#BAM! A response by Tai Allen

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    [Publisher's note: This opinion piece by Tai Allen is a response to the op-ed piece earlier this week by Music Editor L. Michael Gipson "#BAM! Is it Time To Rename Black Music?"]

    [Publisher's note: This opinion piece by Tai Allen is a response to the op-ed piece earlier this week by Music Editor L. Michael Gipson "#BAM! Is it Time To Rename Black Music?"]

    It is difficult to describe most cosmopolitans with one adjective. Simply put, calling an Italian "Italian" is lazy and probably does not affect the citizen's cultural specifics. Roman? Sicilian? or, Papacy?

    This is even a greater task when dealing with music born out of the Black tradition. Today, musicians are inundated and blessed with many influences. These influences enlighten and dampen their work. A rapper can both love rock and use electronica while trying to build his sound. Yet, he may define himself as a Gangsta Rapper or just a dope MC (see: Jay-Z' Death of Autotune  or Ice-T's Cop Killer for the former; Creature of the Infesticons for the latter).
    The defining of art is both a personal endeavor and necessary for the commercial/media to pigeon-hole. In today's music business both universes require satisfaction. Many acts fight to be personal and special with their work; a want to stand above the musical white noise that surrounds them. Self-definition is their introduction to the listener. It places worth on the music while providing a mission statement between the creator and listener.
    A rapper or singer or guitarist may or may not succeed in selling you his music as great and beautiful. And whether she is truly an avante-garde, rockabilly, soul singing poet from Akron is debatable. Yet, it does give us definitions. Those adjectives create a scope for comparison and understanding. It can, in the best of circumstances, allow for ease of use.
    Good music is always the best genre. However, the good rappers do not always mesh with my Giant Steps, Reffer Man and African Cookbook playlist. And, I can tell this by checking the genre descriptions when reading the meta-tags. I want to be able to give the music I love a definition while recognizing what the artist wants me to believe. The sellers and critics will always put the peg in a point-of-sale hole, and even that is okay since three scenarios are important.
    This is where Nicholas Payton's idea of Black American Music (#BAM) bothers me. He proposes music today is born out of many influences but, because of co-opting and false titling, the African American importance can be and has been lost.  BAM does offer something positive: it gives credence to the Black American birthright. This cultural and creative birthright can only be effective if BAM is part of the prefixes.
    Sadly, it has to be recognized or reconciled that the many names of our music and culture are usually not our own. We can choose which to ignore while we grab which to love but this not our native language. We are a people of many tongues who are resolute and from that resolution diamond forged by the fires many cultures: African, European, Asian and the Americas. But, we still are using the bondage vocabulary to find meaning.  Luckily, the sounds outlive the racism and discrimination. The tones and melodies get new words -- outside and inside the communities that bore them.
    Still this disregard of Jazz, Soul, Rap, Blues, N'awlins Second-line or House for BAM is foolish.  Black or African-American are names given to us in the language of our oppressor, just like most of our music titles. It may make you feel better but that is the drug of self-definition masking the truth: Our legacy is bigger than the names we bestow upon our culture or the names commercialization/racism creates. Either way the names are there to give us a reason to open our minds to the pretty noise we hear. The shackles of language are not going to disappear because we stopped using Negro Music or Rhythm & Blues and now call it all BAM.
    The shackles are gone when each generation of music makers and lovers respects the legacy upon which their tunes stand. With that acknowledgement -- and dare I say love  -- we can adore R&B just like we appreciate Reggae. Or... we can know which types of music to like and avoid the genres of Black music we can't stand. Both scenarios are worthy options, when we know what the classifications are.
    The beauty of the Information Age is access. An artist with access is now capable of fueling their art with multiple influences. When presenting this art (dance, music, theater... et al) describing it is part of the artistic process. Using BAM with other prefixes may make the experience more robust, but it's still the Master's language and that vocabulary available may never fully explain what we have/are/will create.
    By Tai Allen


    Tai Allen is a creative guy who just happens to be able to sing, write poetry, design sites and tell other folks how to sell their brands -- as a member of Vicelounge.