On the occasion of learning that the Beastie Boys have been nominated to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, I delve into my own archives to reprint a piece from several years ago explaining my distaste for them and the radio stations that shove them down our throats.
Man, it’s really time that somebody pushed the B.S. button on the Beastie Boys, and on the “Modern Rock” radio stations that play their music.
I was dial surfing while driving around a couple of days ago and stopped on the local “Modern Rock” station right around the time that they were doing their daily Top Five countdown. Four of the songs were what you’d expect: Disturbed or Staind or bands that sound like Disturbed or Staind. The fifth song, however, was the new single by the Beastie Boys, and (like most of their songs) it was a simplistic “old school” rap song, with those ever-annoying Beastie voices yelling at each other on top of the rudimentary musical bed.
Now, I could have listened to that “modern rock” station all day, and would I have heard any other old school rap songs, or any other contemporary rap or hip hop music? Maybe another Beastie Boys song or two. And maybe (just maybe) an Eminem number. But nothing else. So why were the Beastie Boys (and maybe, just maybe, Eminem) being played there?
Because they’re white.
Outkast or Jay-Z or Ludacris or any of the many wonderful Wu Tang members or the always-potent Public Enemy or Doctor Dre (without Eminem as his Modern Rock radio mouthpiece) or Snoop or any other popular African-American rap/hip-hop artist could put out or cover that exact same Beastie Boys song, and it would not get played on Modern Rock Radio.
So does that mean that Modern Rock Radio is somewhat racially biased in its programming? I think it is. Which probably doesn’t come as a surprise to anyone.
“But,” I hear you say, rising to corporate rock radio’s defense, “Modern Rock radio plays lots of Lenny Kravitz! How can they be racist?”
They play Lenny Kravitz because Lenny offers what their demographically average, 20-something, white rock radio listener would consider to be “white music,” exploiting the Jimi Hendrix/Thin Lizzy loophole to commercial rock radio acceptability.
The classic Public Enemy song “Fear of A Black Planet” had a little vocal riff in the middle that boiled racial anxiety down to a simple expression of math and genetics:
“Black man, black woman: black baby.
White man, white woman: white baby.
White man, black woman: black baby.
Black man, white woman: black baby.”
I think Modern Rock radio follows a similar model:
“White artist, white music: white radio.
Black artist, white music: white radio.
White artist, black music: white radio.
Black artist, black music: black radio.”
So if you’re an African-American artist making music that the demographically average, white rock radio listener (or programming director) would consider to be “black music,” then there’s evidently no place for you in “white” radio formats like Modern Rock, and apparently you can only appear on pop, R&B, rap or “urban” demographic radio stations. Which is just plain wrong.
Of course, I know there’s not really any such thing as “white music” and “black music,” so I’m using shorthand there, but I hope you get the gist of the point I’m trying to make: that there’s clearly a double standard being applied to programming decisions being made on modern rock radio today, and there has been for many years.
And the Beastie Boys are the living, breathing embodiment of this. If they’re all you know about contemporary rap, then you’re doing yourself an amazing disservice as far as exposure to quality music goes. As are the radio stations who serve them to you aside your daily doses of Staind and Disturbed.
So I suggest you call your local Modern Rock Radio station the next time you hear them play the Beastie Boys and request “Fear of A Black Planet” by Public Enemy . . . then make them explain to you why they can’t or won’t play that song.
It should be an interesting rationalization, I would think.