Republic Records Bans Use Of The Word “Urban” Within Company
Over the decades, the music industry has shuffled through countless euphemisms for what essentially amount to categorization by race. Sometimes it has been quite literal: “Juke Box Race Records” was the actual post-WWII name of the Billboard chart now known as Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs, an institution that has also in various eras been known as the Harlem Hit Parade, Best Selling Soul Singles, and Hot Black Singles. Another key ingredient in the industry alphabet soup is “urban,” a sort of catchall word for rap and R&B. Now, at arguably the most powerful company within the major label system, that word is going away.
Republic Records — the Universal Music Group subsidiary whose vast roster includes Taylor Swift, Drake, Post Malone, Ariana Grande, the Weeknd, Nicki Minaj, Pearl Jam, Lil Wayne, Kid Cudi, Jonas Brothers, James Blake, Lorde, Hailee Steinfeld, and many others — has announced that it is removing “urban” from its label vocabulary. In a message posted to Instagram, Republic writes:
Effective immediately, Republic Records will remove “URBAN” from our verbiage in describing departments, employee titles and music genres. We encourage the rest of the music industry to follow suit as it is important to shape the future of what we want it to look like, and not adhere to the outdated structures of the past.
As Billboard points out, black New York radio DJ Frankie Crocker coined the phrase “urban contemporary,” later shortened to “urban,” in the 1970s. (Notably, the Grammys still hand out awards in the Urban Contemporary category.) Although it was not considered offensive at the time, some observers now see the term as symbolic of the way the industry has lumped together all black artists. Earlier this week Republic launched the Republic Records Action Committee (R2AC), an initiative that is working closely with parent company UMG’s own task force and will donate $25 million to social justice initiatives.
What do y’all think: Will the absence of this word ultimately make any difference?