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.

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Posted on September 9, 2012, in current trends. Bookmark the permalink. 27 Comments.

  1. hg, i think you hit the nail on the head when it comes to david.,he is repel and i think the music industry is afraid of him,he will did it his way,why else would they try to stope his tour ,go david here for you all the way

  2. “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…”

    Really? It depresses me to think of mature women and men deliberately checking out teen videos and lurking on message boards, etc. JMO.

    • It depresses me to think of someone so close-minded as to feel a person should confine themselves to entertainment options or contact with people based on age, gender, beliefs, etc.

      Really.

    • Why would mature women and men not want to continue to know what is going in the world, whether more teen-directed or any age-directed. We are surrounded by our peers, children or grandchildren and our parents and I will always want to stay connected to the world through their eyes and my eyes. Blogs have no age and education good or bad comes from the young and the old. Knowing what is going on in the world whether politics or music helps us make informed decisions and have informed conversatations.

  3. Interesting post, HG. I’ll admit up front that I do not know much about the rap scene but I’ve seen this same scenario echoed to certain degrees in many areas. It reminds me of a discussion we had last week about the article on Scooter Braun and the manufacturing of the “discovery” of Justin Bieber.

    As with many things, there are days I have a lot of hope for the music industry and then there are days I’m ready to renounce any time spent even thinking about it. As someone who has been drawn to music from a very young age, its disheartening to see the deception and manipulation. To me music is so much more than that. So much more than spins or bullets on a chart or buzz. I know its an industry that needs to make money. Its just hard to accept how far it will go down to get that buck.

    I know that this is not something unique to music. You see it everywhere. But while I’m painting some grim picture, I still see so much good. As far as major labels go…I’m divided. The exposure they can offer is huge. The doors they open is also huge. But the cost of those conveniences can prove to be high. Can some artists have a major label deal and still be genuine? Sure. Is it for every artist? Nope.

    I’m not sure yet where David will fall in that spectrum. As a fan, I’m just along for the ride I guess. David has really strong ideas of where he will and won’t compromise, from what I’ve seen.

  4. Folks, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Anon is a TROLL. Do not feed into her B.S.

    Don’t let this conversation get derailed.

    So we’re mature women and men who love us a young David Archuleta. Get over your issues with what’s age appropriate.

    Better yet, if you can’t comment w/o throwing shade and insults, then get off this blog!

    • oh, good to know, HG – I must have missed that troll info. Thanks!

    • hg Like I just mentioned in the previous post I just wish that they had the same moderation in other blogs/sites that their is here on SD. Go look at the comments on some of the sites such as tmz and people.com. What is allowed to be posted in comments on those sites is just awful. The trolls just are allowed to take over. lol No wonder there is such a issue with cyber bullying on twitter and online. I will say that mjs blog has greatly improved since S7. They are actually nice to David their now. lol I know that all don’t agree with me or my opinions but I am actually OK with that. Just no personal attacks and we all have different sensitivity levels on different days. I know I do. lol

  5. All the more reason David will probably not sign with one of these Major Labels again and will stay Independant. He has done well since leaving Jive with independant contracts with Sony Asia, TV5, Ivory, Deseret, Mountain Shadows, Bench/Fix and staying true to himself. I don’t forsee him signing with the likes of Interscope.

    • The other side of this whole label issue is that realistically David just might not have the choice to go with a major label when he returns with the way the music industry is. Even though that is what I want as a fan for David it just might not be the choice that is available even if he wanted it . Not so sure he does anyway. hg did have some good points regarding the current state of the music industry in her post . Most Idols and even other reality talent contestants are getting dropped or should I say parting ways with their labels. I hope he can at least go with a larger indie label with distribution through a major label. I guess keeping all available options open is the only way to go for David when he returns.

      • I now “get” the title of your post “Rethinking Success in the Music Business”,hg. It just took me a little longer to process it. lol. You do need to rethink it for music artists like David these days.

