Diplo & Cultural Appropriation: Trendy Imperialism
April 14, 2011 2 Comments
A new conversation’s come up on Racialicious surrounding DJ Diplo:
The question of whether or not Diplo’s methods are ethical aside, the process is usually the same:
1. musical genre or artist relatively unknown in the United States (save small immigrant groups still connected to the homeland or marginalized American communities of color) gets samples or featured in one of Diplo’s live sets, recorded mixes, podcasts, or via the Mad Decent blog (sometimes without the artist’s knowledge, though this is a common practice in DJ culture and not exclusive to Diplo)
2. said artist might be included as a headliner to the show of a more popular Mad Decent artist when applicable
3. genre and the artists performing it gain popularity as a result of their association with Diplo/Mad Decent
4. Diplo picks up a new genre/artist and the previous artist, often still unsigned, is left to continue self-promoting
Now, apparently DJ Diplo has developed a reputation for cultural appropriation – a term we’ve discussed often here, without much resolution…Diplo is best known for taking the sounds of other cultures and presenting them as hip consumables for a western audience. He rose to prominence alongside collaborator M.I.A. – and interestingly enough, even that story was steeped in appropriation of the work of a woman of color to advance his own ends.
When we talk about cultural appropriation and musical imperialism, we’re ultimately asking who gets to be the arbiter of what is cool. Baile funk was doing its own thing pre-Diplo – but did it only make it to the States because there was a white face to make the sound more acceptable?
Racism and cultural imperialism are not the sole controlling factor for success and failure in the industry – but it would be disingenuous to pretend they aren’t a persistent bass line.
Hardly news, especially as the man has already admitted to appropriation (dare say he wouldn’t call it that) in regards to his musical relationship with MIA, though I wish I could say I’m shocked. Just look at the history of rock & roll, Elvis Presley, Amy Winehouse’s ‘signature sound’, Gwen Stefani’s Harajuku girls, Madonna and voguing, just to name a few. The music industry has always had a flagrant history of cultural appropriation, usually to the benefit of white artists, producers, and record label managers.
The usual argument is normally, “but it’s just appreciation!”. The uncomfortable question most forget to ask themselves is put quite frankly in the Racialicious article, can you only appreciate it because there’s a white face to give it value?
I am glad that the conversation’s rearing up again, maybe this time it’ll take? I’ll cross my fingers but I won’t hold my breath; thus is the reality of capitalism.