You may think this is a strange title for an article at a website devoted to the culture and industry of music. But it has everything to do with the future of Hip-Hop.
Let me explain.
One day, in 1998, within 6 months of my no longer serving as a GM of Wu Tang Management, I visited the offices of both a music industry executive and an entertainment lawyer with whom we had done business.
I was coming to their respective offices after having met with the Ambassador of Indonesia to the United States, who was in New York City that day. I was informally offering advice to the country which was in the midst of a monetary crisis its currency, the rupiah was losing its value in relation to the U.S. dollar, Japanese yen, and the currencies of Europe. I was in the city having a series of meetings with businesspersons, economists and political leaders who understood that the fall of the currency was part of a larger story – that there was an effort underway to destabilize the largest Muslim country in the world. Not surprisingly, Paul Wolfowitz, an architect of the Iraq war, who had served as the US Ambassador to Indonesia, was an active player working against the Indonesian government for years. It is a story for another day.
That day, when my industry friends saw me – both the lawyer and the executive immediately commented on two things about me my reading of the Wall Street Journal and my wearing of a business suit. They were impressed and slightly amused at the same time.
It was an interesting reaction that caused me to realize that for over a two year period these individuals although they respected me, and knew other things about me had never really seen me outside of the light of the always business casual side of the entertainment industry.
That day was an important symbol in the process of my moving on from the music industry.
I write this because over the last several years I have seen or heard about many past friends, acquaintances, and associates either being fired or laid off from jobs in the music business, or forced to have to make life altering career choices as the industry goes through massive restructuring. I have seen individuals artists, models, producers, executives – absolutely crushed by the experience, struggling for months and years to find balance in their lives, a sense of self, and a career that can fill the financial and emotional void, work in the music business once provided.
I can relate, sympathize, and empathize because I have been through it myself.
When the second Wu-Tang Clan album, Wu-Tang Forever went through its sales cycle in the Fall of 1997, I was faced with the option of either working out separate management deals with individual Clan members or moving on. I was faced with this reality quicker than I ever expected and during a period where the group was in a state of disarray. There was no major in-fighting going on, but the love had gone a little cold, Ill say, between artists, management, and producers, and I think we were all burnt out and reeling from a non-stop 4-year run at the top that was finally coming to an end.
A few things took place which showed me the direction was not going to change and I thought that the time was ripe for me to move into the field of economics and politics, as I had long intended.
I had no idea how difficult and rewarding this decision would be, nor the stages I would go through as a result of it. Perhaps they provide an instructive example for individuals who today are suddenly going through the the loss of the often intoxicating experience of music industry employment, status and lifestyle.
The Emotional Shock. I had no idea how much my personal and professional identity had become associated and wrapped up with the Wu-Tang brand and identity. It was as if overnight I was learning that people in my personal and professional life were really not relating to me, the person, but rather to my association with the group. As I mention briefly in my bio video (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j2E5YfuSPik) the phone calls werent returned as quickly, meetings did not happen as fast, and people who I thought personally cared for me, could not be found. The experience was painful, depressing, and disorienting. For a period of time I lost confidence in myself and a sense of self, though not completely. I could not even muster the strength to listen to the radio. I learned then who my real friends were, and to this day, these individuals are still my real friends. They are the people in my life who were attracted to and loved me for who I am, not who I happened to roll with.
One of the reasons I believe my book, The Entrepreneurial Secret is being received so well is because much of it grows out of insights that I gained when I was at a very low point. In fact, I devote an entire volume to the suffering that comes from the personal struggle of starting all over again, or being creative when you are at an emotional and financial low. I argue that it is when you are in that state of mind, if you can give meaning and find a purpose in the suffering and loss, that you can convert that energy into an even greater gain, and more powerful experiences. The individuals who can turn the feeling of emptiness, meaninglessness; the tragic and negative experiences of their lives into opportunities to develop inner strength, improve character and focus on a future goal will transform their personal lows into great achievements. It all starts with a change of attitude toward the painful experience. Thankfully I realized at some point that the end of my music career was the beginning of a new phase of my life. Although a lot of money can be made in the business, I find that most people are attracted to it or even seduced by the non-monetary forms of psychic income it can provide a person in the form of instant popularity, social status, and fame. Not realizing that all of these are fleeting and given or loaned to you by a professional network and system that you cant control, many are shocked when the fringe benefits suddenly disappear. Accepting this for what it is can help a person move on. You are not the clothes you wear, house you own, car you drive, or celebrities you know.
