Academic journal article Journal of Pan African Studies

Danceable Capitalism: Hip-Hop's Link to Corporate Space

Academic journal article Journal of Pan African Studies

Danceable Capitalism: Hip-Hop's Link to Corporate Space

Article excerpt


Technological advances, and the impact these changes had on labor, led to incredible changes within the music industry. The increase in leisure time that came in the industrial age resulted in the creation of the record player, commercial radio, television, etc. for a growing population of consumers with surplus capital. These and other inventions became a means through which music entertainment could be delivered to the consumer. The music industry mirrored all other capitalist American enterprises in its quest for efficiency, profit, and the delivery of goods and services to the widest audience possible.

The messages in hip-hop, and all forms of popular music existing within the America project can expect to be affected and for the most part controlled by corporate machinery. In fact, it is the will of the corporation beyond the innovation of the artist that must dominate the relationship in order for that relationship to exist at all.

The Business of Hip-Hop Music

The American music business is an industry that has always existed in a state of flux. It changes as genres emerge, become popular, and fade. In addition to being controlled by the tastes of the intended audience, the industry itself becomes a tastemaker as particular artists are chosen and promoted at the expense of others. In recent years the consolidation of music companies, radio, and television interests has resulted in an even greater role of the music companies as engineers of what is or is not considered worth purchasing by the consumer.

Exploitation has been a part of the American music industry since its founding. During segregation, Black musicians and singers were routinely cheated out of profits by white record company executives, and those from their own community (Neal, 1997). The difference between the two areas is in the, "artistic integrity, creative autonomy, communal input and general aesthetic quality" of the product (Neal, 1997, p.123). This was noticeably different dependant upon which era is examined. Segregation demanded a musical "product" that was more "centered" or "grounded" in the Black musical tradition. This grounding was established in the segregated dancehalls and theaters where Black music-makers were showcased. This introduction of artists was followed by the manufacturing of records, often on regional, independent Black record labels. These labels were able to "feel the pulse" of their intended market. The Black record label owner was often as exploitative of their artists as was their white counterpart, the main difference being that they knew what sounded good, and more importantly, what would sell, based on their own personal experience, shared with the prime consumer of the art.

Although Black artists have been produced on white-controlled labels, there still existed a space where popular Black regional, national, or even international talent was exposed on Black-owned labels such as Motown. As the profits of these companies began, dramatic change began to occur in the industry. In the 1970s white record companies began to create Black music divisions. These divisions had a high degree of autonomy initially. There was a degree of independence here, which fluctuated over the years as genres, and sub-genres were introduced and "mainstreamed" through exposure to larger consumer bases. The difference between these divisions and the Black-owned record companies lay in the commitment to Black music itself. Keith Negus asserts:

   The music industry is a notoriously insecure place to work, but 
   Black music divisions can be particularly unstable. For as long as 
   they have been in existence, the variously named r'n'b [rhythm & 
   blues]/Black/urban divisions have been continually closed down and 
   reopened as a way of dealing with financial booms and slumps; 
   staffed and re-staffed as senior management have continually 
   changed their thinking about how to deal with r'n'b (1999, p. … 
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