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Rock the Bells Tour: Fight the Power? Really?

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I recently attended the latest edition of the Rock the Bells tour featuring Rage Against the Machine, Wu Tang Clan, Rakim, and 20 other acts that were worth way more than the ticket price suggested. It was also dedicated to Public Enemy, a rap group who just recently celebrated their 20th anniversary together. I've never seen them perform live, so I was even more excited about the event.

What changed everything, however, was when a 6'3" chubby-looking Canadian gentleman came up to my friend and I and had a discussion about his inebriation. It was fine until he said, "You know, you're like the 11th Black person I've seen at this event." It didn't bother me; to the contrary, it made me conscious of what I was witnessing. He continued, "You know, it's funny how at an event like this, where there are Black performers performing Black music, almost the whole audience is White."

Public Enemy

Wow, that's powerful for him to recognize that. 

I looked again at the price for the ticket, and for the amount of quality acts we had the opportunity to see, the price seemed rather cheap. Yet, people who haven't been saving up for events like this wouldn't think about it as a ratio of price per performer (which rounds out to about five dollars each), but as a flat price ($100). And it's a price that would (un)intentionally separate the masses by socioeconomic margins.

To delve deeper into that, it also made me wonder how many people there really cared about the artists' message on stage. When Chuck D made a roll call and asked the proverbial "Who believes in a revolution? Who wants a revolution? Raise your fists up!", the whole crowd was swept in a mass of white fists. It was unlike anything I had witnessed in my lifetime, and certainly with that many people added to the "rev," this government could be reasonably overthrown.

Somehow, though, I don't believe that's the case. Not that I don't believe in a revolution (wink, wink), nor do I believe it will solely come from just one sector of the population. (If something like that did happen, it would require a diverse collective of concerned citizens, but that's besides the point.) Nothing is as Black and White as it seems, which is why I'm careful to make any general accusations. I do question most of the crowd's positions, though. When someone right after Chuck D's diatribe screamed something about justice, political prisoners, and essential rights for all people living in this country, another guy just screamed "Yeah whatever he said!"

Thus, it leads me to believe that many of these musicians, while their hearts may be in the right place, do not have the influence we think they do. To the contrary, Public Enemy's music speaks volumes to someone like me, a dude who's experienced the hardships of the ghetto firsthand, but it won't really make someone who doesn't have the same experience as me think "Wow, there are people in this country going through serious hardships. How can I help? (without being completely obnoxious)"

Zach de la RochaAnd while the myth that white people buy 70% of all rap music in this country persists, a statistic that's never been calculated and cannot be through Soundscan or anything of that nature, events like this often make me wonder how music like Rage Against the Machine's can reach the population that needs it most. Will we continue to see concerts with the faces of people who did not really innovate the music or at least appreciate it for its message and not as some catharsis for their unwarranted anger? I can't say.

I will say that this isn't a problem we're facing as far as music goes per se, but a paradox unlike any other. On the one hand, artists like Talib Kweli and Mos Def make music for their constituency, and have made efforts to give back to their communities. Many of the artists on stage came from nothing, and that's something to be commended. On the other hand, in order for their art to get publicized properly and put food on the table, they must put on concerts where people will actually pay at a rate that promotes profit. In a capitalist society, that's how things have gone. 

But it does beg the question: where does the power lie? And can we fight it? Will it be through the music?  The concert was great, and I'd definitely go again (maybe earlier so I can be right in the front). It does make me wonder if or how the performers, promoters, and fans understand the dynamic of how the bottom line squeezes out the original people from whom this art form was birthed. Maybe that's a power we can fight first.

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About Jose

  • George

    If the crowd was 100% Black, would that alleviate your white phobia? Anyway, I’ve seen PLENTY of concerts where the tickets cost more than 100 dollars and the crowd was majority BLACK, so you can’t say this is a socioeconomic issue. The reason so many white people were there was mainly to see Rage Against The Machine, not because they were the only ones that could afford it.

    By the way, I like how you say that the “original people” have been squeezed out because of the capitalist nature of music. White people were part of Hip Hop in the beginning too, if you examine the lineage of graffiti artists, breakdancers, DJs, etc. Hell, some of the samples that DJ Kool Herc played with were from white artists.

    You can’t blame white people for having money and showing up to rap concerts. White people don’t necessarily have to relate to the “ghetto experience” to enjoy the positivity and poetry behind hip hop music. Music is universal anyway, beyond class and race.

    I do agree that there should’ve been more Blacks, Hispanics, Asians, Latinos there. But seriously, if the ticket was free, you think more black people would show up? You’d still see majority white.

    As for me, I’m Chinese so don’t even be on that racist anti-white bullshit that black elitists are so apt to do. As someone that is neither white or black, it is easier for me to see things objectively. White people like rap. Chinese people like rap. Black people like rap. So what?

  • http://thejosevilson.com/blog/ Jose

    Well it says a lot that you would rather not have a way for me to reply to you personally, but I’ll post it here anyways.

    I wasn’t on any anti-white anything. To the contrary, I strayed away from that argument. As stated in the article, I don’t think the issue is as Black and White as it seems i.e. I don’t blame the audience for what was going on there.

    Rather, I opine that the artists on stage often discuss the struggles and persecution of poor people, yet they can’t reach out to those people because their prices are too high. The fact that you associate “poor” with “black” and “rich” with “white” bothers me.

    Then again, when people respond angrily like this, when they don’t really read over an article, but brush over it and go off in tangents about irrelevant points in an article, it’s usually a sign of frustration at the material, and hence the inability to actually read an article.

    And as for what your background is, that’s also irrelevant. The fact that you don’t know who made hip-hop what it is (or rock for that matter) is actually irrelevant. Even the fact that you can name drop names like DJ Kool Herc is irrelevant. Why? Because you’re not addressing the main point. I’m not making any indictments; I was just musing over the dynamics in the crowd.

    Peace.

  • Abdul

    So you think that what the artists singing or writing about the hardships of people who are poor, is wrong because they can’t hear you…
    What do you think of red cross? They talk alot about who are poor without all of them knowing that they said. Is that wrong?
    I think not. They help by spreading the message and trying to let people see things from a different point of view.

    By the way. Most people tend to see their own personality traits in others “The fact that you associate with black and rich, white with rich, bothers me”
    So it seems that you have been offended which is the main point. And you have the full right to be.

    But even so, you do not have the right to insult GEORGE like that because of what he did not see in you’r article. Let’s face it. Your article isn’t the easiest one to read. You jump from one topic to the other. From concert, artist, crowd, money and so on.

  • Abdul

    PS: i know that the article was written a long time ago. It is meant to clear clarify the point