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Hip-Hop Fridays: Online Music And Hip-Hop Artist-Slaves

In our opinion Hip-Hop artists, for all of the revolutionary and business-minded rhetoric that they espouse, are some of the biggest slaves that we have ever seen in our lives. They are nominally higher-paid slaves than most, but slaves nonetheless. The next time any of our viewers run into a Hip-Hop artists or see the the beautiful "cribs", cars, and jewelry that they own...or rent, please ask them how much did they make off of their last album and how much did their record label make.

We are compiling some data that we hope to release sometime next year that shows that Hip-Hop artists, proportionately make as much, relative to their employers, as that young Brother and Sister who works the drive-through window at McDonald's.

We thought over the Hip-Hop artist-slaves when we saw the final stage of the online-music revolution absorbed with the announcement that 5 major record labels are finally ready to launch their first Internet music services. Here is how the Wall St. Journal last week described the arrangement:

MusicNet, backed by EMI Group PLC of Britain, Germany's Bertelsmann AG, AOL Time Warner Inc. and software maker RealNetworks Inc., won't let customers purchase songs in the traditional sense. Instead, consumers will have two choices. They can "stream" a portion of their monthly allotment of music, allowing them to listen to songs over slow Internet connections. They also will be able to download and store songs on their computers, but only listen to them for a limited time.

Instead of owning the music permanently, a user will acquire a "license" to listen to designated songs for 30 days. Executives have said in the past that consumers might pay $10 or so a month for rights to listen to 75 songs, though people familiar with the service the actual number of songs might be more than double that figure. To keep listening to a song after the 30-day period, a user that again clicks on that selection will have that song counted against the current month's allotment.

Nearly 20 months ago we wrote of how the MP3 technology and the controversy over Napster represented an enormous opportunity for Hip-Hop artists to break free of their pittance-paying contracts and the stranglehold that their labels and distributors hold over them. We even offered a proposal that would have allowed the artists to still remain signed to their major labels but every 18 months would have allowed them to release an online EP, of about 6 to 8 recordings, that they could put out on their own over the Internet. That Hip-Hop artists like Dr. Dre who have sampled other artists for years, would be foremost in their opposition to Napster is one of the saddest and most ironic displays of how artists are intellectually, legally and financially controlled by a cabal of lawyers, business managers, record executives and distributors. The rub was that Dr. Dre's lawyer was the same as Metallica's who (under legal advice) were vehemently opposed to Napster. To punctuate the paradox, while Dre was lending his support to fight Napster,in order to "protect his creative works" he was being sued by Movie Director George Lucas for illegally using a sound effect, on his Chronic 2001 album, without permission. Even more striking was the fact that Dr. Dre's artist Eminem vocally defended Napster. How's that for Black-White unity? Sounds to us like labor (Eminem) was smarter than capital (Dr. Dre) on that one.

Hip-Hop artists do the bidding of the Recording Industry Association Of America (RIAA) without even knowing it. Their unity is so poor, their understanding of the business so in deficit, that any legal-begal, number-cruncher (who is not Black or Latino) or benevolent-sounding person with influence in the industry that approaches them, can get a hearing and stands a good chance of putting their ideas in the mind of a male or female who supposedly is a rebel, who "stands on their own two and follows no man". These artists should be very specific - they follow no non-White man. But accountants, lawyers, record executives and distributors, through paperwork, literally make followers every day out of otherwise powerful men and women. While the artist gets the fame these individuals, paper-work gangsters, get the riches. Many Hip-Hop fans should think about that the next time they perform idol-worship of an entertainer.

The lack of unity among artists is particularly appalling and we recognized it in full effect at Russell Simmons' Hip-Hop Summit in June. Russell Simmons has a tremendous influence in the industry and his rolodex is virtually matchless. We don't know too many other people who can pick up the phone and reach Senator Hillary Clinton, Rev. Al Sharpton, Puffy, Donald Trump, DMX and Minister Farrakhan. But Russell Simmons is an establishmentarian with business brilliance and revolutionary rhetoric. He serves an important role, but can only truly advance the cause of Hip-Hop artists when it is the artists themselves who know what to ask Russell to do on their behalf. Because Hip-Hop artists overwhelmingly, as a group, have not identified their enlightened self-interest(s), they follow Russell's interests, which are largely that of a music and fashion executive with growing political aspirations. By doing so they do not pursue the interests of a gold and platinum Hip-Hop artist, who only takes home near 70 cents per CD sold, with the exception of a few.

