Are white artists really taking over rap and R&B or are we just acting like narrow-minded paranoids? Back in May, the Billboard Music Awards awarded Justin Timberlake as best R&B artist, Eminem as best rapper, Robin Thicke with best R&B song, and Macklemore for best rap song. There were no Black winners. Just look at who dominates Rock & Roll, Blues, and Jazz today. Is history repeating itself?
The truth is, white artists have been part of the R&B and Hip Hop landscape for a long time. Acts like Teena Marie, the Doobie Brothers, the Average White Band, and Hall & Oates are often referred to as blue-eyed soul singers. The legendary 60′s musicians from Muscle Shoals, Alabama were behind some of the greatest R&B songs of all times. In Hip Hop, some of the world’s most loved rap songs were created by white artists including Planet Rock co-produced by Arthur Baker and Keith LeBlanc, T-La Rock and LL Cool J’s early work with Rick Rubin, the Beastie Boys iconic first album, and a number of Golden Age classics from Rakim, Ultramagnetic MC’s, Organized Konfusion, and Main Source produced by Paul C (RIP). While questions regarding rap and R&B’s white takeover have been raised over the last few decades, for the most part, these white artists have been judged on their talents and creative output.
It wasn’t until Vanilla Ice came into the picture that the idea of rap’s misappropriation became a “major” issue in the world of Hip Hop. However, his color wasn’t as big of a problem as him being a fraud was. And the real culprit wasn’t even Vanilla Ice, who was too naive and inexperienced to understand how he was being manipulated; it was the music industry who pumped millions into making Mr. Robert Van Winkle the king of rap. Their investment proved successful as rap’s Elvis became a multi-platinum selling artist. Years later, he realized how he had been played and distanced himself from his former rap alter-ego.
Although the Iggys, Mileys, and Riff Raffs of the world are definite examples of cultural misappropriation, there are many talented white rappers and singers like R.A. The Rugged Man
who, although lesser known than a Robin Thicke or Macklemore, are generally accepted for their art. With watered-down rap and R&B appealing to pop culture sensibilities, or teenage white girls who make up the majority of the buying public, the issue now is more about how the music industry positions these white commercial artists to become the new face of Hip Hop and R&B
. Twelve year old Katelynn from middle America’s suburbs doesn’t know anything about cultural appropriation or the long history of the exploitation of Black artists. She just thinks Justin Bieber is cute and likes to dance to his music in front of the mirror. The industry knows this and profits from Katelynn and her peers, not Hip Hop and R&B purists. And in the meantime, publications like the NY Daily News celebrate
the rise of white rappers like it’s all good.
Although the music industry should be held accountable for its part in lowering the standards for quality R&B and rap and allowing subpar artists to become superstars, let’s not forget the co-signers and easily-impressed consumers who give mediocre artists a pass. I remember watching Amateur Night on Showtime at the Apollo and being upset whenever a white artist with average talent received a standing ovation while better or equally talented Black artists garnered a lukewarm response. Just because a white artist can “kinda” rap or sing doesn’t make them special.
I’m no fan of Robin, JT, or Macklemore. However, I won’t deny the fact that they are no doubt talented in their own rights. My problem is with the cornballs performing the latest minstrel show who couldn’t care less about their role in the whitewashing of rap and R&B. Let’s stop allowing generic artists to become stars just because they’re white and can carry a half-ass tune. Novelty acts need to stick to karaoke night at their local bars, not redefine an entire genre.