Confessions of a Failed Hip-Hop Publicist

Sebastien-ElkoubyIt’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

56 thoughts on “Confessions of a Failed Hip-Hop Publicist

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  1. It is unrealistic to expect the people who fund the rap industry to place morals over profit. Hip hop is a separate category than Rap and I’m surprised the two are being used interchangeably…

  2. Matthew Myopinion Fcku Murphy|

    u lack the robin hood complex thats needed in todays society, i would rather take that money that comes from the shiity artists and use it to fund projects that encompasses my principals. because somebody is getting that job if u don’t take it…someone that might use the money to perpetuate all that u dislike with the industry. u could have started a record label that showed reward to the artists that are more of what u think are true hip hop artists. its a shame that someone with your influence and principals is getting out the game…

  3. The Answer|

    man that’s depressing. Respect! keep pursuing you’re passion of teaching, it won’t go unnoticed!

  4. akhan360|


  5. 0ddigital|

    thanx for this post. feel this dude to the core!!!!

  6. THANK YOU FIRST. I found this through then signed your petition, then found this…and THANK YOU. I have the same sentiments, (and this may sound cliche), but I had them around the time in 2009 when Michael Jackson died. It was around then that i realized that as a DJ, college educated black woman, I was constantly promoting the dumbing down of our youth, and not using the power of music for good (which is what Michael Jackson’s music was all about). I felt the same way. Very alone and super conflicted by statements such as “it’s the nature of the business”. Thank GOD, it came to the same point where I could just no longer go along with the crowd. It was then when I started on a similar journey that you are on now, quit DJing, but working in the system still if you will as a Manager….but who i promote, who i stand for and who i do consistent BUSINESS with must be on a similar wavelength. Anyways, as commented on your petition, please reach out if I can help your movement in any way. THANKS AGAIN.

    Rita Forte
    The Olive Street Agency
    (formerly DJ BackSide)

  7. leave that to epmd,those were the daze

  8. exactly its a cool tool for cultures or different race etc to get on with one another,.

  9. not sure its in to bad health its just ,we are used to it ther was tons of shite in the old days too.

  10. not sure its in to bad health its just ,we are used to it ther was tons of shite in the old days too.

  11. Much Respect to you Sebastien!

  12. I think this is sort of bullshit. There’s SOOOOO many artists out there, if you looked outside the framework, you could get down with the Los Rakas (Oakland kids from Panama) of the world, the Dizzy Wright’s of the world, the Nitty Scott, MC’s of the world – there are highly buzzed DIY hip-hop artists out there trying to build positive movements USING hip-hop. Don’t lose hope and find the quality out there and actually SUPPORT IT!

  13. I’ve received hundreds of emails of support in the past weeks. it’s kind of overwhelming but very encouraging. There are people all across the world who want better Hip Hop and a change is indeed coming. There are so many dope new artists that stay true to Hip Hop without following corny trends. I’m inspired! And to the few haters, it’s all good. You’ll thank people like me later when you realize your kids have a greater choice of Hip Hop music than you have now. Peace.

  14. gunsfromreddead|

    I think it’s important to point out that dude was probably not looking to publicize artists that sounded like your 80s or 90s super NY boombap conscious ATCQ cats that most of the trolls on here are claiming he is looking for. The reason why 2chainz and Trinidad James blew up was because laughable comically-hood southern rap has become the next great thing. No publicist that I’m aware of goes off looking for things that “sounds just like” something that’s already out there, because there’s no money or interest to be made off of it. The reason why Outkast did well and still remained “of quality” was because it was something different than what was currently out. Not too many aspiring rappers recognize that so they sort of follow the trend, so what dude got were a bunch of psuedo-[current rapper name here] in his inbox.

    Most publicists out there now are just looking for the next big-ig’nant-idea-that’s-sure-to-get-attention cause it’s been making tons of money in various forms since the mid 2000s, and it’s working against the declining number of people who are actually more in love with the idea of a thriving genre of great ideas.

  15. anawfultruth|

    i m afraid that what is (very well) described here is also valuable for other fields… mass media, mass culture in general.

