Right now is a time of reckoning in this country in regards to police brutality against Black people. Anti-blackness and racism are unfortunately deeply pervasive corners of American culture, and the music industry is no exception. In a small effort to help rectify that glaring disparity, as well as elevate Black musicians and DJs, here is a list of some of Denver’s most talented Black musicians.
Smooth, emotionally charged R&B from local singer Brionne Aigné explores heavy topics like police brutality in her music with lyrics like, “It’s open season on our black men.” Recently featured on NPR and BET, keep your eyes on her because she’s about to blow up.
The multi-cultural Ramakhandra is a cosmic jazz quartet that rips apart any and all conceptions with their boundless music. With an instrumental complexity that underscores the sheer talents of this group, it’s fair to suggest that no one else comes close to making this music in Denver — nor should they try. With Ramakhandra, you’re witnessing true artistry in motion.
Kayla Rae emerged in 2018 and took on the local music scene. She has created quite the local and national following after her breakout single “Practice” got her on KS107.5’s Summer Jam where she opened for Rae Sremmurd and Wiz Khalifa. She just recently released her newest single “Someone New” that you can listen to here.
By now, if you haven’t caught Rare Byrd$ live you are missing on one of Denver’s most entrancing, pioneering experimental acts. Sounding like a grungier Yo Majesty, Rare Byrd$ blend soul and hip-hop influences with witchy overtones to create a sound that transcends from experimental bleeps and bloops to artistic auctoritas.
Brothers of Brass
Brothers of Brass are a rambunctious, rhythmic jazz ensemble comprised of musicians hailing from all over the country, from Louisiana to California. Forming an impromptu marching band and joining the protests downtown, Brothers of Brass’ music is uplifting, driving and percussive — a perfect pick-me-up while facing and combatting a somber reality.
Trev Rich is one of Denver’s standout artists, having landed a collaboration on the Spiderman: Into the Spiderverse soundtrack. Although this was his most well-known moment for some time, Rich goes beyond that moment. His record Trap Gospel was a triumph back in 2019, and he has no plans of ending there. His newest 2020 release Nova follows in the footsteps of the previous album, firmly cementing Rich in the music scene. Listen to his music here.
Kayla Marque is a staple member of the local music community and a vocal activist for Black musicians. An incredible vocalist and musician, Marque has also been a trailblazer for the advancement of music video visuals in the Denver community, working with visual artists and talented videographers to create an all-encompassing media experience with her music. Click here to check out Marque’s latest single, “Think You Are.”
Aja Black and Big Samir bring an energy akin to the Fugees while keeping a keen sense of positivity on the forefront of their dynamic music catalogue. Their artistry and their voices speak to struggle and rising above insurmountable obstacles with no shortage of hope, gaining them a legion of followers who look to them for inspiration. If The Reminders stand for one thing above all others, it’s the necessity to believe in oneself. To that effect, their names stands to hammer that point home.
Jelie goes hard as fuck, no holds barred. She spits line after rapid-fire line with calculated precision, jumping between triplets and slower, sung bars seamlessly with no pause.
The Grand Alliance
The Grand Alliance is a fairly new supergroup comprised of Kayla Marque, Crl Crrl and Sur Ellz. The trio have created a sound unlike anything else we’ve experienced in the local scene, with an eclectic mix of aesthetics to boot. Although the group is a newer entry in the scene, they are undoubtedly a big deal, representing crossovers between several key genres and doing it incredibly well. Check out their single “Chakra Khan” here.
Local rapper Trayce Chapman has been a staple of Denver’s hip-hop scene for years now. A rhythmic flow, Chapman is a natural at both lyricism as well as meter. Combining his vocal talents with slick productions, Chapman’s remarkable work is an invaluable output from Denver. You can listen more here.
A bit greener to the local hip-hop community, Hueyndgo has a flow not far from midwestern trailblazers like Chester Watson and Busdriver. More experimental beats give a Shabazz Palaces-esque flair, but while these styles present themselves in Hueyndgo’s music, they converge under his own original style to create pensively, tripped out songs. You can listen to his newest album here.
Dealz Makes Beats
This mixtape by local beat-maker Dealz Makes Beats stands on its own legs. Vignettes are strung together in clips that draw from a wide array of various hip-hop styles, all laced up tightly with a freestyling flow from the producer himself.