The Mental Rebuilding Period. One of the things that allowed me to transition from the rise and fall of my Wu Tang experience on to what I believe are even greater achievements and associations in my life was that I had a core that could not be seduced by the psychic income of the music industry. I had a spiritual foundation that gave me a narrative or storyline to my life that a career in the music industry could only be a part of, and not the whole. In other words my industry experience was not the center of my universe, it was only a planet of my life experience that orbited around the center of my universe. Very near the center of my universe were four elements that were greater than any single particular professional experience: a Teacher, a Teaching, my acceptance of a Labor Course and a Broader Life Experience. My Teacher is the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan and the Teaching is the Teachings of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad. I know that my life was given to me by a Creative Force and that it has been designed and planned with me having the free will to qualify myself for positions that await me and choose, adapt to, innovate, accept and reject professional opportunities along the way to an ultimate destination, back to that Creative Essence. And I have lived a range of ups and downs, travels, relationships, and been in circumstances which give me a perspective in which I could place the music industry experience and attempt to assign its place and weight in my life.
When I lost my stature in the music industry I did not lose my lifes compass or direction. In fact the experience forced me to re-connect to that compass and I began to study my Teacher and Teachings more (particularly the Ministers Study Guides, Self Improvement: The Basis For Community Development), listen to my inner voice (rather than looking at a social mirror), respect that I had already enjoyed some incredible experiences which made me special; and recognize patterns in my life and respect the cyclical nature of the personal struggle for peace, security and fulfillment that we all go through. With perspective, I began to accept that my life with the Wu was a great experience but possibly only a blip in the radar of my lifes path. Accepting that the honor of serving in the management team of the Clan would never mean the same thing to me (teaching me lifes lessons about Brotherhood and Business) that it meant to others (who were fascinated by celebrity) was an important part of my transition.
In my opinion one of the best examples of navigating career-changing experiences like this is described in the book, Objective Hate, by Troi Star Torian – Star of Star and Buc Wild (http://www.shovio.com/en/professionals/star/). In it he writes of part of the transition process he went through years ago, after his career at Virgin Records ended:
Virgin was history and I realized that this point in my life was my true test of durability.
Once again there was no going backwards and there was no mommy and daddys house to crash at until things panned out. My name was now mud in the industry, and getting a return phone call about another job at a record label was not happening. This experience strengthened my sense of individualism even more but in the meantime my rent at Battery Park was piling up and it became clear that there was no way I could stay there. I called cats about jobs nothing. I called cats to borrow money nothing. Rather than break down and get a slave job, I was determined to get back in the f****g rat race. I called my aunt Susan, who used to live in Queens but had moved to Freeport, Long Island. I told her I fad caught a hard right to the head and I needed a place to stay. She was always there for me, so I moved out to Freeport.
My aunt had two young daughters in the house. While there I slowed everything down and decided to build a clubhouse in the backyard for my two nieces. It was another mental rebuilding period for me. I had saved about $2000 from my time at Virgin, but I went ahead and spent half of that buying wood for the clubhouse. I actually talked my nieces into the clubhouse idea. Mentally, I needed to do it. I spent 50 days building an oversized dollhouse in the bleeding cold. My aunts new husband, Danny, was a contractor, and he had all the tools I needed to build this monster. On several occasions Danny came out to the backyard and said, Youre f*****g crazy! Its below freezing out here. But every morning I got up and worked. It was my way of getting back to basics. No surrender; no retreat.
