Structurally, technologically and culturally speaking, there is no “music industry” any more. There is also no “movie industry” any more. Those two things have been consolidated into a more generic and all encompassing, “entertainment industry.” But that’s not even the kicker. The kicker is that technically, the entertainment industry is now a sub-division of a much larger and more insidious industry known as the “telecommunications industry.” This is the delivery system under which all media and cultural distribution is being consolidated. Some entities to look out for in this telecommunications act generated morass: Google, Apple, and Access One. This shift presents both new challenges and new opportunities. Those engaged in cultural struggle as well as those engaged in labor struggle are currently smack dap up against that. Chuy Gomez has been replaced by a robot, and the VMA’s? well…
I don’t have any beef with 95-99 percent of the artists who are making an effort to generate a living for themselves and their families. Most of them are just like me in a slightly different position, making slightly different choices.
When I talk about the industry, I’m not talking about the hardworking artist or the record producer who really believes in what he or she is doing. Artists need and deserve administrative and structural support. And folks who have made it to a certain position have earned their way there. It’s not fair or intellectually honest to throw the baby out with the bath water.
I am talking about the corporations and colonial structure that has been looting and pillaging cultural production since art, music and culture could be commodified. I am not talking about DMX, T.I. or Kendrick. I am talking about the CEO’s and large stockholders of Warner Bros, Comcast, Disney and the other rapidly consolidating future monopolies of media and global cultural distribution. I am talking about the larger imaginary structures that are spying on us through our Youtube surfing as we speak. The same ones that are complicit in not sharing the easily accessible truths about current issues like Syria and chemical weapons.
Hip Hop’s dream deferred
Artists are not the problem. In fact, as much as the world fails to really engage this truth, artists are the victims. And so are the people who benefit from healthy culture. Which might be most of us.
The reason it is economically important for our current corporate structure to ensure that you do not see yourself in the cultural production and exchange process, is because by separating us from the process, someone can determine and direct who and what is considered legitimate and valuable in the realm of culture. This way, not only can the creative thought of a society can be controlled, but then the rewards of culture can be organized and harvested by those who may or may not have even planted the crops. The reason it is ideologically important to separate people from the process of cultural production and exchange is because art is human. Culture, itself is how we socialize, interact with and collectivize our understanding of humanity.
Those who control culture, control definition. Those who control definition, control determination.
One of the primary challenges that American cultural movement in general, and the Hip Hop social and political movement specifically, still struggles to resolve is the question of the artist’s role in movement, industry and society as a whole. In general, our society is isolated from art and artists, even though our clothes, logos, commercial jingles and pop hooks tell a different story. In the industry, artists, in general are considered incapable of managing their own affairs. This is often chalked up to their inability to think in structured terms. While generally accepted as a truth, this is both historically inaccurate and extremely dangerous.
Look at it this way. In movement work, it is not considered ethical for an outside group to come in and lead the way, or to define the terms of the struggle. It would not be considered ethical for non-blacks to lead a black struggle, for men to lead a women’s struggle, for management to lead a workers struggle.
Why then, was the center of the Hip Hop social and political movement, not the artist? And when I say the artist, I do not simply mean the ones who are signed to record labels. I mean the ones playing local bars, tagging your block, designing your flyers, opening up for T.I. and Hiero all over the world?
If we were to look through the lens of the artist, we would see that what is at stake now is what was always at stake. It is what every graph writer, dj, emcee and b-girl have in common. It was what record labels, radio stations, police and other institutions have struggled to rob of for centuries.
The struggle of the artist of America, is the struggle around the means of ownership and distribution of cultural production. The contradiction between the origin of Hip Hop and the current state of on coming fascism is the question of who will wield the power of cultural democracy and self-determination. Hip Hop, in it’s instinctive rejection of corporate domination, both in the industry and movement work was a natural target of the fascist state. A culture that, when healthy, challenges the institutions of capitalism and colonialism by virtue of it’s very existence, can’t just be allowed to exist untampered with.
When keeping it real goes wrong
At the heart of the conversation around cultural self-determination and Hip Hop is the Black male: young and old. Many, today, refuse to accept this reality. In fact, the well documented process of cultural neo-colonialism, affectionately referred to as “cultural appropriation,” contributes directly to the erasing of the story of the relationship between cultural movement in America and the Black male.
Here is the question that real “kings of comedy” have had to resolve since transitioning slaves into modes of racist and emasculatory modes of cultural production known as “minstrel shows.” How do we capitalize on and profit off of the cultural potency of Black manhood, while simultaneously undermining that potency?
For many years, they have answered that question. And for many years, artists and leaders have re-invented themselves. And for many years, they have adjusted to that re-invention.
Hip Hop, being a manifestation of many years of “a dream deferred,” literally being born out of fire, water, blood and love, spoke the truth in a way that neither US, nor global culture had ever experienced so directly. Hip Hop said, “Fuck the Police” but it also said “Be a Father to a Child.” It was able to take on the topic of “OPP,” but it also asked, “Who you calling a bitch?!?!” It simultaneously told us to “Slow Down” and to “Stop the Violence” while telling us to “Fight the Power” and to “Protect your Neck.” Before the industry was fully able to sink its’ dirty paws into every nook and cranny of Hip Hop, Hip Hop told the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help me God. It was one of the rules.
And so the natural Black male inclination to reject the shackles of the music industry wasn’t simply a matter of the artist wanting all of their royalties. It was outright rejection of the values which had guided the hand of black entertainment of culture for years. And this is not the first time it had happened in history, for sure. Paul Robeson is one of the Godfathers of the alienation of the Black male artist with a brain and a backbone. And, of course, it came on the tail end of the Black Arts movement.
But Hip Hop was comprehensive. It could hit you from a million angles. And it was responsible for the creation of artists like Dave Chappell. Artists who reflect that struggle of the Black male artist in America. The struggle that writer, artists and educator, Jeff Campbell, refers to his upcoming play, “Who Killed Jigaboo Jones.”
Recently, Dave Chappelle stopped during the middle of show. Some say that the audience was just cheering Dave on, and he over reacted. Others say that the audience was not respectful, and did exactly what Dave asked them not to do. One thing is for certain. Dave Chappelle has made a choice. Whether you agree or not, he has proven again and again that he will not be a jiggaboo. That he will not be the butt of a centuries old joke about the purpose, pressure and power of Black cultural producers in a colonial entertainment factory.
Dave Chappelle is Hip Hop. And it would make sense that he would walk away, because really, that is some Hip Hop shit to do.
And as he pointed out, in this environment, keeping it real can go horribly wrong.
But that’s the thing. This isn’t over. Quite the contrary. The landscape is both global and infinite. And humans are genetically wired to fight or flight. And what will happen when there is nowhere left to run to? When the truth is too overwhelming to ignore, because it’s right on your doorstep, in your living room, sitting on the edge of your bed?
~ Shamako Noble serves as Secretary of Culture in the General Welfare Branch of the Green Shadow Cabinet of the United States.