The type of popular music that has become part of my timeline is rhythm and blues, commonly referred to as R & B, as well as soul music. These two genres of music have black origins in that they were originally composed by African-American artists and targeted African-American audience. Over time, however, the genres have gained popularity in the main stream music industry as a result of their appealing effect. Personally, I’m inspired by R n B and Soul music because of its inspirational message and tendency to capture real life situations. In particular, most R n B artists portray the struggles that common folks experience in their daily experiences (Cooper & Haney, 1999). For instance, African-American singers like 50 Cents sing about the challenges that black people experiences under slavery in a white dominated society. However, he also shows (in Cash Money) that even black have ambitions that they can achieve if they are determined enough. Generally, I consider R n B as the music of the downtrodden, and I draw inspiration from the knowledge that one can always succeed in life despite life’s many challenges. This attitude, the belief in one’s abilities to succeed amidst challenges is a strong inspiration for middle and lower class audiences.
In addition, R n B portrays a sense of rebellion against institutions that promote the oppression of minority groups in society. Music by artists like 50 Cents, Kanye West, and Rihana reflect a desire to attain freedom through music. This is reflected by the free usage of language (without conforming to formal language) whereby the artists sometimes use funky/obscene language. This approach seems to find favor among younger audience, who feel that they cannot be restricted by conservative social values.
Contemporary singers like the English artist Amy Winehouse focus in personal relationships, which is also a source of inspiration. As a young person in a relationship, I fing Winehouse’s music to be especially relevant to issues that affect individuals. For instance, her 2007 album “Back to Black” portrays not only the difficulties that individuals encounter in society, but also how social forces influence their personal lives. The track “Back to Black” captures Winehouse’s failed relationship with Blake Civil-Fielder. “Back to Black” is a metaphor that symbolizes her hopelessness after failing to find love and fulfillment in her relationship, consequently ending up in the black/dark side of life- drug abuse. Her situation shows that psychological experiences that individuals undergo when their relationships fail. This kind of message is most appealing because majority of the audience, who comprises of young people, are concerned about their relationships more than anything else, perhaps only second to financial/career success.
The rise in popularity of R n B and Soul music can be attributed largely to the Civil Rights Movement in America, as author Norman Kelley writes in R&B, Rhythm and Business: The Political Economy of Black Music (Kelley, 2005). Kelley observes that the acceptance of former African slaves into the main stream American society and subsequent participation in American politics expanded their opportunities in other spheres of life, such as in education, sports and the arts. This development was undoubtedly the stepping stone of African-American music into the mainstream music industry. R n B and Soul music was no longer looked down upon as the music of the ghetto and lower class minorities, but was embraced as a portrayal of the American society as a whole. During slavery, music by African-Americans was referred to as “race music,” which was a derogatory term that symbolized the inferiority of black music and African-Americans in general. However, the emancipation period provided African-Americans with freedom of expression, and consequently inspired the emergence and growth of African-American artists. In this regard, it can be argued that the Civil Rights movement in America was the major political event that accelerated the growth of Rhythm and Blues together with Soul music. In turn, black music has helped in shaping American politics by agitating for more political space for African-Americans. This has been achieved through the promotion of the rights of black people in politics and other areas of institutional management. This has helped create a conscious awareness among African-Americans and other minority groups that they have equal rights as the white majority. The endorsement of Obama’s presidential candidacy by African-American artists and its overall impact among voters exemplifies the power of popular music. It is a strong propaganda tool in terms of conditioning the audience’s expectations with regards to their rights.
In conclusion, R n B and Soul Music are the two genres of popular music that I personally identify with. I find these types of music to be inspiring and relevant to the daily challenges that people encounter daily, such as poverty and relationships. The growth of R n B music is attributable to the Civil Rights Movement in America, which expanded the freedoms of blacks such as the freedom of expression through music.