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What happened to African American music?

Discussion in 'Miscellaneous [BG]' started by baba, Sep 18, 2002.

  1. OK, I know this could be controversial, but please hear me out:

    African American musicians have produced about 90% of my favorite music. Coltrane, Davis, Hooker, all the Browns, Walker, Hopkins, Marley, Kuti, the Nevilles, Tosh, Toots, Clinton, Monk, Parker, Mingus, Hancock, Broonsey, Bootsy, Wonder, I could go on for days...you get the idea.

    What happened? I contend that from the early '80s onward African American music took a fatal turn for the worse and began to, how do I say this.....really suck. This is of course a generalization, there are some new talents that have come about, but overall there was a HUGE and undeniable shift. Yes, many think all music, regardless of ethnicity, has taken a turn for the worse....but it seems SO much more dramatic with the African American community.

    I know music is up to individual interpretation, etc, and what I may thinks sucks, others may think was an improvement....but I think anyone who is schooled in the broad spectrum of music will agree that today's African American "music" as a whole has lost it's craft, soul, and MUSICAL creativity.

    Any theories on what happened? Was it social, economic, is my perception skewed? Anyway, it's something I've been thinking about for years.
  2. Brad Johnson

    Brad Johnson Supporting Member

    Mar 8, 2000
    Gaithersburg, Md
    DR Strings
    If you listen strictly to mainstream music, of just about any genre, you'll find more of the same. OTOH if you listen to artists like Jill Scott, D'Angelo, Ben Harper, Maxwell, Raphael Saddiq, Marcus Miller, India.Are, MeShell NdegéOcello (how many would you like?;)) I think you'll get a different picture.

    On the Jazz front it's also not as bleak as you paint it.

    What most people hear is what's watered down to be popular with the lowest common denominator... one person's sucks is another persons NSync.

    BTW Controversial? I doubt it;). Just one more thing to talk about at TB.
  3. I agree Brad. But when I think about mainstream music of the past, I see (and hear) incredible blues, soul, funk, R&B, even some prominent reggae and jazz artists hit main stream. Watered down versions of most of those are still being produced, but they're...watered down...they have little or no soul.

    And by the way, I think the a lot on the jazz front is doing great. I saw Hargrove a month or so ago and almost wet my pants....WOW. He is SO much better live....as most jazz artists worth their salt are I guess.
  4. monkeyfinger

    monkeyfinger Moderator Staff Member Supporting Member

    It's a problem with the industry in general. I think the main problem is that the recording business is owned by a handful of major corporations. The same goes for the radio biz. In the middle of the last century there were hundreds of record companies marketing to thousands of independent radio stations, often directly to the DJ's. If a DJ liked the song, he played it.

    Now, big recording corporations market to equally big radio companies and big music store chains. These big companies are very risk averse, so the products tend to fit within certain popular marketing niches. These market channels are very carefully guarded. They also have huge marketing dollars wich they use to tell you what you should like. This has the biggest impact on their primary market, teenagers, who spend the more dollars on music than any other group by far.

    This is why Sony, et al., fought so hard against Napster. They were concerned about loosing control of the distribution channels which is the heart or their business. Don't believe the BS about this protecting artist's revenue, they couldn't care less about that. (Only a very small group of artists actually thrive under this model. The rest are just spokes-models for the corporate product.)

    It was trully a sad day when I read that Blue Note has decided to not record any more jazz albums. That is what this industry does to music.
  5. patrickj


    Aug 13, 2001
    Ellicott City, MD
    Endorsing: Spector Bass Guitars
    Taking band/music out of public schools has significantly reduced the quality of the music people create - they don't know how.
  6. monkeyfinger

    monkeyfinger Moderator Staff Member Supporting Member

    Removing the arts in general from schools has contributed to this. Children are not exposed to a wide variety of cultural experiences at a young age. They end up only knowing what is played on MTV.
  7. I couldn't agree w/lo-z more. It's an industry wide problem! I was talking about this with my bandleader last night...we decided something has to give soon. Hopefully there will be some sort of new MP3 distribution channel on the internet or something, I don't like the state of the music biz right now, and I dont think I'm alone.
  8. Brad Johnson

    Brad Johnson Supporting Member

    Mar 8, 2000
    Gaithersburg, Md
    DR Strings
    Hey, music back in the day was still a business but IMO it was treated as less of a commodity. Off course you can find a ton of exceptions to that but generally speaking, with the advent of video and the focus on style over substance, this is what you get... cute people dancing to background noise.

    I don't think this is any more of a problem with African American music than other genres, especially Pop which is much larger and even more lame than what's generally heard out here.

    Society has been on a downhill slide for a while now, dumbing down is the rule of the day. Most of the artists out here today, regardless of color, are pretty depressing, if you let them;)

    I don't, I look for artists that interest me... they're out there. Heck, by today's standards Boyce and Hart (The Monkees, among other things) would look like geniuses compared to some of the songwriting going on.
  9. Well, I have to admit, most rap doesn't move me as much as '70s Stevie Wonder, for sure.

