Kendrick Lamar wins the Pulitzer Prize for Music

Andy Edwards explores what having a Pulitzer Prize winning rapper means for the music industry and the arts landscape as a whole.  This article first appeared in Record of the Day.

DAMN. Kendrick Lamar is the first non-classical or jazz artist to win the Pulitzer Prize for Music. The Pulitzer Prize was launched in 1917 and the first Pulitzer Prize for Music was awarded in 1943. Kendrick Lamar is the 67th recipient.

The Pulitzer is a name with overwhelming gravitas, commonly associated with American journalism, poetry and literature. The music category recognizes “distinguished musical composition by an American that has had its first performance or recording in the United States during the year.”

The award itself comes with little fanfare, no red carpet sizzle, but, rather, the recipient will forever be known as the “Pulitzer Prize winning author/journalist/ poet/ composer/ etc”. The attention heaped upon Pulitzer Prize winning rapper and songwriter Kendrick Lamar has been truly global. His award made headline news here in the UK, prompting widespread comment. The significance of this moment cannot be understated and had many layers relevant to all of us in the music industry and in a number of ways.

The significance for hip-hop and black music

As Jasmine Dotiwala pointed out on Sky News, in the early ‘90s the US government tried to shut down the likes of NWA, Ice T and Snoop Doggy Dogg. Twenty-five years later a 30-year-old rapper from Compton is being feted by the establishment, hopefully signaling a new level of acceptance.

It sets a significant marker for the music industry itself. The last black artist to win Album of the Year at the Grammys was Herbie Hancock in 2008. Lauryn Hill and OutKast have won Album of the Year in the past, but in recent years no black artist has won the accolade. At a time when black music has reached new artistic heights and cultural resonance coupled with poor female representation, The Recording Academy has been blasted for being out of touch.

DAMN was actually shortlisted for Best Album at this year’s Grammys, Lamar’s third nomination for the award. Childish Gambino and Jay-Z also made the shortlist but they all lost out to Bruno Mars. Beyoncé has made the shortlist three times, culminating with her greatest work yet, Lemonade, leaving her empty handed again last year prompting many to ask, what has the lady got to do to win Best Album?

In winning the Pulitzer Prize, Lamar has leapfrogged the Grammys in recognition. Perhaps this serves as a challenge to The Recording Academy to go further and do better as it considers options for 2019?

The significance for contemporary music

Bob Dylan, Neil Young and Bruce Springsteen, have all won many plaudits over the years as authentic and significant American artists and storytellers, but none have won a Pulitzer Prize for Music. The overwhelming majority of recipients are classical. In recent years, a handful of jazz artists have won the award, first Wynton Marsalis in 1997, then Ornette Coleman in 2007 and Henry Threadgill in 2016. These gentlemen are masters of their art, but it took them years to reach that level of acceptance by the American arts establishment.

Only last week, the debate surrounding Arts Council funding in the UK contrasting the attitudes afforded to opera and classical at the expense of other genres, illustrates how far contemporary music still has to go in winning over the arts establishment in the UK. Kendrick Lamar’s achievement is significant not only for hip-hop, or for black music, but for contemporary music as a whole. It challenges the arts establishment around the world to fully embrace the cultural significance of contemporary music.

Arts Council England could learn a great deal from the Pulitzer’s and the process behind them. Kendrick Lamar’s award was the result of not only diverse and inclusive voices, but also diverse and inclusive process, thought and debate.

As David Hajdu, one of the jurors and also a writer for The Nation, explained in the New York Times, “some pieces of classical music that drew upon hip-hop as a resource, that led us to put on the table the fact that this sphere of work – rap music – has value on its own terms and not just as a resource for use in a field that is more broadly recognized by the institutional establishment as serious or legitimate.

The tone and conduct of the debate brought together jurors from a range of artistic backgrounds, including those more traditional, to this unanimous outcome.