  6. I agree that this is a very interesting post hg. I was not aware of Chief Keef and that video. lol That is just not my type of music. I do agree the music industry is in a sad state of affairs. You are right about the few that they do promote now. I still think David needs to sign with a major label or a large independent label that distributes through a major label when he returns. Most indie labels do distribute through a major label. I know that is not a popular opinion with many fans. lol I just hate to see him go with just a very small independent label and not try to expand his fan base. He needs good pro. management/team behind him too. David has to rebuild his career when he returns after 2 years away. I just don’t see it any other way as a fan to be honest.

    • Great article Hg, it really is a tough business.
      Marie, I’m one of the miniorities that feel the same as you.

    • I know what you mean, Marie, but the thing that got me writing on this issue is the bottom-scraping tactics of the major records. I think I would have a different attitude if we were talking about the “discovery” of a grown man, but we’re talking about a young kid here, not being guided but instead exploited by grown-a$$ men with serious money and power.

      If this were any other industry, folks would be outraged at the obvious exploitation, but this is entertainment with the promise of $$ so it’s all supposed to be OK.

      And far from what others may think, I do believe this is something all of us – mature and young alike – should be aware of. It’s not just the kind of music that’s out there, based on the murder and death of young people, but that a powerful industry is trying to profit off of it.

      I WISH this were just about Interscope finding another Bieber or Greyson Chance – the fact that they weren’t evening trying to find the equivalent of a black Bieber but instead America’s “black nightmare” is what I find distasteful.

      • I agree with you on all points hg about the music industry profiting off these young people. It is exploitation. It is food for thought. I just don’t know what the answer is because I am not sure there is a good answer anymore for music artists in the industry.

      • Great points HG!! Thanks for bringing it to our attention. Chicago is already having way too many shootings. Certainly don’t want it to be glamorized. 😦 I would be so frightened as a parent or child in that atmosphere.

    • I would like to see David go back to Nashville which he started when he left Jive. He was exploring options and I think his exploration was interupted because he then went to California. I’m thinking he may have gotten his call(not sure of procedures) but we no longer heard about this exploration. I would not want to see him limited to a small independant label either. There were definitely some interesting people he met with in Nashville and unfortunately I forget who they were. Time will tell but don’t expect him to go with a Label like Interscope, Jive(which has folded) or RCA.

      • I agree with you about Nashville for David Heidijoy. I think that might be a good fit for David. I also wonder if he might reconnect with Joy and her husband Nate from the Civil Wars. That would not be such a bad plan for David. I will say the Civil Wars has done incredible for being on an indie label. I just read they sold 500,000 copies of their CD which is just a huge amount of sales for a group on an indie label now. Kelly Clarkson had done very well in her career right now with having her Nashville connections.

      • Isn’t is kind of ironic that David Cook now lives in Nashville. Not sure but I think he does. lol

      • Yes Joy and her husband would be a good connection and he loved it in Nashville. There was another guy that he met with that had a very interesting Musical and creative background and I remember we were excited about the possibility but don’t remember his name. Yes Marie, thought David Cook moving there was interesting. It does seem like a friendly place for Musicians. Yes the Civil Wars has had a nice growth-and stayed true to who they are. (even got a little help from Taylor Swift giving them a shout out:)

  7. I like that David seems to be able to get some backing for his tours. I remember people talking about Sony people at a couple of his US tour dates. I think Sony in general keeps one eye on him tour-wise because he is such a charismatic performer. Meanwhile, I guess it should not come as a surprise that kids are being manipulated by industry people who rationalize it all out. It seems once big money gets involved, the decision-makers put blinders on. I remember in the early days of “Dr. Phil” when there was all the hype and i flipped the channels and there he was with a family and a young teen and I thought – wow, the parents sold out their kid and said ok and Dr. Phil is up there and that kid will never live down having his problems aired on tv. I don’t know where I am going with this but it is a very good think to have essays on topics like this, HG to keep our eyes open and even if we feel powerless, the word actually gets out there.

