It’s the best article on the state of music from that past decade and this paragraph explains it all:
Music is also contingent. The part of a song that is ‘‘musical’’ is totally up for grabs, and changes from society to society and age to age. The European tradition has tended to elevate melody, so we think of ‘‘writing a song’’ as ‘‘writing the melody.’’ Afro-Caribbean traditions stress rhythms, especially complex polyrhythms. To grossly oversimplify, a traditional European song with a different beat (but the same melody) can still be the same song. A traditional Afro-Caribbean song with a different melody (but the same rhythm) can still be the same song. The law of music – written by Europeans and people of European descent – recognizes strong claims to authorship for the melodist, but not the drummer. Conveniently (for businesses run in large part by Europeans and people of European descent), this has meant that the part of the music that Europeans value can’t be legally sampled or re-used without permission, but the part of the music characteristic of Afro-Caribbean performers can be treated as mere infrastructure by ‘‘white’’ acts. To be more blunt: the Beatles can take black American music’s rock-n-roll rhythms without permission, but DJ Danger Mouse can’t take the Beatles’ melodies from the White Album to make the illegal hip hop classic The Grey Album.
The melody. It’s all about the melody is you ask an extremely white field like game development. As long as you provide that European tradition of elevated melody, you are good. To cater to a white crowd if you don’t focus on melody, you are kind of screwed. Music appreciation comes with time, we learn how to appreciate it. It’s socially engineered.
I never really have been a melody guy and felt bad about it for a long time. Growing up in a white world, I felt that I was wrong, except that I wasn’t. I’ve always preferred harmonies and rhythm. I always loved the call and response that are all so anchored in black music. Jazz, funk soul and hip hop are almost all about everything but the melody. They’re all about playing with silence and performance, that movement. Fun. In my opinion it’s deeper and more interesting to connect these with gameplay instead of an upbeat locked melody but I diverge.
It’s interesting to see what Cory describes -differences of taste between black and white- show up in billboards. First thing first, you can’t survive if you only sell music to a black crowd. Music sells to white people, and this is where it gets weird when you think that NWA, Ice T or Whitney Houston aside of their talent own their financial success to that world they were not invited to (and they made it because they were not that black: NWA wouldn’t exist without that Jewish dude Jerry Heller and Ice and Whitney own a lot to their light skins). It’s fucked up. Social considerations aside, let’s stay on musical taste and see how it shows up in billboards:
Parliament’s singles performances. “US” charts are white people and “US R&B” are black people. First observation George Clinton’s band reached gold when white people put them in the top 20. Look at how the two songs in the white top 20, “Tear The Roof Off The Sucker (Give Up The Funk)” and “Flashlight” are the easiest grooves and the most melodic leads. And yes, hearing Aqua Boogie the first time I was blown away and loved it so much, huge claps, psychedelic and jam-ish, super nasty and unique bass line and #1 for black people when it came out and #89 for white folks. Not surprised.
For a couple of years though there was no distinction between black and white music charts.
From November 30, 1963, to January 23, 1965, there was no Billboard R&B singles charts. The chart was discontinued in late 1963 when Billboard determined it unnecessary because that there was so much crossover of titles between the R&B and pop charts in light of the rise of Motown. The chart was reinstated in early 1965 when differences in musical tastes of the two audiences, caused in part by the British Invasion in 1964, were deemed sufficient to revive it.
So for merely two years, music wasn’t racial. The 60s man, even music is telling us that we missed an opportunity to go further and unify more. Instead we chose to separate ourselves as audiences -less in Europe but still- and I don’t think it was only a British Invasion thing -they all “stole” black music to make their rock n roll-. Socially, that interracial stuff going on in the streets of Philly, Chicago or LA scared the shit out of a lot of white people. Sad.
Today, things are pretty much still the same. The more Kanye caters to white people with weird noisy artsy stuff, the more black people are like “nigga where my beat at?” but the bigger he gets. If you ask black people about Radiohead they’ll be like “who?”, if you ask white people about Usher they’ll be like “ewww”. I’m not making this up, there’s a real backlash against black music, always has been despite its success. “Is it really possible that Michael Jackson, arguably the most influential artist of the 20th century, merited less than half the coverage of Bono, Bruce Springsteen, and Madonna?” asks the Atlantic.
Music is still massively race-ish. As a composer and musician it’s uh, interesting. Music is a universal language and by marketing the hell out of it, by racial division and lack of will it’s not anymore. But it still is and always be.