Hey DirectTV users, missing a crap-load of channels? Can’t watch that new episode of Real World? Know why yet? Well for those that do not know, the reason for the recent shortage of programming arises with none other than the almighty dollar of course. The blackout is a result of DirectTV and Viacom fighting over the amount of money to be paid for Viacom’s channels. The two economic powerhouses have since resulted in an all-out battle of finger-pointing. Users attempting to turn to said channels find themselves faced with a message saying they can’t watch their favorite BET Awards rerun or new Teen Wolf episode because they don’t want you to pay more for these channels. On the other hand, go to any Viacom owned network website and find a message blatantly telling you that DirectTV simply dropped them. But who is really to blame and what has this billionaire bickering shown us?
Well, if you take a look at the flow-chart here (http://goo.gl/UXGPJ) you will see a detailed description of how little choice you actually have when channel surfing. What you will find is that 6 major media companies control about 90% of what you read, watch, and listen to. Thought you were supporting Black business and television by being a loyal watcher of BET or perhaps Centric? Well nope, because both of these networks are owned by… you guessed it, Viacom. Check out their wikipedia page (or simply flip through the graveyard of your DirectTV channels) and find that they own it all.
The same phenomenon applies to the music you listen to and enjoy on a daily basis. Most of all your favorite rappers, singers, producers, and the like are signed under one of what is known as “the Big Four.” No this does not refer to the dreamed of Kobe-Nash-Howard-Gasol Laker squad of the 2012-13 NBA season, it refers to Universal Music Group, Sony Music Entertainment, Warner Music Group, and EMI Group (in the UK). Whether it be Maybach Music, Aftermath, Young Money –Cash Money, or even sigh… or even my beloved Top Dawg Entertainment featuring Kendrick Lamar, they are under contract somewhere down the line to one of these four (with most of the ones mentioned here under UMG). But by now, you must be wondering “hey Brandon, you always write posts that, though they affect and are relevant to everyone, have more emphasis on the struggle of Blacks around the world… so where’s the emphasis here?” Well since you asked, here it is, beginning with a question…
What were the origins of hip-hop and why was it such a necessary revolution? To answer this, let’s flashback to the 70s and the coming of the War on Drugs. This was an era characterized by a large influx of drugs into communities across the nation; the vast majority of these communities being predominantly Black. Call me a conspiracy theorist if you wish, or you can click a couple of the bolded links I am going to provide for you. What I will do is use “Freeway” Ricky Ross as an example and justification of my earlier claim, then transition back into the Hip-Hop origins story:
Freeway Ricky is the formerly convicted and newly rehabilitated drug trafficker best known for the drug empire that he presided over in the great land of Los Angeles. Essentially, through mutual associates, he formed connections with Oscar Danilo Blandon and Norwin Meneses Cantarero. These would become his sources of relatively inexpensive Nicaraguan cocaine along with the CIA as part of what is known as the Iran-Contra scandal. Do your research from here and find that Blandon, under protection of the CIA, sold weapons and drugs to various gangs in LA. You may say next “but Brandon, I see that he was arrested in 1986 and convicted in a US District Court for his wrongdoings… how can he be involved with the government?” Well dig deeper and see that following his imprisonment, from which he was released early, he was hired by none other than the United States Drug Enforcement Administration. This made him the first and only known non-national to not be deported following conviction on drug trafficking charges in our nation’s history. Welp, the rules were bent by the INS to allow him a green-card and continue to conduct his business with the likes of Ross and others, while he literally remains off the grid to this day. So now with this ultimate connect, Ross was able to push upwards of $2 million worth of cocaine in a day, filling the streets with the poison that would serve as the fuel for the struggle and destruction that would lead communities to the brink of extinction. Enter hip-hop…
Though starting before Ross’ prime, Hip-Hop was the eruption of emotion, pain, and struggle caused by the grueling conditions Blacks had been placed under for centuries (as well as the celebration of what should’ve been an impossible survival). DJ Kool Herc would pioneer the DJ scratch, the mixing of old rhythms to make new beginnings and a canvas for young poets to speak of their new blues. Soon enter greats like the Cold-Crush Brothers, Run-DMC, and Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five who told the story of a child being born with no state of mind, blind to the ways of mankind and growing up in the ghetto living second rate with eyes singing songs of deep hate. They urged us to take a look around our surroundings and say “you know what? The place that I play in and where I stay DOES look like one great big alley way!” Finally the streets had a voice that characterized the fire burning inside of them (credit to Curtis Mayfield, Marvin Gaye and the greats who paved the way).
