Rollin’ in the D: The Adele Phenomenon & Black Music

8 Grammys, 3 consecutive number-one singles, and the heart of every music critic on Earth—that’s right, Adele has it all!  Seeing Adele sweep every award ceremony and our pockets has been somewhat gratifying for all of her fans, especially considering Adele’s 2008 debut, 19, barely cracked any sales numbers outside of the U.K. upon its initial run.

Listeners have deemed Ms. Adele some kind of modern music hero, yes? She represents not only for the “true” artists refuting the electro-flop-pop movement, but she’s also become a spokesperson for full-figured women, a pioneer of yet another British Invasion, and it’d be absolutely ignorant to not mention she’s done what everyone wishes they could do – kick their heartbreaker’s ass and get paid and praised to do so.  Adele’s pushing against a lot of odds, yes, but what about the biggest “odd” of all in the industry (and really the world)? Call it playing the race card, but could Adele honestly have all this success or even half if she were a black woman…you know, a “sista?”

What makes Adele so damn special? Of course she’s got a voice from the GODs, but it’s her “soul” that’s propelled the critical and commercial success attributed to Adele in the past year. Soul is one of those things that separates the Britneys from the Lauryns, but so are sales figures. Jill Scott, India.Arie, and Jazmine Sullivan all have soul, but who’s pushing albums out like Adele? Correct me if I’m wrong, but 21 alone has outsold all three of their careers, combined. Coincidence? Not so much.

Adele’s monstrous takeover is not a strange occurrence, especially in the American market. The fascination with whites being able to perform an act distinctively attributed to blacks is one of those things that always seems to gets pockets emptied out. Need a receipt? My two most favorite examples: Norah Jones and Eminem.

Norah’s venture into jazz with 2002’s Come Away With Me enamored everyone. It was mind-boggling to see a skinny white girl singing jazz like that.  Among several honors, the album most notably garnered eight Grammy  awards (five for Jones) and a diamond record certification from the Recording Industry Association of America.

Eminem; a white rapper – certainly not the first to do it, but definitely one of the few with the opportunity to capitalize off the heels of the rap momentum. To date, he has two diamond-certified albums, a massive heap of awards, and countless other accolades, including being honored by Rolling Stone as “King of Hip-Hop.”

As extreme as this sounds, supporting artists like Adele at the same magnitude in which artists like Jazmine are ignored continues to enforce notions of white supremacy; not in its radical sense of course, but definitely in the music scene and other arenas of entertainment. The sad truth is that whites and white music are reigning supreme; black music is pacing its way around the pits of the Hot 100 or on the charts designated for black music.

The discouraging facts about sales numbers and chart statistics is that in due time, they will inevitably be more than just a few digits. Statistically speaking, Eminem can be considered the face of hip-hop. In fact, in 50 years when the Internet and sales numbers become that generation’s primary key to the past, Eminem will more than likely be the face of hip-hop. And Katy Perry’s Teenage Dream is going to be equally compared to Michael Jackson’s Bad. Bizarre, but that’s where money goes.

So what if Adele was black? She’d be just another big black woman singing sad songs, something that’s been recognized since the early 20th century. ‘Taint nutin new to de eye, naw? She’d be struggling for even a gold-record certification. Oh, and a number-one single on the Hot 100? In her dreams! She’d get a minor Grammy nomination for Best R&B Album, a Soul Train nomination, and a feature in VIBE. Then when she switched up her sound to have a little more mainstream appeal, she’d lose her core fan base and be just another black soul singer on VH1 Soul.  No?

35 COMMENTS

  • Reply March 6, 2012

    C. Jay Conrod

    This has been going on FOREVER. Let’s go further back, shall we? Elvis Presley, the “King of Rock ‘n Roll,” was only doing what blacks had been doing for decades before him. It becomes safe for whites to accept when it’s presented by another white person. It’s silly, but it’s our reality.

  • Reply March 6, 2012

    Fact Check

    Heads up. Norah Jones is Indian.

    • Reply March 7, 2012

      C. Jay Conrod

      If we’re being specific, half-Indian.

      • Reply March 7, 2012

        Fact Check

        not trying to apply the one drop rule. im just saying, he could probably pick a better example. ideally someone who is actually a “skinny white girl”

    • Reply March 14, 2012

      Kj

      Correction: native American.

