3 POC-Fronted Bands You Should Listen to Right Now
These groups combine electrifying sound, socially-conscious lyrics, and empowering messages.
Music wouldn’t be what it is today without the influence of POC. Here are just a few genres that owe their ongoing excellence, and in some cases their very existence, to the contributions of Black musicians.
Jazz. Jazz originated in the famously diverse city of New Orleans in the early 20th century. Musicians such as Billie Holiday, Duke Ellington, and Louis Armstrong quickly became figureheads of the genre, and remain some of the most beloved jazz artists today.
Blues. In 1912, trumpeter W.C. Handy was named “the father of the blues.” He’s penned some of the genre’s most enduring songs, such as “Memphis Blues” and “St. Louis Blues.” Other Black pioneers of the blues include B.B. King, Muddy Waters, and guitar legend Jimi Hendrix.
Rock n’ roll. Rock n’ roll directly stems from the blues. Without the blues—which was invented and perfected by Black Americans—rock n’ roll would never have existed! Black artists like Little Richard, Bo Diddley, and Chuck Berry took this new genre and cemented it.
R&B. Black musicians are responsible for the invention and continued evolution of R&B. Trailblazers of the genre include Marvin Gaye, Aretha Franklin, and Etta James, followed by more contemporary acts like Whitney Houston and Prince. Modern artists like Usher and Beyoncé have ensured R&B’s ongoing popularity.
Though we owe a lot to these historical figures, POC are still making waves and creating amazing new music in the modern day. Here are three Black-fronted bands you need to listen to right now.
Fire from the Gods
“I am the refugee
Poster child of tragedy
I am the future
Everything you need to be
I am the chosen
I am not your enemy
I am the one
I'm the American sun…”
- lyrics from “American Sun”
Fire from the Gods exploded onto the scene in 2016 with their fiery debut Narrative. Powered by AJ Channer’s robust lead vocals and driving riffs by guitarists Drew Walker and Tony Esperanza, that album married the best parts of hardcore and post-hardcore, garnished with—of all things—a heavy helping of rap rock. They were a welcome addition to the music scene for those who missed the nu-metal sounds of the early 2000s, but their music was unburdened by the cheesy lyrics, silly face paint, and other nonsense that turned nu-metal into a joke.
Narrative was reworked, scrambled, and expanded to create Narrative Retold in 2016, while 2019’s American Sun saw the band going in a slightly different direction. While American Sun retains some of the heaviness of its two predecessors, its tracks are peppered with reggae-style beats and vocal stylings.
Despite the variety of sounds the band has experimented with, one thing has remained constant in their music—their socially conscious and observant lyrics. They aggressively decry systemic oppression in songs like “The Voiceless” and “Public Enemy,” empower listeners with uplifting, anthemic tracks like “End Transmission” and “Truth to the Weak (Not Built to Collapse),” and boldly affirm their own strength and value with the sweeping “American Sun.” These thoughts are made even more powerful thanks to Channer’s versatile voice, which veers from blistering roars to hooky rapping to satin-smooth melodic singing in a matter of moments. Fire from the Gods is exactly the kind of band the music scene needs right now, delivering vital messages in addictive and compelling packages you can’t help but listen to.
RECOMMENDED SONGS: “Public Enemy,” “The Voiceless”, “End Transmission,” “Truth to the Weak (Not Built to Collapse),” and “American Sun”
“You said it was a boy that bears your name
But eighteen's a man
I know everything they know
Yes I'll bear your name
Yes I'll wear that crown
Heavy lies that thing, I know…”
- lyrics from “Renegade 86’”
Though they’ve been inactive since 2017, letlive. left a mark on the post-hardcore scene in their fifteen years as a band. They’re fondly remembered for their turbulent and thundering brand of post-hardcore, as well as for their frenetic live shows and the onstage antics of their dynamic lead singer Jason Butler.
