Earlier this month, a prominent DJ blasted MTV for being racist against black artists in the 1980s. Now, an executive who co-founded the channel is disputing those claims.
We’ve heard it a million times before: MTV in the 1980s was racist against black artists. They rarely aired black musicians, viewing them as bad for business. In fact, it wasn’t until Michael Jackson smashed the color barrier that things really started to change.
There’s ample evidence to back those claims: the programming itself. Quite simply, it rarely included black artists in the early 1980s. Whether that was based on active discrimination is subject to debate, however.
Either way, the festering wound returned earlier this month, thanks to hard-hitting accusations from Grandmixer DXT. Grandmixer is an important DJ in early hip-hop, and was the guy scratching on Herbie Hancock’s groundbreaking release, ‘Rock It’. He was also featured in other seminal productions of the era, including the rap film, Wild Style.
+ July 12th: Did MTV Refuse to Air Black Musicians in the 80s?
Despite putting ‘Rock It’ into rotation, DXT alleges that MTV refused to prominently feature Hancock because he was black. Instead, they relegated him to a TV within the video itself, largely featuring just his black hands on the piano (see above). Here’s what DXT told the Murder Master Music Show:
“The truth is MTV at the time didn’t play black people. In 1983, they did not play black people. Rick James had to sue them. Let’s think about that for a minute and the insanity and how it affects progress. You didn’t see me and the most you seen Herbie was on a little screen that you could barely see and that happened because of racism.”
Now, an executive from MTV in the 1980s is responding.
Here’s what MTV co-founder Les Garland wrote Digital Music News in response (we didn’t alter any of the text):
“To whom it concerns:
I am responding to the piece that appeared in your July 12th editon written by Daniel Adrian Sanchez. “Did MTV refuse to air black musicians in the 80’s?” The answer to this rhetorical headline is “NO, MTV did NOT refuse to air black musicicans”. That’s a serious and non-factual accusation that’s been refuted for decades. Simple fact-checking would reveal that Herbie Hancock’s “Rockit” was a huge award winning song AND music video recognized with five MTVvideo music awards along with a Grammy. Another thing, my friend Rick James did NOT sue MTV. Lastly, Viacom had NOTHING to do with MTV in 1983. Using today’s jargon, Mr. Sanchez, I’d have say your article is ‘fake news’. I’m sorry Mr. Grandmaster DXT, your allegations are NOT accurate or truthful.
Les Garland (MTV Co-Founder / Senior Executive)”
At the end of the email, Garland attached an old picture of him with Rick James. The picture (from 1984) features Garland in the middle and executive John Sykes on the right.