      • Reply March 14, 2012

        Fact Check

        i can’t tell if you’re trolling.

  • Reply March 7, 2012

    African Mami

    She deserved it period.

    • Reply July 21, 2013

      Lacey_Johnson

      This has been going on FOREVER. Let’s go further back, shall we? Elvis Presley, the “King of Rock ‘n Roll,” was only doing what blacks had been doing for decades before him. It becomes safe for whites to accept when it’s presented by another white person. It’s silly, but it’s our reality.

  • Reply March 7, 2012

    KUR COL DE DAAB E NUBA

    This generation will just fall for anything. That child smokes like a chimney. They need to tell her to quit. Its not attractive or healthy.

  • Reply March 7, 2012

    Bella

    Sadly, I agree with this article. Adele’s voice while beautiful, is no more beautiful than Jill’s or Jasmine’s. But her skin is significantly lighter… sad.

    • Reply December 23, 2013

      Tamila Shultz

      I think Adele’s voice is much better than Jill Scott’s and Jazmine’s. The reason why she’s far more successful is that she has crossover appeal. Whereas Jill Scott and Jasmine are strictly black RnB, Adele is also rock and pop. As such, she reaches a much broader audience. This is why Janet Jackson was so successful in the 80’s and 90’s. She mixed genres and therefore appealed to a much broader fan base. When she moved further into black RnB her sales shrunk. The fact that Adele is white is irrelevant.

  • Reply March 7, 2012

    Alicia

    This is why Beyonce upsets me. She deserves everything she’s earned. She’s obviously a hard worker. But she’s the designated BLACK pop star. Before her it was Janet Jackson. There can only be one and the bitch better know how to dance.

    Adele’s voice is not to be compared to Jill or Jasmine. Hell, I thinks it crazy to compare Jill to Jasmine. They are from two different schools! So is Adele. What set her apart was her songwriting. She hit hard and at the right time. The mainstream was ready for someone who wasn’t Lady Gaga.

    I acknowledge the issue but I think that Adele is a bad example. When I think about non-blacks doing black music, I think of Johnny Lang and Christina Aguilara.

  • Reply March 10, 2012

    Americanboi

    I don’t agree with this article. At all. Because you can’t wrap your mind about why someone isn’t as successful as someone who you feel is less talented your going to assume its race? Jill Scott is just OK to me. Jasmin Sullivan is good….but to say Adele is so successful mainly bc she’s white is completely ridiculous. Like STOP always using the race card. Your probably one of those ppl who think Beyonce’s so successful bc she’s light skinned. Not because she worked her ass off, perfected her craft, and pretty much had a slave master for Manager, who happened to be her father. Ugh. Black people I swear…it’s not always about race.

    • Reply July 21, 2013

      Lacey_Johnson

      Ugh white people I swear are so delusional can not realize the color of your skin plays a part

      no it’s because every time someone white sings R&B people act like it is groundbreaking just like they did in the 90’s when Christina Aguilera came out or how they treat Justin Timberlake there are black artist whose voices are ten times better than they are however skin color does play a huge part you are blind if you think otherwise Adele skin color has given her an advantage because people look at her and say wow a white girl singing soul music they did the same thing with Joss Stone it’s not about playing the race card do you realize that black female singers that are popular today are all light skin if they are not light skin they are White India white people will buy Adele’s music because they like Soul music but you won’t buy Mary J Blige music or India Arie ? Look at the group like Led Zeppelin all there hits are mostly covers of black artists songs but I bet you don’t who those artist are why aren’t they more successful it’s there song same thing with Elvis Adele is doing better than black artists with similar (if not better) vocal talents then her because she’s not confined to what black soul singers are confined to. Her songs are played on ALL radio stations, hip hop, pop, R&B etc. Singers like Marsha Ambrosius don’t have a chance in hell to receive that number of spins because their musical outlets are limited to the one or two hip hop stations in a city. Magazine covers and television shows are the same way, Marsha gets Vibe, Adele gets Seventeen, Cosmo, and Vanity Fair; it’s a numbers game.