Be unashamedly artistic

In the streaming age, play counts are the new heavy rotation. Play counts have become an obsession. The challenge of introducing new artists to the market and making an impact is one the industry continues to grapple with. Once that artist finds an audience and begins to grow, however, the only limitations are the artist’s own ambition and hard work.

As the man himself, explained: “you have to listen to it over and over and over again to fully understand the direction and the message that I put in there; the execution of it. And I want you to do that. I wanna challenge the way you think and the way you take your music.”

We could be clever and conclude that Kendrick Lamar is taking a counter intuitive approach to music making in the streaming age, but really he is just being a true artist: thought provoking and provocative. He is putting out his music on his terms and he wants you to listen to it on his terms. Streaming included.

This Pulitzer success, coupled with DAMN’s commercial success signals very clearly that the album, as a format and a concept, is not going away. Moreover, whenever anyone says “could {insert classic album} be made today?” Stylistics aside, the answer is a resounding yes.

#BLACKLIVESMATTER

What this award also recognizes is a journalistic quality to Kendrick Lamar’s work that documents contemporary African American life. YouTube and social media have exposed long-held injustices affecting the black community to broader white audiences and almost every form of artistic expression has harnessed this moment.

Black creators are succeeding in every creative field around the world, be it movies such as Get Out and Black Panther, television comedies such as Issa Rae’s Insecure and Michaela Coel’s Chewing Gum in the UK. In non-fiction, Reni Eddo-Lodge has produced a global best seller that began with a frustration at that typically (white) British trait of brushing uncomfortable truths (race) under the carpet. Pulling it all together is a renewed focus on Africa not only as a source of inspiration, but also a source of creative talent. This dynamic has not gone unnoticed by Midem organisers who will be exploring African markets such as Nigeria, Ivory Coast and the Congo in Cannes this year.

A political thread connects all of these creators and across all continents, albeit from many different viewpoints and experiences. It also serves as a reminder to all recording artists and the industry that supports them, that in challenging times a political message has artistic resonance with a mainstream audience.

There is a generation of executives too young to remember the civil rights movement and Vietnam War that produced such a rich body of music in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. Instead, that generation was brought up to think of politics in music as being aligned to “Red Wedge” or “New Labour” or some form of party political affiliation. Understandably, this resulted in cynicism and disengagement, whereas millennial artists and audiences display idealism reminiscent of their grandparent’s generation.

The politics of 2018 cuts across party boundaries and country borders. Even in this past week, the Windrush debacle in the UK has prompted a global outcry and it was revealed that Grenfell was entirely preventable. Politics fuelled Stormzy’s electrifying BRITS performance. Politics has taken Beyoncé to new creative heights. Politics is not something for artists to be wary of, nor their managers nor their A&Rs for that matter.

A political narrative can fuel any artist from any background and any genre of music. As a former artist and current music executive said to me only last week, “grime and hip-hop are cutting through because those artists have something to say, other genres have to look to themselves and do better,” (he was once in a guitar band).

Kendrick Lamar has raised the bar not just for hip-hop but all contemporary music. Pulitzer Prize winner. DAMN.

Tweet Andy Edwards your thoughts to @andyedwardsbiz

When it comes to racism, British “tolerance” is not good enough

During a recent episode of The Pledge, writer and broadcaster Afua Hirsch raised the issue of closet racism. Her sceptical fellow (white) panelists, responded with a variety of set piece rebuttals including “I don’t see colour,” the eye popping “if its well intentioned it is not racism” and the most frequently used British rebuttal of all: Britain is the most “tolerant” nation in the world.

Afua took issue with the word “tolerant” and so do I. How often do we hear, in the context of discussing racism in the UK, “but we are the most tolerant nation in the world”? The rebuttal is passed around so freely but never challenged or understood. What do we mean when we say we are “tolerant”?

One can argue that on a personal level, just because someone is tolerated does not mean that person is accepted. It certainly does not mean that person will be treated equally. Think about what it means to say:

I tolerate you” >> “I accept you” >> “You are my equal

How do those words sound to you? Now think about that on a broader level. Think of where Britain is in our history. Think about the recently published government statistics that lay bare the extent of structural racism in this country: education, job prospects and criminal justice that illustrates very clearly people of colour are disadvantaged at every stage.

