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Commentary: Where's The Socially Conscious Music?

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It's been almost 39 years since Marvin Gaye released his seminal album "What's Going On" and lately I've been vibing off his musings on the state of Black America more than ever. You see, I'm a sucker for socially conscious music: the kind that creates awareness (and sometimes, action) without having to carry an activist's bullhorn. It's that brand of soul and R&B music perfected by the likes of Curtis Mayfield, Nina Simone, Stevie Wonder, Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes, and many more. My nostalgia for the good ol' days of soul music stems partly from the fact that I spend a fair amount of time listening to urban radio. Too often I'm left wondering if I really need to hear another song about someone's sexual prowess (Newsflash: Trey Songz invented sex, y'all), their sexy club encounter (every hot song needs one of these) and their lavish lifestyle. I want to scream: "We're in the middle of two wars, a recession, Black folks are losing their homes to foreclosure in record numbers, college-educated Black men aren't finding jobs, and all you have to sing about is sex, cars and money?" To be fair, I'm not speaking on the artists who continually make songs that celebrate Black love--a political statement all on it's own, but that's another discussion. What I lament is how a large portion of R&B today seems to totally ignore the world outside and exists in it's own pimp's paradise. This makes the idea of Raheem DeVaughan's latest album, "The Love & War MasterPeace," that much more exciting, because he treads on un-sexy territory by speaking on the war, corrupt politicians and the economy. My husband and I often joke that when our two sons are old enough to ask us what was going on in the world when they were born (2006 and 2009) we'll tell them how we helped elect the first Black President of the United States, how we lived through the Great Recession and witnessed families (our neighbors included) having to choose between paying their mortgage or putting food on the table. Yet, if they were to look through our collection of music, as we did our parents, what would they find? High gloss, no substance. Where are our poets, our visionaries? Aren't our artists supposed to speak for the times, unburdened by the restraints of society? Granted, music is entertainment. It has many purposes and suits many aspects of our lives. I'm a fan of baby-making music, and it has its place--always has--just as socially conscious music does. I just don't see any balance in the artistry. I think about the fact that "What's Going On" was recorded from the perspective of an army veteran returning home (Marvin's brother had served three years in Vietnam) and wonder what songs an Iraq or Afghanistan vet would write if they could. If Marvin Gaye and his contemporaries made powerful music that defined his generation, what does our lack of socially conscious say about our generation? Are we only interested in escapism, or do we just not care? Read More:
Filed Under: Sound-Off
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