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  • Giavanna Gradaille

Hidden Gems: Black Artists You Should Be Streaming

*Created through Canva by yours truly*

It’s wonderful when corporate greed benefits everyone but the corporations’ themselves. Don’t you agree? A little confused? Let me catch you up to speed. Universal Music Group (UMG) removed their entire music catalog from TikTok over a compensation dispute. UMG claims TikTok was unwilling to fairly pay for music rights, while TikTok claims UMG was overcharging for the very same music rights. The truth about this fallout will inevitably lie and die between the two entities. All we – the public – know is the result: countless videos now appear as snippets of silent films on TikTok’s platform. Videos once featuring artists signed with UMG have become soundless voids. But there’s a rising, steadfast solution: small music artists.

My for you page on TikTok since UMG’s catalog removal has been flooded with small music artists introducing themselves and their music – it’s been incredible.

Not only have these artists filled the soundless void on the social media app, they’ve inspired a cultural movement towards authenticity. And it’s only fair for listening audiences to reciprocate their appreciation through an outpour of support. So, I thought the best way Pop Passion could show support would be to highlight these artists in an ongoing series called Hidden Gems. Since this is the last week of Black History Month, the first installation of the series will focus on black music artists. For this installation (and future installations), I have two stipulations: (1) the artist/band/group’s monthly listeners on Spotify had to be under 75k. Then (2), the song in question had to be released in 2022 and beyond. Now, let’s get to the music! There might be a little surprise waiting at the end, too.

"STAY (BOY CRAZY)" - Sundiata

Do you “conflate the way it could be with the way that it really was”? Then “STAY (BOY CRAZY)” by Sundiata (with their band The Celebrity Curse) is for you. The alt-rock single depicts the intense desire for a love interest; as well as the commitment to said love interest by being whatever and whoever they need. The track has an experimental sound highlighted by immaculate guitar riffs that command listeners attention and respect. And this is all while patiently “wait[ing] by [their love interest's] side” for “a response” that allows this desire to become a reality. If you still need to satisfy your alt-rock hunger, the Delaware artist was on Donavan Burt's (a fellow member of The Celebrity Curse) latest single “New Friend” which is just as catchy and stream-worthy.

"((over))" - Heath240

Boston native Heath240 provides an existential listening experience with “((over))”. The shoegaze single takes listeners to the height of heartache. Soft vocals with matching guitar chords open this song, introducing us to a fresh break-up. As the song progresses towards the chorus, the single’s momentum takes on speed before the realization of the relationship’s end finally sinks in. That’s when hardened chords overwhelm, packing an emotional gut-punch that eventually leads to a distortion of layered vocals. It shapes up to be an ethereal soundscape that’s exalted when paired with the music video – it’s quite literally the manifestation of heartbreak. For those brave enough to review the rest of Heath240’s discography, you’ll find loads of transformative indie-pop tracks like “DON’T TEXT ME” and “Ayudame” that know no emotional boundaries.

"What He's Used To" - Speedrun

Sick of modern dating? So is Speedrun in her single “What He’s Used To”. The self-taught guitarist and bassist from Brooklyn dazzles listeners in this 2000s post-punk throwback. And it features one of my favorite musical elements - lyrical dissonance. Bright melodies and exhilarating percussions contrast with lyrics that describe a man who uses and discards women in an attempt to feel “new”. Despite knowing how wrong it is, he can’t help himself because he “loves the feel of a beautiful casualty”. This single is from Speedrun’s indie-chic project and debut EP Love’s Latest News; an English translation of one of the poems in Jean-Michel Maulpoix’s collection, A Matter of Blue. “What He’s Used To” is the fourth featured song on the six-track EP. But if that’s not enough for you, listeners have the opportunity to watch the indie rocker perform live at the Knitting Factory on March 29th, in NYC.

"Favorite Toy" - Tolliver

We won’t be tolerating any sex shaming here with “Favorite Toy” by Tolliver. It’s the sex positive anthem that begs to be screamed in and outside of bedrooms. Tolliver spits fire in rapid succession within the chorus while a funky bassline encourages listeners to keep up with the song’s stamina. But most importantly, this single doesn’t believe in “cross[ing] the line” – and there’s nothing hotter than consensual sex. Our artist with Chicago roots currently handcrafts futuristic pop for listeners in Los Angeles. His blend of pop features elements of gospel, neo-soul, and funk. If you’re still craving Tolliver’s infectious personality, you should give his 2022 EP Daddyland a listen. You can also catch him in the 2023 thriller Fuzzy Head, which is now being streamed on multiple platforms.

