The Hip-Hop Union; One Mic-One Voice

Wisconsin, the 30th state, is famous for a number of things including the Super Bowl Champion Green Bay Packers, cheese, and beer; each one exceptional in its own right. However, in the wake of a victorious Super Bowl XLV,  the ‘Copper State’ added an unexpected political element to its fame. Due to a spark ignited on Valentine’s Day 2011, Wisconsin is now the battleground over the future of unions and workers’ rights.

In early February, newly elected Governor Scott Walker introduced legislation that he believes will counter a projected $3.6 Billion(with a B) two-year budget shortfall. The proposed ‘Budget Repair Bill’ aims to correct Wisconsin’s deficit by increasing contributions Public union workers have to pay toward their benefits and retirement pensions. The bill also calls for an end to collective bargaining rights by Public unions, which would undoubtedly eliminate a time-honored American labor tenet often used to negotiate fair minimum wages, workplace safety and employee healthcare.

On Valentine’s Day, a group of graduate students initiated a historic movement in protest of the Bill, resulting in thousands of citizens storming the State Capitol to hold impassioned, but peaceful demonstrations[Video]. Since then, Madison has seen about a half-million dissidents and a tsunami of national medial attention. While union membership is at its lowest since the 1930’s, many citizens advocate the need for unions to prevent companies from disregarding workers’ rights. In contrast, supporters of the Budget Repair Bill are adamant about the need to reign in unions as a means to regain fiscal solvency in States.

The budget bill battle won’t be the only union fight to effect Wisconsin in the coming months. Ironically, the beloved Green Bay Packers (and the other 31 NFL teams) may not take the field next fall due to current gridlocked collective bargaining negotiations between the NFL players’ union and NFL team owners [NFL Lockout]. Both sides of the Wisconsin political argument point to the NFL dispute as evidence of the effectiveness/futility of unions’ negotiating power, depending on their individual perspective.

Judging by Wisconsin and the NFL, the ability to collectively bargain is a very powerful tool that potentially leads to either balanced compromises or catastrophic stalemates with enormous consequences. How would such a situation work in the Hip Hop industry?

Question: Would hip hop artists benefit from forming a Union and establishing collective bargaining rights?

In a courageous stand against powerful record companies, rocker Courtney Love penned a no holds barred plea to the music industry about the need to form a Union that would protect recording artists’ rights and long-term interests. Hip Hop Godfather, Russell Simmons and pioneer artist KRS-One echoed Courtney’s call. In 2003, DMX endorsed the idea as well, revealing that he “..made Def Jam $122 Million in one year”, for which he was rewarded a $3 Million loan. [The Letter]

There are countless fine print items and revenue streams in today’s recording contracts and the Labels know them all (See Industry Rule 4080). Usually, the only thing standing between a decent record deal and a blinged-out death certificate is the knowledge, skill-level and character of the artist’s attorney. Even with an excellent lawyer, the surplus of hungry rappers eager to sign with anybody for anything gives Labels dominating control of the market. As a result, 360 deals (Hip Hop’s equivalent of sub-prime mortgages) have become an industry standard.

Similar to the NFL and worker unions, an Artist Union would provide a table for emcees to collectively bargain with Labels for things like royalty rates, healthcare options, profit-sharing, and/or creative control of their work.  This would aid in preventing instances like DJ Kool Herc (father of Hip Hop) needing fundraisers to pay for a much-needed surgery due to the fact he has no health insurance. Unlike artists today, so many of the originators of the craft were not privy to information about the music business, including revenue generated from publishing and merchandising. Their only goal was to expose the world to the new pulse of America’s youth. As Hip Hop evolved over the last 30 years, artists like Kool Herc made billions (with a B) in profits for Labels, but they’ve received almost no long-term recompense for life after rap.

However, as seen in the upcoming possibility of an NFL lockout, one would also have to ponder the consequences of an unresolved disagreement involving an Artist Union. For example, if a union existed in 1992 and the artists made an unsuccessful attempt at negotiating increased ownership of their music, the outcome would have been drastic to say the least. When negotiations come to a grinding halt and each side is unwilling to budge, the Artist Union goes on strike and the Labels subsequently shelve all albums slated for release that year. The fans and the culture are the hardest hit because, in this particular situation, the world never hears albums like The Chronic by Dr. Dre, or the classic Live and Let Die by Kool G Rap and DJ Polo(plus many others). Would the hip hop community be willing to risk music like this never seeing the light of day; for the sake of a business dispute?

What do you think? Would an Artists’ Union be beneficial or detrimental to the Hip Hop industry? Please comment below and thanks for reading!

The Black Swan of Hip Hop

The late Senator Ted Kennedy once stated Americans treat mental illness “like some sort of character flaw.”  Sufferers are reluctant to seek treatment, meaning millions of people, excluding no particular demographic, battle this affliction daily; some unknowingly.

