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Elvis Presley

"Anaconda" Snub is Just the Tail End in a Long History of Racism in the Music Industry

EditorialNneka EwulonuComment
Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup

Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup

Award shows tend to be polarizing and subjective; a song you hate may win "Song of the Year" and somehow, incredibly, Leonardo DeCaprio has yet to win an Oscar. Some of this can be chalked up to different opinions (although really, how has Leo not won an award yet?), but currents of racism and sexism are also present. The issue of racism in award ceremony has been brought up again in light of MTV Music Award nominations; "Anaconda" by Nicki Minaj, arguably a musical and cultural phenomenon, was not nominated for video of the year. Minaj took to twitter, claiming "if [she] was a different "kind" of artist, Anaconda would be nominated for best choreo and vid of the year..."  Unfortunately, she has a point. Music, arts, and pop-culture in general have a long history of ignoring or appropriating the creations of African-Americans.

Whether or not you agree that "Anaconda" should have been nominated, controversy surrounding white artists receiving accolades for music black artists are ignored for creating is nothing new. Perhaps the most poignant example of this is Elvis Presley. Elvis has gone down in history as an influential musician, often being heralded as the king, or even creator of Rock and Roll.  While he was undoubtedly a talented musician, many don't realize how much of his music and style were stolen from African American communities.

The late 19th and early 20th centuries saw the advent of secular music amongst African Americans, and from blues to jazz to swing, these styles saw their birth and success in black venues and clubs. Rock and Roll is no exception to this trend. What Elvis did was not innovative or creative; he merely repackaged African American rock and roll and made it "acceptable" for white audiences to listen to. His second single, Good Rocking Tonight, was released in 1954 and was an explicit re-recording of a song by blues artist Roy Brown, who recorded it in 1947.

Theft is prevalent in even Elvis' most famous songs: "Hound Dog," arguably one of his most famous songs, is a remake of a track released four years earlier by blues artist Willie Mae "Big Mama" Thorton called "That's All Right" and its year of release are used to mark the birth of rock and roll in Memphis. That, in turn, is a cover of a track blues artist Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup released 8 years earlier, not to mention the fact that "Rocket 88," a song by Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats that was released three years before Elvis's cover of Crudup, is considered to be the first real birth of Rock and Roll itself.

Elvis was not the first to steal from black musicians, and he most certainly was not the last. Rap and R&B, genres with undoubtedly black origins, have become saturated with white musicians who overshadow their black counterparts. This is not the say that music should be segregated by race, but it's odd to see white musicians overtaking a genre that stems from west African musical and drumming traditions (especially those with almost a complete lack of authenticity). These genres have followed the path of rock and roll; they weren't mainstream until repackaged and popularized by white musicians.

In his song "White America", Eminem raps "let's do the math: if I was black, I woulda sold half." No one can deny Eminem's talent, but even he is aware that his fame stems more from his race than his talent. In 2014, Ed Sheeran was named the most important act in "Black and Urban Music. Let me repeat: a white, English musician was named the most important act in black and urban music. The irony speaks for itself.

Again, this is not an attempt to advocate for musical segregation, nor to dismiss the talent of white musicians. But in this day and age, there is no excuse for the continued denial of black contributions to music and art. "Anaconda" was certainly not the most original or innovative music video, but it was absolutely everywhere. Magazines wrote about it, Ellen covered it, and 1,000 Nicki Minaj cutouts from the video were placed on the steps of a cathedral in Helsinki, Finland. For MTV to deny this track the recognition it deserves in an award show that essentially rates music by popularity as the main standard just goes to show that, despite increased racial equality, the music industry has not changed much at all.