The Reality of My Surroundings
The black rock discourse
By Chase Hoffberger,
2:44PM, Mon. Apr. 6, 2009
I covered a panel during South by Southwest on the downfall of black rock, a term that doesn’t have a proper definition but often gets tied to the music that Living Colour, Bad Brains, and Fishbone were making in the 1980s. Justifiably so, the five panelists suggested that the particular sound was all but dead, hanging by threads through Bad Brains and 24-7 Spyz reunions.
I left the Convention Center feeling as though the panelists missed the point. Yes, that sound may be on life support, but confining black rock to such a definition compromises the impact that those aforementioned bands had on today’s black musicians. Just the same, it downplays the work done by our country’s original black rockers, foundations like Chuck Berry, Little Richard, and Jimi Hendrix.
Seeking a second opinion, I got in touch with Shorti C, the rapper/singer of Diasporic. They released Mass Appeal last year, an album that splits the bill between conventional black rock and hip-hop. The local band’s debut draws from early Roots but also pulls from the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ punk and Vernon Reid’s post-Parliament funk-rock.
“I know that here in Austin a lot of cats are really experimenting and going at it,” Shorti posited when asked about whether Diasporic ever considered their black rock roots. “People see a lot of contradiction in our band because we play with a lot of aggressiveness, which people recognize as the rock aspect. There’s also the lyricism [of MC Blaxsmith], and it’s not like we’re acting like we’re hardcore thugs or anything like that. But whenever we sit down and work on a song, we never think, ‘Hey, let’s make a Texas funk song’ or anything.”
Coincidentally, Shorti C’s sentiments fall in line with something panelist Duane Harriott suggested: That rock and roll was originally nothing more than a marketing term. Black rock’s changed, but only from the parameters in which we once defined it.
We should consider ourselves lucky these days, because instead of one-track depictions of what black rock is we get a variety of sounds influenced by its so-called Golden Age, from NERD to Bobby Ray & the Eastsiders to TV on the Radio. It’s those bands that, with the decline of sampling in hip-hop and the rise of DIY recordings, have been able to pose themselves as modern innovations of black rock - though it’s not likely that they’re thinking too heavily on the matter.
“What we are to anybody else is subjective to their thoughts and perspective,” suggests Shorti C. “Okay, we’re black rock, if that’s what you think we are. I don’t really give a fuck if you think we’re black rock or hip-hop, because the truth is that we’re black rock in the sense that we have black musicians and we play aspects of rock and roll. I wouldn’t be offended by that at all. But the same goes for hip-hop. I wouldn’t be offended by that, either. Or funk, acid-jazz, whatever.”