I was lucky enough to attend one of their sets in 2015 as a supporting act for Rise Against in San Francisco. Though I’ve seen hundreds of bands at this point in my life, many of them openers and supporting acts that I couldn’t name now if I tried, letlive. became an instant favorite that I still think about all these years later. Butler jumped off equipment and flung himself around the stage in a centrifuge of eccentricity, calming down only to give offbeat and unscripted between-song monologues. I’d entered that venue without knowing who letlive. was, but I left a fan.
If you asked any letlive. listener what their favorite albums are, chances are good that they’d mention 2011’s Fake History, with follow-ups The Blackest Beautiful (2013) and 2016’s If I’m the Devil… close behind. What tracks you should start with depends on your personal preferences and mood; since letlive. experimented with a variety of sounds during their tenure, they offer songs to fit every possible taste.
If you’re looking for tracks that match the volume and chaos of their live shows, “Renegade 86” or “Banshee (Ghost Fame)” will leave you satisfied, as Butler screams, shrieks, and howls atop chugging guitars and rapid-fire percussion. Elsewhere, songs like the soulful “Reluctantly Dead” and the introspective “Copper Colored Quiet” give Butler a chance to show off his impressive clean vocals. The latter is an especially eerie listen. It was the last track on the last album letlive. would ever record, making the refrain of “everybody wants me to save my breath, because it’s all in jest / we all came to watch your world as it burns” all the more haunting.
RECOMMENDED SONGS: “Renegade 86’,” “H. Ledger,” “Banshee (Ghost Fame),” “Reluctantly Dead,” and “Copper Colored Quiet”
“I got a mouth like Malcolm
And hands just like Ali
Black Panther, white mother
You better not try me
I got a mind like Martin
Visions of Rodney King
My city's on fire
You know sometimes you gotta burn it down
To build it up again…”
- lyrics from “BURN IT”
After letlive. dissolved, Jason Butler formed FEVER 333. The all-caps stylization of their name and song titles should give you an idea of what to expect from their sound – think letlive., but turned up so loudly your speakers crackle. They released their debut album Made An America in 2018, to great excitement and acclaim from those who already knew of Butler thanks to his letlive. days. Their sophomore effort STRENGTH IN NUMB333RS followed shortly thereafter in 2019, and their most recent album WRONG GENERATION was released last year.
FEVER 333’s strength lies in their lyrics, which balance rage, sorrow, and occasional optimism in perfect symmetry. In the autobiographical track “INGLEWOOD/3,” Butler reflects on his early life as a minority in Los Angeles. He bitterly remembers the time “my brother came home bloody / he was trying to keep the peace / now I hear a whole new meaning when they scream ‘f**k the police!’” and recalls feeling displaced due to his mixed-race heritage. “Ambiguous with the light brown skin / ‘see I’m like you’ I kept telling them,” he says, before dropping the heartbreaking “even if you don’t believe me / when the cops come they still beat me.” This segues into “THE INNOCENT,” where Butler asserts “no more excuses / we must refuse this / silence is useless / long live the innocent.”
The quietly simmering emotion in songs like “INGLEWOOD/3” and “THE INNOCENT” comes to a searing head in the fierce “FOR THE RECORD,” in which Butler roars “watch everything I used to stand on stand on me / feeling the burden of tomorrow's yesterday / you're selling freedom to modern slaves / we can't even afford the chains.” Immediately after, Butler sings mournfully over a somber piano riff in the understated “LAST TIME.” The listener is left wondering if the the ferocity of the previous song has worn him down and left him feeling wrung out and exhausted. His verve returns in the next track, “SUPREMACY,” in which he rails against various oppressive forces before realizing “they afraid of the outcome / 'cause the race that they call human / keep evolving and they know they will get outrun.” He warns, “we rising / put the muscle on, but we won't stay silent.” This trilogy of songs perfectly showcases FEVER 333’s talent for messages that are at once furious, weary, and triumphant.
RECOMMENDED SONGS: “BURN IT,” “INGLEWOOD/3,” “THE INNOCENT,” “FOR THE RECORD” (feat. Walter Delgado of Rotting Out), “LAST TIME,” and “SUPREMACY”
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