IN THIS PHOTO: Dave/PHOTO CREDIT: Press/Getty Images
Why Dave’s New Anthem Deserves Greater Respect and Should Open Our Eyes to the Way Race Is Viewed in This Country
I have not long finished a piece on sexism in Metal...
PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
music and I am now thinking about race and how people view black artists in this country. One would not expect an artist discussing race and black identity in music to create a stir…but that is what has happened. Dave is one of the most promising newcomers and rising stars in music – a fantastic Rap artist with terrific flows, sharp lyrics and instantly recognisable songs. His latest song, Black, is one of his finest and, as the title suggests, is about racial identity and a very personal story. There are a lot of wonderful black British artists but how often we hear them talk about race and identity? This is not their fault: there is a general uncomfortableness regarding race and a black artist telling their story. Genres like Hip-Hop are almost defined by black artists telling their truths and casting a spotlight on society – for the most part, these are American artists. We have Grime in this country – where a lot of artists write about their experiences – but are we fully comfortable and accepting of artists such as Dave talking about black Britishness? There has been a lot of discussion after Annie Mac played Black on her show and it was met with a lot of negative responses on social media. I can only imagine what the worst responses were but, at the end of the day, why would anyone have an issue with a rapper honestly talking about their experiences and race? It is almost like attacking a female artist for highlighting female empowerment and the fact there is inequality in the world.
I was shocked by the reaction and wonder whether the current political climate has led to this. I am not suggesting the country has become racist and intolerant because of Brexit delays and the fact we are all divided and fractious right now. I do believe that some of the political embarrassment and heat that is surrounding us is impacting the way we think about certain types of artists. Dave himself has not responded to the backlash and negativity – keeping it classy and his head above the water in this respect – but Annie Mac was baffled by the reaction Black drew. NME reported the news and how the situation unfolded:
“Earlier today, Mac revealed that the song had received backlash from listeners who were “offended by the idea of a man talking about the colour of his skin and how it has shaped his identity.”
“It’s a real issue that a song so intelligent, so thought provoking so excellently put together can actually offend you,” wrote Mac on Twitter.
Now, the Radio 1 stalwart has elaborated on her original comments – and told NME why the criticism is being lead by fear.
“People are scared of the word black and the word, they seem reluctant to have conversations around it. People are feeling on the defensive and act like it’s not necessary to talk about it any more,” she explained.
“I find that really depressing and an absolute justification for that song. It’s so important that the song exists and it’s only when you see the texts and tweets coming in that you realise how important it is and how much work needs to be done in this country for racial equality”.
IN THIS PHOTO: D.J. Annie Mac/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
Greg James talked about the song on his show and was keen to point out that is should not only be down to black artists/people to talk about race. The more people that are adding to the discussion and raising awareness the better. It is a very odd time we live in where there are such obvious divides and problems such as racism and sexism continue to burn and cause huge problems. Dave actually visited Annie Mac to play the song and talk about his upbringing. He wrote Black as a sort of way of getting something out of his system; talking about his experiences and how he was affected. It is nobody’s business, black, Asian or white, to have any problem with an artist’s song or have a negative view. If they are a woman talking about their struggle or a black man discussing his story then why would this garner any bad reception? It is as Annie Mac says: maybe we are afraid of the word ‘black’ and it being brought into music. This is a great time for black British talent. It is coming more into the mainstream right now: from fantastic artists headlining Glastonbury and getting their voices heard to brave playwrights shaping minds and opening up debates. I feel there is an underlying nervousness and reservation in this country regarding race but one cannot ignore the fact British culture and art is crucial and long-overdue. Again, it is not the artists themselves delaying the process but the rest of us.
