Black Music Month is a time to celebrate our culture’s rising stars while honoring the icons who blazed the paths ahead of them. Every June, we revere the legacy of Black artists and their contributions to modern-day music styles ranging from pop to country, but the celebration hits a bit closer to home for hip hop and R&B fans.
Celebrating R&B of the past, present, and future was at the top of this year’s Black Music Month priority list for Xfinity and REVOLT, and it’s in that vein that the brands partnered to create “The Link Up.” This year’s iteration sees rising star Coco Jones collaborate with a dynamic assortment of musical talent to bring new life to nostalgic ’90s and early 2000s party hits.
As you watch the collective perform “Full Moon” and “Real Love,” it’s clear that “The Link Up” is true to both its name and the Xfinity 10G Network’s aim to create connections. More than the music, the series exists to build bridges between creatives while spotlighting underrepresented Black artists who we should keep on our collective radar. Below we take a closer look at the artists who brought these must-see covers to life.
Coco Jones, Lead Vocalist
To say that Coco Jones is in the midst of a personal renaissance would be a mild assessment. The 25-year-old “Bel-Air” star broke out as a recurring cast member on Disney Channel’s musical sketch comedy show “So Random!” while planting the seeds of a budding music career.
In 2013, she dropped Made Of, her first in a series of EPs that introduced her to the world as a musician, but it wasn’t until 2022’s What I Haven’t Told You that she truly hit her stride. Led by the infectious single “ICU,” the seven-track EP is a testament to her growth as an artist. “What are the stories I would tell somebody who didn’t know me as a character on a screen, or who didn’t know me as a child star?” she said of the project’s title. “What would I want to tell them?”
Though she’s heralded as a standout in R&B’s next era, she prides herself on being a “sponge” who isn’t shy about seeking inspiration from the legends who preceded her. Her admiration for the legends makes her an ideal artist to lead this new iteration of “The Link Up.” “I feel like the ’90s [set] the pathway. They walked so I can run,” she stated.
Aneesa Strings, Bass
Aneesa Strings’ love for the bass began as early as middle school. The instrument “chose” her in many ways, and that calling has opened doors she may not have walked through otherwise. Those doors led to stages where she’s played alongside a talented list of performers like Umi, Duckwrth, and Teyana Taylor. “It just instantly took me around the world,” she said. “I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for the bass. That’s my baby.”
The Oakland native was excited, albeit not too surprised, when she got the call to join “The Link Up” because Black women bass players are few and far between. “On the West Coast, there’s about seven of us,” she confirmed. With that lack of representation in mind, she’s enthused that brands like Xfinity are actively seeking to work with Black women instrumentalists, and she’s hopeful for future “meritocracy” in music. “I look forward to the day when it’s not a thing to be a ‘female musician.’ We’re all just musicians, and we’re dope, and we’re just the best at what we do,” she explained.
J. Chantel, Trumpet
Alabama-born J. Chantel first embarked on her journey with the trumpet after hearing the instrument blare out in her childhood church. “When I heard the sound, [I felt like], ‘I got to play that.’ So I told my dad, and he went to a pawn shop and got me a horn,” she said. Now a music performance student at Alabama State, she looks to some of Jazz music’s most innovative brass players as an artistic North Star. “People who can just pick up the trumpet and make it do whatever they want. Those are the types of people that inspire me,” J. Chantel added.
And though her appreciation for Jazz is evident, her ideal Black Music Month playlist spans genres and a list of artists, including her newest collaborator, Coco Jones. Being on the set to perform with Jones was a life-affirming moment — a checkpoint to reassure her that she’s on the path to her purpose. She expressed, “[This experience] motivates me because when you meet people doing the same stuff you’re doing, it’s like, OK, so I’m not crazy. Music is for me.”
Jamese Moses, Snare Drum
Like Chantel, Jamese Moses’ musical aspirations are rooted in her church upbringing. Following in her father’s footsteps, she picked up her first pair of sticks at the age of 4, and her passion for the snare drum paved her way to North Carolina A&T, where she played with the renowned Cold Steel Drumline.
Today, she performs rock and soul tracks with her band, but despite her musical range, she admits she wasn’t entirely sure how her talents would blend into “The Link Up’s” R&B stylings. Luckily, singer and musical director Kenyon Dixon crafted an arrangement that gave every performer their moment to shine. “I’m in the background for a bit [on ‘Real Love’], but then we get to this cool New Orleans bounce part where me and the bass are just vibing together,” said Moses.
For the musician, the spur-of-the-moment vibes during her two days on set were just as memorable as the deliberate ones. “There’s a random jam session happening over there right now. Because Black people are just like that — that’s what we do,” she explained. “We get together, and we have a good time. It feels like a real party in here right now.”
Keisha Renee and Shaleah Nikole, Background Vocalists
Keisha Renee and Shaleah Nikole are a pair of powerhouse vocalists hailing from Southern California. Nikole got her start singing on theatrical stages, while Renee’s earliest music memories were made singing in the choir before she’d ever considered becoming a background vocalist. “Being from LA, you get a lot of opportunities to do certain things,” she said. “I started singing at the Conga Room back in the day, and that opened up the world of background singing that I didn’t even know was there.”
They’ve both performed with an array of artists, but there’s something special about the opportunity to recreate these two iconic songs alongside Jones.
For both Renee and Nikole, what makes the moment even more unique is that “The Link Up” is an all-encompassing celebration of Black musicianship that’s unconcerned with an artist’s plaques or accolades. As Renee put it, “It’s just awesome to be acknowledged. With REVOLT and Xfinity doing this, [they’re] shining a light on undiscovered talent. People that are on the grind and on the rise.”
Andre Troutman, Talk Box
Though the day’s theme was to create an ode to the ’90s and early 2000s, no Black Music Month production would be complete without paying its respects to the funk sounds that defined the decades prior. Talk box player Andre Troutman was on set to see to that. “My favorite era of Black music is the ’70s,” he affirmed. “I just loved that vibe when music really felt good.”
His love for the classics is far from a coincidence — in fact, it’s more a family birthright. His older cousin is Roger Troutman, founder of the legendary funk band Zapp and Roger, and the innovator credited with popularizing the synthetic sounds of the talk box. “I’m playing the talk box as a tribute to my cousin,” he beamed. “He was the blueprint of this thing.”
Troutman sees it as his charge to carry the talk box torch. By doing so, he wants to show that there’s space in the spotlight to marry classic Black sounds with more contemporary styles. “The talk box is making a resurgence, and I’m glad to be a part of something that’s really putting it at the forefront, where it’s supposed to be,” he added.