In Defense of the Black Person Who Likes Rock Music
Until age 12, I liked whatever music that was readily available to me. Like most kids, I listened to whatever was popular on the radio and also overheard whatever songs my mother played at home, but I hadn’t quite discovered what music I was really into yet. As a black girl, I soon found that it was imperative that I listen to hip hop, rap, and R&B because it’s supposed to be my people’s music. Yes, I did and do like some hip hop and rap, and I love R&B (especially from the 90s) when they have a positive message, but these aren’t the only genres out there. These genres are unique and yes, they were created by black people, but back in the day black people were not limited to just these genres. Why should I limit myself when there are so many different types of music out there to be explored?
As a child, I thought it best that I stick to whatever was at the top of the charts, songs that were often played and sung by my classmates. But I realized that when I was exposed to music outside these genres, I actually liked them too. My older cousin had a bunch of CD’s that I used to go through and listen to and I remember her introducing me to Pink’s 2001 album Missundazstood, which was in the pop genre. My cousin would play Pink’s album constantly and when I finally got a CD of my own, I also played it to death. To me, at the young age of nine, music didn’t have a color, a face, it was just good music to my searching ears. But, because of peer pressure and judgment, I never told anyone I liked listening to this type of music. Instead, I would say I liked Usher and Beyoncé because they were popular at the time and, since they were black, I felt obligated to listen and like their music. Yes, I did like some of their music; Destiny’s Child was my favorite R&B group back then, but that didn’t mean I also couldn’t like Pink too.
My mother always listened to a variety of music and played it around the house, from Michael Jackson to Chaka Khan to The Eurythmics to Bruce Springsteen. She listened to all types of genres and one day, when I was 12, she handed me the first CD of a Christian rock group called Jars of Clay. This changed my view of music. When I first listened to Jars of Clay, I realized that I personally liked the slow melody of soft rock. I liked the sound of the guitar, from bass to electric. I was always drawn to the sound of piano in songs and this is now a very important aspect of the music I make and listen to. I also realized that I enjoyed listening to songs about God. I consider myself a spiritual person and I love God. Ever since childhood this spirituality has been a part of my life. But that’s a story for another post.
When my mother handed me that CD, I was introduced to a new world of music I didn’t know existed and realized, hey, I actually like this! So, I started listening to Christian rock along with Usher, Aaliyah, and Destiny’s Child and various other artists I liked. By the time I reached high school, I had taken complete refuge in Christian music. It wasn’t just Christian rock, but also Christian R&B, Pop and more. I deviated from listening to music solely because it was on the top of the charts. At one point, Christian music became the genre I listened to the most.
Still, I never told anyone this and I began to develop this huge fear of people finding out, so much that I wouldn’t carry my Mp3 player on the bus I road in high school. When I did gather up the courage, I wouldn’t play it loud for fear of it being overheard and when someone did ask me what I was listening to, I stuttered that they wouldn’t know who it was and sunk low in my seat, wanting to disappear for being so different.
I never stopped listening to what I liked but I always felt somehow “wrong.” The society we live in appears to encourage division like this. It’s weird for a black person to enjoy rock music and certain people can’t listen to certain music because why? There’s no definitive answer that will make any kind of sense to me. Even when I met a friend in high school, she thought I listened to Hip Hop. She didn’t look at me differently or anything but was just surprised that I liked other genres since so many people of my race seemed to only listen to hip hop. I wonder how we got stuck in one genre when, back in the day, you could hear music from jazz, rap, hip hop, R&B, rock and more. What about Jimi Hendrix? Who can forget Prince and his guitars? Not to mention Chaka Khan and Grace Jone’s smooth rock and roll sounds (If you haven’t heard Chaka Khan’s “Ain’t Nobody,” you should. The guitar really brings the song together nicely). What about Lenny Kravitz, Seal, and Michael Jackson’s various styles of music, which includes rock? The list goes on.
You see, I don’t do well being shoved inside a box and it’s very frustrating to continuously fight to explore the world around me regardless of my race. I feel like I’ve been put here to discover, study, appreciate all that we have here on earth. Otherwise, how could I be the best writer I can be if I limit myself? Sometimes it’s hard to find what you like because everything and everyone around you tend to be into whatever is deemed popular or normal. I suppose that being exposed to all types of music from my mother made me also want to explore different genres without regard to my race and what I “should” be listening to.
Only just a few years ago I started collecting music in other languages and discovered another world I hadn’t been exposed to before. I now listen to Spanish, Korean, French, and German music and am collecting so much more. In doing this, I find more of myself. I find what I truly love about music, the idea of disappearing into a world of sounds. As a piano player (well, electric keyboardist), I love listening to classical music like Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” and Debussy’s “Clair de Lune” and my all-time favorite pianist is Yiruma, who is from South Korea. It doesn’t matter where an artist came from or what genre the music is in. For me, if I can feel the music, if I can disappear into it and forget the harshness of this life, then it’s on my playlist. I should be able to enjoy listening to Linkin Park’s rap-rock or Jars of Clay’s soft rock without fearing a nasty look because I’m “too black” to be listening to what is deemed “white” music, when it shouldn’t matter.
Even so, you would think a 28-year-old would no longer feel insecure about what people think of her based off what she listens to, but I still have issues with this. I wonder if people can hear my music in my car and what they might think if they can hear it when this shouldn’t matter to me. So what if they do hear my music? The light will turn green, we will drive off, and if I get a confused, judgmental, or nasty look then so be it. Life will go on and that person will forget hearing my music and start thinking about what they’re going to do on Friday night, so I don’t know why I care so much. I guess I still have some growing to do in this area.
But the point is that if you’re a black person who doesn’t listen to the same kind of music as many of the people around you, don’t think lowly of yourself. You’re actually courageous in that you haven’t turned away from music you enjoy and forced yourself to listen to what you don’t enjoy due to society’s opinions. You have the guts to go the opposite way and not do what everybody else is doing simply because somebody said so. It took me too long to realize this and I’m still struggling with it, but I know one thing, I won’t stop being an explorer. I will always break outside the four walls of the color box that seems to be shoved over our eyes. I’m tired of feeling like I have to conform to this box to make people happy.
So, if you’re an alternative black person, don’t worry about what other people are doing, listen to the music you love because after all is said and done one important question remains at the end of everything: Are you still you after the world has tried to alter you? If the real you listens to all types of genres then you shouldn’t smother this because it’s a part of you and it’s not something “wrong” or “bad.” It’s who you are and staying true to your real self is one of the most important things you can ever do in life.
Note: This post was originally published December 7th, 2020 on my blog https://jordanthedreamer.com/