What a year it’s been for black music. With no Kanye or Jay album out, detractors named 2014 hip hop’s worst year. The MOBOs continued to wobble between celebrating black excellence and simply throwing more trophies to non-black stars of the moment. André 3000 said the recent OutKast reunion tour made him feel like a “sell-out”. The internet had a good chuckle at how learned/bizarre Will Smith’s children are. And David Rodigan and his Rebel Sound crew gave A$AP Mob and BBK a roasting at the Red Bull Culture Clash.
But enough good news. There’s been plenty of scandal too, from the streets to the singles charts. Here are the top 10 most scandalous moments in black music.
10. Fuse ODG refuses Band Aid single over “rotten lyrics”
In an open letter, “Azonto” singer Fuse ODG explained why he had to turn down Band Aid’s Ebola-fighting charity single to the frustration of thousands of armchair-activists. “The message of the Band Aid 30 song absolutely did not reflect what Africa is truly about,” he argued, pointing to lyrics that portrayed the continent as a dangerous and diseased place. Soon after, Emeli Sandé called for an entirely new song to be recorded, even as the single became the fastest-selling of 2014. Meanwhile, Lily Allen rejected the “success club” preferring to do her charity in hard cash, and Adele was dogged by speculation as to why she hadn’t picked up the phone to Sir Bob Geldof. As the news agenda surrounding the single continued to shifted away from the Ebola outbreak, Sinead O’Conner told all the Band Aid critics to “shut the f*ck up”. Never mind the lyrics causing offence or fact that £0.99 single meant selling “300 per cent more” than in 1984. Just buy the damn thing and we can all give ourselves a pat on the back. (Oh, and avoid clicking here to see the Ebola cases to date.)
9. Odd Future get barred from New Zealand
Odd Future, the infamous rap group led by Tyler The Creator, took the history of black acts getting barred from venues to a new level when they were banned from entering New Zealand. The immigration authorities deemed the rap group to be a “potential threat to public order”. Rap concerts have long been known to get aggressive from time to time. But could it possibly have to do with the fact that Odd Future actively encourages aggressive behaviour from their fans at concerts? No, never. And who cares if some of their lyrics are misogynistic and homophobic. Oh, well. At least Tyler and the Odd Future crew are smiling about it.
8. What Azealia Banks said next…
As highly talented as she is, Azealia Banks’s mouth threatened to overshadow her music in the year at the long-haired Harlem rapper finally dropped her debut album. After ousting producers including Pharrell and Disclourse, and begging to be released from her deal with Interscope, Banks was eventually “freed” in July. But not before postponing tour dates, pulling out of shows and reigniting her feud with TI.
Broke with Expensive Taste, when it appeared on iTunes in early November, received a positive reception. Even so, Banks couldn’t resist dishing out the dirty on those Twitter spats, claiming that Adele and other white soul singers are “corny” and questioning why the “white media” treat her like they do. You’ve got to admit, 2014 wouldn’t have been as fun without the outspoken rapper.
Plus, Banks was one of the few female voices in music to take a very vocal stand against “Igloo Australia” and have people pay attention. More of that later.
7. G I R L fails to sever Pharrell from his womanising image. Producer still sells kerzillions of hit singles
Poor Pharrell. Even when Jason Derulo has exclaimed that he prefers booty over brushing up on his language skills and Chris Brown has shown yet again that women are just “hoes” to him, Pharrell Williams was still taking flak for being a bigger womaniser than the both of them – mostly thanks to 2013’s “Blurred Lines“. You only had to look at the album artwork for his opportunistically-timed G I R L to know that beauty was surface level to the superproducer. Just look at the lack of hue to those so-called “black women” on the cover.
For those that got over the cover, listening to the album left them confused over just where Pharrell stood when it came to women and their bodies, with creepy moments about gushing and hunting his female prey, or “bae” as he prefers to call them. But, come on, what 41-year-old “mega-feminist” doesn’t enjoy a bit good bit of video booty? Naturally, none of this stopped “Happy“, the chirpy R&B supernova, from remaining on heavy rotation and bagging the producer yet more chart records and awards.
6. Nicki Minaj puts buttocks back on the agenda with Anaconda
Of course, black women didn’t need Pharrell or any other man to tell them what their purpose in life should be. Nicki Minaj was quite capable of spelling it out with gelatinous undulations of her rear end in the video for “Anaconda”. Cue whip crack sound effect, please. The video received 19.6 million views on its first day, breaking the record held by Miley Cyrus for 2013’s “Wrecking Ball”. It also sparked notoriety, parody videos and gave more fuel to her critics.
Minaj was hardly the only female celebrity shaking her “buns” simply for the eyeballs – and impulse buys – it brings her. Lady Gaga, Kim Karadashian and Meghan Trainor all cashed in on society’s obsession with women’s bodies.
Hey, listen black sisters, we know you could probably do without the massaging of the idea that your worth lies in the shape, size and aerobic feats of your hindquarters. But, look, it’s not like Minaj is “defined” by her butt cheeks. Just because Essa says hip hop videos are being reduced to girls “shaking their behind like maracas” doesn’t mean it’s true.
