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Ripping Off Black Music (Singles Classic)

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It is jarring and most distressing to walk into a room one has considered private and find it ringed with cameras, spotlights, and insistent strangers claiming long acquaintance and making plans to move in and redecorate without being invited. Black music and with it the private black self were suddenly grossly public—tossed onstage, dressed in clown white, and bandied abo It is jarring and most distressing to walk into a room one has considered private and find it ringed with cameras, spotlights, and insistent strangers claiming long acquaintance and making plans to move in and redecorate without being invited. Black music and with it the private black self were suddenly grossly public—tossed onstage, dressed in clown white, and bandied about with a gleeful arrogance that just yesterday had chosen to ignore and condescend. Blacks, it seemed, had lost the battle for mythological ownership of rock, as future events would prove. Written more than 40 years ago with astonishing prescience, celebrated critic and memoirist Margo Jefferson’s Ripping Off Black Music—her first published essay—is at once unflinchingly honest and dead-on in its critique of appropriation in popular music, from Chuck Berry to Elvis, Jimi Hendrix to the Beatles. Features an introduction by the author. Ripping Off Black Music was originally published in Harper’s, January 1973. Cover design by Adil Dara.


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It is jarring and most distressing to walk into a room one has considered private and find it ringed with cameras, spotlights, and insistent strangers claiming long acquaintance and making plans to move in and redecorate without being invited. Black music and with it the private black self were suddenly grossly public—tossed onstage, dressed in clown white, and bandied abo It is jarring and most distressing to walk into a room one has considered private and find it ringed with cameras, spotlights, and insistent strangers claiming long acquaintance and making plans to move in and redecorate without being invited. Black music and with it the private black self were suddenly grossly public—tossed onstage, dressed in clown white, and bandied about with a gleeful arrogance that just yesterday had chosen to ignore and condescend. Blacks, it seemed, had lost the battle for mythological ownership of rock, as future events would prove. Written more than 40 years ago with astonishing prescience, celebrated critic and memoirist Margo Jefferson’s Ripping Off Black Music—her first published essay—is at once unflinchingly honest and dead-on in its critique of appropriation in popular music, from Chuck Berry to Elvis, Jimi Hendrix to the Beatles. Features an introduction by the author. Ripping Off Black Music was originally published in Harper’s, January 1973. Cover design by Adil Dara.

30 review for Ripping Off Black Music (Singles Classic)

  1. 4 out of 5

    Gi

    "Has a young admirer ever attached himself to you? He dogged your footsteps, dressed as nearly like you as possible, acquired your mannerisms and expressions, and told everyone how wonderful you were. At first you may have been amused, even flattered. But you became uneasy, then annoyed. You were being caricatured, your individuality undermined and cheapened. You felt used, fed off of, and your admirer took on the lewdness of the voyeur. You were being appropriated for his needs, used as raw mat "Has a young admirer ever attached himself to you? He dogged your footsteps, dressed as nearly like you as possible, acquired your mannerisms and expressions, and told everyone how wonderful you were. At first you may have been amused, even flattered. But you became uneasy, then annoyed. You were being caricatured, your individuality undermined and cheapened. You felt used, fed off of, and your admirer took on the lewdness of the voyeur. You were being appropriated for his needs, used as raw material in his efforts to divert or remodel himself. Finally, you despised him. Imitation is a form of cannibalism. And the imitator is never content merely to nibble; oh no, every so often, when life becomes dull or frustrating, he becomes greedy. Nothing will satisfy him but the whole, body and blood." Jefferson writes with a straightforward approach and lack of apology I find missing in many who discuss things such as this. More worried about offending the fragile white ego than putting forth the truth, she is not.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Patty Chang

    Ventriloquism Jefferson makes the argument historically, viscerally, and convincingly as she traces the history of whites appropriating the experience, style and music of blacks from the time of black face minstrels, to the Rolling Stones. History can be seen as repeating itself even now as white artists like Eminem appropriate rap and hip hop, affecting for themselves not only the genre, but the lifestyle and trappings of "thug life" and winning the awards, recording contracts and audience's mon Ventriloquism Jefferson makes the argument historically, viscerally, and convincingly as she traces the history of whites appropriating the experience, style and music of blacks from the time of black face minstrels, to the Rolling Stones. History can be seen as repeating itself even now as white artists like Eminem appropriate rap and hip hop, affecting for themselves not only the genre, but the lifestyle and trappings of "thug life" and winning the awards, recording contracts and audience's money and allegiance. From a black perspective, she writes that is like someone coming into your living room, spotlighting it and the parodying yourself to the world and gaining acclaim for the caricature...for a cultural and soul ripping ventriloquism.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Diane Wilkes

