I'm over it. Like seriously. Why can't white people make black music too?
We’ve all heard the countless arguments as to why white artists and celebrities should stop to acknowledge Black culture whenever they seize and replicate our gyrations, hip isolations, hair styles, and rhyme schemes in music. And though that’s important, I'm over it. Before we start divvying out cultural homework assignments, we need to stop to finish our own. We know where Black culture comes from. We know that African Americans have influenced every form of popular music. We know Elvis adapted Black folks' music to make Rock And Roll. We all know this.
"Shake , Shake, Shake it off"
But who allowed the appropriation to begin and continue? If we're honest, the answer is simple: us. Black artists who have refused to safeguard our culture in exchange for universal profit and appeal have, in exchange, contributed to the 'smudging of Black culture' in pop music that artists like Azalea Banks are crying about. Yeah, I said it. If anyone deserves a rebuke, it's us. We're the ones that've enabled it. I'm not sure as to why we tend to forget that that every major white act found on Billboard's Hot 100 has been co-signed by prominent Black artists and producers that have given them cultural "hood passes" to enter into the Urban music industry. In return, these Black artists/producers are receiving large lump sums while the genre becomes oversaturated with white faces that emit black sounds. Do we really need examples?
Iggy Azalia = T.I.
Justin Bieber = Usher and L.A. Reid
Justin Timberlake = Timbaland
Robin Thicke = Pharrell
Now, It would be duplicitous of me to say I didn’t like Justin’s 20/20 Experience, but even I can admit that cultural appropriation is real. Yet indicting white artists for their replication of Black culture and their subsequent and often unmerited success is mislay. It's simple: blame black artists! Similar to stock brokers, the major influencers of Black music are the ones selling our culture for the top dollar. And for the longest time I couldn’t understand why, but then all of a sudden it hit me. ...They're using the formula!
For so long Black artists have been forced to prostitute their gifts and talents to a fickle white music industry in order to salvage any type of success. James Brown, Sammy Davis Jr., the list goes on and on…So it's common knowledge that it's an industry that only appraises Black artists based on their latest 'shuck and jive' that then sells the same recipe to white America, but this time, in white-face. So in response, Black artists have employed White America's cultural appropriation formula, but this time in reverse. Which makes sense due to the current state of the industry, where black artists have had to become more crafty in marketing themselves in order to top the charts. Why? According to NPR, there were no Black artists that topped Billboard in 2013. Now, Black artists are playing the executive role and are selling urban music to White America, only they are they are removing themselves from the equation while inserting white artists. On a individual level, this sounds like a smart move, but it is nothing short of exploitative and damaging on a cultural level. Still don’t believe me? If you don't, you probably haven't seen the countless Black artists that came to Iggy Azalea's rescue on Twitter to see the evidence of the "formula" at work, aka cultural appropriation enablement.
For example, after Q-tip gave Iggy Azaelia his Hip-Hop history lesson, countless mainstream rappers came to save Iggy and ignored Azealia Banks message in its entirety, tragically mistaking her salient critiques for mere haterade.T.I. gave his exaggerated and verbose side. Wiil.i.am gave a rendition. Nelly did, too. And surprisingly, even the ever-so-conscious, now dubbed "fake deep" Lupe Fiasco did as well. ...Yes, even Lupe. After reading these tweets by these well-respected artists, it only solidifies my point: the recent of trend cultural appropriation in music isn’t the fault of white artists, but the black artists that continue to enable them too (yes, that means you T.I.). So, seeing Azealia banks on Hot 97 crying about her erasure, though heartfelt, still sounds displaced. It’s clear her tears won't fix the music industry. Heck, even the music industry won't fix the music industry. The only people who can end cultural appropriation in the music industry are the white audiences that consume it. And since that's not going to happen any time soon, we should stop blaming white artists and start asking people like Usher, Timbaland, and Pharrell and even Kanye where their cultural and artistic loyalties lie?
....Catch my tune?
Tyree Boyd-Pates is a man on a mission. As a writer, he aspires to expound on black culture from a millennial perspective and unite and empower marginalized communities through journalism and social media. A Master's in African American Studies, he also is the creator of The Corner, a one-hour student run weekly radio at Temple University. You can follow him on Twitter: @Tyreebp.