Is Azealia Banks right about culture theft?

October 3rd, 2013

(Photos from left: Joe Scarnici/Getty Images, Miley Cyrus via Twitter)

By Jacob Rohn

Miley Cyrus and twerking have become married in the media ever since the MTV VMAs. Many people have pointed out that Miley has appropriated black culture to advance her own career. Rapper Azealia Banks has spoken out against the idea of white artists taking from black culture saying, “I’m really trying to figure this out. Why is Black Culture such an exclusive club???…I”m asking myself this question a well. I’m guilty of this.” She also added, “So strange…Santigold can sing indie rom songs and no one accuses her of wanting to be white..but white women twerking is the new evil.”

Fair enough. But it seems that Azealia might be missing the point. It’s not that it’s an exclusive club or that anyone should be excluded from being able to make whatever kind of music they want. But it should still be acknowledged and in the case of black culture it holds extra importance due to the number of white artists throughout history that have adopted the culture and then been crowned kings of something they didn’t start. If you look at rock n’ roll which is widely considered to be a “white” genre of music based on the fan base and the demographics of rock n’ roll artists, you will see that it was actually cultivated by black artists from both rock and blues. Chuck Berry, Little Richard and Muddy Waters helped to define and refine what we know today as rock n’ roll, but Elvis Presley is “The King.”

Cultural origins should be placed on genres as a part of historical context, not to criticize. The founding members of any genre should be given credit for paving the way for future generations to enjoy success, but criticizing any artist for music they make is racially digressive. Azealia does need to recognize that a lot of great artists and trailblazers have gone unappreciated or under appreciated throughout the history of music. It’s not criticism it’s just giving credit where credit is due.

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