It was and is Stars attitude toward life, suffering, and facing adversity which continues to make him exceptional to me. How many of us know how to get back to basics, after a life of industry experiences when people often relate to you as groupies, fans, and lose all sense of rationality?
Earlier I mentioned elements that were very near the center of my universe a Teacher, a Teaching, A Labor Course, and a Life Experience I used the descriptive very nearself, I can master the same in my immediate environment, in the universe and in effect become a God. because ultimately I must view these elements as the bridge or the means by which my life is perfectly connected with the Creator of it. The purpose of these elements is to grow me into my own divinity, allowing me to live my life in accord with the laws of human nature and universal order. To the degree that I am able to master or govern the laws, forces, and powers of my
I realized that would not happen until I understood the place of adversity, suffering, and difficulty in nature and all forms of creativity and growth and develop an attitude of receptivity toward it. Individuals unable to find the secret of the purpose of pain in life will not mature beyond a certain level, and never be able to overcome certain setbacks.
Broader Professional Development. Accepting that the music industry was not the height of my personal life or spiritual development, and after studying myself and rebuilding my mind, I became stronger in the view that my professional background in the music business could serve me in other fields. I learned how to use the superficial reaction that people have to my music background to help me in my career as a journalist, economist and political consultant. I did not resent the fact that people were enamored or fascinated by my association with Wu Tang, but I would not allow it to define me either. The honor of serving as GM for the greatest rap group in the world (and in some ways Hip-Hop history) was part of my story, and I decided I would share it honestly for the benefit of myself and others, always keeping in mind and respecting the legacy of Wu-Tang Clan. In fact, my work, in these other fields continues and extends that great legacy and brand in new ways.
Yet, I am my own man and speak in my own name.
It takes time to balance these kinds of dynamics and when I see individuals who continue to name-drop and define their lives by their music industry ties and experiences I know that they are struggling with this and have yet to find a comfortable place with who they are as an individual, and the other areas of life where they can have an impact. Again, when you have been conditioned to operate in a social mirror like the music industry, where people judge by appearances, and when external forces determine who is hot or not, it can be very difficult to learn how to make an impact based upon your own merit and be comfortable with yourself.
However, in some ways, when I crossed over into the field of politics and economics, the music industry associations were a negative in the sense that they often would distract people and because of stereotypes people hold of the music industry. In many ways these prejudices have a kernel of truth. The music business can be a very undisciplined work environment, where time is not respected and lateness is widely accepted. It also has a culture where self-destructive habits and lifestyle choices are not just tolerated but celebrated. And it also has a business tradition of stealing and cut-throat practices which can often make individuals paranoid (when combined with the social mirror) and unable to form lasting relationships based upon trust. This all contributes to people in the music industry conducting transactions and not partnerships. I have experienced this on numerous occasions, encountering individuals who have been so burned by past industry experiences that they do things out of caution that are against the spirit of collaboration. You simply cannot work very long with people who are like this.
Therefore some people find it hard to believe that someone such as myself, coming out of that culture and industry would be able to accomplish what I have professionally in fields as challenging as international affairs, campaign strategy, and macro economics.
They dont understand how the insights, lessons, and tactics of the music industry (and its peculiar culture) prepared me for a broader professional development and perhaps, allow me to see things in other fields that those who have gone to school for many more years than I, and been professionally trained at very prestigious institutions are not able to recognize.
But I humbled and disciplined myself, obtained mentors, and applied my mind, heart, and soul to learning new things in new fields that would allow me to achieve things in other areas of life. I developed a form of credibility in new areas that stand on their own merit. And I have only begun to scratch the surface of my potential.
What I find in many individuals who have been in the music industry and are trying to move on to other fields of endeavor is that they have been infected by the culture of vanity, superficiality, and even arrogance (which is not the same as justified confidence) which they have been led to believe made them successful in that arena. This misconception and confusion is what prevents them from practicing valuable skills like subordination (the ability to lift others up by downplaying yourself) and learning to follow the etiquette and rules of a new culture (in which I once got a humorous lesson from Method Man and Raekwon) which I write about in Volume II of my book.
