20 Black Artists Who Shaped Dance Music

D Patrick Grace | Feature Writer
July 20, 2020

I have long taken for granted that dance music is synonymous with equality. Colour, gender and sexuality – for me, the dancefloor dissolves these man-made boundaries.

It helps us to realise that we are one people, all children of the same universal mother sharing the same feelings, the same hopes, dreams and fears and, ultimately, the same common language of the groove.

Given its long-standing history of inclusivity, the dance scene’s support for equality movements like Black Lives Matter ought to be a no-brainer. Unfortunately, given the vitriol some artists have faced while vocally supporting the movement, it’s clear that we cannot take this for granted any more, and our first line of defence against racism and ignorance is, as always, education.

That’s why I felt this was something I needed to write. Firstly, to show my own personal support for the movement, and second to give thanks and kudos to some of the incredible artists of colour who have been a massive influence both on me personally, as well as on the scene I love.

Now don’t worry; I’m not some raving grandad looking to sit you on my knee and bore you with messy substance-addled tales of how things were better in the 90s. Fashion certainly wasn’t, for one thing and, secondly, dance music’s tradition of equality goes back way further.

It goes back before the 80s, when punks learned breakdancing from the b-boys in New York while racial tensions dissolved in Britain with the advent of two-tone ska, before the 70s, when disco provided a safe space for gays to openly express themselves on racially mixed dancefloors, before the 60s, when dance music and civil rights became inextricably linked, before the 50s, when rock ‘n’ roll began tearing down long-standing racial walls… it goes back almost a century, in fact, to the roaring 20s and jazz legends, like the first artist on my list…

Duke Ellington

1. Duke Ellington

Raucous parties and nightclubs with loud, bombastic dance music are nothing new. What has changed, thankfully – though gradually – is the measure of inclusivity. When Duke Ellington performed at Harlem’s infamous Cotton Club, alongside other jazz greats like Louis Armstrong, Count Basie and Billie Holliday, his audience was exclusively white. Outside on the streets it was another story, however, as wild jazz music also provided the soundtrack to the Harlem Renaissance – an awakening of American black culture which would inspire the civil rights movements to come.

The parties only got wilder following Prohibition, resulting in the explosion of swing music which enjoyed huge radio play and record sales throughout the 30s and 40s. For the first time black American musicians and band leaders like Duke Ellington and his peers were able to reach a global audience.

Legacy: Ellington was active from the pre-swing jazz era right up until his death in 1974. He helped set the pace for dance music as a whole and would inspire a whole new generation of new black musicians and musical movements.

Chuck Berry

2. Chuck Berry

After jazz came rhythm and blues, an infectious fusion of jazz, blues and country music which would eventually become known as Rock ‘n’ Roll. While the second wave of jazz musicians like Charlie Parker, John Coltrane and Miles Davis were experimenting with more freeform rhythmic structures in the 1940s, rhythm and blues was all about the steady beat.

Chuck Berry moved to Chicago from the southern state of Missouri, as did many black Americans of this era, leaving the intolerant south behind in search of a better life. After arriving in the Windy City he met the legendary bluesman Muddy Waters. It was Muddy who convinced Chuck Berry to sign to one of America’s most iconic labels, Chess Records, where a new chapter in musical history was about to be written.

Legacy: Berry was active from the early 1950s until his death in 2017. Often referred to as “The Father of Rock and Roll”, Berry’s sound is typified by blistering electric guitar performances which sound every bit as infectious today. From musicality to stage presence, Chuck Berry set the bar high for all other dance music acts to follow.

3. Berry Gordy

Put your hands up for Detroit – and its original dance music innovator, Berry Gordy, the legendary songwriter and composer who would later go on to become one of the most successful record producers in history.

Gordy’s first ever hit was a rowdy number called Reet Petite for Jackie Wilson in 1957. The combination of Wilson’s bombastic voice and the big, brassy melody made the song an instant hit and formed the starting point of Gordy’s musical career.

