COLUMN: Urban black culture shapes music, fashion

P. Kim Bui

This morning, after eating breakfast, I sat down to write my column. I scoured my usual news Web sites and read some other columns.

I pondered first about writing on the recent breakthrough of the Billboard Top 10 chart being completely made up of black musicians. Then I pondered about writing on a topic not usually discussed in A&E columns, fashion. As I stared at a picture of Beyonce Knowles dancing her little heart away in a cropped black chiffon-looking top on Reuters, I realized the two coincide. Black artists have invaded pop culture, bringing the slang and their clothes along.

It’s more than fantastic that black artists have finally dominated the music scene. Everyone from P. Diddy to Ashanti to Pharrell probably celebrated this past weekend. They had done it, they have conquered something on their own terms. Martin Luther King, Jr. would have been proud, in some way. Music is now “urban.” But it’s not like we haven’t been expecting it.

Over the past few years, urban music — which includes everything from rap to R&B — has slowly taken over the airwaves. Des Moines’ KISS 107.5 — the radio station which plays the top 40 in a slightly different rotation every hour — has been overwhelmed with urban music. Having an entirely black Top 10 was bound to happen.

When the millennium was approaching, I remember reading an article about what music would be like for the next millennium. The answer? R&B. Hip-hop. Rap. Rap-rock. A blending of genres, mostly involving existing genres of pop and rock engulfing R&B and the like. Everything would shift to become more like urban music.

Black artists were already starting the trend in the ’90s. They slowly gained power after rap emerged in the ’70s and now they’ve taken over.

They’ve become role models for young men and women alike. Twelve-year-old boys cruise the malls in backwards jerseys and Air Force Ones, and their female counterparts wear J-Lo low pants and cropped and chopped tank tops made from sweatshirts, displaying their favorite teams. They listen to “Right Thurr” on their mp3 players while they wait at the bus stops.

Men and women our own age do just the same. Boheme Bistro and Coconut Joe’s in Des Moines attest to the effect these artists are having on us. The fashion on BET’s “106 and Park” has slowly bled into the Midwest. And for black people, this is great. A sign of respect. We want to be like them.

It’s not just fashion and the charts. Urban life, in every way, has become a part of pop culture. In the ’80s, it was “tubular” and “gnarly,” with California style invading the Midwest and every part of culture, from movies to fashion and music.

Now, in the beginning of the millennium, it’s become “urban.” Urban music and fashion. “Bling-bling” and “fo’ shizzle.” “Barbershop” and “Antwone Fisher.” It’s part of pop culture.

It’s beneficial for everyone, black or not, to have another culture’s influence on the general population. It means that the nation is growing. It’s young people who are willing to accept another culture and take after it.

Black culture is truly a part of the cultural melting pot, and its celebrities are paving the way for other cultures, allowing them to honestly believe they can make a difference and be role models for children, from their culture or not.

Hopefully, this trend will continue and generations after we have left ISU, it won’t be labeled urban culture. It will be American culture, and the growth that began last week with an entirely black top ten will continue.