- 08 Jun 20
The category has been widely used to group black artists together.
Billie Eilish has supported Tyler, the Creator's criticism of the music industry utilising the word "urban" as an awards category ahead of Republic Records dropping the term.
Tyler, the Creator won Best Rap Album at the 2020 Grammys in January - a decision that was deemed controversial. His IGOR album hit Number 1 on the Billboard 200 chart and featured far less rap verses than other albums in the same category.
Speaking to reporters after winning the coveted award, Tyler said that “it sucks that whenever we, and I mean guys that look like me, do anything that’s genre-bending, they always put it in a ‘rap’ or ‘urban’ category.
“I don’t like that ‘urban’ word. To me, it’s just a politically correct way to say the N-word,” he added. “Why can’t we just be in pop?”
In a recent GQ interview, Billie Eilish agreed with Tyler's viewpoints and added that the music industry should refrain from “judging an artist off the way someone looks or dresses”.
“I hate when people say, ‘Oh, you look like “blank”. You sound like “blank”,’” Eilish said.
“It was such a cool thing Tyler said I agree with him about that term. Don’t judge an artist off the way someone looks or the way someone dresses. Wasn’t Lizzo in the Best R&B category that night? I mean, she’s more pop than I am.”
“Look, if I wasn’t white I would probably be in ‘rap’," Eilish added.
"Why? They just judge from what you look like and what they know. I think that is weird. The world wants to put you into a box; I’ve had it my whole career. Just because I am a white teenage female I am pop. Where am I pop? What part of my music sounds like pop?”
The singer made the comments ahead of Republic Records announcing that their use of the word "urban" to describe music of black origin will now be stopped permanently.
Republic Records is home to Drake and Ariana Grande and remains one of the most powerful record companies in the US.
In a statement made over the weekend, the company said it will no longer use the term to describe "departments, employee titles and music genres".
"We encourage the rest of the music industry to follow suit," it added.
The term is often considered to be a generalisation that marginalises music by black artists.
"'Urban' is a lazy, inaccurate generalisation of several culturally rich art forms," radio presenter DJ Semtex told the magazine Music Business UK in 2018.
"I despise the word," he added. "I know artists that do hip-hop, grime, or rap. I don't know anyone that does urban music.
"The connotation of the word doesn't hold a positive weight," agreed Sam Taylor, a senior vice president at Kobalt Music, in an interview with Billboard in 2018.
"It's downgrading R&B, soul and hip-hop's incredible impact on music."
Black New York radio DJ Frankie Crocker coined the phrase "urban contemporary" in the 1970s as a label for the wide-ranging tracks he played, featuring Doris Day and James Brown.
It was later shortened to "urban", and began being used as a catch-all for music created by black musicians - effectively adding them into one homogenous category - regardless of genre.
Republic Records reflected the growing discomfort around the term, describing it as "rooted in the historical evolution of terms that sought to define black music".
"As with a lot of our history, the original connotation of the term urban was not deemed negative. However, over time the meaning and connotations of 'urban' have shifted and it developed into a generalisation of black people in many sectors of the music industry, including employees and music by black artists.
"While this change will not and does not affect any of our staff structurally, it will remove the use of this antiquated term," the statement added.
"We encourage the rest of the music industry to consider following suit as it is important to shape the future of what we want it to look like, as to not adhere to the outdated structures of the past."
The move comes in the wake of widespread protests in the US and UK over the homicide of George Floyd in Minneapolis two weeks ago, reigniting the Black Lives Matter movement on social media.
Hundreds of thousands of people globally have since taken to the streets to demand racial justice.
The music industry responded by pausing work for #BlackoutTuesday last week, with Universal Music creating a "task force to accelerate our efforts in areas such as inclusion and social justice".
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