The Grammys announced earlier this month that they will officially drop the word ‘urban’ from its awards and categories.
The changes come to categories like the Best New Artist category, Latin music categories, R&B and Rap categories, and even the Nomination Review Committees.
The Recording Academy has stated that the drop of the term ‘urban’ is in an effort to be more inclusive and reflective of the music industry’s current state. This decision comes as a result of many critiques of the academy’s usage of the word ‘urban’ leading up to the announcement.
According to Forbes, the original meaning of urban, from the Latin urbanas, dates back to the 1610s, referring to cities or city life and in its noun form “city dweller”. It began to shift in the late 20th century, gradually acquiring a suggested reference to African Americans.
Back in January of this year, artist Tyler the Creator openly critiqued the word ‘urban’ within categories, stating that it was just “a politically correct way of saying the n-word”. He expressed his frustrations with the Grammys’ slotting of black artists into ‘urban’ categories and called it pigeonholing black artists.
Calling genres of music that are popularized by Blacks artists “urban” is one way of reducing and marginalizing Black art, and separating it from the sphere of other performers.
In addition to Tyler the Creator, artists like Frank Ocean and Kanye West have openly boycotted the award ceremony for its racial bias as well.
As we see this bold move by one of the music industry’s biggest institutions, as we see the Grammys drop the word ‘urban’ from its consciousness, it forces us, as South Asians, to pose the following question: what happens to ‘Urban Desi Music’?
Urban Desi Music is a genre of music that combines elements of desi music with hip-hop, rap and R&B music. It’s an amalgamation of our favourite desi beats and artists, with nods and features from our favourite Black artists.
Urban Desi Music is not a new phenomenon. We see its threads dating back to the 2003 bop “Beware of the Boys”, which was Jay-Z’s take on Punjabi MC’s “Mundian Toh Bachke Rehi”.
More recently, we see the likes of Mickey Singh and Sidhu Moosewala adding elements of Urban Desi Music into their own artistry. Mickey Singh even titled his 2018 track, “I Am Urban Desi” after the genre.
As we see our own music become more and more influenced by traditionally Black genres of music, the Grammys’ conscientious move to drop ‘urban’ from their vocabulary leaves the Punjabi music industry with a pretty big question mark.
Is this perhaps an indication for us to also consider our usage of the term? Is this perhaps an opportunity for the Punjabi music industry to also interrogate its complicity in appropriating Black culture? Do we follow suit and also consider dropping the word ‘urban’ from this genre of music?
And if we do drop the term ‘urban’ from the Punjabi music industry’s consciousness, what do we lose? What do we gain? And what does this pivot hold for the future of “Urban Desi Music”?