Deeper Than Rap: The Black Influence on All of American Music

Considering the past 30 years, it is safe to say that hip-hop has taken over as the dominant musical genre of expressing African-American views. R&B and soul music also carry on the tradition, with a wide range of artists dedicated to keeping the old school feeling of rhythm & blues alive. That being said, it is easy to forget how much African Americans have influenced other genres, such as rock ‘n roll, country and others, since there are so few well known artists of color in those genres today. The Black influence on American music is greatly underappreciated, and for Black Music Month, it should be brought to light just how much African-Americans have contributed.

When we look at and listen to rock stars today, we tend to see slim, white guys with ripped jeans and long hair, wailing barely audible lyrics over a thrashing guitar riff. It may not be everyone’s taste, but it does have its place, and can be a very lively and fun experience. With artists varying from The Beatles to Bruce Springsteen, from Nirvana to Marilyn Mansion, we rarely see the link to Black folks within the context of modern rock. But as many know, the so called “King of Rock ‘N Roll” Elvis Presley owes a great deal to the life of several Black artists, namely Chuck Berry, who for many is the real King of Rock. Artists such as Berry, Ike Turner and Little Richard were producing the kind of music Elvis, The Rolling Stones and other rock heavyweights mimicked for years to come. It indeed grew and changed from its original incarnation as it spread throughout the country and around the world, but the southern black roots of rock ‘n roll cannot be denied.

Similarly, today’s country music today is associated with white southerners equipped with a cowboy hat and an acoustic guitar. Yes, there are many folk artists that were indeed white and helped in the development of what country has become, but it should also be made clear that country has strong roots in blues music, especially in the storytelling/lyrical aspect of things. As the legendary Etta James once said, “The blues and country are cousins,” and that is easy to believe when you listen to a masterful artist such as Ray Charles who navigated through several genres seamlessly, and whose music greatly influenced how country grew and developed throughout the years.

African-Americans have left their mark on every form of American music, so why is it so difficult for us to expand beyond hip-hop and R&B in today’s cultural landscape, when we had such a hand in other genres those many years ago? One answer could simply be the expectations and limitations we place on ourselves. At every major awards show focused on African-Americans, is there ever a best country category? Best Rock? Best Electronica? No, there isn’t. Why? It isn’t because there aren’t any Black people who fit the category, it’s because we tend to limit our thinking to what the majority deems successful, instead of acknowledging our full selves as artists. In today’s music industry, there could be a possible shift in this mentality. With the melding of multiple genres, it feels as if all races could get away with doing whatever kind of music they choose. A white, female rapper? Sure. A Black guy from the projects doing house music? Why not? We’ve come too far to limit ourselves, and it’s about time we embrace all of what the arts have to offer, especially when our people worked so hard to build it.

– Jessica Bennett

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Jessica Bennett is a freelance music journalist who also goes by “Compton” and “Soulfullyreal.” All three of them are Hip Hop Heads with a column entitled “Welcome to Compton”. For daily musings, check her out at @soulfullyreal.

 

3 Comments

  1. Elvis Ain't Got No Soul says:

    So enlightening to learn that we are basically American Music! If the slaves hadnt been freed, what would music sound like today?

  2. Rachel says:

    As long as we’re discussing black contributions to music, house was created in Chicago in the early 80s and techno was created in Detroit in the mid to late 80’s- by african americans.

  3. You can’t tell me that the music being made today by by our black music artist is rhythm and blues,soul, or funk music. Today’s black music artist have gone pop. As in creating ”popular”music that will be bought by non black consumers. It is all about selling albums in today’s music world. You have Pharrelle making hits for white music artist. You have talented female artist like Beyonce and Rihanna doing collaborations with artist like Lady Gaga and Shakira. Even hip hop is not immune,Nelly doing songs with country music artist? Of course. Lionel Richie taking his classic songs and remaking them with a country flavor to them? Yes he is. And now you have white music artist like Robin Thicke and Justin Timberlake dominating the black music charts. When i want to listen to REAL black music i just put in a R&B cd from the 70’s or 80’s.

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