Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Now That Michael Jackson Is Gone Is Black Music Dead?

I think with the passing of Michael Jackson that black music is official dead, but I posed it as a question because I'd like to get lots of feedback on this. Of course there will continue to be black artists releasing music. Many of those we consider legends are still with us. There are quite a few artists moving through the ranks who are special. What of future generations though? I posit our time of dominance has left with the spirit of Michael Jackson. 

The specific contributions of African-American's musical legacy from r&b, blues, to jazz, to Motown, to rock, to techno were significant. What is going to replace it? What is its continuation? If something doesn't adapt it dies. No offense to those who like or release rap and hip-hop but with its original preponderance for sampling others' work it's not an entirely "pure" form, it's a hybrid. If you have to use someone else's compositions for the core of your work isn't what you're creating more of an homage to that prior work than doing something significant on your own? Of course sampling isn't left exclusively to hip-hop anymore, but that's what made it a popular device. Since the composers of those sampled songs weren't originally paid until a white songwriter sued a black rap artist, one could also say music was being legally stolen until these licensing agreements were ironed out. With the well-documented history of black artists being ripped off by white artists who would re-record an entire song and release it with no recourse wasn't it ironic when black artists did it to each other?

If anyone wants to prove me wrong I will gladly recant when the next huge pop star is a cultural phenom, an accomplished musician and someone who’s able to write and produce music without complete reliance on others. They won’t be praised as being beautiful by the sole existence of light/white skin, they won’t be known for shaking their body parts in a video, they won’t steal songwriting credits, they will have something important to say that we know we can review in 20 years where it will still have relevance. They won’t be a derivative of a copy. They won’t sound like anybody else. They will be “ours” and we'll get to share them with the rest of the world. When we have such an artist coming up let me know.

Now this is no offense to all of the artists currently releasing music this doesn’t apply to. Some people don't care. They use Autotune and wear $400K chains. They are not thinking of the long-term damage to the collective because they are making a quick buck. Some are simply not able to do that because that's a really high bar. Of course I'd also add much of what passes for music across all genres has greatly reduced its quality quotient. So it's bigger than soul music. Talents like Bessie Smith, Dinah Washington, Marvin Gaye, Donnie Hathaway, Luther Vandross and so many others set the world alight with stars that dimmed too soon. 

I have a problem with quite a few contemporary artists who are being elevated and topping the charts right now because of the poor quality of their music and their callous get rich quick schemes. Some call it branding. I call it sell as many products as you can because your music stinks. The audiences are so used to mediocrity that they place some of these newer artists in the same category as the greats. They do not hold a candle to them. Still if you have a desire to entertain and the chance to do so who’d turn it down? These record labels are factory farms of mass breeding trying to produce as much from the cow until it drops so they can throw out the carcass and move onto the next one. They could care less, but they used to. Of course they were also interested in exploitation but that’s why you have to careful. It’s a business not play acting. 

There are quite a few innovative artists making music. There are even more who have not had the opportunity because the gatekeepers loathe to invest in quality. Or they’re DIY and will remain on the periphery. I think it’s unfortunate but this is where the audience comes into play. Accepting the poop with whipped cream on top still means there’s you know what on the bottom.  

There's also a hierarchy in existence where males still dominate the power positions. Black male producers have been allowed to extend their light/white skin racism by elevating these lighter/whiter female artists who are usually only marginally talented. If I was one of these artists I’d take the opportunity though but being pretty to look at doesn't guarantee record sales! See one contrast would be Quincy Jones who though he has chosen that in his personal life, musically he has long elevated and promoted black music. He’s worked with a variety of artists true, but always took care to treasure the AA musical heritage. His work with MJ was some of MJ’s best of course. He heralds back to the time when people took the time and effort to learn to read music and pick up an instrument and master one. There won’t be videos on YouTube where a random person discusses how they heard his beat on Apple’s free music program GarageBand.

As I discussed in my Deploying A Little Negro Spirit series, many of us have abandoned our cultural touchstones. Some still protect theirs. You don't see a host of white artists taking over reggae. It could happen as anything's possible but it's likely to be rejected. Collaborations are allowed but turning over the keys has not happened. I can't say the same for other genres being as cherished or protected. That's no one else's fault but our own.

Bookmark and Share


nyc/caribbean ragazza said...

Quincy used to play jazz with Duke Ellington. He's a musician.

Puffy samples.

We cut music out of the schools and this is what we are left with. I don't considered those who sample but play no instruments, don't write, read or sing music musicians or producers.

Pharell and the Neptunes are v. talented. Some of the other big producers? Not so much. Most of the music is disposable.

It is a sad day for music. period. black music hasn't been the same since the 80s, when Prince, Toni, Tony, Tone, MJ etc. were doing their thing.

1990 said...

I was having this conversation with someone yesterday. It's horrible that true artist who have amazing voices, write their own songs, or play a instrument don't get to the shine that they really deserve. I don't understand how BET can give an award to Keri Hilson for Best new Artist. She can't sing. Her dancing is mediocore. There is nothing about her that stands out. Oh, I forgot she's is lightskinned and pretty.

One of my favorite artist Tamia finally decided a few years ago to make her own independent record label and do things her way. I think more quality artist need to ban together and do this. Make the music their way and distribute it.Because there are definitely people who want to hear it. It's just sad for the time being that the best of what our culture has to offer as far as musical talent is on the fringes, instead of being in the center of it all.

