Crossover Is Complete: New Billboard Charts Complete A 30+ Year Process

According to Billboard:

Billboard unveils new methodology today for the long-standing Hot Country Songs, Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs and Hot Latin Songs charts. Each receive a major consumer-influenced face-lift, as digital download sales (tracked by Nielsen SoundScan) and streaming data (tracked by Nielsen BDS from such services as Spotify, Muve, Slacker, Rhapsody, Rdio and Xbox Music, among others) will now be factored into the 50-position rankings, along with existing radio airplay data monitored by Nielsen BDS. The makeovers will enable these charts to match the methodology applied to Billboard’s signature all-genre songs ranking, the Billboard Hot 100. (emphasis mine)

I placed emphasis on that last sentence for a reason.

That is: the genre charts are now solely about reflecting how each genre is selling (or being listened to) everywhere, rather than reflecting (albeit imperfectly) the different music listening habits of different demographics. It will now be a mistake to look at the R&B chart or the Country chart and make assumptions about what black people or people in Nashville like the most. People should be aware of that.

That loss is significant, but it’s not as tragic as it sounds because this is a process that’s been occurring for more than 30 years. People have always listened across genres, at least to some degree. But in the 30 or so years since Michael Jackson basically destroyed the radio format and made crossover the only way to measure success and media consolidated so that there are no longer any independent (black and other) radio stations that cater to their communities rather than push a national playlist, the non-Hot 100 Billboard charts have increasingly measured something that exists less and less each year.

Even the fact that people are upset about the fact that Rihanna isn’t “R&B” is an example of just how little the chart reflects what it used to reflect – and how little people know what the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart has been for its entire existence: a measure of what is popular in black neighborhoods and hangouts. Without independent black radio (as well as black folks’ total allegiance to crossover), it hasn’t really been that for a while so it makes sense that Billboard would go ahead and make it (along with the other genre lists) a straight “ranking of how many people in America listen to songs of this type” chart.

Flashback – Ne-Yo’s “Addicted”

I wrote a piece a few years ago about how, on a work trip listening to my iPod playlist of male R&B vocalists, I began to appreciate that there is greater diversity within black male singers’ voices than I think is generally accepted or understood.

It’s often said that there isn’t much variety in the voices of black male singers. And there is some truth to that; that is, if you are speaking solely in terms of tone. But when you listen to Bobby Brown, Eric Benet, Tevin Campbell, Darien Brockington, R. Kelly, Donell Jones, and Tank back to back, you do hear tremendous diversity in phrasing, in the way these brothas articulate.

I thought about this when I was revisiting my favorite Ne-Yo song, “Addicted.”

There’s a defensiveness that is, paradoxically, inviting because of the way Ne-Yo uses his voice here that I find incredibly interesting. Ostensibly, the song is about (re-)establishing his bonafides as a man, but he doesn’t resort to the same kind of limited vocal posturing that one normally finds in male R&B singers. The lyric is heterosexist; the approach, less so. That tension really really works for me, particularly when you consider that there aren’t that many songs in his catalog that make use of his voice with quite this much dexterity.

On Monifah and White Construction of Sexuality

This AfterEllen (the lesbian sister site to the gay AfterElton) interview of R&B singer Monifah is a perfect example of how the largely white constructs of “gay” and “lesbian” don’t really fit black homosexual people.

AE: I want to talk about the past and I want to talk about now. Did you ever fear being outed back when you were 23, recording your first album?
MC:
 Lindsey, hell no. No! Let me tell you this: I have always lived my life authentically and exactly how I wanted to. I was dating women. People in the industry were very aware of who I was and what I was into at that point. They knew. I never hid it. I didn’t hide it.

AE: Who hid it? I mean, you weren’t out publicly.
MC:
 No! I was out publicly. I would be at parties with my girlfriend. It was very clear. It may be unspoken, but I didn’t feel like I needed to make an announcement. I just lived! You know what I’m saying? I just lived! Like most people I know.

AE: Absolutely. Well have you ever dated anyone that was in the closet?
MC:
 Um — I don’t think — no. In the closet? No. I wouldn’t say in the closet.

AE: What would you call it?
MC:
 Not in the closet, but not necessarily making any public statements.

AE: I guess that’s my question then.
MC:
 [Laughs] What’s your question?

AE: If you are a celebrity and you are gay and you are asked “Are you gay?” by press and media and you choose not to discuss it, to me and to a lot of people, that is in the closet.
MC:
 OK, got it, got it!

AE: So I guess that’s the divide. Do you feel that living an openly gay life or being open and honest, that there is a line drawn at press and media?
MC:
 Well yes because that’s still a personal thing. Your personal life is your personal life. Heterosexual couples do it all the time. Men and women that are in the business or whatever — whatever they choose to do! I am gonna say with entertainers and people in the public eye, I think that it’s a personal choice. I don’t discredit — I don’t have a problem with anyone not discussing certain aspects of their personal lives at all. It doesn’t bother me. What I chose to do was what I chose to do was because I never had an issue anyway. The show was about my life, and my life emcompasses the person I love and who I’m sharing my life with, which means my mom, my daughter, my girlfriend now, and whatever else is going on! I’m in a place where I’m walking in transparency. I’ve been through some struggles and I have nothing — you’re as sick as your secrets. I mean that in the things that can harm us — not with my sexuality; I mean drug addiction, sex addiction, things like that. I have to walk the truth. And so I was fine with sharing my personal relationship, which has uplifted me and given me a great new perspective and has given me such great support. This woman has been such a blessing to me and so I would never even think twice about celebrating that openly.