      I love Adele but her skin color gives her an advantage of being automatically more commercial and easier to “sell” than a woman of similar stature rocking natural curls and caramel skin. That’s not playing the race card, that’s living.

    • Reply July 21, 2013

      Lacey_Johnson

      Also look at the cover of magazines like Vogue or Cosmo who do you mainly see a white female the majority of successful actresses in Hollywood are what white if she is dark skin she is playing a slave or nanny the only real black actress that has been successful is Halle Berry and she is what ? half white why do you think Jet magazine was created to show that black women can be beautiful and amazing as well it’s not just black look at Cosmo Latina they have their own thing even their own award show We praise Marilyn Monroe every single year but do you know who Dorothy Dandridge is? of course you don’t

  • Reply March 10, 2012

    glamourous

    Agree wholeheartedly with this article. YES it is about her race and if you think its not, then you need to wake up. White people love to use the word “race card” but that phrase has always been used against us, POC, to shut us up.

    We live in a society where whiteness is upheld and most definitely if Adele was black, she would not be where she is now. Point. blank. period.

    Adele throws up the bird- its “edgy”. But when MIA, a POC, does it everyone goes crazy. And if you think its not because of race then you’re probably a racist yourself.

  • Reply March 19, 2012

    Morgan

    Most of mainstream music is African American right now. Jay Z, Beyonce, Rihanna, etc. are some of the most famous/rich artists. Because a white person is successful in music its some sort of conspiracy? Articles like this are annoying

    • Reply June 14, 2013

      Jessica Johnson

      no it’s because every time someone white sings R&B people act like it is groundbreaking just like they did in the 90’s when Christina Aguilera came out or how they treat Justin Timberlake there are black artist whose voices are ten times better than they are however skin color does play a huge part you are blind if you think otherwise Adele skin color has given her an advantage because people look at her and say wow a white girl singing soul music they did the same thing with Joss Stone it’s not about playing the race card do you realize that black female singers that are popular today are all light skin if they are not light skin they are White India white people will buy Adele’s music because they like Soul music but you won’t buy Mary J Blige music or India Arie ? Look at the group like Led Zeppelin all there hits are mostly covers of black artists songs but I bet you don’t who those artist are why aren’t they more successful it’s there song same thing with Elvis Adele is doing better than black artists with similar (if not better) vocal talents then her because she’s not confined to what black soul singers are confined to. Her songs are played on ALL radio stations, hip hop, pop, R&B etc. Singers like Marsha Ambrosius don’t have a chance in hell to receive that number of spins because their musical outlets are limited to the one or two hip hop stations in a city. Magazine covers and television shows are the same way, Marsha gets Vibe, Adele gets Seventeen, Cosmo, and Vanity Fair; it’s a numbers game.

      I love Adele but her skin color gives her an advantage of being automatically more commercial and easier to “sell” than a woman of similar stature rocking natural curls and caramel skin. That’s not playing the race card, that’s living.

    • Reply December 23, 2013

      Tamila Shultz

      Jay-Z doesn’t produce music. He produces poetry, and most of it is bad.

  • Reply March 19, 2012

    Michelle

    I pretty much agree with glamourous’s post.

    To even to assume that race has nothing to do with Adele’s success is ignorant and only tells me that you refuse to acknowledge your white privilege.

    And listing a few successful African American artists to down write off this article’s argument is like saying “i’m not racist because I have black friends.” You can miss me with that.

    And before people start bringing Michael Jackson into this to fight against this article’s argument, let me remind you that even though Michael Jackson was a mega-superstar, people still remembered he was black despite his transformation. The amount of ridicule and harassment he received reflects that. Polanski also had a child rape charge and left the country to escape being arrested. But you don’t see people giving him a hard time about that now do you?

  • Reply March 19, 2012

    UrLadyHeroin

    I think people are missing the point of the article. Adele is doing better than black artists with similar (if not better) vocal talents then her because she’s not confined to what black soul singers are confined to. Her songs are played on ALL radio stations, hip hop, pop, R&B etc. Singers like Marsha Ambrosius don’t have a chance in hell to receive that number of spins because their musical outlets are limited to the one or two hip hop stations in a city. Magazine covers and television shows are the same way, Marsha gets Vibe, Adele gets Seventeen, Cosmo, and Vanity Fair; it’s a numbers game.