Currently, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 4th Edition [DSM –  IV] categorizes this ailment into 13 forms:

  1. Adjustment Disorders
  2. Anxiety Disorders
  3. Dissociative Disorders           
  4. Eating Disorders
  5. Impulse Control Disorders
  6. Mood Disorders
  7. Sexual Disorders
  8. Sleep Disorders
  9. Psychotic Disorders
  10. Sexual Dysfunctions
  11. Somatoform Disorders
  12. Substance Disorders
  13. Personality Disorders

Professional critics claim DSM-IV is incomplete at best. However, DSM-V will be published by May 2013, and it is expected to intensely strengthen the world’s understanding of mental illness. It may even shine a light on why, in America, mental illness is the hot pink elephant in the room ignored like the spot on the TV screen that everyone sees, but no one acknowledges, for fear of having to be the one to do something about it. Since people blind themselves to what they do not understand, the public incorrectly reinforces social norms in reaction to mental illness presented by books, songs and movies (which usually ends with the character being dismissed and placed into the all-encompassing “crazy box” and we go on about our day).

In films that feature mentally challenged characters, their debilitating loneliness drains eerily off the screen and the despair is absolutely chilling to moviegoers. This is discomforting to say the least.  It’s an existence that most humans fear to no end; being mentally detached from others and completely misunderstood.

The critically acclaimed film, Black Swan, chronicles the dramatic journey of an exceptional ballerina in her quest for the perfect performance. Several obstructions threaten Nina Sayres’ path as she fights to channel a dormant, yet powerful part of her identity through her craft. The disconnection from “normalcy” fiercely fuels her desire to achieve, and at times, it proves self-destructive. Nina’s peers, and her mom, attempt to rescue her from impending doom. However, she is unrelenting. And so begins the pivot into a nefarious pirouette blurring beauty and misery at each turn, leading to a dramatic conclusion.  This narrative, sadly, also portrays the reality of one of Hip Hop’s elite.

Ms. Lauryn Hill epitomizes the “around the way girl” that women want to be and men want to be with. The FemCee’s contribution to Hip Hop and the music industry is immeasurable. Through her art, Lauryn has the uncanny ability to draw you in to her. She sings raw emotion in captivating fashion, as seen when grown men are wiping away tears following her performances.

L-Boogie’s lone solo album provided a lifetime worth of music describing love, pain, redemption and spiritual evolution.

The ensuing decade produced a cloud that enveloped the light that was once Lauryn Hill’s passion and creativity. Her lifestyle took a turn that most people could only identify as erratic. Industry heads clamored about bizarre attire married with inaudible sobs (previously knows as songs) at performances where she managed to show, but hours late. The once angelic inspiration to women all over the world had become the mirror image of Nina Sayres; a gifted but tortured soul. Admirers of Ms. Fugee-La were sporadically confronted with an unfamiliar harmony of beauty and misery, completely losing control of herself in the purgatory between emotion and music.  As Lauryn’s star power waned, so did the hopes of a generation of people for whom she spoke.

There has been no official statement made by Lauryn or a doctor commenting on her current mental health status. Maybe it’s one of the 13 categories listed in DSM-IV, or maybe it’s an issue specific to her circumstances. No one knows, and no one probably ever will…..BUT Lauryn Hill is attempting a comeback tour that could show that she is ready to re-connect with the masses.  One can only hope that her ‘issues’ have been addressed and that she is of sound mind and body to reclaim her rightful place.  Let’s not toss Ms. Hill into “the crazy box” just yet, her presence is dearly missed and she is a vital part of moving the Hip Hop culture forward.

Post your opinions/comments below. Thanks for reading!

The Power of a Hip Hop Co-Sign

Co-sign:

-a person signing an official document (such as a loan, contract, or law) with another    person. (Merriam-Webster)

-to propound; to sanctify; to advocate the genuineness/veracity of another’s character.    (Urban Dictionary)

"Sound off like you got a pair"

Sgt. Hartman's Inspection

When a US Senate bill is up for consideration, a Senator sponsors it, and additional Senators co-sponsor, or co-sign, it by lending not only their vote, but also their support to ensure the measure passes into law. For example, Senator Joe Lieberman sponsored the controversial 2010 bill [S.4023] to end the military’s Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy on homosexuality in the Armed Forces. It was co-signed by 49 other Senators.

This is especially interesting when compared to the Senate’s passing of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell in 1993. Senator Sam Nun sponsored the bill [S.1298] and it was co-signed by zero additional Senators. However, the bill was effectively passed and signed into law by President Bill Clinton, meaning suspected gays had “…no constitutional right to serve in the armed forces.” [S.4023] successfully repealed DADT and it received overwhelming support from lawmakers and civilians alike. The fact that a bill garnered 50% of the Senate’s support before a vote exhibits a tremendous change in public opinion over the last 17 years, also that the strength of a substantive co-sign is highly instrumental.

