From Fan, Consumer And Generation To Power Broker, Leader, And Community: The Age Of The Hip-Hoppreneur ™ October 12th through 19th
I have served in virtually every major capacity I can think of in the music business - concert and party promotion, management, consultant and employee at record labels, retail outlet management, radio, etc...I even used to make some hot beats when a young producer in high school in Jersey, and had them reviewed and praised by Hank Shocklee of the legendary bomb squad. Just axe (not 'ask') about me back in the Thorough Borough (smile).
However, I could not rap.
And that was a blessing.
It forced me to look at the music industry, and Hip-Hop culture, from the perspective of consumer and business, rather than as a creative artist.
Had I been an artist, I believe I would not have been able to see the forest from the trees, so to speak, and develop the kind of cultural, economic, and political perspective that I have now.
Having said that, as many of you know, I have been blessed to be friends with, work for, advise, work with, and handle the personal and business affairs of some of the greatest Hip-Hop artists in the world. From Latifah, to Nas, to RZA to David Banner, to Bomani Armah, I have had an opportunity to learn from, build with, and observe up close, some of the greatest talent of this generation.
When I marry those experiences with my interaction with others, holding down different aspects of the game - like Puffy (he was not Diddy then), and Star (of Star and Buc Wild) and others, I have truly been blessed to see this cultural phenomenon and industry from many different angles.
Those experiences; insights that I have learned from various spiritual leaders; my awareness of current events and technological trends; and my study of history, business, politics, and economics; all lead me to believe that the generation most shaped by Hip-Hop, is at a pivotal time.
Most recently due to my relationship with CM Cap client, Bomani Armah, I have been back in many of my old circles - reliving memories and nightmares (smile) I have had in the music business. The industry that I left, in a major way in 1997, is nothing like the one that I have returned to in 2007. Nothing wrong with that.
But I am here to tell you that the Hip-Hop music industry, as we know it is in big trouble.
Mom and Pop record stores have been shut down (thanks to the RIAA and of course some 'snitching' and back-biting within the Independent retail world). Overall sales are plummeting (not just declining), even for artists whose record spins, budgets and visibility would indicate otherwise i.e. David Banner in '05 and Swizz Beats in '07, and please note the dramatic decline in sales by Common, who has been unable to sustain the momentum of an initially promising debut release.
Rumours of lay offs and firings are heating up each week.
And there are other cultural factors at work, influencing change - for better and worse.
The pressure to clean up lyrics - part backlash to White offenders (Imus and Richards), part the cumulative work of spiritual leaders and community activists (Minister Farrakhan and the N-Word eradication movement) - has resulted in pressure on record labels, radio and video outlets that has begun to produce cleaner imagery and lyrics while producing greater conservatism in business models, and a chilling effect on the promotion of artists and products that might come under scrutiny.
In addition, as is the case with any maturing and evolving era, there is a divide across the youngest and oldest members of the Hip-Hop generation, which I have usually referred to as those who are 18 to 45 (now I realize the upper and lower limits of my count have to expand).
We are in a period of transition from one stage to another. But this next stage will be a paradigm shift, not just adjustment and reform. The technological, political, cultural and economic factors influencing Hip-Hop are in revolutionary movement.
And this is why I have begun to stress to all in my travels that the artists are no longer the most influential players in the entire culture and industry. The greatest force are those individuals who have been fed by the culture, and grown up feeding on the products and services offered by this industry over the last 30 years.
We have reached a point in time where an entire generation now is presented with the challenge and opportunity of determining the influence, defining the value, and applying the Lessons of Hip-Hop to every aspect of society. Now, millions of us are in the valley of decision, so to speak, as we translate Hip-Hop into our lives as parents, entrepreneurs, activists, educators, spiritual leaders, professionals, artists, consumers and producers.
All of us, in some way or another who have been influenced by this culture are determining what it has meant to us as individuals.
My exhortation has been that it is now more important for a large segment of us to determine what Hip-Hop ultimately means for us - no longer as fans and consumers, but as leaders. Those who ultimately identify with Hip-Hop or 'rap,' as fans of its music and consumers are to be respected and permitted to evolve that relationship, but a critical mass of us are in a different place in too many other areas - fulfilling other roles, and facing life's challenges, to use most of our passion, intellect, and energy debating who has the hotter album, and who the greatest MC is or was.
I sometimes become uncomfortable watching 30 and 40 something year olds more enthused about a discussion about the art for its own sake, than they are about the hearts, minds, souls, and conditions of those who make art. Interestingly some of these passionate fans in this age bracket seem to not respect the same passionate relationship that our teenagers are growing into and forming with the artists of their day. Funny how we become like those who raised and groomed us, and whom we criticize, without realizing it.
Like the Divine word, in some respects, the energy that is released by the hearing and insight of Hip-Hop music is incredible, but the highest level of that energy is yet to be fully released in how we apply and embody the best of Hip-Hop music.
And that is why, through CM Cap, we have been in the lab, not only quietly working with artists, advising them on cultural phenomenon, political and community affairs, technological change, and innovative business models - but also consulting with legions of entrepreneurs who have been shaped by a generation of Hip-Hop music, rap videos, radio playlists, political activism, and too many clothing lines to count (smile).
This is our time and our age, and there is a higher calling and responsibility that this culture and phenomenon have been moving us toward.
More on that at "Business and Building" II, October 26th to the 28th in Washington D.C.
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Friday, October 19, 2007