The BBC has been accused of producing “the saddest list in music history” after its black and urban music radio station 1Xtra produced a “power list” in which three out of the top four acts are white.
Topping the 1XtraPowerList – promoted by the BBC as naming the “most important UK artists in the black and urban music scene” – was Ed Sheeran, the white son of an art lecturer, who grew up in rural Framlingham, Suffolk, and whose music has combined elements of folk with hip-hop and grime.
The highest-placed black artist was rapper Tinie Tempah, who came third – behind second-placed Disclosure, the white brothers Guy and Howard Lawrence, and just ahead of Sam Smith, the white son of a former City banker.
The list, offered by a radio station describing itself as “the UK’s leading black music station”, was condemned by the Grime artist Wiley, who was placed 16th out of 20. Calling it “the saddest list in music history”, Wiley, 35, whose hits include “Heatwave” and “Wearing My Rolex”, tweeted: “Not taking anything away from Ed. He is sick. But black artists in England, we are getting bumped… We influence a man and all of a sudden it turns he has influenced us.”
He added: “England music industry is backwards.”
Wiley’s criticism follows claims that 1Xtra and other radio stations created to showcase black music were instead switching to playing mainstream hits. Kele Okereke, the frontman of the indie band Bloc Party, has criticised 1Xtra for axing the dancehall and RnB DJs Robbo Ranks and CJ Beatz because of “budget cuts”, while keeping more club-oriented presenters. In an article for the Vice website, he said: “The UK has an issue with racism that we are unwilling to address – it is reflected in negative attitudes towards black British music, but also towards black British culture in general.”
Black artists who did make the top 10 of the power list included Fuse ODG and Emeli Sande, picked by a panel of “industry experts” sifting through suggestions made by the station’s listeners.
A BBC spokesman said: “Artists were considered on variables such as sales statistics, quality of music and impact across the wider industry – it is not about the colour of someone’s skin.”
Austin Daboh, music manager at 1Xtra, insisted: “We are a station that cares very deeply about black music. From Stylo G to Fekky these are all acts that were played, supported and guided by 1Xtra, often before anyone else cared.”
He added: “There is definitely a wider debate to be had around the mainstream support for black music. Legitimate concerns have been raised around the pressure some artists feel to compete commercially.”
Colour blind? 1xtra’s powerlist
1. Ed Sheeran
3. Tinie Tempah
4. Sam Smith
6. Emeli Sande
7. Naughty Boy
8. Katy B
9. Krept & Konan
10. Fuse ODG
11. Boy Better Know
12. Rita Ora
13. Lethal Bizzle
14. DJ Fresh
15. Jessie J
18. Laura Mvula
19. Wretch 32
20. Dizzee Rascal