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The Ball State Daily

A Systemic Song: Black artists in Muncie reflect on disparities and progress in the music industry

<p>Photo of Larry Ivy by Randy Heavenridge.<br/><br/><br/><br/></p>

Photo of Larry Ivy by Randy Heavenridge.

Jazz. Rhythm and blues. Hip hop. Rap. Rock ‘n’ roll. Soul. Country. 

Black artists have been involved in the creation and evolution of these and other genres of music, yet many of them continue to face prejudice in the music industry. 

Black Lives in Music found that white artists in the UK average about $300 more than Black creators, and 43% of Black female creators said they feel they need to change their appearance because of their race. Black artists reported being called “aggressive,” “too outspoken” and “ungrateful,” among other labels. A USC Annenberg study of 70 major music companies revealed that 4.2% of them were Black. 

Muncie artists feel these disparities; and although they acknowledge progress within the industry, they continue to face barriers as they build careers in music. 

The King of jazz   

KC King developed a love of music from her father, whose diverse palate includes everything from neo soul to early hip hop. The senior music media production major listens to a range of styles, but her favorites are R&B, jazz, pop and rock.  

As younger siblings do, King followed in her older sister's footsteps and learned the guitar. She also took up saxophone, but she didn’t consider performing as a vocalist until she took a sound production class as a senior in high school. 

The singer-songwriter has already released an album called “Cicatrize” and is working on another album and an acoustic EP.   

Being a Black woman, King said she has felt the effects of stereotypes in the music industry.  

Justice in music is important, King said, especially for women. She has written multiple essays about the topic, including one about the erasure of women in hip hop. While researching for the essay, King learned that a woman produced music for The Sugarhill Gang, an all-male hip hop group that was popular in the ‘80s.  

“You don't learn about that when you hear about the origins of hip hop, so writing that essay was really interesting to see how much women had a hand in it from every step, and it's not always acknowledged,” she said.  

King said the industry holds men and women to different standards. Women are sexualized and made out to be one-dimensional, she said, and some people complain about Black women only rapping about sex and money, when men rap about those topics without criticism. “You have to do a lot more to be respected,” she added. 

Photo of KC King by Bailey Land

King said she is one of the only women in her music media promotion program at Ball State University. She said there is a common stereotype that women in jazz are only singers. 

Because of this, King said she feels pressure to prove herself as a jazz musician, and these generalizations have affected her relationship with the genre. She loves playing the saxophone and wants to break that stereotype, but it’s stressful. 

“That kind of struggle of race and gender within the genre has definitely impacted my relationship with it,” she said, “but it's something I'm still trying to work on every day because I do love the music and would like to continue playing it.” 

To connect with fellow female jazz musicians, she joined the Women in Jazz Organization, a collective of more than 500 professional jazz musicians and composers who strive to level the playing field for women and non-binary people. Finding people she felt comfortable growing and learning with helped her fall back in love with the saxophone.  

King said she hasn’t found that community at Ball State, in part because she is often the only Black person in her classes.  

King is enrolled in a class about the history of pop music, which encompasses a little bit of jazz and other international styles. Every student in the field should take this class, she said, because it's one of the only classes that covers these genres. It reminded her of a comment she heard that, “White history is just the curriculum, whereas people of color history is an extracurricular or not a required course.” 

King said she has seen a positive shift in the ways women play in different genres because more people are speaking out about artists’ treatment.  

One artist she looks to is Megan Thee Stallion. King said the rapper is breaking the stereotype that Black women are expected to be strong. Stallion was shot in the foot in 2020, and she has been vulnerable and open about the injury. The singer included songs about being an orphan in her album, “Traumazine.”  

“It's a really important dimension to have in hip hop, especially for women in hip hop because that dimension of her experience has not been shown, and I think it's been a huge push in the right direction for breaking some of those stereotypes,” said King, who shared a recording of her singing.  

Creating change  

Especially in rap, there is a narrative of violence in Black music, according to ScienceDirect

This is something Patrick Phillips has seen in their experience performing in the genre. Phillips is a second-year fashion major with a minor in entrepreneurship.  

