W.if you want to understand what role popular music has always played in the Black Lives Matter movement, watch the music video for the song “This Is America” by rapper Childish Gambino. It shows the ambiguity that black US citizens are exposed to throughout their lives: between community and racially motivated violence. The song was released in 2018, in the summer of that year the song received new attention due to the protests for the police brutality of George Floyd. Donald Glover, Childish Gambino’s real name, won four Grammys with the song in 2019, including the renowned categories Record of the Year as Song of the Year.
Accusations of racism at the most important US music award are not new. Songs and artists from the genre of so-called “black music”, i.e. jazz, R’n’B, soul and rap, were disregarded by the jury for a long time and did not make it into the prestigious main categories. Rap – today the only really remaining mass-compatible youth culture – was not included in the competition until 1989. The names of many of the 84 categories are also evidence of latent racism. But that is about to change: The Recording Academy announced that it will rename the “Urban” categories. The genre term is as good as dead.
A milestone for black artists and the music industry
Only one category should continue to represent the questionable genre, namely Best Latin Pop Or Urban Album. The category Best Urban Contemporary Album however, from now on the name Best Progressive R&B Album wear, and to date as Best Latin Rock, Urban or Alternative Album Award given should now be under the category Best Latin Rock or Alternative Album to run.
In addition, the entire jury now has to disclose any conflicts of interest before submitting their votes. This is to prevent the majority of young, male, white acts from being included in the competition. The changes already apply to the Grammys 2021, which are scheduled to take place on January 31, 2021. The Recording Academy is not only reacting to the current social debate in the USA, but is also setting a new standard in an entire industry.
Why is the genre term “urban” so problematic?
The term originates from the 1970s and was first used by the black radio presenter Franckie Crocker to denote all types of music that was then mainly heard and produced by sections of the African American population. This included R’n’B, rap, hip-hop, soul and also reggae and Latino music. He wanted to give more attention to music that had previously often not been noticed in the mainstream. In the course of time, however, the term genre became increasingly stereotypical and triggered racist implications, especially in the white US mainstream.
“Urban” mutated into a genre that virtually formed a musical parallel universe to so-called “white music”, pop and country in the USA. A fact that is also reflected in the term itself: “Urban” also refers to the changing population structure of the USA from the late 1950s. Back then, more and more black families could afford to move closer to the city centers. Their culture, their music, became urban. At the same time, stereotypes and prejudices formed in the white population that these new families simply did not belong in their neighborhoods.
The associated, often subconscious discrimination by the term “urban” went so far at the Grammys that many of the artists were not even considered for other categories. When the rapper Tyler, The Creator received a golden gramophone for the best rap album of the year for his album “IGOR” this year, he gave way to the displeasure of many black artists. In his acceptance speech he said:
“On the one hand, I’m very grateful that what I’ve done can be recognized in a world like this, but it’s a shame that we, and I mean people who look like me, only ever go in one rap – or the Urban category. ”
The nicer N word?
In the meantime, “Urban” has only become a politically correct detour for him, so as not to have to say the N-word. The Grammys have to face this reproach not only because of social pressure. The industry itself is also changing. What is commonly cataloged as “urban” is now making the most money for labels. R’n’B, soul, modern funk and rap are the genres that are growing the fastest in terms of streaming numbers and popularity.
Even more: society is appropriating its culture more and more. Ariana Grande, for example, an American with Italian roots, makes soul music that many listeners tend to locate in the black cosmos. This is of course partly due to their look and demeanor, but also because their sound exudes more spirit than any retort pop.
The German counterpart to the “Urban” genre is “Black Music”, by the way, which can still be found on the shelves of many record stores. The audience connects the tracks with music for going out, dancing and partying. Numerous artists of this century prove that the genre is about much more. The free improvisations, the samples and beats are an expression of liberation from the shackles of society.
The “Best World Music Album” is also history at the Grammys
The Recording Academy only named the category at the beginning of November Best World Music Album to Best Global Music Album around. The reason is also a belated insight: The time has finally come to counteract the colonialist connotations that the term carries, such as the “Billboard magazine“Reported.
We’ve consulted with artists, ethnomusicologists, and linguists about it – it’s a chance to finally introduce a more appropriate, modern, and inclusive term.
In 2020, the Benin-French singer-songwriter Angélique Kidjo won the last prize in the “World Music” category.