I Got 99 Problems, but a B-tch Ain’t One: The Money Over B-tches Ethos in Global Capitalism and Hip Hop
May 29th, 2009 | Published in Uncategorized | 7 Comments
Luke & Doug E. Fresh & Dancer by Hilton Bailey
Venus Hottentot & Lil ‘Kim – via Straight Outta New York
Tip Drill – Music Video Still
Unconfirmed Photo of Rihanna Fenty – Photographer Unknown
About a month ago I was walking on 125th street and
Madison Ave, and a young Black man said he wanted to
“put his dick in my butt.” When I saw the leaked nude pictures
of Rihanna Fenty a couple of weeks ago, I couldn’t help
but think that there was a connection between those
photos and the fact that this young man spoke to
me this way.
I kept asking myself, what is the connection between the two incidents
when I realized that both Rihanna Fenty and I were rendered into
Black female bodies there were only good for “being fucked” or
for fantasizing about “being fucked.”
We live in a media environment made up of images,
videos, photographs, movies and text as well. All of these create,
perpetuate and reinforce all of our “isms”, racism, sexism, ableism
Some people may say, well, “I won’t watch it” or “I won’t let
my son or daughter watch it.” My response to that is that
you and I, and your daughter and son, all live in this
world together. Their friends are watching it, and our children
are influenced by their friends.
To say that my child will be protected because I
don’t let them consume these images is akin to saying
that I will protect them from air pollution by carving
out four square feet of air around them to breath at all
times. It just isn’t possible.
Another response may may be, “what you are talking about doesn’t
affect me and mine in my neighborhood.” In the essay
Letters from Birmingham Jail, Martin Luther King Jr. offers
the perfect response to that statement. He writes,
It may be easy to say that what happens in your neighborhood is
unrelated to what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is
a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable
network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever
affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford
to live with narrow, provincial “outside agitator idea”. Anyone who
lives inside the United states can never be considered an
outsider anywhere within its bounds.
Earlier this month I wrote about the white consumption of Black death
in hip hop. Many people felt that I was overstating the
power of white consumers. Readers kept offering that the Black
kids are the ones who say what’s hot in the first place, which
implicitly means that Black kid are just as culpable and that I
shouldn’t emphasize the white consumption of black
death in Hip Hop. This line of thought reminds me of the argument
that white slave holders aren’t really that culpable for their role in
chattel slavery because Africans participated in enslavement of
I think in terms of systems, not individuals.
Furthermore, the hyper consumption of these images is the
consumption of hatred of Black people, regardless of the
or ethnicity of the listener.
Trust, when it takes a Black president, a Black leader of the
free world to convince mainstream Americans and the world,
that Black men are not angry, violent, hypersexualized beasts,
then we seriously need to rethink the production and
consumption of hypersexual, violent black men in mainstream media.
While I wasn’t willing to stop focusing on the consumption of
Black death, the readers comments forced me to
think about the history of hip hop behind the scenes.
In order to provide historical support for my position
I did some research and read Nelson George’s, Hip Hop America,
Jeff Chang’s Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop and S. Craig Watkin’s
Hip Hop Matters.
In Hip Hop Matters, S. Craig Watkin’s, explains the impact
of Soundscan on Hip Hop and provides a frame work for
understanding the white consumption of Black death in Hip Hop.
…A few years after N.W.A’s success, Eazy-E reflected on hard
core’s mainstream breakthrough. “When N.W.A was together
we were talking directly to our homies in the street, in our language,
about what was happening to us; they were buying it,” he said,
referring to young whites. “But the big secret before Soundscan
was there were some white kids picking up the records too.
Now everybody knows the secret.”
…The unveiling of the secret left a profound mark on the selling of…Rap’s cross over appeal represented a strange form of cultural
hip hop. After 1991, the year Soundscan was introduced, there was
growing recognition that Hip Hop’s market was
much wider and whiter than previously understood. The revelation
altered the very character of hip hop, or at least its commercial identity.
For the first time in the movements commercial history young white
consumers a crucial demographic in the culture and economic
mainstream emerged as a primary consideration rather than an
afterthought in the making and marketing of hip hop related
merchandise. After June in 1991, corporate hip hop, thought
few would admit it, was manufactured first and foremost with
young white consumers in mind….
tourism for many young whites. William Upski Wimsatt, a long
time admirer of ghetto youth culture believes that white youth
gravitate to hip hop because it offers a way to vicariously experience
the resilience of ghetto youth. White youth, he argues, “suspect they
wouldn’t make it through what inner-city blacks do, so there is an
admiration that is almost visceral.” Hip hop was their fantasy
island, a place to travel through the pleasures of consumption- rather
than actual contact into a foreign world- where they could live
out some of their wildest desires...
