Facts about hip-hop and prison for profit



GoldenUndergroundTV recently released an interview I did with them late last year. I got a bit animated at the end. Only so many interviews in a row I could handle being asked about Chief Keef.

My tirade wasn’t really about Chief Keef. It wasn’t about Gucci Mane or Wocka Flocka or any of the acts spontaneously catapulted into stardom by synchronized mass media coverage despite seemingly universal indifference (at the very best) regarding their talent. Whose arrests, involvement in underaged pregnancies, concert shootouts, and facial tattoos, dominate conversation for weeks at a time, with their actual music a mere afterthought, if thought of at all.

My tirade was about marketing. It was about media powers seeking out the biggest pretend criminal kingpins they can find, (many of whom who shamelessly adopt the names of actual real life criminal kingpins like 50 Cent and Rick Ross), and exalting them as the poster children for a culture. It was about an art form reduced to product placement, the selling of a lifestyle, and ultimately, a huge ad for imprisonment.

This is not my opinion.

Last year Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the biggest name in the private prison industry, contacted 48 states offering to buy their prisons. One stipulation of eligibility for the deal was particularly bizarre: “an assurance by the agency partner that the agency has sufficient inmate population to maintain a minimum 90% occupancy rate over the term of the contract.

What kind of legitimate and ethical measures could possibly be taken to ensure the maintenance of a 90% prison occupancy rate?

Two months later an anonymous email was sent out to various members of the music and publishing industries giving an account of a meeting where it was determined that hip-hop music would be manipulated to drive up privatized prison profits. Its author, despite claiming to be a former industry insider, did not provide the names of anyone involved in the plot, nor did he specify by which company he himself was employed. As such, the letter was largely regarded as a fraud for lack of facts.

Ninety percent of what Americans read, watch and listen to is controlled by only six media companies. PBS’s Frontline has described the conglomerates that determine what information is disseminated to the public as a “web of business relationships that now defines America’s media and culture.” Business relationships. Last year a mere 232 media executives were responsible for the intake of 277 million Americans, controlling all the avenues necessary to manufacture any celebrity and incite any trend. Time Warner, as owner of Warner Bros Records (among many other record labels), can not only sign an artist to a recording contract but, as the owner ofEntertainment Weekly, can see to it that they get next week’s cover. Also the owner of New Line Cinemas, HBO and TNT, they can have their artist cast in a leading role in a film that, when pulled from theaters, will be put into rotation first on premium, then on basic, cable. Without any consideration to the music whatsoever, the artist will already be a star, though such monopolies also extend into radio stations and networks that air music videos. For consumers, choice is often illusory. Both BET and MTV belong to Viacom. While Hot 97, NYC’s top hip hop station, is owned by Emmis Communications, online streaming is controlled by Clear Channel, who also owns rival station Power 105.

None of this is exactly breaking news, but when ownership of these media conglomerates is cross checked with ownership of the biggest names in prison privatization, interesting new facts emerge.

According to public analysis from Bloomberg, the largest holder in Corrections Corporation of America is Vanguard Group Incorporated. Interestingly enough, Vanguard also holds considerable stake in the media giants determining this country’s culture. In fact, Vanguard is the third largest holder in both Viacom and Time Warner. Vanguard is also the third largest holder in the GEO Group, whose correctional, detention and community reentry services boast 101 facilities, approximately 73,000 beds and 18,000 employees. Second nationally only to Corrections Corporation of America, GEO’s facilities are located not only in the United States but in the United Kingdom, Australia and South Africa.

You may be thinking, “Well, Vanguard is only the third largest holder in those media conglomerates, which is no guarantee that they’re calling any shots.” Well, the number-one holder of both Viacom and Time Warner is a company called Blackrock. Blackrock is the second largest holder in Corrections Corporation of America, second only to Vanguard, and the sixth largest holder in the GEO Group.

There are many other startling overlaps in private-prison/mass-media ownership, but two underlying facts become clear very quickly: The people who own the media are the same people who own private prisons, the EXACT same people, and using one to promote the other is (or “would be,” depending on your analysis) very lucrative.

Such a scheme would mean some very greedy, very racist people.

There are facts to back that up, too.

Prison industry lobbyists developing and encouraging criminal justice policies to advance financial interests has been well-documented. The most notorious example is the Washington-based American Legislative Council, a policy organization funded by CCA and GEO, which successfully championed the incarceration promoting “truth in sentencing” and “three-strikes” sentencing laws. If the motive of the private prison industry were the goodhearted desire to get hold of inmates as quickly as possible for the purpose of sooner successfully rehabilitating them, maintenance of a 90% occupancy rate would be considered a huge failure, not a functioning prerequisite.

