Thursday, August 30, 2007
Is someone going to give this draft-dodging chickenhawk some serious crss-hair time? Please? This fool crapped & peed in his pants ...stayed in it for several days and then showed up when he was drafted into the military. Why? So they would just let him go home...Now he's a gun-toting, war loving bigot posing as a washed-up rocker.
The World According to Ted Nugent
Quotes and Stories from Ted's Writings and Interviews
ON OTHER PEOPLE
"My being there (South Africa) isn't going to affect any political structure. Besides, apartheid isn't that cut-and-dry. All men are not created equal." - Detroit Free Press Magazine , July 15, 1990
(About Haiti) "We should put razor wire around our borders and give the finger to any piece of shit who wants to come here." - Westword Newspaper , Denver, Colorado, July 27, 1994
"[Ted Nugent's] conversations are peppered with the word nigger. He refers to his upcoming tour of Japan the Jap Whack Tour." - Detroit Free Press Magazine , July 15, 1990
"...Yeah, we want to go to Saudi Arabia, man, and see if we can't get a four iron and knock people's laundry off the top of their heads. Wear laundry on your head and die, is the basic theme of the Damn Yankees ... (The Damn Yankees was Ted's band in the '90s)" - WRIF-FM, Detroit, Ted Nugent as guest D.J., September 25, 1990
"... And in my mind, I'm going why can't I just shoot this guy in the spine right now; shoot him in the spine, explain the facts of life to him... [Ted referring to an encounter with a Hare Krishna]" - WRIF-FM, Detroit, Ted Nugent as guest D.J., September 28, 1990
"About national health care: The government must stay out of my life. If there are weenies who are in the liability column of our nation, tough shit." - Westword Newspaper , Denver, Colorado, July 27, 1994
"... Yeah they love me (in Japan) - they're still assholes. These people they don't know what life is. I don't have a following, they need me; they don't like me they need me ... Foreigners are assholes; foreigners are scum; I don't like 'em; I don't want 'em in this country; I don't want 'em selling me doughnuts; I don't want 'em pumping my gas; I don't want 'em downwind of my life-OK? So anyhow-and I'm dead serious ..." - WRIF-FM, Detroit, Ted Nugent as guest D.J., November 19, 1992
"Anybody that doesn't think it is better to blow someones brains out than to be raped, deserves to be raped! If you don't think your life is worth it then please go out there, don't wear any underpants and get RAPED!! Cuz you deserve it ..." - WRIF-FM, Detroit, Ted Nugent as guest D.J., September 23, 1991
"When other guys were getting high, I would grab a couple babes, go squirrel hunting and see just how mini mini-skirts could get." - Detroit Free Press Magazine , July 15, 1990
"... I met a couple of guys in line yesterday and they say write something to my girlfriend, she won't let me go hunting. I wrote her something, I wrote Drop dead bitch. What good is she, trade her in, get a Dalmatian, who needs her, the wench." - WRIF-FM, Detroit, Ted Nugent as guest D.J., September 25, 1991
About Hillary Clinton: "You probably can't use the term 'toxic cunt' in your magazine, but that's what she is. Her very existence insults the spirit of individualism in this country. This bitch is nothing but a two-bit whore for Fidel Castro." - Westword Newspaper , Denver, Colorado, July 27, 1994
And if you're a woman who feels that his lyrics to ditties such as the immortal 'Wang Dang Sweet Poontang' are sexist, Nugent says, 'Fuck you and go to a Garth Brooks show. Kiss my dog's dead, diseased, rotting ass. If you don't have a sense of humor, you're not allowed in Ted's world. I don't objectify women. I'd like to think that I'm optimizing their hardware.' - Westword Newspaper , Denver, Colorado, July 27, 1994
Ted Nugent has forked over $75,000 ... paying the price for shooting off his mouth ... Interviewed in late '92 on WRIF-FM ... he referred to Heidi Prescott (of The Fund for Animals) as a 'worhtless whore' and a 'shallow slut' and suggested 'Who needs to club a seal, when you could club Heidi?' Detroit Free Press , April 5, 1995
ON LAW AND ORDER
"I have a brain and I work that brain and it works and it knows the difference between right and wrong and it's got a thread of common sense. And that it's not Ted's opinion. It is how it is ... we're just working hard, playing hard and anybody that wants to get in our way does not deserve anything less than a bullet between the eyes ..." - WRIF-FM, Detroit, Ted Nugent as guest D.J., September 23, 1991
ON DRUG USE
"... Rock and roll, the great outdoors and short skirts is what makes Ted Nugent tick...the reason that Ted Nugent kicks major ass is because I've never done drugs. I've never touched chemicals. I've never drank. I've never touched tobacco." - WRIF-FM, Detroit, Ted Nugent as guest D.J., September 26, 1991
"I smoked 50 joints in the '60s and snorted two lines of coke once in Detroit." - People Weekly , Feb. 28, 1977
ON MILITARY SERVICE
He claims that 30 days before his draft board physical, he stopped all forms of personal hygiene. The last 10 days, he ingested nothing but Vienna sausages and Pepsi; and a week before his physical, he stopped using bathrooms altogether, virtually living inside pants caked with his own excrement, stained by his urine. That spectacle won Nugent a deferment, he says. "... but if I would have gone over there, I'd have been killed, or I'd have killed, or I'd killed all the hippies in the foxholes...I would have killed everybody." - Detroit Free Press Magazine , July 15, 1990
HUNTING AND HUNTING ETHIC
..."unethical," says Mr. Caires, who was angered after he took Nugent out on a hunt in April. "He shoots at anything," Mr. Cairnes claims. "You should kill what you can use. He just likes to kill a lot of animals." (Cairnes is a hunting guide who takes people out to stab wild pigs in Hawaii) - The Wall Street Journal, July 25, 1995, 'Why Sit on the Beach When You Could Stab a Wild Pig?
