Black Folk, Don’t Promote Mass Hypocrisy When It Comes to Soul

Posted November 26, 2013 by J Matthew Cobb in Features

Justin Timberlake wins a big trophy for Best R&B/Soul Album and now we want to revoke his “soul” card. What gives?

I am black.

I was also born to be colorblind.

But as always, that innocence is only with you for a short period of time. You live a little long and you quickly start to see the rest of the world is less likely to view things the way you do. Soul music was a vital part of my appetite growing up, and before I turned my eyes to the critical conversations of music journalists and critics who tend to bring their agendas with them, I looked at music as a colossal canvas made up of various strokes of colors, shades and brush types. Along with my Motown and Stax records, I rambled with a wide assortment of experimental rock jazz (Chicago,  Blood, Sweat & Tears), disco (KC & the Sunshine Band, Peter Brown), bubbly synthpop (Madonna, Cyndi Lauper), rhythmic pop-soul (Hall & Oates, Steely Dan, Boz Scaggs) and so much more. And all of those names are made up of white faces. But as a young kid marveling over these sounds, I didn’t see color. I just knew I loved the hell out of those records.

We’ve come a long way from the bitter conversations made by earlier blues and r&b stars that Elvis [Presley] “stole our music.” And you randomly see those conversations make a resurgence in modern-day ramblings, especially amongst aggravated soul singers who feel like they aren’t getting their just due. Awhile back, Erykah Badu ranted on Twitter about black stars bending to synthpop to sell records to mainstream. This dialogue seems to be a popular trend at, where I also write album reviews for from time to time. Most of the time I agree to disagree with my colleagues there, and often shy away from going head-to-head with them because of their passionate views.

But I wanted to confront a certain issue that makes me squeal. It’s mass hypocrisy. This problem is something that every group of people seems to be guilty of. I can’t speak for the majority of them, but when it comes to my fellow blacks and their diet of music, it always turns into a sensitive subject when race is injected into the conversation. In a post-racial, post-Obama reality, when today’s Top 40 shows a healthy mix of races, cultures, genres and styles (i.e. Rihanna, Katy Perry, Drake, Enrique Iglesias, Lorde, Eminem, Robin Thicke, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis), it seems like artists are open minded to exploring the depths of genre-bending. Lady Gaga masterfully did it with R Kelly on “Do What U Want,” while Lorde is pumping cool hip-hop swagger into “Royals.” Jim James is exploring the depths of Marivn Gaye and Isaac Hayes while catering to an electro-rock universe. Daft Punk is putting live musicians back to work in EDM. Brittany Howard of the Alabama Shakes is blending Aretha and Janis together like an expert seamstress. Like her or not, but Rihanna is challenging Top 40 to break old stereotypes. Gary Clark, Jr. is taking everything from Jimi Hendrix to Led Zeppelin and putting it right back in the faces of white rock, attempting to add some extra shades of grey to mainstream rock radio. Blue-eyed soul acts like Adele, Mayer Hawthorne, Fitz & the Tantrums are putting glorious works of soul music on the assembly line for mass consumption.

And then there’s Justin Timberlake, who proved to have a very good year with his 20/20 Experience. Critical praise came from across the board, not just from mainstream white critics, but also within the black sector. Giving him a homecoming fit for a king, Timberlake’s music had no problem filling up the black radio airwaves, beginning with the sexy swagger of the Top Ten hit “Suit & Tie” – accompanied with one of the greatest rap masters of our generation (Jay-Z). The song shot to number two on the R&B/Hip-Hop Songs survey. “Mirrors” went to number one on the UK R&B charts. His follow-up album, 20/20’s sequel, didn’t match the success of its predecessor, but still managed to pull off some urban funk with the Top Ten R&B hits “TKO” and  “Take Back the Night.” The mastermind behind Timberlake’s major comeback has always been known to be Timothy “Timbaland” Mosley, the production king that pulled off crossover jams for Aaliyah, Ginuwine and Missy Elliot. Yep, that guy is a black man. But who seriously cares…the album was dopefa shizzle mah nizzle. 

But after the American Music Awards awarded Justin Timberlake with the big win for Best R&B/Soul Album this past weekend, some of his faithful black fans wanted to snatch back his “soul card.” How I know this? Well, my Facebook wall was littered with negative feedback from music pros, A&Rs, publicists and serious soul music supporters about Timberlake being considered R&B/soul. As if he was some poser. As if he never even did “SexyBack,” “What Goes Around…Comes Around” or the Beyonce-guested “Until the End of Time.” As if we never thought ‘nSync was the best white version of New Edition. It’s starting to feel as if this dude’s hair has to turn grey before he becomes eligible for a place in the next Best Man movie.

And then I came across this:














Yep, that came from a black radio station in Texas. Probably guilty of playing his music religiously, just like most of the adult R&B stations across the country.

And what really stunned me was when 105.7 radio personality Lynne Haze ascribed that it would have been cool if they gave the award to Robin Thicke. Other than “Blurred Lines,” what else from Thicke’s last album (Blurred Lines) did black radio bump? Thank you. I’m going to assume that writer went there because Thicke happens to be married to a sexy black woman (Paula Maxine Patton).

But what gives? Seriously. Why the mass hysteria behind this new order of mass hypocrisy.

That’s when I decided to post this very short, but very important message on my Facebook wall:

My black folk of today, you need to stop getting offended when a white man or woman wins a R&B/Soul Award./ If it was a damn good record and you bought it, regardless of what color that person was, you shouldn’t be mad about them winning. Stop promoting mass hypocrisy. When Justin’s 20/20 came out, you all went bonkers for it – proclaiming it to be “dope” and “the shizzle.” Now that his album is being recognized for being R&B/Soul, you want to take back his “soul” card. Don’t do that. When you do that, you’re just fucking up the progress we’ve made on race relations. And when it comes to soul, soul has no color anyway. By the way, these are just award shows we’re talking about. If you got a problem with the process, make your own.

About the Author

J Matthew Cobb

Managing editor of HiFi Magazine


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