The vocalist from Indianapolis grew up singing and began performing in a high school acapella group. At Ball State, Phillips is in Note to Self, an acapella group for men and non-binary students. 

Phillips enjoys lo-fi (or low fidelity) music, which is often a stripped-back production of several different genres, including hip hop and jazz. They also freestyle and rap, often performing for some of their friends. They have music out on Soundcloud and more coming out soon.  

Phillips said a lot of people think they are into rap because they are Black.  

“I know a lot of Black people who don’t like rap, and (people) just assumed they messed with rap,” they said. “Not all Black people like rap music.”  

Phillips said many people assume rappers are “gunslingers” or people who “pop pills.” Phillips said musicians are marketed based on these stereotypes about robbing and killing; since the music world is so competitive, if rappers want to make money, then they must “paint that picture.”  

Phillips said the music is then blamed for associating young rappers with crime.   

“Sometimes the music is the problem, but in reality, I think it’s guidance issues and kids not having parents in their lives,” they said. “In reality, it is a very small factor on a much bigger problem.” 

Although Phillips enjoys listening to rap, they don’t live the life often described in the music. When they rap, they often sing about the environment and nature. Phillips enjoys combining their experiences and feelings with what they see in the world around them.  

Music isn’t about gaining popularity or making money for Phillips, so they want to make music that is different and stands out. 

“I want to stand out because the simple fact is when you are like everyone else, then you're not inspiring change or inspiring people to be themselves,” they said. “Someone who stands out like me, I want to inspire them to be comfortable, to be different.” 

A place for progression 

Larry Ivy knows all about breaking barriers and standing out in his field. He gives guitar lessons in Muncie and is in the process of opening a recording studio, which he wants to be a “one-stop shop” for those looking to produce music. 

Ivy, who enjoys rock and metal, plays guitar and drums. The Muncie native said he loves metal because he can incorporate it into other genres, including country. 

When people think of metal performers, he said, they typically think of “white dudes playing metal music.” He said social media has allowed more Black artists to share their talents in rock and metal, which wasn’t common when he was growing up.  

He said Ice-T’s band Body Count was one of the only hardcore metal bands with Black artists that he can remember from the ’90s. Today, he is glad white rappers and all-women punk-bands, like Meet Me at the Altar, are diversifying genres.  

“It’s like a unicorn in the middle of a snowstorm kind of thing, no matter who you tell, you wouldn't believe it,” he said.  

When Ivy began performing metal, he faced some pushback. He said early on, things were rough, and Black men were often grouped with women, who also “couldn’t catch a break.”  

When Ivy was collaborating with a producer once, the man was told someone else although Ivy was a Black guy, he was a “cool Black guy.”  

“This feels icky,” Ivy said. “I don't want to be stuck doing something where I'm constantly uncomfortable.”  

He said audiences are more aware of the stereotypes artists face, but he still runs into closed-minded fans. Even something as small as someone inviting him to go to a concert, if the concert is in a sundown town — towns where non-white people are excluded through laws, harassment and threats — he is hesitant to go, and some people don’t understand why.  

In addition to stresses outside the industry, Ivy has seen differences in biases in the industry itself. In the past, artists often had to suck up to “top people” in the music industry who then hold their future in their hands.  

Now, with advancements in technology, people are able to put together an album from home, distribute it on the internet, build a following and seek collaborators via social media. Ivy said it costs about $400 to get the basic equipment needed to make music. 

“The internet truly is the great equalizer,” Ivy said. “It has democratized the distribution aspect.”  

Although the internet has created more hate and can seem like a “total dumpster fire,” he added, it has also pushed social equality and normalizing people of all backgrounds playing music.  

Ivy said he is glad to see more women in music, and he is now more open about who he is as a proud Black rock and metal artist. 

Ivy’s goal is to help all people, especially marginalized groups, avoid the barriers he has faced by talking about his struggles and the ongoing issues. He pushes himself to take a step back and reflect on his own biases, and he encourages others to do the same.  

“Keep doing your thing,” he said. “You might catch somebody at a certain time that might make you reflect on certain music or certain ideas.”  

Inform Muncie articles are written by students in the School of Journalism and Strategic Communication in a classroom environment with a faculty adviser.
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