talib-kweli

When Will Rap Artists Stand Up For Their Rights?

When Will Rap Artists Stand Up For Their Rights?

 

“Our troops need to leave Iraq/

And Rap Ni**as need to go on strike so

we could get more cash/”

—Raekwon ft. Ghostface Killah, “Cold

Outside,” Only Built 4 Cuban Linx II,

2009.

“The highest paid artist gets like 26

cents off a dollar. And they sell your sh*t for $20. I can’t use my own music

without getting your permission? I wrote it, paid a Ni**a for the beat; I paid

you for loaning me the money, I paid you back your money; now, we splitting

because you owed me the money but you own my sh*t. I don’t owe you a

motherfu**ing thing. Why [are] you holding on to my sh**? And that’s standard.

Get the f**k out of here, man.”

Those are the words of none other than

DMX—still one of the most prolific voices Hip-Hop has been blessed with. For

all his erratic impulses and character flaws, it’s always been a blessing to

wrestle with the concerns X has continually raised throughout his career. Those

comments, made in an interview

with Sounds Like Fire, a forum for

independent artists, are as profound and courageous as it gets.

DMX is ringing the alarm, but, as with

the epigraph to this editorial, how many peers are likely to listen up and take

appropriate action anytime soon?

While the dominant Hip-Hop media plays

into the hands of major label executives who hope to keep the fan-base

everlastingly fixated on the most supercilious of spats, rappers are still

being swindled, left and right, for all their worth. In this new age, where CD

sales are plummeting faster than failed parachutes, the labels have found news

ways to make up for lost ground, essentially ensuring that even if music

downloading takes over, as it’s poised to, as the wave of the future, they can

still make as much money—if not more—from artists as they once did.

They searched far and wide for

mechanisms to bring into fruition this desire, and they found it: The

360 deal.

I know of no other contractual clause

more draconian than the 360 deal. It is the Patriot

Act of the recording industry. It effectively robs the artist of any and

every opportunity to make money independently—without the major labels’ claws

deep into his/her pockets. What it says, with no attempt at equivocation, is, You work for us. Your blood, sweat, and tears are ours. We own you. Now, pay us!

For

two pertinent commentaries, see:

Interview:

Did the Marketing Department Kill Hip-Hop?  

The

Death Of Record Labels: Artists: Take Charge!

The giant, but crawling, labels are not

only having a field day with these deals; they’re increasingly becoming

mandatory. The excuse given is that since fans no more purchase music or buy

records, the only way a label can reasonable make profit is to tax every venture an artist is involved

in.

Of course this is convenient amnesia at

work. As I’ve written before, the same suits seemingly at a loss for words over

the sharp decline in record sales know just why this is so, but would rather

feign ignorance. The same free market fundamentalist sensibility that humbled

the national economy to its knees is no different than the deregulated,

mass-reproduced, oversight-devoid music supply that reduced the insatiable

demand fans once had for creative and meticulous music production. 

You see, these label executives share

the same spirit with European pimps who strike deals with certain relatives of

indigent young women in African, or Asian, or Latin American countries, then

transport—smuggle—them abroad, only to confisticate their passports upon arrival,

lock them up, hold them hostage, and inform them of the enormous cost involved

in the traveling expenditures, and just how they’re expected to make up for

it—from then onward. The point: An ATM machine is only as functional as the amount it contains.

Once upon a time, artists understood

that the best a label could do is solicit a few radio interviews and magazine

front covers. So, all they wanted, and asked for, was a foot in the door, and

the rest would be history. They would

work hard in building key, strategic relationships, respectfully promoting

their brand, and engaging in extracurricular

ventures that guaranteed a stable, and to an extent excessive, lifestyle. Movie

roles, TV advertisements, endorsement deals, and merchandise sales were but a

few of the avenues explored. For a while, these artists managed to make a

considerable amount of money, more so because, as Redman

recently confessed, “Hip-Hop is not paying all the bills.” 

Hip-Hop alone has never been able to pay

all the bills. Artists learned quick to forge business partnerships with

corporate America and, in turn, diversified their brands. But the labels just

couldn’t see the children of Israel cross over the red sea into freedom. And

thus arose the need for the 360.

Cedric Muhammad, economic guru and former

General Manager of the Wu-Tang Clan, recently put

in explicit terms the logic behind the 360 in an age of economic uncertainty.

The appeal of a 360 to rap artists is even stronger, he noted, because most

“will do almost anything to avoid heavy-duty critical thinking and the nuts and

bolts of business activity because it saps their energy and free spirit.”

Of course it boggles the mind that the

same macho-minded artists, quick to brag out loud about past violent exploits,

wouldn’t raise so much as a whimper when jerked by far less threatening

executives.

Chuck Creekmur, entrepreneur

extraordinaire and co-CEO of AllHipHop.com, was prophetic two years ago when he warned developing

artists not to “wait around for a major label to hook you up, because that

system is about to be dead in the next 5 [years].” The brand new era bubbling,

he explained, would eliminate outright the need for “a label to put your music

to the world.” 

I’ve said it before and it begs

repeating: There is absolutely nothing an artist, at this stage, requires from

a major record label which cannot be done with a small, strong, focused,

professional team. With a resourceful publicist, a diligent manager, a new

media expert, and God on your side,

any artist with requisite talent can still make money off Rap. If you truly

believe major labels are still in the business of development, marketing, and

promotion there’s a bridge in Brooklyn I’ll be happy to make you an offer in six

figures for.

If artists would be courageous enough to

admit it, they would find themselves in lockstep with Talib Kweli who

complained a couple of years ago that his then-label, Geffen, was “totally

inept. They do no marketing, no development. They don’t do no work. For them, I

was like a tax write-off.”

Rap artists, managers, pioneers, attorneys,

elders, critics, and fans must come together to decide what kind of future

Hip-Hop entrepreneurship is to morph into. The SellaBand

concept is admirable but, in my view, myopic—as it fails to establish any real, non-market based, organic

relationship between fan and artist.

Most importantly, rappers would have to

come to terms with their future and

choose if they prefer to remain captives or captains of their destiny.

I write this editorial under the heavy

influence of narcotics (post-surgery medication), so kindly forgive any grogginess; but

this is one issue that cannot be left unaddressed.

Tolu Olorunda is a social commentator

and a columnist for BlackCommentator.com.

He can be reached at: Tolu.Olorunda@gmail.com.

blog comments powered by Disqus