While listening to NPR last night (yes, black folks listen to NPR) I heard this little gem; “There were no black artists with number one singles in 2013.”
While fools were arguing over who was the king of NYC last year, black artists were no where to be seen at the top of the Billboard Hot 100 charts for the first time since the company began charting top 40 singles in 1958. “How is this possible?” You may ask. Jay Z, Kanye West, Beyoncé, Pusha T and Drake all dropped albums in 2013 but none of them were able to get a top single. Furthermore, of the 52 weeks in a year, white artists were on top of the R&B and hip hop charts for 44 of them and blue eyed soul reigned supreme.
Is this what post-racial America looks like? Muthafuckas never loved us? Remember? But they always loved our music, and now we don’t even have that anymore. What’s next? An all white NBA draft?
But seriously, is this the future of hip hop and R&B? Will it soon be as white-washed as rock ‘n’ roll or punk? As, Keli Goff, author and commentator for The Daily Beast and The Root, explains “It almost reminds me of the ’50s and ’60s when you had a lot of music that was being made by white artists and being popularized by them but it was coming from black artists. It’s much easier to sell a Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, an Eminem, a Justin Timberlake, to mainstream audiences than it is to sell a Jay Z. It is still a preferred feeling in mainstream pop culture that if we can find an attractive white act to do it, why not?”
Is Justin Timberlake the new Elvis? Do kids these days even know about Chuck Berry and Bad Brains? Will our kids know Afrika Bambaataa and Run DMC? Is hip hop as we know it DEAD??
Probably not, but here are some rational explanations:
Pop chart analyst and Slate writer, Chris Molanphy says the problem arose when Billboard started using digital sales to compile its charts; “What’s happened is, whether it’s radio, whether it’s iTunes — there’s now a lot of data feeding into the Hot 100…. The charts of ten years ago when Outkast was No. 1 — iTunes was not a factor in the charts yet because it was brand new. There was no YouTube — it literally didn’t exist — and so this great feedback loop we used to have where we had crossover from the R&B charts to the pop charts has kind of gotten swamped.” As Molanphy points out, “It’s a huge pendulum swing in less than a decade: In 2004, literally every song that topped the Hot 100 was by a person of color. This year, black artists had only featured roles.”
Essentially the playing field has been broadened enormously since Billboard started changing the way they chart singles. What this means, is that since the incorporation of digital sales, R&B and hip hop acts can’t compete in their own genres.
One could argue that not every Justin Timberlake song is R&B, but Billboard no longer looks at it that way, instead of compiling charts based off of what the R&B audience is listening to, they’re including an artists entire album into the mix. Only the future will tell if this trend will continue but one thing is for certain, artists of color are going to have to work a lot harder if they want to keep their chart stats up.
In another blow to musicians of color, not a single living black artist is being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this year for only the second time in the history of the Hall.
Not that there wasn’t an abundance of black artists to choose from, including Nile Rogers, who has garnered 8 nominations and rocked on one of the biggest tracks of the year; Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky.” However, as Molanphy again points out, “this year the Hall will induct Daryl Hall and John Oates—an act with a long history of soul-music appreciation that once even topped the R&B chart—so Rock Hall voters are honoring the sound of black music. Just not actual black people.”
Is the idea of a post-racial America eliminating race from the equation all together? The short answer is yes. Unfortunately, when people start touting the idea of living in a colorblind society, color begins to disappear in ways that are problematic. Goff brings up the point that; “Often people pride themselves on being color blind…and often when people use that language what ends up happening is the color disappears, from the equation, from the conversation, from the room.”
As Goff expresses; “We shouldn’t have to not see each others color, we should be able to see each others color and not have that be a problem.”