Watkins put it best when he stated that,
Eminim, like every other successful figure in hip hop, wants
Black kids respect and white kids money.
While the white consumption of Black death in hip hop is
relevant today, it is also important to understand the role
that white folks played in nurturing hip hop in it’s early days.
In the early 80’s the few mainstream Black radio executives
were looking for the next Lionel Ritchie, Prince or Micheal
Jackson, they were not trying to hear the boom and the bap.
In Hip Hop America, Nelson George explains the impact of
this disconnect. He writes,
It is indisputable that black owned independents like Sugar Hill,
Enjoy and Winley cultivated and supported hip hop from 1979 to 1981.
But it was white small business people who nurtured it next. Scores
of white step mothers and fathers adopted the baby as their own and many have shown more loyalty to the child than more celebrated black parental figures.
…..The corporate record companies had been committed to producing
black talent for little over a decade when hip hop on small labels began
appearing regularly on the charts. Because it was perceived as juvenile, unmusical, and with limited audience, it didn’t fit the prevailing crossover
orthodoxy then epitomized by Michael Jackson and Lionel Ritchie. The twist is
that it prospered without them- by figuring out a whole different way to attract
white music fans.
While Nelson George and S. Craig Watkins analyzed the
the business and consumer relationships, inCan’t Stop Won’t Stop
Jeff Chang cites what I have identified, as three other material
changes which allowed the “Money over B-tches
Ethos” in Hip hop to take root and flourish. The first is the
bankruptcy of the independent distributors. According to Chang,
By 1995 two remaining national independent distributors Indie
and Alliance face severve financial difficulties and merged. Before long,
Alliance closed down its Indie operations, laid off its two hundred employees and filed for bankruptcie. In three years, it went from a $500 million
dollar company to one that owed $500 million. Soon there would be no nationally owned distributor…Major distributers squeezed indies by offering
chains deep discounts and incentives at the expense of indie retailers. As hundreds of stores and dozens of chains closed, indie distributers were stuck
with unpaid billd and were forced to close. The impact on indiependent [record
lables] was immediate.
The irony, is that in 2009 the independent and major,
distributors are moot, almost fifteen years later, with the
digitization of the internet. Sidebar, I can only wonder
what would have happened to Hip Hop if the Telecom
Act would have been passed in2006 instead of 1996.
The second factor that Chang mentions is Dr. Dre’s The Chronic.
I was in high school and a super boom bap head when
The Chronic came out. Something shifted
in the air in the Bay Area. There was weed paraphernalia everywhere.
Weed hats, back backs, socks, t-shirts, jackets, hoodies. It was as if there
was a championship weed smoking basketball team in California
and everyone was a fan. Chang describes the mark that The Chronic and
Doggystyle left on the rap game when he writes,
In 1993 the popularity of Yo MTV Raps was fading and majors [labels]
were clearing themselves of potential liability. But “Nothing but a G Thang”
and “Let me Ride” propelled the post gangsta aesthetic into heavy rotation.
Later on Doggy Style, Dre and Snoop, largely ditched industry rules for more
smoothed out rhymes and gangsta parties and sold even more records.
…Artistically, The Chronic and Doggy Style were remarkable
achievements because they synthesized contradiction vectors- in the city
and suburbs, street and tech, first world and fourth, like a Ghery Building
covered in graffiti…
So, while the mainstreaming of the Gangsta was the second factor,
the third was the ascension of Clear Channel, who according
to Chang, “…went from owning 40 stations in 1916 to 1240 stations
in 2003, commanding a whopping 28% share of all radio revenues and 27%
of all radio listeners.”
HIP HOP AND GLOBAL CAPITALISM
What is the connection between hip hop and global capitalism?
Both Hip Hop and global capitalism focus on short term gains
without concern of the long term impact or sustainability.
Think about the number of artist’s who are one hit wonder’s
that you never heard from again. The one who had that banger
last summer, like what’s her name?
