Gil Scott-Heron wrote the celebrated, militant poem "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised." The title, which has become a popular mantra, means that thinking is paramount and, unfortunately, not a common practice. Featured on his 1971 album, "Pieces of Man," the lyrical poem describes how media transformed into a medium that keeps individuals, especially African Americans, from thinking. Although Scott-Heron’s piece focused on television, his concept also applies to radio.
As a child growing up in Memphis, music was one of the most socially responsible mediums for communication, political and social activism. This was even applicable to R&B music; although it was one of the most expressive vehicles for transferring the amorous feelings of love, during the Civil Rights era, the music was used to lend voice to important social commentary reflective of the needs of the African American community. In fact, most popular artists consistently used their music for this purpose, producing some of the greatest love songs known to this genre. Whether it was Aretha Franklin's "Respect," which spoke of equality for black women, Marvin Gaye's protest of the Vietnam War in "What's Going On," or James Brown's "Say It Loud, I'm Black and I'm Proud," music tended to reflect the needs of the community and collective more than the selfish avarice of the individual.
Today, there are few such artists with a focus and dedication that would allow them to sing for the betterment of the African American community. Instead of Marvin Gaye, James Brown, and Sam Cooke, there are the Dream, Pleasure P, Chris Brown and Trey Songz. These individuals, albeit talented, lack substance and often sing about the same topics.
Looking at Trey Songz, it appears that most of his songs are about sex; titles include clear messages -- "Sex for Yo Stereo", "No Clothes On", "Make Love Tonight", "Just Wanna Cut", "Neighbors Know My Name" and "I Invented Sex." One would imagine that a conscious and responsible adult would be able to sing about subjects beyond sex, and I am certain that he could if he tried; however, his focus may be elsewhere. Perhaps he doesn’t know the history of the music that’s representative of the community from which it originates.
Throughout history, we African Americans have used music as a tool to tackle prejudice and racism. It appears that this practice is no longer lived or perceived as vital and may even be considered by some to be unappealing or worse unimportant. The question is, will music ever continue the legacy of Marvin Gaye's "Make Me Wanna Hollar" or Sam Cooke's "A Change is Gonna Come"? I cannot answer that, for it seems that most current artists in hip hop and R&B are more interested in being carbon copies — content on "out ignorating” each other. It is obvious that the revolution will not be on the radio either …