In the development of sound recording, primarily an enterprise of European Americans, the cultural input of African Americans was initially relegated to the margins. Even "coon" songs, a staple of early commercial recordings dating from minstrelsy, were almost invariably sung by whites until World War I. Notable exceptions included Bert Williams (1867–1922), the great black vaudevillian, and George Washington Johnson (c. 1850–c. 1910), perhaps the first black recording artist, whose hits "The Whistling Coon" and "The Laughing Song" brought him fame and fortune.
The "blues" craze that swept the country in the 1910s was driven by a number of African-American composers, including W. C. Handy (the Father of the Blues) and Arthur Seals, as well as a number of white blues writers. As with coon songs, however, most of these blues compositions were recorded by whites singing in "Negro dialect."
In 1914 the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP) was founded to protect the rights of songwriters. Membership in the society was generally skewed toward writers of pop tunes and semiserious works. Of the society's 170 charter members, only six were black: Harry Burleigh, Will Marion Cook, J. Rosamond Johnson, James Weldon Johnson, Cecil Mack, and Will Tyers. Although other "literate" black writers and composers, such as W. C. Handy and Duke Ellington, were able to gain entrance to ASCAP, the vast majority of "untutored" black artists were excluded from the society and thereby denied the full benefits of copyright protection.
With the advent of recorded jazz in the late 1910s, patterns of racial exclusion skewed public perceptions of African-American music even more. In 1917, when the Victor label decided to take a chance on "jass," the band they chose to record was the all-white Original Dixieland Jazz Band. Though they were heavily influenced by the King Oliver Creole Jazz Band (which included the trumpeter Louis Armstrong), the Oliver ensemble itself did not record until 1923. The first ensemble of color to receive a recording contract was James Reese Europe's Syncopated Society Orchestra, signed by Victor in 1914 to supervise a series of dance records for the white dance team of Vernon and Irene Castle.
An African-American market for African-American records was not "discovered" until 1920, and even then quite by accident. The enterprising black producer and songwriter Perry Bradford convinced the Okeh record company to let him record a black contralto named Mamie Smith. Her recording of Bradford's "Crazy Blues" sold 7,500 copies a week, mostly to black buyers. Ralph Peer, the Okeh recording director who assisted at the sessions, dubbed these records "race records," which remained the designation for black music, by black artists, for a black audience until 1949. Smith's overwhelming success ushered in an era of classic blues recordings by African-American women such as Ida Cox, Chippie Hill, Sarah Martin, Clara Smith, Trixie Smith, Victoria Spivey, Sippie Wallace, and the most famous of all, Bessie Smith, the "Empress of the Blues."
The initial success of the "race market" encouraged the formation of a handful of black-owned independent labels. W. C. Handy and his publishing partner, Harry Pace, started Black Swan Records in 1921. Mayo "Ink" Williams, head of Paramount's race series, founded the Black Patti label in 1927. However, such labels were soon bought up by the major companies or forced out of the industry. With the onset of the Great Depression, the race market was slowly taken over by Okeh, Columbia, and Paramount, and not a single black-owned label survived the 1920s intact.
As the record companies began to test the limits of the race market, they discovered that there was also a considerable demand for country blues, particularly among southern blacks. In 1924, the same year they acquired the Black Swan catalog, Paramount released Papa Charlie Jackson's "Papa's Lawdy Lawdy Blues." This record was followed by releases by Arthur "Blind" Blake and, perhaps the most popular country blues singer of the decade, Blind Lemon Jefferson. Throughout the 1920s and early 1930s, a number of companies, including Okeh, Columbia, and Victor, engaged in extensive "field" recordings. As a result, dozens of country blues artists—among them Furry Lewis, Blind Willie McTell, Mississippi John Hurt, Son House, Charlie Patton, Huddie "Leadbelly" Ledbetter, and Robert Johnson—were brought to wider public attention. The country blues artist who dominated the 1930s was Big Bill Broonzy.
In mainstream music, it was the era of big band jazz. Again, patterns of racial segregation obscured the origins of the music. A number of African-American bands managed to achieve major success, however. Among the best known, Duke Ellington's band became famous through their live broadcasts from the Cotton Club in Harlem, New York. William James "Count" Basie, playing at the Reno Club in Kansas City, injected jazz with a heavy dose of the blues. Both the Ellington and Basie bands recorded for major labels and were among the few African-American ensembles that could be heard on radio.