  16. All that wack shit on main radios, TV music channels and so on is bugging me too. However there are a lot of young cats that deserve a chance, a lot of old cats doing their thing properly and that keeps me on my struggle promoting real HipHop in my country! Real HipHop won’t die and it will always exist.

  17. Damn, This is disheartening to read. Understandable, yet disheartening. Best of luck Sebastian. We appreciate all your given effort to the quality of our music.

  18. Respect & Support.

  19. Narrow taste. That’s rich. Nevermind that the change in Hip Hop is a complete mirror of the decline in Black culture during/after the 1970’s, what with the Exploitation films that came out from the Hollywood jews. Too much pride circulating in the black community. Thanks to stupid cunts like you, we are where we are today. Don’t worry; anything with the least bit of intelligence ain’t for you. Stick to chief keef, fuckin’ whore.

  20. “Ich dachte Hip Hop sei anders – ihr habt mich ein bisschen enttäusch.”

  21. You pay a publicist for strategy, for networks, and for brand development. The result is that all you have to do is hit the studio, but if you can do it solo that is good

  22. I feel your disappointment on the quality of hip hop. Sometimes, it is just exhausting to listen to some of the gimmicky middling talent that is treated as top tier and to hear their imitators try to succeed with copy paste versions of wackness.

  23. Nice read. kudos for bowing out with integrity. that said, i wouldnt write off the young rappers of the world just yet. it’s the start of a lot of rap careers right now.. who knows what kind of layers there may be to some of these dudes

  24. He must do his last interview with kendrick lamar…he is overall right with the hip hop game it has changed,for the worst


    This was very intriguing. I think a lot of people feel the same way as Sebastien, but won’t admit it because (A) paying industry jobs are hard to find and (B) some people don’t want to feel like they’re abandoning Hip Hop because they’re not happy with its present incarnation and direction.

    But the business of Hip Hop hasn’t changed much since the days of N.W.A. and Eric B.& Rakim and even Run D.M.C..People keep mistaking what they see in Hip Hop today as just being a deterioration in creativity and philosophy; OK, a level of creativity has surfaced. But Hip Hop has moved much closer to the streets than it was a generation or so ago. And the closer you get to the trap house, the more hardcore the lyrics and imagery are gonna be because they reflect the cultural realities of the people who are spitting these rhymes. That’s just being real.

    For those who can’t relate, its an ugly picture. But it is what it is. You can’t change Hip Hop unless you somehow influence the culture that drives it and that’s unlikely to happen. Hip Hop is not Pop music.

  26. PanamaFresh|

    nobody is saying Chief Keef & 2 Chains and the rest of the shallow bunch shouldn’t be around…we had them clowns in the golden era as well out to make a check (2 LIVE CREW) i ain’t mad at that…the problem is the the machine’s deliberate slant and direction to under-promote and not market the other side of the spectrum. Regardless…a new wave will rise and crush their wack plans to paint HIP HOP into some superficial box…this cat Sebastien’s work in these workshops will be the work to reap the seeds that will grow into this evolved and conscious new breed to move things back in balance.

  27. And by the way, for a piece you say isn’t remotely interesting, you sure took quite an interest in it. I usually ignore things I’m not impressed by. That’s my tip for you. Peace.

  28. You gotta love online psycho analysis! Thanks for having such insight into who I am. Someone as sharp and opinionated as you are shouldn’t have a problem writing their own article and sharing their insight with the rest of us unimpressive whiners and hangers-on. You got it all figured out and I’ll be waiting on you to show me the light. Looking forward to it.

  29. I’m impressed that you’ve apparently been a rap fan since the age of zero. Here’s a tip: stop whining about your lack of success. There’s literally nothing remotely interesting about this piece, and yet there’s a gaggle of hangers-on patting him on the back for the same old, tired, racist diatribes — vaguely cloaked in an argument about morals, when it’s actually as simple as having different styles — that white people have been making about rap since its birth. Your inability to find nuance in words (which are — shockingly! — not the same as actions) is not newsworthy. Yet another “fan” is guided by his increasing age and narrow taste to make a reductive argument that fulfills all the right stereotypes about his position in society.

