Why Managing Rap Artists is Different
“Information, inspiration and ideas to help you achieve
your profit, escape and/or health/wellness
'[excerpt from This Game of Hip Hop Artist Management featuring Chuck D's 25 Ways To Get A Record Deal]
There is a battle
Within our society, there is a battle being waged. It's a psychologically devastating battle because the weapons the enemy is using are everyday things that we've always been told are good for us. We've been told that television is entertainment, but it is one of the most lethal weapons in the enemy's arsenal. We've been told that newspapers exist to keep us in touch with the world, but those are being used to remove us from world's agenda. We've been told that magazines and books are for our enjoyment and education, but they too are used to narrow our minds, limit our dreams, distort our past and erase our future. We look at billboards on the highway, ads on the subway, and listen to announcements on the radio, without realizing the sinister ways they are being used to lull us to sleep. Even the jobs we go to, no matter how grandiose and fulfilling, are elaborately interwoven into a system designed to maintain the world of our enemy while destroying ours. The battle is as real as it is imagined. And it rages against us through other weapons as commonplace as the items we buy, the food we eat, and even the music we listen to.
This Is How The Battle Is Being Waged
Within our society, the battle is being waged through messages. Messages are being sent using those same everyday conveniences now turned into weapons. Messages are being sent telling us and telling the world who commits the most crimes. Messages are being sent telling us who should buy certain products, and who shouldn't. Who counts, and who doesn't count. Who owns businesses and who doesn't. Who needs in-home pregnancy tests and who needs birth control and abortions. Who has feelings and who doesn't. Whose life matters and whose doesn't. Whose crimes are excusable and whose aren't. Messages are being sent in the decisions about which recording acts are promoted and which images are pushed. From the blatant acts of police brutality against certain of the nation's people to the subtlety of where your people are positioned in magazine ads, messages are being sent. The messages create and enforce our view of ourselves, our view of the world, and the world's view of us. The messages are both the cause of and caused by everything that we experience. They are part of a self-perpetuating cycle of reality: Messages create images. Images create expectations. Expectations create behavior. Behavior sends (and enforces) yet more messages.
Everything that you wish to do, anything that you wish to accomplish, anyplace you wish to live, are all stages for the battle. The battle rages with you, within you and without you. The battle rages on in your mind, in your home, in your television, in your radio, in your clothes. Every now and then one of the ongoing battles gets pushed to the forefront of our awareness and you find yourself wanting to fight back. You think to yourself: " If I buy these boots, I am supporting a company that doesn't respect me. If I by this car, I am supporting a company that fired everyone who looks like me. If I buy this newspaper, I am supporting a company which can't seem to find anything positive to report about anyone who looks like me. If I have my artist sign with this label, even though I make a living, I support and make money for a company that probably wouldn't hire me if I went to them for a job. I care about the good of my people, but how can I fight the battle and still achieve the success that I want? The very nature of success in this society is measured by how well I fit into the system way it is. How well I support an economic system which as its foundation is the oppression of people who look like me. How then do I participate in the society without participating in my own destruction?" It's difficult. It's a mental struggle which many others before you have engaged in. It's a struggle which some choose not to see, much less fight. If you fight it, it can make you feel like an outsider inside your own mind. But that is the nature of the battle.
What Makes It More Psychologically Damaging
A child growing up in South Africa, Bosnia or Lebanon has a distinct advantage over a child growing up in Harlem. The child waking up in Lebanon sees a reality around him that is confirmed by others in the society. The lines are clearly drawn in this child's life. That part of town is off limits. This part of town is safe. That is the enemy, and this is how you identify him. This is an ally and this is how you identify him. Those children are told: "That is the enemy's way, it is bad and we must fight it to be free." A child in Harlem, on the other hand is told: "That is the enemy's way, but it is good and we must support it and try to become like them to be free." For the child growing up in a middle-east war zone, there is comfort in the fact that the greater society is not in a state of denial or cover-up about the reality. The causes of the hostility have been agreed upon and are known and accepted by all. The weapons have been chosen by both sides. The nature of the battle is never in dispute. The existence of the battle is never questioned. The child isn't told by his teachers, parents and relatives that the battle is his own fault for behaving this way or that. She isn't called upon to "fit in" and pretend that the injustices do not exist or that she can somehow erase the war zone by behaving differently, by, in effect, trying to be more like the enemy. For the child in South Africa, the screams remind this child that the battle indeed continues. The blood on the streets and the broken glass mark the spots where battles have taken place. The battles have been recorded in the collective memory, and everyone agrees that it was so.
