Urban Myth: This Label Is about Music

By Marino, Nick | The Florida Times Union, June 7, 2002 | Go to article overview

Urban Myth: This Label Is about Music


Marino, Nick, The Florida Times Union


Byline: Nick Marino, Times-Union music writer

I got an e-mail the other day from a publicist who wanted me to write about her Orlando-based rap duo. At the bottom of the message, she typed her title: Director, Urban Media.

For the unacquainted, that means she handles the black artists.

In the last couple years, "urban" has come to be a kind of PC shorthand for non-white. Vibe Magazine covers urban entertainment. Hip-hop and R&B radio stations play urban music. Publicists try to sell urban artists.

Everyone seems to accept this, but the whole notion of urban equaling black strikes me as ridiculous and borderline racist.

If you call rap music rap, you're describing the music itself. Same for R&B. But urban identifies an audience -- it's an "urban" crowd or an "urban" performer.

The urban tag marks the consumers (not to mention the creators) of black music as city-dwellers, the implication being that black people live in the city, that they'd never make it out to the rich suburbs, home of the cul-de-sac and good, old-fashioned white genres like classical and rock.

Compounding its insulting racial implications, urban is an absurdly broad genre category, encompassing not just hip-hop and R&B but any music made by or for a dark-skinned audience.

Scan the Internet and you'll find a site promoting the Canadian Urban Music Festival, which features R&B, reggae, worldbeat, hip-hop and gospel -- pretty distinct genres, if you ask me, each deserving to be called what it is, not thrown under a race-based heading.

The Urban Music Festival just kills me. Here's the first paragraph on the urbanmusicfestival.com page:

"From September 20-22nd the fifth annual Canadian Urban Music Festival will feature talented artists from around the globe to provide you with memorable urban experiences you will have the pleasure to discover this year at Vincent Massey Park in Ottawa. …

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