Meaning in music tuned out by pop hits
In light of the Grammy’s, does music need to be more than just entertainment?
March 9, 2017
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As a political revolution sparked in 2016, music became one more facet for the outcry for social justice.
But with the increasing importance of the message, mere sound and production struggle to stay on the same scale.
A few months ago, I was looking at Pitchfork Magazine’s top albums of 2016.
I scrolled through the long list of politically-charged albums. A Tribe Called Quest’s “We Got it From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service” took its place at number 7. The comback album brought Tribe from the depths of silence to speak on the current state of the country as prejudice remains present and community has the power to keep us together.
Chance the Rapper’s “Coloring Book” took number 6. The album won the Grammy for Best Rap Album of the Year as an independent work.
Chance’s structured use of gospel music translated his own faith, especially in struggling with love and drugs.
The most important thing the album did was bring positivity back to rap music without sacrificing the importance of the message.
Then my scrolling came to a sudden stop. At number 5, to my horror, was Kanye West’s “The Life of Pablo.”
I was shocked. West’s album was, at most, decent. The best part of the album, arguably is the production, specifically its use of samples. From Nina Simone to Pastor T.L. Barnett, West’s interlacing of other tracks was done wisely, bringing something fresh to rap, if you even want to call it that.
But even if the album had a few good singles, it did nothing compared to the importance of the albums surrounding it.
This is exactly where I found fault.
Both Tribe’s and Chance’s album spoke about important issues. The albums following West’s included Beyonce’s “Lemonade,” Frank Ocean’s “Blonde,” and Solange’s “A Seat at the Table,” all of which took their position on issues of social justice in one way or another, specifically commenting on the reality of being black in America.
I couldn’t grasp how “The Life of Pablo” could be compared to the other albums. The others used their platform to add dialogue regarding the current state of our country and West avoided it all together.
Then the Grammys forced me into a similar dilemma. Adele won over Beyonce for best album, potentially another example of how the Grammys have failed black artists (see Macklemore’s win against Kendrick Lamar in 2014 for the most supreme example of Grammy injustice). It also failed my notion that music had to have an important message to qualify as “good.”
Adele’s album, “25,” featured her strong, chilling vocals on ballads about love and time. But Beyonce’s “Lemonade” did something. It gave people confidence and empowerment.
It spoke, honestly, on what it means to be a black woman today. It brought realness to the institution of marriage and the hurt that comes with the unfaithful.
Even Adele knew that.
She could barely accept her award without graciously thanking Beyonce for the masterpiece that was Lemonade.
“And this album for me, the Lemonade album, was so monumental and so well thought out and so beautiful and soul bearing. You are our light. The way you make my friends feel and the way you make my black friends feel is empowering and you make them stand up for themselves,” Adele said in her acceptance speech.
Despite the matter of opinion of which album was better, there’s no contest that Beyonce’s album was more important.
So where is her award?
When does the message overpower the medium of sound, vocals, and production?
Music isn’t necessary to the political climate in America. Yet, when observing music through history, the best and most popular music usually has had meaning bigger than the struggles of the average person.
The majority of memorable music of the ‘60s and ‘70s spoke against the state of war in the country, praying for peace and equality and sparking revolution for change.
The ‘90s rap scene gave honest accounts of life in the inner-cities of America’s largest cities, telling a narrative that hadn’t yet been explored. The honesty of experience had resounding effects.
This is the potential of music.
2016 isn’t the first year where music has had the power to inform and change, but as music remains a voice to the marginalized and a facet of the political revolution, it requires more than just a thoughtful listen.