Conversely think about your favorite artist, who rarely, if at all,
ever gets any air play, who you pay to see on tour, who
you search out the internet for her newest joints on message boards.
Think about your favorite artist who get’s little to no promotion or shine.
Think about this artist, and ask yourself why you don’t hear more of
them on the radio? You won’t hear them on the radio because
unless the artist has mass appeal and can cross over to white listeners.
Wasn’t this the fear with Jennifer Hudson. Could she appeal
her “black fans” and her “American Idol” fan’s? In an article, by
Ben Sasario, Jennifer Hudson explains,
?I can?t just put out an R&B song and expect that to go over for
everyone,? she said. ?I can?t do that with a pop song either. On the
album there?s a hip-hop song, a gospel-inspirational song for my
church base, and then we have to have the big ballads for fans
through ?Dreamgirls? or ?Idol.? And of course I?m black, so we have
to have music for African-American people, which is more on the
R&B end. It?s a huge fan base, and that was the scariest part, which
is where the pressure came in.?
Its crazy when you think about how both Hip Hop, R & B and capitalism
are driven short term gains.
The above video, the Story of Stuff, does good job of explaining
why short term profits and thinking lead to long term problems
in the current American capitalist system.
In fact, our current global food system is another example of short
term gains run amok. For instance, If I eat salmon is New York
that was initially caught in New Zealand, frozen and shipped
to North America, this requires both cheap labor and cheap oil. In the
book, Why Your World is about to Get a Whole Lot Smaller“, Jeff
Rubin is very clear about how triple digit oil will force us to
produce and buy local, because buying products from
China/Mexico/New Zealand, will no longer be as cheap as the
With regard to global capitalism, when thinking about putting
profits over people, five distinct examples come to mind.
The first is the bailing out of the banks and AIG without requiring complete
transparency and accountability. Where is the money going?
Who is spending it? Tax payers dollars = tax payers voice.
The second is the removal of American jobs, many which are union,
to China, Mexico and India for the purposes to hiring the cheapest labor
The third is unwillingness to provide health care for all. Health care
is expensive and many of us don’t have it, including myself. Many employers
know that we will not quit our jobs, because we have employer based
health care. Oftentimes, we are unwilling to leave jobs because we want
to keep health insurance for our children. Lastly, medical bills are the
leading cause of bankruptcy for the middle class.
The fourth is treating drug usage like a crime instead of a public health
issue. Folks addicted to drugs need treatment, not a jail cell, or at the
very minimum, treatment should be an option. Prisons are big
businesses, publicly traded on wall street, so their is a profit
incentive to imprison as many people as possible.
The fifth is the selling of subprime loans to low income and middle
class African American and Latino families. The mortgage industry and
wall street’s actions were short cited, greedy, profitable and unsustainable.
With regard to corporate Hip Hop, when thinking about putting
profits over people, three distinct examples come to mind.
The first is Clear Channels 800 radio stations.
Have you asked yourself why you hear the same songs on
“urban radio” station’s in D.C, NY, Philly, and Chicago? Well,
the play lists are set nationally, hence, why different cities play the
same songs and in many cases ignoring the music made
by local artists.
The second is the removal of all programming from BET
that had any socially redeeming value. BET Nightly News,
Teen Summit, BET Tonight with Tavis Smiley and Midnight Love.
These shows were all removed and replaced with what?
Digital chitlin’s, that’s what.
The last is the marginalization of all rappers who don’t fit the
Gangsta/Pimp/Ho narrative. Tricia Rose was right when she said
that if Tupac came out today, he would be labeled a “conscious
Taken as a whole, I hope it is clear how the drive to make
profits impacts both our music and our lives and the lives
of our children. It hasn’t always been this way, and it doesn’t
have to remain this way.
We can make history again, we did it last November.
All movements start with one person saying something.
I just spoke.
And, my president is Black.
Note: In preparation for this essay, I posted above photo’s to Photobucket
to make a slide show. Less than 20 hours later, the photos were flag and
removed by Photobucket, under a violation of the terms and conditions of
the site. I found it ironic that I was trying to critique the images and was censored
but the producers and distributors of the images, are rarely, if at all censored.
Is the connection between white consumption, short term
profits and corporate hip hop clearer?
Isn’t that collage powerful?
Do you think there is a connection between the images and
how we treat each other?
What do you think of the connection between the unsustainablility
of our economy and the unsustainability of corporate hip hop