These were the origins of rap music and its home was one shared with us, the people of the struggle. Whether it was Def Jam, started in Rick Rubin’s dorm-room with Russell Simmons, or Sugar Hill Records, our voices were controlled by those most in-tune with what we were going through… us. We would go out into our communities and turn our pain into celebration, as we danced in local clubs to our peeps rapping and rocking the mic. Speakers blasted as we heard complete strangers talk about the exact same struggles and victories that we were living, giving us that “we ain’t out here alone” feeling . Pride and love in our community was nurtured and Black dollars (for the most part) stayed where we did. Now, the once loud and ridiculed genre that “high-class” society refused to even acknowledge as music was becoming a movement and heads were turning. Suburbs cried and moaned as their children fell in love with it to their dismay… until it happened. The dollar signs were unavoidable and soon the motto before the almighty YOLO would become “if you can’t beat ‘em, buy ‘em.” And that is just what happened.
I’d say in the early 90’s, as with Def Jam in 1992, many former Black-owned and influenced independent labels would face financial troubles and soon be bought out by the big-boys. However, some like Jive Recordings did hold it down for the Caucasion bredren who just loved the sound of the music and the direction in which it was moving. They would produce acts such as A Tribe Called Quest and KRS-ONE, who promoted afro-centricity and Black pride through their musical talents. This would not last long however, because Jive would soon dissolve into the pop mesh of the late 90s and early 2000s. Now we can skip to today, when it is rare that you find an artist not afraid to spit a Black agenda exposing the inequalities of society and get airplay. Instead you find Niggas in Paris, Maybachs, and other things never found in the streets of those playing the records.
Skip to today, when the moniker of “conscious rapper” is slapped on someone like Yasiin Bey, the former Mos Def, and they are type-cast into a place that the radio and the Big 6 media monopolies won’t go. Where someone is able to steal a name and an identity, and glamorize the negative aspects of that person’s life while the real-thing is trying to advocate to the youth against his past (referring to Rick Ross v. Freeway Ricky Ross). But hey, it sounds good right? Isn’t that all that matters these days?
Now I urge you not to do as people tend to and ask “oh well what do you want, everyone to be like Mos Def? Can’t we just make the music we want to?” Well the answer is yes, but be socially responsible. I mean… Heavy D didn’t just make socially conscious music; neither did DMX, Montell Jordan, and many of our other not-so-olden-day favorites. The key is realizing that being a mere 12-13% of the population, we are nowhere near the majority of people listening to our music. It can’t be neglected that this is important to keep in mind for any progression we hope to make.
For example, take Dave Chappelle in his interview with Oprah following his departure from his everyone-acclaimed show and $50 Million on Viacom’s Comedy Central Network. He recalls a time in which he was shooting a sketch for the never aired 3rd season that used blackface as a personification of the N-Word and the racism we may face on a daily basis. He noted that following a joke that was meant to raise socially conscious questions, members of his majority white production crew were laughing in a way that left him uneasy. It made him feel like he and his intentions were kidnapped and used in a way that would prove socially irresponsible. Chappelle couldn’t neglect the potential consequences if this hit the air on the non-Black owned network to an audience that would obviously be majority non-Black. He left… and we never gave him the respect he truly deserved because we were selfishly praying for a new “I’m Rick James Bitch!” instead of realizing that he did us a great favor. Thank you Dave.
Now take N____ in Paris. This is a song that was played a million times a day in millions of house-holds around the world. Do you really think that only Black people recite the word-for-word lyrics and everyone else says “got my ____’s in Paris and they goin’ gorillas…HUH?!” Well I’ve been at enough parties, clubs, and passed enough cars playing it to know this is certainly not the case (yes everyone, your secret is out!). So how can I be upset when I hear someone saying it when they can’t help but feel comfortable doing so in the privacy of their own home after they purchased the rights to do so by paying for the song? So now it all comes full circle as the word that, in a sense, embodies the centuries of struggle now has a dollar sign placed on it. This is why we unfortunately have the burden of social responsibility on our shoulders. No, we didn’t ask to be in the situation we were forced into but there is no scare-crow to make Jim go away… there is just us.
Today, I have to leave the comfort of the community in which I grew up to get to the club that will charge me a $20 cover to hear artists from the streets I’m from tell me about the struggle that I am going through… and the rich get richer off of it, while the struggle gets worse therefore setting them up for future earnings. Damn… I feel used. What I see on TV about my people is controlled by the same people who have neglected to make effort to put more than just Martin Luther King Jr. in the Black History section of the curriculum. The very imperialistic forces that put us into an unequal status in society is profiting further off the fruits of their oppression. It hurts me that out communities have been stripped of their own culture and that our history has had a for sale sign on it for so long. As blissful it would be to be blind to it all, I just can’t help feeling a void within me growing wider and wider. So are we going to focus on the void left in our DirectTV guide menus, or the one left in our souls.
I don’t know about you, but I just want my culture back…