"... First thing I slayed...I was nine years old. It was a squirrel, these ladies were feeding it, you know, and I said, 'excuse me, bam.' No it wasn't a pet squirrel. I had it stuffed and petted it for years after that." - WRIF-FM, Detroit, Ted Nugent as guest D.J., September 26, 1991
Whacking is a term Nugent uses to describe what he does to his prey with bow and arrow. Whack 'em and stack 'em,' he says. - Detroit Free Press Magazine , July 15, 1990
Participants pay the Renegade Ranch (a fenced in, 300-acre canned hunting recreation area) for the animals they kill - anywhere from $500 for a wild boar to $5,500 for a six-point elk. Nugent tacks on a $250 fee for serving as celebrity guide. - Detroit Free Press Magazine , July 15, 1990
"I don't hunt for sport, I don't hunt for recreation, I don't hunt for meat, I hunt to hunt ..." - Detroit Free Press , p. 12D, April 17, 1989
Ted Nugent's Down to Earth, promises raw, unedited footage of America's no. 1 rock 'n' roll bowhunter as he whacks 'em and stacks 'em. Nor was it hyperbole. In the first 10 minutes, viewers got bird's-eye of broadheads fatally piercing such fearsome creatures as an armadillo, a squirrel perched in a tree, some pigs and a goat. 'I love that part,' said the glinty-eyed Nugent after running death scenes in sequence. 'Let's see it again.' And the appalling whack 'em and stack 'em compendium ran all over in slow-motion replay. - The Washington Post , Recreation Section, September 23, 1990
Nobody hunts just to put meat on the table because it's too expensive, time consuming and extremely inconsistent. - Ted Nugent's World Bowhunters Magazine, Volume 1/ Number 3, March/April 1990, p.7
"On my first bowhunt on the property a few years back, I was on my own for twenty-two days and killed an amazing thirty-three head of big game. I'm surprised I even came home. I was in heaven." - Ted Nugent's World Bowhunters Magazine, Volume 1/ Number 3, March/April 1990, p.15
"... My deer were put here on the earth. God even said, 'Hey Ted, whack 'em.' He said this, right in the bible, Genesis, 'Dear Ted, whack me a buck ...'" - WRIF-FM, Detroit, Ted Nugent as guest D.J., Sept. 24, 1991
"I contribute to the dead of winter and the moans of silence, blood trails are music to my ears ... I'm a gut pile addict ... The pig didn't know I was there ... it's my kick ... I love shafting animals ... it's rock 'n' roll power." - Ted Nugent's World Bowhunters Magazine, Volume 1/Number 4, May 1990, p.12
ON SKULL PAINTING
"The first thing I do is be sure to cut the entire head off the animal I wish to bleach and/or paint Most butchers saw the skull plate off at the base of the antlers, thus eliminating the major skull section that we desire. Since I butcher most of my own deer and big game, I take special pride in the personal handling of all the precious by-products of my kills. I cut the head off at the base of the skull and begin the meticulous task of skinning and fleshing the entire skull down to the minimal meat and bare bone. I will actually scrape the remaining flesh from the skull bone with the edge of my knife blade, but stop short of taking any actual skull material. ... Hunt on. Kill on. Eat on. Paint on. Live on."
Sunday, August 26, 2007
This pastor/pimp is a disgrace and needs to be slapped every ten minutes.
Check out this letter that Creflo wrote to his sheeple.
When a nation is on the brink of war, the worst thing its citizens can do is allow themselves to become divided. The Bible says that there is a time for war and a time for peace (Ecclesiastes 3:8). In fact, Jesus said that in the last days there would be wars and rumors of wars (Matthew 24:6). When this country was attacked on September 11, 2001, there was a fierce public outcry. America wanted her enemies to pay. Now, two years later, those same Americans are protesting the war against terrorism.
President Bush is worthy of your prayers and support. He is a man who rises early every morning to seek God and His wisdom through prayer and the study of the Word. This is not the time for Christians to picket, carry protest signs or throw their opinions around. The election is over, and the man in the Oval Office is the one we, as Americans, voted in. Numbers 32:7-13 makes it clear how God feels about a nation divided during a time of war.
This country needs unity, and it begins with the church. It is your responsibility as a believer to pray for the president, others in leadership, this nation, the men and women serving in the Armed Forces and our enemies--whoever they may be. Forget about your political affiliation or preference. You are first and foremost a Christian.
Begin by making these confessions:
* In the name of Jesus, I declare that I will not allow any corrupt communication to proceed out of my mouth concerning President Bush or others in leadership (Ephesians 4:29).
* I declare that he is a man of wisdom, and he is strengthened and guided by the Holy Spirit. I wholeheartedly support the decisions he makes for this country (1 Timothy 2:1-2).
* I lift up every man and woman serving in the Armed Forces. I declare that they walk in favor, wisdom and safety and that their lives are redeemed from destruction (Psalm 91:7; Psalm 103:1-6).
If you have taken part in any protests or have allowed any corrupt communication to flow out of your mouth concerning the president, repent and begin to show your support for him by calling his name out before God. Pray for wisdom and wise counsel regarding the decisions he must make for this nation. Obey what the Word says in 1 Timothy 1-2 and 1 Peter 2:13 and: 1) continue to pray for those in authority over you; and 2) submit to that established authority. In doing so, you honor God, our president and thousands of service members. When the temptation comes to murmur or complain, rejoice that there is a man in the White House who walks and talks with God daily. Remember, united we stand, divided we fall (Matthew 12:25)!
—Dr. Creflo A. Dollar
© 2000-2007 Creflo Dollar Ministries. All Rights Reserved.
Thursday, August 23, 2007
In Bush we trust - or else
By John Diaz
It doesn’t require a subpoena of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales or a brave whistle-blower to find President Bush’s latest affront to the U.S. Constitution. It’s in plain view on the White House Web site: “Executive Order: Blocking Property of Certain Persons Who Threaten Stabilization Efforts in Iraq.”
This far-reaching order of July 17 may be Bush’s most brazen defiance of the Constitution, which is no small feat for an administration that thinks it can set its own rules on electronic surveillance, torture, kidnapping, rendition, and the designation of “enemy combatants” who can be arrested on U.S. soil and held indefinitely without judicial review. This one is a frontal assault on the Fifth Amendment, which decrees that the government cannot seize an individual’s property without due process.
Under Bush’s executive order, the U.S. government has endowed itself with the authority to freeze the American assets of anyone who directly or indirectly assists someone who poses “a significant risk” of committing a violent act that has the purpose or effect of threatening the Iraqi government, the “peace and stability” of the country or the reconstruction effort.
The White House has claimed the order is targeted at people or groups that are helping the insurgents, particularly in Syria or Iran, but the language of the order is far broader than its stated intent.
The order’s liberal use of the word “or” and inclusion of the highly subjective term “significant risk” are particularly troubling in the hands of a White House that has suggested that domestic war critics are emboldening U.S. enemies in Iraq.
“On its face, this is the greatest encroachment on civil liberties since the internment of Japanese Americans in World War II,” said Bruce Fein, a constitutional lawyer who was a deputy attorney general in the Reagan administration and author of an article of impeachment against President Bill Clinton.
Fein said the sanctions against suspected violators would amount to “a financial death penalty.” The executive order not only calls for the freezing of assets of anyone who directly or indirectly aids our enemies in Iraq, it prohibits anyone else from providing “funds, goods or services” to a blacklisted individual. In other words, a friend or relative could have his or her assets seized for trying to help someone whose bank account is suddenly frozen. An attorney who offered legal help could risk of losing everything he or she owned.
Then again, there’s not much need for lawyers in the world of this executive order. The blacklist would be drawn up by the “secretary of treasury, in consultation with the secretary of state and the secretary of defense.”
The targets of the property seizures, even American citizens, would not be given any advance notice or opportunity to challenge the government’s action in court. The American Civil Liberties Union has noted that an order this sweeping could encompass “entirely innocent” activities such as an donations to humanitarian relief groups that indirectly provide what the U.S. government decides is “material support” to supporters of the insurgency.
“This order could have a serious chilling effect on charitable contributions intended to ease the suffering in Iraq,” said Michael German, ACLU national security counsel.
The Fifth Amendment was written for good reason: It’s dangerous to give the government unchecked authority to seize private property without judicial review. Our founding fathers knew that people in power were not always going to be reasonable or ethical - or competent.
