It’s time I throw in the towel. As a freelance publicist who specializes in promoting up and coming rappers, it looks like 2013 will be the end of the road for me. As a 40-year-old Hip Hop head who grew up on Afrika Bambaataa, Melle Mel, Run DMC, Public Enemy and Rakim, my mission in life has always been to promote this culture I love. But the game has changed and so have I.
Throughout the ’80s, ’90s and 2000s, I wore many hats as a talent scout, freelance journalist, publisher, promoter and publicist trying to use my influence to promote rap music with substance. I was so committed to using Hip Hop as a form of empowerment that I even created one of the nation’s first full time educational Hip Hop program for middle and high school students. Everyday for five years, I taught six periods of Hip Hop culture education to hundreds of students who never imagined that Hip Hop could be offered as a regular class. It was magic! Lives were changed, students were motivated to better themselves and I became an award winning teacher in the process. California’s economic crisis put an end to the magic in 2011 when my program lost its funding.
I returned to the entertainment industry as a freelance publicist with the goal of promoting quality Hip Hop. How foolish I was! Between 2011 and 2012, I found myself turning down more potential clients then I was bringing in. The idea of working with aspiring artists who sounded just like Big Sean, Rick Ross, Nicki Minaj or 2 Chainz disgusted me. And those few artists who did have something of substance to offer had little to no money or lacked the drive to take their music to the next level. Everyday my inbox would fill up with rappers requesting my services to help promote their songs about ass, weed, guns, cars, strippers, sex and money. As a freelancer striving to establish myself, I should have been thankful for generating so much business and could have watched my bank account grow, regardless of the musical quality. But as a husband, father and all around socially conscious person, I couldn’t. As a man, I couldn’t.
Behind every mainstream rapper glorifying money, sex and violence, there is a cast of managers, publicists, lawyers, program directors, DJ’s, bloggers, journalists, producers and other industry executives working hard to make that artist a household name. Behind every Chief Keef, Tyga and Trinidad James, there are college educated men and women whose job it is to promote music that contributes to the dumbing down of our youth. Behind every music video full of half naked girls, there are casting agents and directors who would never allow their own daughters to portray themselves in such light. Behind every rapper who claims to be a thug, there are countless professionals who send their kids to private schools while promoting music which sends our kids to prison. Behind every mainstream rapper on BET, MTV, Hot 97, Power 106 and any other popular station in your city, there’s a Clear Channel, Viacom, Emmis Communications and Radio One made up of powerful decision makers who would never in a million years listen to the kind of music they get rich promoting. And behind every rapper with a criminal record, there’s a publicist spinning a story to make crime more marketable.
Enough is enough…at least for me. For years I’ve heard the lame argument that this is simply the nature of business. I’m sick and tired of it. Businesses don’t run themselves, people do. Sure, these companies may only provide what the public is demanding but at what human cost? Aren’t corporations supposed to have some form of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) which ensures that companies operate in an ethical manner? Pardon my naiveté but is expecting people to place morals over profit completely unrealistic nowadays? Truth is, at one point, I was hoping to establish a successful music business model which would have been both profitable and “humane”. I guess I wasn’t that smart.
It’s obvious now that I’m not built for this. I’m cut from a different cloth than my music industry peers. So I’m out. No one will miss me. And while it might be hard to find another career path at 40, the idea of resurrecting my educational Hip Hop program sounds exciting because I’ll be working hard to make a real difference in the lives of young people. Searching for funding won’t be easy in this economy but it’s worth pursuing much more than any corny illusion and destructive images the entertainment industry tries to sell. Don’t get me wrong, I still love Hip Hop. I’ll still support new and creative artists as I always have. I’ll still make beats because I love music. I’ll still be as vocal and opinionated as ever. I’m not giving up at all. I’m just finally free from trying to convince myself that this sick and twisted industry can really be changed. I have real work to do now and this is just the beginning. Peace.
Sebastien Elkouby can be contacted at email@example.com.