To clarify, the music industry’s mass homogenisation of a particular genre does not, mean the culture honouring that genre is dying. Anyone who says otherwise is doing thousands of lesser known but equally talented artists from those genres a disservice. The affect of the former simply means that you have to look a lot further afield than Capital Xtra or 1Xtra to discover a truer interpretation of the latter and the artists/DJs that better represent it.
Take my (somewhat) recent piece about the current state of Grime as an example. I said at the time that if certain people want to see its mainstream flame stay alight then they have to carry the torch themselves. Some artists are in a more powerful position than others and it isn’t a stretch to include one or two ‘real’ portrayals of the genre on their albums. As a commercial force Grime is clearly on a downward spiral and as much as I can’t help but dance to the music it’s former poster children are putting out there, we all know that those same tunes are nowhere near the heart of what its true fans hold dear.
But judging by some of the pieces I have been catching up on recently one would think that any form of music defined by Black culture has ceased to exist. To a novice much of it was reading as if radio is the be all and end all but to that end the people writing the features are about 5 or 6 years too late with their perspective and unforgivably failed to acknowledge the digital revolution or the resultant upward curve in new underground movements. Which is more than a little ironic seeing as they were using online media to state their cases.
Mainstream music is cyclical. There is always a fad ‘on its way out’ or a ‘next big thing’ on the horizon and a label executives job (ably assisted by his subordinates) is to take advantage of those sequences, making lots of money in the process. It has always worked that way (Elvis, The Beatles) but rose tinted glass syndrome is very hard to cure. It amazes me that there are those supposedly ‘in the know’ who expect someone’s whose job it is to turn a profit to act with any other intention.
Yes it is wrong that history is rife with evidence of Music Of Black Origin being turned into a commercial juggernaut by using artists of a more acceptable complexion. Yes it is wrong that much heralded longstanding DJs have been unceremoniously put out to pasture. Yes it is wrong that superior exponents of the arts are routinely hitting the same glass ceiling that their inferior counterparts are given the magic words (mass market acceptability) to bypass. But since when does that mean the death knell for any genre?
I for one almost bought into the ‘Hip Hop Is Dead’ mantra with gusto and commercially I still think that, to an extent, it holds true. But for some unfathomable reason, it didn’t dawn on me until later on that I was listening to folk like Little Brother, Blu, Skyzoo, Hocus Pocus, SonnyJim, Black Milk Freddie Foxx and People Under The Stairs (i could easily sunstitute those names for thousands of others) while subscribing to this notion. Anyone who knows their Hip Hop also knows that while the MCs/producers in that list (and others like them) are still doing their thing, Hip Hop music, the way that we know it, isn’t going anywhere.
Apart from Pop, which by definition is based on what is deemed ‘popular’ at the time, the same reasoning can be applied to any genre you deem worthy (yes even Garage and 2-Step). I’ve lost count of the amount of lesser known club nights that cater for even the rarest of acquired tastes. Okay so I am lucky enough to live in a city (London) able to cater for such proclivities but this is 2014. We thrive in a world where movements can be maintained without the protagonists residing in the same country or speaking the same language and as long as the modern world has access to a laptop, tablet or smart phone, those movements will always have traction.
Mainstream radio is an important factor but has not been a ‘bastion of cool’ for quite some time. It jumps on trends set elsewhere and its core listening base are thee most fickle fans of an ever more fickle industry. Those of you that know the true dimensions of your chosen genre have outgrown most of what radio has to offer. For those that aren’t yet fully initiated, don’t let others dictate what you take from the music you listen to. Expand your aural horizons. Seek and Ye shall find that your choice of music, in its most literal form, with reference to its culture, definitely isn’t dead.