Historically, the term “urban” is a geographic one, referring to the inner city. Over the years, products of the city began to carry “urban” as a prefix: urban legend, urban decay, Urban Outfitters. Thus, music created by the citizens of city streets became known as urban music. But in today’s internet driven world, where location doesn’t matter and boarders don’t exist, we are faced with a new concept of urban.
New Urbanism is defined by attitude and perspective rather than geography or socioeconomic status. And it is broader than ever. Last week, street artists from around the world (including friend of Affix, Greg Mike) converged on Atlanta for The Living Walls Project, a grassroots colloquium on street art and urbanism. Owners of buildings donated their walls as canvases and over three days the artists transformed them into living works of art. The term living is appropriate because that’s part of what this New Urbanism is. These works aren’t hung behind velvet ropes in a museum or auctioned to the highest bidder. Like us, they inhabit our world. We are engaged not as patrons, but as citizens; as humans. Traditionally, we approach art reflectively – we take ourselves to the piece and view it through the lens of our individual perspectives. The art of New Urbanism brings the world to us in its most raw form.
Urban music is often mislabeled as Hip-Hop, Rap or R&B, but in reality, such labels have nothing to do with it. It is the message and the delivery of that message that matter- whether conveyed lyrically or musically. Richelle Brown’s “Swagger Black Country Queen” is a vivid snapshot of an everyday southern socialite lifestyle, where candy colored Chevys parade down Atlanta’s famed Peachtree Street and hipsters congregate at hotspots sporting their requisite Chuck Taylors. The track offers the listener an unadulterated glimpse at the world in which Brown lives, for better or worse. There’s no need to play the song backwards to listen for “Paul is dead” messages. The artist tells us what she wants us to know in clear and direct terms. Instrumental tracks like The Agency’s “Straight Pop” make use of rhythm, tempo and melody to create mood and achieve similar clarity. A rolling piano lead layered over a synth bed gives the track an ethereal vibe while a drum part that evolves from a spacious cross-stick part into a double timed chorus lends a sense of movement. It’s a tune that conveys progress and forward motion without saying a word.
New Urbanism doesn’t ask us to guess or interpret. It doesn’t wait for us to approach it cautiously with our thinking caps on. It is an extra strength dose of truth and reality…mainlined.