Mr. Jones posted a transcription of his presentation from the discussion on “Blackface” at the 2005 Experience Music Project Pop Conference. His insights into the presentation of artists’ music before and after striking popularity-driven record deals is great. It’s a short read, well worth your time. s/fj post, .pdf file, pop conference

Neither of the people I am talking about are rappers. Both are DJs and producers. Josh Davis is known professionally as DJ Shadow, and Wesley Pentz performs and records under the name Diplo. Shadow has been working for over ten years; Diplo just a few. But both began their careers as white DJs with an affinity for black music. One of Shadow’s first gigs in the early 1990s was providing a remix for a rap group called Lifers Group, black prisoners doing life sentences who had made an album for the Hollywood Basic label. His early songs and mixtapes showed a terrifying appreciation for the funk records that had been sampled to create hip-hop in the 1980s. Diplo first gained notice a few years ago as a member of the Hollertronix duo, a Philadelphia DJ duo who specialized in playing Southern and Eastern rap to club audiences and making skilled, funny mixtapes. Recently, Diplo has been one of the most visible European-American DJs playing the working class Brazilian dance music known as “baile funk,” “funk,” or “funk carioca.” But when both Shadow and Diplo got signed and had to make proper albums people could buy in stores—and Shadow confronted this moment almost a full decade before Diplo—a similar tendency crept into the work of both artists. Though their DJing is firmly rooted in black music, Shadow and Diplo recorded songs for their albums full of white signifiers: electric guitars, slow minor-key melodies, sluggish tempos, cinematic strings. The crunk was in the trunk, at least some of the time. Live, as DJs, Shadow and Diplo still play music that most people, if pressed, would call black. But, under contract and in the studio, they move closer to signifiers of whiteness. Shadow, several albums into the game, is moving further and further from the hip-hop he started with.
I am not pretending to be a mind reader: I have no evidence the music Shadow and Diplo make on record is any less dear to them than the music made by other people that they choose to play in clubs as DJs. I have no evidence that, like many artists, they simply want to keep themselves engaged and play with as many forms as they can master. But I also can’t pretend I don’t hear a significant difference between what got them in the door and what keeps them in the room, and that difference is a big one, out there in the world Blackface with no face SFJ 3 of consumers and producers. What makes this happen? Does political correctness, the condom of pop culture, prevent them from directly aping the music they love? Did they read “Love and Theft” and freak out? Do they make “whiter” records prophylactically, to forestall the wearying effects of being called cultural thieves in the pages of newspapers, on message boards and blogs? Do white DJs play black music out, but lean white in the studio because we’ve got hard evidence that your sales go up when you sound more like Depeche Mode and less like Ultramagnetic MCs? Or are they sick of having to justify their love? A hundred years ago, maybe Shadow and Diplo would have ignored the theft and made music only from love, showing their faces, perhaps with freaky social consequences. Maybe the language of cultural studies is impoverished now. Maybe there is no way to tell the love from the theft, except by looking at the difference between, say, Eminem’s and Devin the Dude’s royalty statements.