‘Urban Music’? ‘Black Music’? Do We Need A New Term?

BBC Radio 1 DJ MistaJam brought up the recurrent topic today on his blog. We’ve all been moaning about the word ‘urban’ being used as a sweeping term to cover pretty much every genre of ‘black music’ for years.  Whether we’re appeased by the race-less term or incensed by its broad sweeping generalisation, we don’t seem able to conclude on a better alternative… MistaJam explores these aspects and more in his article.


I’ve been meaning to pose this question for a while. As we’re still near the start of a new year, I feel it’s a good time to nail this.

When it’s called ‘Black music’ some people get very touchy with the obvious racial connotations. While ‘Black music’ is culturally and historically correct, some people feel calling it ‘Black music’ is too alienating, claiming that the term can be taken as only black people can make or listen to it. If I had £1 for each time someone has text into a 1Xtra or Radio 1 radio show I’ve hosted, claiming that I’m being ‘racist’ when I’ve referred to the music I’m playing as ‘Black music’, I could buy a house in London. For cash.

‘Urban music’ as a term (according to Wikipedia which as we know never lies) was apparently coined by Legendary New York DJ Frankie Crocker in the mid 1970’s to explain the “eclectic blend” of music he played on his shows. The term was then adopted by major corporations (record labels, TV & radio stations etc…) in the late 90’s as the term for HipHop, R&B, Garage and Drum & Bass as it was easier for them to mass market. As such, ‘Urban music’ as a term these days conjurers up images of bling, artifice and commercialism and is used less as a term of endearment & a brand of quality and more as a disrespectful term for disposable music. Plus what about those suburban people who make, enjoy and support the music?

Yes, we could easily just use genre names to describe the music however if I were to say break down every genre, sub genre and sub sub genre I play on my radio shows, it could easily take me over 2 minutes just to list them. A good shorthand umbrella term such as ‘Pop’ or ‘Rock’ or ‘Dance’ is what’s needed (although you could argue there’s very little difference between ‘Urban’ and ‘Dance’ these days…)

So what do we call it in 2010? I’ve been thinking for a while and I keep drawing blanks but I definitely think we need a new term. An easy all encompassing short hand term to easily explain the mix of genres we like that doesn’t alienate anyone.

What do you think? Do we need a new term? Do people need to stop being touchy about ‘Black music’? Is ‘Urban music’ the best we can do?

Read the original blog post here at mistajam.com/2010/01/10/wot-do-we-call-it/

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