Hey. Thanks for the positive feedback on yesterday’s article and spreadsheet. This morning I recorded a short solo podcast where I talked a little more about this week’s events, and voiced-over my article. People have asked me to do this for a while. This was a good time to try it out.
As a reminder, I am soon sunsetting these Monday and Friday Trapital Member updates. The membership will transition to focus on community events and data resources. Read more at the end of this article (I reposted what I included in Monday’s update).
Today’s update is focused on Republic Records decision to ban the word “urban.”
From Republic Records:
Effective immediately, Republic Records will remove “URBAN” from our verbiage in describing departments, employee titles, and music genres.
We encourage the rest of the music industry to follow suit as it is important to shape the future of what we want it to look like, and not adhere to the outdated structures of the past.
It’s about damn time!
For decades, this term has marginalized black artists. Record labels play a big role, but it’s bigger than them. It’s the urban radio stations. It’s the urban award at the Grammys where the nominees are only black. It’s the “urban apparel” label placed on all the fashion brands launched by hip-hop artists. The marginalization limits the reach. It hurts their image and revenue potential.
In February, Tyler, The Creator won his Grammy Award for Best Rap Album. It was still a proud moment, but he let his frustrations be known:
“It sucks that whenever we — and I mean guys that look like me — do anything that’s genre-bending or that’s anything they always put it in a rap or urban category. I don’t like that ‘urban’ word — it’s just a politically correct way to say the n-word to me.
When I hear that, I’m just like why can’t we be in pop? Half of me feels like the rap nomination was just a backhanded compliment. Like, my little cousin wants to play the game. Let’s give him the unplugged controller so he can shut up and feel good about it — that’s what it felt like a bit.”
These urban awards categories are why The Grammys have avoided some of the criticism that The Oscars has gotten. There’s no “Best Urban Picture” award. If The Academy ever proposed it, people would be outraged. Hip-hop’s numerous Grammy categories make it easy to avoid these issues. People want to be recognized in the same breath as their “non-urban” peers.
I believe that Republic’s move will push other record labels to eliminate the term as well. While Republic claimed it won’t impact the organization, it may for other labels. There are several Urban Managers and Urban Directors out there. If the divisions are simply renamed, the work won’t be done. Integration is the goal.
Radio stations may take more work though. Here’s what I wrote last year in White Rappers and Black Rappers Have Different Business Models:
Many radio stations are owned by broadcasting companies that own several stations in the same market. Despite hip-hop’s ubiquity as today’s pop music, these companies intentionally segment their stations to better sell the audience to advertisers. If the pop station overlaps too much with the hip-hop station, the stations lose value to advertisers who prefer targeted audiences. Therefore, pop radio remains as a channel to reach white audiences, and “urban” radio is the channel to reach black folks. The preferential treatment of white rappers on the pop charts is the problematic result.
When black rappers try to get on the pop charts, it’s an uphill battle. In an interview with Rolling Stone, Future’s manager said that he couldn’t get “Mask Off” to gain traction on the pop charts. Remember, this was Future’s biggest song. It gave us the #MaskOffChallenge! Future had folks dusting off their flutes and recorders from elementary school to participate in the viral challenge, but pop radio was like, “Nah, we good with The Chainsmokers.” You hate to see it.
This advertiser segmentation is pointless. Hip-hop is ingratiated in the fabric of pop radio. The audiences aren’t that different, especially now.
Pop radio lives on this archaic myth of the suburban soccer mom. There’s a belief that this minivan driver is fine if her kids hear Halsey on the radio, but gets nervous about Wiz Khalifa. It’s a meaningless distinction when both artists could swap beats and no one would notice.
Again, good call Republic for finally doing this. Hopefully, other labels and industry recognize the impact and take the necessary actions.