"WHITEWASH THE SHOW" (YEAH, MORE ON RAP AND RACE. DEAL WITH IT.)
too black for blacks?
I'm a week late but last week's Village Voice was on a similar topic to recent posts I've had regarding racial trends in the consumption of hip-hop? In the Voice cover story, Bakari Kitwana writes on the phenomenon of majority white audiences for the most explicit pro-Black rappers. This has been something that many of us have noticed throughout the years - around my haunts, it's a running joke that Hiero shows are all Black on stage, all White in the audience but Bakari is one of the first folks I've seen really try to get at the question of: WTF is going on?
A few points to highlight/riff off of in Bakari's piece:
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- 1) He tackles the whole "who buys hip-hop" statistic that I highlighted from his book the other week. I noticed that he did not discuss the recent
Wall St. Journal article which looks at the same question and as it randomly was - Bakari called me up today so I asked him if he had read the Wall St. Journal article, and if so, his thoughts on it. To quickly paraphrase, he thought the information presented in the article still seemed far from definitive and was based on too small of a sample size to really be conclusive. (He also thought it seemed very strange that the column practically seems to parrot his book yet makes no mention of it - a "coincidence" not lost on him).
2) Small detail but I keep hearing different opinions about this: is Brother Ali an albino White guy? Or an albino Black guy?
3) "Although to date there's been no attempt to track concert demographic data, fans, promoters, and independent MCs who play live more than half the year give estimates of 85 to 95 percent." This conforms to my personal experiences, hanging out in clubs around the Bay when "conscious" artists are playing, as well as anecdotes that rappers like Mr. Lif have passed along too.
4) According to Wendy Day: ""Unless it's legitimized by the Black community, these kids are not buying a damn thing other than what their friends of color are listening to."
I'm partially feeling that but apparently, Day hasn't studied Aesop Rock or Slug very closely since, if she had, she'd realize that there are very successful (relatively speaking) rappers who have never had much of a Black fan base. The idea that you need Black consumers to some how "legitimize" an artist, while true in many cases, is quickly changing in other parts of the country (*cough cough* Minnesota).
5) Back to Bakari: "After 15 years of gangstas and bling, perhaps hip-hop's Black audience has been so inundated with material garbage that they don't want an uplifting message? Zion, who believes the withering Black audience reflects the diminishing discussion of Blackness in public discourse, thinks so. "I do so many shows in front of mostly white audiences that it's the norm," says Zion. "When I get in front of a Black audience it's like, 'Finally you're here, feel me.' We've done shows in Chicago and São Paulo, Brazil, and it feels good to be in front of our people when they are feeling it. But there are some thugged-out crowds where our message doesn't resonate, and Black folks will say that they aren't trying to hear hip-hop artists remind them of their problems."
This is one of the few times where something even smacking of a theory gets advanced and if I have one critique of the essay, it's that I never got a sense of what explains this phenom. And believe me, it's not like I have a better idea going either. There something depressing in suggesting that Black youth are either drawn to ignorance more than music that deals in hard truths (the escapist theory) or else, they only take what's given them through the marketplace and if that means the lowest common denominator kind of hip-hop, that's what it is (the sheep theory). I find both dissatisfying because it treats Black youth consumer habits almost pathologically but like I just said, I don't have a brilliant counter-argument to offer either.
5) One more grounded explanation that I've heard offered up - which makes quite a bit of sense to me - is that many Black youth are getting priced out of hip-hop shows given escalating concert costs. That's something that could probably be correlated through some basic research on ticket price changes over the last 10-15 years. Anecdotally, I know that many of the larger shows around town - at say, the Fillmore or Warfield - are definitely not that cheap and even smaller shows at places like the Independent will set you back $15-20, easily.
6) And I'm going to go back to another idea raised during the Cody's panel from the other week: rap acts that have a majority White audience are seen as inauthentic by Black youth. There's definitely some chicken/egg confusion going on here: does a Black rapper have to gain White fans first and then get de-legitimized by Black consumers? Or is it more that, for whatever reason, when Black youth choose not to support certain artists, White youth are there to fill the vacuum?