50 Cent is one of those artists who people use to try and prove that music has become too dirty, too sordid, too sexually explicit. Apparently, it has never been this bad. Each generation has fallen further into moral decay, allegedly. There was nothing like Fiddy when they were young. There was nothing like Snoop.
Here are two songs about lollipops. Which is by a 2000s gangster rapper, and which is by a 1920s blues singer?
I’ll take you to the candy shop
I’ll let you lick the lollipop
Go ahead, girl, don’t you stop
Keep going ’til you hit the spot
Sweet as candy in a candy shop
Is just your sweet sweet lollipop
You gotta give me some, please give me some
I love all day suckers, you gotta give me some
The second is by Bessie Smith, an African-American woman who was one of the first queens of the blues. In this same song, she also moaned:
Said mister Jones to old butcher Pete
I want a piece of your good old meat
You gotta give me some, oh give me some
I crave your round steak, you gotta give me some
To the milkman I heard Mary scream
Said she wanted a lots of cream
Hear my cryin’ on my bended knees
If you wanna put my soul at ease
Music hasn’t got dirtier. Songwriters have always penned for those wanting to laugh at cringe-worthy sexcapades gone wrong, or sordid parodies of romantic ballads, or even just explicit descriptions of different sexual encounters.
Like The Choice Of Valentines (also known as Nashe’s Dildo), first performed around the 1590s:
My little dildoe shall supply your kind,
A youth that is as light as leaves in wind:
He bendeth not, nor foldeth any deal,
But stands as stiff as he were made of steel;
(And plays at peacock twixt my legs right blithe
And doeth my tickling swage with many a sigh;)
And when I will, he doth refresh me well,
And never makes my tender belly swell.
There are two significant reasons why it seems like music is filthier now than before.
Firstly, those who have immortalized the history of music are wealthy, elitist prudes. Until recently, writers who were lucky enough to be paid to document music through the ages had snobbish sensibilities. The upper-most classes of all societies are generally revolted by brazen displays of ‘improper, distasteful, inappropriate, crude’ music. By this, they mean music about sex and violence. These elites fund projects that record all kinds of history, so naturally they influence historians to exclude undesirable content from their publications. Universities were, and in some cases remain, places of elitism, which also rejected depictions of sexuality as not artistic, and so not worthy of study. These days, anyone can be a music writer, and universities are much more open-minded to research that investigates all elements of life and culture, including the sordid, which many have been listening to and enjoying all along.
Secondly, the music industry has opened up dramatically. The means of production and distribution are no longer in the hands of the snobbish elite. Before, only the tastes of the richest governed who would rise to fame and be remembered, because only the rich could fund careers through financing radio stations, labels and marketing firms, and so their tastes largely controlled album and ticket sales. Developing technologies right from the early 1900s through the 60s and 70s meant it became progressively much cheaper to record and distribute music, so labels and publishers could afford to publish more artists. They could specialise in the less ‘proper, polite’ music, because more affordable production techniques allowed music to be sold to the masses. And now, the Internet gives platforms through which anybody can get their music out to a global audience, and virtually any song can be found if you have enough information. High-quality recording equipment is now available at low prices. Anyone can put anything online, including the sexiest nonsense that has always been created and performed to the delight of audiences the world over. There is more dirty music to access now. It’s hard to say if that means there is more dirty music in existence, because the powers of music distribution and music monitoring have changed so dramatically. But the music is not dirtier.
Companies have been duped by the narrative that ‘Digital’ far out-competes ‘Traditional’. It is just not true, and won’t be anytime soon.
The biggest obstacle to musicians is the music industry. Soundcloud can revolutionise our soundscapes again.