Likewise, the largest rise in incarceration that this country has ever seen correlates precisely with early-80’s prison privatization. This despite the fact that crime rates actually declined since this time. This decreasing crime rate was pointed out enthusiastically by skeptics eager to debunk last year’s anonymous industry insider, who painted a picture of popularized hip-hop as a tool for imprisoning masses. What wasn’t pointed out was that despite crime rates going down, incarceration rates have skyrocketed. While the size of the prison population changed dramatically, so did its complexion. In “‘All Eyez on Me’: America’s War on Drugs and the Prison-Industrial Complex,” Andre Douglas Pond Cummings documents the obvious truth that “the vast majority of the prisoner increase in the United States has come from African-American and Latino citizen drug arrests.”

Add to this well-documented statistics proving that the so-called “war on drugs” has been waged almost entirely on low-income communities of color, where up until just two years ago, cocaine sold in crack form fetched sentences 100 times as lengthy as the exact same amount of cocaine sold in powdered form, which is much more common in cocaine arrests in affluent communities. (In July 2010 the oddly named Fair Sentencing Act was adopted, which, rather than reducing the crack/powder disparity from 100-to-1 to 1-to-1, reduced it to 18-to-1, which is still grossly unfair.) This is not to suggest that the crack/powder disparity represents the extent of the racism rampant within the incarceration industry. The U.S. Sentencing Commission reported in March 2010 that in the federal prison system, even where convicted for the exact same crimes, people of color received prison sentences 10% longer . Where convictions are identical, mandatory minimum sentences are also 21% more likely for people of color.

Finally, let us not forget the wealth of evidence to support the notion that crime-, drug- and prison-glorifying hip-hop only outsells other hip-hop because it receives so much more exposure and financial backing, and that when given equal exposure, talent is a much more reliable indicator of success than content.

Yasiin Bey (formerly Mos Def) put it best; “‘hip-hop” is just shorthand for ‘black people.'” Before our eyes and ears, a “web of business relationships that now defines America’s media and culture” has one particular business raking in billions of dollars while another defines the culture of a specific demographic as criminal. Both business are owned by the same people. Mainstream media continue to endorse hip-hop that glorifies criminality (most notably drug trafficking and violence), and private prison interests, long since proven to value profits over human rights, usher in inmates of color to meet capacity quotas. The same people disproportionately incarcerated when exposed to the criminal justice system are at every turn inundated with media normalizing incarceration to the point that wherever there is mainstream hip-hop music, reference to imprisonment as an ordinary, even expected, component of life is sure to follow.

Conspiracy theorists get a lot of flak for daring entertain the notion that people will do evil things for money. Historical atrocities like slavery and the Holocaust are universally acknowledged, yet simultaneously adopted is the contradictory position that there can’t possibly be any human beings around intelligent enough and immoral enough to perpetrate such things. Even in the midst of the Europe-wide beef that was actually horse-meat fiasco, and the release of real-life nightmare documenting films like “Sunshine and Oranges,” there is an abundance of people content to believe that the only conspiracies that ever exist are those that have successfully been exposed.

The link between mass media and the prison industrial complex, however, is part of a very different type of conversation.

The information in this article was not difficult to find; it is all public.

This is not a conspiracy. This is a fact.

beanie says:

It’s Hip Hop music, not gangsta rap per se anymore. Hip Hop music has world wide accceptance along with some of the more extreme behavior especially sexual or rebellious that came out of gangsta rap. Just look at clothes trends and phraseology. As a high school teacher, it was an every day phenomenon to witness kids immersed in the lives and crimes of their heroes or heroines. But rap also utilizes talent, quick thinking, rhyme, and meter – especially extemporaneous rap. Kids love it and practice it and admire those who are good at it. Money, guns, sex are the constant themes in Hip Hop. This is being promoted heavily from somewhere; and reflected in the films as well as the music. This essay puts some light on what rappers have been saying for a long time. Thanks for the discussion.

Exactly! But their talent is bein shaped for negative influences not the struggle and to win. If it was they would give back

G McCoy says:

Lets invest in these companies and use the proceeds to help young people with hope and opportunity. A job, education lets get busy. This is what Harry Belafonte was referring.

Anon says:

“Oh yeah and another thing
For all ya niggas that don’t do gangsta rap
Don’t get on TV talking about gangsta rap
Cause 9 times at a 10 you don’t know the fuck you talk about
Talk about that bullshit rap you do
Stay the fuck out of mine ”

(Gangsta Rap Made Me Do It)

DS says:

Is this all just a joke? Did anyone notice Sandman signed up to Stones Throw Records, and curiously enough starts throwing stones within days of his album release! That’s classic marketing!

Is this how it works? – Say we have person A, ends up in jail in late 2013 and blames it on the record label that released Chief Keef…..Cheif Keef blames his influence on the record label that released Lil Wayne…….Lil Wayne blames his influence on the label that put out 50 Cent……50 Cent blames his influences on the label that released Notorious BIG……Biggie blames the label that put out Junior Mafia……Junior Mafia blames the label that put out Ice T………Ice T blames it on the record label that put out Schoolly D……..Schoolly D blames it on the the realities of living in a tough urban environment.

