What's Wrong (and Right) about Black Music

By Chappell, Kevin | Ebony, September 1995 | Go to article overview

What's Wrong (and Right) about Black Music


Chappell, Kevin, Ebony


You can't get away from it. Pull up to a red light beside a carload of head-boppers blasting one of those new rap songs, and before the light turns green, you've heard talk of five sex acts, four murders, three rapes, two drug sales and one slap across the face of a "ho b - tch" who gets "outta line."

It's the in-your-face music of the '90s, the kind of music that pumps some kids and disgusts most old folks. All day long, all night long, all over Black America, graphic songs blare from home and car radios and portable music machines, invading the air, outraging Black women and politicians and polluting the minds of children.

What's going on here? Why have some forms of Black music reached such a low level, detonating a nationwide controversy, at a time when R&B and hip-hop musicians are achieving unprecedented crossover success and other African-American artists are excelling in traditionally White-dominated music categories?

Some say the industry that gave the world musicians like Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong, and more recently artists like Wynton Marsalis and Whitney Houston, has never been better. After all, frank music, albeit not to the extreme it is now, has been around since the first blues song was sung. So, they say, why worry about it now?

But the opinion gaining steam across racial, political and socio-economic lines is that some segments of contemporary Black music are totally different than the racy songs of previous decades. Some of today's music, reformers say, is saturated with songs with the sole purpose of degrading women, celebrating promiscuity, promoting shady lifestyles and encouraging Black-on-Black violence.

Music has become X-rated, critics say, because some record industry executives and artists have refused to take responsibility for the influence their music has on young people. Many kids, unable to separate the twisted fantasies on records from the realities of life, have begun to think it's okay to do just about anything, says C. DeLores Tucker, chair of the National Political Congress of Black Women. "Our kids have adopted the gangsta culture as a direct result of this music," Tucker says. "We have kids killing kids, little boys raping little girls and both boys and girls memorizing every word of these violent and pornographic songs."

Tucker is spearheading efforts to publicly pressure record company executives to think about citizenship before profits. She has organized national meetings and news conferences to call for "gutter music" to be taken off record-store shelves and replaced by songs that celebrate love, respect women and brotherly love, and promote living right. "Why can't rap songs talk about a Black man going to work downtown in his three-piece suit?" she asks.

Some music executives say raunchy songs sell from the inner city to the suburbs because the music is a reflection of today's society. They see nothing wrong with bankrolling songs that have dirty words and ideas since they are protected by the First Amendment. Tucker, however, believes they distribute the music more out of disrespect for African-Americans than respect for free speech. "Tell me why are Black singers allowed to call Black women `bitches' and `hoes' and it's all right," she says. "But when Michael Jackson [offends White groups] he has to apologize and re-record his song? …

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