Appropriation

It’s a great article by Nelson George.

The core audience for most of hip-hop’s first thirty years, both white and black, were in deeply invested in an vision of “keepin’ it real” authenticity that valued a ghettocentric version of American life.

Very true. Which would make me uncomfortable with my white friends in France, so into KRS-ONE and Dr OCTAGON. The complete embrace of Black American Man’s Life lyrics seemed odd to me. True, I was into metal at that time but that’s the thing: I was into the sound, not the lifestyle or trying to be part to it. I was into the heaviness of those guitars and the fact that the more groove in the sound, the better, didn’t make me feel like appropriating. I felt doing my own thing rather than joining a culture. I felt like making up my own hybrid strain through a mix of genres.

In fact some of the most progressive forces in today’s hip-hop are more likely as influenced by Radiohead’s textures than the Bomb Squad’s block rocking beats.

Lyricism is really were things are lacking these days. Although, I really enjoy Kodak Black. He has some rather smart lines. Tyler has become so great at opening up and be who he is now.

Later Prince, Cameo and Jermaine Jackson were amongst the many black ‘80s acts to have hits by adapting the keyboard sounds, melodic ideas, and vocal arrangements of new wave bands. I guess that was all “appropriation” if you wanna make it a negative.

Well the thing is they appropriated a sound, not a genre of music. Early 80s were all about dramatically cut down production to have a very minimal, “cold” sound after the luscious 70s, right? It felt and feels more like an extension than appropriation to me. They built on top of that and created new music, 80s funk music with very distinct flavors. It is also a “going forward” type of appropriation.

The thing about Mars and Silk Sonic is that they sound like something else, and from the past. It feels a little bit more disingenuous.

But Bruno Mars is not stealing “our” music. He wasn’t a parody of R&B or new jack swing. In fact he was one of the only people with a mass audience keeping these styles alive. Putting out a record celebrating funk in 2015 or new jack swing in 2017 were as far from a commercial slam dunk as one could get. Black folks, both as creators and customers crave innovation, invention and the constant shock of the new. It’s why black music has moved like a tractor through the cow pasture otherwise known as American culture. The search for new sounds have driven everything from bebop to trap.

I loved that funk he put out there. I remember driving on the 101, volume up. The 24K Magic single was dope. But I couldn’t shake the feeling that I wished someone else was singing. Or that the music wasn’t so predictable. It lacked a little 2010s twist or something. I love 80s music, I can listen to it right now! And that’s where Mars didn’t search for new sounds, he looked for comfort and the labels said “there’s something to tap in here, that nostalgia from a generation and nostalgic envy from that other generation” and that was it. That’s fine. But that’s not innovation.

I heard Silk Sonic for the first time on the radio this morning, and I couldn’t tell from when it was, although .paak’s voice gave me away that this was new. Yet old. It makes the music enjoyable, but doesn’t “wow” you like the first time you hear Cameo’s She’s Strange, Rae Sremmurd’s No Type or King’s The Story (or their entire album). Those truly innovated. Those hit different.

What I’d like is a late 70sFUNK-late 00sTRAP music blend with a duet between a man and a woman, singing and rapping about our current debt life, without name dropping tech brands or celebrities, while being uplifting.

Now, that would be the future to me.

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