Moby’s Play as “audio blackface”

Moby - Play

A compelling article discusses the cultural appropration of black voices in Moby’s seminal album.

Moby’s in the news again for being a douche (again). He’s written a new memoir and one of his claims – that Natalie Portman came onto him in his dressing room – was quickly refuted by the actress.

But aside from Moby being a creep, he also made a lot of money and fame from the appropriation of black voices. Blogger Taliesin wrote a brilliant piece on the roles race and sampling played on Moby’s album, Play, back in 2008.

Play was released in 1999 and sold 10m copies. Like many albums of its time, it was packed with a menagerie of (cleared) samples from gospel music and other black American genres from the early-to-mid 20th century. And that’s where the problem lied for Taliesin.

Play appeared as a logical focal point for exploration of sampling and cultural appropriation because it is a work of art authored by a white man that heavily samples the work of black men and women.

Tally goes on to detail the influence of Alan Lomax, an American ethnomusicologist known for his field recordings of folk music from that same era. He advocated “democracy for all local and ethnic cultures and their right to be represented equally in the media and the schools” and created the Association for Cultural Equity. But whether Moby’s intentions were the same was up for debate.

“[…] it’s questionable whether Moby really honors
the tenants of cultural equity (saving deep explorations of Lomax’s project for a later date) in his presentation of the disembodied black voices on/in Play.”

It’s a brilliant essay and one I never really thought about but everything makes sense. And when you take this ideology further, you start to see it in other albums of its ilk.

Read Audio Black Face on the Dutty Artz blog.

About Luke Alex Davis

Luke Davis is a music producer and editor of music blog Sampleface. In his spare time, he enjoys watching tennis and football and reading.

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