That Awkward Moment You Realize Your Favorite Artist is Black
…and I mean in more than just skin color.
Music is not just about turning up. It has always had a message, and sure, sometimes that message is that it’s time to turn up. But even those artists who just want us to party, drink, and have fun are individuals with brains, experiences, and opinions. Thus, it’s a little shocking to see people freak out about musicians who are coming forward to give their opinions on current political matters – especially the “Black Lives Matter” and “black pride” movement.
Many of my friends were incredulous to hear the lyrics to “Formation” when Beyoncé surprised us with that little gem. You know what all of those friends had in common? They weren’t black. Beyoncé has been bragging about how much she “slays” for years, and no one has had a problem with it until she attributed at least a part of her slayage to her black culture. Only then was it a problem.
In the wake of the “Formation” frenzy was Kendrick Lamar’s Grammy performance where he made a very obvious statement about the treatment of blacks in America. If that performance shocked anyone, they really have never listened to any of his lyrics ever. What was shocking, however, is how big of a deal everyone made it. (Dude, it’s K-Dot. He’s gonna have a lot to say about race. *eyeroll*)
At some point, we have to ask ourselves as music connoisseurs and appreciators: why are we so bent out of shape when black artists celebrate their blackness, and why are they not allowed to “matter” as much as the Average Jamal who lives next door and hashtags that divisive phrase?
Women are allowed to celebrate their femininity and sexuality in the most blatant (and sometimes gross) ways. Men write and perform testosterone-laden verses all the time. Pitbull drapes himself in the Cuban flag. Toby Keith urges Australians not to try to sound like United States artists. Lee Greenwood is proud to be an American, and Beyoncé, Kendrick Lamar, D’angelo, Jay Z, J. Cole, and Talib Kweli are, too – but they are black Americans. And what we are telling them is that we would rather them celebrate sex, misogyny, or an entirely different country than celebrate their unique heritage as born citizens of the country in which we ALL born and raised.
Not only that, but we are also threatening to stop listening to their music altogether if they continue to be vocal about it and throw their blackness in our faces.
What we’re seeing is not without precedent, though. Black artists have always had a lot to say in their songs. The songs sung in cotton fields, Billie Holliday’s “Strange Fruit,” Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Goin’ On,” and Michael Jackson’s “They Don’t Care About Us” are just a few in the line of “Formation”s that have evolved over time. The difference about this one? Everybody has been singing and rapping about the same stuff for so long that we forgot what music was for, and these no longer fit the theme of any of our Spotify playlists. It makes us uncomfortable because we have to come to terms with what we didn’t want to see – our favorite artists are just as black as our coworkers and neighbors. Music is no longer taking the path of something we can brainlessly turn on to clean the house on Saturday mornings. It’s making us remember those Black Panther-esque costumes on the field Super Bowl Sunday. It’s making us think about Kendrick’s prison costume. It’s taking us back to the Motortown Revues where everyone was there to see the same black artists, but there was a rope separating the white and “colored” concertgoers.
It’s been both eye-opening and heartbreaking to see the nation’s reaction to musicians involved in the BLM and black pride movements. But if the consequence is getting back to original music, I’m here for it.