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Hip-Hop’s Love Affair with Capitalism

    Hip-Hop’s Love Affair with Capitalism

    I remembered when I first got into Hip-Hop music. It was 2003 and 50 Cent was all over TV, Dame was still apart of Roc-A-Wear, and T.I’s Rubber Band Man had everyone rocking rubber bands like socks. But for certain, each man was trying to make their claim into the marketplace and get a taste of the American Dream. And to live the American Dream, you have to be a capitalist taking any chance to maximize the sale of your product. These weren’t the first time Hip-Hop had gotten it’s taste of corporate America and it certainly wouldn’t be its last.

    Since 2003, Hip-Hop moguls made over hundreds of millions of dollars into their lives through what started off as being artists or record label staff members.The Jay Z’s, Diddy’s, 50 Cents, Dr. Dre’s and etc, have been associated with deals that include Vitamin Water, the incorporation of audio hardware in Beats Electronics, exclusive deals with Live Nation and more. Hip-Hop has come far from the economic hardships in The Bronx which helped usher in the culture of Hip-Hop.

    Starting off as a means to express oneself, enjoy good times and bring unity amongst gangs, Hip-Hop was seen as a fad by corporate America. When Hip-Hop music started to be released in the market, label executives saw the genre as the next Disco, seeing no way they could make a profit. At the time it was more than allowing youthful Blacks the opportunity to to express themselves it was always about the dollar signs. The fear of cultural unity, self-empowerment and the means for potential financial success scared the White and Jewish ran music business and the industries closely associated with it. In Dan Chamas book The Big Payback: The History of the Business of Hip-Hop, Chamas goes into details of the first corporate sponsorship in hip-hop between Swedish emigrant-hip hop manager Charlie Stettler and Coca Cola in 1983.

    A Very Brief Story of Hip-Hop’s First Corporate Sponsorship

    The event itself was a break dance and rap contest at Radio City Music Hall which Coca Cola promoted through their product packaging. Because of Stettler’s street marketing, the event gained an amazing buzz with radio spots, promo T-shirts and sponsorships from Coca-Cola and New York’s WBLS. With push back from the Radio City’s union, Electrical Workers Local 3, the event almost didn’t happen and some of the contest winners, most notably the Disco 3 aka The Fat Boys, may not have the notoriety they had and even altering the future of the culture.

    The reason that I bring up the Radio City event is if that event did not happen, which had the assistance of major corporations, the growth of the culture itself could be completely different. For Hip-Hop to become the youthful and one of the leading cultures in the world, there needed to be space in the business world to co-exist with the culture. This is the basis of Steve Stoute’s book, “The Tanning of America”, which deals specifically with “how Hip-Hop created a culture that rewrote the rules of the new economy.”

    Can Art & Culture Co-Exist With American Capitalism

    “What we talking bout? Real shit or we talking ’bout rhymes? You talking ’bout millions or you talking ’bout mine?” – Jay Z

    One of the biggest corporate (and capitalist-fueled) partnerships in Hip-Hop in 2013 was Jay Z’s deal with Samsung. Through the deal, Samsung bought a million of Jay Z’s Magna Carta album and would be given to the first million Samsung phone and tablet users whom installed the Magna Carta app. But what makes this deal and many deals in recent memory different from the early sponsorships in Hip-Hop history is whom benefits from them. Earlier corporate sponsorships strengthened the culture and deals today only fatten the pockets of the parties involved. But an interesting question that needs to be brought up, “Are there any big deals that can truly impact the culture versus finding new rules of commerce for the corporations?”

    Jay Z utilized getting your music accessible in mobile devices. I couldn’t watch a commercial without hearing Kanye’s Black Skinhead beat. Even the most basic of sneaker deals are too common now. What is truly innovative and never done before that can truly usher in new energy into the culture? The last truly great innovation that has impacted Hip-Hop culture is the user interpreted, lyric annotated Rap Genius.

    I can’t tell you the last time I wasn’t watching a music video from Ciroc. I’m not talking a French Montana or Diddy or Rick Ross music video. I’m talking a music video from Ciroc. In the words of St. Louis veteran emcee Lyfestile, “now most of them (artists) sell you ideas and products that are ultimately worthless to you but valuable to the corporate power structure.” All Diddy is to Ciroc is a brand ambassador. All Jay Z is to Budweiser is a brand ambassador. All Drake is to the Toronto Raptors is a brand ambassador. They are all selling us products and being vultures to the culture. The ultimate capitalist is only concerned about their bottom line and the strengthening of their own culture of capitalism.

    So now that we are new slaves to the multinational corporations, why do we continue to support corporations that are only strive to eat off our backs? Is it because it’s what they’ve forced down our throat or what they’ve made affordable and eliminated all competition? We having given these corporations and celebrities the power and fame and have provided them with the delusion of grandeur that we also fallen for in hopes of being able to obtain what they have accomplished. Since the internet broke the barriers of entry to really break in the industry, everyones bathroom mirror reflects the “rapper delusion of grandeur” thinking anyone can reach the tax bracket Jay Z lies in.

    It’s understandable why Hip-Hop has this love affair with capitalism. The culture was birthed out of a place where their wasn’t any economic infrastructure. Always admiring the culture of Disco, drugs, and the riches of the party life often celebrated in Manhattan, it was no surprise that street gangs like the Black Spades whoms leader, Afrika Bambaataa, formed the Universal Zulu Nation. It’s understandable why many of the earlier alias for many early Djs and emcees were related to cocaine. It’s understandable why Russell Simmons wanted to prove that his roster of artists were worth being placed in the marketplace. It could sell in the marketplace which is capitalism to its root. It’s good business sense. To live in America, live like a Fortune 500 executive and live the “middle-class lifestyle” for your family, you have to condition yourself that the only way to succeed to economic freedom is living as a capitalist.

    Hip-Hop business executives wanted to prove to corporate America that Hip-Hop could be just as popular and profitable as R&B, Rock n Roll and Jazz was in the decades before. The issue arises now, how much more can we allow the culture of Hip-Hop to be put up for sale for a quick buck? We can no longer say Hip-Hop music is apart of the inner city African-American and Latino culture when sub-urban White men and women would buy the records that supplied the soundtrack to their spring break. The other elements of Hip-Hop have been safely guarded but also have seen their limelight of corporate abuse. It is now harder than ever to say who, how, where and what is Hip-Hop because Hip-Hop is America in its own right. But will there ever be a day when the artist, the fans, and executives of Hip-Hop before the mid 80s will come out and say it that the Hip-Hop culture of today is in bed with the American system of capitalism now more than ever.

    Permission granted to republish:  The Culture of Hip-Hop column is written by Stereo Assault’s Editor-in-Chief Julian Keaton.