In the 1940s, tension between radio and music publishers signaled a new era in black popular music. The National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), representing some six hundred radio stations, formed their own performing rights organization, Broadcast Music Incorporated (BMI), in 1939, and they proceeded shortly thereafter to boycott all ASCAP music. The Broadway-Hollywood monopoly on popular music, and its considerable influence in shaping public taste, was challenged publicly for the first time, creating a cultural space for rhythm-andblues (R&B) artists like Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup, Roy Brown, Ivory Joe Hunter, Fats Domino, and Wynonie Harris.
The success of these artists in the late 1940s speaks to what the critic Nelson George has referred to as "an aesthetic schism between high-brow, more assimilated black styles and working-class, grassroots sounds" (1988, p. 10). Until this time, the most notable African-American acts were the more pop-sounding artists like Nat "King" Cole ("For Sentimental Reasons"), Ella Fitzgerald ("My Happiness"), the Mills Brothers ("Across the Valley from the Alamo"), and the Ink Spots ("The Gypsy"). All of these artists recorded for major labels, which failed to appreciate the appeal of rhythm and blues (R&B) in working-class black communities.
With a much smaller horn section and more pronounced rhythm, Louis Jordan and His Tympani Five, something of a transitional act, anticipated the decline of the big bands and helped to define the instrumentation for the R&B combos that followed. Jordan's material was composed and arranged, but selections like "Saturday Night Fishfry," "Honey Chile," and "Ain't Nobody Here but Us Chickens" evoked blues images not found in most black pop of the day. While Jordan was said to have "jumped the blues," other R&B stars screeched, honked, and shouted. "Suddenly it was as if a great deal of the Euro-American humanist facade Afro-American music had taken on had been washed away by the war" (Jones, 1963, p. 171). The raucous styles of such artists as Wynonie Harris ("Good Rockin' Tonight"), John Lee Hooker ("Boogie Chillen"), saxophonist Big Jay McNeely ("Deacon's Hop"), and pianist Amos Milburn ("Chicken Shack Boogie") all deviated significantly from the sound of mainstream black pop.
Since this music did not readily lend itself to the production styles of the major labels, they decided to ignore the relatively smaller R&B market. This situation made it possible for a large number of independent labels to enter the business. It is estimated that by 1949 over four hundred new labels came into existence. Most important among these were Atlantic in New York City; Savoy in Newark; King in Cincinnati; Chess in Chicago; Peacock in Houston; and Modern, Imperial, and Specialty in Los Angeles. White-owned, except for Don Robey's Peacock label, most of these labels specialized in R&B.
This music found a ready home among independent deejays (or disc jockeys) who often experimented with "specialty" music as an antidote to the trivial popular fare of network radio. Early R&B hits that were popular among both black and white audiences included Fats Domino's "The Fat Man," Jackie Brenston's "Rocket 88," Lloyd Price's "Lawdy Miss Clawdy," and Joe Turner's "Chains of Love," "Sweet Sixteen," and "Honey Hush." All were recorded for independent labels. Pioneer black deejays such as "Jockey" Jack Gibson in Atlanta, "Professor Bop" in Shreveport, and "Sugar Daddy" in Birmingham paved the way for white R&B deejays such as Alan Freed, the self-appointed "Father of Rock and Roll."
With its roots in the Deep South, the music that became rock and roll issued from just about every region in the country. Most of its formative influences, as well as virtually all of its early innovators, were African American: B. B. King ("The Thrill Is Gone"), Muddy Waters ("Got My Mojo Working"), Bo Diddley ("Bo Diddley"), Fats Domino ("Ain't That a Shame," "I'm in Love Again," and "Blueberry Hill"), Ray Charles ("I Got a Woman"), Clyde McPhatter ("A Lover's Question"), Sam Cooke ("You Send Me"), Ruth Brown ("Mama, He Treats Your Daughter Mean"), Laverne Baker ("Tweedle Dee," "Jim Dandy"), Little Richard ("Tutti-Frutti," "Long Tall Sally," "Rip It Up"), Chuck Berry ("Maybellene," "Sweet Sixteen," "School Days," "Johnny B. Goode"), the Orioles ("Crying in the Chapel"), the Crows ("Gee"), the Chords ("Sh-Boom"), and the Penguins ("Earth Angel"). Even with the new name, there was no mistaking where this music came from. As late as 1956, Billboard referred to the music as "a popularized form of rhythm & blues."
