People are scared of black music. We should admit it. We all feel a certain way when we hear black music. I think we should know why, though, or at least try to take a stab at it. In this post I'll define black music and offer thoughts on why it makes us nervous.
Black music is probably most noticeable in two forms - gospel and rap. Or what some will call, Hip-Hop. You know when you hear gospel music - it's loud, there's a lot of drum, there is clapping and a ton of vibrato. Rap is also unmistakable. It's often hard to understand, fast and the notion is that whatever they are rapping about is not positive or uplifting. What's interesting, though, is that you can't really tell if the artist is white or black in rap music. We just assume its black music if its rap music, right?
For the record, I'll state the obvious. Black artists make all kinds of music. There is everything from bluegrass to funk, country to heavy metal - we do it all. Limiting a people or a genre is never a good idea. But for the purpose of this post, we will define black music as hip-hop, rap and R&B because when we see the top of the charts in those categories, most of the artists are indeed black right now.
Black music is scary to different people for different reasons. Depending on where I am, I can be scared of black music or it can get me really hype. If I've spent a long day at the office, or even a long day with my kids, one of my favorite things to do is to get in the car, turn on 'black' music and play it really loudly. It gets me in a party mood; it can even relax me. If I'm outside of my house and a car drives by playing music with bass so loud that I can feel it in my chest, I'm not really scared of that either. It just reminds me of sitting in the backseat of my big brother's car. He wasn't a bad guy and the music was nothing to be afraid of.
However, if I am in a space and the music that is playing is talking about violence in a pretty hardcore manner, I get anxious. I know that music is powerful and influential; I know that it can pretty quickly manage behaviors. So, when I hear lyrics saying anything like 'shots fired,' I'm looking for exit signs. That tells me that I am scared of lyrics that seem dangerous, but not black music. For people that are not familiar with all black music though, it may all sound the same. And for that reason, yes, it would be scary.
There is some validity in all fear. And there is some gangster rap (not SFW) within black music - we're all scared of that. Some black music seems really aggressive, almost angry. No one wants to be greeted by an aggressive person. I think what's important to remember is that not everyone is the same. Not all songs, all lyrics, all artists are the same. If there's one thing we know about artists is that they believe in the uniqueness of their work. So, it's not fair to them to categorize. How would a gospel/inspirational rap artist (like this local guy) feel if you clenched your purse when their music was playing?
There's a Lady Antebellum song called Need You Now that always makes me smile. The chorus says "it's a quarter after one, I'm a little drunk and I need you now." I smile because she says it so innocently. Now, take those same lyrics and give them to a black rap artist. Can you hear it? "It's a quarter after one, I'm drunk and I need you..." There's an unfair difference.
So, here's the thing. There is something about some parts of black music that make all of us nervous. It could be because the artist is black, simply. It could be because of the lyrics in the music. It could be the situation we find ourselves in when we're listening. Some rap music is about social change and responsibility. Some R&B is about empowering women. It's not all the same. We're not all the same. So maybe listen a little closer next time.