BBC's Urban Music Power List Is About More Than Just Colour

1xtra's list is one big middle finger to the people it was created to represent...
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1xtra's list is one big middle finger to the people it was created to represent...

This week the BBC’s urban music station 1xtra released their current ‘Power List’ which profiles, in the BBC’s own words, “the most important UK artists in the black and urban music scene”.

As if confirmation was ever needed of the Beeb being about as in-tune with young urban listeners as Jacob Rees-Mogg, three of the top four are white and middle class, with Ed Sheeran topping the list.

Wiley called it "the saddest list in music history" and he's right. In light of this list, the BBC even having an ‘urban music’ station is like Cath Kidston having a ‘snapback’ section. Embarrassing.

Forget the fact that the BBC have so brazenly snubbed black culture by only including a single black face in the top four: this is about more than just skin colour. As well as the black artists that the BBC “bumped” as Wiley put it, there are plenty of creative people from other backgrounds in urban areas who don’t get a look in. This is a question of class.

It’s about the music industry taking urban culture away from its creators and selling it to the kids of the Daily Mail reading, UKIP leaning, Waitrose classes. It’s confirmation that, despite the BBC making token efforts to engage with ‘the youth’, things are still as they always have been.

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The music industry knows where the money is, and they know that the parents of Middle England don't want black faces on their teenage daughter's bedroom wall. They don't want boys with hoods coming to the house parties. God forbid one of them should make friends with a kid from a council estate. They’re the kind of people who think that shopping at a discount supermarket is “social suicide” as a recent article in The Mail called it. How better to market the rough, dark sound of grime than to essentially disown its lower class roots and repackage it with a nice private school facade? Because that’s what 1xtra have done here: publicly disowned the very people the station was formed to represent. One big wanker sign through the window of their private club.

Fact is, shit like this happens because your average London comp school kid still generally doesn’t get to positions of influence within the media. The doorways to the industry aren't open to you. In fact you don't even get told where the doorway is. Your name’s not down and you’re not coming in. You might even create an entire cultural scene that goes global and changes the face of music like the boys from Bow did, but you'll soon see the establishment take control away from you and give it to their sons and daughters.

This has been happening in England for decades. At the height of the Brit-Funk movement in the '80s for example, talented black acts like Weeks and Co, who were a product of an existing vibrant scene and had spent years nurturing their sound, found themselves relegated to being backing bands for more 'marketable' groups. The disappointing thing is that 1xtra was supposed to represent and end to all that elitism. The BBC were embracing efforts made by kids on estates, regardless of colour, and recognising them not only as artists in their own right but as pioneers of their own movement. As we’ve now seen, the BBC have other plans.

Follow Tom on twitter @tomdisco