Music and song has always served as a catalyst to help Black/African Americans maintain a sense of internal calmness and hope during strife; cultivate, embrace and express individuality; as well as represented that living connection to and displayed through craftily-strung together lyrics trophies of cultural history, knowledge and heritage. In spite of all the adversities and calamities African-American enslaved ancestors were forced to endure, they demonstrated an unrelenting capacity to survive, overcome and prevail despite the odds. This was all accomplished through the power of music.
In any sense, music serves as an influencing factor on the human mind. In the sense of overcoming, music is a powerful tool that can encourage anyone to believe that they can accomplish anything. To the contrary, music--still with its mighty persuasion--can discourage, disappoint and destroy.
Many of the freedom songs of the Civil Rights Movement were essentially new versions of old slave spirituals with updated lyrics to express the signs and issues of the time. Singing has always been used as a weapon for the African American's plight against injustice, overt discrimination, and a tool used to "secretly" share knowledge or information to help blacks navigate the system. Black music during the 60s helped to set the tone and acceptance of the Civil Rights Movement and the elevation of the Black spirit. The same can be said for Jazz musicians as the music speaks for life, and the Blues tells compelling stories of life's difficulties.
From slavery spirituals up to the 1960s, music catapulted and particularly elevated black minds to a higher plane in life. Legally, slaves were supposed to have been set free in 1863, but in practice, it didn't become a reality until the late 1940s. Finally, physically free, the 60s found Black America striving for mental liberation from enslaved minds. To answer that call, and by some perfect alignment with the universe, Motown Record Corporation was founded by Berry Gordy, Jr., in Detroit, MI, on April 14, 1960.
The Motown Sound caused a revolution in music. Though Motown was originally founded as a music-producing company, the ideal that it represented initiated a movement. It began subtle and as if it were just about entertaining and making music, but it caused a most significant tidal effect that changed the landscape of America. Blurring the lines of color--as music comes from the soul, not from the color of one's skin; Motown played an important role in racial integration of popular music. These achievements caught world-wide attention. Motown gave the freedom train much of its fuel to push full-speed ahead.
The very creation of Motown embodied the African-American's spirit of triumph and making "something out of nothing." Motown produced and published songs that hit right at the heart of the Black man's current struggles, and his desire, will, and ability to overcome. Take for example the Temptations' I've Got Sunshine on a Cloudy Day. Yes, there were many-a-cloudy day, but as a GROUP, African Americans persevered. The Staple Singers' Respect Yourself expressed the importance of self-respect, honor, dignity and pride, which were invaluable and non-negotiable individual requirements back then. James Brown's Say It Loud, I'm Black and I'm Proud indeed communicated Blacks' healthy and rightfully-owned appreciation of their clearly-visible individuality. The Impressions' Keep on Pushing, People Get Ready, We're a Winner, I'm So Proud all gave solace to the mind and the strength of character required to overcome trials and tribulations.
Through its music, all was going well until that train traveling towards mental liberation was suddenly derailed. The systemic took away Malcolm X, MLK and Medgar Evers. This left Black America with a debunked spirit and leaderless, a vacuum that to this day has never been filled. On one hand, the short stay of those leaders combined with songs of encouragement was effective enough to plant some seeds of hope and help many Black Americans reach success on an individual basis. Blacks conquered many realms including sports, the business world, and politics. That's the upside. The downside is that all of those high-paid and highly-influential athletes, entertainers, corporate and political successors enjoying their individual successes and accomplishments do not use their clout to reach back and liberate their brothers and sisters. The American institutionalized systemic was back in full control, and it was and is considered controversial for any attempts to be made at uniting or liberating the minds of those Black Americans lagging behind.
As such--as a group--nothing has been achieved. Collectively, the picture can be very dismal when one considers the prevailing issues in the black community, such as black-on-black crime, drug problems, and school drop-out rates to name a few.
To address these apparent issues, Black music once again made a tremendous attempt at helping the black community get back on track during the 70s with The Temptation's Ball of Confusion, Runaway Child; Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes' Wake Up Everybody but to no avail. A new wave of music erupted, the Disco sound giving way to younger audiences and appeal to new tastes was now center stage, being followed by an even newer style of music--rap music. Rap music originally started out with positive messages over rhythmic or stylized beats, but was short-lived.
flickr image By EndlessCanvas.com
Due to influencing factors rap music became a way of expressing one's feelings toward controversial topics and "spitting fire" at those things rappers seemingly most despised. And rather than this type of music adding some relief and lifting the spirits of the Black community, it had the opposite effect as "hate breeds hate". Ultimately, this more controversial form of rap music has helped to set the tone for acceptance of the n-word, misogyny, violence, crime and the devaluation of the Black spirit.
Society is now witnessing another revolution through Hip-hop music, and its affect too is being felt over the world with the mass commercializing, marketing and promotion of the n-word. Rap music has poisoned the minds of an entire generation of kids and has desecrated the sacred memories of Black/African Americans' ancestry, making a mockery of their life, struggles and sacrifices.
Music once Black America's ally, is now being used in reverse. The lyrics of rap music promoting crime, violence, misogyny and use of the n-word are subliminal messages of self-destruction and mental decay, responsible for misguiding and misleading a generation of young minds. Rapper 50 Cent once allowed himself to be portrayed on billboards located in Black communities with a gun in one hand and a black baby in the other. Thank goodness the Black citizens in some of those areas had the intestinal fortitude to demand the removal of such demonic imagery.
Black-on-black crime is rampant and out of control, and to overlook the influence of rap music in all of this is a grave and serious error. The n-word is a surviving remnant of a psychological warfare which was conducted to create dependency, and perpetuate emotions, attitudes and/or behavior to support achievement of a national objective: mental enslavement of a race of people.
As history usually repeats itself, in this sense, one can only hope that Black America realizes that the current state of the most popular Black music has strayed so far from the path, that it is time to get back on track. One can only hope that the very thing that once elevated and uplifted the hearts, minds and souls of a ONCE proud people will again become that tool to ward off the demise and boost real progress of the collective Black community picking up where we left off at during the Civil Rights Movement, make no mistake about it--as a GROUP--virtually no progress has been made since the 60s, without group success, individual successes are a mirage - an illusion of reality a placebo effect.