So, now I close with why I would write about moving on from the music industry at such an influential music-oriented website as AllHipHop.com. It is partly because the music industry has many of us have known it is over, or dying. And it will only be two kinds of persons, currently in it, who will survive the transition we are undergoing those who are able to accept change and adapt their personalities and minds to new concepts and speak new languages, and those persons who are able to mature and accept that the industry experience has qualified them for greater responsibility and leadership, inside and outside of the industry.
I am now returning to the industry because I want to change and improve it, not because I want popularity and not because I want to hang out with celebrities or appear in somebodys video. The only place or status I want is that which is rightfully mine, which I discover through the knowledge of Self and earn through the application of wisdom, and which cannot be taken from me.
If there is a contribution that I hope to make to the industry and culture, it is to help bring more reality and sobriety to it. Because Im not moved as much by psychic income and because I dont worship personalities or get caught up in trying to be down with anybody just for the sake of it, I can speak more truthfully and steer away from certain pitfalls.
The music industry is potentially influential but really not as important as many of us think in the grand scheme of things, even in terms of the world of business (just look at how relatively small the industry has historically been in terms of other sectors of the economy).
I hope to relieve many of us (especially impressionable young people at a certain age) of the illusion that we in the culture and industry own something that really has only been loaned to us by others, who are outside of it and could care less about rap music. On this latter point, Im reminded of an interview the Honorable Elijah Muhammad gave noted journalist Irv Kupcinet where he was asked why he did not admire or look up to Negroes with fame and fortune, as Mr. Kupcinet put it. To this the Honorable Elijah Muhammad cracked a smile and said, But the fame and fortune is not theirs. And this is one of the reasons why the music industry and Hip-Hop culture is not as powerful as it could be it accepts definitions of fame and fortune that come from outside of itself (even the idea or concept of what is street in Hip-Hop is being determined by industry personalities and not the public.)
Anyone who cannot see what the Honorable Elijah Muhammad is saying about fame and fortune should simply think through how the most popular of celebrities can be lose their appeal by scandal and the public display of their imperfections, lifestyle choices or personal habits. Hip-Hop has not really experienced this publicly with its biggest stars yet, but things certainly do go on behind-the-scenes. If you have ever wondered why certain artists do not take political stands or arent more revolutionary with their artwork, part of the reason is because aspects of their personal lives which their audience does not know, are known to some very wickedly wise persons who have even gone so far as to place them under surveillance. Many artists have been tricked and led into doing some very freaky things that would cost them their fame and fortune, if revealed. This is real (The role that intelligence agencies and powerful interest groups have played in manipulating the personal lives of music industry figures should be investigated by Hip-Hop scholars and journalists more than it has been).
In some cases the rumors about certain celebrities are outright lies or only exaggerations deliberately spread to undermine not only their music industry standing, but really, their reach and influence in the world of politics, economics, religion and popular culture. The best presentation I have ever seen on how this process works is Minister Farrakhans talk on Michael Jackson, (http://www.finalcall.com/artman/publish/Minister_Louis_Farrakhan_9/Farrakhan_on__Crucifixion_of_Michael_Jackson_Black_Leaders.shtml). In it he says, Do you notice how every one that got crucified got first crucified in the Media? The Media is used to de-magnetize the person who has attracted large crowds. So, to de-magnetize you means to make you, now, unattractive to the people that once were attracted to you.
Think seriously about what the Minister is describing in terms of your favorite rap star, mogul, and celebrity, and their sudden rise and fall. Think seriously about it in terms of your own life and what happens when you suddenly become unpopular, on the basis of lies, slander, innuendo, and controversy. Does any of this really happen outside of the actions of other people and the Law of Cause and Effect? Listen carefully to Brand Nubians classic, The Meaning of The 5%: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YLAmKnCfAnw and how the 10% are able to turn the 85% against the 5%.
How do you handle the loss of fame and fortune, and regain your magnetic attraction, inside of the industry and outside of it?
