There’s one thing that comes to my mind the most. I always wonder about the future of Soul and Funk music and where it’s going. With the music industry transitioning to the digital age, there might be hope that it all comes back around full circle. Like people say that Hip Hop is dead, do they think the same way about Soul and Funk. They might think that they are both irrelevant. Like Classical and Jazz, they are considered to be Museum music which has its time and place. What are your thoughts on the future of Soul and Funk music?
One question that comes to mind. “Was the Grammys made for us [Black artists]?” Even though I don’t really know the answer, but there are many discussions and viewpoints regarding this. There are definitely assumptions that Black artists barely get recognized for their work. Not all Black music is well received which is true in most cases. What do you think?
Anytime an artist or musician expands out of his or her musical boundary, he or she is looked at as selling out. This has always been the case with Jazz and Rock musicians and later R&B/Soul. Miles Davis is considered to be the pioneer of Jazz Fusion which later evolved into many genres known today as Smooth Jazz or Contemporary Jazz. Like Miles, others began to follow and were accused of doing the same thing. Aside from Jazz, Rock musicians before have done the same and changed the landscape of music. People believed that the Beatles were the first to experiment with different musical styles, but it was the Beach Boys. It was the Pet Sounds album that made an impact on music at the time which inspired groups like the Beatles. Once they released albums like Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and Abbey Road, they were more than likely accused of selling out. The Bee Gees became well-known for their contributions to Disco in the 1970s and have been labeled as a Disco group. As a result of that, they were looked at as sellouts and that led to a backlash on Disco. Quincy Jones is another fine example. He started out doing Jazz and then branched out into Pop. People believe that Michael Jackson was the first Pop act that Q worked with. But it was long before he worked with MJ on Off The Wall. He had produced Lesley Gore’s 1963 hit “It’s My Party.” He might have well been accused of selling out then way before he worked with the King of Pop. The interesting thing about it, is that the collaboration between Michael and Quincy almost didn’t happen. According to Quincy Jones himself, Epic/CBS Records, MJ’s label, said that Quincy Jones was too Jazzy. The success of Off The Wall proved the music executives wrong and later the pair would go on to work on Thriller which would become the biggest selling album of all time followed by the multi-platinum album Bad. No wonder MJ chose to work with Q, because he is was and still is a person who knew and understood music. If he would’ve worked with any other producer at the time, he would’ve not had the musical impact and yet be the artist that he was.
What interested me, was watching a Miles Davis interview on YouTube. He wasn’t afraid to go outside of the box as a musician and he always defended his music. Miles himself said that those who criticized him were those who were lazy and didn’t want to learn different things about music. What he meant was that musicians are comfortable with sticking to what they know. That’s the fear of most musicians especially those in the music industry. Like Herbie Hancock said, the beauty of music is to go outside the box. I think that artists should not only identify themselves but be able to express what they visualize. Whatever they visualize is what they are influenced by. Music like any other art form is an experience. The more you experience, the better you become. I believe that musicians shouldn’t limit themselves just because of what they came up on. Of course, no musician can forget their roots, but musicians are supposed to be well-rounded. Music is a universal language. What makes music different is that each sound has its own quality and character. Just like everybody has their own character or personality but may share one thing in common. I believe as human beings, we tend to categorize things based on one’s personalities and character. So for instance, if you’re a Country artist, you’re supposed to be in the Country category. If you’re a Blues artist, you’re suppose to be in the Blues category. The fact is that if you do this style of music then that’s what you do. But if you do more than one style, then you are multi-dimensional and versatile. No matter what your background and training is, Classical or Jazz, at the end you are a musician.
Now this is getting more interesting. I’m going to start off with R&B. Berry Gordy’s purpose for creating Motown was to create music that would integrate both Black and White audiences. I wouldn’t consider that selling out because what Berry Gordy did was visionary. He wanted to diversify the audience and that’s what he did. Other labels at the time maintained the sounds that they were known for and were still well received by the mainstream audience. The Sam Cookes, the James Browns, the Aretha Franklins, the Solomon Burkes, the Otis Reddings, the Wilson Picketts were well received at the time and never had any intentions of selling out. It has always been difficult for Black artists to cross over to the White mainstream audience. It has always been the thing that if you were more soulful then you were fit into the soulful category, if you were more pop then you were fit into the pop category. Now with Hip Hop/Rap, the industry has had an influence in redefining Hip Hop and making it once again, a billion dollar industry. Rappers who came up during the rise of Hip Hop have seen the transition. Where the consciousness has been taken out and more ignorance and negativity has become widely received and embraced. Rappers have always been criticized for going mainstream and losing their street credibility or better yet selling themselves. The ones that cross over to the mainstream are usually looked at as being soft or they dumb down and create more publicity in the media. They suddenly become the main targets in not only the entertainment world but in the world they originally come from.
When it comes down to expansion and experience, it should be taken in consideration. Change is good but not always because there’s going to be some criticism. Change can be progressive, change can be regressive, depending on what works and what doesn’t work. Being open-minded can provide many opportunities while being close-minded can keep you from getting those opportunities. That’s what life has always been about. Not trying to box yourself in to think that this is who I am and this is where I belong. I believe that music is an ever-changing experience and has no boundaries.
One question that always come to mind about today’s music is “where’s the originality?” I have mentioned before that the music industry is a copycat business. There are so many copycats nowadays that you can’t barely identify the artist and the music because it all sounds the same. Everybody likes what’s hot at the moment, so they work with the same producers and try to go for that same hot sound. Sometimes I ask myself are people just doing it because of what’s hot at the moment or because they just want to get paid? I know that everybody is influenced by everybody else and that your ideas become theirs. We always share and borrow from each other. Being original is about creating something from nothing. It’s what makes something unique and organic. It’s what makes you, you and your work, your work. But it all begins with you and what you do. It’s in fact that everybody is different and in reality, everybody is not going to be accepted because they are different. People not only struggle with accepting differences, but they struggle to accept the fact that they are different.
Artists are afraid to be different because they feel that they won’t be accepted by the masses. But the beauty of being an artist is being able to express yourself. Every artist has their own voice, their own taste, their own thoughts and their own feelings. In again, it’s what makes the artist unique. Take the 1960’s and 1970’s for instance, every singer, every group and every record label had their own distinct sound. Motown did their thing, Stax did their thing, Philly did their thing. James Brown wasn’t trying to be Jackie Wilson. The Rolling Stones weren’t trying to be the Beatles. Not everyone worked with the same producers and songwriters. They did what they did best and that was developing acts. Now going back to influences, Michael Jackson, of course, was influenced by James Brown but was not trying to be James Brown. He studied him and that’s what you’re supposed to do in order to be the best that you can be musically. James Brown really influenced a generation of up and coming Black musicians and entertainers. The issue with many new and upcoming artists is they are looking at what others are doing especially those who are big time trendsetters. You look at the Lady Gagas, the Justin Biebers, the Chris Browns, the Trey Songz’s, the Drakes, the Nicki Minajs and the Waka Flockas, they are making a huge impact in music right now that everyone is following them. The music industry as a whole has always been a cookie cutter factory or fast food franchise. They have created a formula based on the impact or success of someone. In other words, the culture becomes the commodity because of its impact and opportunity for record labels to make money. I personally think it’s good for every artist to be themselves. It’s always good for people to listen to something different every now and then. It’s a breath of fresh air. I do believe that every artist should be in their own lane and not have to worry about competition. I think the industry makes it very competitive for artists because they select those who have those big numbers. Music is worth it if people take the time to listen because you’re not only hearing great music, but great talent.