    I love Adele but her skin color gives her an advantage of being automatically more commercial and easier to “sell” than a woman of similar stature rocking natural curls and caramel skin. That’s not playing the race card, that’s living.

  • Reply March 26, 2012

    White Man

    I agree and disagree. I agree, Adele would most likely not be where she is now if she was black. But lets not make hasty generalizations. Would Morgan Freeman be where he is if he was white? No. Obama? No. It comes down to opportunity. Obama had the “first black president” idea helping him. If another white girl came around singing like Adele would she get as popular? No. So to say that race plays a part is true. But to say that it only works for whites is false.
    – The Most Discriminated Demographic (aka the White Male)

    • Reply July 21, 2013

      Lacey_Johnson

      no it’s because every time someone white sings R&B people act like it is groundbreaking just like they did in the 90’s when Christina Aguilera came out or how they treat Justin Timberlake there are black artist whose voices are ten times better than they are however skin color does play a huge part you are blind if you think otherwise Adele skin color has given her an advantage because people look at her and say wow a white girl singing soul music they did the same thing with Joss Stone it’s not about playing the race card do you realize that black female singers that are popular today are all light skin if they are not light skin they are White India white people will buy Adele’s music because they like Soul music but you won’t buy Mary J Blige music or India Arie ? Look at the group like Led Zeppelin all there hits are mostly covers of black artists songs but I bet you don’t who those artist are why aren’t they more successful it’s there song same thing with Elvis Adele is doing better than black artists with similar (if not better) vocal talents then her because she’s not confined to what black soul singers are confined to. Her songs are played on ALL radio stations, hip hop, pop, R&B etc. Singers like Marsha Ambrosius don’t have a chance in hell to receive that number of spins because their musical outlets are limited to the one or two hip hop stations in a city. Magazine covers and television shows are the same way, Marsha gets Vibe, Adele gets Seventeen, Cosmo, and Vanity Fair; it’s a numbers game.

      I love Adele but her skin color gives her an advantage of being automatically more commercial and easier to “sell” than a woman of similar stature rocking natural curls and caramel skin. That’s not playing the race card, that’s living.

      And the most discriminated race is not white are you kidding me do you know how much privilege you have for simply being white the most
      discriminated are the minorities !! mainly blacks and Hispanics id you do not think so all you have to do is study is the criminal justice system which I have been doing for years and you will that being White is like gold in America I hate when white people think since it is not the 50’s or 60’s racism towards black does not exist open your eyes it is real you do not understand because you do not have to go through have you heard of WHITE PRIVELLEAGE ? no I suggest you study it

      • Reply July 21, 2013

        Lacey_Johnson

        and FYI some white girl did come singing like Adele there names are Christina Aguilera Celine Dion Joss Stone every 10 years or some white female comes along sings soul music and people think it is greatest thing ever nothing new the same thing happened with Justin Timberlake this has been going on since the 50’s starting with Elvis

      • Reply December 23, 2013

        Tamila Shultz

        You should start using periods. You have far too many run-on sentences.

        Black singers are often not as popular as white singers because many of them stay within the limited scope of traditional black rhythm and blues. While popular, I do not like Christina Aguilera. I find her music to be far too poppy. I don’t like Jill Scott, Joss Stone, India Arie, or Mary J Blige because I don’t care for that type of music. However, I do enjoy singers like Adele, Pink, and Annie Lennox because they haven’t limited themselves to just one genre. There are elements of rock in there and this is what appeals to most white fans.

        While Led Zeppelin did cover some black songs and borrow/steal parts of other songs in the beginning of their career, most of their hits were originals.

        Elvis was more successful with the black songs that he covered for 2 reasons. His versions were better and he reached a much larger audience. At that time most white people were not listening to black artists and groups. The covers done by the Beatles were generally better than the originals as well.

        Adele does have the advantage in that most people assume that her music will be more appealing to a wider range of fans than a black woman would.

        Currently the most discriminated against would be the white male. Liberals are doing everything they can to denigrate the white male on every side. If you are white and male many consider you to be evil by default.