Gordy launched Motown records in 1959, putting Detroit dance music on the map for the first time. Unlike the more minimal funk of contemporary label Stax, Motown productions were far more involved with complex melodic arrangements which often employed orchestral elements such as strings.

In fact, from songwriting to attire, Gordy brought a keen musical and visual aesthetic to everything he touched, much of it carefully calculated to help make black soul music more accessible to white audiences, without ever compromising on its underlying groove or soul.

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Selling black records to white audiences obviously made good commercial sense, though by helping to cross the musical divide, Motown artists also crossed racial divides – something which proved particularly important in the America of the late 1960s.

Legacy: Gordy not only popularised black music in the US and abroad, he inspired scenes such as Northern Soul in the UK and influenced pop music in general the world over. He launched the careers of some of the greatest black artists who ever lived, like Diana Ross and Marvin Gaye, and introduced the world to then-young protégés like Stevie Wonder and Michael Jackson. Though effectively retired today, he is the subject of the long-running Motown musical and is often cited as a massive influence by contemporary black producers like Dr Dre.

Quincy Jones

4. Quincy Jones

A true renaissance man, Quincy Jones is a composer, producer, a multi-instrumentalist performer, and raconteur par excellence – a living legend through and through. Name any famous person and it’s fair to say Quincy Jones has invariably met them, quite possibly has worked with them and undoubtedly has an interesting story to tell about them.

He started his career back in the early 50s, when he was in his early teens, rubbing shoulders with famous musicians such as Ray Charles, with whom he worked and became close friends. Quincy Jones’ musical career spanned jazz, rock and roll and pop music. He composed music for Count Basie and Duke Ellington. He also played alongside everyone from Elvis to Frank Sinatra, worked in the movie business but his biggest success was surely his work with Michael Jackson.

Having literally grown up in studios first with Berry Gordy and various Motown performers, as well as other top producers like Gamble and Huff, Michael Jackson was already a superstar and had plenty of his own ideas in terms of both production and songwriting – he just needed somebody who shared his vision and drive to help bring those ideas to fruition…

Legacy: Quincy Jones produced Michael Jackson’s three best albums. The first was Jackson’s solo breakout disco-influenced album Off The Wall in 1979. 1982’s Thriller, meanwhile, went on to become the greatest selling album of all time and, in doing so, forever desegregated the airwaves. 1987’s Bad, the most synth-heavy of the three, was also phenomenally successful, though after its release Jones and Jackson parted ways.

All three albums are essential listening for any dance music fan – especially those with a keen interest in production. And you might think, “dude I make techno I don’t care about this pop stuff” – well check the groove on Billie Jean first and get back to me. Quincy Jones’ version of the song Summer in the City also warrants a mention here as it has been sampled by a variety of dance music artists over the years including The Pharcyde, Nightmares on Wax and Massive Attack.

Clement "Coxsone" Dodd. Credit: Irie Magazine

5. Clement “Coxsone” Dodd

Jamaica’s sound system culture grew out of necessity. The levels of poverty were such that few if any in downtown Kingston could afford the equipment to play music at home. Jamaica’s unique solution was the sound system, legendary party-mobiles loaded up with speakers and records and, more often than not, bottles of beer, travelling from one neighbourhood to the next in order to deliver good party vibes direct to your doorstep.

Coxsone was not the originator, but certainly an innovator, who took the scene to the next level and helped nurture Jamaica’s home-grown music scene, a sound which would eventually mutate into ska, reggae and dub – the music we associate with Jamaica today.

Initially, however, sound systems played American hot jazz and rhythm and blues records and would compete viciously to have the best tunes. In fact, Coxsone may never have reached such heights of fame were it not for his arch nemesis, Duke Reid. The intense rivalry between both men, and their respective sound systems, was the forge in which reggae music was born.

Legacy: Duke Reid’s place in the pantheon of Jamaican music is well earned, but if we’re talking global influence, we have to give it to Coxsone because he was the man who helped the career of none other than Bob Marley and the Wailers, not to mention the Skatalites, Toots and the Maytals and Lee Scratch Perry. He would also go on to inspire the next generation of sound system impresarios who, in turn, would give us MC culture and dub…

6. James Brown

Often difficult, frequently petulant, rhythmically militant but always funky – the godfather of soul set the blueprint for everything that dance music would become. When James Brown started his career he already had a century of black music to inspire him, from gospel, jazz and the blues right up to rock and roll and soul.

