‘Dear Culture’: 15 of the Blackest Songs (in celebration of Juneteenth) with The 80z Babies’ Yinka Diz and Outlaw

OPINION: Panama is joined by the homies to come up with assorted lists of Blackest songs without any definition of ‘Black.’ Shenanigans ensue.

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Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

It’s still June in African America and that means a time-honored tradition is also upon us: Juneteenth. Admittedly, the reverence and excitement around the now-federal holiday are somewhat curious but I’ll take an extra day to cookout and shoot the shenanigans with the homies talking and somebody’s daughter (my mother-in-law’s daughter specifically) over some almost-burnt hot dogs, spaghetti salad and libations of varying alcoholic content. And what better way to kick off your shoes and relax your feet than with some music. Since Juneteenth is associated with Blackness (and freedom), I decided to enlist the help of some of my homies with a podcast of their own—The 80z Babies Yinka Diz and Outlaw—to come up with a list of the Blackest songs. 

What makes a song Black? That’s the beauty of Blackness: nobody knows; you just know it when you hear it. Without nary a hint of guidance, I asked Yinka and Outlaw to come up with their own definition of “Black songs” and then come up with five songs apiece that illustrate that outcome. What we got was a fun discussion and discourse on what it means for a song (or music, generally) to be Black and what that looks like when we pick songs to fit that mold. When I tell you that Yinka and Outlaw did not disappoint, well, they did not disappoint. 

To level that up, I similarly had a convo with Matthew Allen and Touré about Blackest songs, and they also came up with their own lists of 10 songs that illustrate what “Blackest songs” means to them. Here’s Matthew’s list and here’s Touré’s list

Now, in the spirit of fairness, I also had to make up my own list; five of my selections are included in the podcast episode with explanations, but here are an additional five songs (I don’t want to spoil the listening fun for you) that constitute Blackest songs. Oh, my definition of a “Black” song? A song that literally only a Black person could make.

Here are five additional songs not included in my podcast episode with Yinka and Outlaw, which you should totally check out via theGrio’s app.

“Everybody Loves the Sunshine,” Roy Ayers Ubiquity

Something about this song feels so innately Black and unique to the culture that I can’t imagine anybody else being the front for this song. It feels like outside in a Black neighborhood or the cookout or anywhere Black folks congregate. The piano, alone, screams soul, and soul is a Black thing through and through. 

“Ladies First,” Queen Latifah, featuring Monie Love

For starters, the song is performed by Queen Latifah. We’re starting at a 10 on Blackness out the gate, but the subject matter also screams “Black woman” for obvious reasons. Never mind the Black don’t crack nature of the video where a 19-year-old Queen Latifah looks exactly like a 52-year-old Queen Latifah. Plus this is an early classic of hip-hop, which gives it a rawness and energy that could only come from a fairly new art form where Black folks are bringing 100 percent of themselves to it. Me likey.

“Soul Food,” Goodie Mob

Contrary to popular belief, soul food isn’t solely a Black thing. Every Southern white person I knew ate the same things I did. However, singing about soul food, ya know, “a heap a helping of fried chicken, macaroni and cheese and collard greens, too big for my jeans.” Something is so beautifully Black about this song, as each member of the group name-checks all of the soul food spots in southwest Atlanta while also talking about society and being Black in America. That, my friends, is the Blackness.

 “Saturday Love,” Cherelle & Alexander O’Neal 

Singing about the days of the week isn’t new; Sesame Street has tons of jams about the days of the week. But Cherelle & Alexander O’Neal gave us that jam about meeting your boo on a Saturday and being the boo for the day. They were making sidepiece jams (even if they didn’t realize it) back then. Basically, if you have a boo thang you only catch up with on Saturdays, this is your song and frankly, that’s a very Black thing to do. I know folks with Sunday cars; you know, cars they only drive on Sundays. Saturday love is the same thing. Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, who wrote and produced the song, are geniuses of real-life situationships.

“The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly),” Missy Elliott

Literally ONLY Missy could have made this song and only Missy, who has this much Blackness, creativity and soul in her being, could create this masterpiece of funk and soul. My goodness is this song perfect and literally NOBODY else could have done it. That’s the Blackness, my friend.

Panama Jackson theGrio.com

Panama Jackson is a columnist at theGrio. He writes very Black things and drinks very brown liquors, and is pretty fly for a light guy. His biggest accomplishment to date coincides with his Blackest accomplishment to date in that he received a phone call from Oprah Winfrey after she read one of his pieces (biggest) but he didn’t answer the phone because the caller ID said “Unknown” (Blackest).

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