There is no denying that Blackness influences culture on a global scale, whether it’s through the worlds of beauty, style, and even social media. And in recent years especially, it’s become customary for Black artists—from the realms of fashion, music, and beyond—to take their most intimate and formative life experiences and turn them into socially stimulating art. This common process is how select artists have shaped themselves not just as creators, but also as bona fide international influencers.
As Black History Month comes to a close, it’s imperative to understand that Black art and excellence should be celebrated far before the start of February and way beyond its conclusion. The Black artists who are flourishing today are a current collection of talent set to inspire for years to come.
Below are the designers, musicians, and creators who should absolutely be on your radar through 2020 and beyond.
— FASHION —
Christopher John Rogers
Christopher John Rogers is one of a handful of modern-day designers—regardless of race—who wants to bring fun and fabulosity back to fashion. The 26-year-old, Louisiana-born designer has consistently dressed the likes of Rihanna, Tracee Ellis Ross, and former First Lady Michelle Obama in unexpected but ever-intriguing looks that never fail to inspire. Rogers isn’t afraid to embrace sartorial elements that are unequivocally unapologetic—such as vibrant hues, avant-garde ruching, and multidimensional fabrics that shine when adorned atop models and superstars alike.
Aurora James simply knows what women want. Since her brand Brother Vellies’ launch in 2013, James has seamlessly executed a curated rollout of classic and chicly designed footwear that still manages to break the norm and notions of what a luxury shoe line is in today’s cultural and political climate. Her shoes have graced the feet of style icons such as Beyoncé and Zendaya, and her python-print Palms boots were essentially a standout character in the film Queen & Slim from Melina Matsoukas and Lena Waithe. James is aware, however, that fashion can’t exist today without acknowledging the implications it has on culture on a broader scale. The designer continues to speak out on the importance of fair trade, brand transparency, and financially supporting women worldwide—all factors she incorporates into her burgeoning brand.
The personal is political, and so, too, can be the fashionable. Since founding his fashion brand, Pyer Moss, in 2013, designer Kerby Jean-Raymond has increasingly used his sartorial authority to force haute couture audiences to come face-to-face with ugly realities. Before issues of social importance became a marketing point for companies to commodify and neutralize, Jean-Raymond was putting his life’s work on the line to speak out. His spring/summer 2016 NYFW show, for instance, highlighted the fatal impact of police brutality and infused the ethos of the Black Lives Matter movement onto the runway. Afterward, the show venue pulled out, a European retailer dropped his line, and six of the designer’s biggest accounts dropped him, according to Vogue Business. Still, he hasn’t allowed the financial repercussions to budge his moral compass; just a few years later, Pyer Moss has become the standard for powerful social commentary in high fashion. Jean-Raymond has also since won the CFDA’s Swarovski Award and the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund.
Victor Glemaud has quickly become a designer known for his chic and vibrant knitwear that’s been donned by some of the fashion industry’s most adored darlings, including the likes of Laura Harrier, Issa Rae, and Indya Moore. Rather than leaning more into the streetwear category with his collections—a trope that the industry may expect from a Black designer—Glemaud celebrates classic silhouettes with punchy and modern detailing, meant to be lively, flirty, and fabulous.
LaQuan Smith isn’t afraid to be unabashedly sexy. The New York–born designer has helmed his namesake label since 2010, but thanks to recent sightings of his designs on the likes of fashion icons like Beyoncé and Rihanna, as well as new-age style influencers such as Winnie Harlow and Alexa Demie, his label has reached new heights of notoriety. His designs aren’t for the sartorially bashful, however, and that’s precisely what makes his vision shine. Smith consistently serves his audience sheer and mesh creations, plunging necklines, and plenty of animal print—meant to intrigue and tantalize his unapologetically sultry audience.
No other minimalistic handbag has permeated New York’s artistic scene quite like the Telfar shopping tote, courtesy of burgeoning Queens-born designer Telfar Clemens. Unlike other designer handbags that have become solely synonymous with status symbols, Clemens has managed to create an instantly recognizable piece that not only has inspired a new generation of young, queer, and insanely creative artists, but also provided a timelessly sleek accessory that’s accessible to the very scene that inspired its conception. Carrying a Telfar bag on one’s shoulder doesn’t exude pretension or an out-of-reach reality; if anything, it celebrates a scene that has profited off being uniquely and unapologetically oneself.
