A recent story in the New York Daily News talks about the difficulty that singer Kelis has had in cracking the rock barrier. That is, listeners still don’t consider her a “rock” artist, even though she has many rock influences that show up in her music.

I will not dismiss the assertion that color prejudice has shaped perceptions that impede the progress of her career. As a former Director of Public Relations for the Black Rock Coalition, my heart and hopes are with artists who try to push past boundaries. However, unlike Jim Farber, I didn’t think the record was strong at all. This isn’t based on a long, deep listen. Rather, I spent time at a Tower Records music kiosk, and what I heard didn’t make me want to buy the record. She may have had a monster single (“Milkshake” reached #3 on the Top 100 Singles chart), but the rest of the record wasn’t compelling enough to make me plunk down $13. Contrast that to the Kanye West album: On a quick listen, you can definitely hear things that catch your ear and pique interest. Does it all come down to personal taste? Of course.

In the music industry, black artists who are trying to forge new ground have to push themselves to create superior work. At the end of the day, it’s about the quality of the work, not who you fiancé is or who produced your record. It’s unfair, but black artists can’t put out average records and then cry “Racism!” when nobody buys them. Consumers aren’t stupid.

While it’s true that sometimes consumers flock to crap (or at least things of dubious quality), the “product” has to stand out in some way in order to be a success. It has to be really good or really bad: Take a look at the William Hung phenomenon, as an example of the latter. As has been shown many times over, an average product can only hope to eke out an existence. After all, in the middle, no one can hear you scream.

Posted by Rob Fields