Cause they make us hate ourself and love they wealth/That’s why shorties holler, “Where the ballers at?”/Drug dealer buy Jordan, crackhead buy crack/And the white man get paid off of all of that…
– Kanye West, “All Falls Down”
The last article I wrote, I put you up on game of why I write for I Am the Industry – a site that champions the indie artist.
To recap: Record labels are owned by people who want to make money. They are businessmen and women who don’t have to care about music. They care about what is going to sell. So, when someone comes along who has the potential to accomplish that, that person gets signed. It doesn’t matter if that person has a heart for music, has a desire to create a quality product, or has the potential to create for a long time. Labels want an instant hit to make money quickly. The untalented can make money with their looks, their personalities, and their willingness to be puppets. Thus began the emergence of all these crappy rappers who are calling themselves hip-hop artists because they look “urban” and can kinda rhyme.
So I guess if we’re talking about artists as products, the ones who sell the most are the “best” artists. And that’s why sucky people are looked at as successes. And that’s also why I would prefer to support indie artists over mainstream artists all day, if they’re more talented.
To go a little deeper into the curious case of hip hop music, a genre that has suffered the most egregiously from judgment and stereotyping, I’m going to suggest something that – if you’re a person of color or a woke white person – you’ve probably thought about then quickly dismissed in the most “Get Out” of fashions:
Mainstream record labels, often run/funded by rich, white men. Such is the state of many entertainment companies, though. In journalism school, we call these people “gatekeepers.” They decide what music gets out and to what extent their product – in this case, artists – are promoted and presented to audiences. That being said, riddle me this: Given our nation’s purported “disdain” for hip hop music, music that is too risqué (a la “Darling Nikki), and imagery that is “sexually obscene” or otherwise “offensive,” who keeps letting the pussy out of the bag?
Our nation’s pattern via the American Family Association, the Federal Communication Commission, and the Supreme Court is to point the finger at the artist, as if any of the ones prosecuted have published their own music. But that’s not the truth, is it? The truth is that these powerful gatekeepers are making sure these negative, misogynistic, violent, hypersexual images in music videos and imagery through lyrics get out to the masses, and once out, the gatekeepers wash their hands of any wrongdoing while they collect their publishing and blame the artists along with everyone else. And now, the kicker: While the suits tend to look like white, middle-aged males, what do the artists look like?
…and right about here is where I’m sure I lose half of you. Here is the fact: Gatekeepers at mainstream record labels will let you suck at music if you are going to aid in perpetuating a negative stereotype of people of color. That is the MAIN reason we have so many horrible acts getting so horribly big. If you’re still with me, check this out:
Name the rappers who are spitting the most controversial lyrics that empower POC. Name the ones who are the least misogynistic. Name the ones who are the least violent. Now tell me which labels they’re on. Your answer will either be that they are indie artists, or that they are on their own indie labels.
Now I know what you’re going to say, “But what about NWA? What about Ice T? Or SPM? What about A Tribe Called Quest? They were all woke!” That’s fair. But at the time they were signed, who wasn’t? POC have been historically angrier and freer with their lyrics. So yes, at a time when someone “new” was needed in the industry, those artists were getting the major deals. But please remember – rap started as a voice of the streets. It was politics to a beat. Once the economy started booming again and people of color prospering was more common, rappers started bragging about their money, cars, clothes, and heauxs. Your woke artist was replaced by your rich one.
Fast forward to now: Society is such that racism is not a dealbreaker in electing public officials. What people do with their bodies can be chosen by popular vote. We are back in the struggle. But this time, the gatekeepers have learned: What hits the ears of POC directly affects their societal status. So now, we’re getting nothing but songs about sex. We’re getting whole albums with words we cannot freaking understand! Our children are walking around singing songs about being in love with drugs and cooking drugs at home. And those artists, as creator of creative material, SUCK. But they’re great products.
Gatekeepers publish and promote, keep their pockets lined, then shake their heads in disdain with everyone else who sneers at the state of hip hop. We’re getting played.
If you don’t think I’m absolutely nuts or absolutely wrong by now, let Pac tell you:
Now is it me, or is it a conspiracy?