James Brown’s Funky Drummer delivers exactly what it promises. The famous break itself starts at the 5:20 mark.

What James Brown did was take the best elements of each and distil them down to their absolute essence. The result was a sound that was minimal, percussive, infectious and strident. To achieve this, he worked hard and drove his band members harder and he didn’t make it look easy on stage either. In fact, ever the showman, James’ famous theatrical routine of feigning exhaustion – acting as though he was literally about to collapse from the heavy strain of being so damn funky – is almost as famous as his music.

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He was often abusive and contentious, but on the flip side, he was conscious. His music therefore became a reflection of the times. The black power anthem, “Say It Loud (I’m Black And I’m Proud)”, is a perfect example. Released the same year as the assassination of Martin Luther King, it also featured the legendary Fred Wesley, Maceo Parker and Clyde “the Funky Drummer” Stubblefield.

Legacy: From the early 50s, right up until his death in 2006, James Brown continued to play and perform. In terms of sound and lyrical content he was hugely influential, especially in early hip-hop circles, with artists like Public Enemy sampling his music extensively. The 1969 track, The Funky Drummer, featuring Clyde Stubblefield on drums, is one of the most sampled drum breaks of all time not just in hip hop but also house, drum ‘n’ bass – it’s ubiquitous across all genres of dance music. And his “good foot” philosophy of minimal rhythms can be heard in everything from Michael Jackson’s Billie Jean to Jeff Mills’ The Bells.

Aretha Franklin

7. Aretha Franklin

James Brown once sang, “It’s a man’s world” and, judging by this list, you might be forgiven for thinking that I agree. Fact is I could, and maybe I should, write a whole other article on black female musicians who have also been hugely influential on the dance scene and include artists such as Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holliday, Diana Ross and the Supremes, Millie Jackson, Lyn Collins, Ann Peebles, Loleatta Holloway, Rose Royce, Gwen McCrae… But of all those incredible performers however, the undisputed Queen of Soul is Aretha Franklin.

Aretha grew up in Detroit, the home of both Motown and techno, her family having moved there when she was very young. Her father was a preacher and her mother an accomplished musician and singer, so Aretha was raised on gospel from a young age.

While James Brown’s 1966 hit “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World” seems positively prehistoric in this woke age, Aretha Franklin’s “Respect” is just as timely as ever. Contrary to popular opinion however, the song was not actually written by her but was actually originally penned and performed by fellow soul legend Otis Redding. But when Aretha covered it in 1967, she undeniably made the song her own.

Released at the height of civil unrest in the US, the song perfectly captured the spirit of the era, becoming a call to arms for both feminists and for the civil rights movement while simultaneously transcending all boundaries of race and gender and turning Aretha into a global superstar beloved by millions. Here was a song with a theme that was universal, sang by a woman with a voice which was positively transcendental – and every song she performed since then, right up until her death in 2018, has that same goose-bumps-inducing quality.

Legacy: From soul and funk to disco, house and R&B, dance music has no shortage of soulful divas but none quite like Aretha Franklin. She was the gold standard, the blueprint which all others tried to emulate but few could hope to match, always held in the highest esteem and cited as a major influence. In fact, it’s difficult to try and imagine how dance music would sound without her.

King Tubby

8. King Tubby

While James Brown was releasing Say It Loud in the US, a young engineer in Jamaica, going by the name King Tubby, was poised to revolutionise reggae. A natural tinkerer and a highly driven perfectionist, Tubby’s sound system, Tubby’s Home Town HiFi, employed revolutionary new speaker systems and was the first to employ reverb and echo effects. Many of these effects were Tubby’s own DIY affairs; his background was in electronics and he was also often called on to do repair work for other sound systems. But it was in the studio where Tubby’s true brilliance began to shine.

