music essay

Jesse Barber

Professor Drown

English 123


Furthering The Discussion Of Music

Music is something that brings people from all walks of life together. It binds us and it divides us by telling us things that we don’t want to hear. At times it causes us to argue on which genre and artist are better but it brings us together by genre and artist. The enjoyment of listening to good music is a hotly debated topic.  The questions that are debated inside of music are as follows: 1.) A century old question is is cultural appropriation ever ok ? 2.) What is cultural appropriation in music? 3.) what should be considered cultural appropriation? These questions have been asked over the course of music history yet remain unanswered and probably will remain unanswered for the foreseeable future. However, as of late there have been notable sources that have tried to provide some guidelines for recognizing cultural appropriation namely an article from music critic Chris Richards. Another article from a website, Aesthetics for Birds, which is a round table discussion by multiple philosophy professors about cultural appropriation and hopefully with some of my thoughts mixed in hopefully we can provide a way to further this ever important discussion.

First, let’s begin by summarizing Chris Richards’s argument. Chris Richards argues that cultural appropriation is ok, only if the artist is using material and making something new. Along with this is the understanding of the nuances of the music that they are taking from notably white rappers who are the most flagrant offenders, as many of them do not understand where rap comes from. They don’t understand what it means to the African American community or how rap was created. Chris Richards, states that we should when listening to music ask if the artist is a tourist or a traveler. Chris explains, that a tourist is someone who visits and looks around and takes what they want back and leaves everything else behind. Whereas, travelers who move through the world tend to participate. Travelers don’t pick and choose the parts of the culture they like and don’t like, but instead except all of it. I agree with Chris Richards here, as I think if the artist can properly represent the culture, understands it and makes something new or inventive from this genre, that sound good. One can overlook any cultural appropriation accusations made against them. Also, I think something that is key, as well as understanding, can understand where the artist comes from and if they have been recognized by other artists in the genre that they are borrowing from. A fantastic example of this is noted in the works done by Eminen. Eminens’ work fills these criteria of doing something new and addresses in his music where he comes from. Eminem grew up very poor in Detroit living the same lifestyle as the people who created rap and because of his style of rapping he was recognized by one of the greatest rap icons Dr. Dre.

The aesthetics for birds is around table discussion done by multiple different people and sheds a lot of light on the topic however because there are some many different perspective it is a little harder to summarize as it is the thoughts from ten different since the all the articles are fairly long I will do my best summarize the keypoints. The article starts out by asking if cultural appropriation is ever ok and then asks these sub-questions; 1. What is the difference between iggy azalea and Eminem? 2. How does success factor into the accusations of cultural appropriation? 3.) Should artists be excused from their appropriation if their music steers attention towards the source it draws from? The thing that came up amongst a bunch of the answers was that cultural appropriation was about power. One of the correspondents was saying “ The answer depends not on identity, but power.”  this, of course, is referring to the systems of power that they are in. Each of the people who responded had different answers for the comparison of Eminem and Iggy Azalea. Some of them came up with the reason that Iggy Azalea differs from Eminem, is that Eminem has a very specific sound and does not steal the sound of African Americans. However, there were some others who said, otherwise namely, one saying that Eminem has transcended race or that it’s the way that Eminem presents himself and his life. Eminem had a tough street life, living in poverty and criminal activities. Two of the other people who responded said. that it was half sexism and racism. The majority of the discussion was focused on debating this topic which is what are the differences between Eminem and Iggy Azalea? However, there were some responses for the other questions, namely the one about, if artists should be excused from the cultural appropriation for steering people toward a genre? The census there was also quite varied the responses ranging for people saying yes, meaning that it’s ok to overlook cultural appropriation as long as it steers people towards the people who the album is about. 

Personally, I think that comparing Eminem and Iggy Azalea is a little offensive towards Eminem, but that’s not what this whole thing is about. What I do think this is about is the difference between Eminem is the way he came up the way his life was before he was famous The fact that Eminem grew up on the streets of Detroit plus being signed to a record label by Dr. Dre only helped his brand, even without this he has his own style of rap.  Whereas, Iggy Azalea’ style is very generic and does nothing new or interesting. Now, when it comes to, does fame play a role in how the artist’s music is perceived. I mean, yes and no, there is always going to be those who are going to say things to try and tear people down. If the music is widely accepted as good and represents the genre then I think it’s fine. As to this one it’s a little more ambiguous and can be a little harder to answer because of the sheer fact that if the more famous you are the more people are gonna hear the music. In the end, a portion of the people try to tear it down and not for the right reasons just to try to hurt the artist. 

As to the last question in this article I do agree with some of it. As for me personally, I have listened to music by the two artists. I like the way that one sounded. Which prompted me to look into more of their music leading me into a new genre.  I would never have listened to this genre if it wasn’t for the way it sounded. So, I do think it is okay to overlook cultural appropriation if the music steers towards a new genre, however, I think that it shouldn’t be called out because of what it does.

Overall, I think that music is being stifled by  cultural appropriation. It stifles creativity, the ability for artists to experiment and try new things. There is a quote from professor Alexus Mcloud from the aesthetics for birds article that says, “ I think that cultural appropriation, as such, is always okay. This doesn’t mean, of course, that any use of what we might call “cultural goods” (for lack of a better phrase) is acceptable, but rather that the acceptability of their use is independent of features of the racial, cultural, ethnic, or other identities of those who use them. Cultural goods, as ideas and ways of acting, cannot be owned, just as one (whether an individual or group) cannot copyright ideas, mathematical equations, languages, or accents”. This I think accentuates why cultural appropriation is so hard to define. Something like music isn’t something that can be owned by one race as music isn’t about race but where you come from. In the end to have artist fearing that they will be called on cultural appropriation is something that could end up robbing the music industry of its greatest artist and albums due to the term cultural appropriation. I think that if the music is good and you can put a new spin on it by making it something different regardless of where you come from, you should be able to make any kind of music. This is what I think in the end I hope that this helped you look at music in a new way.       


“The Five Hardest Questions in Pop Music.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 2 July 2018,

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