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Professor Prince Charles Alexander: The State of Black Music in America

PCAPrince Charles Alexander is a musician, recording artist, record producer, audio engineer and educator. He is a professor in the Music Production and Engineering Department at Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts.

Something happened to black music in America!

In 1979, I hated “Rapper’s Delight”! You could have shut down hip-hop right there for me and called that a novelty record. How dare they steal Nile Rodgers’s hard-earned intellectual property! Besides, I had just put out my first single and that record was taking up my airtime at local radio.

In 1985, while walking down 7th Avenue in Times Square, I saw the Billboard magazine headline, “Walk This Way” Reaches No. 1. I knew then that the handwriting was on the wall, and, sure enough, most of the funk and soul artists got dropped from their record labels within a two-year span. A cheaper, more cost-effective way of making music had proven its economic viability.

By 1987, my fear of being made irrelevant as a musician had reached a fever pitch and I began a process of deep reflection. This was a war, and in the art of war, you must know your enemy. This “thing” that called itself music and had taken jobs away from so many musicians. What was the enemy made of? It was all so foreign! Where could I go to figure it all out?

In 1993, while mixing a record for Bad Boy Records, I told Diddy that Mary J. Blige’s vocal performance was not in tune. He said, “Watch what I do with this.” That record went on to sell more than 3 million records, was nominated for Best R&B Album at the 38th Grammy Awards, and, in 2006, was included in Time’s 100 greatest albums of all time list. We did not call her back to replace the out-of-tune vocals.

In 1996, while finishing work on the Notorious B.I.G.’s second album, he wrote a song on the spot called “Your Nobody ’Til Somebody Kills You.” I asked Christopher Wallace (aka Notorious B.I.G.) why he would want to put that thought into the universe and he answered, “Because that is how it is right now, out here, in these streets.” And then he was gone…

In 2002, Donnie McClurkin won the Grammy for Best Contemporary Soul Gospel Album. I was the sole mixing engineer on that project and often reflect on the wonders of my musical journey that brought me into the room with the pastor of a mega church who had something to say with the power of music.

You see, I hated a style of music for so long, that I no longer had the energy to hate it anymore, and I feared a style of music so much that I chose to face it instead of fleeing from it.

And what I learned was that my hate was a byproduct of jealousy and my fear was a by-product of ignorance.

Our current black culture is in jeopardy from the misogynistic, cannibalistic, zombie-inducing cultural codes that are being thrown at our children?

But, have you ever heard a beat that was misogynistic?

Have you ever heard a melody that reeked of thug life?

Have you ever heard a harmony that endangered a child?

Has an instrument ever placed a culture into despair?

It is not music that is the problem in the music business; it is the message and the messengers.

Black music in America sounds the way it does because musicians are not at the table trying to make 21st century music. Musicians are spending their time complaining about why their 20th century “thing” is not being received well.

Are we clear that musicians speak medicine, and the rest of the country speaks first aid? I am not condoning any immature rapper’s lyrics. I am putting out a call to all musicians to stop hating and get busy creating… music that speaks to this generation and the 21st century.

The language of your craft has gone way beyond your instrument. How much of it do you know?

If you do not speak to the people of this generation in a language they can understand, then people who are uninformed will gladly continue defining music culture, and the culture of your neighborhoods, for years to come.

What is the solution to the current state of music in America? For musicians to stop hating it, for musicians to stop fearing it! For musicians to begin understanding the musical and sonic vocabularies so that they can recapture their place as innovators within the 21st century’s version of this most innovative art form.

I’m asking every musician to modernize their creativity, to up their technology, to increase their entrepreneurial net worth.

Listen up, wake up!

Before we can get the hearts and minds of the audiences that are listening to the destructive messages in today’s music, we must first conquer the music itself.

Listen, absorb, understand, contextualize; then… create!


It begins now… No hate, no fear!

Lesley Mahoney
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1 Comment

  1. Just

    Whole article is facts only!

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