For the child in the inner city in America, however, few even address the war. Days will go by without a single direct mention. Newscasts will air and still no trace. Children go through their days experiencing the overt but often silent assaults on their psyches, from teachers, storeowners, policemen and other strangers. Assaults that they've come to take almost for granted. At work, their parents endure the remarks, the omissions, the telltale glances, the frustration of working twice as hard for half the reward. Then they all come home and pretend that all is well. "Sure, there are problems here and there,", they remark. "But look where we've come from. We're making progress and soon everything will be better." And after the talking is done, they pick up a magazine, switch on the television, listen to the radio, put on their sneakers--in effect, turning the weapons on themselves, and the battle is on again. For a child in this reality, the internal conflict and the external conflict are never reconciled. The battle may rage full force for a lifetime without its impact ever being validated. Every day he is sent out into enemy territory without so much as a bulletproof vest of acknowledgment. The lines aren't drawn, the enemy is never pointed out. What's worse, often the weapons are never identified for him. Even in the middle of his neighborhood, in what should be a safe haven in a war zone of apathy and hostility, a 20-foot high billboard, (an emissary from the other side), stands unchallenged and attacks his right to live a clean life by telling him he will be a real man when he starts drinking malt liquor and smoking cigarettes. He steps into a movie theatre in his town, and pays money to be assaulted by images and to be told stories which frequently leave him out of the picture. Stories that show him a narrow vision of what is expected of him when he is included. He steps on a bus and is ambushed by ads which show certain people carefree on tropical beaches, and other ads which show familiar faces in drug rehabilitation programs. Right then and there, and a million other times a day across the country, a little battle is fought and lost, a mind is conquered, a dream is taken hostage and a future is held for ransom. The battles are silent and swift. No screams, no blood, no broken glass, and it's never reported in the news.
How This Battle Affects The Rap Artist Manager
So what does all this have to do with managing a Rap artist? The manager of a Rap act must understand that music and the industry built around it are battle grounds and at the same time they are weapons. She must understand that when she enters an office to represent her act, that much of the same battle that she encounters in the outside world may be with her there as well. There is no reason to assume that the prevailing mindset of the nation as a whole is not also present within the music industry. The messages have been sent, received and assimilated. Perceptions of her, her act, their members, their music and its significance are already there waiting for her. She must understand that as a result, she may have to fight for the same respect that is unconditionally accorded her Rock and Pop counterparts.
The manager of a Rap act must realize as well that he is trying give voice to a culture within an industry that views that culture and its voice as a fad within the larger society. Despite the phenomenal growth of Rap music, there is still a mindset which would like to relegate it to the status of a passing fancy, basically to wish it away. Much of the time when music is being discussed, Rap the genre is often added as an afterthought or just conspicuously absent. In many books on the music industry one has to search long and hard to find mention of this powerful medium or its players. For those within it, Rap is a voice of a culture called Hip Hop. KRS ONE said, "Rap is something you do, Hip Hop is something you live." Those who don't live it, somehow can't grasp the merit of the medium, the meaning of the message or the mindset of the messengers. For those outside, it is nothing but a curious development with vast potential for exploitation. They see it the way we might see a hot stock to invest in, or a new style of clothing: simply as a business opportunity.
Understand this when you encounter indifference and opposition. Understand this and you'll cease to view all setbacks as personal affronts to you and your culture. You'll see them for what they are: just business decisions in an unsympathetic society. Your success as an artist/manager/entrepreneur, and indeed your sanity in the battle, may depend on how effectively you can adapt and develop real power on one side of the battle line while deriving your sense of self and maintaining your humanity on the other. [Read that sentence again!]
Why Rap Is On The Forefront Of The Battle
The manager of a Rap artist must understand also that the very culture that his artists represent is by its nature at odds with the majority's society. Unlike Rock, Pop and even R&B, which for the most part, enforce the major culture by avoiding certain issues of reality. Rap, by its very nature is altogether different. In style as well as content, Rap bucks tradition, questions authority, and contradicts the "business as usual" way of thinking by daring to say: "Things aren't as we're being told." This radical way of thinking is seen as a threat to the status quo. And indeed it is. But where did it come from? It is a way of thinking and feeling that developed in response to an oppressive culture within which it now struggles to survive. The society is oppressive. Those whom it oppresses developed a voice to speak about the oppression. The rage, the hopelessness, the despair as well as all the good there is now seeks validation. Despite efforts to the contrary, one cannot discuss Rap without discussing the prevailing divisions that exist within this society: divisions of black and white, rich and poor. One cannot discuss Rap without also discussing the plight of the Black male and female in society. The message and the messenger stand as testaments to a long avoided reality. Because of these inherent associations, therefore, to promote Rap is to give a voice to a segment of society which previously was not allowed a voice, listened to or noticed. To grant equal status to Rap as an art form is to grant equal status to the Black male and female in this society. Rap, therefore, embodies the struggle in a way that no other music form does. So there will be those who seek to scapegoat the artform, to blame the messenger for the bad news, to rail against the culture in a way that seems almost obsessive, because in fact, it is. The obsession is for control because control is the name of the game. Those who wage the battle against Rap realize this. They realize what Rap's growth and acceptance will lead to. They know that:
Through Rap, we represent us
Through Rap, we speak our minds.
Through Rap, what we say is no longer discussed only among the victims.
Through Rap, what we see is no longer confined only to our neighborhoods.
Through Rap, we expose the despair created by the society to itself, to its children and to the world.
Through Rap, we can be seen in other places than the sports page and on America's Most Wanted.
Through Rap, this growing awareness leads to thoughts, which lead to action, which lead to control.
