In the spirit of Black History Month (or year, in my case), I’ve been curating a lengthy playlist of songs that capture the Black experience. And no, I’m not just talking about iconic civil rights classics, like Sam Cooke's “A Change Is Gonna Come” or Billie Holiday's haunting “Strange Fruit.” I’m talking about songs that span across several decades and speak to multiple relevant topics, whether it be a thoughtful ode to Black love or a feel-good tune about the beauty of melanin-rich skin.

So, with the help of my fellow PureWow editors, I’ve created the ultimate Black History Month playlist, complete with hits by Beyoncé, Cynthia Erivo, Kendrick Lamar and more. Keep reading for 45 of the best jams.

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For songs that celebrate Black beauty

1. “Brown Skin Girl” by Beyoncé

What makes this song so special is that it empowers a group of Black women, who are often overlooked or deemed less attractive. With “Brown Skin Girl,” Beyoncé directly challenges the idea that lighter-skinned tones are more beautiful than dark brown skin—and it’s incredibly catchy, too.

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2. “Black is Beautiful” by Chronixx

The reggae tune is rich with historical context and has thought-provoking lyrics about race, but it also reminds us that being Black is something to be proud of.

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3. “Don't Touch My Hair” by Solange Knowles

Knowles perfectly captures the frustration that Black women feel when they're treated like spectacles instead of human beings. But she also uses hair as a symbol for Black women, who, like our hair, have been discriminated against and scrutinized.

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4. “Brown Skin” by India.Arie

In a world that constantly pushed white standards of beauty, India.Arie stepped up and defied the status quo by releasing songs that highlight the beauty of melanin-rich skin and Black features. In this seductive track, however, she turns her attention to the beauty of Black men.

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5. “Afro Puffs” by the Lady of Rage

If it sounds familiar, then you probably saw Tiffany Haddish perform the song during a Lip Sync Battle on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. Still, it makes for epic background music when you’re rocking natural hairstyles. “Rock on, wit cha bad self!!”

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6. “Melanin” by Secrett

Unapologetically bragging about having melanin is a whole mood. (FYI, you can catch a snippet of the fun tune in Spike Lee's Netflix series, She's Gotta Have It.)

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7. “Masterpiece (Mona Lisa)” by Jazmine Sullivan

Sullivan is a powerhouse of confidence in this song about self-love. In the track, she declares, “Every part of me is a vision of a portrait of Mona Lisa, Every part of me is beautiful.”

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For songs that celebrate Black love

8. “At Last” by Etta James

It may have been released more than six decades ago, but this classic still gives us all the chills.

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9. “Black Love” by Masego

You don't want to sleep on this criminally underrated gem. Masego sings about a thriving romantic relationship between two Black partners, and it’s sure to tug at your heartstrings.

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10. “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” by Aretha Franklin

Per usual, the Queen of Soul takes us to church with her stellar vocals in this romantic song. (We can appreciate Mary J. Blige and Celine Dion for their modern versions, but nothing compares to the original.)

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11. “Grey Luh” by Berhana

You'll get all the Frank Ocean vibes from this song, which tackles the complexity of close relationships. While describing the song, he wrote, "I think ‘Grey Luh’ is kinda ambiguous, it’s something you can’t really explain. Sometimes it feels hopeful, sometimes it feels hopeless. It’s not black and white."

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12. “Tyrone“ by Erykah Badu

Interestingly enough, this iconic break-up song started as a joke during one of her concert rehearsals. Fast forward to 2022, and this freestyle still stands as one of her best jams yet.

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13. “Love on Top” by Beyoncé

In this upbeat tune, Queen Bey speaks to the joys of being in a happy, healthy relationship—even though it’ll take work.

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14. “Before I Let Go“ by Maze & Frankie Beverly

No disrespect to Beyonce’s catchy remake in Homecoming, but the original will always take first place.

