Lee Pinkerton

Is Ed Sheeran the most important British man in black music?

The biggest reason for musical success isn't talent, it's skin colour

Share

So a white 23 year old singing guitar player from Suffolk is the most important man in UK urban music? That’s according to the BBC’s black music radio station 1Xtra and its Power List of the top movers and shakers of the UK’s urban music scene.

It’s no surprise that the list – headed by Ed Sheeran - has caused so much controversy. Critics say it overlooks the pioneering black architects of British urban music, in favour of the admittedly more commercially successful, but Johnny-come-lately white artists. 

Defenders of the list, including those from the station itself, predictably argued that it’s about the music, and the stature of the artists, and that skin colour shouldn’t come into it. After all, music has no colour, right?

Read more: Ed Sheeran named ‘most important act in black and urban music’

If only that were true; the sad fact is that skin colour always comes into it.  Although those music lovers who sat around the boardroom table in Broadcasting House to construct the list may not have had race in their minds when they argued the case for one artist over another, the fact that some artists are more successful than others is influenced more by race (or looks) than by any genuine musical talent.  And it has always been so.

There are cultural critics who argue that mainstream audiences have an audible preference for black music, but have a visual preference for white faces.  Hence the long standing tradition where white artists have greater success covering the songs of Black artists than the originals enjoyed.  See Cilla Black versus Dionne Warwick (Anyone Who Had a Heart), The Rolling Stones versus Bobby Womack (It's All Over Now) and so on.

This process explains why 80’s British band UB40 enjoyed more success with their cover versions of reggae hits than the Jamaican originals ever did. This is why Eminem and Macklemore can dominate the Rap category in the Grammy Awards.  This is why the current king of R&B is Robin Thicke, well was until last week, that is

This phenomenon has been going on for so long they even have a name for it.  Its called ‘Columbus-ing’, where white people stumble on some cultural practice that black people have been enjoying for years,  and can then claim to have created/discovered it, while the mainstream media applauds in agreement and pays tribute with extensive coverage and accolades. 

This is how Benny Goodman became the King Of Swing, and Elvis Presley became the King of Rock & Roll, and laughably how Miley Cyrus invented twerking (a dance form with African origins, though made popular through hip-hop culture, predates it) last year.

It is said that teenagers create their own sub-cultures and slang so that they can enjoy their own exclusive world undecipherable to, and beyond the control of, adults.  And so it is with black musicians.  They keep creating new musical genres, just so that they can enjoy it for a few years before white artists inevitably come and colonise it.

So if Wiley, Dizzee et al feel aggrieved at their low 1Xtra Power List chart positions, they know what they must do – move on and create something new. Just don’t expect any plaudits when the awards are being given out in years to come.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Analyst - 12 Month FTC - Entry Level

£23000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Business Analyst is required ...

Recruitment Genius: Chefs - All Levels

£16000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: To succeed, you will need to ha...

Recruitment Genius: Maintenance Engineer

£8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join an award winni...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive & Customer Service - Call Centre Jobs!

£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...

Day In a Page

Read Next
George Osborne appearing on the BBC's Andrew Marr Show on Sunday, 5 July 2015  

George Osborne says benefits should be capped at £20,000 to meet average earnings – but working families take home £31,500

Ellie Mae O'Hagan
The BBC has agreed to fund the £650m annual cost of providing free television licences for the over-75s  

Osborne’s assault on the BBC is doing Murdoch’s dirty work

James Cusick James Cusick
Isis in Syria: Influential tribal leaders hold secret talks with Western powers and Gulf states over possibility of mobilising against militants

Tribal gathering

Influential clans in Syria have held secret talks with Western powers and Gulf states over the possibility of mobilising against Isis. But they are determined not to be pitted against each other
Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: A growing population and a compromised and depleted aquifer leaves water in scarce supply for Palestinians

Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

A growing population and a compromised and depleted aquifer leaves water in scarce supply for Palestinians
Dozens of politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen linked to Indian bribery scandal die mysteriously

Illnesses, car crashes and suicides

Dozens of politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen linked to Indian bribery scandal die mysteriously
Srebrenica 20 years after the genocide: Why the survivors need closure

Bosnia's genocide, 20 years on

No-one is admitting where the bodies are buried - literally and metaphorically
How Comic-Con can make or break a movie: From Batman vs Superman to Star Wars: Episode VII

Power of the geek Gods

Each year at Comic-Con in San Diego, Hollywood bosses nervously present blockbusters to the hallowed crowd. It can make or break a movie
What do strawberries and cream have to do with tennis?

Perfect match

What do strawberries and cream have to do with tennis?
10 best trays

Get carried away with 10 best trays

Serve with ceremony on a tray chic carrier
Wimbledon 2015: Team Murray firing on all cylinders for SW19 title assault

Team Murray firing on all cylinders for title assault

Coaches Amélie Mauresmo and Jonas Bjorkman aiming to make Scot Wimbledon champion again
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Vasek Pospisil must ignore tiredness and tell himself: I'm in the quarter-final, baby!

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

Vasek Pospisil must ignore tiredness and tell himself: I'm in the quarter-final, baby!
Ashes 2015: Angus Fraser's top 10 moments from previous series'

Angus Fraser's top 10 Ashes moments

He played in five series against Australia and covered more as a newspaper correspondent. From Waugh to Warne and Hick to Headley, here are his highlights
Greece debt crisis: EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

An outbreak of malaria in Greece four years ago helps us understand the crisis, says Robert Fisk
Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas

Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas
How to survive electrical storms: What are the chances of being hit by lightning?

Heavy weather

What are the chances of being hit by lightning?
World Bodypainting Festival 2015: Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'

World Bodypainting Festival 2015

Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'
alt-j: A private jet, a Mercury Prize and Latitude headliners

Don't call us nerds

Craig Mclean meets alt-j - the math-folk act who are flying high