One need look no further than the Transportation Security Administration’s “watch list” - which subjects passengers from a secret list to additional security screening - to see the margin of error. I know: I was among the many thousands of Americans who ended up on the TSA watch list for no apparent reason. I recently made a flight without being flagged for extra scrutiny, but I have no way of knowing whether I was lifted from the list or slipped through the cracks. The government refuses to say who might be on the list - or why.
Fein, who was in San Francisco last week, said latest executive order on Iraq continues a Bush administration pattern of “sneering contempt for the Constitution” that is unmatched in U.S. history. “These precedents, if unchallenged, lie around like loaded weapons,” Fein said. He reminds his fellow conservatives that Republicans will not occupy the White House forever.
“King George III,” observed Fein, “really would have been jealous of this power.”
The framers of our Constitution, however, would be appalled.
John Diaz is The Chronicle’s editorial page editor. You can e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can hear one of his interviews with Bruce Fein at www.sfgate.com/ZNG.
By Sandra Kobrin
Football superstar Michael Vick is in big trouble for his role in a dog fighting ring. Sandra Kobrin agrees he's in the wrong, but wonders at the outrage deficit when it comes to the guys who beat their wives and girlfriends and stay in the game.
National Football League superstar Michael Vick is in trouble, serious trouble. Federal prosecutors charged the Atlanta Falcons' quarterback with animal abuse for his role as the alleged leader of a dog-fighting ring and, after denying it for months, Vick pleaded guilty on Monday. He faces stiff sentencing.
He's in big trouble with the NFL too, which has said he might never play professionally again. According to Gene Upshaw, executive director of the NFL's Player Association, "the practice of dog-fighting is offensive and completely unacceptable."
I just wish the NFL had the same outrage toward spousal abuse and other forms of domestic violence. But they don't. Not by a long shot.
Scores of NFL players as well as players from the National Basketball Association and Major League Baseball have been convicted of domestic abuse, yet they play on with no fear of losing their careers. Most pay small fines, if that, and are back on the field immediately.
The message is clear. Beat a woman? Play on. Beat a dog? You're gone.
What could possibly account for this bizarre situation?
Part of it is that it's the dog days of August--the notoriously silly season for news--so the Vick story has attracted tremendous press attention. But it's been all over TV as well during the past four months, since Vick's indictment in April.
Animal Lobby Attacks
The anti-animal abuse lobby, meanwhile, is going after Vick with all four paws.
PETA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which received almost $30 million in contributions last year, according to its Web site, and other animal rights organizations are demanding a boycott of companies that continue to sponsor Vick and are bombarding the NFL with letters demanding a no-tolerance policy when it comes to cruelty to animals by football players.
On blogs, the outrage continues on sackvick.net and other sites, with comments like "lets give #7, 7 to life," or "lets make Michael Vick into dog food."
A cottage industry of anti-Vick merchandise is out there. You can buy a chew toy for your dog in with a likeness of Vick, a "hang Vick" hat or even an eye-for-eye justice T-shirt that says "Stick Vick in the Pit."
Vick has already lost most of his sponsorship deals worth millions of dollars and he deserves to lose a whole lot more.
But the disproportionate punishment of Vick--while athletes who commit violence against women are let off the hook--has to be wondered at.
Might it be that domestic violence and spousal abuse is so pervasive in sports that it's simply too costly for leagues to suspend so many men? What would happen after all if those poor dear teams couldn't fill their rosters?
Numbers Are Astounding
The number of athletes arrested for domestic violence or spousal abuse is astounding.
A three-year study published in 1995 by researchers at Northwestern University found that while male student-athletes are 3 percent of the population, they represent 19 percent of sexual assault perpetrators and 35 percent of domestic violence perpetrators.
There are even Web site chronicles that treat the steady stream of offenders as if it were a joke. Check out badjocks.com or playersbehavingbadly.com. Maybe then again, don't. It's enough to make you sick.
Roger Goodell, the new NFL commissioner, has made it his mandate to crack down on athletes who misbehave.
In April Goodell introduced a new conduct policy that stiffens penalties and holds franchises responsible when their players get into trouble.
Just recently Goodell suspended the Tennessee Titans' troubled player Adam "Pacman" Jones for the 2007 season.
Jones had been arrested five times since he was drafted by the NFL in 2005 and has been involved in 11 separate police investigations. Most recently, during what amounted to a brawl at a strip club, he grabbed a stripper and banged her head into the ground. He will not be paid during his suspension and must apply for reinstatement.
Spousal Abuse Gets a Pass
But no one has been suspended in the NFL for spouse abuse or domestic violence, even though they've been arrested and convicted.
The NFL Players Association's Upshaw said in a statement: "We believe the criminal conduct to which Mr. Vick has pled guilty today cannot be condoned under any circumstances."
I say the NFL's indifference to the acts of domestic violence by other players cannot be condoned under any circumstances.
Major League Baseball, meanwhile, isn't any better in punishing spousal abusers.
Last summer Philadelphia Phillies' pitcher Brett Myers assaulted his wife on a public Boston street and was charged with assault and battery. Major League Baseball did not penalize him, shrugging it off as an off-field incident. Are they saying a player needs to abuse his spouse during a game to get sanctioned? If so, just how does that work?
Don't expect anything better from the National Basketball Association.
Jason Kidd of the NBA's New Jersey Nets pleaded guilty to spousal abuse in 2001.
Was he punished by the NBA? No.
The Sacramento Kings' Ron Artest was suspended last season for 72 games for fighting in the stands. In March he was arrested for domestic violence. For that he got what amounted to a hand slap; an immediate two-game suspension and a $600 fine for a player who makes several million a year.
Artest pled no contest to the domestic violence charge and was sentenced 100 hours of community service, a 10-day work project and mandated extensive counseling. The NBA did nothing here too. Maybe if he had committed the transgression on national TV--as with the fan brawl--more would have happened.
Maybe if he'd hurt a dog he would have been benched for the season.
Sandra Kobrin is a Los Angeles writer and columnist.
Wednesday, August 08, 2007
Rhythm and Bullshit?: The Slow Decline of R&B, Part One: Rhythm & Business, Cultural Imperialism and the Harvard Report
by Mark Anthony Neal
Yeah, I'm nostalgic: When Mary J. Blige first uttered the opening lines to "You Remind Me," it was about making sure that hip-hop remembered that R&B came from the same streets where crackheads roamed and the same tenement vestibules where drama went down on the regular. But as I listen to Mario's "Let Me Love You" for the 727th time, it is perhaps easy to suggest that R&B has lost its Soul, or that Clear Channel, Radio One (luv ya, Cathy!), AOL-Time Warner and Viacom -- a neo-plantation cabal if ever there was one -- ripped its heart out. Hip-hop may have sold out, but at least it has sold out on its own terms. R&B, on the other hand, has sold out on somebody else's, on a pop-chart paper chase. Truth be told, U(r)sher was nothing more than a soon-past-his-peak R&B singer before John Smith laced him with some crunk junk; Ray J could have sang the hook on "Yeah" and topped the pop charts. And now, 10 million units later, we want to act like Mr. Raymond is the second coming of Michael Jackson? I ain't willing to grant him the second coming of Bobby Brown. And it is not like we even knew Mr. Legend (in his own mind) and Ms. Queen of Crunk n' B were in the room, until some hip-hop act sanctioned their presence. But what ails contemporary R&B is not just a matter of the commercial success of John Legend -- and Amerie and Ciara and Mario. The current state of R&B comes not from a sudden decline, but a process more than 30 years in the making.