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15. “Never Too Much” by Luther Vandross

With these romantic lyrics and Vandross's smooth vocals, this song will make you want to call up your significant other STAT.

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For inspiring songs about Black joy

16. “I'm A King” by Bobby Sessions and Megan Thee Stallion

This catchy tune comes straight from the Coming 2 America soundtrack, and it speaks to the powerful impact of positive affirmations. As the song says, "Remember to walk like a king, remember to talk like a king, and remember to dream like a king, because you come from royalty."

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17. “Golden” by Jill Scott

Is it even possible to hear this song without smiling? The correct answer is no. PureWow’s Assistant Editor of News and Entertainment, Karelle McKay, said, “Whenever I hear this song, it pushes me to love my life to the fullest. The music video has this strong message to ‘never stop dreaming’ while highlighting Black joy and success.”

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18. “Black Boy Joy” by Daz Rinko

In this soulful hip-hop track, Rinko gives us a refreshingly honest and intimate look at his own pursuit of happiness as a Black man—the kind that doesn’t involve material things or drugs.

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19. “Celebration” by Kool & the Gang

Let’s face it: Being a part of the Black community is worth celebrating—​​and it’s impossible to hear this classic without busting a move (or three). Crank this one up at your next cookout.

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20. “Party” by Beyoncé ft. J. Cole

On the surface, it’s a feel-good jam about having a great time with your closest pals, but lyrically, it also explores feminist themes like sexual liberty.

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21. “Step By Step” by Whitney Houston

It’s the one song that’ll give you that extra push when you feel like giving up. PureWow’s Assistant Editor of Sales & Deals, Destinee Scott, says, “This song reminds me to embrace every moment, take each day a step at a time and love the skin that I'm in.”

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For anthems of hope and Black Pride

22. “Glory” by Common ft. John Legend

The poignant anthem was recorded as the theme for Selma, but it continues to resonate with many in the Black community, reminding us that while we've come a long way, we've still got work to do.

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23. “Say It Loud - I’m Black and Proud” by James Brown

The Godfather of soul pulls no punches as he addresses the racism that Black people endure. But he responds with a call for all Black people to own their identity and be proud of who they are.

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24. “Lift Every Voice and Sing” - The Black National Anthem

The iconic song, which was written by civil rights activist James Weldon Johnson, sheds light on the Black struggle and the desire for freedom. So, it comes as no surprise that the song garnered even more attention in the wake of George Floyd’s murder.

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25. “Speak Now” by Leslie Odom Jr.

In a statement, Odom described the moving song as an “​​urgent call to action” for the younger generation to not only speak up but to also “listen for instruction [and] inspiration” from Black leaders who came before us. It’s definitely fitting for Regina King’s directorial debut, One Time in Miami.

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26. “Alright” by Kendrick Lamar

Even as Black people continue to deal with racism and a flawed justice system, Lamar encourages listeners to have faith that things will get better.

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27. “Stand Up” by Cynthia Erivo

The heartfelt ballad, which was created for the biographical film, Harriet, is a powerful tribute to the freedom fighter, but it also serves as a reminder that her legacy can live on through all of us.

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28. “Freedom” by Beyoncé ft. Kendrick Lamar

The political track, with it' sharp commentary on racism and police brutality, will send chills down your spine. PureWow Assistant Editor Chelsea Candelario said, “The whole Lemonade album is pure gold and this song is proof. The lyrics, Beyonce’s vocals and the instrumentals bring this hit together that’s both impactful and entertaining.

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29. “Black Parade” by Beyoncé

Naturally, Bey struck gold once again with her surprise release of “Black Parade” in honor of Juneteenth. Associate Editor Stephanie Sengwe said, “I think ‘Black Parade' by Beyonce is the quintessential BHM song because it celebrates what it means to be African American specifically. From the African heritage referenced in the lyrics to the specifically Black references that pertain to Black culture in this country. It's an underrated masterpiece in the way it brings synergy to those two identities.”

