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5 Songs by Black electronic dance artists that changed the trajectory of pop music

A man's hand mixing on a turntable
Yomex Owo

Black innovation has been at the intersection of electronic dance and pop music from the start. Songs like Beyoncé’s “BREAK MY SOUL,” Inner City’s “Good Life,” or Kanye’s “Fade” have all sprouted from the history of drum machine and synthesizer mastery. Take a look at five dance tracks by Black artists that were foundational for the trajectory of popular music.

Larry Heard aka Mr. Fingers “Can You Feel It” (Trax Records)

Mr Fingers - Can You Feel It

"Can You Feel It" is a 1986 song by Mr. Fingers and one of the first deep house records. It’s seminal impact on house music culture has been compared to that of Derrick May's "Strings of Life" on Detroit techno. Larry Heard taps into the magic of the Roland TR-909 and Juno 60 to create this sunrise masterpiece of dance music history.

Afrika Bambaataa & Soulsonic Force - “Planet Rock” (Tommy Boy)

Afrika Bambaataa & Soulsonic Force - Planet Rock

This electro revolution came together in 1982 after DJ and producer Arthur Baker met with Bambaataa and the two bonded over the idea of creating a song about their mutual appreciation for the band Kraftwerk. Bam’s decision to leave the early funk and disco hip-hop sound to create a more electronic feel changed the course of hip-hop.

Goldie “Inner City Life” (FFRR)

Goldie - Inner City Life (Official Music Video)

Inner City Life is widely considered one of the most iconic drum and bass works of its era.British electronic musician Goldie blended the haunting vocals of singer Diane Charlemagne with jungle breakbeats to create a masterpiece released in November 1994 as the first single from his acclaimed debut album, Timeless. The crossover appeal of the Metalheadz label’s sound in the UK opened doors for other producers like LTJ Bukem, Shy FX, and Grooverider to go global.

Juan Atkins aka Cybotron “Clear” (Fantasy)

Cybotron - Clear [Fantasy Records]

“Clear” feels like taking the first taste of pure machine music in 1983. Juan Atkins, also known as Model 500 and Infiniti, is an American record producer and DJ from Detroit. Often described as "the original pioneer of Detroit techno," He has been a member of The Belleville Three, Cybotron, and Borderland. The song's instantly recognizable loop has been sampled by many rap and hip-hop artists such as Missy Elliott's "Lose Control" and Poison Clan's "Shake Whatcha Mama Gave Ya."

Herbie Hancock “Rockit” (Columbia)

Herbie Hancock - Rockit (Official Video)

A jazz musician embraces the new technology of sampling, synthesis, DJ scratching, and vocoder to create a future shock in 1983. For many, this was the first time they heard a DJ or electronic synth instrumental on the radio. Utilizing the turntablism of Grandmixer DXT, the pop crossover tune helped hip-hop earn the respect of music critics and gatekeepers during its infancy. Hancock enlisted the duo of Bill Laswell and Michael Beinhorn from the experimental post-rock outfit Material to produce the futuristic breakdance anthem.

Listen to J Boogie's show highlighting Black electronic music pioneers live on Friday, February 9 at 10 p.m. It will also be available on the music player a week after it airs.