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Imagine Music Without Black People

2,453 words

If there ever was a time that whites and blacks have aired their grievances, then the past two weeks have been it. Cities are burning. People are being killed. “Justice,” as defined by one person or another, is being demanded. In so many ways, the true nature of blacks in the United States is being put on display for all to see. In fact, many blacks are expecting us to thank them for their mere presence. I came across one such example of this in my Twitter feed yesterday, while poring through footage of riots, mismanaged police responses, and those damn bricks [1]. It was only five words:

I initially dismissed this little hypothetical as another example of black hubris, bolstered by various enemies. But for whatever reason, it stuck with me. It’s like a little microcosm of the black attitude towards the white people of the countries they live in, specific to one facet of culture. I pondered the scenario myself, but instead of an answer, I came away with some issues with the concept itself.

For one, this thought experiment implies black people can claim ownership over aspects of pop music. The idea that certain modern musical developments, genres, or leitmotifs belong to one ethnic group in a country that is inescapably multicultural is somewhat disingenuous. Music is a broadly cosmopolitan field, with many different people and groups collaborating on the global stage and across time. It is not inaccurate to suggest certain practices that an ethnic group is notable for are their own musical traditions, but this is typically only applicable to folk music; of course, a German folk song is distinctly German. A pop song? The lines become much more blurry.

The ways in which popular culture is consumed in the United States may have some clear ethnic lines. That much is obvious when you consider the kind of music played at a shopping mall vs the kind of music played from ghetto blasters. But the people who make popular culture inevitably collaborate with people outside of their own group. This was true of great jazz artists, and remains true of black rappers and their often white (or Jewish) producers, managers, and marketers. Is it really accurate to call a genre of pop music in the United States exclusively “black,” just because a black person contributed to it? Even “black” genres and styles are tinged with the influence of other Americans, oftentimes white people.

Popular music will inevitably trend towards some kind of artistic average in a multicultural society, simply because it’s inherently commercial. Label men want to sell as many records as possible, so they try to make their music as broadly appealing as possible. (The end result is often terrible to people like us, with ears, but I digress.) In recent years, there has been a shift towards unprecedented amounts of black representation in pop music, as a reflection of the country’s demographic trends and consumer habits — a negrophilia of sorts [2] has, unfortunately, taken root in the nation. By my count, 51 of the Billboard Hot 100 [3] Tracks on this day — June 5, 2020 — were by black artists exclusively or featured black artists. Even then, is all of that truly “black” music? Or is it a culturally-washed, commercialized sort of “black” music that is sold to naive whites, with black consumers of music correctly assumed to automatically be interested in listening to their kin? To claim this as “black” music simply seems like a shallow opinion at first, and a rather dishonest or even depressing one upon closer inspection. While slightly old data, the number-one producer of Billboard-charting tracks in 2019 was Louis Bell [4], a white man. I don’t envy anyone who solely identifies with a commercial product, especially not my kin, and the neoliberal, miscegenated “black” music offered to blacks is just as much of a sin.

Another question is raised when considering “music without black people.” The implication here seems to be that without black people in the country, their contribution to music would not exist, or that music, in general, would not be influenced by black people at all. That is true to some extent, in the sense that cooperation would not be as close. But to suggest that you must keep another people in your country in order to collaborate with them is false on its face. In fact, I would suggest that even deeper and more productive cultural collaboration could exist between people if they are allowed to remain separate from one another. There are immutable differences between ethnic groups living together in the United States, but there are many commonalities between us as well — pop culture being one of them, as mentioned.

European peoples have a long history of exploring other nations and bringing home bits and pieces of culture that we liked from there. Other nations have done the same with us. The English put their own spin on Chinese tea; the Japanese love making fusion American food; Persian rugs are a hit in Europe; I occasionally (with some white nationalist guilt) clamber out of my writing chair in search of Ethiopian food. It’s in this way that each nation can decide just how much of a foreign nation’s culture they’d like to partake in, what changes they’d like to make to it, and how “exotic” they would like it to remain. The average Japanese person would balk at American “sushi.” That’s alright, because they don’t have to eat it. Put the Americans and the Japanese in the same spot, and they’d quickly grow to resent us for ruining their food.

So, would a nation without black people necessarily have absolutely no black influence on their music? Possibly. But not necessarily. And any collaborations between black and white musicians would probably yield something much more novel, and much more interesting, simply because differences between our two nations would be acknowledged rather than half-assimilated, as they are now in the United States. When we grow tired of another nation’s culture, we’ll also have our own to turn to. That option doesn’t exist in a multicultural society. And when groups get fed up with this arrangement and seek to practice their own culture again, the outcomes are almost never positive. You begin to see ghettos, imperialist policies, or sometimes actual war. It’s much easier to buy a plane ticket home than it is to insulate yourself from a strange neighbor.

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Let’s entertain the hypothetical, without qualifications, for just one minute. What would music be like without black people?

Well, it would certainly be different.

It would be dishonest to suggest that black people have not greatly influenced music in the United States; distinctly black musical traditions, like the blues, are vitally important forebears to the development of rock’n’roll. Without black people, there would not be jazz. Without black people, we probably would not have breakbeats.

Very well. Just one thing: I reject this whataboutism entirely, simply because of its chauvinism of the present tense.

