While the roots of black musicians in punk are deep, it can feel like tokenism trying to find black people on our stages right now. For us as subculture it’s really easy to point to seminal bands like DEATH, Bad Brains, and X-Ray Specs and pat ourselves on the back. But we don’t do a phenomenal job of keeping track of today’s black punks, who are busy pushing the boundaries of what it means to be punk.
To crack us out of our habit of looking back instead of forward, I’ve put together a short list of some of the punks who are currently leaving my head spinning and happen to be black.
Soul Glo – “Created in H.I.S. Image” and “Closer To Tha God” from UNTITLED (SRA Records)
I saw this Philly-based hardcore four-piece for the first time at Anti-Fest last year, and I don’t think I’ve really been the same since. Their chugging, raw sound is accentuated by an unbridled vocal delivery with jarring lyrics that address what it means to be black in blunt, unfettered fashion. In a scene that speaks for disenfranchised people, it’s a breath of fresh air to hear a voice that is speaking for itself. If you’re a fan of hardcore, plug into what Soul Glo is doing now. Rumor has it they’ll be releasing new music this year, so hopefully we won’t be waiting long for more from this foursome.
Blxpltn – “New York Fascist Week” and “Blood in the Sand” from New York Fascist Week
Blxpltn is doing punk rock in the fucking future, and we’re getting left behind. The Austin-based trio is part Rage Against The Machine, part synth pop sensibilities and part hip hop tossed into an aggressive washing machine. The result is a not-quite-clean, diverse and ever shifting sound that’s going to leave you on your toes. Songs like “Blood in the Sand” and New York Fascist Week” will have you on your feet, chanting a long while the more subdued “Gun Range” will leave you with a quiet contemplation. This is the perfect band for those of us that take side dishes with our punk rock.
Radkey – “Dark Black Makeup” and “Evil Doer” from Delicious Rock Noise (Another Century Records)
Deeply dark, this sibling trio injects a heavy rock-and-roll vibe into their punk rock. Laying down grooving bass lines, gloomy guitar and melody-driven vocals give their sound a sturdy backbone most trios fall short on. Their murky sound calls up thoughts of a more musically polished Misfits, without the fashion spectacle. Plus, Dee Radke’s drawling, dramatic baritone delivery is the stuff dreams are made of.
Downtown Boys – “Somos Chulas (No Somos Pandejos)” and “Violent Complicity” from Cost of Living (Sub Pop Records)
If you’ve been pointing to X-Ray Specs during your black punk history lessons, turn your attention to Rhode Island’s Downtown Boys. Vocalist Victoria Ruiz’s snotty delivery is reminiscent of that 70s sound. Grooving bass lines and smattering of saxophone lines put a danceable twist on a traditional punk sound. While some might nit-pick and say Downtown Boys isn’t strictly a black band, I think the technicalities are worth overlooking: Their varied background, intersectionality and hard pro-inclusivity stance from the stage is the future.
Pay to Cum – “Earned It” and “Figure You Out” from Band from Atlanta (Brainstorm Records)
Pay to Cum, an homage to the Bad Brains song, is hard hitting, fast punk laced with soft, jamming reggae vibes. Their classic, low-fi sound features heavy riffs and a wide variety of swift tempo changes. The Atlanta-based band has enough sonic diversity to keep you guessing, and a track for every playlist you’re working on.
Big Joanie – “Baby Rust” and “No Scrubs” from Crooked Room (Sistah Punk Records)
This all-female threesome is bass forward with dirty, distorted guitar and lyrics with a black feminism lens. The band takes their words and DIY ethics seriously and is active within the London scene, working to make space on stages for black women and black youth. The London trio even started their own record label, Sistah Punk Records, to help further that cause. On top of all of that their stripped down, chant-heavy cover of TLC’s “No Scrubs” is seriously great.
The OBGMs – “Pill” and “ijustwannaluvallthetime ” from The OBGMs (Black Box Recordings)
The OBGMs (aka the Ohh Baby Gimme Mores) is an energetic and gritty foursome; part party punk, part rock-and-roll sensibilities. Their varied sound has an almost surf rock vibe with grungy distorted vocals and bright, heavy riffing guitars. The Toronto-based four piece actually had some success in their native Canada after being featured in a Budweiser commercial, and it’s easy to see the appeal of putting them in a beer ad.