Has the time come to retire “urban”? As an umbrella term for hip-hop and R&B, it’s either convenient and apt or an antiquated shorthand for music made by black artists. And as a department at many labels dating back to the 1970s, it has arguably marginalized black musicians and those who work with them.
As conversations about race and gender have intensified culturewide, “urban” is getting reassessed too. In early August, Music Business Worldwide reported that several black executives wanted to see the term eliminated. Sources at Warner/Chappell confirm to Billboard that outgoing CEO Jon Platt, who is exiting his post to head Sony/ATV, is among those who want to do away with the term.
Most objections are to the word itself. “The connotation of the word doesn't hold a positive weight,” explains Sam Taylor, senior vp creative at Kobalt Music Group, the rights management and publishing company. “It’s downgrading R&B, soul and hip-hop’s incredible impact on music. And as black executives, we have the power to phase ‘urban’ out -- to change the description.”