Several dozen "rock and roll" songs were successfully "covered" by white artists in the early years of rock and roll, but the vintage rock and roll years were generally good for black musicians. African-American artists made such significant inroads into the pop market that, for a time, Billboard's pop charts and R&B charts were virtually indistinguishable. At the end of the decade the "payola" scandal, which involved offering deejays cash, gifts, or other inducements to air a record, threatened to halt their progress. Deejays became the main target of government hearings that were largely orchestrated by ASCAP with support from the major record companies. The deejays were considered largely responsible for the crossover of black music into the pop market.
Chubby Checker ushered in the 1960s with "The Twist," which remains the only record to reach number one on the pop charts twice, first in 1960 and then again in 1962. It was still listed as the best-selling single of all time well into the 1970s. The twist craze was so powerful that major R&B artists and labels felt compelled to jump on the bandwagon. In 1962 alone, Sam Cooke recorded "Twistin' the Night Away," Gary U.S. Bonds released "Dear Lady Twist" and "Twist, Twist Senora," and the Isley Brothers followed their classic "Shout" with "Twist and Shout." Atlantic Records reissued an album of old Ray Charles material as Do the Twist with Ray Charles. Relative unknowns Little Eva and Dee Dee Sharp had hits with two twist spin-offs, "The Loco-Motion" and "Mashed Potato Time," respectively.
During this period, R&B producers emerged as artists in their own right. "Uptown rhythm & blues," to use Charlie Gillett's term, was established in Lieber and Stoller's pioneering work with the Drifters ("There Goes My Baby," "This Magic Moment," "Save the Last Dance for Me") in 1959 to 1960 (Gillett, 1970, p. 220). Luther Dixon's work with the Shirelles ("Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?," "Dedicated to the One I Love," "Soldier Boy"), Phil Spector's with the Crystals ("He's a Rebel," "Da Doo Ron Ron," "Then He Kissed Me") and the Ronnettes ("Be My Baby"), and Berry Gordy's with Martha and the Vandellas ("Heat Wave," "Quicksand," "Dancing in the Street"), the Marvelettes ("Please Mr. Postman"), and the Supremes ("Where Did Our Love Go?" "Baby Love," "Stop! In the Name of Love," "You Can't Hurry Love") developed the style further and rekindled the spirit of early rock and roll. In the hands of these producers, black female vocal harmony groups, known collectively as "girl groups," became a recognized trend in rock and roll for the first time.
During this period, Berry Gordy started the most significant black-owned record label ever—Motown. Until its sale to MCA (and ultimate incorporation into the Universal Music Group), Motown was the centerpiece of the largest black-owned corporation in the United States. As a businessman, Gordy addressed all aspects of career development for African-American artists such as Marvin Gaye, the Temptations, the Four Tops, and Stevie Wonder, in addition to the women mentioned above. As a producer, he had an uncanny ability to incorporate white audience tastes without abandoning a black sound.
As the early civil rights movement gave way to the more radical demand for black power, Motown's hegemony over black pop was challenged by a resurgence of closer-to-the-roots, hard-driving R&B from the Deep South. Chiefly responsible for the popularization of "southern soul" was a short-lived but highly successful collaboration between Atlantic Records and a number of southern studios, most notably Stax in Memphis and Fame in Muscle Shoals (Guaralnick, 1986). From 1965 on, artists like Otis Redding ("I've Been Loving You Too Long"), Wilson Pickett ("Land of 1000 Dances"), Sam and Dave ("Soul Man"), Arthur Conley ("Sweet Soul Music"), and Percy Sledge ("When a Man Loves a Woman") echoed the spirit of the new militancy with raw, basic recordings easily distinguished from the cleaner, brighter Motown sound.
