At the forefront of American culture for approximately the past 30 years, hip-hop has grown to become a cardinal influence affecting the way in which individuals participate in society. Hip-hop has allowed for Blacks and other minority groups to cultivate a sense cultural identity in a country predominantly dominated by White culture. Today, hip-hop has grown large enough to allow for certain individuals to apply their skills to generate massive amounts wealth for themselves and their families. In 3,000 words, by referring to the long-standing legacy left by revolutionary Black capitalist Booker T. Washington and referring to the careers of present day business moguls Sean Combs and Aubrey Graham, I intend to show how hip-hop started as an intellectual art form and developed into an industry that has had the ability to critically influence the world socially, economically and culturally, as well as show aspiring Black capitalists the success they have potential to achieve as capitalists, despite the economic, institutional, and social disadvantages that confront many.
THE ORIGIN OF THE BLACK CAPITALIST: BOOKER T. WASHINGTON
If it were not for the contributions of Booker T. Washington, Black capitalism would not have been able to fully come to fruition. Booker T. Washington was born a slave in 1856 on a Virginia Farm and completely overcame the odds. Despite being born a slave, Washington became one of the most influential intellectuals of the 19th Century. Booker T. Washington was the founder of the Tuskegee Institute and played a large part in forming the National Negro Business League. By establishing the importance of education and economic self-
reliance through business activities to displaced African Americans, Washington was able to pave the way for a new generation of capitalists and intellectuals to find their place in post Antebellum America. Washington established the Negro Business League to give African Americans the opportunity to overcome the 200 year wealth accumulation deficit created by slavery.
Whether its consciously realized or not, the future generations of African Americans are all benefitting from the trickle down effect that Washington put into motion. Without the contributions of Booker T. Washington, the majority of African Americans would have been lacking the knowledge, influence, and skillset needed to survive, overcome, and eventually change a racist and unjust America. It was this trickle down effect that influenced and groomed the intellectual pioneers of the 20th Century Civil Rights movement, who have had the ability to foster monumental change to entire social institutions. The success of the Civil Rights movement allowed for African Americans to become officially legally accepted in American society. Although racism continued to exist, more so behind the scenes, a new generation of African Americans now had the ability to develop and take pride in their own form of culture, expressing themselves in ways never done before. This freedom of expression gave birth to hip-hop.
THE ORIGINS OF HIP HOP
Hip-hop emerged as another one of the many beautiful externalities derived from the long-standing legacy of Booker T. Washington. Hip-hop originated as more than just a genre of music or commercialized industry. Hip hop originated as a revolution to attempt to educate New York City's minority youth by using both poetry and knowledge. In the process, it
created a sense of community and culture for African American citizens in a racially polarized and segregated America. The birth of hip-hop dates back to 1973 in Bronx, New York, one of New York City's five boroughs. Hip-Hop's original pioneer was DJ Kool Herc, a Jamaican American who lived in a working class apartment building with his family in the South Bronx. One evening while entertaining at his sister's back to school parties, Herc decided to try something new using his turntables. He extended out an instrumental beat, giving people the opportunity to dance longer to a specific song and choreograph moves to the extended beat. As people began to break dance and marvel at Herc's innovation, Herc simply recited potetry over the beat. This gave birth to hip-hop.
Hip-hop was originally engineered as a mixture of funk and soul, combined with poetry and knowledge. The people of the Bronx seemed to naturally gravitate towards this art form and its influence quickly spread to the neighboring boroughs. The funk and soul allowed people to dance and express themselves in a way never done before. The Bronx was mostly comprised of a poorer demographic of minorities who had limited forms of self expression. Due to weak the public education provided by the government, the main outlets for survival and escape for the youth were the urban streets or competitive sports. Hip-hop became a blessing to the youth of these communities, as individuals began to use hip hop as a healthy escape from their day to day struggles against racism, poverty, and violence. In the Bronx and neighboring NYC boroughs, gangs typically ran the streets. That being said, it's only natural that established urban gangs also
began to adopt the hip-hop culture as well.
Bronx gangs such as the Ghetto Brothers and the Savage Nomads adopted the hip-hop culture. Some of these gangs also incorporated graffiti into their practice of the culture. Gangs practiced graffiti either as a benign form of self expression, or a way to work outside of and rebel against the system that oppressed them. - As Urban gang members became active participants in the hip-hop revolution as producers and consumers of the art form, many uninformed individuals who are ranked higher in the class hierarchy of society immediately began question the legitimacy of hip-hop as a whole. As a result, hip-hop attracted an ample amount of disadvantageous publicity. Mass media began to project their uninformed views about hip-hop onto the rest of society, demonizing it as a whole without concern to its original intent. However, as the years progressed, hip-hop and society continued to evolve. New York City became a dense hub of political and ideological culture which served to influence many African American's in their quest to become capitalists. While hip-hop as an art form an industry has According to Conrad et. al (2005), “Within the rap industry, transformations in the various cultural industries have produced spaces for creative and entrepreneurial skills…” (Conrad et. al 2005, p. 261) The fertile hip-hop soil allowed for individuals considered at the bottom of the social hierarchy to harness their entrepreneurial and creative skills to rise to the top of capitalism. Sean Combs is African American whom embodies this statement.
