By Yolanda Melton
The Urban League of San Diego County Young Professionals (ULSDYP) held an incredibly thought provoking discussion about the state of music in the black community on Thursday, Feb 27 as part of their “Black by Popular Demand” series.
More than 30 concerned citizens gathered at ULSDYP’s headquarters in a melding of minds to dialogue about the consciousness of black music, then and now. Although there were various opinions, the overall thought was that black music is in dire straits and in need of serious revamping. However, the purpose of the event was not to bring forth a solution to such a complicated and sensitive issue.
“The event was basically to bring in a public forum of what black music is about,” said Kazeem Omidiji, a member of ULSDYP, “and see where we started and where we’re at now in mainstream hip-hop and black music [overall]. We’re trying to gauge the public to see if we’ve made some progress.”
Another member of ULSDYP, Kim Moore, had similar thoughts stating, “I’m hoping that we’re able to bring some sort of awareness around African-Americans and the roles that they have played as it pertains to the arts, specifically music. Also looking at how African-Americans have changed the shape of music, with the introduction of hip-hop and how we’ve influenced other cultures.”
The first question of the night, introduced by Omidiji, was “Do you feel as though we have progressed or regressed as a people?” Varied viewpoints rang out in the room, but the consensus was seemingly, from a musical standpoint, we’re going backward. We’ve gone from music telling stories of real life situations and love to those of who has the most money in their pockets and disrespecting black women; even black women grossly disrespecting other black women. Although there are still many songs and current artists who are writing lyrics that touch close to home in a positive way, they are few and far between in comparison to those in the mainstream that are played on our radios day in and day out. Mainstream music begs the question whether true artistry in black music still exists.
Music producer/engineer, Jaz Williams, owner of Hookmaster Recording Studio (formerly known as BatKave Recordings), seems to think so by stating, “People make a big deal when ‘negative music’ comes about, but in music, every twenty years there’s always somebody who’s willing to break barriers and break ground, and it’s always going to be something that the older generation will [feel] ‘Wait a minute, this isn’t going to work.’” Williams feels that music is taking a natural cycle, waning and waxing like phases of the moon; we’re apparently in the waning phase because the overall gist of the room was that current black music, specifically mainstream hip-hop, is taking us all on a ride to nowhere.
Christian hip-hop artist, Gamble, brought up a great point when he said, “Music has always told what is going on in the times, but that isn’t happening anymore. Balance is what we’re missing. No longer is art reflecting life, we’re trying to make our life reflect art.” He’s saying that instead of telling relatable stories through music, we’re more focused on projecting an image that we aren’t really living. There are hardly any mainstream hip-hop songs out that don’t talk about having money and/or how to obtain more money through illegal means when none of these people are actually living that life. Yet this image is being constantly peddled to our youth.
Attendee Juanita Boyer spoke about the importance of talking to our youth about the music they’re hearing and how they feel about it. She stated that after speaking to a few children at her daughter’s school about this topic, all of them expressed that they don’t really like today’s music and would rather listen to lyrics that pertain more to what they are actually experiencing. People are tired of being sold a fantasy.
Who is to blame? The artists who are taking the easy way out just to make a few dollars, those who are telling our young boys that women are sex objects and telling our girls that that’s all they’re good for? Or the record labels as a whole for pushing lackluster artistry in the name of money? In the end, the music business is just that; a business. Yet, hopefully one day more major record labels and recording artists will take heed, and expose to people what they truly want, not just what sells.
While there is no clear cut answer to the issues we’re currently facing in black music, it was honorable that the ULSDYP was able to hold a healthy conversation about it because it creates pro-activity which in turn creates change.
The Urban League of San Diego County Young Professionals office is located at 720 Gateway Center Dr, San Diego, CA 92102. Visit them at www.facebook.com/ulsdyp for more information about upcoming events.