Stax was originally a white-owned company; its "Memphis sound" was created by the house band, Booker T. and the MGs, and was the product of cross-racial teamwork. Initially the credits on all Stax recordings read simply "produced by the Stax staff." In the late 1960s, leadership was increasingly taken over by black vice president Al Bell, often under controversial circumstances. Motown was not only black-owned, but virtually all of its creative personnel—artists, writers, producers, and session musicians—were black as well. It was clearly a haven for black talent. Paradoxically, Motown is remembered as being "totally committed to reaching white audiences," while Stax recordings, by contrast, were "consistently aimed at R&B fans first, the pop market second" (George, 1988, p. 86).
The two artists who best expressed the spirit of the era were James Brown and Aretha Franklin. In the 1950s, James Brown's music was intended for, and in many ways confined to, the black community. When he "crossed over," he did so on his own terms. His string of uncompromising Top Ten hits ("Papa's Got a Brand New Bag," "I Got You," "Cold Sweat") made few concessions to mainstream sensibilities. His 1968 hit single "Say It Loud—I'm Black and I'm Proud" became an anthem in the struggle for black liberation. Signed to Atlantic records in 1967, Aretha Franklin earned the title "Lady Soul" with her recording of Otis Redding's song "Respect." The vocal and emotional range of her Atlantic releases ("Baby, I Love You," "Natural Woman," "Chain of Fools," "Think," and "Young, Gifted and Black," to name a few) uniquely expressed all the passion and forcefulness of the era.
Two black-led mixed bands in the late 1960s incorporated "psychedelic" sounds into their music—Sly and the Family Stone ("Dance to the Music," "Everyday People," "Hot Fun in the Summertime," "Thank You Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin," "Family Affair") and the Jimi Hendrix Experience ("Purple Haze," "All Along the Watchtower"). Chemical indulgence guided the careers of both. Sly married the funk and rock cultures in a way that no other artist, black or white, had been able to do. Hendrix explored the electronic wizardry of his instrument and recording studio to a greater extent than any other African-American musician. At his Electric Ladyland studios, he also logged some eight hundred hours of tape with musicians like Miles Davis, John McLaughlin, and other avantgarde jazz notables. None of these tapes was released during Hendrix's lifetime, and he never attracted a black audience to the music with which he was identified.
In the early 1970s a breakthrough of sorts for African-American songwriters was provided by so-called blaxploitation films. Popular movies like Shaft, Superfly, and Troubleman were scored by Isaac Hayes, Curtis Mayfield, and Marvin Gaye, respectively.
Reflecting the "quieter" mood of the early 1970s was the "soft soul" sound pioneered by Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff and producer-arranger Thom Bell, in league with Sigma Sound Studios in Philadelphia. Working with Jerry Butler, the Intruders, and the Delphonics, Gamble and Huff parlayed a $700 bank loan into thirty millionselling singles in a five-year period. The Philadelphia enterprise hit its stride in 1971 with the formation of Philadelphia International Records (PIR) and a distribution deal with CBS. Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes ("If You Don't Know Me By Now") and the O'Jays ("Back Stabbers," "Love Train") on PIR, the Stylistics ("You Make Me Feel Brand New") on Avco, and the Spinners ("Could It Be I'm Falling in Love") on Atlantic set the standard in black pop for the next few years. Southern soul yielded the velvety smooth Al Green ("Let's Stay Together," "I'm Still in Love with You"). Other artists, such as the Chicago-based Chi-Lites ("Oh Girl") and the ever-changing Isley Brothers ("That Lady") also followed suit. Soft soul was one of the formative influences on the trend that would dominate the rest of the decade—disco.
Disco began as deejay-created medleys of existing (mostly African-American) dance records in black, Latino, and gay nightclubs. As it evolved into its own musical genre, its sources of inspiration came, to some extent, from self-contained funk bands such as Kool and the Gang ("Funky Stuff," "Jungle Boogie"), the Ohio Players ("Skin Tight," "Fire"), and Earth, Wind, and Fire ("Shining Star"), but more clearly from "soft soul" and the controlled energy of what came to be known as Eurodisco.
