Everything you thought you knew about the rap music industry from the songs to the business aspects is wrong.

When rap became popular in the 1970s and 1980s, rap artists, such as Public Enemy and NWA, included lyrics that shed light on social issues: violence, police brutality, lack of upward mobility, etc.  Other rappers, like Queen Latifah, rapped lyrics of empowerment.  Their music influenced a generation of minorities and provided emotional support and identification to let their audience know they weren’t alone, nor was their situation an anomaly.

When I was in high school most of these groups got no serious radio play.  The main ways they received attention were programs like MTV Raps, (back when MTV’s primary purpose was playing music) and news reporting their arrest or boycott by a conservative group.  Rap concerts were often picketed and raided by police.  The artists were often stopped at airports or were the targets of censorship and harassment campaigns precisely because of their message of empowerment and social change.

In the mid 1990s the message of hip hop/rap changed from being uplifting to glamorizing a life of violent, misogynistic crime and drug addiction. This trend of glamorizing and idolizing murderers, drug dealers, rapists, prostitutes, whores, and gangstas of all stripes continues today.

If you look at the credits of many major artists, their songs are not written by themselves, but rather a committee of corporate interests.

This high risk and inherently dangerous lifestyle advertising was so effective that sports stars, actors and other celebrities have publicly adopted it’s affectations including, but not limited to, gangsta tattoos and high risk lifestyle choices like partying to excess and violent confrontations which often lead to injury and sometimes death.  This conduct is showcased in media, making it an example of problem solving, while consistently ignoring the human cost.

Now three multinational music labels are responsible 90% of all music we listen to, from Country to Rap and everything in between.  Universal and EMI have merged into one company, before that there were four.

Universal Music group has a 59 page list of musicians signed under their label.  Even if the artists aren’t signed with Universal Music Group itself, they are often signed by one of its subsidiary labels.

In 2010, before merging with EMI, Universal reported 6 Billion dollars in global revenue.

Time Warner, one of the big three record/media companies, is controlled largely by Vanguard Group Inc, an investment company that administers a variety of investment and mutual funds on Wall Street.  Vanguard owns in excess of 9 million shares of Time Warner.

Why is this relevant?

Vanguard is also among the largest shareholders of a company called the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA).  At the time of this writing, through a variety of funds, they own over 32 million shares of CCA. 14 million directly and and 18 million more through various funds and other vehicles

Corrections Corporation of America has received a lot of bad press lately.  They are defendants in multiple lawsuits alleging rampant violence, gang activity and contract fraud.

This company has been offering hundreds of millions of dollars to governments to manage and run prisons.  According to their open letter.  All the government agencies need to do in order for CCA to step in is to have the physical facilities meet the following requirements:

  • A minimum rated occupancy of 1,000 beds;
  • A structure age of no more than 25 years;
  • A designation that the structure is suitable for immediate occupation or is already occupied by an inmate population; and
  • An assurance by the agency partner that the agency has sufficient inmate population to maintain a minimum 90 percent occupancy rate over the term of the contract.

Think about this for a moment.

A private prison company, who is partially controlled by a media conglomerate that has vast influence in the music industry, more specifically, the rap music industry, wants assurances that governments will provide enough inmates to maintain jails at a population level of 90% or higher.

Does this mean that CCA already has signed agreements including this clause for prisons it already manages?  They own or operate 67 correction and detention facilities across the United States currently.

To me, a major conglomerate being a major shareholder in both a media company and a large private prison company is both a conflict of interest and potentially unethical.  Especially when said company promotes media (movies, violent rap music, etc.) that showcase a criminal lifestyle and portray it in a positive light, knowing full well that many of those who emulate that lifestyle will end up in the criminal justice system.

Some have even said rap music picked up where the crack epidemic left off.

What is the solution?

Start listening to music that portrays a positive message.

For the record, Macklemore signed a contract with a Warner subsidiary to get his music distributed and promoted, and thus is not an independent artist.

There are numerous independent artists who rap about social issues and empowerment.  Many don’t get much exposure, but no matter where you are, you are a only few clicks and a Google search or two away from their music.

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