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August 26, 2006

The Business of Music (Part I)

Those of you who know me personally, or professionally, have probably heard about my Mama before. Familywise, I've had rough and rocky relationships with my parents for most of my life. But now I'm in a place with my Moms where we're really cool, and we spend a lot of time together.

It's so true, the old adage, if you don't know your history you're doomed to repeat it. My mother was a musician. She was a Jazz drummer, and a damn good one - in a time when there were no female Jazz drummers to speak of. But she fell in love with a musician, married him, had his children, gave up her dreams, stopped playing music professionally, and eventually stopped playing music...period. She's not bitter, she's better.

I wasn't there, or I was too young to remember, but most likely my mother was my father's manager, in the sense that she probably managed to make happen, or assisted in making happen, all of the behind-the-scenes eventualites that led to my father becoming well-known, then famous, then infamous, then rich.

I've heard more of the history about her time with my father over the past few months than in the last 31 years preceding this one. We also talk a lot about music. And we talk a lot about money, and the business, and commercialism/materialism, and control.

She and her husband school me about Rock & Roll, Folk, and (gasp) Country... I school her and her husband about Hip Hop, Rap, Soul, R&B (the real shit, not that Ashanti shit). Through my eyes, they see the pitfalls of being in the business of music. Through my ups and downs, they see how fucken hard it is to make a living at this shit. But after really listening to me and learning there's a difference between Rap and Hip Hop, between 50 Cent and Tragedy Khadafi, between UMVD and Day by Day; my Moms finally understands my struggle. And the struggle of all the artists I've supported, assisted, managed, helped, and added on with over the years.

From the old days (Saafir) to more recent years (MF Doom), and all the days in between, chopping it up with her has brought me to a realization. The music business is what it is. Groups like Self Scientific, dead prez, Hieroglyphics...MCs like Trag, I Self Devine, Trunks, C-Rayz Walz...supergroups like Monsta Island Czars, S.O.L.A.R. Panel, The Anomolies...they're against incredible odds to even make it onto the radar in this game.

There's already one group this year, The Roots, and one MC this year, Talib Kweli, that THEY are going to allow into the system. It's like those long-ass lines for buses for Katrina victims that never showed up or showed up way late and way short.

That's not a new thought for me, but this one is, I said it to my folks today. "It's so hard for the people I'm friends with and the people I work with to make it. And it's so hard for me, knowing them, their girls, their children, their parents...they can't afford to buy a house or really live. It's nearly impossible to make it into the moneymaking game in this business of music. And as an extension of that, it's been hard for ME to live. I've put in so much work, but it's not my fault, I can't look at it like that. And to be honest as long as we're making a living, it's better to be below the radar.

I can't say that what happened to B.I.G. or what happened to 'Pac wasn't something more than random violence, or beef, or whatever - when you're reaching people on the levels of major radio and major television, globally, huge concerts, you're controlling the youth. And that fucks up the game for the people who are currently in control of the youth. So sometimes it's better for us to have Toyota and two-bedroom house money; not Bentley and twenty-bedroom mansion money. This way they don't see what we're doing, or hear what we're saying. Under the radar."

More later