— FILM —
If anyone has helped define the aesthetic that’s surrounded the cultural reinventions of today’s most boundary-pushing artists, that credit goes to Melina Matsoukas. The Grammy Award–winning director has helped visualize iconic music videos such as Rihanna’s “We Found Love,” Solange’s “Losing You,” and—her most riveting work to date—Beyoncé’s “Formation.” And she just celebrated her feature film directorial debut with 2019’s Queen & Slim. Queen Bey honored her friend and frequent collaborator at the American Film Institute’s gala last year, crediting the director’s determination in highlighting the voices and work of creators of color as an essential component to her vision and success. “Her drive, vision, taste level, and storytelling is boldly unapologetic,” Beyoncé said, adding that Matsoukas creates visual stories that are “thought-provoking, dramatic, funny, and real.”
After an awards season that all but snubbed women directors and directors of color, paying tribute to these filmmakers feels long overdue. Dee Rees’s name is absolutely worth mentioning, considering her meaningful releases like 2011’s Pariah, a coming-of-age story about a young Black lesbian woman, and 2017’s Oscar-nominated Mudbound, a drama unfolding around two families in Mississippi after World War II. This year, she delivered The Last Thing He Wanted (now streaming on Netflix), a mystery that stars Hollywood heavyweights Anne Hathaway, Ben Affleck, and Willem Dafoe.
Chinonye Chukwu made history last year as the first Black woman to take home the top prize at the Sundance Film Festival. Her winning work was Clemency, a psychological drama centered on death row executions, which she wrote and directed. Of making the protagonist a Black woman (portrayed by Alfre Woodard), Chukwu told NPR, “I did not think twice about it. I tend to write in my likeness, and I just was, like, why not? It just seemed to make all the sense in the world.” This year, she’s directing the first two episodes of HBO Max’s upcoming series adaptation of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s novel Americanah, which was written and run by Danai Gurira and stars Lupita Nyong’o.
Festival favorite Janicza Bravo made waves at this year’s Sundance with Zola. A dark comedy based on a 2015 viral Twitter thread about one woman’s wild, Floridian entanglement with exotic dancers and hustlers, it’s a stripper epic for the Internet age. Bravo adapted the tweets with Slave Play playwright Jeremy O. Harris, and tapped Taylour Paige and Riley Keough to star. Also an actor and costume designer, Bravo’s credits include the 2017 film Lemon, the 2019 horror flick Greener Grass, and an episode of the Apple TV+ series Little America.
Jodie Turner-Smith is slowly but surely making herself a household name in Hollywood. Her beginnings, like most, were humble: She had a four-episode run on HBO’s True Blood, played a major character on the last two seasons of TNT’s sci-fi series The Last Ship, and starred in Nightflyers, a lesser-known show based on a George R. R. Martin novella. Finally, her claim to fame came in the form of the Lena Waithe–scribed thriller Queen & Slim, with Turner-Smith playing the titular Queen opposite Oscar-nominated Daniel Kaluuya’s Slim. The role earned her immediate acclaim. “I’m interested in telling stories about the vulnerability of black women, because often we’re portrayed as just sexual objects,” she told CR Fashion Book last November. “I always want to be able to tell a fuller story of what does this person hope for, what does this person fear, what drives this person to grow into someone different?”
— BEAUTY —
Aaron Philip—an 18-year-old Antiguan–American model—is swiftly paving the way for transgender and disabled representation throughout the fashion and beauty industries. Philip’s career was jump-started by a single tweet in which she called out the modeling industry on its blatant discrimination toward trans and disabled individuals. A year later, Philip was signed by Elite Model Management and went on to appear in campaigns for Dove, Outdoor Voices, and Sephora, as well as grace the covers of magazines such as Paper and Gay Times.
