Apple Music has a wonderful theme for celebrating Black History Month this week: chosen families. Part of the description Apple Music offers for this theme stuck out: “The Black family—including both those who share the same DNA and those who don’t—is a patchwork of people and experience that come together to shape the culture. This week, the people who offer love and support despite the absence of shared genetics take the spotlight.” To focus this even more, Apple Music is focusing on LGBTQIA+ individuals, who often have a very difficult time getting support from the communities they grew up in. The subcategories of this week are very similar to last week, but there are nine this time: Featured Short Film, The Message, Featured Guest Playlists, Artists to Know, Music’s Chosen Families, Squad Anthems, Essentials, Watch More, and Lisen Now.
Featured Short Film
This week’s featured short film, entitled “Chosen Family,” directed by Jean Estene, is 2:19 in length. This film features multiple people talking about their positive experiences with chosen, Black families. These short talks work on defining ‘chosen family,’ and the general consensus was people who love you for who you are. Blood relatives are not always the most important people in your life, and Apple Music is striving to show how Black artists have portrayed this idea through music. The diversity within this film is beautiful: a gay couple, a drag queen, a woman who was raised by a white mother and found herself through her chosen family. Anyone can have a chosen family, is what this tells us; it is all about finding people who support you.
Next up, Apple Music features a talk between MC Ebro Darden, Singer/Songwriter Syd Tha Kyd, and Singer Durand Bernarr. Running at just above 21 minutes in length, it’s all about the idea of a chosen family. Syd described it best as “a family that chose you,” and the discussion expanded into how relative family members are not always the best option when it comes to seeking support. The three also discussed how refreshing it is to not have to rely only on yourself, or undependable people. The conversation was packed full of advice and very moving anecdotes that have the potential to inspire hope for people who may not have a chosen family yet.
Featured Guest Playlists
Both Syd and Bernarr had playlists featured in this section of Chosen Family. 13 other playlists are included here — one titled Chosen Family, another by Syd entitled “Black Pride,” and others focusing on Black pride and LGBTQIA+ visibility. My favorite playlist is one by Chika, also under the “Black Pride” theme. It features songs by Kehlani, Janelle Monáe, Saba, SZA, and other artists I’m a big fan of, as well as one of my favorite songs from 2016, “Caroline” by Aminé.
Artists to Know
In line with the focus on pride, the artists featured this week are part of the LGBTQIA+ community: Frank Ocean, Janelle Monet, and Tyler, The Creator, to name a few. We also see Ma Rainey, the “Mother of the Blues,” featured in this list, which was a pleasant surprise following the popularity of Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (2020). It is so hard to pick just one or two recommendations from this list; even the artists here that I’d never heard music from before (Moses Sumney, UMI, serpentwithfeet, etc.) was incredible. I can say that Blonde by Frank Ocean was one of my top ‘help me survive quarantine’ albums at the beginning of 2020, so if you’re looking for a place to start, Frank Ocean might be the way to go.
Music’s Chosen Families
Most of the albums in this category are by groups, but there is the occasional album by a solo artist as well. Just like last week’s Foundational Albums category, these albums seem to be those that impacted the music industry in a significant way. Once again, we have albums dating back to the ‘50s, but there is a pretty clear generation dominating this list; 13 of the 33 albums are from the ‘90s alone. My top recommendation comes from the late ‘90s: Things Fall Apart by The Roots. I’ve always really loved this album and the book it is inspired by — the 1950s novel by Chinua Achebe of the same name. I could go on and on about why I love it, but the main reason is how it’s set up as almost a storybook of criticism based on the U.S.’s mistreatment of Black people.
The songs in this category are all collaborations; multiple artists are featured on each track. There are a total of 37 songs in this list, and there doesn’t seem to be any correlation between these songs apart from the fact that multiple people sing or rap in each one. Honestly, I’m not a fan of this subcategory, partly because there are a couple of songs featured here that I can’t stand, and because I can’t really find the connection between these songs and the theme of this week’s celebration. Regardless, I still have a couple of recommendations: “Stunt 101” by G-Unit, “Rock Co.Kane Flow” by De La Soul, and “Down Bad” by Dreamville. A hesitant recommendation I have is “Vice City” by Jay Rock; I can’t decide yet if I really like it or really hate it. Either way, it’s worth a listen; it’s different, and I always appreciate that in music.
There are certain songs in this list that I’m almost certain everyone has heard before (“Say My Name” by Destiny’s Child, “Hey Ya!” by Outkast, “Fight the Power” by Public Enemy). There are other artists in this list that are extremely popular, or otherwise well-known, too: TLC, Boyz II Men, Wu-Tang Clan, and N.W.A., just to name a few. The best way to describe this category, besides music that almost everyone has come across at some point, is ‘unapologetic.’ The albums in this category contain songs that are vulgar, political, demanding, and discuss real sh—t (broken relationships, police brutality, childhood trauma) without saying sorry for it. Yes, a good number of these songs are angry, or critical — but so what? Take one look at the current state of the U.S., or think about a particularly toxic couple you’ve come across, and tell me these artists don’t have a reason to feel this way. One of the most infuriating things I’ve heard while growing up, trying to enjoy music by my favorite artists, is: “God, Hip-Hop is always so vulgar.” Good! Hearing people of my race get upset over things that are upsetting, and generally affect our race as a whole, is, honestly, comforting. I’m not alone; that’s what Hip-Hop has told me. That’s exactly why these albums are perfect for a “chosen family” theme.
This subcategory is full of more talks like The Message — Zoom (or other video calling services) calls with various artists talking about different topics (often, as expected, about their music and creative processes), all with the potential to inspire listeners. I recommend any of these clips; they all run under 10 minutes long, and there’s a lot to learn from and relate to these artists.
The radio shows in this list overlap from last week, so I’ll likely leave this section out in the following two weeks. They’re still worth checking out, though, as the likeliness of finding new music or listening in on eye-opening discussions within these episodes is high.
This week’s theme was very much needed, I feel, as it’s often difficult for Black LGBTQIA+ people to insert themselves into a conversation about race, despite the way race and sexuality often overlap. Surrounding the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement, Black members of LGBTQIA+ community tried to highlight the importance of including different sexualities in the discussion, but again, found it extremely difficult to have their voices heard, even on social media. Hopefully, this feature on Apple Music is a sign that Black, LGBTQIA+ voices are being heard, and that we can keep pushing for our place in the conversation.
Featured Photo Courtesy of @jeanestene via Instagram