Does the soulless sound of contemporary R&B really have its roots in a controversial Harvard study from 1972, an alleged blueprint for the corporate theft of black culture's heritage? Or was it all Clive Davis's idea? The first of a three-part examination of how R&B became big business on the way to becoming irrelevant.
This story begins in 1972, when a few enterprising master's students at the Harvard Business School prepared a study, commissioned by one of Columbia's execs, detailing how the Columbia Records Group could better integrate the then largely independent black music industry into the mix. The now infamous Harvard Report -- officially known as "A Study of the Soul Music Environment" -- has often been referred to as a sinister blueprint aimed at arming a litany of "culture bandits" with the theoretical tools to return black culture to a neo-colonial state. There's no denying that this is exactly the situation we're staring at now, but it has nothing to do with the Harvard Report. What those MBA students articulated was a no-brainer marketing plan, informed by the commercial success of Motown and the cynical (though not mistaken) view that the Civil Rights "revolution" likely had more to do with the realities that black folk had disposable income and white folk consumed a hell of a lot of black popular culture than anything to do with real structural change in American society. In response to those expecting more sinister designs in the Harvard Report, David Sanjek rhetorically chimes, "why did feel the need to document what they should have already known?" (Rhythm and Business, 62). What Sanjek suggests is that eventually somebody in the music industry would have come up with their own version of the Harvard Report -- say, Clive Davis, who incidentally was a president at Columbia at the time that the report was commissioned. The point is, with or without the Harvard Report, the takeover was well underway.
Black music has always had a complicated relationship with big business. That this relationship has typically had little to do with actual music perhaps explains the often unbalanced quality of this thing we've come to call R&B. This complicated relationship also partly explains what exactly R&B is. The term R&B is essentially a shortened version of "Rhythm & Blues", but as a novice might discern, that which is called R&B bears little resemblance to the musical landscape created by Ruth Brown, Louis Jordan, Laverne Baker, Charles Brown and the Coasters. And perhaps that was the point. Musical innovations aside, R&B was essentially a marketing ploy that finally gained a significant foothold during the late 1970s. R&B was born out of competing logics -- record companies tried to negotiate the realities of black culture and identity within the history of race relations in America while trying at the same time to reach a wider audience of black consumers and white record buyers. As black radio needed mainstream advertisers to court the emerging black middle class (as much an ideology as a measurement of economic and social status) and mainstream record labels became fixated on crossing over black artists to white consumers, terms like Soul and Rhythm and Blues quickly became too black. The same terminology turnover occurred during the late 1970s when urban began to stand for radio stations that essentially programmed black music. As Nelson George explains, "Urban was supposedly a multicolored programming style tuned to the rhythms of America's crossfertilized big cities…. But more often, urban was black radio in disguise." (The Death of Rhythm and Blues, 159).
According to the "Harvard Report" black radio was strategically important to record companies because it provided "access to large and growing record buying public, namely, the Black consumer." The report is oblivious to the fact that the very birth of what was called "race music" in the 1930s was premised on selling goods and services to a uniquely defined audience, namely African-Americans constrained by Jim Crow segregation-an audience that might even buy a record or two, in the process of buying furniture, cleaning supplies and an insurance policy. Nevertheless, the report is cognizant of the growth of an emerging black middle class, one that would prove attractive not just to record companies but also advertisers eager to fuel black desires to consume the fetishes of a post-Civil Rights world. In the aftermath of centuries of struggle, exploitation and violence, some members of the black middle class often viewed their ability to consume widely throughout mainstream society as an emblem of the "freedoms" won during the Civil Rights struggle.
To get a sense of what this urbane blackness would look and feel like, think of the immensely popular early 1980s Colt 45 commercials featuring Billy Dee Williams. Twenty years later, no one really blinked an eye when poet Sonia Sanchez and Eric Benet used "smooth" R&B to hawk for an automobile maker. As R&B began to be viewed as the quintessence of upscale blackness, the more gritter aspects of black popular music --that which was, as Houston Baker Jr. describes it, "too blackly public" (as in embarrassing, like black folk eating watermelon in public) -- began to disappear from the program list of some urban radio outlets in the late 1970s. So-called Southern Soul -- the ZZ Hills, Denise LaSalles and Betty Wrights of the world -- was an example of the kind of music that vanished from urban radio. Though Southern Soul didn't disappear -- labels like Malaco and Ichiban continue to promote Southern Soul artists to this day -- the more bluesier aspects of its sound and its references to black southern culture were the very antithesis of the post-Civil Rights worldviews of many African-Americans. The popped-over P-Funk of Rick James -- one of the best selling black artists at the beginning of the post-Soul era --was emblematic of the brave new world of R&B. The challenge for record labels at this point was to come up with product to feed the R&B machine.
The Harvard Report was adamant that the Columbia Records Group should not attempt to purchase any of the prominent Soul labels (Motown, Atlantic, Stax) or poach from them any of their established artists. (CRG eventually purchased Stax, but only after the label was in serious decline.) What the report did advise was that CRG cultivate relationships with small independent labels, as was the case when CRG began a relationship with Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff. The product was Philadelphia International Records (PIR), and the impact of this groundbreaking relationship continues to reverberate 33 years later. As some critics -- notably John A. Jackson in A House on Fire: The Rise and Fall of Philadelphia Soul -- have observed, many of the Harvard Report's suggestions were already in play at Columbia, and the relationship with PIR is one such example. This brings us back to Clive Davis, the point-person on both the PIR and Stax deals. Dismissed from Columbia is 1973 for financial irregularities (some have linked his dismissal to our jumble word for the day: alopya), Davis had nonetheless instigated the distribution and creative-resource relationship with PIR that would become the defining model for relationships between large corporate labels and black music, making Davis himself arguably the most prominent figure in the story of R&B.
The language that the Harvard Report uses to describe the value of indie Soul labels is undisputable: "These small independents could provide a source of product, in the form of 'hot masters;' talent which could have national potential; experienced personnel…in the areas of promotion and production; and serve as a source of captive independent producers." Davis has claimed that he never read the Harvard Report, though it's clear that he would have been one of key figures that the authors of the report would have interviewed, and Davis may well have provided them with substantive info regarding the importance of indie labels. Regardless of the source, what the report details is the blueprint for the black boutique label -- essentially based on a model of neo-colonialism, where an imperialist power exploits the raw materials and talents of its satellites under the pretense that such satellites are autonomous. As Norman Kelley observes, "In classic colonialism, products were produced in raw periphery and sent back to the imperial motherland to be manufactured into commodities, then sold in metropolitan centers or back to the colonies. The outcome for the colony was stunted economic growth, as it was stripped of its ability to manufacture products for its own needs" (Rhythm and Business, 10). Looked at within the context of artistic production, the colonial model creates a context where black artistic production is mediated by a commodity culture more interested in "moving product" than cultivating art or developing artists, and then sold back to the masses as "art", in the process stunting creative development. The irony is that which could be defined as organic artistic expression is seen illegitimate by the masses, who have been programmed to accept corporate packaging as the real.