Every single one of my Hip-Hoppreneur columns at AllHipHop.com is dedicated to evolving and maturing those of us in this culture and industry, whether artists, professionals or executives. From one angle I describe it in a piece I wrote at BlackElectorate.com in 2007 called, From Fan, Consumer And Generation To Power Broker, Leader, And Community: The Age Of The Hip-Hoppreneur. (http://www.blackelectorate.com/articles.asp?ID=2007). From another perspective Jay-Z put it quite well, as reported in an excellent article in the Canadian news outlet CBC entitled, Jay-Z Seeks Maturity In Hip Hop Genre. (http://www.cbc.ca/arts/music/story/2009/11/02/jay-z-invu.html) In it he says:
The challenge with rap music is, you know, the place where its white hot is with 16- and 15-year-olds. You have a lot of people who are 30-something, 30-plus, still recording music like they were 15 because thats where the most urgent buyer is Theres been this reluctance to mature in hip hop and when you do that, you leave the audience very narrow. My whole thing is to expand the audience and the genre of music in any way, because music is music If Im 35 years old and Im talking like Im 15 the kids at 15, they change slang every week. They know thats not being authentic. I live in Teaneck, New Jersey, somewhere, Im not on the streets I felt like that was my calling and that was my direction in life, to show artists in a different light, that we could ascend to executive positions of record companies .In the beginning, it was at its purest form because everyone was struggling. All great music and all great art, I believe, comes from pain. As hip hop started to get successful, and really successful you had these guys coming from these neighbourhoods that were now millionaires its tough to draw back to that place [of creativity] . Now people are having those types of feelings: Youre sounding lazy, youre sounding formulaic, youre sounding like the same subject matter. So what are you going to do? Now were facing that challenge to make great music like every other genre.
Jay-Zs points about the relationship between pain and creativity (all great music and all great art, I believe, comes from pain) and moving beyond the most urgent buyer and making great music like every other genre, are intertwined and revolutionary and represent a form of consciousness that even the most political artists seem to lack. I touch on some of the science of this in three very important columns, The 17 Year Old: The God Of Rap (http://allhiphop.com/stories/editorial/archive/2010/03/24/22153820.aspx); The New Synth Pop: Ke$ha, Young Money and Justin Bieber Got This! (http://allhiphop.com/stories/editorial/archive/2010/04/14/22169549.aspx) and Dont Dumb Down: Just Speak The Language Of The People (http://allhiphop.com/stories/editorial/archive/2010/04/27/22188647.aspx).
One day, Id like to do a column just on the relationship between these three points Jay-Z makes and what they say about the nature of the human being and the essence of the creative process which marks the universe, and even why pain and pleasure (and even deeper chaos and order) are twin companions. All of this relates to why – in this worlds life – comfort and ease can be the enemy of progress. Yup, H.O.V. dug deep on this one.
In my mind those individuals who sincerely love the culture but have lost their place in the music industry and are suffering from loss and shock are in the best position to respond to what Jay-Z and myself are hitting on from different angles. They are going through something I describe in my book called search behavior. It is the intense critical and creative thinking process that people go through when they experience loss in the present or anticipate it coming in the future. It is an act of self preservation, which is the first law of nature.
But to all of those struggling to survive and remain relevant in an industry and genre that is in transition or which has left them behind I say – you cant be part of change until you are willing to change yourself.
And sometimes you really cant have something until you are willing to walk away from it, and return to it, as a different person.
Yes, there is more to life than the industry, and there is more that this industry can contribute to life – so much more than we have ever asked or demanded of it.
The sooner we realize it, the better off well all be.
Cedric Muhammad is a business consultant, political strategist, and monetary economist. He is a former GM of Wu-Tang Management and currently a Member of the African Unions First Congress of African Economist. Hes the Founder of the economic information service Africa PreBrief (http://africaprebrief.com/) and author of The Entrepreneurial Secret (http://theEsecret.com/). Cedric can be contacted via e-mail at: cedric(at)cmcap.com