Beatmaking, Racism, and White Supremacy

(Updated June 13th, 2020)

I’m a 36-year-old white man, soon to be 37.

I write a lot about music production and sampling, mostly in the predominantly Black genres of rap music and instrumental hip-hop.

In recent years Black men and women from all over the country have opened up to me in interviews and shared honest, transparent, and moving stories about their creative process, their lives, and their music. 

Black editors, editors-in-chief, and website founders like John Gotty (The Smoking Section), Trent Clark (HipHopDX), Kevito Clark (formerly of Okayplayer and now at Complex Life), Amir Said (Said) (BeatTips and Superchamp Books) embraced me and gave me career-altering opportunities.

At nearly every stage of my many years as a guest writing in a Black space about rap music and hip-hop culture, I have been welcomed with open arms. Because of this acceptance and welcoming, I now have a platform and a voice. 

Today I want to use my platform and voice to address the following:

1) The murder of George Floyd, yet another unarmed Black person killed by police, is horrifying. The response of the Minneapolis Police Department has been brutal, callous, and disgusting. 

In the wake of Floyd’s death and the earlier murder of Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Kentucky, Black people have organized protests all over the country to express their outrage. The use of excessive force, rubber bullets, pepper spray, tanks, and police vehicles to harm and terrorize civilians and journalists during these protests should be shocking, but it isn’t.

One thing is clear: we need massive reform to our criminal justice system to address issues of systemic racism and violence against Black people. Instead of looking on in horror, white people (like me) need to better educate themselves about what they can do at a local, state, and even federal level to help. A movement towards a restorative justice system must begin right away.

I’m not sure to what extent we can reform a system that consists of a white supremacist president overseeing a white supremacist attorney general overseeing police departments that have been infiltrated by white supremacists, but very smart activists like Project Nia founder Mariame Kaba (@prisonculture) are giving us the data, ideas, and tools to address systemic racism in law enforcement while promoting restorative justice.  

Racism is our mess so white people need to address it head on. We need to read, learn, share knowledge, and invest in organizations with a proven track record of making change. We also need to be mindful of the countless years of hard work and very real personal risks taken by Black activists and organizations around the country. In respect of their work, we need to know when to listen and support/show solidarity quietly without seemingly hijacking their work. 

Yet, we cannot sit back and let Black people do the heavy lifting alone. 

I realize that Micro-Chop is a music publication and some people do not subscribe to read about racism and political issues. That needs to change. 

I do not deserve to be welcomed into an artistic space if I am not loudly fighting for the basic human dignity, respect, and safety of the artists I write about. I would also argue that readers and listeners who want to experience art created by Black people should be ready to loudly fight for their rights as well.

Additionally, I realize an essential part of change requires sharing money and resources. I’ve started with a donation to Reclaim The Block and I promise to donate more to various organizations in the coming weeks, months, and years. 

The effort needed to combat racism and reform our current criminal justice system is admittedly daunting. I need to do more, I pledge to do more, and I promise to keep my readers informed about the actions I’m taking.

2) Secondly, racism and white supremacy have also long existed in the music industry. It’s a topic for a longer article and another day, but there’s an extensive history across multiple genres of white gatekeepers exploiting Black artists and Black artists not receiving adequate credit for their creation of or contribution to various genres. I guess it goes without saying that issues of racism and white supremacy exist in instrumental hip-hop music as well.

In recent days a somewhat well-known label in this space did something incredibly tasteless and manipulative. I will not name them here so as not to provide free publicity, but they essentially tried to use performative activism in the wake of George Floyd’s death to gain attention for their label. When questioned about their intent, the label founder forged financial documents indicating that he had donated to the Minnesota Freedom Fund. Major credit goes to GRAGG. of the RAW[life] collective for exposing this.  

Needless to say, this was a gross exploitation of a tragic loss of a Black man’s life. The ensuing bungled “apology,” which they have yet to post to their Instagram feed, only added insult to injury. Now artists are starting to share stories about shady dealings with the label. It seems this label, which was founded by someone white, has not been treating all artists well.

This fallout affects many Black producers, including Elaquent, DJ Manipulator, Nothing_Neue, Radicule., and Stxn.x. To have this happen as Nothing_Neue was trying to release his latest project through the previously mentioned label is very sad.

The incident brings up several hard truths in rap and instrumental hip-hop music. The majority of writers who cover these genres are often white. Though almost four years old now, Andre Gee’s “On The Dearth of Black Hip-Hop Writers At Mainstream Outlets” is an excellent examination of this unfortunate reality. There aren’t enough Black writers covering Black music. In the wake of writing positions throughout the media being gutted due to COVID-19, this issue will likely only get worse. 

Likewise, many people who run various collectives and labels are white, while the diversity data at streaming giants like Spotify leaves a lot to be desired. Additionally, a growing number of white producers who make instrumental hip-hop music known as lo-fi often dominate instrumental hip-hop playlists on services like Spotify. These competing factors, along with several others, have created a streaming playlist culture that thrives on leveraging Black music and profiting from it, but often lacks appropriate representation of Black artists. 

Positions of power, money, and visibility are increasingly being funneled away from Black artists towards white gatekeepers. Most people in the world of beatmaking and instrumental hip-hop seem to be aware this is happening based on conversations I’ve had. Yet, it continues. 

Is this not, by definition, white supremacy? 

And if white people (like me) notice and feel concerned about this problem, how concerned can we really be if we’re not actively trying to dismantle and rebuild the system?

The behavior of the previously mentioned record label really underscores how disconnected many gatekeepers are. People who actually care and want to flip the system need to spearhead change. 

I promise to learn more about and better address these issues in rap music, instrumental hip-hop, streaming services, and music journalism while weighing my own place in this problematic system. If you’re white and you’re reading this, and you exist in these spaces because Black artists/editors/writers welcomed you, I urge you to do the same.

We cannot continue to build a model that profits off of the artistry and creativity of Black musicians while excluding them at every level.  

If you want to get involved after reading this, find Black activists and organizations on social media and follow them. Learn about/join/support local organizations in your community. Read lots of books. 

And if you want to support people who are out demonstrating right now, here is a list of bail funds. 

Twitter avatar for @MatthewACherryMatthew A. Cherry @MatthewACherry
Please do not donate to the New York bail fund link posted in the first tweet in this thread. It's a city program. Donate to this one by @FreeThemAll2020 instead Their Venmo/cash app is also $bailoutnycmay Sorry for any confusion.

In my attempt to be better and do more, I will get it wrong sometimes. I urge you to hold me accountable when I do and pull no punches.

Also, I am more than open to feedback about how I can best use my writing, my voice, and my platform to address the issues I’ve written about today. Please share your thoughts with me if you have them.