“Black music”: What a loaded term. And what a loaded year we’ve had. In a time when cultures blend and music cross-pollinates more quickly than ever — but racism proves resilient — what does “black music” mean? Shit’s still thorny because for all our successes in the pop realm, black folk — including artists — still struggle with what it means to be black in America. The struggles just get harder as the stakes get higher.
With that in mind, we offer a completely biased survey of the best, worst and strangest moments in black American music over the past 12 months.
MISSED OPPORTUNITY AT JAMES BROWN’S FUNERAL: After Michael Jackson exchanged dap and hair-care tips with Al Sharpton and baby-mama war tales with Jesse Jackson, he leaned over Mr. Brown’s coffin to pay giggly respect. At that point, you wished the Godfather would’ve thrust up an arm, horror-flick style, grabbed Michael by the throat and demanded, “Say it loud, I’m black and I’m proud!”
VIDEO AND SINGLE OF THE YEAR: NYOIL’s “Y’all Should All Get Lynched.” This is what it sounds like when exasperated Negroes cry. Just a few weeks before Michael Richards’ lynching tirade, New York–based rapper NYOIL deployed strategic hyperbole to call for the lynching of rappers — specifically, the materialistic, violence-glamorizing, thug/pimp/playa types. His take-no-prisoners video named names and spliced unauthorized video clips (the ostensible reason YouTube banned the video). Juxtaposing Sambo imagery against photos of The Game, Lil Jon, Diddy and others, NYOIL painted many of rap’s biggest stars as Uncle Toms poisoning hip-hop and black American culture.
Controversial doesn’t begin to describe this video. “Y’All Should All Get Lynched” was a cultural bomb whose detonation reverberated across the blogosphere and beyond. Fallout is still ?falling out.
It’s true that the song and clip are incredibly flawed, as is some of NYOIL’s logic — including his use of the word “nigga” when railing against black self-degradation, and the misogyny and homophobia floating his thesis. Yet the unwavering passion and timeliness of his message are why “Y’all Should All Get Lynched” is song and video of the year: The pimps, thugs and hustlas swarming through rap today are doing massa’s bidding. (And props to him for giving props to Oprah. I’m not even a fan of hers, but the way MCs whined last year because she wouldn’t have them on her show was proof that rappers are the most sensitive, need-a-hug muhfuckas on the planet.)
ARTIST OF THE YEAR: Ms. Peachez (“Fry That Chicken”). Shortly before NYOIL threw his grenade, YouTube saw fit to make a star of bow-legged, transgender Southern rapper Ms. Peachez. The video for her song “Fry That Chicken” looks like a low-budget short as directed by D.W. Griffith: a ghetto-country, she-male mammy plays chicken-frying pied piper to a troupe of pickaninnies. On paper? Brilliant. The possibility for scathing subversiveness is infinite.
Again, the Web was (and continues to be) a battleground for heated debate: Was it just good-natured fun or reheated cooning? Gender-fucking triumph? (Uh, no on that.)
Ms. Peachez’ shtick is almost performance art — a knowing embrace of stereotypes, a dead-on replication of rap’s state-of-2006 beats. It’s also an unabashed celebration of things many black folk still have shame around: Southern-ness, countriness, faggotry and ingenuity born of poverty. It’s also the embodiment of the galling simple-mindedness that defines current hip-hop. Ms. Peachez’ shit would easily fit in on most rap stations and video shows, because unconscious self-parody has become a building block of black pop culture.
As stupid as “Fry That Chicken” is, it’s complicated. This video, a hodgepodge of cultural pride and internalized racist stereotypes — all set to mama-said-make-you-dance beats — speaks volumes about how shit be right now. That’s how fucked up both hip-hop and black America are. (And, yes, NYOIL calls out Ms. Peachez in his video too, which is sublime synchronicity.)
Watching a passionate debate like this take place outside academia or music-critic circle jerks was like finding the faintest pulse in a body you’d assumed dead.
CD TITLE OF THE YEAR:Hip-Hop Is Dead, by Nas (Def Jam).
QUOTE OF THE YEAR NO. 1: “Of course hip-hop cannot be dead. Nas was warning us. One of the best ways to warn a culture is to shock it. I think Nas shocked hip-hop culture by declaring its death. By declaring its death, it means that it will live now.”
—KRS-One, in an interview with AllHipHop.com
COMEBACK OF THE YEAR: Beyoncé. No, seriously. With back-to-back shitty singles (“Déjà Vu,” “Ring the Alarm”), her album B-Day struggled against an army of pop vixens (Fergie, Gwen, Christina, Kelis, Rihanna, Nelly Furtado). In late ’06, though, Ms. B released not one but twoneck-swivel anthems (“Irreplaceable” from B-Day and “Listen” from the Dreamgirls soundtrack) that rallied her base, from hood rats to homos. B-Day shot up the charts, and also introduced the annoying phrase “To da lef, to da lef .?.?.” to the lexicon. Comeback Runners-Up: The Coup, Joi, Talib Kweli.