Tolerance may place Britain ahead of many other nations. The British are certainly not intolerant, but we tend not to display much emotion be it positive or negative, which begs the question, are we really that tolerant?   We can be polite, of course, but surely all this is just a starting point? It is a very British thing to sweep those things we do not wish to discuss under the carpet. I fear we do so with our racism.

Accordingly, structural racism and unconscious bias are rarely understood on a mainstream level, yet this is where the greatest challenges lie. Similarly, dog whistle racism often goes unchecked and unchallenged. The impetus for Afua Hirsch’s Pledge discussion was the overt racist comments from the girlfriend of the leader of UKIP, a political party that attracts mainstream media coverage despite the obvious dog whistle racism amongst its members.

The British often perceive America to be far more racist than Britain, because its racism is more overt, be it the actions of its police departments or the current occupant of the White House. Yet America is demonstratively more progressive in many respects, leaving Britain way behind.

In academia, Harvard University admits far more people of colour relative to America’s demographic make-up than either Oxford or Cambridge in the UK. Moreover, Harvard achieved this without compromising academic excellence disproving the notion that “affirmative action” meant lowering the bar. It does not. As David Lammy points out, Oxford and Cambridge could do the same, but have consistently failed to do so.

Whenever racism is discussed in the British media, and on television specifically, the format is typically:

EITHER one black person making the case to two, three, for or more white people all of whom hold an opposing view. Occasionally, there might be a white ally. Instinctively the ally may well be on the side of the black person discussing structural racism, yet very often the ally tries to be the peacemaker in what is often a heated discussion, hoping to defuse any unpleasantness with another set piece such as “but we have come a long way”.

OR the researchers manage to find several black and south asian participants who, conveniently and in the interests of good television, hold opposing views. This may be authentic insofar as a sixty year old dark skinned black man who lived through extreme overt racism in the seventies and eighties will have a different perspective to a mixed raced woman in her twenties grappling with unconscious bias, othering and dog whistle racism today. Such formats over simplify the arguments almost always without time to fully understand the nuances around these varying positions. A recent episode of BBC Big Questions is a case in point.

In contrast, American television news and talk shows will often utilize two or three black commentators speaking on a panel about race (or indeed more general subjects), be they pundits such as Angela Rye and Bakari Sellers or presenters such as Don Lemon, Van Jones or Joy Reid. British television is way behind. When Republican commentator Cory Lewandowski made racially charged remarks about President Obama during the 2016 presidential election, he was very firmly put in his place by more than one of his fellow panelists.

For such a “tolerant” nation, we British seem to be remarkably slow in addressing structural racism, unconscious bias and dogwhistle racism. Yet, seemingly “intolerant” America is way ahead of us. The uncomfortable truth is Britain still has a lot work to do.

Tolerating is OK. Britain can do that.   But we are not “OK Britain” we are Great Britain and we can do much better than OK. That means continually improving ourselves as a nation to ensure all our citizens, regardless of background, feel not just tolerated, but accepted and equal and to feel truly British and not merely Brit(ish).

 

For a more complete and beautifully written account of why we British should do far more than merely tolerate, BRIT(ish) by Afua Hirsch is an essential read.

 

Diversity In The Music Industry

Diversity Part 2: Following Andy Edwards’ first diversity piece for RotD, he follows-up with the actions taken since and how everyone can get involved

This article first appeared in the Record of the Day weekly magazine, but can also be viewed online here.

One of the central talking points during 2016 has been the issue of diversity.

In a broader social context #BlackLivesMatter rose in prominence, while BREXIT and the American presidential campaigns have ignited racial tensions. The Rio Olympics celebrated sporting talent across racial and gender boundaries, although prejudices and barriers were all too apparent.

Islamophobia is a continuing issue across Europe and the USA, highlighted by the ‘burkini’ debate in France over the summer. That debate also raises broader questions concerning the rights of women and their freedom to dress how they please without fear of harassment irrespective of religion.