Working first with Duke Reid and later with Lee “Scratch” Perry, Tubby developed an entirely new form of reggae music, one where the vocals and other instruments were often removed completely leaving just the percussion and heavy, saturated slabs of deep rolling bass with psychedelic swirls of echo and crashing reverberant waves. Sound familiar? It should do.

Legacy: In a single word? Bass. Today having the bassline as the most important component of a track is one of the fundamental rules of dance music and using effects like reverb and delay in real time while mixing is taken for granted, but it wasn’t always like this. King Tubby was the first to put the bassline front and centre, to emphasise percussion and pioneer the use of electronic effects. Without King Tubby we would most likely have no house or techno as we know it today and certainly no drum ‘n’ bass.

9. The Winstons

Chances are (unless you’re a sample geek like me then feel free to skip to number 10) you’ve never heard of this band but you’ve invariably heard them sampled hundreds of times. Their 1969 B-Side, Amen Brother, a lively soul cover of an old gospel standard, has the unique distinction of having the most sampled break of all time. From Mantronix to NWA to countless 90s jungle tunes and the theme to Futurama, the “Amen Break” is ubiquitous.

You won’t know the band, but by the 1:26 mark I guarantee you’ll be going, “aaaaah!”

When drummer G.C. Coleman first performed this legendary break he had no idea how influential it would eventually become. In the mid-80s it was included on the first of a series called Ultimate Beats and Breaks, compiled specifically for hip-hop DJs. Later, with the advent of slicing software like ReCycle, the break was chopped up in innumerable ways by budding jungle and drum and bass producers – a trend which still continues to this day.

Legacy: It’s fair to say that the entire genre of jungle, and as a result, drum ‘n’ bass, wouldn’t even exist without this break.

Fela Kuti

10. Fela Kuti

For the most part we have been focusing mostly on American music and, to a lesser extent, Jamaican, but while discussing black music we should not forget the motherland and the continent’s greatest musical superstar, Fela Kuti.

Fusing American jazz and funk with native African rhythms, Fela Kuti was the first true global exponent of afro funk. Fela Kuti was a phenomenal talent; a prolific composer, a ridiculously talented multi-instrumentalist and a powerful lyricist. His politically-charged lyrics, standing up for the poor and the disenfranchised while denouncing colonialism and corruption, ensured he made as many fans as he did enemies. The government of his native Nigeria, in particular, felt hugely threatened by Fela Kuti’s lyrics and tireless activism resulting in a sustained campaign of harassment, violence and jail sentences.

Legacy: Fela Kuti helped to bring African music and African rhythms to a global audience sowing the seeds for today’s Afro House scene, while also drawing attention to a wide range of social issues which continue to negatively impact the continent today. Fellow collaborator Tony Allen meanwhile, who died in April of this year, is widely regarded as one of the greatest drummers who ever lived and even collaborated and toured with Detroit techno legend, Jeff Mills.

11. George Clinton

Singer, songwriter, composer, band-leader, producer and purveyor of tripped-out intergalactic funk since 1955, George Clinton is yet another hugely influential artist whose talent is matched only by boundless energy. Clinton fronted not one, but two of the most influential bands in funk music: Funkadelic, which was more influenced by trippy 60s rock and Parliament, which incorporated more jazzy sound and made heavier use of synthesisers.

Legacy: Clinton dubbed his new cosmic style psychedelic funk, or P-funk for short and its influence can be found in disco, hip-hop, house, techno, drum ‘n’ bass – pretty much every style which followed. The laid-back synth-heavy sounds of Parliament, in particular, proved hugely influential for West Coast artists like Ice Cube, who sampled Clinton regularly in his solo albums.

But fellow NWA member Dr Dre would take the sound one step further, first with the release of 1992’s The Chronic and then Snoop Dogg’s Doggystyle the following year, blending the laid-back synth sounds of P-funk and gangster rap to create a sound known as G-Funk.