Raisa Flowers is a makeup artist, fashion model, and certified Rihanna muse. Known for her innovative and experimental makeup aesthetic, Flowers’s talent has granted her the opportunity to work alongside Pat McGrath as a member of her nonpareil makeup team and as a model who has graced the runways for brands such as Savage x Fenty and Gypsy Sport. For Flowers, her no-holds-barred approach to her beauty, style, and overall self is a purposeful way of providing a new type of representation for the young women to come after her. The artist told Fashionista last year, “If someone wants to cast me for something, I always think, ‘What if a young girl who looks like me sees this?’ I always want it more for them and more for the ability to change people’s mindsets. Even if someone doesn't like it, or doesn’t agree with it, they still see me out here doing it."
Sharon Chuter isn't simply a beauty CEO—she's an unwavering advocate for the inclusion and celebration of Black women within the makeup industry. Since starting her makeup line Uoma Beauty (uoma being the Igbo word for "beautiful), Chuter has gone on to receive rave reviews from her customers and the beauty industry alike for her passionate approach to producing a diverse collection of cosmetics. "Many brands try to sell to Black women, but do not know the Black woman," Chuter told Refinery29. "As a brand, Uoma celebrates and is conscious of our Afro-heritage. We are a brand by Black people for the world."
— MUSIC —
Yes, Kelis has already cemented her status as an R&B icon. Since the release of her early millennium gems like “Milkshake” and “Bossy,” she’s been, well, boss. But this year, she’s having a moment as she prepares to release new music and celebrate the 20th anniversary of her stellar debut LP, Kaleidoscope. After thriving with quiet life on a farm with her family—she even has plans to open a restaurant—she’s shedding light on difficult moments of her years-long career. She recently came forward with claims about being “lied to and tricked” by The Neptunes (Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo), who produced her first two albums, and that she allegedly didn’t make any profit off those LPs. She also opened up about how “the issue of race has been such a big part of my entire career,” recalling how people were confused by her alternative, genre-bending music.
Google the words Rico Nasty genre and five distinct results will pop up: hip-hop, trap, punk rap, rap metal, and SoundCloud rap. Even the names she goes by (from alter egos Trap Lavigne and Tacobella, or her birth name, Maria-Cecilia Simone Kelly) refuse to lay a perimeter on her ingenuity. To put it simply, the 22-year-old artist defies labels. She first broke out in 2016 with viral YouTube hits like “iCarly” and “Hey Arnold.” Just a year later, her single “Poppin” continued to rake in millions of hits on the video-sharing platform before subsequently being featured on the hit HBO series Insecure. Fans often call her music cathartic, a screeching and unapologetic response to the daily societal pressures to repress oneself, especially as a Black woman. Her work, then, forges a path forward to not only being loud but being heard. The Maryland-bred artist says it best herself in an interview with Dazed, “Being an artist is about innovating and pushing limits. You can’t stand still.”
Doja Cat is unapologetically weird, unfiltered, and unbothered—and she doesn’t care what you think of her for it. Since her nonsensical but undeniably catchy viral hit “Mooo,” the rapper has continued to release hit after hit—including bona fide bops such as “Tia Tamera” and “Juicy”—that are supreme examples of how rappers can experiment within the pop music realm, without diluting the genre. The Los Angeles–born rapper doesn’t hide her obvious inspirations—her music catalogue shows references in lyricism and flow cadence influenced by rap giants such as Nicki Minaj and Kendrick Lamar—but her execution never comes off as a shallow duplication. When you combine her quick-witted wordplay with the stylized aloofness of her candy-colored, whimsical world, you get the modern-day rap queen the music industry has been missing.
Fatimah Nyeema Warner—otherwise known by her musical moniker, Noname—is one of the most authentic storytellers in music today. The Chicago native became a critical darling after the releases of her two studio albums, Telefone and Room 25—both in their own rights standing as poetic odes to Chicago, womanhood, and the simultaneous joy and melancholy of Blackness. Noname’s latest venture, however, finds her foraying into the literary world with Noname’s Book Club, an “online/irl community dedicated to uplifting POC voices.” The musician’s club aims to not only promote the literary works of burgeoning and prominent authors of color, but also, via the club’s subscription model, it sends book copies to select prisons so incarcerated individuals have the opportunity to read.
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