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What is Black Music III: An observation, an interview, and a chance for hope

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"...seeing a black guy onstage playing guitar and fronting a band won't be this crazy thing. History always repeats itself. Rock 'n' roll started out with black people. I'm just trying to steal it back." - Ralph Darden aka DJ Major Taylor

Today, Jeremiah Wright is back in the news again. This time he is explaining the culture of black churches to the mainstream and that America truly doesn't understand the culture and traditions of the black church. It seems that all the mainstream knows about the black church is nothing but singing and dancing. They don't see the true complexity of the culture. People see a Youtube clip a 1000 times and they come to a conclusion that the whole culture is like that.

This also applies to black music. I wrote about this a while back in posts called "What is Black Music" and "What is Black Music Part Deux". Even in music, black culture is perceived as one dimensional in mainstream as just R&B and Hip Hop. I bring this up because of the forthcoming release from Santogold, a black woman who created an album which is definitely not one dimensional and it would definitely not be considered black music to the mainstream. Her album covers the African Diaspora from Hip Hop to Rock to Reggae; however, mainstream America and even mainstream Black culture would not see it as such. Santogold does not fit the "stereotypical" black female artist like the Beyonce's and the Rhianna's, but she is still part of black culture just as much as these artists are. Santogold's album is getting so much critical praise from everywhere, but my concern is will it crossover to the mainstream radio and culture...

I honestly do not see rock stations playing her music nor do I see hip hop & r&b stations playing her music even though her music would fit nicely on both those stations. Let's say this was a Gwen Stefani release, I bet you not only mainstream radio will play it, she would win Grammys for it. This is no different than a comparison between Amy Winehouse and Sharon Jones who both use the same band the Dap-Kings, but Sharon Jones has been doing it longer and better. Apparently what Amy Winehouse did was more "original" and widely accepted. The question is why. I am not dissing the Amy Winehouse record. I liked it a lot. I just find it kind of "funny". Would this happen to Santogold? Only time will tell.

Some people might say if she gets "mainstream" love, she will not be the same or she sold out. I don't see that. I see an opportunity for change in the music industry especially when it comes to black culture. Imagine hearing a Santogold record on Hot 97 in NYC or V100 in Milwaukee. People will get to see that Black music is not limited to just Hip Hop & R&B. Don't get me wrong, I am a hip hop head, but I love rock just as much. Does that make me less black or some outcast? To some in this country, I am still a n*gger and it does not matter what I listen to. I see this release from Santogold as a turning point for music in this country.

I do see some hope. The Rock the Bells Tour which is the premiere Hip Hop festival has booked Santogold and other artists that do not fit the stereotypical hip hop sound. Even Kanye West shows love for her and apparently Kanye West's fans agree.

I got a chance to talked to Ralph Darden aka DJ Major Taylor who is also the front man for the rock band the Jai Alai Savant who performed at the one year anniversary of Spaced Out at Moct in Milwaukee a few months back. We discuss these same issues which I love to share with you and would love to hear your opinions.


Listen to this interview with DJ Major Taylor from Chicago Public Radio


Darden has a third identity too, one that's been foisted on him out in the real world: the black punk guy. Or worse: the other black punk guy. White hipsters have mistaken him countless times for Kyp Malone from TV on the Radio or ?uestlove from the Roots. (Last summer at Intonation a girl asked him if he was Gnarls Barkley.) Usually Darden responds by explaining patiently what's so messed up about the assumption that any black guy you see in an indie-rock context must be one of the five you've heard of. As Major Taylor, he's introduced a lot of white kids to black club music, and as Ralph Darden, he's trying to reintroduce them to the idea of a black rock musician -- a task that's turning out to be the tougher of the two."

Videos of the complexity and three dimensions of Ralph Darden