Who’s Making Golden Oldies Now?

Jun 11, 2012 | Music, Press

Last February, Nia Ngia Meeks at Black American Web contacted me to speak as an expert on a piece she was working up for Black History Month that asked who among contemporary black popular artists were creating the future classics. Let me first say that overall, it’s a fun enough piece. No harm done whatsoever. And Nia was really fun to talk with. The concerns below had nothing to do with the very good job she did (except item 4). But:

1. I am black all year and therefore ambivalent at best about the calendrical tokenism of Black History Month.

2. Ethnographic training, feminism, and life experience have all suggested to me that individual possession of comprehensive and authoritative knowledge about anything exists much much more rarely than people think it does. Probably especially in the arts and humanities. I am therefore ambivalent about being called upon as an “expert.” (Note: Feminism and life experience have also taught me to get over it. I made sacrifices to get the experience I have so that I could speak with weight and influence to matters of importance to me. Someone is going to speak. It might as well be me…) But still.

3. However, what I am really not an expert on is contemporary black popular artists who are creating the future classics. And here’s why: the way we tend to ask the question or approach the issue is steeped in a kind of nostalgia and assumptive values about Authenticity that I’m actually not too interested in. More interesting to me: How are black artists–across a broad range of styles and idioms–really leveraging the tools at hand to say something new and interesting about black experience right now? If what is created actually speaks to this in some true way and creates resonance, then it will be a classic. Right Janelle Monae? Right.

4. Final bit. This was a nice, friendly, fun lesson for me in journalistic leeway. Note to self: ask to see the piece before its published.

In the end, I set all my ambivalences aside for a minute and just enjoyed the piece. Hope you do too: http://bit.ly/LMFdZX

 

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