In celebration of Black History Month, we explore the struggles black artists and musicians have faced in the past when it comes to fitting in and finding their voice within the music industry. Recognition should be given to artists for their musical talent and expertise, regardless of race, but not everyone has always viewed it that way.
At the 2016 Grammys, Kendrick Lamar’s incredible ‘To Pimp A Butterfly’ was overlooked in favour of Taylor Swift’s ‘1989’ for the Album of the Year gong. However, Lamar did go on to win various other rap-focused awards: Best Rap Album, Best Rap Song, Best Rap Performance, Best Rap/Sung Collaboration. What is notable, though, to point out is that the biggest awards (Album, Record and Song of the Year) were ones that some argue he wrongfully missed out on receiving.
Lamar’s fans took to Twitter in the aftermath of the awards ceremony to vent their anger and frustration at his awards snub. One user commented “It’s totally OK we overlooked the most racially significant record in decades because we have Pitbull closing the show!” (sic).
In cases like these, we have to look to the likes of Taylor Swift and co who currently run the show and dictate popular trends within the music industry, with their slices of pop perfection and every move ideally placed to aid them in the current consumerist climate. Swift doesn’t deliberately shut black artists out of the business, although it could be seen as difficult to make themselves heard when age-old racism still exists in the entertainment to an extent.
The issue of favouring white music in the industry crops up time and time again and is also a problem prevalent in British music awards. In this year’s Brit award nominations, the list was arguably overwhelmingly white and it seems as if critics are struggling to acknowledge black artists at awards ceremonies, on both sides of the Atlantic.
Beyonce’s latest single ‘Formation’ serves as a form of black protest music and has recently received the mainstream attention that many would argue it deserves. Denying black artists the right to make their voices heard and receive recognition for their talents is a social injustice. They are musicians as equal and talented as the likes of Taylor and Ed Sheeran and it is time the music industry steered towards equality and celebrated them.
Black artist, Omar is signed to the label Freestyle. His manager, Greg Boraman spoke out about black artists remaining on the sidelines of the music industry. “It does seem that black soul music artists are often engaged in an uphill struggle to compete with the current crop of white-major label soul-influenced, but firmly pop based artists.
“Whilst I don’t doubt the sincerity of those artists’ love of soul music, the industry, especially mainstream radio, seems institutionally uncomfortable with music that’s more soul than pop.”
It should be originality and popularity that makes an artist stand out and reap the recognition, rather than ethnicity. Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye were also artists that faced this issue in the past and now there’s a new line-up of modern day artists seeing history repeat itself.
It’s not all doom and gloom, things are starting to change for the better and with the work of Beyoncé, Kanye West and similar artists making themselves heard and standing up for black artists in the music industry, it won’t be long before they’re no longer ruled out of awards nominations.
The change is inevitable anyway. The public grow angrier and angrier each time black artists are snubbed at awards ceremonies and if the music industry continues to fail to acknowledge the artists then this will massively highlight the racial issues that are being swept under the rug.
It’s time for critics to stop turning a blind eye to the talent black artists are producing. They should be acknowledged in record sales, streaming figures and awards nominations. Let’s measure them equally with their white counterparts and see a change in who scoops the awards on the night.
Grime artists are paving the way forward but there’s still so much more to be done. Maybe next year will be the year Kendrick Lamar wins big – fingers crossed.