I've recently had the opportunity to contribute some blog posts to the Converse site.  The first post ran yesterday.  Typically, if I'm doing a series for a site, I'll do some level-setting.  That is, I want to provide some context for folks to understand my POV and why I think black rock is important and worth talking about.  It was a great exercise to repurpose my approach since the readers of Converse's site tend to be 16-28 years old.  The tone the Converse folks are going for is upbeat and inspirational.

Anyway, here's a peek at my first post:

“Black rock, Afro-Punk, and black alternative music.”

That’s my response when people ask me what kind of music I cover on
my blog, For nearly three years, this has been my beat.
It’s been my attempt to chronicle the cultural shift that I think we’re
all experiencing: Black rock, or Afro-Punk, if you will, once confined
to the fringes of music culture, is now making it’s way towards the
mainstream. It’s still got a ways to go, to be sure. But, as we head
into 2010, there’s never been a more exciting time to understand the
origins of music that’s reshaping the urban cultural landscape.

First, let’s use this definition: When I say “black rock” I’m not
talking about black men and women simply doing whatever you might
currently understand to be rock music. And I’m not trying to suggest a
separate, but equal new genre. No, I’m using as a term that describes
music by black artists that synthesizes a broad range of influences and
interests. Some examples can be found at

You can read the full post here via this link.

The other four pieces cover how I got into black rock, a review of the kickoff date of the Afro-Punk Tour, a Q&A with The Bots, and my new year's wishes for black rock.  I've been told that the schedule for the articles will run on the following dates:

  • January 11
  • January 13
  • January 18
  • January 20

Let me know what you think by leaving a comment on the Converse site.

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  • Huh?

    When did Converse (and I maybe shouldn’t say anything because I rock a pair of low-cut black ones on a daily basis) care about black people?

    I don’t understand the tie-in. I fear that this could be another way to capitalize on the Afropunk marketing trend. Another way to distance what could have been an important social and political movement for the younger generation in to a branding tool. Rob, you know I love you but can you explain how this blogging opportunity came about?

    And again, if you are talking about music from black artists whose music synthesizes a broad range of influences and interests are you going to be discussing black musicians in the metal genre and its sub-genres?

  • That’s a fair question, Laina.

    Honestly, I’ve been talking to Converse for the past year and they are one of several companies from whom I’ve been seeking support, not just for the blog, but to get them behind projects that will get help spread the black rock gospel far and wide. That’s part of what I do, as an evangelist: I seek new channels through which I can reach new audiences.

    To be 100% transparent: Yes, I am getting paid by Converse for these five (5) posts. I also get paid for writing that I do on certain other sites, such as

    In fact, I’d love to see this site and my efforts generate money. And more to the point, I care about this so much that I want to be able to do it fulltime. Not on the margins of my life. Therefore, I’d like to find a way to turn this into a business that’s self-sustaining, one that does good, i.e., social good. And I believe it can. Folks probably gave Bono a hard time when he started working with the Gap on Product (RED), but it was a great idea to raise money and awareness for a good cause. My point is that corporations can do good.

    What’s important is that those of us who engage with them have to maintain our integrity and our vision of why we started this in the first place. In my case, it all started here:

    and here

    I believe that the concerns about “selling out” should only arise if my message starts to change. As you’ve seen in the post, my message hasn’t deviated from any anything that I write here. I’m thrilled that Converse is a corporation that is getting the fact that there is a distinct and growing market for this music and culture. If they want to stay relevant, they need to be part of it. In fact, they were one of the major sponsors of the Afro-Punk Tour. The fact is, those of us who care about this community must help shape and define the terms of corporate involvement. That requires that we engage with them.

    What I don’t believe in, however, is “the poverty=purity” argument. In fact, I believe a couple of things: First, you should be paid in proportion to the value you create for others. Second—and I think I said this in Indiana—to quote Rakim: “without no money, it’s still a wish.” Just like black folks in general, black rock needs allies everywhere. We need support in order to move this thing of ours beyond the fringes of culture.

