Snake Oil Salesmen: What the Cash Money Oil Deal Might Mean For Hip-Hop

Rule #1 in Hip-Hop: Don’t Knock The Hustle. And KRS-One stated clearly in the first principle of The Hip-Hop Declaration of Peace that amongst the 9 elements fundamental to the kulture is Street Entrepreneurialism. It is hard, I understand, to speak ill of a rapper or MC making business moves to better their living and, […]

Rule #1 in Hip-Hop: Don’t Knock The Hustle.

And KRS-One stated clearly in the first principle of The Hip-Hop Declaration

of Peace that amongst the 9 elements fundamental to the kulture is Street

Entrepreneurialism. It is hard, I understand, to speak ill of a rapper or MC

making business moves to better their living and, in some cases, enrich the

communities from which they emerged.

And Jay-Z laid the statutes down a

decade and half ago: “Lets get together and make this whole world believers at

my arraignment/ Screaming, ‘all these blacks got is sports and entertainment’/

Until we even, thieving, as long as I’m breathing/ Can’t knock the way a ni**a

eating; f**k you even/.”

But if you adhere blindly to a “Can’t

Knock The Hustle” philosophy, there’s good chance you feel the same way about

the “Snitching Code”; meaning, in deference to a morally-decrepit conception of

solidarity, you’re willing to put at risk the lives of innocent victims.  

For the record, I hope Hip-Hop artists,

engineers, graffiti painters, b-boys and b-girls, DJs, educators, thinkers,

critics, fans, and non-reptilian executives make as much money is possible

without leaving the crime scene in blood-stained hands. As a cultural force

generating multi-billion dollar revenue for giant conglomerates, it’s critical

we harness the various avenues available for financial empowerment. I write a

great deal about artistic independence because I believe it is the only route

through which artists can double, if not triple, their income in the new

decade—while retaining an unblemished soul. My good colleague Cedric Muhammad

is more versed in the financial realm and runs a Hip-Hoppreneur™ column on this

site every Tuesday. And we both seem to agree that if the age of economic

liberation is upon us, artists would have to move with confidence into the

private sector and demand what’s theirs.

Thus, when Cash Money CEOs Bryan “Baby”

and Ronald “Slim” Williams announced

their new oil venture mid-last week, Bronald Oil, many took it up as sign that

Hip-Hop entrepreneurs were stepping on to higher grounds—making “power moves.”

Unfortunately, more is at stake than a mere business deal which could rake in

some serious money.

The oil industry is a dirty one,

confined to a different league—run by different breeds of men. It is marked by

corruption, graft, back-door deals and every other unethical invention

imaginable. It makes the music industry—for all its shadiness—look like a Girl

Scout lemonade sale. Safe for a limited few who try to do the right thing, most

tycoons are, in fact, over-zealous corporatists whose love of money is only

outlasted by their disregard for the communities and lives ruined from

pollution of the environment. It would be wrong to paint the entire oil field

business bad based on the crimes of a few major corporations, but, by-and-large,

most aren’t committed to doing right by communities—even if their mission

statements swear otherwise.

Bronald Oil is an “independent oil and gas

company focused, on the exploration, production and development of oil and gas

reserves from conventional and unconventional formations.” It should be noted

that independence for oil companies is defined, much like record labels, not by

choice or selection but staff size and retail sales. Though Bronald, based in

the U.S. and Central America, is “committed to preserving the environment,

promoting worker safety and maximizing the potential output of various oil and

gas assets,” it also leaves open the option of utilizing “testing grounds” to

discover “new and developing technologies”; not to mention pursuing potentially

“risky exploration and development opportunities”—all, nonetheless, in an “economic and environmentally efficient manner.”

And this is where those who truly value

the reputation of Hip-Hop as a life source for the empowerment and betterment

of everyday people, as refuge for those lost and forgotten, as security for the

vulnerable and disposable, ought to sit up and pay closer attention.

It is possible that the Williams

Brothers plan to show the world what stuff Hip-Hop is made off, and how, as a

community, top priority is always placed on people over profit; how, regardless

of whatever venture we partake in,

the neoliberal corporate policies that work men and women like slaves and

reward them with very little will never be a part of our culture; how oil

companies can be run with respect for life and the environment

front-and-center. Sadly, not only is this Utopian, it is almost impossible. Oil

companies, by nature, are usually built for one purpose only: profit. And in a

hostile world where severe competition is key to survival, many soon get lost

in the hysteria of Social Darwinism that they forget what “commitments” were

made at starting point to “preserving the environment” and “promoting worker safety.”

