Black Feminist Serenades (A Song Playlist)


Cover art for Janelle Monae's album, 'The Electric Lady.' Features multiple versions of Janelle Monae, all wearing black and white stripes.
Album Cover: ‘The Electric Lady’ by Janelle Monae (2013) | Source: Sam Spratt


If Black Feminist Love has core attributes, one of them must be feeling out of this world. It must be a love that transports you to different social conditions than our current ones — conditions that affirm black gender rebellions and all around sweeter living. Black Feminist Love is not only love expressed by and for black women, but love that is capable of actively loving all black people—especially those who are neglected in popular discourses about black life and death. 

In my own attempt to think about what Black Feminist Love looks, feels, and sounds like, I’ve compiled a list of serenades that are suggestive of a black feminist spirit. I’m attracted to serenades as emblems of Black Feminist Love because they are characteristically soft, romantic, and easy on the senses.


Ghetto Woman” by Janelle Monáe, from The Electric Lady (2013)

This is one of my favorite songs from The Electric Lady in particular, and by Janelle Monáe more generally. Monáe’s own working class background permeates this tune, which is also influenced by Stevie Wonder’s “Boogie On Reggae Woman” (1974).


Black Is the Color of My True Love’s Hair” by Nina Simone, from Nina Simone at Town Hall (1959)

This song is resoundingly tender, and written by a black lover for her black lover. It’s warm, and it melts me. Oh, to be black, and miraculously know who your true love is.


Borderline (An Ode to Self Care)” by Solange & Q-Tip, from A Seat at the Table (2016)

This is such a gentle song—brought to us by two of my favorite musicians, and inspired by Audre Lorde’s conceptualization of self care. “Borderline” doesn’t pretend the world isn’t long-suffering, or that we aren’t actively fighting for it to be reborn. It does insist we need to rest in order to resist.


Take A Little Trip” by Minnie Riperton, from Perfect Angel (1974)

This is a tough-love song. Minnie Riperton firmly and gorgeously encourages her addressee to get a grip, and think of people who don’t share their life experiences—which might make them a better person. Love and politics merge here.


I Wonder U” by Prince, from Parade (1986)

bell hooks might be considered a patron saint of Black Feminist Love, and so much of her work regards the cultivation of a deep curiosity that traverses gender binaries. This song is a short-and-sweet ode to curiosity in love.


Gigolos Get Lonely Too” by Morris Day and The Time, from What Time Is It? (1982)

In addition to this song having a gritty noir persona, being wholly good to my ears (vocally, instrumentally), and being written by the late great Prince, I like its sex-positivity. The serenading character, a sex worker, doesn’t forgo his occupation in order to pronounce his love, and being a known gigolo doesn’t prevent him from acknowledging his desire for more than transactional relationships. He contains multitudes.


Love Song #1” by Meshell Ndegeocello, from Comfort Woman (2003)

Sultry and affectionate, this is one of my favorite slow jams. I enjoy Ndegeocello’s music because she doesn’t shy away from being chivalrous or masculine, which lends itself to gender-play.


Spotify Playlist