If you go to most parties in the ‘hood, or clubs and venues that are mostly frequented by African Americans, chances are you are not going to hear too much Katy Perry, Lady Gaga, Jesse McCartney, Paramore, or Justin Beiber, even though all of these artists are frequent chart-toppers, and popular club-bangers. The reason that we don’t hear them too often is we categorize their music as “White music” and many Black folks don’t find their particular brand of music-typically Pop-to our liking. Many Black folks probably can’t name a song that each of them sing even though they have all collaborated with African American artists.
This made me think. Are we just pushing their music to the side before even given it a valid listen?
I, like many other young people, listen to music according to my mood which usually determines the genre of music I choose to listen to. I’ve noticed that when I’m in really happy, upbeat moods-like when I wake up on the weekend after an awesome sleep-I sometimes put on “White music.” It often makes me feel really good and just gives me this really sunny disposition and outlook on my day.
“Black music” used to have the same effect but as time progresses that seems not to be the case any longer. The vast majority of the songs are about money, sex, or nothing at all. The songs range from moderately to extremely suggestive; for example, J. Holiday’s “Bed” compared to Plies’ “Becky.” Both songs are pretty obviously talking about sex, but “Becky” is the definition of raunchy and vulgar. No need for interpretation; the song very clearly expresses how much Plies loves becky while “Bed” seems to be more about the sensual experience of love making, and still leaves something to the imagination.
“Bed” more closely relates to the sensuality that you see in White music, for example, “It’s in the Morning” by Robin Thicke. In the song, it clearly expresses that he likes having sex (presumably with his wife) first thing in the morning. But, the song doesn’t come across as raunchy at all. Britney Spears pushes the envelope a little further with “If You Seek Amy” and “Get Naked (I Got a Plan)” and yet still never even comes close to using the type of language that you would hear in Petey Pablo’s “Freak-a-Leek” or David Banner’s “Play.”
I am not going to pretend as if I don’t listen to songs from both sides of the spectrum, but one has to wonder why those same raunchy lyrics are very rarely found in White American songs, with the exception of Rap-sensation Eminem, who many would agree has “switched-over” to the Black side.
Does that mean the more irate, disrespectful, and obscene you are, the easier it is to get a “N—er Pass?” Let’s just hope for our sake that he earned the pass because of his undeniable talent and close relationship to rapper/producer Dr. Dre. Either way, the question remains, why don’t other races typically have music as crude as that of African Americans, and what effect is it having on society?
Dr. Steven Martino who led the U.S. study published in the last edition of the journal “Pediatrics” said, “sexually degrading lyrics-many graphic and filled with obscenities-caused changes in adolescents’ sexual behavior. These lyrics depict men as sexually insatiable, women as sexual objects, and sexual intercourse as inconsequential. Other songs about sex did not appear to effect youth in the same way.”
Studies show that Rap and Hip Hop’s emphasis on sex and its demeaning attitude towards women is a contributor to early sexual behavior, potentially leading to disease and teen pregnancy.
In “The Relationship Between Heavy Metal and Rap Music on Adolescent Turmoil: Real or Artifact?,” a journal by researchers Kevin J. Took and David S. Weiss, the writers found that there is a link between preference for heavy metal or rap and below average grades, behavioral problems, sexual activity, drug and alcohol use, and arrests. So, although a causal relationship hasn’t been proven, there are many studies that confirm the correlation.
I asked a few college students how they felt about the discrepancy and their answers were interesting.
Ryan B. Mays, who just graduated with a bachelor’s degree in psychology, said “Rappers mostly come from the ‘hood; sex is not seen as something beautiful there. It’s something you do for pleasure and that’s it … no emotional or spiritual connection. They speak about what they see and feel, mostly different environments (than that of White artists).”
Erin Campbell, also a psychology graduate said, “… White people don’t experience the same things that Black people experience or live that lifestyle.”
Confused, I said, “But I am talking about sex. White people have sex, too. Why do Black people make songs like “Becky,” and White people make songs like “Your Body is a Wonderland?”
Erin responded, “True. But the way that we talk about sex is what differentiates us. We simply make up and accept derogatory language that White people don’t use.”
For some reason I couldn’t shake the suspicion that, it isn’t that White people don’t use the language, they may just generally have more respect for each other not to put the language in a song.
Since Erin and Ryan are both African American, I decided to ask Caucasian liberal studies graduate Samantha Parisen her opinion on the topic.
“I believe it’s because of the images that society portrays amongst the two races. Black music sells, when rappers sing about sex and use more explicit language; it’s more accepted. People believe it’s okay, because it’s Black music. But then you have an artist like Eminem, who is White.
“I listen to a lot of Country music. It wouldn’t be okay for Tim McGraw to say the things that Eminem says in his songs. It wouldn’t be accepted by the Country audience. So it boils down to what is socially accepted. Our culture has accepted that Rap is more raunchy and Country is more wholesome, even though we get a little crazy in our songs too. Maybe that is okay, it gives everyone a choice of what they want to listen to. I think outside of their music, White people talk like that, too, it just isn’t accepted by their genres of music. Society would flip, and that’s why Eminem is so controversial.”
I couldn’t find any concrete reason for this difference among Black and White music, but I really think we could learn something from our Caucasian counterparts in this area. They are not completely innocent, and we are not completely guilty. There are many exceptions to the generalization. Most Neo-Soul, conscious artists such as Common, Lupe Fiasco, Jill Scott, India Arie, Erykah Badu, Maxwell, Bilal, etc., wouldn’t be caught dead perpetuating those negative stereotypes. And, some White artists such as Puddle of Mudd, Papa Roach, Lady Gaga, Belle and Sebastian, System of A Down, and of course Eminem, sometimes have very explicit, prurient and raunchy lyrics.
The purpose of this conversation isn’t to point the finger, but to shed light on such a huge, and potentially harmful, discrepancy.