Clive Davis is probably less a sinister figure in the rise and fall of R&B and more the embodiment of the corporate hustler. But there's no denying that the very blueprint he outlined at Columbia became the most bankable strategy for R&B especially as he ascended to the leadership of Arista. For example, the most significant and successful black "boutique" labels of the 1990s, LaFace and Bad Boy Entertainment, were developed in Clive Davis's house. Despite the negative impact that the corporate co-opting of black culture has on black creativity, we're still left with the brilliance of the boutique model, as witnessed by the success of PIR. It all began with the production: the simple elegance of Billy Paul's "Me and Mrs. Jones" or Harold Melvin and the Bluenotes' "If You Don't Know Me By Now" or the glossy funk of The O'Jay's "I Love Music". The "Philly sound" (include Thom Bell and Mighty Three Publishing in this mix) became the soundtrack for an upscale blackness as far removed from the plantations of the South as it was from the factories of the Midwest. Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff were the real deal, and although they were not the sole innovators of this sound -- think of the symphonic landscapes of Gene Page or the string arrangements of Paul Riser -- the promotional and distribution muscle of Columbia allowed the duo to nationalize what was essentially a regional sound. By the end of the 1970s strains of the PIR could be heard in virtually every popular R&B song.
The boutique model was not necessarily about crossing R&B over to the mainstream, but rather positioning the larger corporate labels to better control the R&B market. As such, R&B artists were less compelled to compete with so-called pop artists. Although this meant that R&B artists had less access to resources -- particularly as the record industry went through a financial slump in the late 1970s -- it also created conditions where the R&B sound could develop without the additional pressure of attracting a wider audience. Very few soul artists made the transition to the R&B world. Notable examples are figures like Bobby Womack, whose Poet (1981) and Poet II (1984) represented the best work of his career and Diana Ross, whose Diana (1980), produced by Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards, represents the apex of her solo career. And then there's the case of Michael Jackson, who remade himself into an R&B artist on his groundbreaking Off the Wall (1979), three years after he sat at the feet of Gamble and Huff, who produced the Jackson's first CRG album after the Jackson 5's departure from Motown in 1975. Often lost in conversations about Jackson's emergence as the "King of Pop" is that he was cultivated in the R&B world -- along with such other singular black pop crossovers of the 1980s as Whitney Houston and Lionel Ritchie.
If there was one figure who defined the genius of R&B it was Luther Vandross, who with the release of his eponymous debut in 1981 became the genre's dominant artist. By coyly distancing himself from the black gospel vocal tradition, which grounded so much of the soul music of the 1960s and 1970s, Vandross cemented his appeal as the quintessential R&B singer. Specifically Vandross was trying to distinguish himself from generations of "shouters" such as gospel artists Joe Ligon (lead vocalist of the Mighty Clouds of Joy) and the late Archie Brownlee (of the Five Blind Boys of Mississippi) or soul vocalists like Wilson Pickett, the late Otis Redding and James Brown. As Jason King and others have suggested, Vandross was a student of various music traditions, notably black female vocalists of the 1960s (Dionne Warwick, The Bluebelles, Aretha Franklin), the Burt Bacharach and Hal David songbook, and the background-vocal stylings of the Sweet Inspirations. In addition, the lush orchestrations that figured so prominently in Vandross ballads -- he is the definitive balladeer of the last generation of popular singers -- suggested that he too was a fan of Gamble and Huff and Gene Page.
Still others such as Stephanie Mills, Frankie Beverly and Maze, Jeffrey Osborne, Anita Baker, Peobo Bryson, Atlantic Starr, Kashif, Loose Ends, Alexander O'Neal, The Whispers, Kenny "Babyface" Edmonds, and Chaka Khan (post Rufus) helped give R&B a cohesive sound in the early 1980s. As R&B was about attracting upscale "urban" audiences -- whether legitimate members of the black middle class or working class strivers -- it was by definition a genre targeted to mature audiences. As the 1980s progressed R&B was increasingly out of touch with a generation of black youth consumers, who felt little need to distance themselves from the realities of the Jim Crow era, especially as they faced down the venomous edge of the Reagan era. In real terms the R&B world was being challenged by the embryonic sounds of hip-hop for the attention (and disposable income) of "urban" audiences. A telling sign was the success of Chaka Khan's remake of Prince's "I Feel for You" (1984), which featured an opening rap by Melle Mel (technically the first hip-hop and R&B collaboration, though in my mind Jody Whatley's "Friends", which was blessed by Rakim, is more significant.) The song remains Khan's best-selling single. Khan's version of "I Feel for You" began a tenuous relationship between R&B and hip-hop, one which would finally earn hip-hop validation from the black mainstream and ultimately render R&B irrelevant.
As ubiquitous as it is today, as recently as 15 years ago hip-hop faced a real battle just to be heard on urban radio. Like Soul and Rhythm and Blues before it, hip-hop was too publicly black for advertisers, and when it found its way on the playlists of big market urban radio it was often after-hours on the weekend. There were a few exceptions -- Whodini, for example, doesn't get enough credit for their melding of hip-hop and R&B (courtesy of Larry Smith) on tracks like "Friends", "Funky Beat" and in particular "One Love", a strategy that Heavy D and the Boyz later exploited to become a radio-friendly favorite. The success of Jody Whatley's collaboration with Rakim, "Friends" (1989), made some R&B artists and labels more willing to rent-a-rapper for some street credibility, but at the same time, it was still common practice for labels to deliver to radio versions of R&B singles in "rap" and "no rap" mixes to maximize radio airplay. Ultimately it took the sound christened the "new jack swing" to bring record labels and urban radio on board with the changing dynamics of R&B.
Teddy Riley is generally recognized as the genius behind new jack swing, a sound that married the old-school harmonies of the black church with a hard rhythmic edge. Riley's group Guy (originally featuring Aaron Hall and Timmy Gatling) was the primary vehicle for his production, but he also produced Johnny Kemp ("Just Got Paid"), Keith Sweat ("I Want Her"), James Ingram ("I'm Real"), Boy George ("Don't Take My Mind on a Trip"), the Winans ("It's Time") and Michael Jackson ("Remember the Time"). The range of artists that Riley worked with gives some indication of new jack swing's impact on the recording industry.
Riley might have been the true innovator of the swing, but Bobby Brown gave it its public face. Bobby Brown was the first true embodiment of hip-hop in the R&B world, even daring to drop a rhyme or two himself, like a low-rent LL Cool J. Many folk looked askance a few years ago when Whitney Houston referred to her husband as the "king of R&B", but the reality is that Brown's breakthrough recording, 1988's Don't Be Cruel, is singularly responsible for the trajectory of R&B well into the 1990s. It is virtually impossible to imagine the careers of R. Kelly, Dave Hollister, Jaheim, Joe, Avant, Usher and Justin Timberlake without the success of Don't Be Cruel, which produced five bonafide R&B and pop hits, including "Every Little Step", "Rock Wit'cha" and, of course, "My Prerogative", produced by Riley.