Ill Se7en aka Michael Acuña may be one of Denver’s most potent rappers. Between providing his lyrical leverage to outfits like the Brass and Gold Society and his work in the community, Acuña is a multi-dimensional tour de force who stands with the community at all times.
Having just dropped the first USDA-certified organic hip-hop EP, DJ Cavem is a globe-trotting, food-equity rapper and activist. The EP, called BIOMIMICZ, was released during 2019’s International Compost Week and comes complete with organic packets of seeds — kale, arugula and beets — to be planted right away. Come harvest, the full-length album of the same name will be packed with recipes on how to prepare meals with those very vegetables. According to Cavem, BIOMIMICZ is about getting back to basics with a sense of urgency, as he hopes to, “distribute albums plastic-free to encourage people to grow food in urban communities and create cooperative economics.”
You can buy the album at Nooch Vegan Market on Ellsworth and Broadway as well as the Smithsonian Museum in San Francisco(!). Considering the racial undertones of climate change’s impact, work like DJ Cavem’s is vital now more than ever.
Adiel Mitchell is a singer/songwriter with silky smooth vocals that effortlessly body the R&B grooves he churns out. A seasoned and multifaceted performer, Mitchell is also apt to switch it up at a moment’s notice with bars that go one to one with his vocals. Check out his latest music here.
heyCallHimAP is one of those musicians that constantly supplies his fans with new music. His rap style is personal and impactful, ranging from topics including his firstborn daughter on “Young and Dangerous” to “Domino” — a song that supplies all of the rowdiness one needs to get up and moving. He shows no signs of slowing down, releasing two full-length albums in 2019 alone and more recently dropping the single “Imagine Peace” at the beginning of June. Check out his full discography here.
Jay Triiiple spits bars and then some. The Denver MC is a force to be reckoned with, pulling from sophisticated storytelling to create vivid pictures of her experiences. Triiiple released a standout album in 2019, Change Over Dollars, and more recently dropped a single in April titled “Slumber.” Give her a listen here.
Old Man Saxon
Fans of the popular Netflix series Rhythm + Flow will instantly recognize Old Man Saxon. With an impeccable old-school style and new school flow, the Denver MC is the epitome of style and substance. Anyone that has seen him rhyme can attest that Old Man Saxon is far more than clever marketing, he’s the real deal.
On the poppier side of hip-hop, the Berklee College of Music alumni and Grammy Award-short lister carved his own original style of big room party pop layered with a blend of styles derived from a multitude of different influences. But SF1 is a pioneer in multiple domains, serving as the first and only hip-hop act so far to have performed at Coor’s Field. You can check out his music here.
One of Denver’s most prolific and internationally recognized producers and DJs, Sinistarr hails from the birthplace of techno — Detroit. Now he calls Denver his home, where he spins everything from drum n’ bass to rap to juke seamlessly without having to think twice. And when he’s not playing a million and a half gigs here and around the world, he is a robust producer who’s released on labels like Metalheadz, Hoover Sound and Exit Records. You can check out his music here.
That Kid capitalizes on the PC-music moment du jour with caffeinated “bussy” bopping anthems for his primarily queer audiences. Future pop music in the flesh, That Kid brings new and innovative sounds to Denver’s music scene.
A recent transplant from Oklahoma City and self-proclaimed Afrofuturism enthusiast, Safiyah brings together elements of hardcore, ghettotech, trap and just pure internet rave culture to create banging, juiced up mixes as well as dark and heavy beats. She is both a DJ and producer with an unrelenting drive to create something even wilder than the last.
With vocals that conjure a likeness to that of Corinne Bailey Rae and a style that resembles Sade, Wellington Bullings offers the throwback sound of timelessly sophisticated R&B/pop. It doesn’t take long to imagine yourself in a cafe being serenaded by the chanteuse — the romance alone is intoxicating.
Soulful and funky, Crl Crrll is one of Denver’s brightest producers. With a finger on the pulse of where music is heading, Crl Crrll has always had an ability to hone into the future and mold his innovative and engaging productions to the beat of the cutting edge
A Hundred Drums
Gabrielle Watson aka A Hundred Drums takes a deep dive into bass and imbibes her music with ancient magic that will make your head spin. Her exploration into sub-frequencies has resulted in a dark sound that takes listeners to another world entirely.
Moon Death Cycles
You may have seen Mandy Groves alongside Peyton Manning in a recent American Financing commercial, but acting is only one of her many strengths. This woman’s singing and dancing abilities are just as good as her acting chops, demonstrated by her effortlessly identifiable voice and woozy pop productions courtesy of Denver producer Shinu.
