When it comes to electronic music, black culture has been a part of the scene since the scene started. Many DJs that are huge today owe their success to black DJs who pioneered dance music, creating and curating some of the best music ever heard. We thought it would be appropriate to honor them and show you some of the biggest influences from the last few decades. Take a look at just a few of the artists that stand out as major influences to the electronic music scene.
Francis Nicholls, better known as Frankie Knuckles, was one of the biggest influencers in the early Chicago House scene. In fact, he is regarded by many as the “Godfather of House Music.” His musical influence and importance led Chicago to name a street after him, even christening August 24th “Frankie Knuckles Day.”
Frankie Knuckles may be well known in the House music scene, but it isn’t often remembered that he has also worked with some of the biggest pop stars of the latter 20th century: stars like Diana Ross, Chaka Khan, and Michael Jackson. Frankie is a Grammy Award winner and has had his track Your Love featured in the video game “Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.” On top of all that, he was inducted into the Dance Music Hall Of Fame in 2005.
Sadly, Frankie passed away on March 31, 2014 due to complications with Type II diabetes. Upon his death he was honored with a mural in Chicago’s Rogers Park. Even our own President Barack Obama felt he was such an important figure in music that he and Michelle Obama wrote letters of Condolences to the friends and family of Frankie. After all, it was Barack Obama who championed the street naming project for him in 2004.
Anybody who’s anybody in the scene knows this man and what he has done for electronic music. The “Three Deck Wizard,” better known as Carl Cox, began his career in the 1980’s and has been a mainstay in the dance music scene ever since. His style of DJing pioneered how electronic music was presented, and he was one of the first DJs to use more then two decks in his live performances. Carl has had his name attached to almost 100 tracks, both original productions and remixes.
Carl Cox is currently the No. 1 techno DJ in the world. Most notably, Carl Cox was the man at the helm on BBC Radio 1’s Essential Mix show for many years. Currently, Carl Cox is touring heavily at clubs and festivals. If you see Carl Cox at a festival, chances are he has his own stage titled Carl Cox & Friends where he showcases some of the best talent in the techno and tech house world.
Tricky is one of those stories of perseverance and fortitude. To say he had a rough childhood would be an understatement. Tricky, born Adrian Nicholas Mathew Thaws, lost his mother to suicide when he was four. He was raised by his grandmother for most of his life and was heavily involved in gang activity through his teen years. Eventually he wound up in jail for carrying counterfeit currency. That was his turning point. “Jail was really good. I’m never going back,” he said in an interview.
Tricky started his career in Massive Attack, providing the lyrics to their trip-hop style of rap music. More poet than rapper, Tricky has been writing lyrics since he was 15 years old, and his style and influence in the electronic scene is still highly respected to this day. His production ability helped guide Massive Attack into the unique sound it is today. No one says “Massive Attack sounds like…”, because Massive Attack is their own sound, and that has a whole lot to do with Tricky.
Tricky went on to have an incredibly successful solo career, launched with the release of his debut album Maxinquaye. Some of the lyrics from the album were even featured on a future Massive Attack album. Tricky also worked with many major female vocalists, including Martina Topley-Bird, Bjork, and even Alanis Morissette.
DJ Jazzy Jeff
We know what you’re thinking: “Isn’t he a hip-hop DJ?” Yes, but the thing you have to realize is that hip-hop and electronic music are intricately connected. DJ Jazzy Jeff is one of the most respected technical DJs. His skills on the “ones & twos” are admired by all real DJs.
Jeff began spinning records at the ripe young age of 10 years old. He would throw house parties for his friends in his parents’ basement, honing his skills as a DJ. He would later join Will Smith to form the group “DJ Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince”—but you all knew that (we hope). Since then, Jeff has been touring the world, sharing what he calls “good music” with the people. He even has his own web series, called Vinyl Destination, documenting his journeys around the world. DJ Jazzy Jeff is the artist every DJ wants to emulate. He may no longer be in focus of the public eye, but he is still a very important player in DJ culture and music.
We have to recognize one our own PNW DJs that helped define the West Coast house scene in the 90s. Donald Glaude is a Tacoma, Washington native and has been active since the 1980s. He is also classically trained in upright bass and violin. He began his career as a DJ by mixing tape decks in his home as a child; probably the coolest way we’ve ever heard of getting into DJing.
Through the 1990s and 2000s, he has been a mainstay at many underground and mainstream raves up and down the west coast rave scene. In 2005 and 2006, he held a residency at ICE night club in Las Vegas for a night called “Thank Glaude It’s Friday.” A night that was featured on Spike TV regularly. His house music style is very distinctive infusing heady bass lines with occasional breaks of hype to get the crowd going. Anyone who has seen this grand master play a set has left with shaky legs and ringing ears.
This is only the beginning of a long list of influential black artists critical to the past, present, and future electronic music scene. We encourage you to do some research on your own. While Black History Month may be a great time to focus on these incredible dance music pioneers, they demand your attention every month of the year.
Who are other great influential black artists people should know about? Tell us in the comments below!
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