Mar 11, 2016

Black Music: Emulated and Underappreciated (An Editorial by @RamseySaidWHAT)

It's 2016 and like all things history has repeated itself. It's nothing new when we talk about the world emulating and participating in black music. Perhaps one could say music is for everyone. As a music fan I would second that motion. As a black man I could understand why it's problematic especially in today's society where systematic racism plagues the nation. If you're expecting me to name drop and bash white artists in this article you might want to read elsewhere.

Take a trip in time to the 1920's with me. Hip-Hop hasn't been created yet and the music of the times are Jazz and Blues. Their origins are easily attributed to people of color. Over time each new genre has taken elements of music from its predecessor.  It's safe to say the Blues heavily influenced Jazz which influences modern Hip-Hop. Although the sounds are different, the things they have in common are vast.

As far as the origins of Blues we could easily attribute that to black music in the 1800's. You see, the blues is derived from the songs sang in Negro Spirituals. Across plantations in American, Negro slaves sang tales similar to those that resemble the plight of the Israelites in Egypt from the Bible book of Exodus. The content and lyrics of all the music are similar if not identical. Many of their songs even had elements that are still used in blues music today like call and response that hip-hop uses too. Many people attribute jazz and blues together because of the pure melancholy content and mood of the lyrics. The difference is the impromptu vibe of the music.

I read a narrative called "What Jazz Means to Me" by guitarist Max Roach. "What is Jazz? Jazz is derived in a continuing line from musical and cultural expression of Africans who are disposed on this North American continent. It derives in a continuing line from musical and cultural traditions of Africa." After defining the genre he gave the aforementioned history lesson coupled with a harsh irony. Paul Whiteman, have you ever heard of him? Well he is regarded as the king of Jazz music. When you hear the word Jazz do you think of Paul Whiteman or do you think Louis Armstrong, or perhaps Duke Ellington? Roach cosigns that finding and is disgusted. How could Paul Whiteman be the king of Jazz music when most people today probably don't know who he is? This isn't to take away from Whiteman. He was an excellent artist known for making the Big Band style that Armstrong and Ellington pioneered popular.

Over time it's clear that whites imitate and add to the culture. With that being said it isn't properly appreciated and used in a derogatory sense even down to the definition of the word Jazz. I learned that the word "Jazz" was originally a Creole/Patois derogatory term towards black music, or race records meaning sexual immorality. With that being the case, why would a white man become involved in the music? Perhaps out of love and appreciation.

Jazz became big in the big cities highly populated with black people like Harlem, New Orleans, Chicago, Memphis and more. One can say that history repeats itself in rock with examples like Elvis Presley and The Beach Boys vs Chuck Berry. Elvis is regarded as the King of Rock and Roll. There is no doubt that Elvis is legendary but he's the king of a genre of music that had been seen in a negative light as well. I find that interesting. Most music in the 19th century and even today, people of all kinds emulate the culture created by black people which has been regarded in a negative light. Even in the poetic form of hip-hop new artists like Iggy Azelea, Macklemore, and Eminem. In his song Without Me, Eminem admits that himself. "No I'm not the king controversy. I am the worst thing since Elvis Presley, to do black music so selfish. And used it to get myself wealthy. Hey, there's a concept that works twenty million other white rappers emerge." Like I previously said, although talented their contribution is to popularize and monetize where others have pioneered.

So how do you judge if people appreciate the music? I was at work the other day and Play that Funky Music by Wild Cherry came on. Ironic because I was thinking about this very article you're reading. 30 years ago it was so easy for white to adopt and appreciate the music of our parents. There were more instrumentalists and white people could contribute to the playing of the music in a different way than could be said about rap music. It was two minutes into the song when one of my coworkers said to me "You see how you could actually understand the words to our music. So much better than that jibber-jabber that you all listen to now." A little upset I replied, "It is because you're mind isn't developed enough to understand the lyrics and sonics of the music at a rapid enough pace." I also asked her did she know the song and group playing. She couldn't respond.

"Some would blame rap for the spread of obscenity and profanity into pop culture, but nasty talk has had its part to play in songs from every stratum of American society," (The Real Old School) John Fu Szwed. Okay it's fair to say all rappers talk about the same thing. Money, clothes, cars, women. Let's think about this, rap was born in the 80's, the Ronald Reagan era. Hip-Hop was born in direct correlation with crack culture. Rappers told their stories, they were the reporters on the street. From the East Coast to the West they told their tale on wax. Perhaps in a different way but the same story. We could get into a narrative about how the drugs were even distributed into our neighborhoods but you're gonna have to catch me on a twitter rant or in class for that one. Anyways, the content of hip-hop music is no better or worse than any other genre of music. It is the most popular on the planet now and gets the most flack for it. How can rappers get on a stage and talk about drugs? It's because it's the life these artists know. How can 60-70 year old rockers in spandex and skinny jeans get on a stage and scream into a microphone while playing what some view as absurd, loud electric guitar and be respected for it while rappers don't get appreciated for what they do, for what they know.
How do we begin to expect every artist and listener to appreciate the music? I think it starts with all of us. We have to study it. We have to be students and be willing to teach and learn the way everything else is from politics to sports. We also have to know the difference between the Eminem's and House of Pain to the Machine Gun Kelly's and Vanilla Ice's of the world. Hip-Hop legend Grandmaster Flash once said something that really spoke to me. "In rock and jazz, they go into the archives. I consider myself an expert in most music, but I can still look at a jazz historical program and say, 'Wow, I didn't  know that,' and 'Why did he blow the horn like that, how did he slip the finger like that and come up with the sound ?' I watched a concert with the Rolling Stones, and 70 percent of the audience was kids! Somebody must've told them that these people were incredible before they were even born, and  they  went  to go look. We need to do that for hip hop." Music should not be viewed with such a negative stigma, and that stands for all genres. So my real question to you is what do you think? What has to be done to change the culture and how it's viewed?

Jonathan C. Ramsey
Jonathan C. Ramsey

Multimedia Journalist, Founder and Chief Editor of WTM Host of A-Side B-Side Podcast and more. I like to talk about stuff and write it down. Sometimes to a microphone. Either way, I need you to feel this.

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