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Hip-Hop and Forbes: Parallels of Image and Inequality

June 28, 2011

(This commentary by Jared A. Ball is re-posted from Black Agenda Report)

 “The Blackness on top only masks the deepening levels of Blackness at the bottom.”

The newly released Forbes list of Top 25 money earners in music and the newly released report from the National Urban League of Black inequality in the United States should be paired and used by even the most ardent lovers of hip-hop as proof of one very powerful lesson: The Blackness on top only masks the deepening levels of Blackness at the bottom. Hip-hop, the broader entertainment industry, and the presidency of Barack Obama all, as much as anything else in this country, splendidly demonstrate the point: Heavily promoted Blackness masks Black suffering while enriching a mostly White, male elite.

The Forbes list shows the problem in microcosm. The success of a few rappers hasn’t helped the rest of the hip-hop community any more than the election of the first Black president has helped Black people. And in neither case do the rewards of a select few compare to that which they create for their respective betters. In fact, in each case the respective betters are all mostly housed on Wall Street where each do better than their more highly promoted and meticulously selected blacker representatives. So, for instance, and according to Forbes, the highest earning rap group, the Black Eyed Peas, earned roughly $61 million over the last 12 months. But this is not even half what the top earning band made over that same last year; U2 pulled in about $195 million. And neither amount amounts to much compared to the revenues generated by the owner of the label that owns both of these groups. Vivendi, the parent company of Universal Music Group, was well over $40 billion in 2010.

As it is below, so it is above. In the macrocosm, according to a recent National Urban League study, the standard of living gap between White and Black Americans has actually worsened during the time of the Blackest face in the highest place, the Obama presidency. So just as the highest earning Black musicians bring in less than has about half of their richest counterparts, Black America’s standard of living is only about 70% that of Whites and dropping. And even when the highest earning rap group is often referred to as “multi-racial” and “multi-ethnic,” and even though it’s fronted by a White woman they still can’t close these divides! Even when the president is Black and fronted by White corporations Black inequality persists, and gets worse!

And for real? As big as hip-hop is globally none of the other 5 Black faces on that Forbes list are strictly hip-hop. Jay-Z and P. Diddy make more of their money through other ventures, Beyonce, Usher and Rihanna are pop singing, sometime actors. Hip-hop isn’t even on the list. It’s as broke as the communities that produced it. But just as it would take the accumulated sum of all those other 5 Black faces on that Forbes list to reach the top White group, the Urban League report shows that the accumulated sum of a Black president leaves Black people still having less than half the access to health care as Whites but still twice the unemployment. And all those top Black musicians still leaves the bulk in hip-hop needing equal pay and health care themselves, just ask the Grassroots Artist Movement (G.A.ME) who have been trying to organize around that for years.

But the real point is that in the end, as Jim Hightower pointed out recently, the biggest thieves walk off with it all with no questions asked, like the hedge fund manager who made $2.4 million an hour last year, or all those major corporations who pay no taxes while we are forced to watch schools close and teachers blamed. It is always a good exercise to compare popularly touted individual success stories with the conditions of the communities they’ve escaped.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. jay permalink
    June 28, 2011 3:23 pm

    We get it, you’re socialists, unfortunately that never works.

  2. Jeff Smith permalink*
    June 28, 2011 3:28 pm

    I love these one line retorts………did you actually read the article? It doesn’t say anything about socialism, it is a critique of the music industry and how there is significant wealthy disparity between Black artists & White artists and between musicians and record label owners. If you are going to response to our blog at least have something worth writing instead of unsubstantiated sound bites.

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