    In terms of covering metal, the closest I’ll get to this with Converse is a post on The Bots. This isn’t an ongoing posting situation. More importantly, metal is one of my blind spots, so I invite you to contribute your knowledge and passion on that area here on Seriously, I’d really appreciate you leading the charge in that area. You have a standing invitation to post.

    Anyway, I hope this addresses your questions and concerns. If not, post another comment and we can discuss further.

    Thanks, Laina.

  • Thanks Rob, I (and hopefully others do to) appreciate the response.

    I don’t beleive that coporations, especially a company that sells athletic wear to a population in which athletics is seen as a way to escape poverty and find celebrity status, really cares about the philosophy of black rock. Don’t beleive it. however, it’s your blog and you will do what you want.

    We have a great opportunity to spark a political movement, not only with corporations who yes, have the power to make changes in how they market and advertise to communities, but more importantly, how we change ourselves. How we get rid of the stigma that lies within our community, espcially how music is seen as a signifyer to our racial and cultural idenity…we are really black if we listen to black-oriented music, but those who choose other genres are seen as race-tratiors….which was the vibe I got at the conference in Indiana in regards to metal…..just sayin.’

    This is keeping us apart and that is one of the reasons why black rockers are hardly – if any – getting any play in black entertainment portals. Your fellow panelist at the conference in Indiana was indicative of the growing trend of throwing our people under the bus in order for him to…ahem, ‘get his.’

    Yes, we all need to get paid but we all need to be concerned of the ways in how by lining our pockets could potentially hurt our communities. I am not accusing you of this Rob, but generally, I am pretty cynical about tie-ins with coporations – espcially with the economic recession – people are more concerened with making money and staying afloat that they ever will about us.

  • Good points all, Laina. And, believe me, I hear your concerns. Like I said, this blog was started out of those same political and cultural concerns that you’re raising. I see no reason why that should ever change.

    But not to put too fine a point on it: We live within a capitalist system, one that doesn’t look like it’s going to change anytime soon. I firmly believe that if we are going to change the culture, then we have to ensure that black rock is viable in the marketplace. Remember that band you mentioned at the conference? The one that’s critically acclaimed, beloved by audiences, but they still work day jobs? I think that’s a little sad. The fact is: How much better would they and their music be if they could devote themselves to it fulltime? How much better and further along would you be? How much further along would I be? Yeah, Ed Jones won a Pulitzer for “The Known World”, but it took him 10 years, partly because he was working as an editor of a tax magazine. He didn’t have the personal resources to pursue his art and nothing else. There’s a cost to that.

    Yes, corporations have their own objectives. But, I say, where those objectives align with our (and mine!), we should partner for as long as it makes sense. When it no longer does, both parties should go their own way.

  • Okay, this will be my last comment!

    That band that I mentioned? I actually think that they would suffer if they were able to perform full-time as musicians. There is a hungriness (sp?) that motivates the musicans and makes the music more real, more raw, and because I primarily listen to metal and hardcore, more angry, which is what the genres call for.

    I’m being totally selfish as a listener, I know, and despite that I do like the fact that Mastodon has been able to garner enough support where they do not work full-time jobs – but they have not comprimised their art to do so. I have no interest in pop music, in music that is made to make money. No interest whatsoever because you can feel the hollowness in the music. It is disposable and thoughtless, which is perhaps why I have a hard time listening to a number of the artists that the black alt blogs promote. It rings false to me and is riding on a trend.

    Anyhoo, I agree that money makes the world go ’round but I still believe that it isn’t the way to go. I remember listening to Donny Hathaway and Roberta Flack and some of the old 70’s bands like The Eagles – before they became popular and I wish that young upstarts would perhaps not want so much money and fame and….money. Good music can serve as a vechicle for social and political change and it seems like many black folks have a ‘f$%k it, I’ma going for mine’ attitude. We have to remember those who suffered for their art and suffered so that the next generation of black musical artists could perform their music….their music that came from their soul, not pimp the black community for their own selfish gain.

    Look, I’m not a musician, just a lowly journalist with strong opinions. But I would have more respect for people like Saul Willams and Ben Harper, who have slogged it out over the years, than you-know-who from that “ghetto-metal” band.