For someone who grew up loving music of all genres—especially black music—and turned that love into a career, it’s bittersweet to look at the current state of black music. Now when I look at black music, I don’t look at the creative process as much as I look at the business side. Creatively, every generation puts their stamp on music, which has been true from bebop to hip-hop. Some will say music today is not as good as it used to be, but since music is the “soundtrack of our lives,” the love of music really is less objective and more subjective.
The business of black music between 1970-2000 created hundreds of jobs, including putting blacks in the executive suites of major record companies, and increased black radio ownership across the country. The latter phenomenon included Inner City Broadcasting, former owner of arguably the most influential black radio station in the country, WBLS-FM/New York, and the broadcasting empires built by Cathy Hughes (Radio One) and Russell Perry (Perry Broadcasting). Looking back, I get a sense of pride. Conversely, now when you look at the diminished roles blacks play by and large in record companies and the loss of black radio ownership, it’s easy to say black music is in a crisis state. The success of black radio and black music inside record companies has always gone hand in hand.
In the 1970s CBS Records (today Sony Music Entertainment) commissioned what is generally referred to as the “Harvard Report,” but was formally titled “A Study of the Soul Music Environment.” The purpose was to corner the black music market. This study, in short, showed that in order to capture the black marketplace, labels needed more black people in marketing who could relate to black music, black culture and black radio and also form alliances with independent black labels (http://www.popmatters.com/feature/050603-randb/).