Most of the early disco releases in the United States were by black artists. Among those that made the rare crossover from clubs to radio were "Soul Makossa," an obscure French import by Manu Dibango, "Rock the Boat" by the Hues Corporation, and George McRae's "Rock Your Baby." The first disco hit to reach the charts as disco was Gloria Gaynor's "Never Can Say Good-bye" in 1974, and the following year Donna Summer's "Love to Love You Baby" moved disco closer to the surface. And by 1975 Van McCoy and the Soul City Orchestra had established the hustle as the most important new dance craze since the twist.
With the exception of deejay Frankie Crocker on WBLS in New York, disco was systematically excluded from radio. The music received its primary exposure in clubs, popularized only by the creative genius of the disco deejays. Initially shunned by the record companies, the club deejays had to make the rounds to each label individually in order to get records. Organizing themselves into "record pools," disco deejays quickly developed an alternative to the airplay marketing structure of the industry.
Disco's fanatical following turned out to be not only an underground party culture but also a significant record-buying public. By the mid-1970s, the pop charts were bursting with disco acts like the Silver Convention ("Fly, Robin, Fly," "Get Up and Boogie"), Hot Chocolate ("You Sexy Thing"), Wild Cherry ("Play That Funky Music"), K.C. and the Sunshine Band ("Shake Your Booty"), Rhythm Heritage ("Theme from S.W.A.T."), Sylvers ("Boogie Fever"), Johnny Taylor ("Disco Lady"), Maxine Nightingale ("Right Back Where We Started From"), the Emotions ("Best of My Love"), Thelma Houston ("Don't Leave Me This Way"), Rose Royce ("Car Wash"), Brick ("Dazz"), Hot ("Angel in Your Arms"), Taste of Honey ("Boogie Oogie Oogie"), Peter Brown ("Dance with Me"), Yvonne Elliman ("If I Can't Have You"), Chic ("Dance, Dance, Dance"), Heatwave ("The Groove Line"), and, of course, Donna Summer. Most of these acts were black.
The full commercial potential of disco was realized when WKTU, an obscure soft rock station in New York, converted to an all-disco format in 1978 and, within months, became the most listened-to station in the country. By 1979 there were some two hundred disco stations broadcasting in almost every major market. Disco records captured eight of the fourteen pop Grammy Awards in 1979. Syndicated television programs like "Disco Magic" and "Dance Fever" brought the dance craze to the heartland. Some thirty-six million adults thrilled to the musical mixes of eight thousand professional deejays who serviced a portion of the estimated twenty thousand disco clubs. The phenomenon spawned a subindustry whose annual revenues ranged from $4 billion to $8 billion.
Because of disco's roots, the inevitable backlash had racial overtones. Slogans like "death to disco" and "disco sucks" were as much racial epithets as they were statements of musical preference. In the early 1980s, rock radio reasserted its primacy (and its racism) with a vengeance. Black-oriented radio was forced to move in the direction of a new format—urban contemporary (UC). UC was multicultural in its original conception: black artists in the soul, funk, and jazz categories—such as Stevie Wonder, Donna Summer, Rick James, Third World, Funkadelic, Quincy Jones, and George Benson—remained central to a station's playlist, and white acts who fit the format—like David Bowie or Hall and Oates—were added. Paradoxically, UC may well have proven to be a net loss for black artists. While UC provided greater access for white musicians on what had been black-oriented stations, black performers did not gain any reciprocal access to rock radio.
More blatant acts of racial exclusion were occurring in video. In 1983 People magazine reported that "on MTV's current roster of some 800 acts, 16 are black" (Bricker, 1983, p. 31). MTV's rejection of five Rick James videos at a time when his album Street Songs had sold almost four million copies was rivaled only by their initial reluctance to air even Michael Jackson's "Beat It" and "Billy Jean" videos. New music video outlets formed in reaction to MTV's restrictive programming policies. Black Entertainment Television (BET) and the long-standing Soul Train provided the primary video exposure for black talent in the early 1980s. Ironically, Yo! MTV Raps subsequently became one of MTV's most popular offerings.
This restricted access for African-American artists occurred during the first recession in the music business since the late 1940s. Recovery, beginning in 1983, was signaled by the multiplatinum, worldwide success of Michael Jackson's Thriller, with international sales of some forty million units, making it the largest-selling record of all time. Thriller began a trend toward blockbuster LPs featuring a limited number of superstar artists as the solution to the industry's economic woes. Interestingly, quite a few of these superstars—including Michael Jackson, Prince, Lionel Richie, Tina Turner, and others—were African Americans.