This then, is what separates Rap from other genres and what makes it a formidable weapon in our own arsenal. This is what makes it even more critical that the voice not be silenced. The potential within this medium is so great that many never fully grasp it. When you realize that in this country alone, an album can easily sell several million copies, combined with further exposure through bootlegs, radio listenership, sharing among friends, video play and club play, you can appreciate that Rap's words and images have more potential power to communicate and influence than most politicians, most newspapers, and many television shows. You should begin, then, to understand the other side's urgent need to disarm it.
How Rap, Your Weapon In The Battle, Can Be Disarmed, If You Allow It
The manager of a Rap act must operate within a slightly different reality than his Rock, Country, or even R&B counterpart. He must realize that even while he tries to make a living within the industry, the industry, by its very nature is set up in a way that mirrors the larger society and business in general. The larger society seeks to benefit and maintain itself, the people on top and their culture. Business, too, by its very nature, benefits and sustains the person above more than the person below. In the real world, the object of the game is to keep control where it is. Those in power know that if someone or something is perceived as a threat to your power, you control, silence or eliminate them (or it) if necessary.
In the real world, efforts at cohesiveness are hindered, images of progress are perverted, thoughts of revolution are quelled, and voices of discontent are silenced. If they can't be silenced, they must be modified until they can be "safely" perceived, packaged, and presented. The pace and priorities within the music industry mirror those in the real world.
Back in the old days of the music industry, the genre could be easily controlled. The nature of the music industry, its distribution system, and the methods of promotion were such that those in power could easily mask the identity of the performers, and thereby mask the identity of the music. With growth, the advent of video, and the communications revolution, we now have virtually instantaneous access to any event occurring any place on the globe. More people know what is going on every place else, so it has become decidedly more difficult for labels to maintain control simply by removing the color and identity of the music. However, their need for control is still there. So the rules of the game had to be modified. Before there were video images, control of packaging was easy. Now there are images, so the frontline of the battle has shifted. Now the tactics are censorship, and creating and highlighting negative images of and associations with the music. They seem to be saying: "Since we can't control it as before, or claim it as ours we'll make it unacceptable to the majority of the society. Once we can make it distasteful, we can justify its removal from the scene, or make it ripe for takeover." At the same time, of course, maintaining economic control is also a priority. So that as long as it is profitable, the economic benefit will be greatest at the top. (This is, of course, a simplistic view of a complex issue, but still useful in developing a workable understanding of the issue at hand.)
It is important that you see and understand how the power of the medium is being turned against itself. It is important that you see how control is being taken from our hands. It is important that you see how the effectiveness of our weapon is being minimized. The power of the medium may be turned on itself-- like a pitbull attacking its master--if there are continually negative depictions of who and what we are. The control of the medium may be taken from us if "others" choose which artists and representatives will be given voices. In other words: if the top levels of control are not peopled by us, or if the founders of the art form are not allowed to add their visions and wisdom to the continuing struggle, the weapon can be disarmed. The effectiveness of the weapon will be minimized if we allow the "fashion and fad" mentality to dilute the "message and meaning" emphasis.
How To Play The Game To Win
An artist and a manager should realize, therefore, that being on television is not a victory if the images that you present are created by someone else in order to keep things as they are. It's not the ultimate victory to have the power of communicating to the world, if what you say is chosen by someone else and doesn't make things better for you or your people. It's not the ultimate victory any more to be in business, if there is someone above you still controlling your destiny. Since you now recognize the weapons that are being used against you, pick them up and use them for your own purposes. Use your words to educate. Create your images to send messages of who you once were, who you are, who you wish to be. Build on those images to improve your self expectations. Build on those expectations to influence the behavior of your people. Expose that behavior to send new messages to your people and to the world. Victory lies in deciding which images are in your best interest, and in having the power to create them and get them seen. Victory is in creating jobs for others like you. Victory lies in owning, deciding and doing for self. Victory lies in countering the assault by sending your own messages. Victory is in building something with the power to create, educate and elevate.
What's At Stake?
Once you understand the nature of the battle in this way, you see that your success as a manager or artist is just one of the smaller battles in a much bigger one. The reason so many lose the hope of winning is that they don't understand the game as it is really being played. If you participate in the game without knowing what the object of the game is, you are bound to lose. If you participate in the game without developing an appropriate game plan, you are bound to lose. If you participate without thinking beyond your own personal bank account, you lose. If you participate and think that the battle is won when you can look proudly on your car, house, you lose. However, once you understand the nature of the game, you understand how to prepare for it. You understand that what's at stake is control. Control of the medium. Control of our thoughts. Control of our words. Control of our images. Control of our business. Control of our finances. Control of where we are positioned in magazine ads. Control of where we shop. Control of where we eat. Control of where we live. Control of our very existence. Control of our future.
NOW YOU ARE READY
So now you know the name of the game. Now you know what the object of the game is. Now you know how to identify the other players and their weapons. Now you know how the winner is determined. Now you know what you stand to lose and what you must strive to gain. Now you understand the nature of the game in a way that benefits you. Now, finally, you are ready to play this game of artist management... to win!
[excerpt from This Game of Artist Management featuring Chuck D's 25 Ways To Get A Record Deal]