Written by Justin Lamar | @itsjustinlamar | COSIGN MUSIC
June 29th has approached us and the masses are waiting what Aubrey “Drake” Graham is going to bless us with on his new album, Scorpion. While many are waiting on a response to the circus around his personal life thanks to Pusha T, quite a few are waiting to hear what messages or sounds he’s “borrowed”. While Drake has been under fire about ghostwriting rumors, Drake has also been challenged alongside other artists for trying to ride the wave with other cultural sounds. Yes, we’re talking cultural appropriation, and with the unpopular opinion: CULTURAL APPROPRIATION IS NOT IN OUR MUSIC.
Let’s start with the root in what it means to “appropriate”. A base definition to “appropriate” is to set aside for a particular person or use or take/claim as an exclusive right. Appropriation has drawn a thin, yet visible line between culture and music. Culturally speaking, appropriation exists considering much of black and other minority culture attempts to keep what identity they do have, yet dominate white society often infiltrates with little punishment other than backlash. This is common when you see dominate white society assimilating other cultures into their fashion and body imagery into their dominate world, but the minorities who naturally possess the features and cultures are shunned from entering the same dominate spaces. Musically, this does not happen or at least, does not happen enough.
Comparing several artists shows the inconsistencies with the “Appropriation Protection Agency” has when challenging the borrowing of cultures. Let’s compare Drake and Bruno Mars. Drake has borrowed the cultural music styles of many genres in his projects. Drake’s transitions as an artist shifted him from lyrics over the J Dilla backpack sound, the mellow tones of Screwston, TX, the melodies of Europop, and the vibes of the Caribbean. Drake has brought on several artists from all these genres/waves and made platinum hits. Little to no backlash. Bruno Mars has a similar case reviving the New Jack and Funk sounds with his hit album 24K Magic. Although Bruno Mars has backlash for being what many call a “karaoke singer”, not much of his backlash comes from the hits he makes.
Now let’s compare Tori Kelly and Taylor Swift. Tori Kelly’s early career started on YouTube with her covers on popular songs from Beyoncé to Lauryn Hill. Much of Tori’s talent is able to twist these sounds acoustically and add her own sound which has turned her into the sensation she is now. Then there’s Taylor Swift. Poor Taylor is constantly on the chopping block with her cultural swiping, but fairly recently destroyed the cookout classic September by Earth, Wind and Fire. Instantly, Taylor was challenged by the culture she allegedly is “paying homage” to. Taylor served up the raisin potato salad and our soul brothers and sisters were not having it. So why all the backlash for Taylor and hardly any for the rest? Their songs are actually good and this is how fickle the culture can be. If you’re going to call shenanigans on one and not contest the others, then you can’t continue to argue about the cultural appropriation of music.
We’re in a new era now. Hip-hop music is now pop music. The sounds of black artists and genres sell across the board and several artists are showing how it’s done. Hip-hop culture, a culture that’s fairly new, is one of the most influential genres now. As exclusive as the culture’s roots tried to be, hip-hop includes EVERYONE now. However, the culture isn’t stolen. The culture and influence will forever be in the hands of those who are the roots. However, the money and power from exploitation won’t be. The appropriation is not in the artists and their music, but on a bigger scale, the record labels behind squeezing every dollar, master and right of the music created without giving any of it back to the musical culture that brings it all together. Don’t be mad at the culture being shared because that’s what culture is for. Be mad at the exploitation of money and power from a musical culture still not reaping the full benefits to continue to grow the roots from where it came.