Fool. What do u think programming is? Even the police are programmed to go after us. Not Biff and Marty. We are the people without a voice and slave mentality. If the dope man has the money and bitches… we feel we can sell too. Either u sell crack rock, got a wicked jump shot or can run, throw or catch the rock is the options we have to leave the hood. If we have those aspirations. They give us bad educators to make college a fantasy even with the ancient knowledge we possess but don’t want to be ridiculed for bein smart so we settled for pants sagging thugs. Get ya mind right DS

Anon says:

@ spirit equality

Your point #1 was a non-rebuttal. Of course the CEO of Time Warner isn’t “micromanaging lyrical content” for Meek Mill! Is the CEO the only one who gets to make any decisions? The author never claimed CEO’s of the big 6 are personally involved with rap lyrics so don’t put words in his mouth.

In point number 2 you pointed out that in 2011 55% of prisoners were white as if that means anything. You have to examine the data per capita to determine a racial bias.


Table 8 shows the imprisonment rate (1+ years) by race per 100,000 residents. You will notice the enormous disparity between black and white.

Granted, it does say that imprisonment rates are on a decline by about 1% a year. However, that still puts the U.S. prison population per capita way above the rest of the world. You know, the whole world? The one where 3rd world countries actively terrorize their citizens and abuse human rights?

The assumption in your point #3 was regarding two kids from STABLE homes, but we aren’t dealing with kids from stable homes when we talk about imprisonment and rap. When youth grow up in a poor and less stable environment, they are more prone to see these pseudo-criminals as idols and mimmick their actions.

And who the hell decided the most popular rapper is Macklemore? Maybe your friends like him? The people going to prison are not getting trendy listening to thrift shop, obviously.

I just don’t like seeing the truth cheapened by weak rebuttals. The obvious collusion of business interests to imprison human beings for profit doesn’t alarm you? This is not a case of seeking facts to support a pre-determined conclusion, its reality.

ignoramus says:


Well played, good sir, well played

grappler says:

yeah man! you told him!

Spirit Equality says:

There are a couple of problems here.

1) Time Warner creates a vast array of media products. I bet their CEO probably doesn’t even know who Meek Mill is, let alone sits around micromanaging his lyrical content. Viacom, likewise, has dialed back the airtime it gives all videos, let alone rap videos…there might be ten rap videos tops on daytime rotation at BET and MTV combined (and ten might even be overstating the number, five seems more likely).

2) Vanguard is a mutual fund company that holds assets in a wide range of companies on behalf of its investors. Blackrock advises investors, especially large institutional investors like pension funds. Neither company will risk their investors’ bottom line to invest in rap music (where sales are declining), just to execute a wide-ranging conspiracy. These companies are investing in private prisons because there is a law enforcement infrastructure determined to lock up loads up people to justify their own existence/yearly budget increases. If rap music stopped tomorrow, privatized prisons would remain hugely profitable (55% of prisoners were white in 2011 and I have no idea where you get the statistic that Blacks and (non-black?) Latinos comprise the majority of incarceration increases (in what year? based on what source?). The Bureau of Justice Statistics shows a 1% drop in the number of inmates held in state and federal prisons from 2010 to 2011. How does that fit in your theory? See http://bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/p11.pdf (the incarceration rate, or the number of inmates as a part of the whole population, dropped by almost 2% in the same time frame)

3) You’re overstating the influence of rap. All things being equal, two kids in two stable homes (one who listens to rap and one who doesn’t) will likely wind up in the same place. No study shows that listening to terrible rappers rap about imaginary crimes is a highway to prison. A lot more is going on than just that.

4) The most popular rapper out now is Macklemore. Should we expect a massive rise in thrift store profits? I think too many people overestimate the influence of rap on human behavior. People move when they have a pre-determined interest in moving (i.e. the rapper and the values a person actually holds coincide). I think a daily dose of positive rap is good “marching music” for someone already interested in being a positive person/activist/schoolteacher, etc. Likewise, murder rap probably would be the worse thing for someone to listen to who is already contemplating committing a murder.

I like that you researched this matter a lot, but I think this is a case of having a pre-determined conclusion and looking for facts to confirm it.

By the way, I don’t even like gangsta rap.

Macklemore is new to the game. Gangsta rap has been out since the late 80s. If you’ve haven’t been to jail u won’t see how many black and Latino men and women and also children are incarcerated. Its a reason all media is labeled programming! They put it out there for the wise to see. They want us entertained and not thinking about our conditions. That’s the main reason cannabis is illegal. We can’t all think on a higher level. They are greedy demons that don’t care about anyone but themselves. Look at the paintings in the Denver airport and the Georgia guide stones. The illuminati are out to destroy us through media,poisons and ourselves!! Y’all better wake and wise up before it too late. Even cartoons are being influenced. Don’t be fooled. They control it all. Cartoons don’t even have messages anymore just a battle. A winner and loser. Which will we be my people!?

Stephanie says:

This is amazing…thank you!