11 Black Musicians Who Kill It In Heavy Metal & Hard Rock

Black Rock Singers
Black Rock Singers

No.2 Pat Smear – Germs, Nirvana, Foo Fighters

Perhaps more of a punk, indie, and grunge icon than a black man of metal, Pat Smear’s repertoire and influence have certainly transcended musical genres. Smear was a founding member of the awesome yet short-lived punk band, Germs, in the late ‘70s before the band fell victim to rock ‘n’ roll cliche after just one album when Darby Crash died of a heroin overdose.

In the ensuing years, Smear played with Nina Hagen and meandered about in a solo career, but not in a way that would smear his cred. By the time ‘93 rolled around, Smear was invited to join the Red Hot Chili Peppers after John Frusciante left. However, Smear turned RHCP down. Who the hell does that?

Pat Smear didn’t say no to Nirvana, though. The invite to join also came in ‘93 from Kurt Cobain himself. As a touring member of Nirvana, Smear established a close friendship with Cobain and Courtney Love while also laying the groundwork for an on-again, off-again future career with Dave Grohl (who, as a teenager, had an admiration for Smear), in the Foo Fighters. Until further notice, he’s currently with the Foo Fighters.

No.1 H.R. – Bad Brains

The whole Bad Brains band (consisting of H.R., Dr. Know, Darryl Jenifer, and Earl Hudson – they’re all black men) could be on this list, but since H.R. was/is the voice, we’ll focus on him, more or less. If you’ve never seen a live Bad Brains performance, you’d never guess H.R. had a desire to sing about peace and love from his insane stage presence.

From his intense vocal delivery to his convulsive bodily movements, you’d think he just escaped a metal health facility. However, on the occasions when H.R. left Bad Brains, it was to pursue his inner message of peace and love and to share that vision through a more reggae-inspired musicality. While not in the band, Bad Brains tried to continue (with little success) with other vocalists (such as Taj Singleton and former Faith No More frontman Chuck Mosley).

Mind Power was an early version of Bad Brains, formed in Washington D.C. in ‘77 as a jazz fusion outfit. As Mind Power evolved into Bad Brains, they became one of the pioneers of the harcore punk sound and movement, releasing their eponymous debut in 1982. Unlike some of their contemporaries, however, Bad Brains had a somewhat more melodic sound than the balls-to-the-wall, two-minute hardcore formula. While Bad Brains have had an on-again, off-again career and later albums featured sounds from such genres as funk, heavy metal, hip-hop, and soul, they are one of the few, if not the only, early hardcore punk bands to have had either longevity or influence (inspiring such bands as Living Colour and Fishbone).

Much of Bad Brains and H.R.’s influence didn’t become apparent until the aughts rolled around.

  • In 2001, H.R. did guest vocals on P.O.D.’s “Without Jah, Nothin’.”
  • In 2004, Bad Brains, sans H.R., backed up Lil’ Jon on “Real Nigga Roll Call.”
  • In 2004, H.R. performed “Who’s got the Herb?” with 311.
  • In 2004, H.R. appeared in Sublime’s live version of “Shame in Dem Game.”
  • In 2005, Beastie Boys’ Adam Yauch signed on to produced Bad Brains’ 2007’s Build a Nation.

And some industry legends have gone on record with their opinions about Bad Brains.

  • Henry Rollins: “If not the best band I’ve ever seen, as good as any band I’ve ever seen.”
  • Adam Yauch: “Damn, you guys are kinda intense.”
  • Lil’ Jon: “Give respect to the motherfucking originator.”

The Bad Brains ride isn’t over yet: In 2011, it was reported that the band was working on their next album.

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