  8. Thanks for another thought provoking post, HG. I too have been interested in the music industry and the youth culture of today’s pop music scene. I think adults should know what kids are listening to despite what anon (the troll) thinks. The lyrics in some of the songs are appalling to me, but that’s nothing compared to this exploitation. I am glad that David wants to offer hope through his music. I just hope that it will be heard. I don’t expect him to sign with a major label in the U.S. but hope he can continue with Sony in Asia. His best bet for success is probably outside of the U.S. which is the sad commentary on the major labels in the U.S.

    David Cook has moved to Nashville. In recent interviews he indicated that he didn’t like living in LA and disliked trying to write music with strangers which is what happens when signed to a major label. I don’t think our David liked that either. I too hope that David goes back to Nashville when he returns.

  9. this is the first i’ve heard of chief keef. i tried but couldn’t listen to his song all the way thru. interscope plans on exploiting him to the hilt. pimps is the right word for industry & label execs who operate in this manner. i hope someone is looking out for this young man’s best interest.

    re. david, it’s hard for me to guess what he’ll do once he returns. maybe the next big thing on the internet will be a new social media format that works in his favor.

    • David has a way of surprising us. Just when I think I have him figured out he does something totally different than I would have guessed. I never thought he’d act in a Philippine mini series/soap opera or model for Bench.. Who knows for sure what he will do? It’s even hard to know how social media will change. Twitter was just catching on when he got his record deal in 2008. The music business is in change mode right now. Hopefully David will find a way.

  10. I just hope that the social medium continues to change so that they can find a way to control judgmental trolls that post on sites and on twitter because their identity is protected behind a computer.

  11. Great article HG. I think that those who buy music or the parents who buy it for their children should be aware of these kind of things.
    What Interscope is doing with this new kid is not new in the music biz. But they’re doing it at a new level and with less and less principles. There were/are too many prefabricated singers sold as genuine raw talents to even try to count them all lol. Especially those marketed towards kids. I think that Disney did the same with their young singers (only using different means). But I understand that it’s not such a big deal because the Disney stars are seen as harmless for the youth.

    I’m more of a cynic person in general but I want to think that there’s a place for David in this music industry and I really think that he fits in it. The main medias as TV and radio sattions don’t promote them but there are so many artists who are not considered as mainstream but who are doing really well by only offering their art to those who want to listen. And some are signed to Majors.
    I think that there is no more such thing as “artist development” by the record labels because they want to see the fruits of their investment immediately, money is the only thing that counts, especially now that they are dealing with economical problems. A new artist who tries to break in this current industry needs to know exactly who he is and what he wants before trying to get a record deal. I don’t think that David got that chance. He was really young when he auditioned for AI (and I’m not only talking about age here) and then everything went really fast for him. I hope that his past experience in the music business and his two years break from it will help him when he’ll resume his career. I’m sure that he knows by now what his sound is and what kind of music he wants to make. I really think that David can make it without a major label. I think that an indie label like the Civil Wars’ one would be a good fit for him. But I also think that he’ll need a great management team and creative persons by his side who are on the same boat as him and have a real marketing plan. He’ll really need to change things in that department IMO.

  12. Thanks HG for the thought provoking, well thought-out, well written article.
    Part of me has longed for big time success for David from the beginning. I’ve wanted to think
    “everyone” would recognize his amazing voice and beautiful nature. To me that’s part of the basic
    gift of music, to unite and inspire people, sometimes to give us hope and bring us to a better place.
    But even since AI7 I’ve known that David wouldn’t really make it BIG, that a lot of folks are cynical
    and that the music and entertainment scene reflects that. I’ve come to peace with that and just want for David to keep making music and having concerts for anyone who gets him. And perhaps little by little his light will shine on more and more “listeners” and that will keep us going. He may not have
    songs on the big time charts but he’ll have his self respect and honesty and I want that far more than
    him selling out for more money or air time.
    More and more his music provides this island of truth for me and it’s okay if the island isn’t over crowded.

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