"Have My Way with You" - Jilian-Toreè

This song is a must add to all late-night date night and WLW playlists. “Have My Way with You” by Jilian-Torrè is Sapphic R&B at its’ finest. Through a lullaby-like tune layered over transfixing beats, our Texas-based artist showers listeners in her unrestricted passion for women. Offering not only “pleasure [but] deep soul affection”. What I love the most about this single is how it defies toxic masculinity within WLW relationships, and in the overall queer community. In “Have My Way with You”, Torrè presents listeners with a masc lesbian completely comfortable and vulnerable in their expressions of love; no games are being played here. Torrè has a large collection of singles worth listening to, with "Is It Real" being their latest single.

"Couple Goals" - Justy

We’re not done with throwbacks from New York-based artists just yet though. “Couple Goals” by Justy, a queer Staten Island raised artist, takes listeners back to the 90s with a fusion of hip-hop and R&B. The lyrics in this track flow effortlessly alongside a grooving baseline. The single delivers a hard but warranted truth to listeners: emphasizing to not idolize the relationships projected on screens (both small and little). We live in the digital age where couples can “giv[e] lifetime” on social media but can be “tubi” behind closed doors. And it’s all done for the sake of keeping up appearances – or as Justy puts it, to “look good”. “Couple Goals” was not only independently written by our artist but produced by them as well. The single is set to be one of the tracks on our artist’s upcoming album.


There’s no need to attend mass when you’ve got “SUNDAYSERVICE” by Timi O playing. This single is the latest addition to the Massachusetts native’s world establishing discography with himself as a compelling protagonist and storyteller. The visuals of this world are brought to fruition through regular collaboration with independent directors and filmmakers, Sabrina Roberts and Jacob Rodier. “SUNDAYSERVICE” marks the beginning of the journey of self-acceptance that starts with “giv[ing] up [being other people’s] idea of perfect” since we can barely "recognize" the person reflected in "the mirror". This matter-of-factly tone shifts midway into lush rapping grounded in self-accountability. If a freeform hip-hop sermon through your speakers isn’t enough for you, Timi O has an upcoming performance at the Crystal Ballroom on May 11th, in Somerville, MA.

"Get Out" - Kindal Tate

For those contending with their mental health, “Get Out” by Kindal Tate is a reminder that you’re not alone. The single is fueled with power; driven with the intention of creating a community based on collective experience. It’s difficult to recognize the connections we’ve established with others when there’s negative voices lingering in our heads. But Tate’s deterministic chorus aims to “get [them] out of [your] life”. The lo-fi alternative single accurately reflects the on-going battle between these voices of pessimism and the desire to simply be at peace. Ultimately, the California-based artist is a passionate mental health advocate. And through that advocacy, they serve to remind listeners that their struggles are seen, and there is a place for them to reside within the world. If you find yourself needing to more time to heal with Tate, more singles like "U" are just a click away.

Outside of the eventual fallout between TikTok and UMG, music lovers were growing tired of larger artists. While there are a multitude of reasons, the one that stands out is the lack of authenticity. What I mean by lack of authenticity (and by extension what most people are getting at) is the emphasis on widespread appeal. When artists attempt to appeal to all listeners, the music they create becomes vague and nondescript. Music’s impact lies in its ability to capture various moods and experiences; and that diversity cannot accurately be expressed if it all sounds the same.

With that being said, I hope you’ll share my zeal for the small artists crafting music through this historic moment. Not just because they’re creating bops, but because they’re committed to sharing their individuality in the hopes that it brings out ours. The best way to show your support is through virtual love in the form of likes, follows, and streams. But make sure you have enough zeal to share with all the artists we have featured on our Hidden Gems playlist, too! The playlist has 50+ songs on it by small black artists that amount to just a little under three hours of listening time. And please, if there’s an artist you feel we’ve left out don’t hesitate to send us a message!

Written by Giavanna Gradaille

*copyright not intended. Fair use act, section 107.


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