BLACK HIP HOP MOGULS: SEAN “PUFFY COMBS”
Sean Combs, also known as Puff Daddy or P. Diddy, is an exact representation of Black Excellence within the hip-hop, music, and business industry. He is an African American artist,
businessman, and entrepreneur. Combs was born in Harlem, New York and grew up in the height of Hip-Hop's rise to cultural prominence. Combs did not come from wealth, and was raised by a single mother after the death of his father in 1974. Combs, however, had the privilege to attend Howard University as a Business Administration major where he showcased his immense hustle. Combs produced weekly hip-hop parties and ran his own airport shuttle service on top of being a full time student. After 2 years of being a college student, Combs decided to drop out to pursue an internship at Uptown Records. His internship eventually led him to become a talent director at Uptown Records where he showcased his talent and quickly rose to the ranks of Vice President. In 1993, Combs launched his own Entertainment label, Bad Boy Entertainment. Bad Boy signed artists such as Faith Evans, Biggie Smalls, Lil Kim, Mariah Carey, and Mary J. Blige. Sean Combs had the ability to sign, groom, establish, and pave the way for many well renowned artists in the industry.
By 1997, Bad Boy Records had sold approximately $100 million in recordings (biography site) and solidified its place as a top player within the hip-hop and music industry. In 1999, Combs continued to nurture his entrepreneurial spirit and used his accumulated financial and social capital, combined with his hustle and business expertise to launch various other ventures. Combs ventures include Combs Music Publishing, Janice Combs Management, Sean John Clothing, Justin's Restaurants, and Daddy's House Studios. Sean Combs' genius within the industry has allowed for him to accumulate immense amounts of wealth and power. As of 2018, P Diddy's net worth is approximately $855 million, placing him in the top 5 ranking of the wealthiest African Americans. Without hip-
hop, the level success Combs sees today would not exist and his influence would not be able to trickle down to those aspiring Black capitalists in need of motivation, guidance, and vision. While it is important to study someone who has been in the industry since its inception, it is also important to study someone who exemplifies similar entrepreneurial qualities to that of Sean Combs and aligns closer to the current generation's consumption of hip hop and culture.
BLACK HIP HOP MOGULS: AUBREY “DRAKE” GRAHAM
Aubrey Graham, professionally known as Drake, is a multi grammy and award winning artist who year after year dominates the charts of the hip-hop and music industry. Drake was born in Toronto Canada to an African American father and White Jewish mother. Drake identifies as Black because he finds himself immersed and connected to black culture more than any other. In 2001, Drake landed a role on the Canadian teen drama series, Degrassi: The Next Generation. Drake's early career saw mild success as a Degrassi star, but it wasn't until his
switch into the Hip-Hop industry as a rapper where he began to catch fire. In 2009, Drake signed with Lil Wayne's Young Money Entertainment. From there, Drake has gone on to produce consecutive back to back No. 1 studio albums and singles. Year after year Drake dominates this generation's consumption of music. Drake's success and popularity accumulated from the Hip-Hop industry has allowed for him to create his own record label, OVO Sound, and clothing brand, OVO. Drake has an estimated net worth of approximately $100 million and is still in the early stages of fully developing his business and entrepreneurial career.
What makes Drake so special is his ability to create music that successfully goes against the status quo of the mainstream content normally commercialized within the hip-hop industry.
It is important to note that hip-hop's focus has slightly changed since its inception. These changes occurred in response to the number of diverse participants in the industry, and the response these diverse representations received from the social environment. Today, the easiest way to taste success as an artist is to create content that focusses on the intense glorification of money, consumption, and/or substance abuse. Drake, however, takes a different approach. While some of his content does contain some of these mainstream characteristics, what distinguishes Drake is his ability and tenacity to go against the status quo. Drake is not afraid to openly express his personal beliefs as well as show his emotional side in his lyrics, which allows for him to connect with a wide array of individuals who can relate to his pain and experiences. Drake is an avid believer of giving back to the community and, as shown in his music video for his 2018 billboard hit “God's Plan”, he regularly donates to organizations, schools, and students, and those in need. Without hip-hop, Drake would not be the success that he is today, nor would he be able to influence society in a positive and long standing fashion. The potential hip-hop holds for Black capitalists is clearly evidenced by both Sean Combs and Aubrey Graham, however, to encompass a better and more well rounded view of hip-hop's entire influence, it is imperative to dive deeper into the broader social, economic, and cultural impacts observed from hip-hop.