The phenomenal pop successes of these artists immediately catapulted them into an upper-level industry infrastructure fully owned and operated by whites. In this rarified atmosphere, they were confronted with considerable pressure to sever their ties with the attorneys, managers, booking agents, and promoters who may have been responsible for building their careers in the first place. "Aside from Sammy Davis Jr., Nancy Wilson, and Stephanie Mills," said Nelson George, citing a 1984 Ebony story, there were "no other black household names with black management…. Michael Jackson, Lionel Richie, Prince, Luther Vandross, the Pointer Sisters, Earth, Wind and Fire, Ray Parker Jr., and Donna Summer all relied on white figures for guidance" (1988, p. 177). These artists were further distinguished from less successful black artists in that they were now marketed directly to the mainstream audience, a practice that has since proven successful even with the debut releases of artists like Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey.
A number of cross-racial, pop-oriented duets—including Stevie Wonder and Paul McCartney ("Ebony and Ivory"), Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney ("The Girl Is Mine," "Say Say Say"), Diana Ross and Julio Iglesias ("All of You"), James Ingram and Kenny Rogers ("What About Me?"), Dionne Warwick and Friends ("That's What Friends Are For"), Patti LaBelle and Michael McDonald ("On My Own"), Aretha Franklin and George Michael ("I Knew You Were Waiting for Me"), and James Ingram and Linda Ronstadt ("Somewhere Out There")—brought a new dimension to the term "crossover." Michael Jackson's and Lionel Richie's "We Are The World" (1985)—the ultimate crossover recording—initiated the phenomenon of "charity rock."
It remained for rap to take African-American music back to the streets. Rap, one cultural element in the larger hip-hop subculture, began in the South Bronx at about the same time as disco, but, given its place of origin, the movement developed in almost complete isolation for more than five years. In the late 1970s, hip-hop was "discovered" in turn by the music business, the print media, and the film industry. Through films like the low-budget Wild Style (1982) and the blockbuster Flashdance (1983), followed by Breakin' (1984) and Beat Street (1984), hip-hop was brought to the attention of a mass audience.
In the mid-1980s, early hip-hop culture heroes like Afrika Bambaataa, Kool Herc, and Grandmaster Flash passed the baton to a second generation of artists such as Whodini, the Force MDs, the Fat Boys, and Run-D.M.C., who recorded the first gold rap album, Run-D.M.C., in 1984. This was a new wrinkle for rap, which had always been based on 12-inch singles. In the relative absence of radio play, even on black radio, rap artists such as Run-D.M.C., UTFO, L.L. Cool J, Whodini, Heavy D. & the Boyz, Salt-n-Pepa, and the Fat Boys made significant inroads into the album and cassette market. Eight of Bill-board's top thirty black albums for the week of November 28, 1987, were rap albums.
Beginning as a street movement, rap was initially produced by independent labels, some of which (the notorious Sugar Hill, which has since faded from the scene, and Russell Simmons's Def Jam) were black-owned, all of which were independently distributed. In signing Curtis Blow, Mercury was the only major label to take a chance on rap before it was a proven commodity. Mainstream success, however, demanded the kind of national distribution provided by the major labels. In the mid-1980s, Columbia Records concluded a custom label deal with Def Jam, Jive Records entered into distribution arrangements with both RCA and Arista, Cold Chillin' Records signed a distribution deal with Warner (who also bought a piece of Tommy Boy), Delicious Vinyl entered into a national distribution deal with Island, and Priority contracted with Capitol for national distribution (Garofalo, 1990, pp. 116–117).
Roundly criticized for violence, sexism, and bigotry in the late 1980s, rap endeavored to clean up its image while becoming the main target in the controversy over censorship. Following the lead of Nelson George, a number of rap groups—including Stetsasonic, Boogie Down Productions, and Public Enemy, among others—initiated the Stop the Violence Movement, aimed specifically at black-on-black crime. West Coast rappers followed with "We're All in the Same Gang." Artists such as Queen Latifah and Salt-n-Pepa offered a female—if not a feminist—corrective to abusive sexual rantings. Highly politicized rappers like Public Enemy and NWA remained controversial, even as they sold millions of records to black as well as white teenagers.
