But in Black music of all genres, politics of late could only be found in one-off songs on otherwise pop-friendly albums or among indie artists, often unknown to the mainstream. As Salamishah Tillet noted recently in an article at the Atlantic, with the release of new music from J. Cole, Lauryn Hill, D’ Angelo, and this week’s new track from Kendrick Lamar, protest music has returned. And we are sorely in need of the clarity and inconvenient truths that art allows us to tell, the conversations it sparks, the space for emotion that it makes, the questions it poses, the pressure points in an aching national body politic that it exposes.
For instance, what should we make of Prince’s implicit claim that albums, books and Black people have become devalued? And since he links these claims together, what is the system that has actively participated in the devaluing of good music, good books, and Black lives (whether good or bad, if lives can be so valued)? As music goes, only one album in any genre went platinum in 2014, and it was the “Frozen” soundtrack.
Pharrell, for example, who donned a hoodie and put his hands up alongside his dancers during his performance of his blockbuster hit “Happy,” only received about $25,000 in total compensation for his song from Pandora, even though it was played over 43 million times. With streaming services like Pandora, Spotify, and Songza, there is little incentive to buy albums, unless like me, you buy the albums of artists you want to support on principle. But capitalism is not much in the way of principles.
More: America’s ‘Prince’ Problem: How Black People — and Art — Became ‘Devalued’