Throughout the years, white artists have abused Urban culture for their own personal gain. Seeking to increase their record sales, access broader markets and keep up with industry trends, these individuals conveniently adopt the styles of their peers without a true appreciation of the music.
However, this exploitation of Urban culture is far from a new phenomenon. White artists have imitated their Hip-Hop, R&B, Soul and Rock & Roll counterparts for decades; blatantly cloning their music, performance styles and even fashion so that they could achieve greater success.
For instance, Elvis Presley was often accused of imitating Little Richard and James Brown as he established himself as the supposed King of Rock & Roll. In fact, that particular genre of music was developed primarily by African-American artists, such as Ike Turner and Fats Domino, yet quickly became dominated by white acts.
How did those white acts of the 1950s and 1960s easily rise to the forefront of Rock & Roll? Quite simply, they were white. That obvious fact afforded them the label resources and support to nab media promotion that their black contemporaries did not receive.
Imagine yourself sitting on your carpeted living room floor while watching your black and white television in the 1950s. Don’t you think that if you constantly saw Presley or another random white artist being introduced with the tagline “the King fo Rock & Roll” on your screen then you would easily believe it? That is the power of media propaganda and at that time, only popular white performers were given that level of promotion.
Of course, that does not mean that the white artists were the only people who got the opportunity to perform on television. Really, Ike & Tina Turner were incredibly successful in the 1960s and 1970s but their impact was easily dwarfed when compared to that of Presley.
This Urban culture whitewash persisted throughout the last 60 years and expanded into various other genres of music. I doubt anybody has forgotten Snow’s ridiculous take on Reggae with ‘Informer’ in which he tried his best to imitate a Jamaican accent.
Additionally, despite her current haughty speech and platinum blonde hair, Christina Aguilera was also an abuser of Urban culture. Flashback to 2002 when she was promoting her ‘Stripped’ album and she cleverly pierced her nose, layered her hair with weave, partied with Lil Kim and suddenly learned how to speak in ebonics. Aguilera even visited BET’s ’106 & Park’ where she proudly boasted about her Latina roots and her love of Hip-Hop.
“…being Latina does not equate to being from the hood so why did Christina Aguilera suddenly become a representative of the streets?”
Yes, Aguilera never denied that her father was born in Ecuador (her mother is white) and she even released a Spanish album, ‘Mi Reflejo’, in 2000, but it seems that she only remembers her heritage when it is convenient. Also, being Latina does not equate to being from the hood so why did Aguilera suddenly become a representative of the streets? It was the ‘in’ thing for her do at that time.
Now, before you defend Aguilera and write hateful comments about my island being washed away by a tsunami, ask yourselves this: why did she stop speaking in ebonics? That’s right, she moved on to another album campaign and the bad cabaret music of ‘Back to Basics’ didn’t include any references to the bitches and hos from Harlem. So, Aguilera dumped her Urban persona and started speaking similar to Madonna (post-Sean Penn).
Other artists who regularly imitate Urban culture are Justin Bieber and Justin Timberlake. The latter’s request to work with R. Kelly was publicly rejected because of his clear exploitation of R&B music:
“I [R. Kelly] refuse to write hits for someone who uses and abuses this thing called R&B music just to gain respect and acceptance from their opposite counterpart. I refuse to write hits for someone with the name of Justin Timberlake .”
Furthermore, let’s not forget about Beiber’s confirmation that he is only pulling from Hip-Hop so that he could sell records to an older crowd. Meanwhile, people are overlooking these comments and writing heated letters to Mary J. Blige about her Burger King chicken wraps commercial.
The key point about this incredibly long article is that many white artists simply do not have a real understanding and appreciation of Hip-Hop, R&B or Soul. Instead, unlike Adele, Amy Winehouse, Joss Stone and others who actually study these artforms, they simply emulate their peers when the time is right.
Yet, that is the nature of popular culture; it is defined by shifting trends and themes. Indeed, many Urban artists are currently prancing on the Dance/Pop bandwagon and utilising Dubstep production styles just to score a hit so who are we to blame the white artists for doing the reverse?