Rap Coalition

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Thursday, April 03, 2008

Who Controls the Music Biz?
March 21, 2008
By Benjamin Tucker

If someone were to ask you the question of who controls hip hop and the music industry, your answer would probably be, “Who cares!” Even if you don’t think about this question very much, at the back of your mind you do have latent opinions about who you think really controls hip hop that influence your thoughts about it. Part of the reason is that you associate hip hop with black media. Your opinion of who controls black media can heavily influence how you feel about the state of hip hop.

Say you’re the type of person who hates corporate influence on black media products and you read an article on the Internet about how 50 Cent pocketed $100 million from the sale of stock in Glaceau mineral water last year. There are an awful lot of 50 Cent fans out there whose opinions of him changed after reading this because they have a beef with market capitalism. “50 Cent is just a lackey of the System,” they say. Some of these people who still buy CDs would even be inclined to stop buying 50 Cent CDs and products because they believe he’s “sold out” to the greenback. “How dare he!” they’ll say. So the question of who controls hip hop is actually a quite profound and important one because it goes right to the heart of how people understand who has power and influence in this society.

The website allhiphop.com a while back did a short video story on the subject of who controls hip hop. The 4 choices were radio, the people, labels and artists. The first group of people interviewed were individuals being asked questions on the street. Just regular people with opinions about what they liked and believed about hip hop. “We control hip hop…the streets,” shouted one young man in a militant tone. Then they started interviewing people in the music industry. People like Def Jam VP for A&R Lenny Santiago, Ebo Darden at Hot 97 and Ice T. According to Ice T, “Radio rules hip hop…people get into the recording business to put food on the table. At that point you’re going to have to follow the radio’s lead…that’s what the record labels want you to do so radio has the most power.”


Lenny Santiago of Def Jam
Yung Joc believes that the people have all the power. “You know what you want…you don’t care who delivers it.” Nobody should be criticized for believing that both of these men’s remarks about who controls hip hop are equally valid, as well as equally boring. They’re also very subjective remarks because they’re based on what each man has seen, heard, felt and experienced in the industry. Their opinions are no more valid than any guy plucked off the street at random. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.

The bottom line is that it really doesn’t matter whether Lenny Santiago of Def Jam thinks that the people control hip hop or whether Joe Schmo feels that the Jewish owned labels have all the power. Both of them would provide a valid explanation for why his point of view is correct. For example, the labels do have tremendous marketing leverage to influence what people feel about an artist. Nobody is going to buy the music of an unknown artist with no radio or magazine and TV exposure.

But then again, when we consider how pitifully short the career of the average music artist is, we can’t place too much faith on the labels' ability to influence people. Like in politics, no amount of money is going to make people like someone who isn’t that good. You can put lipstick on a pig but it won’t conceal the fact that it’s still a pig. So there is a huge grey area when we talk about these things.

No single person or organization can say with certainty who controls hip hop because hip hop, like any other commercial product, is controlled by market forces. The market is like those little floaters in your eye. The more you try to look at them, the harder they are to see. You can’t understand who controls something as big as hip hop by focusing on one or two or three things. All of them and none of them control hip hop. You could say that the labels are controlled by the people who know what they want to hear. But the people are influenced by the images and symbols created by the labels, who have influence over what gets played on the radio. But radio is also influenced by people who influence the advertisers who influence radio who in turn influence what the labels can put on air for the people. The artists?...well, they just do what everyone tells them to.

It’s OK for people to have opinions about what ails hip hop. What’s not OK is the kind of finger pointing and scapegoating that goes on by people uninformed about how things work out here in the real world. Some people blame the South for destroying hip hop. “The South,” of course, is just reacting to the demands of the market. Or how about Bill O’Reilly, who constantly blames 50 Cent for being so vile and indiscriminate with his lyrics. O’Reilly should have a far better understanding of why it would make no sense at all for 50 Cent to stop doing what he does best when vile lyrics is what the market rewards him for. At the end of the day it really doesn’t matter what O’Reilly or any one person thinks about who controls hip hop because hip hop is here to stay and the market will see to that…for the foreseeable future, at least.

1 Comments:

Blogger BIG PAT DA BOSSMANN said...

Man, let me tell you who controls hip-hop is these kids, these knuckleheads! They control damn near every aspect of hip-hop from food, fashion, and entertainment e.t.c. They definitely control radio play and record sales that's why the rap game is so fucked up!

10:19 AM  

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