I was listening to commercial radio in Detroit for the first time in months. I’m giving a songwriting workshop at a high school next week, and I wanted to hear what the kids are listening to so I don’t seem “out of touch”.
I heard the word “ho” bleeped or edited out more than I heard any real lyrics or original ideas. Let’s not even talk about how bad the songs are as “songs”. Let’s just talk about the language and the subject matter. It’s ridiculous.
But alas, I know that this is the state of the music industry. As an independent artist, I can’t get a song on commercial radio without literally paying THOUSANDS of dollars, but these knuckleheads with NO real lyrical content and NO real musical content get played over and over in Clear Channel’s 14 song playlist.
Do I sound bitter?
Some of these cats are real artists. Tupac? Great artist. Ludacris? Great rhymer and entertainer. Justin Timberlake? No comment.
But, it isn’t just me. Why don’t I hear Lupe Fiasco, who was nominated for a Best New Artist Grammy last year, on hip hop radio? Why weren’t they playing Nas when he is performing in Detroit tonight? Where is Kweli? Where are Detroiters like Invincible or J Dilla or Amp Fiddler – real artists who are recognized as great artists all over the world?
I’m sorry, kids. I had to change the channel every other song just to keep my brain from going numb. Music is supposed to be food for the soul, but this nonsense is the musical equivalent of pork rinds and kool-aid. It’s completely devoid of anything nourishing.
Influential political rapper and entrepreneur Paris wrote a great blog post this week in response to the Imus/Hip Hop controversy that laid it out plain:
Like I said, I’m not calling for censorship, but I am calling for balance. I’m calling for more representation of points of view other than gangsta rap and escapism. More revolutionary voices. More voices of women. Where is the diversity?
Music can only be kept artificially young and artificially dumb for so long before an inevitable backlash ensues, and that’s what we’re seeing take place now. Overall album sales for the January 1-April 2 period are down 16.6% – with a 20.5% decline in CD album sales since last year – and an even greater decline in hip-hop. Since LAST YEAR (and it was already raggedy last year, believe me). We’re seeing the industry implode before our eyes.
I heard somebody say recently that in this current era of style over substance Stevie Wonder, Parliament/Funkadelic, Earth, Wind & Fire, Curtis Mayfield and others would never have been signed. Let that sink in for a second. They would never have been signed. Some of the very architects of black music as we know it would have been sidelined too, just as countless others are now, because they wouldn’t have fit into white corporate America’s cookie-cutter feel-good box of acceptable black behavior and appearance. Same goes for me, Public Enemy (they’ll take the Flav, but not the Chuck), Kam, X-Clan, BDP, Wise Intelligent, dead prez, Zion-I, Mos Def, Talib Kweli, The Roots,
Blackalicious, Immortal Technique, The Coup, T-K.A.S.H., Michael Franti and a host of others.
Don Imus can’t blame rap music for his words because I’m sure he doesn’t listen to Tupac or Biggie or Ludacris. But commercial radio does. The corporate music industry does.
There are so many great artists who can’t get play on commercial radio. Thank GOD for the Internet right now! I would be going insane! As it is I listen to more old music than anything.
One thing Paris doesn’t point out in the excerpt above is that Stevie Wonder, Parliament/Funkadelic, and Curtis Mayfield were all signed to smaller independent labels even back in the 60s. The indies have always lead the way. Even NWA and 2-Live Crew, the pioneers of gangsta and misogynist rap, were on indie labels.
The difference was that in the 60s Curtis Mayfield could get his music played on the radio without paying a mint in payola. George Clinton benefited from radio stations that were largely programmed by the disc jockeys who spun the records. Now corporations determine the playlist from an ivory tower hundreds of miles away from the streets of Detroit or St. Louis or Blacksburg, Virginia.
Those same corporations (Viacom and NBCUniversal) that buckled under a mass national and local advertiser exodus during the Don Imus scandal happen to own major media outlets like MTV, BET, VH-1, Universal Records and countless radio stations. With this “Imus Incident”, they have proven that they will bow to pressure from the threat of massive consumer boycotts.
But only days later, the world is still the same. If anything, Detroit’s commercial radio stations were playing more offensive music than usual. I’m sure it’s the same elsewhere.
Why do we put up with this? In this new economy, the consumer holds the power. It’s high time we use that power to change our media for the better or leave it behind.
Support the media outlets that play what you want to hear, and more importantly, don’t support the advertisers who spend their money on radio and television networks that continue to feed garbage to the public.
This isn’t just a racial issue. It’s an economic issue. It’s a spiritual issue.
At the heart of it is this: consumers are abandoning the corporate music industry and corporate radio in droves. When those same consumers stop purchasing the products of those advertisers who still support those outlets, those advertisers will demand change.
Until then, there’s lots of great music on the Internet and in your local clubs. Turn off the radio.