After four years of songwriting and producing music, I typically find myself lost in my music. Although I have a myriad of songs underneath my belt, I struggle with trying to find my sound and utilizing the creative freedom that music allows. I often feel suffocated by the terminology associated with the music I create - rap. That word has weighed me down and kept me from growing as an artist. I always find myself experimenting with different genres in private, but have yet to share with the world because of the boundaries placed on my genre from external institutions. I've noticed that many other Black musicians have struggled with meshing different genres together or experimenting out of the typical realm of Black music.
Now, Black music is a dense word. African Americans have influenced the creation of a multitude of popular music genres such as, hip-hop, rock and roll, jazz, and even dubstep. Today, most mainstream and popular Black artists are rappers I would like to preface the rest of this article by saying that I believe music is fluid and I think that artists should be able to expand past the guidelines that the music industry uses to determine genres. Although many popular artists are able to effortlessly travel from one genre to another, it is mainly Black artists within the industry struggle to break through restrictions placed on them.
With the recent popularity of Lil Nas X's "Old Town Road", listeners enjoy another Black creative pushing boundaries of the music industry by meshing together country and trap. Although this genre-bending track has heavy language that is common in other country songs, it has been deemed unfit to be featured on the Billboard Top 100 Charts. Although Billboard has publicly stated that race has nothing to do with their decision, Lil Nas X's situation seems to be a reoccurring struggle that many innovative and boundary-pushing Black creatives face.
Ultimately, it is the institutions that label the music we find on top charts or see winning awards, regardless of what genre the artist claims defines their work. Post Malone, an artist who is normally associated with the hip-hop community, has personally stated that he does not see himself as a rapper as he mainly sings on most of his tracks. However, he is typically placed in both Pop and Hip-Hop/Rap categories when he is placed on charts or nominated for awards. It seems that even with Malone claiming that he is definitely not a rapper, the industry is taking the liberty of allowing him to belong in both categories. This allows him to fluidly move between the two genres effortlessly.
Although post Malone's versatility is something shared with many other genre-bending artists such as Juice WRLD, Drake, and Lil Nas X, these artists are not given the opportunity by the music industry to expand outside of their assigned boxes. Juice WRLD is a versatile artist who meshes rock and hip-hop together but has not been featured on Billboard's Top 100 Rock Chart. Drake began deeply investing in his rap career but has recently been bouncing between rap and pop music. His 2016 hit "Hotline Bling" received a Grammy for being the best rap song of the year. If you've listened to "Hotline Bling", it is not a rap song. Drake was frustrated with his Grammy win because he does not consider the song a rap song, saying, "I'm a black artist, I'm apparently a rapper, even though 'Hotline Bling' is not a rap song."
Although decisions by the Grammys or Billboard may not be racially driven, it is an theme that is reoccurring among Black creatives and causes them to feel trapped within their genre. As always, artists are always finding new ways to innovate in their field, but the music industry needs to sever the chains they have placed on Black artists specifically. Hopefully, we can see more genre-bending music in the future and they can gain the acclamation they deserve.