As a result, at the Hip-Hop Summit which in many ways was a truly revolutionary event, Russell Simmons invited the RIAA's representative Hillary Rosen and got the artists present to endorse a piece of paper agreeing to voluntarily censor themselves. The concept may not be bad, but artists should be able to arrive at such initiatives on their own. Mr. Simmons, as an executive, in contact with his peer group, recognized that working with the RIAA serves his business and political interests. Such a realization guides his understanding that voluntarily censoring music may be more and more attractive with each passing day for a music executive, as Congress and the FTC come down on Hip-Hop lyrics and threaten to sanction the music industry.

But from the artists' standpoint, it should have been clear that inviting Hillary Rosen to a Hip-Hop Artist Summit, is like inviting NBA Commissioner David Stern to influence an NBA Players Union meeting. But again, Russell Simmons stepped into a gaping void that exists because of the lack of leadership among artists. He is very clear on his enlightened self-interests and as he served them he performed a great good in putting the event together. But, he certainly did not address the most pressing issues and concerns of Hip-Hop artists in terms of their economic interests.

But, if Hip-Hop artists are going to continue to willfully wait on executives, lawyers and the RIAA to empower them, then they really do deserve as little as they get. Hip-Hop artists, in particular blew it when they did not jump head-first into the controversy over Napster and MP3 technology. They were even more unintelligent to not listen to Chuck D., who is the Hip-Hop artist who understands the issue better than anyone else. By not using the leverage of MP3 and online music sales, Hip-Hop artists lost an opportunity to not only make millions in e-commerce sales, they lost the chance to negotiate better contracts. But what else can one expect from a group of slaves? Oh well, they still get to keep the ice, cars and "cribs", right?

Cedric Muhammad

Here is an article that shows how artists in other genres, who have identified their own enlightened self-interests, are still fighting to hang on to the last strands of hope in the Napster fight:

Tuesday November 13 8:00 PM ET
Recording Artists File Brief Supporting Napster
By Sue Zeidler

- A group of recording stars led by Don Henley on Tuesday said they recently filed a brief in a San Francisco federal court that may give song-swap service Napster (news - web sites) a shot in the arm in its ongoing copyright infringement battle with the recording industry.

The artists contended in their brief filed on Nov. 7 that the big recording labels may not indefinitely own some of the sound recording copyrights they are suing over in the landmark suit against Napster, said Jay Rosenthal, a lawyer for the Recording Artists Coalition (RAC).

The record giants in October requested summary judgement on the issue of liability, which would leave as the only trial matter the amount of damages and nature of an injunction against Napster.

Napster, which faces potentially billions of dollars in damages due to the lawsuit, has opposed the request and argued for a full trial to determine its liability.

Napster's lawyer Jonathan Schwartz said that during a recent hearing, U.S. District Court Judge Marilyn Hall Patel took seriously Napster's argument that summary judgement is premature when the labels haven't provided conclusive evidence they actually own the works they claim were infringed.

The once popular service has been idle since July due to technical glitches it confronted while complying with a preliminary injunction barring it from offering copyrighted songs on its service.

Henley and several other artists have said they are concerned by the labels' classification of thousands of recordings in the case as ``works made for hire.''


Under existing law, a ``work for hire'' is considered the property of the employer -- the record company -- and not the artist, preventing artists from reclaiming their copyrights 35 years after recordings are made.

The industry has lobbied hard to classify songs as works for hire so that once a recording is made, the copyright essentially belongs to the label and the firm needs only to pay a flat fee to artists for their work, analysts said.

``We're contending that the labels should not use the copyright registrations claiming the sound recordings as 'works for hire' to prove ownership in this case,'' said Jay Rosental, a lawyer for RAC.

The vast majority of copyright registrations submitted to the court by the record company plaintiffs claim authorship and ownership of the sound recordings as ``works for hire.''

``The work for hire issue is central to Napster's opposition to the record labels' summary judgement motion,'' said Schwartz, Napster's lawyer, on Tuesday.

The big labels, including AOL Time Warner Inc.'s Warner Music, EMI Group Plc and Bertelsmann AG's BMG, Vivendi Universal's Universal Music and Sony Music, first sued Napster in December 1999.

The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) was surprised by the filing. ``Their decision to file is as baffling as it is irrelevant,'' said Jano Cabrera, a spokesman for the RIAA. ``It's irrelevant because there can be no doubt that the record companies own or control the copyrights at issue here. ''This is something that artists don't contend,'' said Cabrera.

``It's baffling because artists have as much at stake in protecting copyrights online as do record companies,'' he said.

Friday, December 7, 2001

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