Not really about the music so much about unresolved problems within the black community and as a result was a poor show that could almost be called a salvage job (spoilers for winners)
The 2004 awards for Music of Black Origin took place this year under a minor storm or media controversy. Outrage, the gay rights group had campaigned against certain dancehall artists for the use of homophobic lyrics that go as far as inciting violence against gays and condoning the murder (by burning alive) of 'batty boys'. The Mobos had rightly accepted their point and had removed nominations for various artists. As a result of this several other artists decided that they would stay away from the ceremony and the overall controversy had the knock-on effect of keeping away many of the US acts. When Pharrell Williams (of N.E.R.D.) pulled out of hosting at the last minute, the scene was set for a ceremony that was not really about the music so much about wider problems within the black community.
I won't go into the gay rights issue too much but I must say that I have heard several of the songs in question and the lyrics are not suggestive they are blatant and rather shocking in their strength. To have an award ceremony refuse to condemn them would have been unacceptable and they made the right decision and I hope the apologies that (some) of the artists put forward were not as insincere as they appeared and that they will change their tune. However the status of homosexuality within the aggressively sexual and masculine world of black music is very poor and it must be very hard to be gay and in that scene. I was annoyed to see artists distancing themselves from the row rather than coming out and just condemning artists that make blatantly homophobic music if mainstream artists did very racist material of the same ilk you would hear the outrage (no pun intended) for hundreds of miles, so why not this issue? Worse still was, in the interviews after the show, UK artist Estelle said that she could see what Outrage's problem was and said (paraphrasing) 'that's their opinion and it just happens to be different from these artists' erm, no quite frankly! As it was many people said that the ceremony was very understated and not as good as other years.
This may also be due to the lack of US acts especially when so many awards were won by them, too many 'sorry I can't be there' tapes is never a good thing. I had high hopes when I heard that the mighty Mos Def had stepped into hosting due to being in the UK for 'Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy' but from the very start he is very uncharismatic; amazingly so for an artist I find to be very erudite, but here he wore his hat low and seemed to mumble and 'holler' his way through the job. Outside of him the only other significant US artist was Brandy and, boy, did she know it. She played up to the cameras every chance she got but I suppose she is not a big draw in herself and rarely gets the limelight. The winners were pretty much predictable and had a few OK or lackluster UK acts mixed with plenty of Americans. Kanye West deserved to win those awards because College Dropout is impressive; Usher was worthy; Sean Paul is a safe bet for reggae artist and Jamelia got three awards since she was one of the few 'good' UK acts there (even if she didn't deserve to win in at least 2 of the 3 categories).
Estelle won best newcomer for her radio friendly single but revealed herself to be badly in need of better management, looking ridiculous in an ugly dress and coming across as rather gobby given the chance. The one category that (for me) took away a lot of credibility was the 'best ringtone' award. I don't care how many ringtones are downloaded in the UK each year, those nasty little tunes are not music and I was surprised that Mario Winans was not too embarrassed to actually collect it I was surprised that he even bothered to turn up! Anita Baker was worthy of a lifetime award though.
As usual, the nominations will not have pleased everyone and yet again they missed the chance to really celebrate smaller artists in favour of the usual 'guns and b1tches' stuff that makes up lots of the MOBO base. Personally I struggle to see why the awards cannot be a bigger event and surround themselves with workshops and promotion events based on UK acts and also events that will encourage the black community rather than constantly peddling the US rapper lifestyle that will never be achieved. Also, if we have to have US acts come across then why not at least use the nominations to give props where it is deserved instead of another 'guns and gangsta's' rapper, why not throw a bone out for people like Jurassic Five, The Roots, Common, Talib Kweli. People decry the content of hip hop and bringing the likes of these over would challenge that and would show a side of the industry that is about more that booty shaking and gun play. Anyway I'm a fan of these acts and the lack of UK support for them (while 50 Cent just swaggers his way to a shedload of awards) is discouraging to me. The music was OK at some points but there was a lack of real spark and even Mos Def performing a new song was difficult to get into (although I since have found that this is due to his new album being difficult too). We have plenty of good UK acts (beyond chart friendly hip hop that apes American imports) but other than Jamelia, none of them really got the crowd going.
Overall this was a poor ceremony that was more about the problems within the scene than the music itself. The MOBO's tried to deal with Outrage the best they could and generally they made the right choices within the minor influence they have, but it was the failure of the artists and other acts themselves to stand up and make their opinions known that really hurt. No artist really came out in support of Outrage, perhaps because they feared being labeled 'gay' and losing audience (trust me there aren't many gay dance hall artists!) but just as many just tried to avoid it when really we need role-models to come out against any sort of bigotry or actions that incite intolerance or violence against minority groups be they racial or sexual. 2005 needs a fuller approach that will present a more encouraging and uplifting image of music of black origin and also have more winners who actually turn up. West was the big artist of 2004 and it really hurt the ceremony that he wasn't there that plus everything else just meant that the ceremony was less of an award and more of a salvage job!
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