In 1976, Atlanta funk/rock band Mother's Finest made one of the most racist, most ignored challenges known to music (only to be eclipsed by the careers of New Kids on the Block and Kenny G.). With "Nigizz Can't Sing Rock'n Roll," lead singer Glenn Murdock threw the industry into a tizzy.
"I still don't know what they're talking about," rapper/singer/actor Mos Def recently commented on the 30-year-old controversy, "rock-n-roll is niggi music."
The challenge was soon taken up by George Clinton and Funkadelic with the release of One Nation under a Groove and their song, "Who Says a Funk Band Can't Play Rock?!" However, the "blacklash" was monumental.
"It was an outrage," says noted black revolutionary and jazz activist, Gil Scott-Heron. "We already had Charley Pride singing country music."
"I told them nobody wants to hear black people singing rock music. It would never sell," music potentate, and then head of Arista Records, Clive Davis claims. "I made sure of that."
Through Davis' efforts, Saturday Night Fever was released and disco was born, forever closing the debate.
In the '80s, Davis' hegemony was challenged with the signings of Bad Brains, Fishbone, and Living Colour. However, he made a concerted effort to quash their careers. At one point, Davis even threatened Madonna with exile when her Maverick label signed the aforementioned Bad Brains. Maverick hardly supported their album, God of Love and soon dropped the group. He even succeeded to crush the fledgling career of funk/metal Atlanta band (and one-time friends of the author), Follow for Now. Because of their racial ambiguity, Rage against the Machine escaped Davis's wrath, but with the release of The Chronic the renascent debate was once again silenced.
However, with the signing of Executive Order 3865 (otherwise known as "O.E. Funk") in May 2007, President Bush has freed black musicians to once again explore their rock capabilities.
"Oh yeah, I'm proud of that one," Bush commented from his new refuge in Dallas. "I hope those bastards enjoy the Cuban sun. Guantanamo is where they belong."
When told what E.O. 3865 really was, the former president changed his tune.
"You know, I just signed those things. I never looked at them. Damn you, Condi."
The response has been small so far but very promising. There are the "Brooklyn boho weirdos", TV on the Radio, whose Dear Science was voted the Best Album of 2008 by Spin.
Philadelphia-born, former ska/punk rocker, Santigold (nee Santi White, musically nee Santogold) also made a huge splash in 2008 with her musically-nee eponymous debut.
Somehow circumventing the "Buy American" clause in E.O. 3865, the U.K. has also contributed the hard-driving funk/rock of The Heavy, who some have compared to "Tom Waits backed by the Stooges" (though this author thinks they've never imagined Curtis Mayfield backed by early Earth, Wind, and Fire or Sly and the Family Stone).
"Oh yeah, the future of blacks in rock is limitless," comments Tunde Adebimpe, lead singer of TV on the Radio. "With The Big Brother in the White House, anything's possible."
Fellow band member, Kyp Morgan (who many have confused for Cornel West), raised a beer. "I heard that!"