THE SOCIAL, ECONOMIC & CULTURAL IMPACTS
As previously stated, hip-Hop originated as cultural revolution to better the lives of individuals, particularly minority groups, who face the structural disadvantages imposed by America. However, as previously stated, in todays day and age, due to the ever evolving sentiments and conditions of society, markets, and industries, hip-hop's focus seems to have
slightly altered. Hip-hop has become the number one form of music consumption domestically and internationally. As the 21st Century approached and took full form, society transitioned into a progressive era which allowed for hip-hop's reach to expand even further. For the most part, people of all races, ethnicities and cultures are freely able to consume as well as participate in the art form. As a result, between 1990 and 2000 rap's market share more than doubled, outcompeting its rival genres rock, pop and R&B, all of whom actually lost their market share. As a social and cultural phenomenon, hip-hop has grown to assume a position of power within the superstructure of society to influence the way individuals participate in society. Hip-hop has allowed for Blacks and Whites who both understand and appreciate the art form to find common ground. This common ground is helpful in order for different racial communities to connect on a deeper and more intimate level.
Economically speaking, many established companies in capitalism tend to benefit from hip-hop's externalities. Hip hop's glorification of consumption is a theme which continues to prevail and is majorly imposed on the youth. “…companies such as Nike, Timberland, Hello Hansen, Ralph Lauren, Puma, McDonald's, Coca-Cola, and Sprite are not part of the hip-hop industry. But the immense sales boosts given to their products by rap artist endorsements or by the infusion of a hip-hop aesthetic or a sartorial style in its selling strategies means that even the largest multinational companies are influenced by hip-hop culture.” (Conrad et. al 261) Fashion, trends, style, music, and a sense of generational purpose are all the things that traditionally matter to the youth, and are all influenced by hip-hop's reach.
There is a two sided controversy surrounding this argument, however. The first side of the controversy has to do with the newer more mainstream artists that enter into the industry. These commercialized artists enter the industry solely to use their talents to, according to rapper Xhibit, “acting as billboards for corporate America”. (Conrad et. al 2005, p. 261) In doing so, rappers continue to alienate hip-hop further from its true purpose which is to educate and serve the individuals who are being oppressed by the system, not to blindly help the system who oppresses. The other side of the argument is that certain artists in the hip-hop industry rap about their favorite brands for the love of the product, and are not being paid to do so. Yet many of these rappers receive no recognition or percent of profit in return for helping to generate millions of dollars in sales.
Aside from the hip-hop industry's ability to generate millions of dollars for talented artists and companies, hip-hop hand also extends to capitalists, regardless of race, who are situated in other professions. According to Conrad et. al (2005) “If we define the hip hop industry as those persons and businesses that seek to profit from the marketing and sales of rap music and hop-hop culture, it would include record companies, music publishers, recording studios, talent brokers, performance venues, artists, engineers, producers, personal attorneys, promoters, managers, attorneys, accountants, musical publications, websites, party planners, limousine services, personal assistants…” (Conrad et. al 2005, p. 261) It is evident that the hip-
hop industry has the ability to generate shifts in consumer culture and taste, contribute to the sales of established corporate companies, as well as affect those who work in other professions.
Hip-hop's proliferation from a local and domestic movement to a full global revolution is remarkable as well as enthralling. What started off as a means of self expression created by marginalized urban youth, evolved into an industry with the power to create generational wealth, bring people out of poverty, unite cultures, influence consumer tastes, as well as bring in millions of dollars in sales revenues to corporate America. Hip-hop's increased exposure and popularity has also created increased feeling of pride in the African American community. This sense of pride serves to to unite, strengthen, and bind minority communities. Highly successful rap moguls have been able to show how they've benefited from hip hop's increased exposure. The careers of Sean Combs and Drake, clearly exemplify the fact that hip-hop has the ability to open many doors to Black capitalists. Successful rappers are given Large publishing deals and endorsement opportunities which boost record sales, giving rappers the ability to accumulate much capital. Capital accumulation enables successful rappers to pursue other philanthropic or business ventures, in the process, setting an example for future generations to follow. The legacy left behind by Booker T. Washington shows that as time continues to unfold, African Americans will continue to learn, adapt, overcome, and succeed despite the economic, institutional, and generational setbacks that affect the community.
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