    But I have to think part (not all) of the problem is the rose-colored glasses of hindsight, pure and simple. When we look back at the music of a couple of decades back, my experience has been that we tend to think about mainly the stuff that's survived to the present day--i.e., the better stuff. We conveniently forget that most of the music at the time was not like that. We remember selectively.

    People talk about the '60s and early '70s as if practically everybody playing was a genius. I'm old enough to remember those times, and I know that was never true. In addition to the brilliant stuff, of which there was plenty, there was a lot of OK stuff and downright icky stuff, and collectively, IMO, these latter two categories outnumbered the brilliant stuff.

    I'm not saying I think every musical era is more or less the same in creativity--I think there's definitely ebb and flow--but I do think we sometimes need a little time and perspective to really assess what's happening.
  10. Christopher


    Apr 28, 2000
    New York, NY
    What happened? A lot of people stopped playing or relying on real instruments and real musicians.

    It's still there in the form of "nu soul" or whatever radio stations want to call it, but real stuff has been relegated to the status of a subgenre.

    Most artists prefer to rely on Timbaland-ish beeps and boops, which come straight out of the box of a lot of commercial music software products. It's cheaper, and the audience increasingly can't tell the difference.
  11. Brad Johnson

    Brad Johnson Supporting Member

    Mar 8, 2000
    Gaithersburg, Md
    DR Strings
    ''Judy in Disguise"
    "Incense and Peppermint"
    "Shame, Shame, Shame"
    "Double Dutch Bus"

    Yes, that was a golden era;)
  12. I knew I'd get a great deal of responses saying it isn't a "black" problem. As I said, I think all music has taken a turn for the worse. I do believe that is primarily due to what MTV and other big business has done to music. However, I can't help but notice that this shift in quality of music is more dramatic with the black community. THIS is precisely what I'm trying to figure out.

    To be devil's advocate, let me offer this possibility: maybe since 90% of the music I've fell in love with was performed by blacks, it only SEEMS that the shift is greater with black music... since that is what I usually listen to. I don't think this is likely since I have given this subject a GREAT deal of thought, but I'll offer up that possibility.
  13. rickbass

    rickbass Supporting Member

    As with most changes, it's due to a convergence of several factors. Those factors listed below don't explain it all by any means, but they are defininitely major contributors, IMO;

    - the devaluation and de-emphasis of the arts in our schools. School budgets in many areas are stressed and the arts are too often viewed as superfluous. Consequently, Bill Gates is held in higher esteem than Salvador Dali by kids.

    - musical technology that allows any boob with software/turntable/sampler/sequencer/harmonzer/et al to be a "a musician" (and I use that term extremely loosely). A musical imbecile like Sean Combs has as much business making recordings as I do commandeering nuclear subs. "Image over substance" is the currency during these dark times.

    - the rise of 7 media conglomerates to exploit the $150+ billion teen market in the US as if it was the colonization of Africa. The FCC is to blame in large part when it allowed corporations to own radio stations as well as recording companies, (something that wasn't legal before the late 80's I think it was).
    These conglomerates can use their incredible marketing power to decide what image is "hip and cool", force it on impressionable youth. They then create the products that deliver on the needs they created in the market. Fred Durst becoming a Senior VP Interscope Records is a prime example of a "corporate whore" becoming a "corporate pimp."

    Two phenomena we are seeing in reaction to these forces are;

    - An unprecented number of kids receiving home schooling by parents who, for better or worse, don't want their kids subjected to the "machine"
    - An unprecedented number of recordings which are just covers of old songs and a reliance on sampling by newer black "artists" from music made by older black artists who actually possessed musical talent.
    The newer names will often try to legitimize their
    "musical crack" by saying it's "more real, more street." Well, me going to use the toilet is very "real and street" but that isn't what I consider worth musical presentation.

    Thankfully, there are still black artists who are just too talented and real to hold back. Res, from Philly, is one that comes to mind. Her music and that of her band defies categorization. Unfortunately, there was a time when defying categorization was an asset, not a liability. :rolleyes:
  14. Woodchuck


    Apr 21, 2000
    Atlanta (Grant Park!)
    Gallien Krueger for the last 12 years!
    Here's how I see it: It's not a black/white music issue, but a musical issue. Back when I was growing up in the '70's, artists would hear the latest albums by their collegues and say, "So, that's what they're doing now? My stuff will be better than that!" These days, artist hear the new CD's and say, "So, that's what they're doing now? Well, MY stuff, too, will sound like that." Therein lies the problem.
  15. JimK


    Dec 12, 1999
    "Judy"...nice R&B-ish bass line.
    "Incense & Peppermint"...nice vocal harmonies.
    What's the problem?!
    (I'm drawing a blank on the other 2).

    Hell, even "The Name Game" kicks some booty!

    I do like Chrisotpher's reply-
    "A lot of people stopped relying on real instruments & real musicians".