In a 1988 New York Times feature on Brown, Peter Watrous was prophetic when he suggested that Brown's "success could have important implications.... If [his] achievement is followed by the deserved success of others, then perhaps the wall, kept sturdy by radio, press and record companies, that has historically divided black and white music worlds will begin to crumble." Behind Watrous's prescient observation was the realization among the major labels that hip-hop possessed real commercial potential beyond urban audiences. The popular view is that the majors got involved with hip-hop in the aftermath of successful crossover releases by Run-DMC (Raising Hell) and the Beastie Boys (License to Ill) and the strong response to MTV's Yo! MTV Raps (1988). While this view may indeed be correct, a more cynical view is that major labels adopted hip-hop once the independent labels that supported it throughout the 1980s became a threat to their hegemony in the field of black music. What was most important was maintaining complete control over the urban contemporary market. If hip-hop happened to crossover -- so the thinking was in the late 1980s -- it would be simply gravy.
By the mid-1990s hip-hop would of course do so much more, eventually becoming one of popular music's dominant genres. But the germ of that success came years earlier via a small boutique label distributed by MCA, the label Brown recorded for. Sean Combs gets much of the credit for carrying hip-hop over the crossover hump, but before Bad Boy Entertainment there was Uptown, the brain-child of former Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde frontman Andre Harrell. In the early 1980s Jekyll and Hyde ('Genius Rap") were known for the business attire they wore on stage while rapping, a look that captured the very aesthetic that Harrell hoped to cultivate with the Uptown label, a style he would call "High Negro", which melded the upscale blackness of R&B (and the yellow-power-tie/Reagan-era generation of niggeratti strivers) with the street. Harrell was not necessarily an innovator; groups like Full Force ("Alice, I Want You Just for Me") and The Force MDs ("Let Me Love You") were already charting this territory. But Harrell had the genius to mass market this sound. Not surprisingly, Heavy D and the Boyz were one of the label's first successes, the group's "We Got Our Own Thing", produced by Riley in 1989, became an anthem for the era of asymmetrical high-top fades, Africa medallions and pastel colors. But Uptown's two signature acts, Jodeci and Mary J. Blige, defined the Uptown sound and the possibilities of a true hip-hop and R&B hybrid.
Jodeci was comprised of two sets of brothers from North Carolina, Dalvin and Devante Degrate and K.C. and Jo Jo Hailey, who were the group's primary vocalists. In many ways Jodeci was like a quartet of Bobby Browns, though none in the group possessed Brown's charisma. Their deft command of harmonies was a throwback to the classic Soul-man era, with K.C. Hailey often doing his best imitation of Bobby Womack. Their debut, Forever My Lady (1991) featured popular hits such as "Stay", "Come and Talk to Me" and the title track. What caught the attention of urban audiences was their gear -- thugged out in baggy jeans and Timbaland boots (courtesy of budding fashion designer Sean Combs) -- which helped Jodeci pioneer a sub-genre that I like to refer to as Thug Soul (Dave Hollister and Jaheim are the most successful converts). Though the group never achieved real mainstream appeal, Jodeci became the perfect counterweight to the popfectionary R&B of Boyz II Men during most of the 1990s.
It would be Jodeci's female counterpart at Uptown, though, who would ultimately change the game, at once representing the best of R&B and facilitating its demise. Andre Harrell heard a demo of Mary J. Blige singing an Anita Baker tune, but was at a loss as to how to promote her. Blige's big opportunity came when she recorded a song for Uptown's soundtrack for the 1991 film Strictly Business. Though it was not released as a single, "You Remind Me" caught the attention of hip-hop DJs and soon found its way on the playlists of urban-radio programmers. With a hit record in hand, Uptown forged ahead with Blige's debut What's the 411? The success of the recording pivoted on the lead single, "Real Love". Built around the rhythm track of Audio Two's 1987 hip-hop classic "Top Billin'", "Real Love" was the blueprint for what Combs would dub "hip-hop soul" -- essentially the marriage of R&B vocals with hip-hop beats and samples, which by the end of the decade became the standard form of R&B production.
What separated Blige from her peers was that she tapped into the emotional core of a generation of music fans for whom loss and betrayal were always the first and foremost expectations, whether in love or public policy. Hence a song like "Real Love" resonated very powerfully, because it captured the hip-hop generation's utter fixation with delineating "the real", its existential quest for authenticity. Unlike the civil rights generation, which was often consumed with defending its legitimacy in the face of an all-too-present white gaze, the hip-hop generation rejected the significance of the white gaze, defining the real within the context of black community instead. What is at stake in this quest for the real is the very real possibility of rejection and censure from the community. It's a product of the apprehensions and ambivalences associated with coming of age in an era where you are free to be whatever. And it was Blige's vocals -- ragged, displaced and aching -- that summoned all of these emotions, as she struggled with the demons of betrayal and abuse in her own life. Blige quickly became known as hip-hop's Aretha Franklin, not so much for her technical proficiency but her ability to speak for a generation, much the way Franklin spoke for the civil rights generation.
What hip-hop soul did was bring the production values of hip-hop to the R&B world. Combs is notable if only because he was best positioned to exploit this marriage. By the end of the 1990s others were doing it much more consistently: Timbaland (in his work with Aaliyah and Ginuwine), Chucky Thompson, Jermaine Dupri and even Dr. Dre, who produced one of Blige's biggest hit singles, "Family Affair" (2001). The use of hip-hop production in R&B created a wider audience for hip-hop itself, something Combs quickly took advantage of with Craig Mack, the Notorious B.I.G. and Mase. While there were artists who had crossed over to the pop mainstream -- Run-DMC, the Beasties, NWA and Hammer being the most notable -- only after the success of hip-hop soul were popular hip-hop artists routinely expected to cross-over as well, as has been the case with Jay Z, Nas, DMX, Ja Rule, Eminem, Nelly, Ludacris, and the rest. Telling in this regard is the fact that R&B vocalist Ashanti's breakthrough onto the upper tier of the pop charts, "Foolish", featured a sample of the Notorious B.I.G.'s "One More Chance (remix)" (itself built on a sample of DeBarge's "Stay with Me").
Despite the success of hip-hop soul and purveyors like Blige, Faith Evans and later Ashanti, the R&B world of the mid-1990s still allowed for the relatively old-school stylings of Gerald Levert, Brian McKnight, Keith Sweat and the so-called neo-soul movement, which was essentially R&B packaged in opposition to hip-hop soul and marketed to traditional R&B audiences tiring of hip-hop's urban-radio hegemony. Ironically many neo-soul artists also relied on the sample-based production that hip-hop initially popularized (listen to Angie Stone's "Sunshine" and D'Angelo's "Send It On", which sample Gladys Knight & the Pips and Kool & the Gang respectively). This moment in R&B would be short lived, as the massive consolidation within the music and radio industries would create the context where virtually all forms of urban music would began the pop-chart paper-chase in pursuit of the new queen: hip-hop
On February 8, 1996, Bill Clinton signed into law the Telecommunications Reform Act of 1996. At the same time Jay Z was preparing for the late-spring release of his debut, Reasonable Doubt, unaware that he and many other hip-hop acts were about to benefit from the atmosphere of deregulation and capital accumulation that the new law typified. Reasonable Doubt was released by Roc-A-Fella Records, an independent label founded by Carter, Karreim Biggs and Damon Dash. By 1998 Roc-A-Fella would enter into a joint equity deal with Def Jam, itself a former indie label, founded in 1984 by Russell Simmons and Rick Rubin and later distributed by Sony and Polygram. When Roc-A-Fella and Def Jam agreed to partner, a 40 percent share of the latter was about to be sold to Polygram for $130 million. Shortly thereafter Polygram was bought by Seagram (yes, the liquor company), creating the Universal Music Group, which would later be acquired by the French company Vivendi. At the very moment that Vivendi/Universal (where Jay Z, 50 Cent, The Game and Eminem currently work) was unveiled, Clear Channel could claim ownership of more than 1,200 radio stations -- 247 of them in the top 250 national radio markets. Clear Channel's emergence as the dominant force in commercial radio was directly related to the bill that Clinton signed into law in 1996. Confusing? Of course it is, but imagine how confusing it was -- and still is -- for your local up-and-coming R&B artist who can't find a major label to sign her or a urban radio station that would play her music even if she did.
