Why Do We Still Call R&B/Hip-Hop 'Urban' — And Is It Time for a Change?

Why Do We Still Call R&B/Hip-Hop 'Urban' — And Is It Time for a Change?


Has the time come to retire “city”? As an umbrella time period for hip-hop and R&B, it’s both handy and apt or an antiquated shorthand for music made by black artists. And as a division at many labels relationship again to the 1970s, it has arguably marginalized black musicians and those that work with them.

As conversations about race and gender have intensified culturewide, “city” is getting reassessed too. In early August, Music Business Worldwide reported that a number of black executives needed to see the time period eradicated. Sources at Warner/Chappell affirm to Streets Talkin that outgoing CEO Jon Platt, who’s exiting his submit to go Sony/ATV, is amongst those that need to eliminate the time period.

Most objections are to the phrase itself. “The connotation of the phrase doesn't maintain a constructive weight,” explains Sam Taylor, senior vp artistic at Kobalt Music Group, the rights administration and publishing firm. “It’s downgrading R&B, soul and hip-hop’s unbelievable affect on music. And as black executives, we’ve got the facility to section ‘city’ out — to alter the outline.”

“I’ve been listening to folks speak about whether or not ‘city’ is a ble time period since my early days within the music trade,” says RCA Records govt vp A&R Tunji Balogun, who launched his profession within the early 2000s (RCA has an urban-music division).

Some executives of coloration defend its use. “I put on ‘city’ as a badge of honor,” says RCA president of city music Mark Pitts, who managed The Notorious B.I.G. within the ’90s and right this moment oversees a various roster together with Miguel, SZA, Khalid and G-Eazy. “As a black govt, I’ve all the time promoted it with pleasure.”

To these for whom “city” stays related, it encompasses one thing greater than a style or a label division. Rahman Dukes, senior vp at Sean “Diddy” Combs’ REVOLT cable TV community, equates “city” with “black life-style. It’s hip-hop. It’s R&B. It’s dance. It’s jazz. ‘Urban’ tells individuals who is probably not of the tradition, ‘Hey, we’re greater than only one explicit black model of music.’”

“‘Urban’ is tradition,” echoes Atlantic vp A&R and artist growth Riggs Morales. “There’s hip-hop, R&B, soul — city is simply the general hub.”

But as Morales additionally factors out, hip-hop is now the dominant style commercially — right this moment’s de facto pop music. Which, for a lot of leaders inside the enterprise, additional underscores how “city” relegates black music — and leaders — to an trade ghetto. “When I bought to Atlantic 5 years in the past, a number of main labels didn’t need to contact city,” says Morales. “Most of those labels had a favourite son, a favourite style, and it was not city.”

Balogun remembers “being marginalized as an govt within the city A&R division,” particularly when he was promoted in 2013 at Interscope. “There have been different artists I used to be eager about working with who weren't particularly city, however I used to be solely thought-about to be an ‘city’ govt.”

Balogun has seen the time period adversely have an effect on his artists, too. “It’s a lot tougher for a black artist to get performed at high 40 radio as a result of they’re checked out as ‘city,’” he says. “When I’m going to see [Childish] Gambino or Khalid carry out, I see a number of white children. You can’t inform me that their music is just ‘city.’”

The problematic historical past of classifying black music dates again to 1920, when the “race file” was born after composer Perry Bradford satisfied the white-owned label Okeh Records to take an opportunity on black blues singer Mamie Smith. “Race information” got here to embody not solely blues however vaudeville, jazz, gospel, even classical — any music carried out by black artists.

Back then, black-owned labels didn't reject the time period outright. “It was linked to this bigger concept of black uplift — an extension of that philosophy of racial empowerment,” says Fredara Hadley, an ethnomusicology professor at Oberlin College. But in 1949, Streets Talkin modified its “race information” charts to Rhythm & Blues, and by the mid-’70s, black New York radio DJ Frankie Crocker had coined the phrase “city up to date,” which ultimately morphed into “city.”

To some, the answer to right this moment’s quandary is easy. “I’m very proud to name black music ‘black music,’” says Balogun. “Even white artists making music from our genres — you’ll be able to’t inform me that Eminem and G-Eazy, each artists I respect and like, are usually not doing black music. So why are black artists the one ones who get labeled ‘city’?” Hadley means that “in case you are attempting to level to black tradition — which is what entrepreneurs and the file trade and radio folks try to level to — then say ‘black.’” (Atlantic is the one label with a black-music division, which is headed by president of black music Michael Kyser, though the titles of some members of his group embody the phrase “city.”)

Dukes factors out that artists and athletes talking out on race not too long ago have impressed music executives to claim their identities. “Kendrick Lamar, J. Cole, Jay-Z, Beyoncé and Janelle Monáe are the brand new civil rights voices,” he says. “Now you could have individuals who have labored inside that city lane for years saying, ‘No: We are black. And we’re doing black music.’”

This article initially appeared within the Sept. 29 situation of Streets Talkin.