Jazmine Sullivan and the ‘Injustice’ Paid To Black Soul Singers
I love black people. I love black music. I love that Motown sound, that in the pocket, that slow groove, that bass, and that flow. I love the riffs, the runs, the scats, and the growls. I love it all. As such, I am a fierce defender of the art that we produce and of the artists that do it best. That’s why Jazmine Sullivan’s recent comments on the state of the music industry and her struggle for recognition deeply resonated with me.
Let it go on record that I was a Jazmine Sullivan stan before her first record dropped. From YouTube videos of her slaying childhood musicals and The Apollo to leaked early tracks of her work with big names like Missy Elliot, I knew this girl would make it one day.
Now, 3 albums and 11 Grammy nominations in, she’s still fighting to have her voice be heard. Just like most black R&B or soul artists, it is a struggle to get a project released, promoted, and supported. Simple minds might explain this away by saying that these art forms are simply not what most people want to spend their time or money listening to. And to those people, I point directly to the album sales, tours, awards, and TV specials white singers like Adele or Sam Smith are receiving.
In a recent interview with the Associated Press, Sullivan spoke directly to this point:
“I guess I’m glad that people are recognizing me in some way, and kind of see there’s a little injustice in how black soul artists are received.”
In truth, this “injustice” is nothing new. Since black folk have been making music, there has always been a white person waiting in the wings to appropriate it. As everybody’s dear friend Ahmal said in Sister Act 2: Back In The Habit, “First jazz. Then rock and roll. Now rap. What you gonna try to take next. Man?”
I felt Ahmal way back in ’93, and I feel him today.
Jazmine Sullivan making this statement, however gracious it may be, is a sign of R&B and soul artists just getting sick of the industry’s climate. For too long, these outlandishly talented folks have had to keep things moving through declining returns and support while their white contemporaries are showered with adulation.
See, the way society is set up, you ain’t shit unless you are topping the charts and dominating all forms of media. And people’s (read: white people’s) racism, however casual, generates a playing field where black artists aren’t permitted to win.
And what is so tragic is that I can already hear folks invoking Beyonce’s and Nicki Minaj’s names to rebut my stance. What they don’t understand is that if you can only point to two people in the entire music industry to try and undermine my argument, that is a pretty weak rebuttal. I could list dozens of white artists that get attention weekly.
This is not a talent problem. This is not a situation where there just aren’t qualified performers deserving of larger platforms. This is a consumption problem. People want to enjoy black culture but without actually including the black people. And that is an injustice not to just the current artists trying to forge careers, but also to all those that came before and established soul music itself.
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