Questions of Genre in Black Popular Music
This article examines the porous nature of genres in music. Instead of being fixed, the boundaries between music genres are not defined and are subject to transition over time. While genres of music can be arbitrary, we speak about them as fixed entities, which can also shift given the social and historical context. Music can belong to multiple genres at the same time because of changing perceptions or the difficulty in defining music by one single genre. At the same time, just because generic boundaries are flexible, it does not mean that one set of perceptions is more real than another. Specifically, in relation to black popular music, people can talk about black popular music, but not agree on what that means or reflect inconsistencies in defining the variety of genres that it includes. To grapple with such fluidity, Brackett suggests that scholars should contextualize stylistic elements of music within defined social and historical contexts. The notion of “crossover” shows how fluid musical categories can be, even as they reinforce musical categories. For black popular music, there is a link between identity and musical production can result in a “positive marker” rather than a negative stereotype. Moreover, black music is hybrid from its inception, which contributes to the difficulty in talking about it as if it is a pure form.