Arguably the most noticeable of the wide-ranging effects of the Telecommunications Act has been the Clear Channeling of America's public airwaves. Prior to 1996 companies were constrained from owning more than two radio stations in any market and could own no more than 28 nationally. The logic behind this was simple: As the Broad Artist Coalition and the Future of Music Coalition argued in their joint letter to the FCC and Congress in 2002, "radio is a public asset, not private property.... The quid pro quo for free use of the public bandwidth requires that broadcast stations serve the public interest in their local communities." While many radio stations do some form of public-affairs programming -- usually in the early morning hours on the weekend -- serving the public is broader than that. Part of the responsibility of any radio station is to support music that speaks to local tastes. This is one of the ways that local music scenes have developed and been nurtured in the past, whether it was Rhythm and Blues in the Midwest in the early 1960s (which produced Motown and Curtis Mayfield), the Philly Soul of Thom Bell and Gamble and Huff in the 1970s or hip-hop in the San Francisco Bay area in the late 1980s.
In the aftermath of the Telecommunications Reform Act, the massive consolidation in radio has left fewer people making the decisions about what music will be played. The ten largest radio conglomerates in the U.S. control more than two thirds of the national radio audience, with Clear Channel and Viacom (which, incidentally, owns both MTV and BET) controlling more than 40 percent of that. That these conditions impact what music you hear on the radio and the ability of local groups to get on their local radio station goes without saying. In the past, for example, if a particular region had 20 radio stations, 20 different program directors (PDs) would likely decided what would be played. In the current environment playlist decisions are now in the hands of a smaller group of PDs, who often cede some of their decision making power to regional and national program directors. Furthermore, as the Future of Music Coalition noted in their 2002 report "Radio Deregulation: Has It Served Citizens and Musicians", in any given region, the concentration of ownership among a small number of conglomerates is even more intense. The Clear Channeling of radio has homogenized American radio. This is why urban stations in the major markets all sound the same.
The nationalizing of local radio has made it increasingly difficult for listeners in various locales to hold programmers accountable. One of the best examples of these struggles was the protest of New York City's Hot 97 (WQHT-FM), after the station's morning drive-time team performed a racially insensitive parody about the tsunami that destroyed portions of Indonesia and Africa. Though nationwide protest eventually forced the station's parent company, Emmis, to fire a producer and a host at WQHT and to pledge $1 million in tsunami relief, the fact that the drive-time hosts felt comfortable enough to perform a bit that was so insensitive to its core audience in the first place speaks to the distance between the conglomerates that manage the stations and the communities they are supposed to serve. About the people who ultimately decide what's heard on your local radio station, activist and journalist Davey D recently told Democracy Now, "we've got to know that these are 40 and 50-year-old men and women behind the scenes, calling the shots, deciding that at 7:00 at night, you can hear the Yin Yang Twins talking about 'wait until you see mi d-i-c-k' and that it's not a problem."
Along with radio consolidation has come the emergence of nationally syndicated morning drive-time programming (6:00 to 10:00 A.M. in most markets) geared toward African-American and other so-called urban audiences. Of these syndicated shows, the Tom Joyner Morning Show (TJMS) is best known. With a foothold in more than a hundred urban radio markets, the TJMS is potentially a formidable political force, as it can reach and unify listeners across the country. In its best moment, the TJMS is a digitized version of the chitlin' circuit, the network of clubs, restaurants, hotels, dance halls and the like that were crucial components of black life and culture during the era of Jim Crow segregation. As African-Americans pushed for integrated social and cultural institutions in the 1950s and 1960s, the thinking was that the chitlin' circuit would die off. But in the current era of niche marketing -- which urban radio and R&B exemplify -- the chitlin' circuit survives not to unite to black audiences but to deliver advertisers access to a vibrant black middle class with disposable incomes.
Musically, the TJMS adheres to a standard "smooth R&B and classic Soul" format with no interest in breaking new R&B acts. Instead they have made even harder for local acts to break through. Nationally syndicated shows such as the TJMS or The Doug Banks Morning Show (on ABC Radio Networks), have made local drive-time personalities obsolete, thus denying many audiences the opportunity to have their local culture and music reflected during the drive-time hours, when listenership is at its peak. Despite being jettisoned from New York's WRKS in early 2003, the TJMS cemented its domination of the urban market when Tom Joyner entered into a partnership with Cathy Hughes's Radio One Corporation, the largest black-owned radio conglomerate.
Consolidation was not restricted to radio. In the late 1990s record-label consolidation also played its part in the demise of R&B. As Michael Roberts notes in his essay "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag," label consolidation began in the late 1960s when WEA (Warner Brothers, Elecktra, Atlantic) became one of the first super labels (See Rhythm and Business). Motown Records, which the Harvard Report urged the Columbia Record Group not to purchase in 1972, was eventually sold to Polygram in the mid-1980s. The Columbia Records Group itself was purchased by Sony in 1988, at which point much of the popular music produced in the United States was controlled by what was referred to as the "big six". With the merger of Seagram's music holdings with Polygram in 1998 and the recent annexation of Sony music by BMG (Sony BMG Music Entertainment), six has become four. With the recording industry is dominated by four transnational conglomerates, fewer people make development and production decisions and fewer staff the A&R (artist and repertoire) departments responsible for signing new talent.
Because R&B had lost market share to hip-hop in the late 1990s and because new R&B was neglected due to the programming logic of "classic Soul and smooth R&B" formats, R&B became viewed as a retrograde genre. While undiscovered Soul and R&B artists suffered under consolidation, hip-hop has benefited. Forms of hip-hop thought to be regional as little as 10 years ago thrived in the new media landscape. The perception among both the record labels and radio programmers is that this older audience is unwilling to support contemporary R&B music to the extent that younger urban and crossover audiences support hip-hop (the success of "classic Soul and R&B" tours of course suggest otherwise). Even those acts perceived to have commercial potential among traditional R&B audiences -- I'm thinking specifically of the Philly Neo-Soul scene that produced Musiq, India.Arie, Jill Scott, Bilal, Res, Kindred, Jaguar Wright, Amel Larrieux and Floetry -- we're marketed as throwback performers, whose proclivities for so called positivity were construed as an aesthetic value. Regardless of the critical acclaim that Neo-Soul (organic R&B) received, major labels and urban radio never thought it anything but a niche market. Of course, such top-tier stars of R&B as Mary J. Blige, Usher, and Mariah Carey (no longer marketed as a pop act) held their own in the marketplace, often trading creativity for familiarity, rehashing the production styles that first made them popular or acquiescing to the allure of hip-hop-style production in an attempt to remain relevant to younger urban audiences.