        Most crimes are committed by poor people. Most blacks and a smaller percentage of Latinos are poor. Black culture is far more violent than white culture. Young black people end up fighting constantly to survive on the street whereas most white people live peacefully and safely in their neighborhoods. The end result is that black people commit far more crime in general and far more violent crime specifically than white people based on population totals. This is why there is a much higher percentage of black people in jail or prison.

        Racism against any group is still alive and well. I am Samoan, which is neither white nor black. As such, racists assume that I must be on their side. Black racists assume that I must hate whitey since I am a woman of color and white racists assume that I must hate blacks since all the things that annoy them about blacks must annoy me as well. So both feel free to express how they feel around me. I can say without a doubt that black people in general are far more racist than whites. Most white people have moved on from the racism of the past while black people are still stuck there. Black society today is where white society was in the 1950’s. Give it another 20-30 years and black society will have caught up with white society. As long as you hold on to your hate you will never be free of bondage.

  • Reply July 5, 2012

    Mrlinx

    What’s funny is that white people will buy Adele’s records because they like soulful singing but the majority of them could care less about previously mentioned artists like Indie Arie or Jill Scott. Someone mentioned earlier that it has been like this for a long time and gave the example of Elvis Presley (a very good example I might add). I would like to interject the example of Vanilla Ice. I’m a 70’s baby so I was a teenager when Vanilla Ice came out and I can distinctly remember white kids who professed to HATE rap rockin “Ice Ice Baby” loud as hell in their cars, headphones, radios, and tape players. Don’t lie white people because y’all know I’m right! That’s why you’re smiling as you’re reading this right now…LMAO!!

    • Reply December 23, 2013

      Tamila Shultz

      I’m not white, but I like Adele because she writes well, sings well, and blends genres. She is like a throw-back to the 80’s singer-songwriters. I do not like India Arie or Jill Scott because they’re just black RnB, which is limited. Elvis Presley covered many songs and he always made sure to give credit where credit was due. His covers were pretty much always better than the originals. This was true of the Beatles as well. I remember when Ice Ice Baby came out as well. It had a good beat because the original source (Queen/David Bowie) was good. Unlike most rap out at that time, it crossed genre’s. Personally, I think rap died in the mid 90’s. Most of the rap that came out after that that I liked was hybrids. Rap mixed with dance, rock, or metal.

  • Reply February 11, 2013

    Robin Whyonearth

    Interesting. I came to this site after a google search of “what do black people think about adele” and found another subject entirely. While I agree that if Adele were African American, she’d have a thoroughly different career, I think the article misses the point. Adele is a unique combo of great soul, great voice, and here is the kicker: working class. She is as working class to the core, and that’s what makes her special. If Adele were identical in every way, other than she had a posh accent or came from privilege, her career would be nowhere.

    What if Nina Simone were the same in every way, but was happy and cheerful, married to a great guy for 40 years? What then? What if Dinah Washington had been drop dead beautiful with great skin? Would her voice have the soul? What if Sarah Vaughn was from Spain? What if Aretha’s career had started in 2012, you think she’d sell any records today, without the video-friendly model good looks of Alica Keyes or Beyonce? I’m not so sure.

    Like my grandmother used to say, If I had wheels, I’d be a bus.

    Adele is a star. She’s the real deal. Being a star (sorry if this sounds corny but here goes) is this special alchemy of something indescribable. It’s not enough to have talent. You have to have a talent for talent. That something extra. Nobody knows what it is, but we can all see greatness when it’s in front of us.

    Judy Garland was white, Streisand is white, and either of them would be ranked well above 99% of African American singers… not because they’re white, but because they are stars. But Billie, Ella, Sarah, Dinah would also be ranked above 99% of African American singers. (The “greatest” list of all singers is largely black, though, everyone would agree.)

    But as for the great Billie Holiday, who most people, including me, rank as the best number one awesomest ever, did you ever think about how her voice wasn’t that great? I mean, can you compare her voice to Sarah Vaughn’s or Ella Fitzgerald’s? You can’t. It’s a thin and reedy, plain voice. Yet it is the greatest voice of the greatest singer who ever lived. It channels magic from the Gods. Like I said, it’s that weird something different thing, that makes a star.

    It’s rare air up at the top, and Adele’s position up there isn’t because she’s white.

