( trigger warning)
What’s wrong with Soul Music? I have a theory, and it doesn’t have anything to do with how stupid and evil young black people are.
Fifteen years ago, Bill Clinton signed The 1996 Telecommunications Act; a bill which deregulated the media and allowed for companies to acquire consolidated empires. It is the evidentiary framework that allowed Clear Channel to get over 1200 stations, the reason Comcast bought NBC/Universal, and the reason that Black radio has been brutally cut to it’s knees. Under the Portable People Meter System installed because of the bill, radio ratings were attuned to the exposure an area has to a signal. Because of this, almost every local mom and pop soul radio station-the lifeblood for black music and black audiences for over a half a century-had to close down because of an erroneous ratings system.
Also, because of the abolition of regulatory restrictions in the air waves, Black stations that were profitable under the PPM system were bought out and replaced by companies that replaced their black radio formats with the most popular, failsafe black radio format in the past 25 years: gangster rap/ sex music geared to white teenagers from the suburbs. When black people stopped buying/listening to rap music, smaller, niche markets came up that bred artists that had no crossover support whatsoever. The result was that Rashaan Patterson couldn’t develop an audience the same way that The Ohio Players could, Joi Gilliam couldn’t build a following in a similar form as Betty Wright, and Phenomenally talented artists like Anthony David, Van Hunt, Donnie, Res, and Janelle Monae get absolutely nowhere in the modern market. It is also the reason that Mary J Blige, Maxwell, Jill Scott, and Anthony Hamilton can go gold and platinum with almost no support outside of Black America.
All of this is far harder than to comprehend and talk about than articles about “The Narcissistic Black Youth”. I revile Chris Brown’s work, wrote as such( http://open.salon.com/blog/robert_lashley_1/2011/04/18/review_fame_chris_brown
) and am the last person to offer any excuse for his behavior. His success is a prime example of how young black men take advantage of the privileges the R&B/Hip hop market affords them, and how it damages the community. It is dishonest, however, to ignore the economic structure built to make a song like “3 am” profitable and ignore a song like this one. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zQDcJBrLcNQ . ( Brown should be criticized to the high heavens, but by god when are cultural critics going to recognize that artists like David exist and face near impossible odds to get their great music heard.)
What is also dishonest is Blake’s romantic subtext: that Black male sexism began with the first Schooly D record, and has stayed only in the territory and ballpark of rap ever since. Reading his glory years timeline-the late 60’s to the early 80’s-I couldn’t help but recall that during them:
-Eldridge cleaver wrote a best selling book that espoused the belief that black women should be raped for practice by black men, who then should rape white women as a political statement.
-Amiri Baraka and Iceberg Slim were writing horror works that were as frightening in content as Odd Future at their worst
-Baraka and Ron Karenga were espousing the idea that black men should beat black women as a form of therapy.
-Writers like Ntosake Shange and Alice Walker were being subjected to cultural witch hunts by black men because they had “unfavorable” male characters in their work
-and, in this glorious era of black music Blake describes, Joe Tex went platinum with a record “Uh Huh-Huh ( You Never Should A Promised Me)” that was an ode to a violent rape.
Of course this shouldn’t be used as an excuse for the modern generation of vile love men: Karenga being a Sociopath in 1971 does not wash away Brown being one in 2011. There are discussions that need to be had in regards to the decline of the soul love song in America, and hard questions that young men need to ask ourselves about patriarchy in regard to soul music. In this article, Blake asks none of them(and his quoted implication-that black music will get right when Black women take off their high heels- is a more subtle form of the sexism he is railing against). Blake knows this; but like a lot of writers he knows a popular song to sing to an audience. The Black Pathology song he’s singing here-one that relies on the same airy, singular cliched tropes of black failure without a whit of subtext or analysis-will get him the gratitude and recognition of many people. Forgive me if I want to turn off the dial.