As calls to end systemic racism continue unabated, this year’s celebrations of Black Music Month and Juneteenth (when slaves were emancipated in the U.S.), are underscored with a new urgency. Here’s a quick roundup of upcoming releases, events and other projects.
“I Can’t Breathe”: H.E.R. commemorates Juneteenth (June 19) with the release of the compelling new song “I Can’t Breathe” (“I Can’t Breathe”), inspired by the loss of Black lives through police brutality including George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. The night before, the Grammy-winning singer-songwriter-musician welcomed Miguel, Koffee, A$AP Ferg and other guests to the Black Music Month edition of her popular Girls with Guitars Instagram live series. Sponsored by RCA Records in conjunction with its “Black Sounds Beautiful” campaign, the evening helped raise donations for the Rock the Vote organization.
Throughout this month, “Black Sounds Beautiful” is featuring artists’ commentaries on Instagram, concert footage and music videos on YouTube and a Black Music Month 2020 playlist on DSPs. As part of that, Sirius XM’s The Heat debuts a special Black Music Month broadcast of the Heat Backstage Pass featuring live concert performances from H.E.R., Kirk Franklin, Usher, A$AP Ferg, Khalid and more. The broadcast debuts Friday at 5 p.m. ET with encore airings on June 21 (11 p.m. ET), June 24 (12 p.m. ET) and June 27 (5 p.m. ET).
The Beat Don’t Stop: The evolution and legacy of Go-go music is the focus of TV One’s documentary The Beat Don’t Stop, premiering this weekend on the cable network (June 21, 8 p.m. ET). With the Godfather of Go-go Chuck Brown as a focal point, the documentary explores the history and culture of the indigenous sound that emerged from Washington, D.C. Featuring a diverse cross-section of celebrities, artists, music historians, journalists and community leaders, The Beat Don’t Stop provides insights from Doug E. Fresh; band members from E.U., Junk Yard Band and Trouble Funk; dance crew Beat Ya Feet Finest; Don’t Mute DC organizer Ron Moten and talent promoter/former MCA Records executive Bo Sampson.
Urban One chairwoman/founder Cathy Hughes doubled as the documentary’s executive producer; the company’s Radio One division was the original broadcast platform for Go-go music. In the exclusive clip below from The Beat Don’t Stop, rapper Fresh pays homage to Brown.
Urban Legends: James Brown, Def Jam, Janet Jackson and Motown are among the icons being saluted this month by Urban Legends, a division of the global catalog company Universal Music Enterprises (UMe). First up: Brown’s official YouTube channel premiered the trailer for Funky Drummer on June 18 — the first of a three-episode animated mini-series titled Get Down, the Influence of James Brown and narrated by Questlove. The full episode of Funky Drummer bows on July 10 with part two (Funky President) and part three (The Payback) coming soon.
In honor of Juneteenth, Def Jam’s YouTube channel and Instagram page will host a DJ set by legendary DJ/producer Clark Kent paying tribute to the label (7 p.m. ET). Also falling under the Def Jam Era — Perfects Rap Black Music Month banner is the original Def Jam/UMe mini docu-series Through the Lens. The 40-year history of rap and the hip-hop culture will be explored through the work of three esteemed photographers, presented on Def Jam’s YouTube channel: Janette Beckman (June 19), Ricky Powell (June 26) and Jonathan Mannion (July 10).
DJ Natasha Diggs honors Janet Jackson with a live DJ set on June 24, hosted on the Urban Legends YouTube channel. Two days later on June 26, Motown/UMe will release digitally Motown State of Mind. Rapper and hip-hop producer Lord Finesse curated, remixed and reimagined the featured Motown classics; he’ll also perform a special live stream on the Motown socials to mark the project’s release. Motown State of Mind will then be released as an exclusive 45 rpm black vinyl box set on July 24. The seven-inch singles will feature the remixed version on Side A and its original on Side B.
Black Music Forever: Pandora bowed Black Music Forever on June 1, a station honoring Black musicians, composers, singers and songwriters. Within the station, listeners can click through nine different listening options with a “Mode” for each of the most iconic genres and decades of Black music. Pandora has since premiered Black Music Now, a playlist honoring Black artists sharing their musical journeys in Pandora Stories as well as three new Songs of the Struggle stations with hip-hip-hop, R&B/soul and gospel songs that illuminate the ongoing struggle against systemic racism. Pandora recently announced that these stations will become permanent fixtures on the service.