What is the state of Black music today? According to the music experts The Atlanta Voice polled, it is a very simple but complex question.

But no matter how you slice it, dice it, flip it or define it, music executives and historians say today’s Black popular music is in great shape. And thanks to hip-hop, Black music remains the most dominant musical culture force in the world.

For musician and historian Mausiki Scales, to question the state of Black music requires one to define what Black music is.

“Black music to me is like a sacred river…the black ethos,” Scales explained. “I think that black music – from the work song to the field song to the early jazz and blues – continues to serve its purpose despite the judgment that we might put on it.”

In celebration of Black Music Month, which is recognized every June, Henry Beecher Hicks, president of the National Museum of African-American Music (NMAAM), issued the first State of Black Music Address on a radio station in Nashville, where the museum will open in 2019.

“Black music is America’s music,” Hicks said. “It crosses boundaries of culture and race and geography, bringing us together in moments of joy, celebration, challenge and contemplation. Black music is, in a word, transcendent, and it may be that the state of Black music is stronger than ever.”

“For the first time in the history of Nielsen Music measurement, hip-hop/R&B claimed the largest share of overall volume sales as the top genre in American music,” Hicks said. “It is hard to believe, but in the span of one generation, rap has come to define the sound of popular music.”

No one knows more about the impact of Black American music on world culture than Jamal Ahmad, a popular announcer on WCLK-FM 91.9 FM in Atlanta and a member of the musical group The Dangerfeel Newbies.

“I just came from St. Lucia, and the young kids there are walking around looking like they came from Atlanta. So, Atlanta, in particular, has a huge hold (musically) on the globe,” said Ahmad, who also hosts a syndicated radio show.

Currently, it is trap music — a subgenre of hip-hop — that has a stronghold on the music charts. Originated in Atlanta, the style — or rather, the identification of the style — was first introduced to the mainstream 15 years ago by rapper T. I. with his second studio album, “Trap Muzik.”

T.I.’s effort was followed by artists Gucci Mane, Jeezy and Waka Flocka Flame.

Its origins go even further back to the mid-1990s, where several rappers became known for their lyrics that centered on life in “the trap,” referring to drug dealing in poverty-stricken neighborhoods in the South.

One of the first acknowledged examples is UGK’s “Pocket Full of Stones,” a song from their debut album “Too Hard to Swallow,” which was also featured on the soundtrack to the Hughes brothers’ critically acclaimed “Menace II Society,” a film largely centered on drug dealing.

As David Drake wrote for Complex, “the trap in the early 2000’s wasn’t a genre, it was a real place,” and the term was later adopted to describe the “music made about that place.”

Now, in what seems to be trap music’s third wave, the sound is all over the radio and the nightclubs with Atlanta trio Migos, and other Atlanta-based talents — Future, Lil Yachty, 2 Chainz, Young Thug and 21 Savage — dominating the charts.

The Atlanta Voice caught up with T.I. at The Gathering Spot while the artist was making the rounds for a small role in the new Marvel Studios film, “Ant-Man and the Wasp” and a new BET reality show titled, “The Grand Hustle.”  

“I always see music being in the best position, and at the same time, the worst position,” T.I. said. “The best position in that music has evolved to a place that has benefits that were not available to generations prior.

“The worst state is that it has become far too easy or accessible, and that could endanger it if the artists and gatekeepers do not monitor it properly. I think right now, technology is kind of hurting music,” he continued. “Technology has made it so that anybody can do it. You can’t sing? Autotune. Even people who can sing are autotuning. That’s dangerous territory.”

Music author and publicist Tamiko Hope makes it clear that she is a fan of the music of the 90s, so don’t expect her to be giddy over trap music. The internet has certainly played a huge role in artists getting their music heard all over the world.

“You also have a plethora of outlets that can connect you directly with artists and their music,” Hope said. “You can tap in and discover new talent on the internet and I think that’s progress for the artists in regards to gaining exposure and expression because they don’t have to engage with the middle-man or major label machine to be heard.”

“There are artists that you will never hear of or see on any mainstream channels, but sell out arenas because they’ve been able to foster a fan base via the internet,” she added. “I think with the digital access, Black music in America will remain influential and continue to be important in setting trends nationally and globally.”

Always with his ear to the airwaves, Ahmad said he wonders what will be the next genre of Black music that will take the world by storm.

“We are kind of at the end of a particular wave with the trap thing,” Ahmad said. “Where are we going after that, I don’t know. What I do see is different cultures taking a hold of it, redefining it and feeding it back to us.

“Case in point: when the Europeans back in the 1980s with Loose Ends, Brand New Heavies and Soul II Soul were feeding us back soul music when soul music was kind of on the skids in America,” he continued. “So I think it’s very healthy globally; we are still seeing kids from around the world showing love to Black styles that are American.”

Ken Rye, CEO and creator of the popular Hot Ice Live music series hosted at the City Winery, said he regularly gets feedback about the state of Black music from a wide variety of musicians.

“There is a lot of music out here from different generations and different nationalities,” Rye said. “There is an incredible amount of music out here. There is a great faction of younger artists who are creating, and we have to figure out a way to find them and support them.”

Music producer Zaytoven certainly feels the state of Black music is in great shape. He has helped to shape the beats that have propelled Black music to the top of the charts.

“I think the state of Black music in America is in a good place even though I know many people disagree,” he said. “As you all may remember earlier in the year, hip-hop became the most popular music genre, beating out rock music. That says to me that we’re really controlling the sound and dictating trends outside of just music. To me that’s huge and that influence is everywhere.”

Allen Johnston has over 35 years in the music business as a promoter, label executive, consultant, manager, etc. He is rather optimistic about the state of Black music.

“Black music in America is alive, well and growing,” Johnston said. “The creative ability of musicians seems to increase with each new generation.  The only problem would be the increasing commercial gatekeepers and their inability to listen, enjoy and pass on new musical ideas to the hungry public.   

People of color do not control the mass media, so we cannot make business decisions that allow the public to hear truly creative Black music,” he continued. “Now, music has been categorized based on retaining listeners to hear revenue generating commercials and corporate-based formats that have nothing to do with education, spirituality or medicinal purposes.”

 

 

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