Problem #2: The Socialized Consumer

Again, it is not purposeful censorship. It is just that you dont make it to those positions. That includes the left (what is called the left), as well as the right. Unless you have been adequately socialized and trained so that there are some thoughts you just dont have, because if you did have them, […]

Again, it is not purposeful censorship. It

is just that you dont make it to those positions. That includes the left (what

is called the left), as well as the right. Unless you have been adequately socialized

and trained so that there are some thoughts you just dont have, because if you

did have them, you wouldnt be there.

-Noam Chomsky on What

Makes Media Mainstream

A couple of weeks ago I read an op-ed piece at called Hip

Hop Goes to Ludacris Limits by Elisa Cramer. It was the typical "rappers

are the root of all evil in Black America" type of editorial that has become

all too common in recent years.

While I myself have been critical at times of

the lyrical content and imagery of certain hip-hop acts, I always try to avoid

the perils of reducing the negativity that permeates my beloved culture to the

actions of a few selfish and misguided individuals.

On the contrary, the problems that pervade hip-hop

music are the same problems that are currently endangering our democracy, particularly

when concerning apathy toward the consolidation of voices across the media.

In the case of hip-hop, I find it rather ironic how the same people who observe

the rap game from the sidelines are so quick to catapult themselves to the role

of referee, when in fact many of these Ivy League scholars and cultural critics

are sharing nose bleed seats with Bill OReilly and little Megan from the suburbs.

Consequentially, I would encourage the few public

intellectuals with book contracts to resign from their academic posts and start

flooding the mixtape circuit with their own material. I am sure they are capable

of stooping down to hip-hops level and dropping science on wax instead of pulp

for our sake.

Even further, I would urge each baby boomer out

there who feels that hip-hop is dying to make every effort possible to save

this music from the fates of jazz and rock and roll if they are truly committed

to practicing what they preach.

If our parents can’t even stop Michael Powell

and the FCC from pimpin

the masses, however, I find it hard to believe that they will be able to

save hip-hop from the cheap seats.

In previous columns

and essays I have argued that the music industry itself is to blame for the

current state of hip-hop. After all, any grassroots phenomenon that finds itself

co-opted and comodified at the hands of multinational corporations should not

expect its priorities to remain the same. Like the Civil Rights Movement which

brought black votes to the Democratic Party, hip-hop music has exposed untapped

markets to industry behemoths like Universal and Sony.

I still stand by that assertion but I think it

is important to expound upon the role of the socialized consumer because we,

yes we, are ultimately responsible for the nature of this music be it good or


Imagine if soccer moms in suburban America saw television advertisements of

new Clorox products and thought to themselves, "Damn! That new version

of Pine-Sol has a hot container! Its gonna sell madd units yo!"

As weird as that sounds, it is precisely what

happens with many hip-hop consumers today. I myself am not immune to it, and

based on several observations and conversations with my peers, it is quite evident

that I am not in short company.

Ill admit that I probably see the marketing side

of hip-hop from a different lens than most (not arrogance, just telling it how

it is), but I think it is fair to assume that hip-hop consumers are probably

more conscious of the "blow up potential" of a particular brand or

product (in this case rappers) than any other group of consumers.

We know who’s going to blow before they blow

and if you ask, most of us can tell you why. In essence, the hip-hop consumer

base (namely the mainstream consumer base) has been socialized to the point

that we think rather similar to the way market research firms (who spend millions

trying to understand us) want us to.

If one had not heard any of 50 Cents mixtape

material, a few minutes of his breakout video "Wanksta" would have

made it quite clear that 50 was headed for stardom and most of the reasons have

nothing do with his actual mic skills.

Is that a problem? Well for label executives its wonderful. Many critics have

argued that rappers like 50 Cent are bad for Black America, but on the flip

side, dude should probably be looked upon as mainstream hip-hop’s savior given

the prevalence of file-sharing and a sluggish economy.

In an interview with

publisher Cedric Muhammad, Roc-a-Fella records CEO Damon Dash had this to say

about record sales: "Hip-Hop right now is easy. I can go gold now, sort

of with my eyes closed, ya know?" I can understand why Mr. Dash would feel

the way that he does, but if one looks at the big picture, there is reason to

believe that records sales are not easy right now but merely on life support.

As I said before, hip-hop music has benefited the music industry much how the

Civil Rights Movement has helped the Democratic Party. Unfortunately, the black

leadership establishment has been privy to the bad guy/worse guy dichotomy of

party politics, but lacks the resources and/or willingness to contest it with

any vigor. As a result, the black

masses continue to be


by both parties.

Similarly, label heads like Master P and P Diddy

have their best days behind them and as time will prove, will ultimately find

themselves irrelevant in the bigger scheme of things much like Jesse Jackson

and Al Sharpton. Im not hating on Percy Miller and Sean Combs as businessmen,

but I would be the first to argue that their viability inside a racist white

power structure is directly tied to record sales, nothing more, nothing less.

Theyre in the business of making black music

for white distributors and if they stop moving units, they will ultimately be

replaced. Thats why people like Elisa Cramer are so quick to name transient

rappers and visible moguls but find difficulty when critiquing hip-hop’s nameless

consumer base and faceless high level executives like Jimmy

Iovine (Interscope) and Tommy

Mottola (formerly of Sony).

Like the game of politics (electoral votes), the game of hip-hop (album sales)

will continue to under serve the masses so long as record sales are predicated

upon the effectiveness of ones image and marketability instead of

their ideas and talents.

The truth, however, is that that particular burden

falls upon the consumer. We are the ones that must change how we view this art

form. No Harvard intellectual or baby boomer is going to galvanize our generation

toward its own salvation. As Adisa Banjoko has already illustrated, the Hip

Hop Protest has been a myth up to this point.

Until we as a generation realize that there is

a something very political about contesting standardized radio playlists, $19

CDs and cheap booty videos, we will continue to fail in our mission.

A lot of people view politics as a white mans

game that involves empty promises, corruption, and 15 second commercials and

simply dont vote as a result. For us Reagan babies, what better way for us to

exercise our political muscles than to develop strategies that would save our

music from an industry that has pimped black culture for nearly a century?

The only way hip-hop is going to change is if we start viewing the music as

a radical arm of the black press instead of just a product for mass consumption.

The big five wants us to believe that its the music that is for sale, but truth

be told, music is just a vehicle for ideas.

When a song by 50 Cent, Jay-Z, or Nas is being

played on the radio, that particular song is ultimately speaking on behalf of

us all, whether we like it or not. In the eyes of outsiders like Bill OReilly,

rappers like Ludacris are the spokespeople for traditionally voiceless African-American

males like myself.

I would never shy from defending Ludacris from

the onslaught of outsiders, but at the end of the day it would be foolish not

to criticize my n#### behind closed doors. A lot of us young cats get profiled

by the police BECAUSE of the images and antics put out by rappers and if those

rappers are no longer willing or able to use their power to fight that injustice

(see Public Enemy, NWA, etc.), then quite frankly, they cant do anything for


Like the NAACP and SCLC, however, they’re not going to leave until they are

ultimately replaced. Who got beats?