Reason First: Is Rapper Russ Right?
In a Twitter message, multi-talented artist Russ voices his opinion of blacks in the business of music, particularly hip hop.
Russ is white. He’s also a rapper. He is also a one man band phenomenon who sells out shows, and knows his way around a mixing board, engineering equipment, and production studio. So, why is he concerned with the black rap community? Russ says that the business of music is designed to cull young, financially illiterate blacks to make old white men wealthy. Also, he says that such youths “perpetuate negative black stereotypes.” So, why would he voice these ideas? Is it merely white guilt rearing its ugly head again? What Russ is speaking is somewhat true although severely misguided.
He is emoting instead of thinking first. He should consider the thousands and maybe millions of white music executives who actually want to see young black musicians succeed without exploiting them. The system of capitalism calls for the profit motive. While some might find this to be cruel and insensitive, the truth is that this social system means justice. Russ may have a sincere idealism about how hip hop artists should be treated within the industry, he is myopic about his view of how the executives (largely white) in rap do their jobs. His mind is in the right place, at least. Well, half of his mind, anyway. He appears to be an advocate for justice, telling black people that they should be careful in the business of music. He understands that from blues to jazz to rock, white people have taken advantage of black artists. But so have blacks. He failed to comment on this little piece of truth. But the onus should be on the music maker to handle their own business and other affairs.
If he indeed has a point, it is that a caveat emptor be placed as a way for new artists to explore the minefield of the rap realm. He says that, "the black kids are being used as weapons of mass destruction.” This is clearly hyperbole. What Russ should have said is that there are some swindlers within the business who target and misuse, and abuse black artists. Russ’ straightforward speech seems to resonate with all of the original architects and legends of hip hop who did not know about mechanical royalties, residuals, clauses, and trusts that would have benefitted them over forty years ago.
And with today’s young black artists, Russ is warning them that they should take advantage of deals and not the reverse.
This Twitter monologue brings to light the constant struggle between what rapper Common asks is, “whether it’s for the art or for the dough?” The truth is that it ought to be both. The late 19th and early 20th centuries were periods where capitalism freed up the possibility for making money based on the artist’s efforts, rather than the church or a wealthy benefactor. Today, the options for content creators to excel, especially in the industry of music—there exist virtually endless avenues for music makers to make money, too. In this 21st century where socialism seems cool and free markets only partially exist, it is important to remember that the whole idea is to be aware of where the money is coming from and where it’s going.
Russ should be respected for the fact that he operates as a producer, writer, and performer, and someone who collects plaques like other people collect daisies.
The white guilt that may be present in his tone ought to be extinguished.
How he should’ve conveyed his message was to make it about selfishness and not about “giving back.” Whatever did he take? Or for that matter what did other artists and executives (mostly) take away from the game? Russ doesn't own the genre of music, only his talent and the time that it takes to hone his craft. Nothing should be given or taken, no slaves, no masters should exist in any sector of the business world, namely music. So, Russ is on the right track. He just needs to fuel the train with ideals that correspond with how free minds work in a free market.