Gil Scott Heron

12. Gill Scott Heron

Gill Scott Heron was a singer, songwriter and poet who is also widely credited as being the first true rapper. Bursting onto the scene at the height of the black power movement, Heron’s music was a unique blend of sublime soul vocals and sharp, street-wise poetry, always with a social/political edge. Heron’s lyrics frequently highlighted social issues in America and took regular pot-shots at Nixon and Reagan. (One can only imagine what he would have made of the current incumbent.)

Given the current climate, especially in America, Heron’s music is as important as ever in helping to understand precisely how we have reached this point, and how we can move beyond it. In doing so you will also discover the roots of hip-hop, alongside some of the most poignant political poetry and heart-wrenching soul ever recorded.

Legacy: Heron is regularly mentioned as a major influence by everyone from rappers to house and techno DJs. While certainly a product of the times, his music none the less has a timeless quality. His last album was released on XL Recordings in 2010, followed by a remix album produced by Jamie xx in 2011. For Jamie xx it was a chance to collaborate with one of his musical heroes, though unfortunately Heron died just a few months after the album’s release.

13. Kool Herc

What happens when a Jamaican DJ, brought up on sound systems and reggae music moves to New York and tries to recreate a Kingston vibe in the Bronx? A massive failure, is what. At least as far as his original intention was concerned. But the actual outcome would change dance music forever.

Originally a staple of Bronx block parties, “Apache” by the Incredible Bongo Band is one of the most recognised breaks of all time, championed by Kool Herc and later sampled by everyone from Grandmaster Flash to Fatboy Slim, The Jedi Knights and The Prodigy.

After realising there was little to no appetite for reggae in the Bronx, Herc decided it was time to change his tunes and started playing more funk and soul, particularly tracks with a hard, percussive edge. In doing so, Herc noticed a clear trend: dancers tended to go particularly crazy whenever they heard the “break” section. These were the short segments of a track where the main melody and vocals stopped and the drums took centre stage – and he noticed that, at these exact parts, the dancing tended to be at its wildest.

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He therefore found a novel way to extend the length of those breaks, by using two turntables and two copies of each song and switching back and forth between the two, essentially inventing the art of hip-hop DJing all the way back in the early 70s.

By also incorporating MCs to chat on the mike, a longstanding tradition in his native Jamaica, he brought rap to the fore while those who would gather in order to bust moves to these extended breaks sections soon became known as breakdancers.

Legacy: Kool Herc is widely credited with being the godfather of hip-hop. Of course, there are many, mainly from other New York boroughs, who disagree (indeed a considerable component of 80s hip-hop lyrics are focused on this debate) that Herc invented hip-hop, none deny his massive influence in helping to create the scene. Indeed, many of the breaks which Herc popularised are still heavily in use today.

Donna Summer

14. Donna Summer

Donna Summer was an artist who perfectly reflected her times, while also building on the soul and jazz vocalists of the past and drawing a clear line far into the future. By the late 70s she was known as the “Queen of Disco” with a number of hit records to her credit, but her defining record would come in 1979, changing the course of dance music forever.

Produced by the legendary Giorgio Moroder, “I Feel Love” was specifically conceptualised to sound like the future – and how! The combination of Donna Summer’s voice floating over Moroder’s driving synth arpeggio still sounds shiny and space-age 41 year later and essentially marks the end of disco, and the beginning of house and techno.

Listen to this extended version and you can hear all the elements of house and techno; the four-four kick, the high-hats and percussive fills, the driving bassline… but more importantly, drop this on any dancefloor today and just watch the response – certified banger!

15. Grandmaster Flash

While many still argue as to whether or not Kool Herc invented hip-hop, there is no debate as to who perfected it. Flash took the techniques such as beat juggling and scratching and turned them into art forms. He tested the technology, diving deep into details such as turntable torque, motor speed, needles, mixer cues, spending hours upon hours practising, experimenting and inventing the techniques of mixing which we now all take for granted today.

