‘Urban music’ under fire as senior industry execs voice unease over widely-used term

Is the music industry completely okay with the use of ‘urban’ as a catch-all term to describe all the different denominations of hip-hop and R&B?

In a word, no.

Some of the most lauded music executives on either side of the Atlantic have seen the word included in their job title at some point – including Wendy Goldstein (Republic), Alex Boateng (Island UK),Tuma Basa (YouTube), Joie Manda (Interscope Geffen A&M) and Nicole Wyskoarko (IGA).

But amongst many of this group’s industry peers, a growing sense of unease appears to be coming to the fore.

MBW is told by multiple solid sources that Warner/Chappell‘s CEO & Chairman, Jon Platt, deeply dislikes the use of ‘urban’.

Platt, we’re told, has been vocal in meetings about why he wants to see it eradicated from the record business lexicon on a number of occasions.

The latest executive to voice their disdain for the term is Kobalt‘s US-based SVP of Creative, Sam Taylor.

Taylor has serious pedigree in the worlds of hip-hop and R&B.

Prior to joining Kobalt, Taylor worked at Atlantic, Elektra and Warner/Chappell, in addition to EMI (and Sony/ATV) where his writer/producer roster included Pharrell Williams, Schoolboy Q, Sounwave (Kendrick Lamar, pictured), FKi (Post Malone, 2 Chainz) and Dahi (Big Sean).

More recently he’s worked with the likes of Teddy Walton (Kendrick Lamar, Goldlink), Yung Exclusive (Drake, Travis Scott), Ben Billions (Yo Gotti) and J White (Cardi B).

“I hate and despise the word ‘urban’.”

Sam Taylor, Kobalt

Speaking in a freshly-published Kobalt Q&A, Taylor says, in no uncertain terms: “I hate and despise the word urban.”

He qualifies: “The word urban to me feels like a project. It feels like something that needs to be built. It’s basically like, ‘Oh this urban neighborhood.’

“It means it’s low-income, not safe, etc. So when you say urban music, to me, it’s letting me know that you think it needs to be rebuilt.”

Adds Taylor: “Nothing about hip-hop and R&B needs to be rebuilt. Nothing. Hip-hop’s been running for 40-something years, R&B’s been running for however long, if not longer. And, it’s been successful every single year.

“So, to me, the word urban is not synonymous with the words hip-hop and R&B. Is it a quick-ass way of not having to say hip-hop and R&B? Sure. But, let’s think of another word.”

Taylor is not the only senior music business executive to explicitly state that they “despise” the phrase ‘urban music’.

DJ Semtex – 1Xtra presenter, Spotify podcaster and Sony Music UK‘s internal rap music talisman – recently discussed the subject in an interview with MBW’s dedicated UK magazine, Music Business UK.

Semtex has been closely involved in projects such as breakthrough act J Hus at Sony, having previously worked at the likes of Def Jam and Mercury.

He is also the author of the globally-acclaimed book, Hip-hop Raised Me.

“‘Urban’ is a lazy, inaccurate generalisation of several culturally rich art forms.”

DJ Semtex, Sony Music UK

Said Semtex: “I despise the word urban. I know artists that do hip-hop, grime, or rap. I don’t know anyone that does urban music.

“‘Urban’ is a lazy, inaccurate generalisation of several culturally rich art forms.”

He’s not alone in his opinion.

Also speaking to MBUK, Virgin EMI’s recently-promoted, London-based General Manager Rob Pascoe said: “I hate that word. I had it in my title for a while and I hated it, because there’s no such thing as ‘urban’… at what point can we get you to give up and just describe Drake’s God’s Plan as a massive pop record rather than ‘urban’?”

And London-based Sonia Diwan – lawyer to some of British hip-hop’s most talked-about emerging talents at Sound Advice LLP – said: “[This music is now] pop, popular, music as far as I’m concerned. Labelling it ‘urban’ is a complete misnomer.

“Why is it urban music, exactly? Because it’s non-white?”

The use of ‘urban music’ has proliferated in the music business as the perceived success of hip-hop has grown in the streaming era.

According to the latest Nielsen numbers, hip-hop and R&B were jointly responsible for 37.5% of on-demand audio streams in the US in the first half of 2018.

Considering that 268.2bn on-demand audio streams were recorded in US in the period across all genres, this means that hip-hop and R&B attracted 100.58bn streams in the six-months.

In other words, America played hip-hop and R&B tracks approximately 551m times every day on average via audio streaming services in H1 2018; equivalent to roughly 23m streams per hour.Music Business Worldwide

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