I’m pissed. When I go to the grocery store or a bookstore and I browse the magazines section, nine times out of ten, there are two hip hop magazines and that’s The Source and XXL. Two magazines to represent a multi-million dollar industry and a music genre that has been around for almost 25 years. On top of that, I think of the notorious “greatest rappers alive” debate and I realize something. All of the people who are deemed the “greatest rappers alive” are signed to major labels, featured in the big hip hop magazines and consistently receive album reviews in these same two magazines year after year.
In addition, the biggest hip hop magazines are corporate owned. Almost all of the up and coming rappers that they endorse are signed to corporate major labels. XXL (*which is owned by the corporation Harris Publications, the same publisher that publishes guns and ammo magazines. XXL also owned Scratch; they own Shade 45, Hip Hop Soul and Eye Candy. Shade 45 was initially designed to put a spotlight on Eminem and his label Shady Records. Eminem is regularly featured in XXL) has an issue dedicated to “unsigned hype” and the “freshman class” of rap. The articles within this particular issue are designed to put a shine on new artists. However, the majority of these artists are signed to major labels and they seek to further their labels’ interests as much as their own. Because if they don’t serve the labels’ interests, their albums might end up in rap record purgatory and who knows when the record will see the light of day.
So what have we gathered? There are two popular hip hop magazines that reign supreme, they’re corporate owned and they back major label artists. These magazines creates a buzz around artists that have big money behind them. As a hip hop fan, what can I personally infer from this? I don’t know…I’m actually confused. Last time I checked I thought rap and hip hop was music about giving the little guy a voice. Yet, I don’t even see the little guy being invited to the conversation. However, I will tell you what I do see.
I see rappers compromising their values and music so they can be signed to major labels and get a taste of the “the Source hype.” I see fans having intense debates over who the greatest rookie emcee is, but their entire lists are comprised of corporate artists signed to corporate labels that back corporate interests and not hip hop’s interests (sorry Drake and Weezy). Moreover, I read about talented rap artists like Clipse getting in bed with labels like Columbia Records even after their last major record label burned them. They do this because they genuinely want to be considered some of the best rappers alive, but think they can’t do it without the rap corporatocracy.
I feel it is obvious that a corporatocracy exists within the music industry, but what is less obvious is that as this corporatocracy has gained power and expanded its jaws – now other music genres are being affected by it. Hip hop fans have complained about the quality of the music for years now, but do they ever stop and think about how there were only two magazines that dictate the status quo in the industry? How independent artists like Jean Grae and Moka Only have been releasing great rap records for years, but won’t receive any credit. This is not because they lack talent or an image, that’s a fabrication. They don’t receive shine because they aren’t signed to major labels. Do hip hop fans think about how the same stale and revolving list of names enters the debate when we discuss hip hop and rap? This is because hip hop and rap fans do not realize there is a rap corporatocracy and they feed into it on a daily basis.
So what is a rapper to do? If I was a rap artist, I’d be sick. I could work my ass off with the ambitions of being featured in The Source or XXL, all in the hopes of being considered “legitimate” in the eyes of my fans. I could also sign to a major label, where who knows what kind of crazy demands, loopholes and negative backlash could ensue. Moreover, I could hire the world’s best producers, make the most radio friendly music possible, change my image and still not sell enough records to compete with rappers higher up on the corporate food chain (Wikipedia Wale). The only thing that would have changed is that now I would be in serious debt to the major label. What kind of choices would I have in such a limiting environment?
Personally, I wouldn’t participate in the system at all. I refuse to support a system that is fundamentally steeped in backing corporate interests, practicing nepotism, withholding information from its consumer base, and in general releases a subpar product. So what’s all the hype about? The punk rock bands got it, jazz artists understand, blues musicians get it (Country artists don’t understand yet, but they will in time once their genre has been raped and pillaged.) Yet time after time, I hear from local rappers about how they want to emulate Young Jeezy, Kanye West or Eminem. They feel they need to be signed to majors and featured in corporate run magazines in order to get their product out there.
People can say that the music industry has existed like this for years and things aren’t very different from how they were 15 years ago. I don’t care if things are the same, I want change and I’m writer so I’m writing about it. It is ridiculous for an entire music genre and industry to rely on the interests and decoys of a couple corporate owned magazines – the rap media cannot be trusted. Moreover, that’s just the tip of the iceberg because these magazines serve to further the interests of their masters.
Now I’ll be frank. I can give magazines like XXL credit because they do feature artists in a more candid light. They get these people to talk about their industry experiences and XXL has never openly bashed independent artists. But the fact that they’re one of two big magazines speaks volumes. Both the Source and XXL have a massive amount of pull in the hip hop industry. But I can’t make excuses for The Source, they are plagued with poor writers and nepotism is a large part of their journalistic culture. In general, these two sources are the beacons of light within the hip hop industry, but they’re allowed to run rampant – there are no watchdogs within this industry and the majority of the fans lack the information to do put two and two together.
If we’re going to see any kind of balance within hip hop and rap, the media has to take a stronger stance. We don’t need just independent rappers and rap movements, there has to be independent and grassroots grown media to report about it. We lack that right now and until people step up to the plate and start using their computers for more than downloading music – the rap industry will remain in a coma.
Here are some links to free-standing and independent hip hop media outlets:
Fader Magazine – http://www.thefader.com/
Ozone Magazine – http://www.ozonemag.com/
UGS Mag – http://ugsmag.com/
Murder Dog – http://www.murderdog.com/
Above Ground Magazine – http://abovegroundmagazine.com/
Wendy Day – http://www.wendyday.com/ (*very informative website, she has some great articles on the music business, HIGHLY RECOMMENDED)
*As an end note, I would like to add that this article may targeted towards hip hop musicians and their consumer base, but the information can be applied to all music genres. If you feel that there are not enough independent media outlets to represent your genre, do something about it. Start a local zine or magazine, create a blog, find local radio shows and programs that highlight your genre. The point is, get out there and start your own revolution.