Music that is not for you

Renowned YouTube music critic Anthony Fantano recently talked about whether White people can enjoy Jay-Z. This was in response to a viewer question who asked what he thought about people who said that Jay-Z’s recent single, “The Story of O.J.” wasn’t for White people.

I mostly agree with Fantano’s answer: yes, White people can certainly enjoy Jay-Z’s music, yes they can enjoy rap, and yes rap is already ingrained in our musical culture. However, I observe that Fantano changed the question from “Is Jay-Z’s music for White people?” to “Can White people enjoy Jay-Z’s music?”

When someone says, “This music is not for you,” they are not trying to say “Stop enjoying this music.” Or, at least I don’t think they are. The question referred to arguments in the YouTube comments on Jay-Z’s video, but I couldn’t actually find these arguments. Instead what I found was a bunch of White people rather defensively asserting that they did enjoy the music.

What are they even reacting to? Did they read some YouTube comments that I can’t find? Or is it a matter of misinterpretation, in the same way that Anthony Fantano himself subtly changed the original question?

Since I can’t find any examples of people saying “The Story of O.J.” is for Black people, I’ll explain what I would mean if I said something similar. I have in fact said similar things when I talk about queer video games. “Queer video games”… all that really means is video games for queer people, and possibly not for straight people.

When I say that a piece of media is “for” a particular group, that means that the intention is directed at that group. The creator might be particularly interested in spreading a message among that group, or they might particularly want that group to enjoy their creation. When I say a piece of media is not for a particular group, that means that the intention is not directed at that group. That is, the creator doesn’t give a shit what they get out of it. Enjoy it, don’t enjoy it, knock yourself out.

What is the value of making media that is for one group and not for another? That’s easy, sometimes different groups have preferences that are diametrically opposed. For instance, “nigga” is a common word in AAVE, but some White people have a fit whenever they hear it (as I saw in the YouTube comments). The preferences of people who want AAVE in their music are diametrically opposed to those who never want to hear the word. If all music were created for all audiences equally, then certain minority preferences would forever go unfulfilled.

As far as “The Story of O.J.” goes, based on the lyrics I think the messages and themes are primarily directed at Black Americans, but I would disagree with anyone who said that it wasn’t also for White Americans. I mean, Jay-Z is a popular artist, and generally you don’t get to be so popular unless you are interested in reaching a broad audience. I might be wrong–I don’t know much about Jay-Z personally.

In any case, it is certainly possible that some other artists are interested mostly or only in reaching Black audiences, and there’s nothing wrong with that. And if we had such an example, there would be no need for White people to come in and say, “I like this and I’m White, you have a problem with that?” No, if the music isn’t for you, that means that the artist doesn’t have a problem with it, and simply doesn’t care.

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