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."
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)"
And 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.Powered by Sidelines