AE: You talked earlier about how everyone deserves the same rights. And I think that is something we all have to stand up for and I can tell by the way that you’re talking you believe that. So how do you feel about role models. You say it’s a personal choice but if we are fighting for equal rights —
MC:
 Right, I agree. Let me back up on this Lindsey, I got you. I do wish that it wasn’t such a big deal but I think that’s still, again, a private and personal thing. Because I think people are conflicted within themselves. It’s not even about what other people think; I think that’s the second door you have to open. The first door, is the acceptance of self. So if you’re still conflicted with acceptance of self, how do we expect for you to be honest and feel comfortable? I wish people really — it’s a scary thing. I get it, I’ve done it. I’m doing it. It’s an everyday process. It’s not some “Oh now it’s over.” I wish that people would take those steps and move out of the self-loathing pocket and more into the self-acceptance pocket. Once you’re not conflicted within yourself, speak out because this needs to be normalized. It has to stop. We do need to see these images of self. These children do need to see that there’s nothing wrong with them. They do need to see that so-and-so is amazing, talented and is taking over the world, handling his business and so can I. And they’re just like me! We need to see these images. Our children need to see them.

AE: Absolutely. Did anyone ever tell you, even though you were living an open life, did they say you might not want to speak publicly about your sexuality?
MC:
 Oh yeah, all the homophobes in the business. Yeah, oh my God, yes! Mostly everybody who was in control, who runs the industry. It’s a male-run industry, basically. And in my opinion, a gay-male run industry. That’s crazy to me. Overall! It’s Jewish gay males, right? I mean, am I crazy? [Laughs]

AE: No, I think what you’ve seen what you’ve seen, for sure! [Laughs] I think it’s really important to understand the reasons why that someone as famous as you, nobody knew until now!
MC:
 Yeah. I do think that Middle America, across the board, may not have known, but the people that are kind of privy and in the circle you run in – I’ve hung out at Girl Bar parties. I’ve lived my life! And I didn’t really — People would say “Oh she likes girls” especially now with blogs and stuff. It’s way more prevalent with social media and technology is more prevalent; way more in your face. In the entertainment industry, it’s become such a tool. It was definitely out there. People can believe what they like to believe and that’s depends on what they need to believe.

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Flashback: Black Men United, ‘U Will Know’

 

There are so many small pleasures in this song that grab me. The first time the hook comes in and you hear these amazing voices in harmony. The depth and power of Gerald Levert and Christopher Williams ("it _taint_easayyyy"). The stunning clear tones of Joe and Brian McKnight. The absolutely devastingly beautiful performance of R. Kelly, who takes that moment – "woo hoo" – to let the message sink in.

But it's Raphael Saadiq and McKnight who choke me up every single time:

And then I got stronger
And tired of the pain
That’s when I picked up the pieces
And I regained my name

I love the vulnerability of the couplet- "That's when I picked up the pieces/And I regained my name." It's the heart of the song for me. It's the moment that the song reveals itself to be more than an anthem. It's empathy for black male brokenness makes the whole thing work so that when you hear "you must act like a man" it doesn't feel like judgment. It's recognition. And I regained my name.

The song is hopeful of course, but that undercurrent of profound sadness actually makes its anthemic qualities resonate more deeply. It's literally the struggle to be a whole, healthy black man in song.

Lupe Fiasco and the Radical Messiness of Black Male Feeling

Get More: Lupe Fiasco, Music News

 

I wonder if people – black people especially – really appreciate how beautiful it is to live at a time when black men are allowing themselves to feel so openly, to be emotional in public.

Lupe Fiasco articulates something that black men have been saying for a long time: that black men are dying, killing themselves and each other, that we live in a society where black male life is disposable. And he’s eloquent on the substance of what you see in this clip.

But what is truly remarkable is that he lets himself feel something more than just frustration and anger at the plight of black men. This is a display of profound, deep sadness. It’s love. Pure. Messy.

It takes Lupe Fiasco a minute to find the words. Those precious, awkward moments before he starts to find the words are wonderous, awe-inspiring, and deeply affecting.

And yet, when I watched this I was uncomfortable because I still don’t really know how to respond. This is not my vernacular. My reference is the 90s’ cold, hard grip on “keepin it real,” even as I never felt fully a part of that. My language is 2pac’s righteous indignation and anger, even it left me in so many ways illiterate.

I struggle with deep emotion. Still.

Artists like Drake, J. Cole, Frank Ocean, Kanye West and others are playing in space that is quite new. And while I think they often confuse narcissism for reflection and miss the mark in communicating what they are genuinely feeling, I appreciate so very much that the range of emotion that black men can feel publicly – and be successful and lauded – is so much broader now than it has been in the past.

Millennials have so many more colors to play with than previous generations allowed themselves. We should celebrate that.