  30. Again, much respect to everyone for your support. It’s extremely encouraging.

  31. Hey man sorry to hear that but I know somewhat what you are feeling. A guy told me that I had potential and he liked what me and my friends did but he added, “you guys have to find people that like your niche because for the most part the masses don’t wanna hear that weird stuff”. Back on topic though its a sad state of affairs but this just doesn’t affect Hip Hop or even music, it affects pretty much every corporation as they overlook the wrongdoing all to turn a profit. I wish you luck and may good karma be on your side. Maybe one day others will see things the way you do.

  32. Peace and Blessings to you my brother!

  33. Everything is changing. I promise. Trust Rad Reef.

  34. To sum up that response “Shit, I didn’t expect the guy that wrote the letter to see what I said. Now I feel guilty.”

  35. I have done my own PR for the past 2-3 years… And have managed to consistently get better press on my own for free then any publicist ever has! The idea that an Indy publicist deserves to make more money working an album then an Indy artist makes from their own creation is a relic of a bygone era… The era of record labels. How does a publicist dare to charge $2k a month for doing pr, knowing damn well their only costs are wi fi! They’re not sending out CDs, or paying long distance bills anymore!!! It is highway robbery! Technology is rendering everything obsolete… Soon we humans will go the way of the plow as well!,,

    I applaud this man for recognizing that only the shit rises to the top in this biz, and to have integrity o say “no thanks.” I’m sure he’ll find new ways of working that are gratifying…

    Good luck!

  36. much respect sebastien. stay up!

  37. standing up for what you believe is right…can’t knock that!

  38. Apology accepted. it’s all good!

  39. Wow this is brilliant. Thank you for posting this.

  40. ^kudos to this guy for having class.

  41. GodissGOYS|

    Have a look at this Twitter discussion:

  42. GodissGOYS|

    They dont read. -___-

  43. you know what dude. i do apologize.. i’m the gross troll here. this was obviously really personal to you, and while i don’t agree with your views regarding mainstream hip hop. I really shouldn’t have come in and be mean to you. good luck with your future endeavors.

  44. The problem as I see it is there is little to no “equilibrium” for what is promoted.

    I try liken it to what rock was going through in the 80’s with the hair and metal bands. It was a period of indulgence and what sold, thus business and youth flocked; This doesn’t mean there weren’t important rock bands emerging at the time, hair or no hair, and it didn’t mean that the greats weren’t making music.

    And in the end it just became another genre of the art form; and we see that becoming apparent in hip hop. IMHO hip hop purists need to understand that, or at least take ownership of ‘rap’ being a splintered art form now i.e. some is art and some is just paper chasing.

    Though how this plays into the full breadth of cultural implications in a world where the predominant depictions of AfAm broadcast to the world are limited is a much larger topic.

  45. Just got in a Twitter discussion about this….

  46. The music is intended to be offensive to those not ‘in the loop’. 2 Chainz or Uncle Murder would love to read this.

  47. Thanks to all those who show support. I’ll always be a Hip Hop head, just no longer part of the business.

  48. Thanks for summing up my letter. Sounds like you know me better than I know myself. Next time, I’ll check with you to make sure you approve my life story.

  49. You’re right. I’m not built for this, that’s why I’m leaving but you can pick up where I left off and get those strippers to dance to anything you want.

  50. I wish him luck on his next step. Someone with that much passion for his work deserves the best.

  51. There will always be a dark side, but kudos to you for working with kids and showing them the positivity and love that can shine from hip hop.

  52. you two retards above are the reason this old man gave up on his love of hip hop. major props to the OG. your passion wont go unnoticed.

  53. Haterproof|

    Yeah dude sorry that strippers don’t dance to Jeru the Damaja, sounds like yr not built for this.

  54. to sum up this letter; ‘waaaahhh Mos Def and MF DOOM already had a publicist, so now I can’t make money because I find pop music too vapid. waaaah wahh wahh’

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