5. Solange’s bridal Afro ignites natural hair hate mob
Solange had already been backhanded once on her big day. Many newspapers and fashion sites felt the need to qualify their coverage of the singer and those glorious wedding pictures by leading with Beyoncé’s attendance. But not even Aphrodite herself could have foreseen the flood of hate that was directed at Solange’s all-natural hairdo by followers of Harper’s Bazaar. “Bad hair” and “Horrific!!!!!” were just two examples. The Afro hair hate mob had a go at little Blue Ivy, too. Once again, black people’s natural hair gets appropriated as “ugly” by those who have no knowledge of the care it takes to cultivate a stunning ’fro like Solange’s.
For those that have been traumatised by this episode, we encourage you to visit sites celebrating natural hair, such as Women in the Jungle, Care For Your Hair and Hey Natural Beauties. There, there. Just put on some Erykah Badu or India Arie and relax.
4. Piers Morgan, Talib Kweli and the N-word
Someone whose always been a fount of knowledge when it comes to rape issues, gun issues and pretty much any other issues is former CNN interviewer Piers Morgan. This year, the broadcaster was really pissed off that black people insist on using the N-word. If black people want this “derogatory insult” to go away, he wrote, we’d have to stop saying it ourselves.
Unsurprisingly, Morgan’s comments triggered some spirited responses from media writers, as well as conscious hip hop purveyor Talib Kweli. Whether it’s used as a racial slur or a form of endearment, the one thing we can say is that many who use the N-word today (including white people) don’t necessary know its history. We’re already living a culture that’s happy to allow obviously mature songs to be played on breakfast shows and promotes hip hop as pop music for all ages. No wonder So Solid Crew’s Swiss has had to remind us all of the word’s origins in music video form.
3. Macklemore beats Kendrick and Drake to Grammy gold; J Cole says hip hop is being taken over by white artists
Still, the art form that resuscitated the N-word is still owned by black people and it’s something that white folks will never out do us on, right? Phrrr, yeah, that’d be like the pop rap of Macklemore and Ryan Lewis beating Kendrick Lamar and Drake at the Grammys… and then Macklemore apologising in a spectacular show of false solidarity. Oh, whatever.
Just because the US’s most self-congratulatory music awards ceremony is handling out prizes to white rappers doesn’t mean it’s bad for hip hop. And now J Cole is worried that hip hop could become completely white. As if. Who’s blaming disposable hip hop on white artists? It’s not like there’s more to hip hop than gangsta rap and tunes tailored for commercial radio, is there? Obviously, in the eyes of the Grammy judges, us black folks and our sound just ain’t good enough — as the wholeheartedly authentic music of our Grammy-nominated next subject proves.
2. The rise and rise of Iggy Azalea
That’s right. 2014 was the year a 24-year-old, white female from Australia became hip hop’s biggest star – at least, according to Forbes. US writer Olivia Cole took Forbes’s author to task, but her voice and many others were drowned out by the major label/media love-in that propelled Azalea to worldwide chart success. Casually glossing over years of struggles by black female MCs to gain the prominence of their male counterparts, the media kept the Azalea campaign rolling with dozens of me-too lists about “female rappers”. You know, like Eve and Neneh Cherry?
Still, it wasn’t Azalea’s figure that was getting her detractors so hot. It was the fact that she was cruising upwards to break records and gain increasing acclaim, and yet seemed to have no respect for people of colour or the culture which she has harnessed. That “runaway slave… master” line in Azalea’s song “D.R.U.G.S.” was just the tip of the iceberg. Stephanie Convery argued that Azalea was the product of entrenched sexism in capitalism, so can’t be blamed for her thoughtlessness. Of course, how presumptuous of us. Let’s just give her a licence to treat people disrespectfully and get paid for it, shall we, TI?
No wonder Azealia Banks came to tears in an interview this month over what she says is a “cultural smudging”. Banks has called out Azalea, and the media’s perpetuation of her, more than once. After her latest rant, however, the Australian rapper fired back, labelling Banks a “bigot” and a “miserable human being”.
We’ll leave you with this thought about Azalea from London singer Shamz Le Roc: “Ego and ignorance is deadly”.
1. Ed Sheeran tops BBC 1Xtra Power List
Last but not least, this year’s scandals wouldn’t be complete without the own goal of UK black music radio station, BBC 1Xtra, naming Ed Sheeran number one on its power list of influential UK artists in the black and urban music scene. Never mind that it was the work of black and non-white artists, producers and even media who’ve played a big part in Sheeran becoming the international darling of “acoustic soul”.
There’s a time for political correctness. But, as Wiley and other critics interjected, it’s more than a little odd black artists getting “bumped” in flavour of talented, yet wide-known, white artists. Michael Hann argued that the real problem was 1Xtra’s list concealing “how white” the music industry is. Is it really that much to ask the BBC DJs and music experts who compiled 1Xtra’s dismal power list to think about the station’s remit (“to play the best in contemporary black music”) and place the emphasis of such a list on the tastes of its non-white audience first?
1Xtra is hardly the be-all and end-all of black music stations. Even now, you’ll find more classic soul, funk and outernational music championed by BBC 6 Music, while independents such as Mi-Soul and Colourful offer good alternatives. But 1Xtra is the poster child.
Bloc Party’s Kele Okereke pointed out this summer that 1Xtra’s daytime playlists, little more than a pale facsimile of its sister station’s, are a sign that UK black music is losing its identity. 1Xtra responded. One week later, they published their controversial power list. That, friends, is your UK station for black music.
Ah, well. There’s always next year. Till then, go have a listen to D’Angelo’s Black Messiah and mull things over, ay?
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