Daily Archives: September 9, 2012

Rethinking “Success” in the Music Business

One of the things that I’ve been most appreciative of, since following David, is how I’ve deliberately exposed myself to the youth culture of today’s pop music scene – just as a way to understand what’s coming out in the world of music and among David’s peers.

It’s because of this interest, and especially my concerns for how David could “fit” into and be properly marketed in such an industry, why I take the time to get updated, even if I’m sometimes late to the party.

But I gotta tell ya: I’m now rethinking that “rekindled hope” for David’s career upon his return.

Case in point: remember how I had blogged my suspicions back in 2010 about an Interscope “industry plant” by the name of Greyson Chance? Well, apparently Jimmy Iovine and Co. are back again doing the same tomfoolery, this time with yet another “Internet discovery” by the name of Chief Keef.  Except this time, they’ve really gone too far, IMO, with their so-called “organic” find of a so-called hardcore “gangbanger” off of Chicago’s streets, who’s all of 16 years old.  A young black kid with glazed-over eyes (he apparently has mild autism and has a penchant for smoking weed and posing with guns), who is seemingly the next hot thing among Chicago’s inner-city youth groups and in the world of mainstream hip-hop.

Just to see what all the hype was about, I tuned into the hit song and video that’s gone viral with over 14 million views (how much did Interscope pay for those “views”?).

(WARNING: it’s a hope-halting, soul-stealing video – steel yourself!)

Y’all … I … just … can’t!

Between the weed-smoking, the obvious street-gang signs tattooed on their bodies, and the sheer hopelessness and vacuousness in their eyes, the NIHILISM! breaks my heart.  I mean, these are kids – even if hardened by street life and gun culture.

Still, it’s one thing to try to understand why a Chief Keef would become a celebrated rising star for the kids from his neighborhood and from a city that has clearly lost its way with its skyrocketing gun violence that has claimed the lives of dozens of our black youth.

However, it’s quite another to then later find out that:

1. This young rapper (real name Keith Cozart) was under house arrest beginning this year (for allegedly pointing a gun at an officer).

2. A viral video that put his name on the map featured, NOT his music, but a FAN going wild at the news that he had been released from custody (uh-huh, where have I heard that story before about these so-called “buzz” finds?).

3. Kanye West remixed his single “I Don’t Like,” which helped catapult him to the mainstream hip-hop community beyond Chicago’s local culture.

4. The rap website Pitchfork featured 16-year-old Chief Keef in an interview – taking place at a shooting rage that had a restriction on underage minors no less – posing with guns (this while blood continued spilling on Chicago’s streets) and then later apologized for their misguided shortsightedness and pathetic “hipster” attempts at “street credibility.”

All this while news released over the summer that Interscope signed this young fella to a record deal, which includes among other things a publishing deal with Dr. Dre, a movie deal (oh Lawdy!), and a headphones endorsement.

Of course, Chief Keef has garnered quite a bit of controversy of late, not just because of this reenergized interest in gangsta rap – set against a very bloody summer of 2012 – and some tweets that seemed to mock the death of a young rival rapper last weekend (causing some to ask Interscope to rethink this record deal, which of course they won’t – they expect him to blow up like 50 Cent) but also because “conscious rappers” have already warned their audiences that this latest subculture “scares them” (said Lupe Fiasco) or, as Rhymefest describes, this young boy is a ticking “bomb” and a “spokesperson for the prison industrial complex.” Or, to directly quote him:

Many people will say “Chief Keef is a young black man making money who wouldn’t have had any other opportunity, why isn’t this a good thing?” Which brings us back to the question, who is bank rolling this operation and why? This could only be described as an opportunity for this young man if he was receiving artist development, responsible mentorship and counseling for his obvious trauma. By the way, Major Record labels always put million dollar life insurance policies on artist of this nature so that they get paid one way or the other.  My suggestion to the rest of us who would love to see the mushroom cloud from this explosion, BE CAUTIOUS! The affects from this type of Bomb can last for centuries.

So, what could this possibly have to do with David’s return in 2014? I mean, the only connection is Interscope, and that’s more or less a six-degree separation considering the label’s close ties to American Idol.  My issue with this latest “trend” is its exposure of the unconscionable and amoral depths to which the music industry will exploit underage “talent” (if we can call it that) and the lengths they will go to market gimmicks and “authenticity,” even if that authenticity is based on the blood of dead black teens.

Maybe certain young kids in a certain situation look at a Chief Keef and can “relate,” but all I see is a young kid who has grown up mimicking all the signs and symbols of black masculinity in pop culture.  I see no young 50 Cent or even a young Lil Wayne. I see a wannabe, who has gathered a following, and now a major label is going to throw money at him and try to pass off “street culture” like it’s the next cool flavor (even though we’ve been there, done that how many times now? Are we really going to have to relive the Tupac, Biggie, and Deathrow Records era all over again because a new generation think they’re seeing something “new” but with half the talent?).

I see a bad end to all of this, and I personally am not cool with either blaxploitation or child labor violations (which the entertainment industry never seems to answer for since parents and guardians are all too quick to throw their kids to the wolves for the almighty dollar).

I see a music industry that cares nothing at all about the product they market (MUSIC!) and simply wants to hoodwink its artists and the consumers who support them by convincing us all that they are the greatest at “discovering talent” with no social responsibility for supporting artistic development or mentoring or cultural, economic, and social growth in general.

I’m not comfortable with this kind of business; I know the music industry is struggling to make ends meet, but you know, trafficking in child pornography is just not the way to do it (I don’t care if the “pornography” is poverty or gang violence – designed to get folks hyped up in supporting drug wars and mass incarceration of youth of color).

I used to wonder why certain folks were convinced the music business is run by a bunch of secret-society devil-worshipping types, but I believe such conspiracy theories are based in paranoia even though often times regular folk are just stumbling upon uncomfortable truths.  The word Satan, when translated, means “Destroyer,” and while I don’t believe in the existence of an Illuminati, I do know that the music industry plays an important part in a larger, complex machine.

It may not be powerful enough to be the Destroyer, however.  No, it’s merely a skin lesion, the external sign that the body (politic) is being destroyed. If we want to find the cancer or the HIV virus, we must look elsewhere for that.

It’s because major labels have shown, with this latest example, that they don’t care and have no respect for either the artists they attract or the audiences they cater to, why I have to rethink what a “successful” career would mean for someone like David when he returns from his mission.

All of a sudden, the prospect of him performing for his niche audience in an underground setting, on an indie label, far far away from such soul-stealing art-destroying PIMPS sounds like a good deal to me.