One would be hard pressed to think of an R&B artist, established or otherwise, that has received the kind of promotional support that 50 Cent or The Game received for their major label debuts. One recent exception might be Alicia Keys, though a fair amount of her initial success must be chalked up to Clive Davis's bag of tricks -- this is the man who helped established a little known teenage singer from New Jersey, Whitney Houston, as the best selling female vocalist of the last generation. And such artists as Ashanti, Ciara and John Legend weren't necessarily promoted on their own merit but on the merit of their hip-hop benefactors. Lacking strong promotional support, many established R&B acts have little incentive to push the envelope on their recordings. The career trajectories of Gerald Levert and Brian McKnight are instructive. Though these two are easily the most consistent artists in contemporary R&B, their recent recordings rarely break from the formula that helped establish them more than a decade ago (Levert's Do I Speak for the World? might be the exception). Their respective labels value such an approach because when peddling a known commodity McKnight and Levert can regularly move 500,000 units without any real promotional support.
Meanwhile consolidation allowed hip-hop to leverage its growing commercial power. As major labels began to seek out regional hip-hop groups to sign -- much like the imperial powers of the past seeking to annex new lands (and resources) to their empires -- it created the context where these groups could quickly and easily gain a national audience once they were added to the playlists of the urban stations of the major radio conglomerates (and video channels). The damn-near-hegemony of crunk in 2005 is probably the best example of this process. Crunk is not a new phenomenon -- can anybody say MC Shy-D? -- but the Telecommunications Reform Act of 1996 allowed for the regional Southern sound to be heard in places like Detroit, Los Angeles, New York and other locales far-removed from the "dirty, dirty
But aspiring R&B artists have been challenged by what the Future Music Coalition calls the "twin bottleneck" effect. Basically, with intense consolidation in both the recording industry and commercial radio, artists are squeezed out of a hearing at both the labels and radio stations. While independent labels remain an option for artists, the reality is that the four major label conglomerates -- the four industry gatekeepers -- are responsible for more than 80 percent of what makes it on commercial radio play lists. As the Future of Music Coalition explains, "Major record labels have large promotional budgets. Because the promotional money is there, radio companies have an incentive to make access to the airwaves more scarce, and thus more expensive" (my emphasis). And of course, among the major-label conglomerates, the competition for the airwaves is fierce, as airplay directly affects sales.
What strategies can a label employ to guarantee that their artists will receive the kind of airplay that they deserve? In the early days of rock and roll, the practice of payola was critical for up-and-coming labels trying to get the attention of DJs, who at the time were primarily responsible for what was played on the radio. For example, there is a subtle scene in the recent film Ray, where Jerry Wexler of Atlantic Records passes cash on to a DJ to get him to play Ray Charles's breakthrough crossover hit "I Got a Woman". But paying DJs to play certain records has been illegal since the early 1960s, when Cleveland-based DJ Alan Freed was indicted on charges of bribery.
As program directors replaced DJs as the primary gatekeepers of radio playlists, forms of payola have become more elaborate and covert (See Fredric Dannen's Hit Men). In fact there were two notable forms of payola, that while highly suspect, were legal. One was the practice of using "independent" promoters to interact with radio programmers (thus obscured the possibility that labels are directly paying stations) and the other was that of "paid spins", where songs for a particular label are played as part of an advertisement spot. The latter is perfectly legal, as long as its disclosed that the spot is paid for by said label. The case of independent promoters received much of the attention in investigations of illegal payola, simply because of the huge amount of money exchanged between labels, promoters and radio stations to guarantee that certain records regular airplay. According to Eric Boehlert, in the latest of his on-going articles on commercial radio at Salon.com, the practice of paying independent promoters cost labels as a group as much as $150 million annually. In this environment, virtually everything that appears on a station's playlist has been paid for in one form or another.
Most radio programmers retreated from using independent promoters when Representative Russ Feingold and others in Congress, and most recently New York State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, began to raise questions about the process. (The same retreat occurred in the mid-1980s when Rudy Guliani, then an U.S. Attorney, and Al Gore, then a senator from Tennessee, announced payola probes). Though Boehlert can boldly claim that payola, in its most recent incarnation, is "dead", he has also acknowledged that urban radio is the "Wild, Wild, West" of the record industry. Indeed, Cedric Muhammed of Blackelectorate.com, asserts that in the recent past DJs at Radio One, for example, have been "admonished" for playing music that is not on the station's playlist and in some cases "terminated" if a non-playlist song is played five or more times. R&B artists who don't appeal to younger urban/hip-hop audiences are already at a disadvantage at the major labels, and even those aligned with independent labels who do support them, like, say, Hidden Beach, home to Jill Scott, Lina and Kindred the Family Soul, are further disadvantaged because commercial radio is governed by how much one is willing to pay to get tunes on the air. While it's easy to suggest that audiences have the power to demand music that they would like to hear, the reality is that an audience must first know alternatives exist. And mainstream commercial radio remains the place where most listeners become aware of new music.
The current radio and label consolidation, along with the emergence of hip-hop as the dominant cross-over genre and the perceived aging of traditional R&B audiences, has created the situation where the best R&B being recorded is simply not heard by the audience that would be attracted to it. Satellite Radio has been one of the places where new R&B can be heard, but the format's overall audience is still paltry when compared to that of commercial radio. The alleged death of payola suggests that at the moment, at least, there exists the possibility for a more diverse range of music to hit the commercial airwaves, but even Boehlert laments that "tight radio playlists are unlikely to improve anytime soon", in part because programmers "will rely more and more on proven hits singles as well as older, already familiar songs, leaving less airtime for new acts." Ultimately, the current state of contemporary R&B has little to do with the mediocrity of R&B's status quo -- there is great music to be heard -- but unless mainstream labels create conditions in which emerging R&B artists can be nurtured, without the pressure to cross-over to urban youth audiences, and audiences themselves become more vigilant about seeking out and supporting new music, much of R&B's current greatness will fall on deaf ears
Friday, August 03, 2007
This sister's name is Etana. She & her management were kind enough to send me a few of her songs and all I can say is WOW. She will be a force to be reckoned with. Her spirit reminds me of India Arie, but her music & voice are MUCH bigger (and she has the gift of the reggae rhythm). This video is for her heart-wrenching song entitled "Wrong Address" which deals with the classist attitudes that exist in Jamaica. It's pretty sad. We all know that the best reggae music comes from the poorest set of people because they put their HEARTS & SOUL into it. Etana is the personification of heart & soul. I just hope that the shady business of music doesn't send her into a tailspin (L-Boogie). When her CD drops, it will be in regular rotation in my car, house & MP3 player. Etana, you're a STRONG one sis! Keep it up!
Be sure to visit my podcast to hear some rare & crucial reggae music.
It features Tanya Stephens live in concert, Bitty McLean, Gregory Isaacs and much more!!