Sincerity is a rare personality trait among entertainers, but not Houston’s own singer-songwriter Peyton. With a heart of platinum, her shy demeanor belies a beautiful spirit within. Songs like “to spare,” “Swag,” “PEY-2-O,” and “Tell Me” (which features The Internet’s Steve Lacy) showcase her classically trained vocals with an added touch of Third Ward gravitas — the lyrics of which resonate with women audiophiles around the globe. And Peyton has her own go-to Black women artists when she needs inspiration.

“Ladies such as Jourden, Hope, KeiyaA, and Cait Harris have been my recent muses,” she says via email. “Their souls and all of who they are bleed through in everything they do and they are constantly growing in their craft.” 

Oftentimes music lovers are super-saturated with overproduced and overworked projects that fall short of being timeless. Peyton, a fully realized and completely original artist, provides an insightful look at what it means (and sounds like) to be a vulnerable R&B artist with skills. Skills learned and earned from her grandmother, Theola Booker, a Grammy-nominated composer and arranger for the late Reverend James Cleveland. “My grandmother taught me to give my all, use all of my resources, and honor God,” she shares. “Even when I am not directly speaking about God, being able to use my voice is an act of worship.” 

Peyton’s rich work and sonic connection to the legacy of Houston’s past has made her an impressive name in the music scene. Add to that works such as “Sweet Honey” and “Lifeline” were featured in Issa Rae’s Insecure, and Peyton has the makings of a freedom-inspiring, multidimensional artist. Please enjoy our salute to the excellence of Black women below.

1. Jourden — “Winnerface”

Peyton’s first pick for ESSENCE’s The Playlist is a soulful number from a rising talent. “Jourden exudes excellence in this song, smoothly telling us to overcome the divisive structure placed in our path,” she writes via email about the Brooklyn songwriter. “By relying on the importance of learning from our people for knowledge, Jourden uses her gift of storytelling, drawing us in with every word.” If you have yet to play her It Only Took the End of the World project, please rush and play this one immediately.

2. Mary Akpa — “A Hurum Gi N’anya” (I Love You)

Incorporating a bit of Naija love, Mary Akpa’s newest number is a loving reminder that the power of love is fluent in many languages. “A Hurum Gi N’anya,” which loosely translates to “I love you” in Igbo, is a beautiful and bold song that can be shared with friends, family, and strangers alike. Mary’s work is impressive and if you haven’t yet become familiar with the Nigeria-born, Cali-raised artist, then “chọọ ewu ojii ka chi dị” (“make hay while the sun shines”).

3. Fousheé — “Deep End”

Peyton and I have a deep love for the “single af” and “Deep End” performer. “Fousheé expresses a feeling most Black women can resonate with,” Peyton shares. “Trying to keep your cool when someone is being disrespectful is her warning, but it is not a typical one. Despite being used to getting the short end of the stick, she makes due with what she has in such a fun way that it is a joy to listen to.” Considering Fousheé as someone at a disadvantage is a not-so-clever way to miss out on all this beautiful boldness that Black women can connect with.  

4. Shungudzo — “There’s Only So Much a Soul Can Take”

Speaking of Black women to connect with, Shungudzo is definitely one to match up with ASAP. Her powerful dedication to fighting against oppression and the struggle fuel her sound and new song, “There’s Only So Much a Soul Can Take,” which has been bragged about by Zane Lowe and now us. A metaphor for the way abuse ourselves and take abuse from others. Don’t be fooled by the groove and her ethereal vocals, this joint is an appropriate “f**k you!” to the system and should be played on a volume way past 10.

5. KeiyaA — “I! Gits! Weary!” 

“KeiyaA is simply excellent!” the real-life unicorn shares with me. And, to be frank, she’s right. The Chicago-bred singer and producer creates that embracing type of realness that you can’t get just anywhere. “[On ‘I! Gits! Weary!’] her ethereal voice and powerful tone display a feeling of vulnerability that most Black women and men have faced,” Peyton says. “The song has a dance-feel mixed in with the subject matter of being anxious, worried, and anticipating the next move.” With such openness and cool, the juxtapositions she creates are a valued example why KeiyaA is excellent and worth adding to your rotation.

6. Charm La’Donna — “Queen”

Charm La’Donna is a proud Compton/Hub City original, and one of my favorite rising stars of today. Her contributions to the growth of women in West Coast hip-hop is marked by her latest song, “Queen,” an empowering track buoyed by real life lessons and lyricism meant to serve as street wisdom for those in need of a good dose of truth. Written as a pep talk to herself to avoid fear, “Queen” is an energetic number meant to share with the world that no one and nothing can stop you from going after what fulfills your purpose.

7. Cait Harris — “6ix”

Say hello to the one, the only Cait Harris, an exciting new R&B singer from N’Awlins (word to Big Freedia and Tarriona “Tank” Ball) whose recent single has heads swaying and ears wide open. “[‘6ix’] is a friendship anthem,” Peyton says. “A song that reminds us of those who will be there through anything. Her tone is so honest and raw, it speaks volumes to who she is to have such a positive song to be her first breakout single.” Produced by Brasstracks and Chris Hayes, this funky number is definitely one that’ll have you telling a friend to tell a friend all about Cait Harris.

8. SassyBlack — “Fluidity”

With all of this space talk going on, people offering trips to Mars and whatnot, it is only right to say that SassyBlack has been on another world before all of y’all! The West Coast singer, songwriter and producer is a purveyor of “hologram funk,” and on “Fluidity,” she serves a high level of creativity that would make any intergalactic traveler add this to their electronic psychedelic soul playlist. If you’re just now hearing about SassyBlack, then you likely slept on Forever First Lady Michelle Obama’s Spotify playlist. Don’t miss SB’s beautiful asteroid shower of a soundtrack better known as Ancient Mahogany Gold, which is out now.

9. HOPE — “Who Am I To Say”

If ever in need of a hidden gem when discovering new artists, Hope will give you—pun intended—hope in that category. A New York native, activist, and well-known wildflower, her song “Who Am I To Say” is an evocative number worth listening to thrice. “She is an incredible singer-songwriter who blows me away with her ability to say and sing all of the right things in the right moment,” Peyton shares. “She inspires me to be free and not to overthink my songwriting. ‘Who Am I To Say’ embodies her capability to tell a story without using so many words, leaving the message lingering even after the song is over.”

10. India Shawn — “Too Sweet” (ft. Unknown Mortal Orchestra)

India Shawn is an oft-included artist in ESSENCE’s The Playlist, and by now, you should know what time it is whenever she appears. A dynamic and powerfully evocative singer-songwriter, “Too Sweet” finds her partnering up with Unknown Mortal Orchestra to craft a downtempo offering that would be accepted in any groove party or lo-fi house jam anywhere in the world. Backed by a seductive and soulful refrain, India delivers another soulful song that builds her rep as an impressive indie creative. 

Catch new editions of ESSENCE’s The Playlist on Fridays and follow us @ESSENCE and @KevitoClark on socials to stay in tune with us online.

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