Apparently, black rock is gaining momentum as one of the many things moving across the cultural landscape that we should keep an eye on.  Yesterday’s NY Times Style section did a big, front-page piece on blacks who like rock: blipsters, or black hipsters.  We’re at a particular moment, the article points out:

But lately, rock music, and its accouterments, are being considered more stylish. Mainstream hip-hop artists like Kelis wear Mohawks, Lil Jon and Lupe Fiasco rap about skateboarding, and “all of the Southern rap stars are into the ’80s punk look, wearing big studded belts and shredded jeans,” said Anoma Whittaker, the fashion director of Complex magazine. At the same time, the hip-hop industry’s demand for new samples has increased the number of rock songs appearing on hip-hop tracks: Jay-Z’s latest album features contributions from Chris Martin of Coldplay and R & B artist Rihanna’s current single samples the New Wave band Soft Cell.

This made me finally watch James Spooner’s excellent documentary Afro Punk, which delves into the fans and musicians who are part of the punk/hardcore scene.  What’s interesting to me is that all of the people interviewed have developed highly complex and nuanced understandings of identity and race, due largely to the fact that they are outsiders in both the punk (largely white) scene and in their own (black) communities.  Both the article and the film speak to some of the same issues that I raised earlier, not least of which is that these artists want to perform for audiences who look like them, but find that attracting black audiences continues to be extremely difficult. 

Importantly, the film points out how the musicians and fans have carved out strong african american identities, while holding onto their love of, and participation in, the hardcore scene.  Also interesting to note that, in contrast to hip hop, these musicians have highly developed political views, which they’re not afraid to share.

Hmm, let’s see: Strong sense of self.  People pursuing their passion.  DIY mentality.  Moves easily between black and mainstream worlds.  I should’ve changed that earlier piece’s title to "Only Black Rock Can Save Black Culture."

Posted by Rob Fields