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Vet Perspective: T.I., Iggy Azalea, Azealia Banks and The Industry Machine

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After working in the music industry for 29 years (20 0f which have been owning my own business rffocusorg.wpengine.com) there are a few things I have learned, MOST the hard way.  First I have learned that when it comes to business, you can never take it personal, next I have learned that those who come to the table with leverage, leave the table satisfied and full. Finally I have learned the art of “Strategy” to pick battles wisely because even though you may have the best intentions and you even might be right, you can still end up looking like the bad guy.

To that end, it is greatly disappointing to me that many young black people in the industry don’t have mentors. The generational gap between new people and vets has been around since I started in the industry and there are very few chances to marry the two. Older industry people are failing the up-and-coming and in the end that’s going to affect our place in the industry, as a matter of fact, it already is. I myself never had a mentor.

This past week there has been a lot of back and forth between Iggy Azalea and Azealia Banks concerning Hip Hop, Black Culture and who has the right to it. During the  interview (below) where Hot 97 morning host Ebro was interviewing Banks he said something that was incredibly poignant and it went over a lot of people’s heads in the midst of the back and forth. He spoke of the passion that he too once had when he was Banks’ age and he spoke out against the machine that we call the music industry. What happens is the very people that we are speaking out against usually control the industry. In addition, he mentioned that even those black folks who agree with you will often sit on the sidelines so they can keep their money coming in and let YOU do the fighting, get blackballed and let you be labeled crazy while they ride off into the sunset, which is also correct. Being a leader, can be a lonely, frustrating and thankless job as people will thank you in private for your efforts then keep their distance at industry events so they won’t be affiliated with you. You will be labeled the Angry Black Man or Woman and that becomes your legacy if you are not careful. Fair? Well no, not until you learn (if you are fortunate enough to stick around) how to navigate the waters. It is still possible to get your message across and be successful at the same time.

While Banks’ points are absolutely valid concerning Azalea’s “borrowing” of black culture, she is not the first and she won’t be the last. It happens wherever there is black creative culture taking place, we create it and often watch others profit from it. That is an absolute and while it speaks volumes for our frustration it also speaks volumes for the way that we do business.

Calling T.I. a “coon” and his wife a Tiny a “bitch” is a stretch but nonetheless a price T.I. may have to pay as long as he backs Iggy. From those of us who are vets in the music industry his move in bringing Iggy to the labels was a savvy and an obviously profitable business move that he, no doubt, knew might come with a high price from the hip hop community.

T.I. is using his leverage to extend his 15 minutes and he has had a lot of time to think about how he could be successful in the industry. T.I. could have have been kicked out of the industry twice when he went to jail but when he wasn’t, even though something went awry with his deal with Atlantic after his second stint in prison (he was most recently on Columbia records) he knew he had to expand his reach in business which is why he changed his mind about reality TV and the way he did business with Grand Hustle.  Anyone who is an entrepreneur can see exactly what T.I. is doing, but note he is not the first black male rapper to bring a white rap act to the labels. He knows the limitations of a black artist when it comes to airplay and support from radio so he gave many CHR and Rhythmic stations and their corporations like iHeartMedia a palatable white woman who can effortlessly emulate black culture without being black and have mass appeal. Is that racist? You will have to answer that based on how you feel about it, but what I do know is people like to work with people they feel the most comfortable with. Banks’ passion and disdain about the entire situation is completely relevant but at the end of the day whether we like it or not, it’s business.

It is not Iggy’s fault that she is successful, but it appears that she too does not understand the machine and how it works. It’s not that she is more talented but she is perceived as more marketable by certain corporations. Is that racist? Depends on who you ask but where she is wrong is justifying her success for emulating black culture being based on her talent alone then accusing others who have lived, slept, eaten and know hip hip of being jealous because she is better. The frustration for the awards and accolades that she wins for hip hop should not be aimed at her as much as the people who give them to her. What is it that people expect her to do?

I wish I could say there is room for everybody at the top but that’s just not the case and talent alone does not get you all that you want in the industry.  It’s not always fair and no matter how much we put into it we may not get much back but it’s up to us to learn from our (and other’s) mistakes, limitations on the way the industry works. In addition, we have to ensure that we diversify our skill sets to remain relevant and in demand as long as possible. There is so much more to say here but I think you may get the point.

When both women are older they will have a greater understanding of the entire situation but the bottom line is we don’t own a large portion of the music industry and there are three things I want to close with:

  • Leverage – when you have more you can do more
  • Strategy – Plan and execute to accomplish
  • Mentoring – Each one reach one to teach one

 

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