Workplace diversity is a hot topic. Financial services, media, arts, tech and even the public sector have all attracted scrutiny. Baroness McGregor-Smith will be publishing a report on workplace diversity in the UK shortly.

Within the music industry UK Music CEO Jo Dipple has made diversity a priority, giving that organisation’s full support to Keith Harris’ efforts to set up an industry-wide UK Music Diversity Taskforce. This was well in advance of the #BritsSoWhite and 30 Under 30 debates. Keith is now running that campaign with UK Music’s Director of Operations Ele Hill.

BPI Chairman Ged Doherty is another industry leader who has made diversity a priority by hiring Ayesha Hazarika to drive its own diversity efforts and to work collaboratively across the industry. Ayesha is a former EMI executive with political experience that includes drafting the landmark Equality Act 2010.

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My first move was writing an article for Record Of The Day in March. This was a small contribution, but what followed were some useful insights worth sharing with those considering lending their support for the first time.

Get Involved (Even If You Are A White Man)

Diversity affects all of us and we can all benefit. It has been noted that companies with a more ethnically diverse workforce are 35% more likely to be profitable than non-ethnically diverse companies. This makes sense as local demographics change and the world becomes more connected. To remain competitive, companies must reflect their consumers.

Even those of us (predominantly white people) who are passionately anti-racist sometimes fear getting involved. We fear saying the wrong thing and either offending or patronising the people we hope to support. No one wants to fall into the trap of whitesplaining, as Matt Damon did last year, for which he later apologised.

Writing the RotD article was daunting. Thankfully the feedback from respected friends and colleagues within the Black and Asian community was overwhelmingly positive. That gave me the confidence to get more involved.

There are some great examples of supporting a cause that is not necessarily your own in a positive and respectful manner.

MTV produced an article about 9 ways white people can use white privilege for good gives useful pointers for discussing race from the perspective of a white person. The examples are very US-orientated, but the UK has the same underlying issues. There are plenty more examples on YouTube.

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In tackling gender inequality from a male perspective, Barack Obama’s article This Is What A Feminist Looks Like for Glamour magazine earlier this year is a useful reference point. Men can be feminists too, including the President of the United States of America. Men can also avoid mansplaining. Even in 2016 highly accomplished women, including NASA astronauts and Olympic athletes, have had to endure ignorant comments from lesser qualified men.

A bit of encouragement and cajoling always helps. Speaking at the inaugural UK Music Diversity Summit in July, Oona King delivered what can only be described as a master class in bringing people together.

Aside from her political career, she has huge experience in achieving better workplace diversity, previously as Head of Diversity at Channel 4, now in a global role at YouTube. Summing up this sentiment with great warmth and quite a bit of irony, Oona declared:

I love white men [long and slightly playful pause], I especially love white men who come to diversity meetings, because when I see that I know that real change is possible.”

As a friend pointed out to me: “Oona is ironically acknowledging the status quo and white, male privilege. She acknowledged white males who use their privilege for good, being agents of change regardless of skin tone”.

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It is not about me, or people like me. We should not be centre stage. But we can be in the room and lend our support. Listen and learn and go from there.

But you are not reading a diversity piece to hear about white guys …

The broader context of diversity … what do we mean by diversity?

“Diversity” is turning into a buzzword. There has been a great deal of focus race and ethnicity this year. The concept of workplace diversity, however, is much broader and also includes: disabilities, religious and political beliefs, gender, education, socioeconomic background, sexual orientation and geographic location amongst other factors.

Diversity also goes hand in hand with “Inclusion”. It is one thing to have a diverse workforce, but if that diverse workforce does not feel like it has a voice and is included in decision-making and collaboration, then we all fail.

Diversity and Inclusion expert Charlotte Sweeney has written extensively on the subject, including co-writing a book called Diversity and Inclusive Leadership.

Understanding The Numbers

The UK Music workplace diversity questionnaire has generated a very high response from across all sectors of the industry. This is very encouraging. The next step is to analyze the data and publish the results.

