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,
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
DMXstill one of the most prolific voices Hip-Hop has been blessed with. For
all his erratic impulses and character flaws, its 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 its poised to, as the wave of the future, they can
still make as much moneyif not morefrom artists as they once did.
They searched far and wide for
mechanisms to bring into fruition this desire, and they found it: The
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 independentlywithout 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!
two pertinent commentaries, see:
The giant, but crawling, labels are not
only having a field day with these deals; theyre 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
Of course this is convenient amnesia at
work. As Ive 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
transportsmugglethem 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 theyre expected to make up for
itfrom 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
couldnt 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,
wouldnt raise so much as a whimper when jerked by far less threatening
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.
Ive 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 theres a bridge in Brooklyn Ill be happy to make you an offer in six
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, myopicas 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.