Sunday night on one of the black celebrity gossip blogs a blogger mentioned Beyonce is the Michael Jackson of my generation(Generation Y).I refuse to agree with that statement.I never really liked Beyonce'much. A few of her songs were ok. But I lost just about all respect for her when she went on stage singing a sacred song (Ave Maria) in a white BUSTIER.Not only was she wearing an inappropriate costume but she also changed the words of the song. She just had a total lack of respect all together. If you are going to compare someone to a ledgend make sure they are deserving of that comparison. 20 yrs. from now I doubt anyone will be dissecting Beyonce's nursery rhyme lyrics. But I do believe 20 yrs. from now we will still be discussing Lauryn Hill's LP, The Roots, and other talented artist.

btw, Beyonce's younger sister Solange is actually a great artist. She is very original and wrote all but two of the songs on her second album.She is nothing like her sister.

Faith at Acts of Faith Blog said...

NYC/Caribbean Ragazza: Hey how's Italy?! Yes Jones is considered a top tier musician and producer which is as rare a breed as the music artists being signed today as well. Disposable music it is.

1990: Is that your year of birth? Nice to know the Y, Millenials and younger have noticed. Jackson was at his peak for Gen X thank goodness!!! I got to grow up with a variety of all top tier musicians/singers/actors. This disposable culture has infiltrated the acting world as well. Remake after horrible remake, ugh. I don't want this to become a disparage-fest for certain popular artists though. That's why I didn't mention anyone specifically. People aren't stupid though and can figure things out. Yes Ave Maria (both versions) are considered canons in classical/sacred music texts but in her own way Beyonce gave people an education since I can guess the majority in the audience had never heard it before. And I do like certain hip-hip songs and artists. It's just their songs tend to use the least samples OR can stand on their own w/o them.

1990 said...


Yes, 1990 is my birth year. So I just missed Jackson's peak of fame. So I can't lie. I'm not in mourning like other people who are older than me b/c I didn't really grow up with Michael the way my mother and father did. However, I do recognize the loss. Growing up of course my parents used to listen to their favorite musicians which in turn I became hooked on to some of them. Sometimes I feel like such an old head(or a "old soul")simply b/c i know more words to Anita Baker than I do to Soulja Boy. But I definitely do still like some current rap.I'm mad that Qtip latest album didn't get as much promotion as it should've.

As far as Hollywood,lets not even get on that.The state of American movies is embarrassing. The lack of creativity is horrendous. But I'm working on a screen play now and I'm really hoping i can get it turned into an independent film.

Hagar's Daughter said...

1990 said: ... So I just missed Jackson's peak of fame. So I can't lie. I'm not in mourning like other people who are older than me b/c I didn't really grow up with Michael the way my mother and father did. However, I do recognize the loss.

Thank you so much for helping me to understand and connect the dots. I feel a little lighter.

I have watched MJ grow as an artist from single bubble gum songs to singing about social justice. I have watched his climb and his spiral downward. I mourned the loss of the face that covered the "Off The Wall" album (that's my MJ). So I had no problem asking WTH is MJ doing to himself? - LOL

Anyway, Faith I think I'll retreat for a while to the music of my past. I am very, very careful about what contemporary singers / musicians I invite in my life. I know that there are still great musicians out there if I look hard enough.

Darren Charles said...

Black music is not dead. you can not kill an eternal entity. we have our issues at this point, but, the digitization of the music industry will ultimately shake a lot of the bullshit out because artists will no longer be able to make money. they will have to -- GASP -- perform to make money. actually pay dues touring and building a fanbase. in the old days, thas how you got a record deal. you performed, built a rep/buzz loud enough that the labels would come out to see you perform. records were initially promos for performances. not the other way around. artists will have to get seasoned on their own and true talent will win out.

so rather than lamenting the death of Black music, i am looking forward to the impending Renaisance of Black music.

Khadija said...


Oh yeah, Black music is dead and gone. Actually, it was in a coma on life support while MJ was still alive.

MJ hadn't made any significant new music in quite some time. The same applies to Prince. In both cases, their best work is/was decades behind them. This current popular mess WON'T stand the test of time.

Peace, blessings and solidarity.

Faith at Acts of Faith Blog said...

1990: It's still great that you have the legacy to look to. Good luck with the screenplay. Please let us know about its progress.

Hagar's Daughter: Don't retreat too far! There are a lot of great artists. I've featured many who I think are wonderful. It's just impossible to deny the impact of MJ when he was in his prime as well as some other artists who are well established.

Khadija: Many of our greats haven't done great music in a while. Still most of it's better than things some of the newer artists put out.

Darren: Welcome and thanks for your input. I let your comment through but I need you to watch the language next time. We'll see if there is a Renaissance. It will come because some of us decided to take control not because a few artists peter out.

Becker said...

I don't know if I would say "Oh my god! Black Music is dead!!" I will say that its going through a rebirth of sorts as any genre of music does. I agree with alot of the artists and record companies don't care about real talent but there still many that do. I think that if we as African Americans demand more of our artists we get more I think we need to all start wanting more than poppy, booty shaking ,mindless music which does have its place sometimes but not a complete takeover!