All the big oil companies champion

eco-friendly causes not unlike those Bronald Oil espouses. 5 of the top 10 have

this to say in that respect:

Royal Dutch Shell:

Environment: “Through

partnerships with environmental experts and by using new technologies we are

finding ways to help reduce the impact of our operations on the environment.”

Worker Safety:

“Safety remains our first priority at all times. Our goal is zero fatalities

and accidents. We want all of our staff and contractors to return home safely

every day.”


Environment: “ExxonMobil

is committed to operating throughout the world in a way that protects the

environment and takes into account the economic and social needs of the

communities where we operate.”

Worker Safety: “ExxonMobil11

is committed to providing positive, productive and supportive work environments

throughout its global operations. The Company has long-established programs to

attract, develop and retain a highly talented workforce that is representative

of the regions in which it operates. ExxonMobil values the exceptional quality

and diversity of its employees.”


Environment: “To

tap new energy resources, Chevron is now operating in more difficult and

isolated areas than ever before. We are committed to seeing that new projects

are developed in an environmentally sound manner and that existing operations

continue to reduce their environmental impacts.”

Worker Safety: “Employee

health and safety lie at the foundation of our efforts to build a talented,

dynamic workforce. A fully productive employee must be safe and secure first.

The health and safety of our employees and contractors hold critical value for

our business.”


Environment: “The

most important resources in the world are human beings and the natural

environment they are dependent on. … We stick to the principles of

people-oriented, prevention-driven, total participation and continuous

improvement to pursue zero injury, zero pollution and zero accident.”

Worker Safety: “We

respect and maintain the rights and interests of our employees, expand the

platform for their growth, and ensure that they realize their value through the

development of the Company and benefit from the Company’s achievements and




Environment: “We

are committed to the safety and development of our people and the communities

and societies in which we operate. We aim for no accidents, no harm to people

and no damage to the environment.”

Worker Safety: “BP’s

commitment to safety comes at the top, our leaders continue to emphasize the

key priority of safe operations for the future of the group.”

As you can see, even the super-rich conglomerates

consider—or, more accurately, state—environmental preservation and worker

safety as of optimum priority. Too bad their record indicates anything but active adherence to these tenets:

In June 2009,

Shell settled

a lawsuit brought by family and friends of Ken Saro Wiwa, a Nigerian activist

hanged alongside 8 others in 1995, following protests of the exploitation and

pollution of native land by Shell. $15.5 million was granted the plaintiffs to

avoid a trial which could have implicated Shell as aiding and abetting the

execution of innocent environmental activists.

In October 2009,

a federal jury awarded

New York City $104.7 million in compensatory damages over the contamination of

groundwater by Exxon Mobil.

In 2007, Ecuador

Amazonians filed

a $12 billion lawsuit against Chevron for contaminating its waterways.

30,000 natives of the indigenous tribe claim Chevron workers illegally dumped

toxic waste into its rivers which are used for washing, cooking, and drinking.

The same year,

China’s top environmental watchdog group fined

PetroChina the maximum penalty of 1 million yuan (125,000 U.S. dollars) for

“seriously” polluting a river which services 4 million people. An explosion, it

was reported, caused the dumping of 100 tons of waste, leading to lack of water

supply in the region for several days.

Last November,

95 Colombian farmers sued

British Petroleum over breach of contract and negligence. They claim adverse

effects of a pipeline construction project have led to destroyed farms and

malnourished crops. Colombian lawyers who tried to assist the farmers reported

intimidation by paramilitary gangs.

So, you notice a trend—a lapse,

perhaps—between what is affirmed in the mission statement, and business as

carried out. It never is enough for a company to claim to respect life and the

environment. Deed always outlives Word.

So, how will this enterprise redound to the

welfare of Hip-Hop? How will it look for Hip-Hop artists to involve themselves

in a scheme known notoriously for the exploitation of natural resources and

destruction of the environment? And how will other Hip-Hop artists respond if

Baby and his brother are one day front-page on The New York Times or The Los Angeles Times or The Huffington Post for a lawsuit filed

by Brown peasants in some Central American village or Black families in some

Louisiana town?  

How much value would be placed on

morality and justice—rather than the plaintiffs who, it might be said, are

simply trying to bring a brotha down,

trying to ****-block, trying to knock the


I’m not certain what the official Hip-Hop response would be or

what the dominant claptrap would sound like, but I can predict today on whose

side I would be standing, and for what cause I would be fighting. As hint, it

would probably not be with the millionaire brothers; and not to further Neoliberalism

with a Blackface.


Olorunda is a cultural critic whose work regularly appears on and other online journals. He can be

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