The Curse of Being a Black Artist

Ice Cube helped me in ’92


I think I have fallen in love with Camus (a dead white Algerian
philosopher who argues that the death penalty is premeditated
murder
) and Anthony Hamilton simultaneously.

What does this have to do with being an artist? Everything,
simply because over the last few days I have been apart of
a few conversations on the tension between art and commerce.

Two days ago, on Twitter, Indieplanet and I were having a discussion
about art, commerce, Joe Budden/Vlad flap up.

indieplanet @mdotwrites Its a bigger issue of basic ethics.
Too many blogs/video sites decide at some point to exchange
ethics for page views.

indieplanet @mdotwrites Re: Budden/Vlad – What are your
thoughts on the whole situation. I think its a bigger picture that
video sites should consider.

indieplanet @mdotwrites Shouldnt it be possible to make a
contribution AND get paid?? It is possible (not common)
to change the game & have morals

Yesterday, Dart Adam’s sent me a link to an essay of his which outlined,
amongst many things, how the The Telecommunication’s Act
spearheaded mergers and acquisitions in radio and how these
changes impacted hip hop.

To cap it off, yesterday, Brooklyn Bodega posted a Facebook note asking
“Does Money Ruin it All?” He wrote,

the other day one of our family posted a comment that he was no fan of ‘Notorious’ because too many people had profited from its production. He cited Memebrs of Junior Mafia, Puff and I assume he also had a problem with Ms. Wallace as she looks to have been in charge and arguably received the largest check.

So the question is does the presence of money make it impossible to produce a work of pure artistic integrity?

The responses ranged from, “as long as the Wallace family is
compensated
then it is all good” to “making money is practical
for everyone including artists”,
and finally “this is a less of an
issue of the evils of capitalism and rather a question
of authenticity.”

Many of the comments reflect a fundamental lack of understanding of
capitalism and both how it has historically impacted art and how it impacts
hip hop and Black artists specifically.
Because capital is productive
property, there will always be a move to
exploit the the property to
obtain the most returns.


This is why we have 5 CSI’s, 6 Indiana Jones’s and Hannah Montana
dish towels.

Quality be damned.

Think about it, art is referred to as intellectual property for a reason.

And here is where the tension arises. If our music, our precious
Hip Hop
music began as a voice for the under represented, what does it mean
for us to be so silent about its current state of affairs?
And, if we are
silent, do we deserve better than what we receive? Why are we
so reluctant
to admit the way in which the market has impacted our art?

I have watched both Saul Williams and KRS rationalize getting
money with Fortune 500’s. And I thought to myself why
be coy, why not just say, “Ya’ll, I got bills to pay.”

Lets be clear, I do not claim to be on a pedestal. If Coke/Sony/Steve
Madden/ came calling and wanted to work with me and I chose to do so, I
wouldn’t turn around and say to you “Well the executives
at Coke/Sony/ like me, so this is a great partnership.” I would
understand that they want to rock with me because they feel that
I may be able to enhance their shareholder value. Simple as that.

So if you see my face and big {teeth} smile on the back of a Brooklyn
Erotica anthology at the end of the year, lets be clear, I had to pay
some bills and I am okay with that
.

I guess, I am really perturbed at the fact that we all clearly understand
the nasty bottom line of the Dope game, but when it comes to
analyzing
the ways in which the nasty bottom line of Capitalism
affects our art
we get shook.

Statement was very similar to another statement that I read by
Camus
(pronounced Cam-moo, like shampoo.) In the essay
The Wager of our Generation, Camus writes,

The aim of art, the aim of life, can only be to increase the sum
of freedom and responsibility to be found in everyman and the world.
It cannot, under any circumstances be used to reduce or suppress that
freedom, even temporarily….

No great work of art has been based on hatred or contempt. There is
not a single true work of art of art that has not in the end addressed the
inner freedom of each person that has known and loved it.

In an interview on Verbalisms, ran by the phenomenal and formidable
(wink) Raquel Wilson, Dan Tres OMi interviews Wise Intelligent of PRT
on the role that
art and music plays in our culture. He writes,

There are quite a few people who feel that music that is created to raise the consciousness of a particular community is irrelevant in the age of what William C. Bansfield calls the post-album age wherein the music created is commercially driven and marketed to a specific segment of society. Wise Intelligent, the front man for the influential hip-hop group Poor Righteous Teacher, always felt and continues to feel that he was galvanized by the spirit of the people to take up the mic to educate the masses. It is a tragedy that Wise Intelligent, who penned one of the best odes to Black women with ?Shakyla,? is forgotten when it comes to bringing knowledge of self beat up and compressed into hip-hop form.


Where does Anthony Hamilton fit in? His album is the first one in
a very
long time, that both instrumentation wise and lyrically, has
helped me make sense
of my life. He has helped me be okay with
my new found freedom
. The irony is that it isn’t Hip Hop,
and because am notoriously
boom bap oriented and it feels weird.
I will add that Q-Tips The Renaissance has been in
rotation as well.

Anthony Hamilton also comes into play because the title of his
album
connects to an essential question asked by Camus, which
is what is the
point of life? While I do not have an answer to that, I
have been thinking about the roll that music plays in affirming
who we are.

In 1992, I had Death Certificate to make sense of what was going on
in LA, in the Streets of Oakland and in my family life.
What music do
the young bucks of today have to help them make
sense of their lives?

What music do they have to help them make sense of the rage that they
feel about the murder of Oscar Grant?

Anthony Hamilton, Good Lawd

I don’t trust Black men (or men in general) who don’t have facial hair.
They get the side eye.
You notice how LL’s face just look’s a wee too clean?
However, now that I think about it, there are exceptions. Obama
is clean shaven, but the juttyness (yes I made it up) of his
chin strikes a balance on his face.
However, Black men with those half-way beards don’t get a pass.
Which brings me to Anthony Hamilton. I always thought that one
song from his first album was okay, but the straggely beard, just
had me on some “uuhhhh no”.
Imagine my surprise last night when I saw him in his new video
cleanly shaved. He cleans up real nice, looking like
somebody uncle at the family reunion.
Thumbs up.