Legacy: It is not an exaggeration to say that every DJ owes his or her very existence to the pioneering work of Grandmaster Flash. His group, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, meanwhile, elevated hip-hop from being simple party music, often seen as something of a gimmick, to a serious musical force. The track, “The Message”, in particular, built upon the legacy of Gill Scott Heron to deliver a damning indictment of inner city life and remains one of the most powerful and influential hip-hop tracks ever recorded.

If you really want to dig deep into the history of hip-hop and DJing, check out this fascinating interview with Grandmaster Flash.

Linton Kwesi Johnson

16. Linton Kwesi Johnson

Meanwhile, across the pond in Blighty, Linton Kwesi Johnson was delivering street lyrics of a far more Caribbean flavour. Johnson originally coined the phrase “dub poetry” to describe his unique blend of poetic spoken word lyrics delivered over blissed-out dub tracks. With a distinctive and commanding voice, LKJ had a distinctly Jamaican, yet uniquely British, identity and his lyrics reflected this, celebrating the culture of the former and more often than not, criticising the racism, elitism and hypocrisy of the latter.

Legacy: Anyone looking for a deeper understanding of racial relations in Britain would do well to check out LKJ’s back catalogue. Just as Gill Scott Heron’s poetry resonated with America’s black power movement, LKJ was the soundtrack to a similar awakening in the UK during the Thatcher era. It is a sad sign of times that many of these themes are just as relevant today. Thankfully, however, Linton’s work continues to receive the recognition it deserves – just this month he won the PEN Pinter prize.

In this track LKJ literally pulls no punches in his recommended response to fascists and proponents of racial violence. Ultimately, it’s a song of empowerment but be warned the lyrical content is raw and ugly. Unsettling it most certainly is, but that’s because the issue of racial violence remains equally unsettled. The fascists are still on the attack, and therefore it is up to all of us to help drive them back.

17. Frankie Knuckles

Frankie Knuckles was one of the true innovators of house music. Born in the Bronx, Frankie Knuckles began his career in New York’s legendary disco scene of the late 70s alongside his friend and fellow house pioneer, Larry Levan.

While Levan got offered a residency at the New York’s Paradise Garage, Frankie Knuckles moved to Chicago where he eventually become the resident DJ at the Warehouse – two legendary nightclubs from which the terms garage and house music derive.

Both men would also bring similar influences both to the DJ booth and, eventually, to the studio. Their pioneering use of effects, synths and drum machines created the blueprint for all other house music producers to follow.

Legacy: Frankie Knuckles’ productions are particularly noteworthy in terms of sheer quality and quantity. Despite a hectic touring schedule, throughout the hedonistic 90s and beyond and right up until his death in 2014, he maintained a steady and prolific output of tracks, remixes and mix compilations, which helped further cement his status as one of the most in-demand DJs on the planet.

The Electrifying Mojo

18. The Electrifying Mojo

From the late 70s to the early 80s, the Electrifying Mojo energised and inspired an entire generation of Detroit radio listeners and helped to spark a musical revolution. Grabbing disparate sounds from the most strange and exotic corners of the world, from punk to p-funk, new wave to hip-hop, mixing rock with Kraftwerk, early electro with musique concrete, fusing styles, layering multiple tracks and creating bizarre sound collages… he was not so much a radio DJ, as a sculptor whose medium just so happened to be other people’s records.

Many of these records and artists were obscure, others would emerge from obscurity thanks to the Mojo, as happened to a relatively-unknown young artist from Minneapolis called Prince.

Legacy: The Mojo’s most important legacy is his influence on the birth of techno. Detroit natives Juan Atkins, Derrick May, Kevin Saunderson and Jeff Mills, among others, all cite the Mojo as a major influence on their music and of the development of techno overall – and in particular, our next artist…

19. Juan Atkins

The Godfather of Techno grew up listening to the Electrifying Mojo’s radio show plus a steady diet of funk records from the likes of George Clinton alongside electronic music from Europe like Kraftwerk and Tangerine Dream – all records with a heavy emphasis on spaced out funky sounds.

By age 18 Atkins was already putting out records as one half of electro-funk pioneers, Cybotron and founded his label, Metroplex, when he was still in his 20s. Atkins has also released tracks as Model 500 and his works have appeared on some of the most important labels in techno, including Tresor and R&S.