Dave’s upcoming album, Pyschodrama, will be much-celebrated and anticipated and I cannot wait to hear it. We have a long way to go regarding pushing black artists more into the mainstream. There are entire genres – like Country and Metal – where there extremely few black artists and even the Pop mainstream is largely white. Look at Rock and Alternative scenes and how many black faces does one see? It is not the case black artists gravitate to other genres. They see genres which are hugely white and fear their voices will not be heard. There is not a great deal of positive enforcement happening and genres like Rap, Hip-Hop and Grime provide black British artists the chance to speak and be open – this is not good enough and we need to open barriers in other genres and encourage integration, understanding and evolution. Maybe music is ahead of other areas of the media when it comes to progression and equality. Back in the 1990s, there were more shows that showed black faces and were assimilated in to the mainstream. Now, how many comedies, dramas and other formats do we see that have black faces at their centre? Dave’s Black – and its subsequent reaction – has, on the one hand, illuminated a feeling that we have a long way to go regarding black artists in this country but, on the other hand, it will open debate and get people talking.
In this article from Noisey by Charlene Prempeh, the role of Black Britishness in popular culture was examined; how far we have come and what needs to be done. In her article, Prempeh (and her contributors) raised an issue regarding the racial makeup of those who make decisions in the music industry:
“…Yomi, of Slay in Your Lane, puts this stuttering progress down to a lack of black people in decision-making positions. “The reason that these things go out in and out of fashion is because white people still—just as ten years ago and ten years before that—get to decide when black people’s stories are allowed to be told, and when they matter. It’s important to have black people in roles that are high enough to systemically change an organization.” That means doing more than paying lip service”.
“We’ll need some fundamental changes to properly integrate black creatives in our cultural institutions. There has been some improvement in music. Genres that were once ghettoized as “urban” (whatever that’s supposed to mean today) now form the backbone of pop, and are given room to grow at labels like Sony’s Since ‘93 imprint, founded by Glyn Aikins and Riki Bleau. In journalism, the numbers look pretty dire. Black Journalists Collective UK (BJCUK), a group of more than 100 journalists, wrote to UK editors in December 2018 asking that they grow diversity among their staff in order to improve their reporting of race issues and subjects...
PHOTO CREDIT: @rawpixel/Unsplash
They highlighted 2015 research by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism that found only 0.2 percent of British journalists are black. Joseph 'JP' Patterson, of Complex UK and founder of youth culture magazine Trench, is also acutely aware of black underrepresentation, pointing to the the small number of black music editors and staff writers. “When it comes to commissioning, we always strive to include young black writers,” he says. “Because there’s such a lack, it’s important for us to take that on our shoulders”.
We do need to look at areas like journalism and people who can make decisions in music (and other disciplines). I still think there is a long way to go still regarding music and actual equality. It is great we have artists like Dave and his peers telling their stories and bringing their experiences to the people. I do think most of us are unaware about the realities for black artist and the black popular in the U.K. I look at music and feel there is still a divide and segregation that needs to be tackled. There are genres and entire swathes of the industry where there are very few black faces. It is almost seen as a novelty when we hear a black artist getting attention and that needs to stop. Why should an artist like Dave or newcomers such as Little Simz not be able to talk about their lives and be able to do so in a very honest and unapologetic way?
The anger and confusion felt by D.J.s such as Annie Mac and Greg James - Clara Amfo was also miffed by the negative response – is understandable and I think, at the very least, we need to have these discussion and ask why there seems to be this unease regarding black Britishness. Artists should not have to suffer tokenism: black Britishness needs to be part of the musical lexicon and each of us needs to be more conscientious. It all comes back to the current climate and whether, as a nation, we are too divided and strained. I cannot directly link the endless Brexit drama to a lack of understanding but it is a perfect time for all of us to open our eyes and minds; become more engaged with subjects such as black artists in music and accepting their voices. It is not the case that everyone needs to re-examine their heads and be more understanding but there is a clear problem. In Black, Dave addressed black society and covers subjects like random killings, child armies and hate in the community. Songs like this are educating and illuminating and should not be met with a sense of refusal and the negative. It is as Dave says...
PHOTO CREDIT: @clar_san/Unsplash
“LOOK, black is beautiful, black is excellent”.