During this period, rap gained a measure of mainstream acceptability, as the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences added a rap category to the Grammys in 1988 and, immediately following, Billboard unceremoniously inaugurated a rap chart. This momentum soon propelled rap to the upper reaches of the pop market; pop rapper/dancer (M.C.) Hammer's Please Hammer Don't Hurt 'Em remained at pop number one for twenty-one weeks, achieving sales of over ten million units. It also propelled rappers into leading roles in other media, including television (Will Smith, Queen Latifah) and film (Ice-T, Ice Cube, Tupac Shakur).
Having achieved a certain level of respectability, rap could not outrun its legacy of controversy. In the 1992 election year, presidential candidate Bill Clinton traded barbs over the Rodney King affair with Sister Souljah, who more than held her own as she graced the cover of Newsweek. Ice-T's "Cop Killer" was denounced by public figures ranging from George Bush Sr., Dan Quayle, and Mario Cuomo to Charleton Heston, Beverly Sills, and Oliver North, while sixty congressmen complained to Time Warner, the parent company for Ice-T's label, who then dropped the rapper. Later, Snoop Doggy Dogg, Tupac Shakur, and Flavor Flav made headlines for allegedly crossing the line into violence in real life.
By this time the well-worn path from citizen outrage to government hearings had been taken up by African-American activists, as Dr. C. DeLores Tucker, chairwoman of the National Political Congress of Black Women enlisted the support of Dionne Warwick for a round of Senate hearings scheduled by Senator Carol Moseley-Braun. After 1994, government hearings on rap began to subside, only to pick up again two years later when the violence associated with gangsta rap climaxed with the shooting deaths of Tupac Shakur and then the Notorious B.I.G. (Biggie Smalls).
With the focus on sensationalized rap murders, it was easy to lose sight of the fact that African-American aesthetics, performance styles, and production techniques had
contributed significantly to the development of popular music styles ranging from rage rock and teen pop to electronic dance music and R&B. Again, the work of talented African-American producers was clearly in evidence. Beginning in the 1980s, producers such as Quincy Jones, Nile Rogers, Narada Michael Walden, and the team of Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis paved the way for a next generation that included: Teddy Riley, who invented New Jack Swing; Sean "Puffy" Combs, who established the signature sounds of Jodeci and Mary J. Blige; and Antonio "L.A." Reid and Kenneth "Babyface" Edmunds, who founded La-Face Records.
By the mid-1990s, African-American artists had contributed significantly to a number of trends that peppered the pop landscape: the blockbuster dance-pop of artists like Mariah Carey, who debuted with five number-one pop hits in a row; the growth of hip-hop–flavored R&B vocal groups like Color Me Badd ("All for Love"), Boyz II Men ("End of the Road"), and Jodeci ("Lately"); the sexualized R&B stylings of R. Kelly ("Bump and Grind"); the social engagement of rap groups ranging from Arrested Development ("People Everyday") to the Fugees ("Killing Me Softly"); and the turn toward real life violence that cost the lives of Tupac Shakur (All Eyez on Me ) and the Notorious B.I.G. (Ready to Die ).
By this time, hip-hop had expanded geographically beyond the East Coast–West Coast axis of the late 1980s, creating new vocabularies of place and space. In addition to Miami (2 Live Crew), Houston (Geto Boys), Seattle (Sir Mix-A-Lot), and San Francisco (Too Short), hip-hop had established bases in the Midwest and what Tony Green (1999) referred to as "The Dirty South." New Orleans boasted Master P's No Limit Army (Silkk The Shocker, C-Murder, Mo B. Dick, Mia X) and the Cash Money label (Juvenile, B.G., Turk, Lil' Wayne, and Big Tymers), as well as Mystikal on Jive Records. La Face (OutKast, Goodie Mob) was headquartered in Atlanta, as was So So Def (Jer-maine Dupri, Lil' Bow Wow, Da Brat). And in 2000, Def Jam opened an Atlanta subsidiary with Scarface as its president and Ludacris as its flagship artist. Timbaland and Magoo represented Virginia Beach, along with Missy "Misdemeanor" Elliott; while Bone Thugs-N-Harmony was in Cleveland and, later, Eminem came out of Detroit.