*Editor’s Note 6/9/2020: A previous version mistakenly mentioned Mandy Groves in a Papa John’s commercial, but that was incorrect. Rather, she appeared alongside Peyton Manning in an American Financing commercial.
Techno Allah is the alias of Aisha Jeylani, who creates experimental electronic productions as well as mixtapes. Jeylani is the powerhouse behind some of the most forward-thinking experimental works coming of Denver today and not only is very active in the DIY music community but is also a vocal advocate and participant for many social justice initiatives in this city — all at the tender age of 21. You can check out Techno Allah here.
Sur Ellz is part of The Grand Alliance, a musical supergroup comprised of some of Denver’s most talented players, but he also shines as a solo act. The musician fuses afro-punk rhythms with modern hip-hop to create an individual sound you don’t want to miss out on. Check out his latest single with Armstrong titled “Truth Machine” here.
NAME BCKWRDS is the alias of Eman Alexander, who creates gentile beats that incorporate stylings from bossa nova and jazz. Sounding like if J Dilla sampled Pinback, Name BCKWRDS’ capsule compositions are soothing and non-intrusive cuts borrowed from a lazy summer day. You can check out his music here.
If you’ve dived into Denver’s music scene you’ve probably seen Milky.Wav aka Jordan Nickerson — he’s omnipresent. The DJ and producer largely spins R&B and hip-hop edits that have garnered him no shortage of praise and slots at music festivals all over Denver. Aside from his DJ work, Nickerson is heavily attached to the Underground Music Showcase and many other Denver area events as an event producer (when we could still have them, that is.)
It’s hard to classify exactly what genre Joseph Lamar’s music falls under, as it’s not music for passive listening but rather an auditory artistic exploration. There aren’t many audio-visual artists in Denver creating work that truly challenge the constraints of how we classify music, but Joseph Lamar takes that challenge to heart. With gorgeous videos and loaded conceptions behind each release, Lamar is Denver’s crowning auteur.
Cisco the Nomad
Cisco the Nomad is an oddball who doesn’t quite fit into any discernible music category. He raps, he sings, he emotes across spare guitar noodling and growls over distorted 808s, but Cisco the Nomad is one of a kind. His experimentation has led to an output that is as honest as it is intentional, beautiful and braggadocious but regardless of his direction you always know a Cisco the Nomad track when you hear it.
Kelsey Marchman (of Thousand Frames)
Kelsey Marchman can absolutely shred on the guitar. Playing lead guitar in local hard rock band Thousand Frames, Marchman is a rocking beast both in her band as well as in her solo endeavors. Recently, she has started sharing covers of her favorite hard rock and metal songs on Youtube, which you can watch here.
Wes Watkins has the voice of a god. Seriously. Smoother than butter and rich like clotted cream, Watkins’ tenor is expertly played up with reverberating effects, near-campy synths and bright melodies. Infusing a pop structure with 8-bit oscillations, Watkins is a magical pauper waxing some serious poetic as he plays with pop structures and injects his own beautifully weird style into the canon. Catch Wes Watkins performing tomorrow at the Civic Center Park Amphitheater.
Hex Kitten is a producer and DJ often associated with Milky.Wav in the Gods of Groove crew and black girl magic encapsulated. It’s nothing short of a supernatural occurrence how she’s able to bust out a deniable vibe wherever she goes, but trust, when Hex Kitten is in the spot, the mood is palpable.
Kid Astronaut is a soulful artist that teeters on the pop scale just enough to get stuck in your head. A vocal proponent for the movement at hand, the singer has made an impact with both uses of his voice. To check out Kid Astronaut’s latest project, click here.
Dreamy, jazzy pop band DZIRAE GOLD bridges commercial pop-rock stylings with rich vocals from Dzirae herself. The result? Dreamy, catchy pop music from this local duo.
Black voices in America have been silenced for far too long, and supporting and elevating black artists is only a small step in the right direction. There are many steps you can take in order to advocate for the Black community on a more fundamental level. Consider calling local politicians or donating to any of these organizations and funds. Check-in on your Black friends and see how they’re doing. Join the protests if you are able to do so. If you are not Black, reflect on your own actions and how they may contribute to the silencing or erasure of black identity in this country. But most importantly, recognize that so much of today’s art, music and media has been gifted to the world by Black creators, and celebrate Black culture.