Republic Records, one of the most powerful record labels in the United States, will stop using the word “urban” to describe music of black origin.
The company, which houses Drake and Ariana Grande, says it will no longer use the term to describe “departments, employee titles and musical genres.”
“We encourage the rest of the music industry to follow suit,” he added.
The term is often seen as a generalization that marginalizes music by black artists.
“‘Urban’ is a lazy and inaccurate generalization of many culturally rich art forms,” radio presenter DJ Semtex told Music Business UK magazine in 2018.
“I despise the word,” he added. “I know artists who do hip-hop, grime or rap. I don’t know anyone who makes urban music.
“The connotation of the word has no positive weight,” agreed Sam Taylor, senior vice president at Kobalt Music, in an interview with Billboard in 2018.
“It degrades the incredible impact of R’n’B, soul and hip-hop on music.”
The term goes back to the mid-1970s, when New York radio’s black DJ Frankie Crocker coined the term “urban contemporary” as a label for the eclectic mix of songs he played—covering everything from James Brown to Doris Day.
At the time, the label had no negative connotations, but after being shortened to “urban,” it began to be used as a tote for music created by black musicians— effectively grouping them into a single category, regardless of genre.
Republic Records reflected the growing discomfort around the term in a statement announcing that it would remove the word from its corporate vocabulary.
“‘Urban’ is rooted in the historical evolution of the terms that sought to define black music,” he said.
“As with many of our history, the original connotation of the term urban was not considered negative. However, over time, the meaning and connotations of “urban” have changed and it has developed into a generalization of blacks in many sectors of the music industry, including employees and music by black artists.
“While this change does not affect or affect any of our employees structurally, it will eliminate the use of this outdated term.
“We encourage the rest of the music industry to consider doing the same, because it is important to shape the future of what we want it to look like, so as not to adhere to the outdated structures of the past.”
“Important step forward”
The label, whose list also includes The Weeknd, Nicki Minaj, Post Malone and Taylor Swift, also announced the formation of an “action committee” to address social justice issues.
The management company Milk honey, whose songwriters have contributed to Drake’s success – Rick Ross, The Chainsmokers, Dua Lipa and Selena Gomez – also stated that it would “formally eliminate the term “urban” in our company.
In a statement posted on social media, he said: “We will no longer use the term because we believe it is an important step forward, and an outdated word, which has no place from 2020.”
The decision follows widespread protests in the United States and the United Kingdom over the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis two weeks ago,
A white police officer was filmed kneeling on Mr Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes, while the 46-year-old repeatedly repeatedly saying, “I can’t breathe.” He was later pronounced dead in hospital.
His death prompted hundreds of thousands of people to take to the streets to demand racial justice.
The music industry responded by stopping work for a day last week with Universal Music, the parent company of Republic Records, to create a “working group to accelerate our efforts in areas such as inclusion and social justice.”
More on the death of George Floyd
However, others said the industry needs widespread systemic change, rather than “window dressing.”
“Why does black music generate millions and millions of dollars a year and yet none of the companies have a significant number of employees of color, let alone in the executive suite?” asked music industry lawyer Ronald E. Sweeney in an open letter published Sunday.
Sweeney, who has represented the likes of James Brown, P Diddy and Public Enemy, developed a 12-point plan to address what he called “the elephant in the room,” including equal pay and the creation of a three-year program to train minority people for executive roles.
« [This] this is what a significant and real change looks like,” he wrote. “So let’s see what you do.”
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