A number of organizations and industries have conducted similar exercises in recent years. Many workplaces face challenges in balancing diversity, although the specifics vary from one workplace to another.

For instance, Facebook is predominately white (55%) and male (68%). Asian employees are well represented (38%), but Black (2%), Hispanic (4%) and female (22%) employees are not. The Facebook figures are broadly reflective of the tech sector as a whole.

Last year Facebook demonstrated its senior leadership hires comprised: 9% Black, 5% Hispanic and 29% female. The company also breaks out technical and non-technical figures. Job role is an important factor in the tech sector, as technical roles are even less diverse.

Through transparency, action and annual reporting to monitor outcomes Facebook is demonstrating progress, albeit slow progress. The company is not immune to criticism but when accepted graciously solutions can be found.

Not only do other industries and organisations consider the overall position, they examine the nuances whether that is job role, seniority and how that pattern changes year-on-year.

UK Music shall be publishing the results of its survey very shortly. This will be fascinating. Irrespective of what picture the numbers paint, it is incumbent on all of us to understand those numbers, take action and monitor progress.

Diversity is very firmly on everyone’s agenda this year and it is not going away. This is a great opportunity for the music industry to demonstrate leadership through its own commitment to transparency, insight, action and results. If music can cross boundaries, so can the industry that supports it.

Contact Andy Edwards via twitter here: @andyedwardsbiz

 

Diversity in the Music Industry and the 30 Under 30 List

Andy Edwards poses some questions to consider in the wake of the 30 Under 30 diversity discussion

This article first appeared in the Record of the Day weekly magazine, but can also be viewed online here.

If it’s not the Oscars it’s the BRITS, if it’s not the Billboard Power 100 it’s Music Week’s 30 Under 30, the question of diversity within the music industry has boiled to the surface this year. In 2016 this is deeply troubling.

Music Week’s front cover featuring 30 people under 30, initially nominated by readers, and then finally selected by MW, was the latest lightning rod for this topic. If the next generation of executives cannot be truly diverse, what hope is there?

One criticism leveled at Music Week is that editorial judgment should have been exercised and a broader list of names proactively sought. Instead, Music Week reported on the candidates whose names had been put forward. Judging by the list of 108 names that did not make the final 30, the total list put forward was overwhelmingly white.

30under30

Perhaps any attempt to disproportionately select candidates of colour would have masked the real story and a much broader underlying problem? Music Week did report the facts whether we like those facts or not.

The counter list put forth by DJ Semtex is incredibly powerful. One person came up with 30 alternative names in a matter of hours, a list that was overwhelming colourful and brimming with talent. A further list from Complex made a similar point.

30-More-Under-30-Grid-New-cover-1440x810

What interests me most of all right now is to understand what is going on and why. In very broad terms, it strikes me the Music Week list is made up largely of what we would consider to be the “traditional” music business, whether that is corporates or established PR and management companies.

In contrast, Semtex’s list – while containing quite a few major label people – skewed much more heavily to the self-starters, the entrepreneurs, those with portfolio careers and the emerging music businesses – the blogs, the YouTube channels, the club nights, and so on. The same was broadly true of the Complex list.

Compilers of such lists have to consider a much broader range of job roles than ever before and a much broader range of organizations and career paths. What constitutes the “music industry” itself can be debated at length.

If the music industry is to reflect the wider world, what is that wider world? The last UK census in 2011 revealed that 13% of the UK population is non-white, but in London that percentage rises to 40%. Undeniably the industry is still overwhelmingly London-centric, which places even more emphasis on diversity within our industry. **

And what of the challenges of a London-centric industry? Moving to London was part of the attraction of being in the music industry, but with rents and property prices at an all-time high, does that also stifle diversity of a different kind? Factor in ever increasing levels of student debt and the problem multiplies. Some have said only the posh Home Counties middle class need apply – probably a blog post in itself!

So we as an industry need to ask ourselves some questions.

