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What The Market Will Bear

It is a multibillion-dollar industry, accounting for one of every five records sold in America. Eighty percent of buyers are white. The music that now generates over $10 billion per year (according to Forbes magazine) was initially ignored by corporate America. Now corporations use the phrases, the images, and the sounds of hip-hop to sell everything from McDonald's dollar menus to Cadillacs.

Although the faces of hip-hop are predominantly Black and the Black community birthed the music, who are the real power-players at Universal Music and Viacom that are pushing the green or red button on what gets produced and promoted in hip-hop? Dr. Jared Ball in his composition, "Hip-Hop, Mass Media & 21st Century Colonization," states: "Given the societal need and function of mass media and popular culture, all that is popular is fraudulent. Popularity is in almost every case an intentionally constructed fabrication of what it claims to represent. Too few who comment on the lamentable condition of today's popular hip-hop seem to grasp this, the political nature of the nation's media system, nor the political function that system serves. Hip-hop is often taken out of the existing context of political struggle, repression, or the primacy of a domestic/neo-colonialism in the service of which mass media play a (the?) leading role. Media, often incorrectly defined by their technologies, are the primary conduits of ideology or worldview and must be seen as such. Therefore, their highly consolidated ownership and content management structure (corporate interlocking boards of directors, advertisers, stockholders, etc.) cannot be understood absent their ability to disseminate a consciousness they themselves sanction and mass produce. Nowhere is this more clearly demonstrable than in hip-hop."

Entertainment has always been a sponsor/market-driven entity. This is important to remember as a multitude begins to mourn Don Imus as the latest "sacrifice" on the altar of the god called political correctness, their outrage is suspect at best and hypocritical at worst. To say that a campaign of this sort has never been lodged against a rap artist deemed guilty of derogatory attitudes towards Black women is not supported by history or the facts. In 2002 Pepsi-Cola pulled a national, 30-second commercial featuring multiplatinum rapper Ludacris from the air after Fox News Channel's host Bill O'Reilly called for a boycott of the company. O'Reilly characterized Pepsi as "immoral" for using the rapper, whom he described as a rap thug. O'Reilly, on his program, read several of the rapper's lyrics, which he said emphasized a lifestyle that included getting intoxicated, selling drugs, fighting people, and degrading women - by the way, in all my research, not once did I discover that Ludacris was ever sued for sexual harassment or charged with sexual misconduct. The same cannot be said of Mr. O'Reilly and yet he still holds a position as a moral authority with millions of Americans.

Pepsi-Cola released a statement explaining its decision to pull the ad, "We have a responsibility to listen to our consumers and customers, and we've heard from a number of people that were uncomfortable with our association with this artist. We've decided to discontinue our ad campaign with this artist and we're sorry that we've offended anyone."

Let's fast-forward two years to 2004 when Whoopi Goldberg's sexual puns on President Bush's name at a John Kerry fundraiser got her fired as spokeswoman for Slim-Fast weight-loss products. The West Palm Beach, Fla.-based maker of diet aids pulled the ad campaign featuring Goldberg stating that it regretted that Goldberg's remarks "offended some of their consumers." Contrast the rapidity of Pepsi and Slim Fast in dispatching Ludacris and Whoopi, with the decades-long, accommodating, look-the-other-way attitude of sponsors and networks when it comes to individuals such as Imus.

Armstrong Williams on the MSNBC news program Hardball (4/11/07), said that Don Imus should not be fired and "the marketplace should make that decision." And alas, the marketplace did make that decision when the sponsors pulled out en masse. If that is the criterion that we are to use, then what do we do when hip-hop's/rap's vast popularity is determined by that same marketplace - and as was stated previously, that purchasing marketplace is 80% white and the company executives making the final decision as to what gets made and what gets played are predominantly white.

If corporations want to push anti-woman and sexist music this year, millions of dollars will be pumped into the budget of whatever rapper is ignorant enough to write the lyrics. Sure the artists can choose to make something different. They just won't have the backing that others do who agree to play the game. So, by all means hold hip-hop (and ALL artists of ALL genres) who are guilty of producing the misogynistic and sexist messages in their lyrics and videos morally and politically accountable. However, although they may be guilty of providing the supply, it is the American culture that created the demand.

Dr. Edward Rhymes, author of When Racism Is Law & Prejudice Is Policy, is an internationally-recognized authority in the areas of critical race theory and Black studies.

Originally appeared in Black Agenda Report.

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