This thought experiment begs the question. It is implied in the statement that without the contributions of black people in music, we would be worse off. We simply don’t know that. Are acid jazz and postmodern rock really the peak of culture? Who’s to say; this is simply what we have. Personally, I doubt it. To suggest that absent the contributions of black people, Western music would inherently be worse really just underscores an important truth about the differences between us. Black people think that Western music without blacks would be worse for obvious reasons; it wouldn’t be tailored to them and their tastes. White people who were raised in a society with black-influenced music think that music would be worse without black people simply because they know nothing else. The underlying assumption is that genres a lot of white people enjoy, like techno or jazz, would simply cease to exist sans blacks, with nothing to replace them. That’s a bit of a stretch. Culture abhors a vacuum. And today, we can only hypothesize about what music would have developed into without the influence of other cultures. Ultimately, it’s just a matter of a changed variable.

You can certainly make an educated guess about what Western music would be like without black people, because there is a rich corpus of musical works produced by Europeans before the artistic input of Africans was ever considered. The West developed the opera, the concerto, the waltz, and countless other fascinating musical forms before blacks lived in our societies. Knowing the Faustian spirit of our people, I also find it hard to believe these traditions would have remained frozen in time.

It’s plainly obvious that this question is asked in bad faith. Two can play at this game. Imagine music without white people. Specifically, imagine “black” music without white people. The role that whites have played in shaping black music is undeniable; both the pop-culture “black” music and actual, black-dominated genres, such as jazz. A rather obvious example of a white contribution to the black musical canon would be our instruments. What would Thelonious Monk have done without a piano? Miles Davis without a trumpet?

Let’s get even more abstract, beyond just instruments. Where would black music be without music theory? Hip-hop relies heavily on the boom-bap and trap beats, drum patterns uncovered only by formalizing the arrangement of sounds on a logical timeline. If blacks didn’t know how to syncopate a kick drum, there’d be no “Old Town Road.” The very first hip-hop records — and for that matter, even most hip-hop records made today — are a collage of sampled, previously-existing music and produced drum beats. Even the drum beats are sometimes sampled, as is the case with the famous Amen break [5]. Without a massive library of Western music, almost all of it made by whites, what would the emcees of New York have sampled instead? In fact, the disk jockeys of the East Coast can’t even lay claim to the libertine, cut-and-paste workflow that made their productions possible. That honor goes to a bunch of sexually perverted English provocateurs [6].

Even when handed the rudiments (and then some) of music by Europeans, blacks will gravitate towards tribal bombastics. When whites use that aforementioned Amen break — one recorded by blacks, actually — we produce “Hajnal [7].” When blacks use it, they produce “Fuck tha Police [8].”  Our interests and inspirations are very clearly different, so why should we entertain the notion that black contributions to our musical canon are some kind of heaven-sent gift to us? We work with what we have, no matter where it came from.

A lot of music by black artists in the United States comes from a place of great pain. The most compelling works from black musicians inevitably dwell upon trauma; jazz came from an environment rife with drugs [9], sectarian violence, and inner-city tribulations that are far from forgotten. Gangsta rap is not a violent boast for the sake of violent boasts; to the thugs of the 90s, it was simply a way of life [10] that they were putting on tape. Modern black musicians, typically rappers and RNB singers, spend a lot of track time discussing theirs and others’ addictive habits, resentment about their upbringing, and (perceived) lack of recognition in their spheres.

The life of a famous black person in the United States doesn’t seem conducive to longevity or happiness. Something has clearly gone terribly wrong. Many of them end up overdosing [11]. Many of them are angry and violent predators [12]. Some are just very depressed. No matter their dysfunction, it’s readily apparent that a great many blacks have a hard time fitting into white societies, and they turn to the arts as a way of expressing that. Whites will probably have a hard time understanding a lot of it; I don’t think I am being presumptuous when I say the average reader of this site can’t empathize with a rap song.

Black art, nonetheless, is still an expression of pain, a lashing-out at what they believe to be their oppressor. This animosity is goaded on by the same people who profit from it. That this same content is consumed by a lot of white people is really quite ironic, and frankly, unconscionable. The suggestion that we would be losing out on black music if they were no longer in the country is really suggesting that overwhelmingly Jewish media companies [13] would be losing out on the ability to commodify their suffering and anger — anger that is presently threatening to destroy us. In essence, some hip-hop-loving Leftist insistent on keeping his token blacks in the country really wants to keep them here to suffer for his entertainment. That’s not even the worst part, either. Insisting on blacks remaining in the country would be to trade one’s life and society for rhymes about money, bitches, and rims. I also find it funny that black people wish to stay in the United States because of the music they make. It’s like they need us to give them a reason to be pissed off.

This line of reasoning isn’t exclusive to blacks, but it’s particularly unjust when applied to them. In music spheres, I have heard unironic statements about white musicians along the lines of “they made better music when they were on heroin.” Is that true? Probably. But that’s a rather damning indictment of the state of culture and arts in the West than it is evidence good art only arises from suffering. It’s also very cruel. The opiate-addled grunge rocker can overcome his addiction. The American black is stuck here, and to suggest he needs to stay in order to sate the sickened cultural appetites of the nation’s youth, political Left, and culture-distorting “entertainment” industry borders on self-destructive minstrelsy. It’s the cultural equivalent of poking the bear.

Black people aren’t the only ones who suffer while living in white societies. We suffer, too. We suffer from crimes committed against us, the watering-down of our culture to commercialist dreck, and the burning down of the cities that we built. If nobody is happy, then who cares about rap albums and jazz standards?

So, let’s imagine music without black people.

If that means society isn’t being torn apart, then I’ll take it any day of the week.

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