Definitive early Detroit techno from Juan Atkins, under one of his many aliases, Model 500.

Legacy: As a member of the so-called “Belleville Three”, alongside Derrick May and Kevin Saunderson, Atkins is one of the fabled trio of producers who, having originally met in Detroit’s Belleville High School, would go on to shape the sound and style of what we now know as techno. They would also influence Detroit’s second wave of artists, including Jeff Mills and Carl Craig, not to mention a young Richie Hawtin, who was then living across the border in Canada.

Prince

20. Prince

It’s fitting that this tribute should finish in the city of Minneapolis, home of George Floyd, whose brutal murder served as the catalyst for a long-overdue re-examination of racial equality both in the US and abroad.

From the Harlem Renaissance of over a century ago, through the civil rights movements of the 1960s and all the way to the Black Lives Matter movement today, each new generation has taken up the struggle, resulting in improved equality and understanding.

By the 1980s, the legacy of segregation still loomed large in America’s collective consciousness, as did Vietnam and the assassinations of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King. Meanwhile MTV had just launched and white, mainstream, middle class America, still struggling with the idea of black music on the radio, was about to get a kaleidoscope of colour they couldn’t ever have hoped to prepare for.

Prince’s revolution wasn’t concerned merely with racial segregation; he transcended race just as he did gender and sexuality – he was challenging the very concept of identity itself with an energy that was relentless, fearless and funky as hell.

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As with many of the artists on this list, Prince was a hugely talented multi-instrumentalist musician, songwriter and composer, equally adept at programming synths and drum machines as he was penning pop tunes or rocking out blistering electric guitar solos that would have made even Hendrix’s jaw drop.

He was also an incredible producer and mentor of artists like Vanity, Appolonia and Sheena Easton and penned the number one song Nothing Compares 2 U for Sinéad O’Connor.

Legacy: From top producers like Luke Vibert to superstar DJs like Carl Cox, our scene abounds with stars who hold Prince in the very highest esteem. First and foremost, there is his musicality, both in terms of pure raw talent and ability as much as variety. While MTV was still categorising music as black and white, Prince was taking funk, hard rock, soft pop, hip-hop, electro and early proto-techno sounds, throwing them all into the blender and forever changing the world of music. Though that’s only one half of the story.

Much like David Bowie, who we also lost in 2016, Prince wasn’t just a musical chameleon, he played with the very concept of identity and gender and, more often than not, confused and enraged the establishment in doing so. But, at the same time, he served as an inspiration for an entire generation of young people who grew up realising that it’s ok to be different, it’s ok to be weird, it’s ok to be confused about your identity – because there, right up on the screen, was one of the world’s last true rock stars, a person of colour who stood out, loud and flamboyant, unapologetically weird, sexually ambiguous and impossible to ignore.

Prince may not have been a part of the music scenes which were growing up simultaneously in New York, Detroit and Chicago, but I can think of no better icon to best define the jubilant inclusivity that house music represents; where one’s race, religion, gender or sexuality are unimportant, only the groove matters.

And the beat goes on…

The “rave revolution” which shook the last decade of the 20th Century has shaped the world we live in today for the better. For over 30 years now, generations have come of age experiencing the unity and equality of the dancefloor and the realisation that we are all one people, dancing to the same universal beat. Once experienced, that feeling never leaves us.

Like Joe Smooth I therefore hope that someday we will reach the Promised Land, where the world as a whole feels the same sense of unity experienced during one of those magical dancefloor moments. Of course we still have a long way to go to reach that point, which is why, immersed as we are in so much digitally induced doom and gloom, it’s so important to look back and realise how far we’ve all come and why it’s oh so important to hold tight to our beliefs, to defend the principals our scene was founded upon and to stand up to those powerful forces trying to divide us, trying to poison us and trying to rob us of our love, our unity and our sense of hope.

So what about your list? Are there any artists you feel we left out who deserve a mention? Tell us about your own personal influences in the comments below.