    I don't know about the rest of you-
    For me, learning '70s Soul/R&B/Funk was a mighty chore...I was lucky(somehow) in that I listened to almost anything as a kid. Still, as a young wannabe bass player, Soul kicked my butt.
    Notes were not where I would feel 'em...& that was everything.

    Fast forwarding & cutting to the chase(Rick touches on this in his nice post)-
    Sequencers allowed "musicians" to program EXACTLY where the notes fell; IMO, this removed the soul. Big difference to my ears, though, I'm guessing most casual listeners coulda cared less.
    Anyway, that's part of my pet peeve.
    Plus the fact that the A&R guys are not really into anything 'new' or experimental.

    ...and what Brad said-
    The dumbing down of America marches on.
  16. Excellent points by all.

    Regarding Rap, Wynton Marsalis said, "It's not real music cause it's got no bridge." *

    Regarding anyone that samples and does nothing else, Raphael Saadiq said, "These people can't play, I can play." - from a Bass Player magazine interview a few months ago.

    I agree with everything that was said about the music industry, the lesser importance placed on the arts in schools today, music in particular and the lack of empasis placed on originality in new talent. (which can be risky in the music business)

    If imitation is the highest form of flattery, then many, many black musicians have been paid this compliment by many, many white musicians that when interviewed and asked who their greatest influences were, usually cite most of the great Jazz, Blues and Motown players of years past, who were almost all black.

    Maybe what happened to "Black" music is that it's not just black anymore. If society follows musical trends, then we are starting to live together as brothers and won't be dying together as fools. ;)

    Now, who said that?

    C'mon, you know the answer. :)

    Mike J.

    * I believe he said this in an interview on BET, but, I don't remeber exactly when or which show.
  17. Boplicity

    Boplicity Supporting Member

    But there definitely is African American music now. I mean there is an entire African American music cable channel, BET. There is also a very healthy and thriving field of spiritual and Christian gospel music.

    P. Diddy is doing very well with his music and fashion empire, something a black in the 50s and 60s would never have dreamed of. Whether or not any of us here actually like or buy music Diddy produces is another question. Fact is his music does sell...big time. He was in Palm Beach last week checking out mansions such as Celine Dion's and an even bigger one furtehr South. Few people of any race can afford one of those mansions. That he and boxing promoter Don King can afford such Palm Beach homes says a lot for the distance African Americans have come.

    I remember when MTV didn't even show one African American video. Micheal Jackson was the first to appear on MTV. Now look how many African American videos are on MTV. Yes, the quality of the music may be pretty much of a generic lollypop kind of pop or generic rap and hip hop, but when I was a teenager in the 50s, I never could have dreamed how African Americans would influence the music industry one day.

    There's is one factor crowding African Americans out, if indeed they are being crowded out at all and that is the unprecidented rise of Latino music and stars. The Latin Grammies are on CBS tonight. Even ten years ago such an event would have been uninmaginable. Given that radio, TV time and record store space is limited, maybe some space is going to Latinos now that would have gone to African AMericans in the past.

    I don't think the problem is so much of a quantity problem as maybe what we may perceive as a quality problem in that the great blues and jazz innovators (and funk and soul) seem to be gone and have been replaced with a more lucrative pop and rap music. That may be just a phase, however. Maybe somewhere there are some highly talented young blacks who are busy developing "the next big thing" in quality music. I hope so.
  18. iplaybass


    Feb 13, 2000
    Houston, TX
    There's still good stuff out there. I'm not a huge fan of rap or hip hop, but I really like Jurassic 5 and The Roots. Like the men said, just get out of the mainstream.
  19. JimK


    Dec 12, 1999
    Hey, JO-
    I would think most here are NOT talking about how many mansions so & so can buy 'cause his PRODUCT is selling to the masses.
    I think Baba's original premise is the quality of R&B/Jazz has been going downhill for awhile.
    ...maybe P Diddy's stuff is good, I dunno(I haven't liked what little I've heard & no, I don't have the enough time to dig deeper into P Diddy's catalog as I don't have enough time to listen to the stuff I already like or the newer stuff I'm just getting into...FWIW, I'm on a Free Jazz Big Band kick. Brotzmann's Chicago Tentet + 2 kicks my butt!)

    Same goes for the Latin Grammys...that's still Pop albeit with a "World Beat".

    BTW, in the '50s, African Americans already had about a half century of influence...Jazz, Blues, Cu-Bop, Rock 'N' Roll, etc.

    And one more thing-
    Unless I'm way off, MTV was originally a "Rock" channel(?)...I think all of the original VJs were hired from fairly large Rock stations.
  20. IMO, the "evolution" of many of the genres hasn't been in the right direction. For example, what in the world has become of R&B? It's anything but rhythm & blues. And how about reggae? Most people nowadays think of Shaggy when they think reggae.:rolleyes: As far as I'm concerned, drum machines and reggae are mutually exclusive. The real deal still exists. It just seems every year, we have to dig deeper underground to find it.

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