Commodification of Black Music

By: Kassandra Grullon

Black music emerged in the United States as a direct result of slavery. As enslaved Africans were brought over to the United States, so were their culture, traditions, and music . The institution of slavery aided in the development of African American music we know today. During the era of Slavery, African American music became a vehicle of freedom and expression. It was used as an outlet for slaves to express the Black experiences and struggle in America. Such incidents are still seen in much of the music created by black musicians post-slavery. Much of the points made In Black music and genres have the themes of trauma and oppression embedded in them.

Black music quickly captured the attention of white audiences and musicians. Though whites were fascinated with the contagious music and culture of the African American, they were more interested in exploiting the talents of Blacks and exploring what financial gains they were able to capitalize from them. Record companies turned down many Black musicians, but white musicians sought to remake their music for credit.


The commodification of Black music can be seen from its very inception, with Scott Joplin, through the era of Rock and Roll and even modern-day hip-hop. Blacks made the music while whites got the credit. This became the norm for Black musicians throughout musical history.

 

The first instance of the commodification of black music was seen through negro Spirituals. As they began to be heard more and more outside of the plantation, it captured the attention of white audiences. In 1867, a collection of Negro Spirituals were published. The collection was very successful amongst the Black community and white audiences. As a result, groups such as the Fisk Jubilee singers emerged. Whites saw a financial opportunity and started to invest in black music to make a profit.

The commodification of Black music was also seen through the genre of Ragtime. Scott Joplin, a Ragtime musician, sold his sheet music to white producers. He attempted to further his musical career without much monetary success, so selling his music was the only option.

Rock N' Roll & Hip - Hop

The same sentiments were reflected through the genre of Rock and Roll. Rock and Roll was influenced largely by the black genre of the Blues. Artists like Chuck Berry were Rock and Roll pioneers. He drew the music blueprint for what the World knows as Rock and Roll, but received no recognition. Instead,white artists like Elvis Presley received recognition for copying the sound and music of Chuck Berry.

As we move forward into the modern genre of Hip -Hop the commodification of Black music continues. Although it isn’t as blatant, there is still large commodification of the genre. Today  Rap music has become a primary distributor in capitalist production and consumption. Contemporary discourse on rap recognizes rap’s dependence on the dominant culture of capitalist production and consumerism. Corporate control over hip-hop translates to controlling hip-hop’s image and voice through dictating its production, marketing and distribution. The social hierarchy and structure that produced the oppression of black and minorities (the white supremacist capitalist patriarchy) seem to have control over minorities, with white-dominated mainstream media being its primary market and consumer. It is the white supremacist institutes that are profiting off of rap artists as chief controllers.

Secondly, there is an issue of commodifying black rage and violence. This has jeopardized and stereotyped the authentic image of hip-hop culture and the black members affiliated with it. It has been embedded with critical discourse and misconceptions that rap artists and their consumers support materialism, gun violence, and drug abuse.

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