Wednesday, June 10, 2020

The power of a word - "urban" has had its day

Just one of the many examples of fall-out from the George Floyd protests and the resurgence of Black Lives Matters is this seemingly minor event, which apparently is a big deal in music publishing and consumer retail circles in general.
Republic Records, the mega-company record label behind the music of such influential luminaries as Drake, Ariana Grande, The Weeknd, Nicky Minaj and Taylor Swift among others, has decided to stop using the word "urban" as a catch-all term to describe music by black artists. It will no longer use the term to describe departments, employee titles and music genres within its organization.
Perhaps not in itself a big deal, but Republic Records also issued a grand and very public press release explaining its move, about how "urban" is an old music industry term that did not use to carry any negative connotations, but its meaning has morphed over the years to the extent that it can now be considered to generalize and marginalize music by black artists by lumping them all into one big category.
Influential music management company Milk & Honey swiftly followed suit with a very similar statement. I guess it counts as a movement.
It was never a music genre name that I ever perceived in a negative way, I don't think, but I can see that hip-hop artists might want to separate themselves from reggae artists, soul artists, etc. It's interesting, though, that this kind of change, and particularly the accompanying press statements, is now perceived as important. You have to assume that these are actually the heartfelt feelings of the companies' managements, informed by overwhelming public - and employee - opinion, and not just corporations jumping on a bandwagon (there certainly ARE companies doing that, and we are at the stage where all companies need to make a public statement of suppport or they will be judged negatively). Now, you could probably question how using, or not using, the word "urban" is going to affect police brutality and racist attitudes in our police forces, but I guess all these little things contribute to the whole, and it is the whole that needs change.

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