03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Real Alternatives for the Grammys' "Urban/Alternative" Category



The Grammys happen in a couple of weeks. Though it may be a fun show to watch, the Urban/Alternative category still leaves me wondering: alternative compared to what? But, let's table that discussion for now and congratulate all of the artists who made it to the nominees' circle. After all, that's no small accomplishment.

However, better examples of black artists who offer real musical alternatives can be found in black rock. To get you started, here are some artists who didn't just take a baby step to the left, but who regularly cavort far outside the lines, and to great effect.

My best black rock releases of 2009 (in no particular order):

  • Honeychild Coleman, Halo Inside (Come La Luna).  Bjork-shaded breathiness, dubby goodness.  A headphone masterpiece.
  • Melvin Gibbs' Elevated Entity, Ancients Speak.  Gibbs mines the connection between Brazil and Brooklyn to great effect. "Mojuba" alone is worth the price of this album.
  • Divisible, Less Than Lion.  For years, Esthero's "Breathe From Another" was my mythical "driving through San Francisco" album.  This one may be an alternate selection.
  • Le Grand Baton, Le Grand Baton.  Voodoo rock by way of Guadaloupe
  • Rain Machine, Rain Machine.  If they ever need a picture in the dictionary for "Do you," Kyp Malone's should be the one.  He does what he's good at and it all comes across honestly and powerfully.
  • Death ". . .For The Whole World To See (Reissue)." Once again, some brothas from Detroit were ahead of the curve.
  • RES, Black.Girls.Rock.  The return of Res!  Worth the wait, but I wish we didn't have to wait 9 years between albums.  Thirds, please.
  • The Bots, Self-Titled Album.  Two brothers, 16 and 13, crank out a fun mix of punk, ska,rock and reggae.  They're the real deal.
  • BLK JKS, After Robots. An absolutely beautiful, emotional and rockin' album from this South African quartet.  So much to like here: "Banna Ba Modimo", "Standby", "Cursor", "Tselane". Bravo, gentlemen.
  • Living Colour, The Chair In The Doorway.  If you're thinking this album got a pass just because it's Living Colour, you're wrong.  No, this bad boy is bangin' (my personal favorites are "Burned Bridges", "DecaDance", "Bless Those") and leaves no doubt that this band is still vibrant and burning.
  • Guillermo Brown, Shuffle Mode.  Like eatin' in your awkward kitchen.  Looking back, my one regret for my compilation (see below) is that I didn't include anything from Guillermo's inventive and surprising album.
  • Leila Adu, "Dark Joan." Ambitious multi-octave artistry from this London born, New Zealand bred singer
  • Analogue Transit, Gearheart. The reassuring sounds of baby grands clashing with 21st century electronics
  • Various artists, presents Fire In The Dark. Yes, shameless self-promotion, but nearly 10,000 downloads means a lot of people are digging the sounds coming out of the new black imagination. It's free on Amazon, so check it out and join the party.

Honorable mentions (bubbling under and worth keeping an eye on):

Highly anticipated for 2010:

  • Tamar-Kali, Black Bottom Not only is she a force of nature, but she's evolving into a multi-faceted singer, songwriter and an artist to be reckoned with.
  • Game Rebellion, Sounds Like A Riot  Finally: The Rebels are coming. January 18th, to be exact. No one does the hip hop/punk/rock mashup thing better.
  • MuthaWit featuring Boston Fielder(as-yet-untitled 2010 album). Magic happens every year at the URB Alt festival, and I look forward hearing how successfully Boston Fielder can wrestle the angel he's created.
  • A.N.M. With a lineup that boast Kings X's Dug Pinnick, 24-7 Spyz's Jimi Hazel and Rick Skatore, as well as members of Fishbone, Sound Barrier and Wicked Wisdom, what's not to like.  Plus, this culture could use more anti-nigger machinery.  Check the first single and get ready.
  • Cipher, The Joyous Collapse. How about some political hardcore punk?  Get ready for the band's signature aural assault early this summer.