We Never Would’ve Guessed These 5 Black Artists Were Influenced By These Unlikely Music Genres

"I remember watching a great musical movie like 'Grease.' "

We know their lyrics, and can spout off facts about their résumés and body of work, but how often do we know the musical influences of our favorite artists?

In honor of African-American Music Appreciation Month, we're paying homage to some of the greats and highlighting what inspired them to share their brilliant artistry with the world — and some of those sources of inspiration will surprise you.

From Prince to Nas to Stephen Marley, Black music has been at the center of influencing some of music's greats, and there are a few surprises you won't soon forget about some of music's most influential acts.


1. Nas

Hailing from Queens, N.Y., Nas quickly became the poet representing the streets when he dropped his first album Illmatic in 1994. Born Nasir Bin Olu Dara Jones, the genius lyricist was inspired by a wide variety of music early on in life. And it started with his father, jazz great Olu Dara, who has been compared to the likes of Louis Armstrong and Roy Eldridge, and had a reputation as one of jazz avant-garde's leading trumpeters in the mid-'70s and beyond.

While Nas and his father had an estranged relationship when he was a child, they eventually reconciled and collaborated for an unforgettable song on Nas' Street's Disciple album in 2004 with the track "Bridging the Gap."  

Outside of his pops, Nas found inspiration in various musical genres, including, surprisingly, the soundtrack for the 1978 musical Grease.

"I can remember watching a great musical movie like Grease, or watching the Jackson 5 cartoon or Kiss — the rock band," Nas said in a previous interview. "That looked like where all the action was. I knew that was the life for me; being in front of audiences. I knew it. You're not sure, for real back then. But, in my mind, I prepared for it."

Nas' love for rock music continues today as he re-recorded his song "One Mic" off his 2001 Stillmatic album with The White Stripes' Jack White for the White-produced The American Epic Sessions film

2. Prince

Prince was an American musical genius that left us way too soon when he passed away on April 21, 2016, at the age of 57. While his life was cut short his music is immortal, as was evident in the second annual, Spike Lee-hosted Prince block party in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn, celebrating his birthday. Fans new and old packed the street wearing purple and dancing to Prince songs, and enjoyed special performances. Ask anyone who attended and they'd likely say that Prince's spirit was felt in the air that day.

His sound ranged from rock to soul to pop and everything in between, so it makes sense that the list of musicians he was influenced by is as vast has his talents demonstrated. Earth Wind & Fire, Sly and the Family Stone, James Brown, Parliament-Funkadelic, Jimi Hendrix, Larry Graham, Stevie Wonder, Santana, and Joni Mitchell were among the many sounds that shaped Prince. In fact, he once performed with Stevie Wonder at the White House, and described singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell as a genius, and covered her songs in many of his live performances.

Larry Graham, the former bassist for Sly and the Family Stone, influenced Prince beyond music. It was Graham who reportedly introduced Prince to the Jehovah's Witnesses in the early 2000s.

"I was anti-authoritarian, but at the same time I was a loving tyrant. You can't be both," Prince once said in an interview.

He added, "My view of the world, you can debate that forever. But I'm a musician. That's what I do. And I also am music."

3. Stephen Marley

Stephen Marley is the son of Bob Marley and legendary reggae artist Rita Marley.  He was born in Delaware but quickly returned to his parents' homeland of Jamaica. Music was in Stephen's — aka "Raggamuffin's — life from the start. He was in his first band, The Melody Makers, created by this mother and made up of some of his siblings, by the time he was 7 years old. Naturally, he was influenced by his father's sound, but more than that was the music his father listened to that was "playing in the house all the time," he said in an interview with A Plus around the time of his most recent album 2016's Revelation Pt. II: "The Fruit of Life."

The music that filled their home included the likes of artists such as Nina Simone and rock 'n' roll great Fats Domino. But the sounds of jazz were also prevalent.

"He was greatly into jazz," Stephen said in a previous interview. "Seeco (Wailers band member Alvin Patterson) was a jazz man too. … So it's a part of me."

Through his father, Stephen learned how transformative music could be and it's something that can still be clearly heard in his music today. He doesn't just sing and make music, he performs musical art with a purpose.

"In 1980, my brother Ziggy and I performed on stage with our father at a free concert at Rufaro Stadium in Salisbury, Zimbabwe, to honor the nation's Independence Celebration," he explained on his website. "It was the first time I realized that the music we do is more than just music to some people as it defined their independence."

4. Kendrick Lamar

President Obama hailed Kendrick Lamar as one of his favorite rappers, something the Los Angeles-born emcee was beyond proud of. When the two finally met in person at the White House in 2016, Obama asked Lamar, "Can you believe that we're both sitting in this Oval Office?"

The "Humble" rapper is known worldwide for his unapologetic approach to music and sharing stories of the streets. It's no secret that Lamar has created his musical influences based on The Notorious B.I.G., Jay Z, Nas, and Eminem. But above all is Tupac Shakur, whose biopic All Eyez On Me comes out Friday.

"Tupac could've been everything for the urban community, for the ghetto," Lamar said in a previous interview.

"I believe personally that he was the man to do it," he continued. "I mean it's not nothing that happens overnight. It happens the more a person grows, the more the community grows, the more confident we could get in each other. I think Pac coulda did that. Not to say that that time won't come back again for someone else."  

Other hip-hop influences include Prodigy from Mobb Deep. He once admitted to loving the Queens-bred rapper's sound so much that he was "biting his style."

Outside of hip-hop, Lamar has found inspiration from the likes of Beyoncé and BadBadNotGood, a four-piece instrumental group from Canada that has worked with hip-hop royalty such as Ghostface Killah and jazz greats like Roy Ayers.

He's also credited Kanye West's "Jesus Walks" with influencing his 2017 release DAMN. Lamar previously explained how West taught him "never to downplay your ideas," and that because of the Chicago-born rapper, he "learned to always stay as creative as possible and never have any boundaries."

5. The Weeknd

Born Abel Makkonen Tesfaye, The Weeknd is now one of the biggest artists of today. The Canadian-born singer, songwriter, and record producer's career quickly took orbit with songs such as "Can't Feel My Face," "Earned It" off the Fifty Shades of Grey soundtrack and, most recently, "Starboy."

"Their studio is like a spaceship; there's a lot of gear," he once said about working with producers Daft Punk for the latter hit single.

But his eclectic sound is influenced by an array of artists from the past and present. In fact, he confirmed that his most recent album Starboy was "a thousand percent" inspired by the sounds of David Bowie and Prince. In fact, the album title itself pays homage to Bowie's 1972 classic "Starman."

"I just love Bowie; I think he's the ultimate inventor," he said in a previous interview.

On the technical side of music, Daft Punk are huge influencers on The Weeknd. Not only with his sound, but the way he approaches creating and crafting that sound.

"The way they make music, the way they explain it, is very cinematic," he explained. "It's like they're reading a page out of a novel … They can get technical, but it was interesting how they visualize making music."

The King of Pop also sat on the musical throne for The Weeknd.

"Michael, man, that guy was the star. He invented the star. There will never be another Michael," he said in another interview.

While many have made close comparisons to The Weeknd's sound and Jackson's, the "I Feel It Coming" singer wanted to make a very important clarification.

"I want to make it very clear that I'm not trying to be Michael," he said. "He's everything to me, so you're going to hear it in my music. Off the Wall was the album that inspired me to sing."


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