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.