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30. “Redemption Song” by Bob Marley

Arguably Marley’s best song ever made, “Redemption Song” not only speaks out against oppression, but it calls for people to free their mind and “emancipate [them]selves from mental slavery,” taking much of its inspiration from political activist Marcus Garvey.

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31. “U.N.I.T.Y.” by Queen Latifah

Even before Moya Bailey coined the term misogynoir in 2010, Latifah boldly tackled the issue in her feminist ’90s anthem, speaking directly to how Black women endure offensive slurs, sexual harassment and domestic violence.

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32. “New Agenda” by Janet Jackson ft. Chuck D

“New Agenda” speaks out against sexism and proudly celebrates the contributions of Black heroes that came before us, even as many attempt to dismiss or erase their history.

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33. “To Be Young, Gifted and Black” by Nina Simone

We’ve heard it covered (and sampled) countless times, but the original Civil Rights anthem, inspired by Lorraine Hansberry's play, still stands as one of the most empowering songs about self-worth and self-love.

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34. “Sue Me” by Wale ft. Kelly Price

The rapper makes a powerful statement about racial inequality, driving his point home with a music video that imagines a world where Black people are privileged, and white people are oppressed.

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35. “A Change Is Gonna Come” by Sam Cooke

Inspired by Martin Luther King Jr. and Bob Dylan's popular protest song, "Blowin' in the Wind," Cooke felt compelled to write this gem, which details the Black struggle—but not without ending on a hopeful note.

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For insight on the Black Experience

36. “Who We Be” by DMX

The late rapper got personal with this hit song, mentioning his violent past and experience with drugs, but he also incorporates relevant themes like racial profiling and mass incarceration.

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37. “Living for the City” by Stevie Wonder

The Grammy-winning song chronicles the heartbreaking story of a Black kid, who moves to New York City in hopes of securing a brighter future. But when he arrives, he unfortunately gets framed for a crime.

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38. “Black Like Me” by Mickey Guyton

Amidst widespread protests due to George Floyd's murder, Guyton released this song about racial inequality, opening up about her own experiences as the sole Black woman signed to a major country music label.

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39. “99 Problems” by Jay Z

The words may sound superficial, but trust us, there’s a deeper meaning that hits very close to home. Sengwe said, “It's such a cheeky way to talk about police discrimination. People will say that statement and not even realize how profound that song is.”

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40. “This Is America” by Childish Gambino

The upbeat track is a stark contrast to the searing commentary on race and gun violence in America—but it totally represents Glover’s main point about the role entertainment plays in promoting these things.

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41. “Black Rage” by Lauryn Hill

Inspired by the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, “Black Rage” speaks to the grief, pain and ​​unbridled rage that these incidents cause among those in the Black community.

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42. “If I Ruled the World” by Nas ft. Lauryn Hill

Speaking of Lauryn Hill, we can’t forget about her collaboration with Nas for this ionic remake of Kurtis Blow's "If I Ruled the World." As the rapper dreams of a better life, he’s still acutely aware of a harsh reality.

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43. “Mo Money, Mo Problems” by Biggie Smalls

All it takes is the first line to get an entire room to belt out the lyrics. Grab your BFFs and sing along with Smalls as he details the ups and downs of rising to fame.

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44. “Fight the Power“ by Public Enemy

Made for Spike Lee’s classic Do the Right Thing, “Fight the Power” is sharp and brimming with Black rage, but it’s still timely, given how it captures the plight of the Black people in America.

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45. “F.U.B.U” by Solange

The song is a celebration of Black power and success, but more specifically, it speaks to the impact of a particular brand, F.U.B.U. (For Us By Us).

Solange said, "I thought of F.U.B.U. and what kind of power it had, and how normalized it became to wear that kind of symbolism every day. F.U.B.U. exhibited Blackness in any space, on a huge global level, and that is what I wanted to do with the song.”

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