So I have been a little quiet over the last few days because I often like to listen to the chat at the watercooler and let it fully digest before I add my $0.02 USD into the fray. The intersection of several music related events have piqued my interest on how honest we are when it comes the early adoption of artists particularly those closely identified with “Black Music” and of course I use the quotes because that is a discussion for another day and blog entirely.

The purpose of this post is not to assail anyone for not being an early adopter. There are many things in life that I have come to late and a lot of those things I had a clear disdain for before I came to embrace them. Several things that come to mind off the top of my head that I was a late adopter of are: reading for pleasure, Classical Music in general and Opera specifically, John Coltrane, Ribs(yes I hated them until a half-decade ago), and probably 20 other things that I cannot think of at this particular time. The point is I’m not too proud to admit that initially I didn’t like something but through exposure, information and experience(all forms of context) I grew to have an appreciation. I would love to say that the same holds true for droves of music “fans” but it does not. Translation: Somebody is lying somewhere.

What’s really on my mind? Well, lets start with the title and work from there… why Mac vs. PC? Well, I thought that might be one of the best examples of early vs. late adopter which then sometimes morphs into revisionism. Now using the Mac OS platform may be one of the things in my life that I was actually an early adopter. Now I’ve never been too much of an elitist with that choice and never spent a whole lot of time proselytizing about the virtues of Apple but if folks would ask me I would tell them why I chose to be a squeaky wheel in a PC world and I’m not talking ’01 I’m talking about in the days before ’91. So when folks started getting hip to the virtues of Apple through the iPod and then onto the full explosion with the iPhone etc., I usually encountered these same persons who would almost mock me a decade or so before and now they extol the virtues of Apple like they’ve been rolling with the company since they made the green screen Apple II GS. My usually response to these persons is an aloof “interesting”.

So how does this relate to music and what’s eating my craw? Well, I think a lot of it has to do with what I feel the masses do when trends, artists or music becomes acceptable… they revise their position and join the mob. I’m not saying that early adopters are the only true fans, what I’m saying is that early adopters “get it” a lot faster and my problem with revisionists is that they are often not honest about the period when they did not get it, and some revisionists mocked the artists that they claim to hold so much esteem for now.

Two of the events that transpired this weekend that turned my attention to this matter were the Tribute to Prince at the BET Awards and the tributes over the past weekend and at the BET Awards for Michael Jackson. Two iconic figures of music, period. Peers musically and of the same generation. Now I’m not trying to superimpose my experience of growing up as a child coming of age musically in the late 70’s and early 80’s but I have to be honest when I say that how these giants were often discussed was not always complimentary. Of course a lot of that has to do with how we are socialized and perceived “norms” etc., etc., but sometimes the cynic in me questions what was the tipping point, the iPod moment as it were for Prince and Michael? Well, that’s pretty easy certainly it would have to be the era of Purple Rain and Thriller.

What’s interesting is usually the tipping point is not that artists best work it’s there most commercially appealing, the easiest to get on the bandwagon. See it’s easier for me to get you to buy a $300 music player as a gateway to the other things that I have to offer as opposed to hoping you will buy my $2000 computer when conventional wisdom tells you that you can get the “same” computer for $500. I mean they do the same thing right? I mean the $2000 computer won’t last 5 years longer than the $500 one will it? But I digress…

I am certainly not questioning anyone’s sincerity and there is not a cutoff point that says well if you weren’t down by this point then you’re not down. If you got into these artists music at the point that they became cultural touchstones that’s great and hopefully you went back and checked out their prior discography and assess what makes up the totality of their body of work. Everything that they were doing in their respective careers prior to the breakthrough to the masses was laying the foundation. If you don’t like their work prior to the huge commercial success or even after be honest and say you don’t like it, not everything is for everybody. I’ll be honest and say that I love and have the utmost respect for both of these gentlemen’s artistry but do I love everything that they’ve done? Uh no and not that it matters but I think that if we can discuss our likes and dislikes critically and with a critically informed ear that helps to advance the music.

One more thing about advancing the music… that’s exactly what Prince was doing at his tribute and he has done throughout the course of his career. Push the boundaries, challenge convention and advance the music. Prince chose the performers who would pay tribute to him. A couple of things about the tribute: I don’t know who was on the mix, but it seemed as if every performer was having challenges with being able to hear themselves properly. That’s tough all the way around a live gig, live television, not making excuses just commenting on the environment that the artists had to work. I’ve read and heard a lot of talk about Janelle Monae and Esperanza Spalding. Let me say that a lot of the negative comments that I heard directed towards these wonderful artists sound reminiscent of things I heard said about Michael and Prince before their breakthrough moments. Again, I’m not saying that you have to get this artists at all, you don’t have to like them but just understand where Prince is coming from when he choose them. If you are truly into his music it would be very easy to see that they are a natural extension another part of the continuum.

One thing that I have always admired about Prince is his intelligence. Prince’s choice of artists was completely calculated. Patti and Alicia are very safe choices PC if you will… Janelle and Esperanza…

Ivan Orr is a multi-instrumentalist, composer, performer, and writer. A native of Charlottesville, Virginia Ivan was involved with the forming and nascent days of The Music Resource Center as its first Program Director. A graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University’s Department of Music, Ivan currently resides in Richmond, VA where he maintains an active performance and production schedule while serving as the Music Editor for Grown Folks Music, a position he has held since 2010.