Wed, 7 July 2010
Hip-Hop and the “Anti-Blackness Antagonism”
by BAR columnist Jared A Ball, Ph.D.
“Only two corporations own minimally 80%, and usually upwards of 95%, of all the songs making the top 20 spins list on radio.”
In our recent discussion with author Frank Wilderson about his new book Red, White & Black: Cinema and the Structure of U.S. Antagonism he described a situation where a rabid philosophy of “Anti-Blackness” demands that the nation’s popular culture depict Black people as “non-human.” Not for mere material gain, as many suggest. It is beyond that. James Baldwin described this by saying that “I exist so that you can know that you are alive,” or, “when a White man calls me nigger I ask why he needs me to be one.” This is why Wilderson chooses the philosophical description of “antagonism” which means a permanency that cannot be dealt with using our current set of tools. This is not an issue of legislation, or some failing of an otherwise perfect democracy to be corrected by a vote. Wilderson is asking us think beyond the current world which has defined Blackness, permanently, as the slave, the “non-human,” whose presence can only be to serve and define the presence of others. We are, as Malcolm X said, “America’s problem.” But not simply as an issue of economic exploitation, or as Wilderson says, “a threat to some aspects of the world. We are a threat to the cohesion of the world itself.” And this is why he says antagonisms have no “conceptual resolution” in the way that conflicts do. And this is also why Frantz Fanon, quoting Aime Cesaire said that we must “begin to destroy the world.”
Wilderson’s examples include popular films such as Monster’s Ball and Antwone Fisher. But hip-hop and R&B lovers need not wait for the more intermittent film industry to see Wilderson’s points in action. Each week, and with a volume and popularity unmatched even by film, popular rap music becomes a bludgeon in the hands of this philosophy of “Anti-Blackness.” And were we to do Wilderson’s point justice more of us would highlight with more regularity the fact that the portrayal of Blackness in popular culture is not about making money, it is not simply a business decision and it is certainly not because it is what we want.
“Popular rap music becomes a bludgeon in the hands of this philosophy of ‘Anti-Blackness.’”
Any given week only two corporations, Universal Music Group and Sony Music, own minimally 80%, and usually upwards of 95%, of all the songs making the top 20 spins list on radio. Through ownership and selective promotion via payment to radio stations these companies assure that their songs, and only their songs, are played as many as 20-40,000 times per song, per month. This means a UMG or Sony Music song is playing on commercial radio every minute of every hour of every single solitary day. This means no time for news and certainly no time for other songs. Look up the lyrics of any of these songs and the function they play is clear. This week’s most played song is by Sony artist Usher with lyrics that are only about a woman droppin it and poppin it on a dance floor. It was played 6859 times last week alone. And, again, this is not about money.
Reviewing the annual reports of these companies shows that in 2009 while Universal Music Group my be the largest music company in the world it accounted for only 14% of its parent company’s total revenues. The second largest, Sony Music, only accounted for 6% of the overall sales for Sony Corporation. And by the way, the third largest music company, Warner Music Group, is run by three private equity groups who, combined, manage funds of well over $110 billion. They don’t need popular culture for money. They need it to protect their sense of self and the just nature of their exploitation.
This is why we don’t see different kinds of films being promoted and why rap albums that have a different content are never on the radio. Mos Def has been in films that have grossed hundreds of millions of dollars around the world. But he is never on the radio. Common also has a budding movie career and has been an “Artist of the Year” award recipient but he too is rarely on the radio. It has nothing to do with quality of the art or what an audience is clamoring for. Audiences want what is promoted.Dead Prez has a new album out, and its free. But it also has songs calling for radical political organization and that encourage rappers to study “Malcolm, Garvey, Huey…” and, therefore, will never be on the radio. Not because people don’t want to hear it or won’t buy it but because culture truly in the hands of the enslaved means more Malcolms, Garveys, Hueys and Harriets, Assatas and Claudias. It means an end to the world as we know it and an end to the world as it is known to those espousing a prevailing “non-human… Anti-Blackness.”
Jared Ball can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org