From Marvin to Minaj:<br />
The State of Black Pop

From Marvin to Minaj:
The State of Black Pop

Cultural Critics Greg Tate, Mark Anthony Neal and Nicole Fleetwood talk sexuality, substance and 'selling out'

by Souleo, June 11, 2012

From Marvin to Minaj:<br />
The State of Black Pop

is it still valid to continue examining Black pop?

some of the traditional music genres and also experimental genres that are emerging. I think you have those genres happening more on the local scenes since they are not receiving the kind of support that they need from the industry. So I think in many ways more and more people are feeling alienated from the commercial music scene because it is becoming more formulaic and conservative.

EBONY: One way that the industry supported independent artists in those genres was with the Urban/Alternative category at the Grammy Awards. That category has since been cancelled. What does this mean for independent artists making music that isn’t pop?

MAN: The Grammy Awards really don’t matter. They’re industry awards and they tend to tribute industry favorites from major labels. Black artists have never needed that kind of affirmation in order to reach their audiences. They’ve only ever needed that type of affirmation to crossover into larger audiences.  I think the desire to crossover now is very different than what it looked like for Berry Gordy in the 1960’s when crossing over was about validating Black musical culture in certain kinds of ways. I don’t think these generations of artists are pressured with that validation project the way previous artists were.

EBONY: With that statement we can turn our attention to some of today’s controversial pop stars such as Nicki Minaj. She has received backlash for being too “pop.” Are people wrong for being mad at her and accusing her of that?

NF: I think people compare today’s Black musicians with the kind of training and skill set of earlier Black musicians who have especially got their training in the church, went through rigorous training and performed in front of multiple audiences before they emerged on a more national scene. I think people look at Nicki Minaj and Rihanna as not having the same credibility and training that’s part of the emergence of Black musicians. But I would never call them sellouts. It’s like well what are they selling out to? I think that’s a very limited way of looking at their success.

GT: I think it’s interesting because I have friends of the hip-hop generation and they just hate the idea of Nicki Minaj. There’s nothing they like about her. They’re just not impressed and I think that’s genuine. I wouldn’t consider it backlash. It’s just critiquing because these are the same people who didn’t like Nicki Minaj before she blew up. I think it’s the nature of the beast that you’ll attract negative criticism for anybody who becomes extremely successful in American life. That’s based on people just getting sick of a certain artist being shoved down their face and overexposure. At the end of the day, the critics aren’t slowing her down. She clearly has more lovers than haters in her camp, which is why she’s a pop phenomenon.

EBONY: Do you think there is a double standard for a woman like Nicki Minaj crossing over into the pop market as opposed to a male?

NF: I want to refer to James Baldwin with the burden of representation that’s put on Black celebrities. I think that burden is even more intense for Black female celebrities to represent a certain respectability or kind of modesty. Black pop stars like Nicki Minaj and Rihanna are quite sexually explicit with their videos, fashion sensibility and lyrics. I think it’s really an in-your-face type of performance that especially an older generation is very uncomfortable with. For example, in Nicki Minaj’s song “Stupid Hoe,” she uses all of this kind of tired language of talking trash about Black women. I think people in the public are uncomfortable with that kind of dance.

EBONY: So who is really mad at today’s Black pop when it seems to sell so well? Is the backlash coming from special interest groups, communities or is it all a construct of the media?

NF: We can say there are some communities of music listeners and urban communities where hardcore fans of certain music traditions see them as becoming way too popular or too over saturated. So I think in that way it would be coming from the ground but at the same time I think their [pop star] handlers as well as media producers like to generate controversy. Everyone benefits from that controversy because there is more consumption of media.

EBONY: For those communities that are angry at the state of Black pop it bears noting that White artists also get backlash for going “pop.” But do you find with Black artists there is a greater intensity in the resentment? Historically we’ve had so much stolen from our culture so does that fear add heat to the fire of our backlash?

MAN: Yeah, I say that’s a historical narrative. It’s the Elvis effect that we’ll create music and some White artist will come

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