The Who and What Questions:

  • Who does the industry employ? What are the numbers by ethnicity?
  • What is the break down across sectors of the industry?
  • What are the emerging sectors that should form part of the music industry?
  • What are the ethnicity numbers by job role? Creative vs Business roles?
  • Does music genre play a role in determining the spread of diversity?
  • What are the conventions and processes that are restraining diversity?

The Why Questions:

  • Why do some jobs attract a more diverse range of applicants than others?
  • Why do people from certain backgrounds want to work in music?
  • Why do people from certain backgrounds not want to work in music?
  • Is the music industry attracting the right mix of people? What is the right mix?
  • Why do employers recruit in the way that they do?

There is a lot of soul searching to be done. Perhaps we all have to ask questions about our own journeys, experiences and motivations in order to make those connections with others. We should constantly question and challenge ourselves.

I grew up in a small town in the north of England. I remember a kid in the playground calling me “Jew Boy” because I had curly hair, a big nose and my Dad worked for a bank. I didn’t know any Jewish people at the time, but I did know what it felt like to be different and I have always been appreciative and inquisitive of people’s differences.

Working in the music business was an opportunity to do something different. I like being around crazy people, but really I’m the commercially focused sensible one. At Sony Music in the ‘90s, I was a Marketing Analyst. No one knew what I did and I always had to explain. So a part of me jumped for joy that the first name on the Music Week 30 under 30 list was an Analyst from Sony Music.

As an indie kid from up north, Sony was also an opportunity to expand my knowledge of black music. With colleagues such as Semtex, Matthew Ross, Adam Sieff and others I filled up on hip hop, soul and jazz. I was clueless but I learned.

Moving around the industry, one learns about the differing professions and tribes. You listen, learn and absorb. As the industry grows more complex a broader range of skills are required. It also means opening one’s eyes and ears to those with different backgrounds, experiences and perspectives.

But this runs counter to the way in which the industry has traditionally organized itself. The “its who you know” mantra is self-selecting. A female colleague describing an iconic label she worked at recalled, “there was a certain type of person and you either fitted in or you didn’t”. Like attracts like.

On another occasion, when interviewing for an assistant role for a colleague, one candidate spoke enthusiastically about some work they had done for their local church. Afterwards, my colleague remarked “we don’t want her, she’s a bible basher”, completely misunderstanding the background and culture of the candidate.  Her comment would have been wrong had the candidate been white, but the candidate was a young black woman.  Church going is viewed very differently within the black community and especially so amongst younger age groups who consider going to church just as cool as going to a club.  Forty eight percent of London’s church goers are black.  This point was complete lost on my colleague who ended up hiring someone with a similar background to herself.   **

Some organisations deploy more sophisticated recruitment techniques such as competency based interviews or algorithms yet many tech companies have diversity challenges also. These techniques can also be self-selecting and if candidates are not attracted to certain industry sectors or roles, one has to ask “why?

This is not an easy process, whether that is on a macro level or a mirco level. Relaying back to personal experience, the best and most productive working relationships have always been those where I have worked with someone who is the polar opposite to myself. That might not necessarily make for an easy experience but it is always exciting, challenging and most of all delivers exceptional results.

The music industry has to grapple with a much bigger picture on a macro level. It is not just music; other creative sectors such as film, TV and publishing are facing similar issues. It seems no one is handling this well.

This is a topic that is already being hotly debated at UK Music board level for some time. The senior figures within our industry are already deeply concerned and are seeking to understand the issues and challenges, including some of the questions I have raised above.

There will be outreach, through UK Music and its members: the BPI, AIM, MPA, PRS, MMF and so on are all intending on surveying their memberships. Ged Doherty and Keith Harris are looking at this issue specifically. I would ask anyone reading this article to engage and retweet and spread the word. There will be more announcements to come. Watch this space and get involved.

@andyedwardsbiz

 

** NOTE – I have amended this paragraph from the first “polite” draft that was originally published to what actually happened.  Its been bugging me for a while that I did not write this authentically in the first place, but I am learning. (Feb 2018).