    • Reply July 21, 2013

      Lacey_Johnson

      If you do think the color of your skin plays a part if your serious than you are sadly mistaken what is going on with Adele is the same thing that happened with Elvis

      He get’s all the credit for being this Rock God but he didn’t write his own music could barely play an instrument all he did was sing black music it got famous off of the that look at all the big rock big bands the beatles, led zeppelin, the rolling stones people say that they are the founders of rock but have no idea who Muddy Waters is or Led Belly the fact of the matter is when someone white sings “black music” they get more credit the color has a huge impact just your eyes why do you think the majority of successful female singers are all light skin or black when was the last time you have seen a dark skin singer exactly even Brandy takes about how she still has a hard time due to her skin being darker

      There is nothing new or ground breaking about Adele every 10 years or so a white female comes out singing soul music and people treat her like the second coming of Jesus they did the same thing with Celine Dion Christina Aguielra Joss Stone and now Adele if she was black she would just be another fat black women singing soul music why isn’t Jazmine Sullivan as famous ? or Emile Sanders there voices are just as good and can put on a good show

      • Reply December 23, 2013

        Tamila Shultz

        Few artists of the 1950’s wrote their own songs, so that doesn’t mean anything. Elvis sang music and he sang it well. He was a massive fan of black music and gave them all the respect in the world. If he covered a song he gave proper credit. Back then the labels owned the songs and they decided whom to allow to cover something. The artist or group didn’t have a say in the matter. Elvis is the King of Rock because he was extremely talented and he brought Rock n Roll to the masses, which means white people.

        People known who the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, and The Rolling Stones are because they made amazing covers of old songs and then later created amazing original songs on their own. They deserve all the respect they receive. They are not considered the founders of rock, but rather bands than came later and added to the tapestry of the rock experience. A casual fan will not care about whomever came first. They’re in the now and only care about the now. Whenever that may be. A more serious fan will have taken the time to not only understand the artist’s or groups music, but also whomever influenced them. They would know Muddy Waters and Lead Belly. However, those men are not Rock n Roll. They’re the blues. Most fans of Rock n Roll are not fans of the blues from that era.

        Most black singers limit themselves by singing just black RnB. When they do this they will almost never cross over onto other charts. Most white singers that sing RnB also sing rock and pop. Brandy is an example of this. She only sings black RnB and has little crossover appeal. Since black people make up at most 13% of the total population anything that has limited crossover appeal will fail to sell well. Celine Dion is a pop artist. Christina Aguilera is a pop artist. Joss Stone is black RnB (regardless of the fact that she’s white) and as such her appeal is limited. This is true with Jazmine Sullivan and Emile Sane as well. They’re strictly black RnB and therefore have limited crossover appeal. I think Adele has a better voice than either of them.

    • Reply July 21, 2013

      Lacey_Johnson

      hell even look at the majority of magazine you see today Vogue Cosmo who is on the cover a white female why do you the minorities created their own magazine Jet magazine for black women they have Latina Cosmo Now because mainstream is not for the minorities it is mainly for whites

  • Reply May 2, 2013

    Bobbie Wayne

    what a cow. thinking she is a beautiful bird…more like a mite infested Turkey.

    • Reply December 23, 2013

      Tamila Shultz

      Actually she is very beautiful. The fact that she’s fat is irrelevant.

  • Reply May 13, 2014

    ANON

    I disagree, the fact that there are so few white people that actually rap or sing jazz or other “black” things and becomes success full points more to to talent than to racism. Eminem is talented, Adele is talented and so is Norah Jones. Eminem is also not the face of hip-hop he is up there but I think more people would consider black artist like Tupac and Biggie and Run DMC and others to be the face of hip-hop.

  • Reply May 14, 2014

    Josiah

    Eminem for example, is not by any means the MOST talented. There are hundreds of Black rappers, both old and new, signed and unsigned, that are much more capable. So why has he, a White rapper, been crowned the “King of Hip Hop” by Rolling Stone? This is not simply about talent. White Supremacy truly is at play here. Same goes for Adele. Jasmine Sullivan has a warm, deep, golden voice to die for, and is also not stick skinny and yet, she hasn’t achieved nearly the amount of success that Adele has in our White dominated, Eurocentrist culture of the West. Face it: White Supremacy is at play. It *always* is.

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