    Despite the age of this essay, it's never been more timely. And Jefferson has few peers as a writer. Did I agree with every point? No. But the history is undeniable, man. :) Despite the age of this essay, it's never been more timely. And Jefferson has few peers as a writer. Did I agree with every point? No. But the history is undeniable, man. :)

  4. 4 out of 5

    Amara

    I HATED this. I'm super liberal. A socialist, to be exact. But cultural appropriation is not something I can understand. No matter how many people I talk to of various cultures, I can never see the problem. Art (music, fashion, art in the classical sense, speech) should be universal. Nothing should "belong" to anyone. It should be shared by everyone to bring us all together. I feel like this fear of cultural appropriation will keep us all separate, rather than bring us all together. Only togethe I HATED this. I'm super liberal. A socialist, to be exact. But cultural appropriation is not something I can understand. No matter how many people I talk to of various cultures, I can never see the problem. Art (music, fashion, art in the classical sense, speech) should be universal. Nothing should "belong" to anyone. It should be shared by everyone to bring us all together. I feel like this fear of cultural appropriation will keep us all separate, rather than bring us all together. Only together can we truly thrive. On Hendrix: "To blacks he was the pimp of a cheap acid rock craze; to whites he was a sacred whore" On Joplin: "Janis was a white woman using a black woman’s blues to get to her own." For the record, this white chick prefers Chuck Berry over Elvis. By a long shot.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Jack Wolfe

    Written in 1973, and even more scathing today. Discussions about appropriation and exploitation in pop music must include "Ripping Off Black Music." If you can read this as a white rock music fan and not get a nauseous feeling inside-- a feeling that you're just another fucking asshole accessory in a long line of deluded "enlightened" music fans-- well... read it again? (And yeah, I know this isn't really a book-- it's an essay you can read in 10 minutes-- but Margo Jefferson's thesis is just so Written in 1973, and even more scathing today. Discussions about appropriation and exploitation in pop music must include "Ripping Off Black Music." If you can read this as a white rock music fan and not get a nauseous feeling inside-- a feeling that you're just another fucking asshole accessory in a long line of deluded "enlightened" music fans-- well... read it again? (And yeah, I know this isn't really a book-- it's an essay you can read in 10 minutes-- but Margo Jefferson's thesis is just so complete and so blistering that I think this has to count as its own thing.)

  6. 5 out of 5

    Nina

    “The night Jimi died I dreamed this was the latest step in a plot being designed to eliminate blacks from rock music so that it may be recorded in history as a creation of whites. [...] Two weeks later Janis Joplin was dead. What does that mean? I asked myself, momentarily confused. It means she thought she was black and somebody took her at her word.”

  7. 4 out of 5

    Miranda R.

    A short read, but an extremely powerful one. I wish there was more! The historical precedent the author describes is one I had not realized went so far back, though I am, sadly, not surprised.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Simon Sweetman

    A great piece of writing, with a solid point.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Greg

    Interesting article. I especially appreciated the author's contemporary reflection in the forward which provided another layer to the issue. Interesting article. I especially appreciated the author's contemporary reflection in the forward which provided another layer to the issue.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Dimity Hubbub

  11. 4 out of 5

    alma

  12. 4 out of 5

    Rebecca Sia

  13. 5 out of 5

    Becca Burgan Figlewski

  14. 4 out of 5

    A P Marshall

  15. 4 out of 5

    Sof Sears

  16. 5 out of 5

    Adele

  17. 4 out of 5

    Dallas Schumacher

  18. 5 out of 5

    Darcy

  19. 4 out of 5

    Virginia Lough

  20. 4 out of 5

    Queala Chappell

  21. 5 out of 5

    Adam S. Rust

  22. 5 out of 5

    Jason

  23. 5 out of 5

    Peter

  24. 5 out of 5

    Saposcat

  25. 5 out of 5

    Erin Young

  26. 5 out of 5

    Crystal

  27. 5 out of 5

    Jasmine Jessica

  28. 4 out of 5

    Alan

  29. 5 out of 5

    Jessica

  30. 4 out of 5

    Jay Bracknell

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