The Curse of Being a Black Artist

by Guest Contributor M.Dot, originally published at Model Minority

I think I have fallen in love with Camus (a dead white Algerian philosopher who argues that the death penalty is premeditated murder) and Anthony Hamilton simultaneously.

What does this have to do with being an artist? Everything, simply because over the last few days I have been apart of a few conversations on the tension between art and commerce.

Two days ago, on Twitter, Indieplanet and I were having a discussion about art, commerce, Joe Budden/Vlad flap up.

indieplanet @mdotwrites Its a bigger issue of basic ethics.
Too many blogs/video sites decide at some point to exchange
ethics for page views. 10:06 AM Jan 11th from web in reply to
mdotwrites

indieplanet @mdotwrites Re: Budden/Vlad – What are your
thoughts on the whole situation. I think its a bigger picture that
video sites should consider. 11:51 PM Jan 10th from web
in reply to mdotwrites

indieplanet @mdotwrites Shouldnt it be possible to make a
contribution AND get paid?? It is possible (not common)
to change the game & have morals 12:17 PM Jan 11th from web
in reply to mdotwrites

@indieplanet Its like running with the Dope man. Sooner or
later, someone is going to test you, and you are going to have
to choose. 12:23 PM Jan 11th from web in reply to indieplanet

Yesterday, Dart Adam’s sent me a link to an essay of his which outlined, amongst many things, how the The Telecommunication’s Act spearheaded mergers and acquisitions in radio and how these changes impacted hip hop.

To cap it off, yesterday, Brooklyn Bodega posted a Facebook note asking “Does Money Ruin it All?” He wrote,

the other day one of our family posted a comment that he was no fan of ‘Notorious’ because too many people had profited from its production. He cited Memebrs of Junior Mafia, Puff and I assume he also had a problem with Ms. Wallace as she looks to have been in charge and arguably received the largest check.

So the question is does the presence of money make it impossible to produce a work of pure artistic integrity?

The responses ranged from, “as long as the Wallace family is compensated then it is all good” to “making money is practical for everyone including artists”, and finally “this is a less of an issue of the evils of capitalism and rather a question of authenticity.”

Many of the comments reflect a fundamental lack of understanding of capitalism and both how it has historically impacted art and how it impacts hip hop and Black artists specifically. Because capital is productive property, there will always be a move to exploit the the property to obtain the most returns.

This is why we have 5 CSI’s, 6 Indiana Jones’s and Hannah Montana dish towels.

Quality be damned.

Think about it, art is referred to as intellectual property for a reason.

And here is where the tension arises. If our music, our precious Hip Hop music began as a voice for the under represented, what does it mean for us to be so silent about its current state of affairs? And, if we are silent, do we deserve better than what we receive? Why are we so reluctant to admit the way in which the market has impacted our art?

I have watched both Saul Williams and KRS rationalize getting money with Fortune 500′s. And I thought to myself why be coy, why not just say, “Ya’ll, I got bills to pay.”

Lets be clear, I do not claim to be on a pedestal. If Coke/Sony/Steve Madden/ came calling and wanted to work with me and I chose to do so, I wouldn’t turn around and say to you “Well the executives at Coke/Sony/ like me, so this is a great partnership.” I would understand that they want to rock with me because they feel that I may be able to enhance their shareholder value. Simple as that.

So if you see my face and big {teeth} smile on the back of a Brooklyn Erotica anthology at the end of the year, lets be clear, I had to pay some bills and I am okay with that.

I guess, I am really perturbed at the fact that we all clearly understand the nasty bottom line of the Dope game, but when it comes to analyzing the ways in which the nasty bottom line of Capitalism affects our art we get shook.

Statement was very similar to another statement that I read by Camus (pronounced Cam-moo, like shampoo.) In the essay
The Wager of our Generation, Camus writes,

The aim of art, the aim of life, can only be to increase the sum of freedom and responsibility to be found in everyman and the world. It cannot, under any circumstances be used to reduce or suppress that freedom, even temporarily….

No great work of art has been based on hatred or contempt. There is not a single true work of art of art that has not in the end addressed the inner freedom of each person that has known and loved it.

In an interview on Verbalisms, ran by the phenomenal and formidable (wink) Raquel Wilson, Dan Tres OMi interviews Wise Intelligent of PRT on the role that art and music plays in our culture. He writes,

There are quite a few people who feel that music that is created to raise the consciousness of a particular community is irrelevant in the age of what William C. Bansfield calls the post-album age wherein the music created is commercially driven and marketed to a specific segment of society. Wise Intelligent, the front man for the influential hip-hop group Poor Righteous Teacher, always felt and continues to feel that he was galvanized by the spirit of the people to take up the mic to educate the masses. It is a tragedy that Wise Intelligent, who penned one of the best odes to Black women with “Shakyla,” is forgotten when it comes to bringing knowledge of self beat up and compressed into hip-hop form.

Where does Anthony Hamilton fit in? His album is the first one in a very long time, that both instrumentation wise and lyrically, has helped me make sense of my life. He has helped me be okay with my new found freedom. The irony is that it isn’t Hip Hop, and because I am notoriously boom bap oriented and it feels weird. I will add that Q-Tip’s The Renaissance has been in rotation as well.

Anthony Hamilton also comes into play because the title of his album connects to an essential question asked by Camus, which is what is the point of life? While I do not have an answer to that, I have been thinking about the role that music plays in affirming who we are.

In 1992, I had Death Certificate to make sense of what was going on in LA, in the Streets of Oakland and in my family life. What music do the young bucks of today have to help them make sense of their lives?

What music do they have to help them make sense of the rage that they feel about the murder of Oscar Grant?