When Your Spotify Just Ain't Black Enough

By Makayla Posley

We rode down Springfield Avenue, in Newark, New Jersey, in a hooptie reeking of boys, weed and boredom. After the third rotation, I began to question why I was even here. For some insane, blasphemous reason, the aux cord wasn’t in the car so we had no choice but to listen to the radio. After we all professed our love for the “CoCo,” “White Noise” by Disclosure faded in and there was an awkward silence. I am not sure if the silence was confusion for why this would be playing on a hip-hop station or just because nobody fucked with it.

Well, one boy did and so did I. He was in the driver’s seat. We sort of played tug-of-war for who would dare sing along first. He beat me to it. He was brave. And being that he literally just caught a body about a week ago, I am not sure why I questioned this. After he finished the hook, an orchestra of “pussy,” “bruh, what?” and “you a weirdo nigga, on the set” drowned out AlunaGeorge’s autotune. I laughed at the time, not realizing that this was just as insulting.

This boy got cut up on because he liked an electronic song, because his fondness for it was a tear in his character armor that all Black lives take on from birth. This armor allows us to seem socially acceptable and “safe” whether it be in false masculinity or ego, mental stability, and being “black enough” to survive. It also takes audacity to strip ourselves of this for five minutes, audacity that even I am not sure of having in all settings.

Understandably, Black folks tend to fear stepping out of the few comfort zones that we have. We cling to our creations, our spaces, and our outlets of expression due to perpetual robbery. Hip-Hop, R&B, soul, and jazz have always been the genres to be considered as “black music.” These are our babies. We hold the roots of these sounds dear to our hearts and are territorial even in the midst of appropriation. However, it is this same music that Black folks often use to police others’ blackness.

Hip-Hop and R&B have always had an alternative sub-genre for artists/groups like The Pharcyde, Digital Underground, and Outkast to Tyler, The Creator and Odd Future, N.E.R.D., and many more. Despite the hits that these artists have produced, they are often popularized by the “miscellaneous” Black folks and frowned upon by the general communities. The fact that even this music cannot fully be accepted, despite preference, makes it even harder to push for other genres amongst our people.

The fact that the majority of the Black folks who listen to alternative hip-hop and R&B are deemed as outcasts means that if a Black boy from the hood likes “White Noise” by Disclosure, something definitely must be wrong with his blackness. Shit, is he even black at all? Let’s be real. You are more acceptable blasting Montana of 300 or Meek Mill out of your stereo than you are Chance The Rapper in Black communities. So if not this, where is there space to bump Flying Lotus, Bonobo, SBTRKT or any other genres outside of the general “black music”?

I am told by society that I am too Black. When I come home to my kin at the end of the day, exhausted from the weight of it all, over it, and just in the mood to feel like I am off psychedelic drugs on a Cali beach in neon colors, I’m told I am not Black enough. It is because these are the sounds that challenge my mean mug, my fist, my hard stride. We can’t protect ourselves within either the instrumentals or lyrics of alternative, singer-songwriter, tech, or rock music. We can’t be the strong Black woman or strong Black man or “don’t fuck with me” or “I’m just trying to get home safely tonight” over synthesizers.

I fully acknowledge that doing something that may seem as simple as expanding genres amongst people of color actually isn't at all easy. Coming from a hip-hop head, I also know that we should be able to put our super human defense mechanisms aside every once in awhile, at least as a form of self-care or for the sake of others to do so. Trust me, there are plenty of other ways to determine whether you’re really down or not. Let’s hold each other accountable more so on the messages we deliver than for the music we listen to.

Photo: Shutterstock

Makayla is a teenage music buff with a deep-rooted love for Grand Theft Auto and dreams of owning her own record label. She is also a member of Urban Word NYC's 2015 poetry slam team and is just trying to stay alive.

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