Blessed Is The Man Who Walks Not In The Counsel Of The Ungodly,
Nor Stands In The Path Of Sinners Psalm 1
This article and any subsequent ones discussing Black American music is dedicated to my late older sister Candace Bartlett Levitt who had a beautiful voice in her own right, my late grandmother Stella Mae Muldrow who is greatly missed for her no non-sense practicality and awesome meals particularly around the holidays, my mother who is a pillar in the mold of her mom Stella Muldrow with the exception of the great cooking and to the late Audrey Giles of Staten Island, New York who was a mother of seven and grandmother and great-great grandmother of many and who was the Jonathan to my David and who I greatly miss.
When I was growing up in the 70’s, I was privy to like most Black American children to many melodic songs that filtered across the radio airways. They are songs if I hear them today that remind me of playing with neighborhood friends, being at house parties hosted by my aunt and cousins, family get togethers and lazy hot summer days when there was still cicadas and lady bugs making their homes in various trees. Any song that I hear from that time period is always accompanied by pleasant memories during a time when my parents like most Black Americans were hustling to make it. We were not dirt poor, but neither were we in any form middle class as it would be defined today. The music of that time still seemed to reflect the struggle of that era. Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On will forever remind me of my father and beanie caps along with beads, afros and marijuana. Most of all it reminds me of simplicity-of a bygone era before modern technology accelerated time, when listening to music and sometimes trying to sing like those musicians was entertainment at its best.
There were times as I became a young adult that I would hear a song on the radio while in the car with Candy (that’s what we called my older sister) and I would ask her, “ who sang that song?” She would say something like “that was the Stylistics,” and I would ask her, “how do you know?” because it was a song from back in the day and she was a child like I was so I wanted to know how did she remember who the artist was and I did not. She would just say, “Because I know.” Well, I guess was just zoned out whenever the artist name was mentioned, but I would still look at her a little incredulously. So, I remember the great Rhythm and Blues period, the disco period, the funk period, the great duets period between singers such as Patti Austin and Peabo Bryson, the light jazzy songs of Anita Baker, Sade and great ballad singers such as Roberta Flack and Whitney Houston. I remember hearing at times Motown classics.
While all this was going on, sometime around the early 80’s a new type of music was being born and steadily gaining ground on the airways and that was Rap. I remember when it first came out. It was peppy with guys always talking about how great they were-which in itself became monotonous and boring, but still fairly benign and then once the 90’s hit, it seemed out of nowhere Black radio stations were being filled with people talking about their gangster hood lifestyles. Now all of sudden you had people like NWA, Ice Cube, Ice-T, Biggie Smalls, Tupac and etc. promoting their “thug for life” lifestyles and their misogynistic proclivities. For the first time in Black music record labels were putting parental advisories on CDs.
Also, you now had the gangster life affecting the real lives of these gangster rappers so that now you had east coast west coast wars and beef with the results of Tupac and Biggie Smalls being killed. This was a first in Black music as well. Currently Suge Knight who had links to Tupac is on trial for murder. Even Black R and B by new artists of the 90’s promoted hyped up sexuality in place of love and lyrics became steadily cruder. I recall once reading an article about Patti LaBelle and her song Right Kind of Lover. I cannot remember the comment word for word, but in summary she basically asserted that whoever was helping with the song wanted her to substitute a milder word and description for something more sexually blatant in one of the lyrics and she would not do it. Kudos to her.
Additionally, along with the rap gangster adoration came ugly clothes and men wearing their jeans sagging so that now all the world had to be privy to their various assortment of underwear. Most annoyingly, the public now had to and have to watch lost young black men inhibited in their walking by the constant pulling up their pants because the pants are too large. Somehow, the logic of wearing pants that fit continues to go over the heads of a whole generation. A look at what passes for Black celebrity today, makes one surely yearn for the days of yore. At the forefront are tattooed up Rappers such as Lil Wayne still rapping about money and sex and looking horrendously awful.
The youth are still being doused with the fetid gasoline lyrics of people such as Young Thug as if he is someone to aspire to. “Why are people still using “Thug” as a part of their moniker? If anyone out there know the answer to this question, please enlighten me. Wiz Khalifah with his ex-stripper wife looks the definition of a hot mess as well. Chris Brown who may have some measure of talent, looks like a graffiti human billboard. Since our society is in the “gay” push now there is even a gay rapper Asap Rocky and whomever else, as I am sure I am missing some folks.
Whenever I revisit the music of my youth, I like many others wonder what happened to Black music. The comments are filled with people longing for better days and admiring the musicianship of great artists such Gladys Knight and the Pips, Aretha Franklin, the Isley Brothers and etc. Everyone, generally wants to know what happened to the music? For my part and what I cited above, I used to quip “oh that was before “Satan” infested Black music.” I was being kind of facetious, but in retrospect it appears to me that is exactly what happened. It doesn’t take a genius to observe that no other music genre glorifies criminal behavior and thug life with results of its artist being killed and making the requisite visit to the penitentiary. It is hard for me to imagine the killing of people and the sexualizing women being a subject of country music with the likes of a Garth Brooks serenading about “getting paid” or "laid" or calling women “bitches, hoes and whatnot” and the white public sucking it up like a delicious soda float. Nope on the contrary, they would have such musicians head on the platter with threats of boycotts and everything else. So, why target Black music for degradation and destruction? Why would someone exalt dross above gold? I will consider that question in the next article.