In an episode of the popular TV show The Game, Robin Givens (plays herself) implies her ex-husband, quarterback Malik Wright, is gay while promoting her upcoming film. If you don’t watch the show, you must know Malik is heterosexual with chauvinistic machismo that rivals the likes of Al Bundy when leading an infamous No MA’AM club meeting. However, a strange encounter does reveal that Malik’s teammate, Clay, is gay (no rhyme intended) and he is subsequently ostracized by the San Diego Sabre football team. Malik eventually relents and reconnects with Clay, but only after Mookie, a popular children’s puppet, co-signs the idea of tolerance by encouraging Malik to accept people different from himself. Is this mantra applicable to Hip Hop as well?

This brings us to today’s question:

As seen in the repeal of DADT and with TV football star Malik, could a definitive co-sign in Hip Hop create a welcoming environment for gay MC’s? If so, who would be the right person and what would he/she have to say/do?

For clarification, the question is mainly referring to the male perspective. Not because female homosexuality isn’t an issue, but more so because Hip Hop is a homophobic, male dominated industry that has a voracious appetite for testosterone driven egos. Also, because ‘show business’ lesbianism (two ridiculously beautiful women together) often celebrated in Hip Hop is more accepted in American culture.

There are some that say a known gay man could not survive as an MC in today’s cutthroat, dog-eat-dog, Hip Hop cage match. Others would retort that there have already been several successful gay MC’s throughout the years. Both of those points are debatable, but the question is about endorsement. Is there an MC or industry executive or anybody today with the power of removing the glass ceiling by co-signing an openly gay rapper?

The Floor is now open. Please post your insight below.

Can you be Judged by your Hip Hop Fingerprint?

"Coach O"

"Next stop...The Rucker"

In the 21st century, as diverse cultures expand farther from their origins than ever before, it has become an almost automatic offence to judge anyone based on anything but a person’s character. It is taught in every politically correct assertion that communication directly with a person is the only true method of gauging that individual’s personality. In most cases, no one would argue the validity of this concept. However, one cannot dismiss those instances that (in our minds) clearly display on the outside, what a person is like on the inside.

FLOTUS Michelle Obama, during the 2008 Presidential Election, would speak anecdotally of earlier years and a persistent suitor’s attempt at courtship. To paraphrase, Ms. Michelle Robinson consulted her brother about a beaux, and it was agreed that Craig Robinson would invite Attorney Barack Obama to a pick-up basketball game. Based solely on a day at the courts, Michelle’s brother reported back with descriptions of a man with good self-esteem, leadership, confidence and selflessness; which is quite a personal assessment regardless if anyone other than Mr. Robinson and (now)Mrs. Obama believe it to be accurate. Can this theory be applied to Hip Hop as well?

In the movie I Think I Love my Wife, starring Chris Rock and Kerry Washington, Mr. Rock’s character Richard (a successful financial executive) hands Ms. Washington’s character Nikki (an unemployed ‘model’) his Ipod. She takes it, scrolls through and says, “You know you got some n*gga ears.”   What is this? What does this mean? Richard climbs the corporate ladder while his ears sell crack on the streets of Brooklyn, NY? In all fairness, the point of the matter is that Richard is not an open-minded person, which was represented in the fact that he almost despised spontaneity and only listened to black artists’ music.

This brings us to today’s Point of Order:

Can you judge a person based on their Hip Hop Fingerprint?

For some inexplicable but interesting reason, a person’s Top 10 MC’s of All Time list is a big deal to say the least. For some, it’s almost as sacred as the age they lost their virginity, their first love’s name, their political affiliation and, in some cases, sexual orientation! Of course that is hyperbole but you follow the point. There are people who would not give you their Top 10 if you paid them. Why is this? What do you risk by publicly praising musical poets?

There’s only one way to find out. I am listing my Top 10 MC’s of all time for the world to see.  Barring any explanation whatsoever, they are as follows:

  1. Eminem
  2. Tupac Shakur
  3. Rakim
  4. Big Daddy Kane
  5. LL Cool J
  6. Mos Def
  7. Common Sense
  8. Black Thought of The Roots
  9. Notorious B.I.G.
  10. Jay-Z

It’s a good thing I was not under controlled time to transcribe this list because it’s far from a simple task. I can already hear the detractors loudly in my head, howling about their favorite rhyme-sayer being improperly placed or neglected altogether. Your critique of my list is not what’s important. The question is, now that you have seen my list, What do you know about me? Do you feel that you understand my personality more by analyzing my Hip Hop Fingerprint?

The Floor is open, offer your perspective and cast a voice vote at the bottom of the page. If you’re not afraid, you’re more than welcome to include your list as well.

Recess will be called to evaluate opinions and votes before debate is officially concluded.

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