Where Are Our Music Icons?


In Jay-Z’s interview earlier this month with Angie Martinez, he talked about his artists on Roc Nation. He mentioned that artists on his label, don’t just come out immediately, but rather, they develop, saying, “If you gon’ come sign to Roc Nation, just realize that it’s gon’ take a second. I’m into artists, I’m not really into putting a single out.”

I found myself thinking back to that quote, the night I heard that Nick Ashford, one half of the musical husband and wife duo Ashford and Simpson, passed away after a long struggle with throat cancer, and ultimately a heart attack. It was then I realized how much music has had a profound sense of placement in my life.

I remember exactly where I was when Michael Jackson, Luther Vandross and Barry White died. I remember crying in bed the night I heard on the radio that Aaliyah’s plane had crashed. And I vividly remember my classmates talking about the beef between Biggie and Tupac that ultimately claimed both rappers lives–I was twelve.

While scrolling through breaking news reports about Nick Ashford, the same thought came to me as it does every time I hear about one of these tragedies: We’re losing legendary figures in music. Will there be anyone who can step up and fill these shoes?

Though I’ve been told I’m caught up in a time when music was in a different place— often I’m chastised for being stuck in between the classic hits of the 80s and the hip hop/rap revolution of the 90s—I know that was a time when music had more meaning.

Like others, I stan for Beyonce and those of similar ilk. I love the sound that artists like Kanye West have brought to hip hop, and I feverishly turn the volume up when I hear the drawl of Chrisette Michelle on the radio. But those artists and many other artists today don’t offer a solid comparison to the musical geniuses I grew up listening to—Prince, the Isley Brothers, Diana Ross, Ashford and Simpson, this list goes on. Sure they may be great for a workout or a party, but the music that blasts out of my parent speakers at every holiday is music that still makes me feel as if I’m auctioning off my feelings to something extraordinary. It isn’t just music for the moment, but rather its music that sparks movements. It still stands as a powerful symbol of what artists have the ability to do.

But where is music headed? And who will step up the challenge of creating these types of legacies?

Maybe if artists really took the time to develop, as Jay-Z mentions, a new era of seasoned artists might emerge, those that won’t just sit back and be ok making soda pop hits, but rather artists that take over the realm of music, and make us remember exactly where we were, when we first heard their song on the radio.