There was also a next generation of labels in rap's historical strongholds. Dr. Dre had launched Aftermath in Los Angeles. In addition to Bad Boy (Puff Daddy, Notorious B.I.G., MASE, Lil' Kim, Black Rob, Faith Evans), New York added two other significant new rap labels as well—Roc-A-Fella (Jay Z, Beanie Sigel, Cam'ron, M.O.P., Kayne West) and Ruff Ryders (DMX, Eve).
Clearly, rap could no longer be dismissed as a wild street culture; it was a major corporate enterprise, with the most successful artists often playing the multiple roles of performer, writer, producer, and label head. By 1997, Sean "Puffy" Coombs presided over a Bad Boy Entertainment empire that grossed $200 million and employed three hundred people. Master P built a diversified business that included No Limit Records, No Limit Films, No Limit Sports Enterprises, a No Limit clothing line (Soldier Gear), and a multimillion dollar deal with the shoe company Converse, Inc.
The major labels were only too happy to distribute these successful independent rap labels. Bad Boy and La Face were distributed by Arista. Aftermath, Ruff Ryders, Roc-A-Fella, and Cash Money were linked to Interscope and Def Jam, both of which were part of Universal. Still, a number of social practices prompted the major labels to keep rap at arms length: the constant political pressure from conservative watchdog organizations; rap's propensity to sample copyrighted works without permission; and the tendency of hip-hop artists to operate as extended social groups, posses, or crews (e.g., the Bad Boy Family, the No Limit Army, Tha Dogg Pound, Wu Tang Clan). These practices made it more difficult for the industry to track such details as chart position, market share, and royalty rates. This collective ethos led to the routine appearance
of rap artists on each other's recordings, often across label affiliations and to a number of successful ensemble tours at the end of the decade, including No Way Out (Puffy and the Bad Boy Family, Jay-Z, Foxy Brown, Busta Rhymes, Usher); Hard Knock Life (Jay-Z, DMX, Method Man and Redman, DJ Clue); Ruff Ryders/Cash Money (DMX, Juvenile as co-headliners, and both labels' other artists as support); and Up in Smoke (Snoop Dogg, Dr. Dre, Eminem, Ice Cube, MC Ren).
If the Up In Smoke tour rekindled a focus on Los Angeles (and Eminem), New York had become the center for hard-core rap, from verbal jousts like the ones between Jay-Z and Nas and DMX and Ja Rule, to the more menacing real-life violence that hovered around 50 Cent. In a more dispersed rap world, New York itself had become significantly more decentralized. In its run-down of the fifty most influential hip-hop players, Rolling Stone went so far as to identify the particular borough or "hood" that each New York artist "represented"—Beastie Boys (Manhattan), Busta Rhymes (Brooklyn), KRS-One (The Bronx), Mase (Harlem), and Wu Tang Clan (Staten Island). Not mentioned by Rolling Stone were Jay Z from Brooklyn, DMX from Yonkers, and 50 Cent from Hollis, Queens.
Although the most publicized rap of the era was drenched in testosterone, it is important to note that there were other tendencies as well. OutKast (Stankonia) epitomized the Dirty South with less reliance on aggression, more sophisticated lyrics, and more intricate arrangements. Shaggy (Hot Shot) was the antithesis of the New York gangsta: polite, well-mannered, and completely nonthreatening. In 2002 Nelly (Country Grammar) ascended to the number one slot on the year-end pop charts with a laid back Southern drawl, tongue-twister rhymes, and infectious pop hooks.
If there were any doubts as to the popularity of rap and hip-hop-influenced R&B, they were more than laid to rest on October 11, 2003, when Billboard reported a first in the magazine's fifty-year history: all of the Top Ten singles in the country were by black artists—nine rappers and the singer Beyoncé, who was at number one with "Baby Boy." As the strongest measure of popularity across audience demographics, this phenomenon suggested that, in cultural terms, hip-hop had imposed a new paradigm supplanting rock as the major youth cultural force.
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"Recording Industry." Encyclopedia of African-American Culture and History. . Encyclopedia.com. (February 23, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/recording-industry
"Recording Industry." Encyclopedia of African-American Culture and History. . Retrieved February 23, 2019 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/recording-industry
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