty. She continues to advocate for diversity and inclusion in the music and beauty industry. Her influence on fashion, makeup, and positive body image has inspired women to love themselves.
Singer, songwriter, entrepreneur, Sam Cooke is popularly known as the “King of Soul” and is one of the most influential voices of all time. Additionally, he played an important role in the Civil Rights Movement because he was well known by white and black audiences — using his influence to fight for the movement. He was also known to be a wise businessman. In 1959, he founded his own publishing company, KAGS Music so he can own the copyright to his songs. He fought against injustices in the music industry after seeing musicians get cheated on royalty payments. Cooke also started his own record label, SAR Records and promoted more black artists under it. In 2007, his song, “A Change Is Gonna Come,” was selected by the Library of Congress as one of the 25 records inducted into the National Recording Registration for Preservation. Sam Cooke’s influence and impact on music and in the music business will always remain undeniable.
Rapper, songwriter, producer, record executive, actor, and entrepreneur, Sean Combs is a busy man. In 1993 he founded his own record label, Bad Boy records. He has produced many influential artists such as The Notorious B.I.G, Usher, Mary J Blige among others. In 1998, he launched his clothing line, Sean John. In 2007, Combs assisted in developing Ciroc Vodka. In 2008, Combs added a men’s perfume line, “I Am King.” He is the head of the investment firm, Combs Enterprises, and also holds an equity stake in Revolt TV. Additionally, he co-owns a water brand AQUAhydrate. Sean Combs is the definition of doing it all. He continues to inspire aspiring entrepreneurs.
Speaker, author, philanthropist, entrepreneur, and well known in the music industry, Shanti Das has been in the entertainment business for 25 years, working directly with artists such as Ashanti, Akon, Erykah Badu, and managing their marketing campaigns. In 2000, she established her own non-profit, Silence the Shame, an organization which focuses on mental health and wellness education and awareness. Shanti is transparent about her experience with anxiety and depression in her self published book, “Silencing MY Shame.” Silence the Shame is well known and commonly mentioned in the mental health conversation.
Musician, artist and a pioneer of Epic Hip-Hop, Vo’s music is heard in film, TV, and games worldwide. He has landed over 1,500 sync placements and he is the founder of Sound Dose Music Group, a sync agency that “welcomes the future of music.” Vo’s music has been featured on popular shows such as Empire, Atlanta, Lethal Weapon, Billions, SNL, and Black Mirror; as well as theme songs for the Milwaukee Bucks and Tampa Bay Lightning’s championship-winning seasons. Vo is an incredibly inspiring artist, educator, and entrepreneur. He is also the instructor for Ari’s Take Academy’s Advanced Sync Strategies for Film, TV and Video Games.