Tag Archives: All Songs Considered

NPR sort of hates “black music”

by Guest Contributor Kelvin


Last Monday, I was in the middle of my daily ritual of checking on my favorite online newspapers and blogs, when I happened upon a blog post on Slate.com written by Jody Rosen. The title of the post is “The DORF Matrix: Towards a Theory of NPR’s Taste in Black Music”. The author attempts to provide either a social commentary or critique on the selections in NPR’s All Songs ConsideredBest Music of 2009 (So far)”.

Rosen argues that music of black origin usually selected by NPR: (1) tend to be either from obscure or dead artistes black people don’t listen to (2) are restricted based on genre, and (3) heavily influenced by the majority white and male (with beards and guitars) NPR audience.

In the weeks since the publication of the All Songs Considered list, I have been puzzling over NPR’s musical coverage—in particular, its approach to black music. I wondered: Could NPR’s musical taste be as lily-white as the “The Best Music of 2009 (So Far)” list? After scouring NPR’s Web site and studying its broadcasts—All Things Considered profiles, Fresh Air interviews, even the music interludes played between segments on NPR’s marquee programs—I can report that the answer is no. It’s not that NPR doesn’t like black music. It merely maintains a strict preference for black music that few actual living African-Americans listen to.

Now, I don’t have any particular issues with the writers description of the “Best Music of 2009 (So far)”, which is voted on by NPR listeners. If you look at the list itself, it’s pretty lily white and tends to hipster indie tastes. But that’s a topic for another day. My problem with the article is based on a framework defined by Rosen in his article called the DORF Matrix.  Rosen describes DORF as “an acronym for Dead Old Retro Foreign”.

Dead: artists who have shuffled off this mortal coil. There was a significant spike in this category this summer with the passing of Michael Jackson. In general, though, NPR prefers its dead black musicians decades dead. Bonus points are awarded to performers present at the 1963 March on Washington, and to Bobby Short.

Old: musicians of advanced years. Crusty soul-belters on the comeback trail, gray-bearded jazzers, Motown legends, defunct rap groups.

Retro: musicians, young or old, performing in styles two or more decades out of fashion. Sixties soul revivalists; old school rappers who “[stick] with the puns, jokes and silly one-upsmanship that once defined hip-hop …Thank goodness“; Lenny Kravitz.

Foreign: black folks who live in far-flung places. And/or the children of Bob Marley.

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