Posts Tagged ‘Prison Industrial Complex’

Welcome to the first episode of Take No Prisoners Radio hosted by Camille H & myself. In this episode, we discuss Ferguson, Police Brutality, misogyny, white supremacy and racism, and the state of Hip Hop. For the Hot Seat segment, we’re joined by an anonymous music industry executive who believes that the music industry should NOT be held accountable for the type of rap music it promotes. The conversation gets pretty heated! Also, check out music from J Cole, Pharoahe Monch, Rah Digga, ZotheJerk, and Rapsody. For info or feedback email Peace.


I’ve spent the past few years tirelessly writing about the music industry’s deplorable portrayal of Black people. I’ve verbally attacked record companies, radio stations, TV networks, and executives who profit from Black death and dysfunction. I’ve harshly criticized rappers like Nicki Minaj, 2 Chainz, YG, and Rick Ross for glorifying crime, sex, drugs, violence, and general ignorance. I’ve gone after clueless bloggers and hipsters for praising the very worst that rap has to offer. I’ve watched an industry blossom from the exploitation of the most vile and obscene racial stereotypes imaginable and openly accused it of promoting a covert white supremacist agenda. I’ve called out media conglomerates for their proven connection to the private prison industrial complex. I’ve been vocal and unapologetically determined to expose the industry for what I’m convinced is a deliberate attempt to dumb down generations of unsuspecting listeners. I’ve gained friends, supporters, and allies but also made a few foes in the process.  And although it’s become increasingly difficult to say something I haven’t already said in past articles or interviews, as long as the industry keeps pushing its propaganda, I’ll continue speaking out against it. For every person who’s heard my arguments a hundred times before, there’s someone else hearing it for the first time.

Throughout this amazing journey, I’ve observed how strategically wicked “the enemy” really is. I’ve watched how this industry seduces young impressionable artists at their most vulnerable, builds them up with false hope, manipulates them to think they’re in control, and discards them when they no longer serve a purpose. It happened to Chief Keef and Trinidad James, it’s happening to Bobby Shmurda now, and it will probably happen to Columbia Records’ latest acquisition, 23 year-old female rapper Dej Loaf whose radio hit “Try Me” has her killing entire families and rapping lines like “I really hate n****s, I’m a Nazi”.  After years of indoctrinating the masses to view Black men as criminals and animals, an image that has undoubtedly shaped the George Zimmermans and Darren Wilsons of the world, the music industry has turned it up a notch by promoting this young Black woman as a psychopath and murderer. With co-signs from Drake, E-40, T.I, and Wiz Khalifa who are either blind to the industry’s racial exploitation or mere forgiving beneficiaries, where does an inexperienced artist like Dej Loaf turn to for wisdom and guidance? Besides Erykah Badu who called Dej to offer advice, who will pull this young sister to the side and warn her of what is likely to happen after her short-lived fame fades into oblivion? Who will stand up for her humanity, her soul, and her dignity as a woman…as a Black woman? No one in the industry will…unless it offends white sensibilities. Who can forget how quickly Snoop apologized for making fun of Iggy Azalea after T.I. stepped in to defend the honor of his artist? No such pressure from the industry ever prompted Snoop or his peers to offer this swift of an apology for the way Black women have been portrayed through commercial rap in the last 20 years.

A few days ago, Nicki Minaj released the video for “Only”, an animated short that incorporates what many have called Nazi imagery due to its military theme, swastika-styled Young Money logo, SS-like soldiers, and Nicki playing the role of the ruthless dictator. Although there were no literal mentions of Nazis or Hitler, the sensitive nature of the video elicited countless complaints from fans and a public statement from the Anti Defamation League condemning the video. Nicki immediately issued an apology via Twitter and explained that she would never intentionally promote Nazism. Far from being the first to apologize for offensive content, artists ranging from Micheal Jackson to Kanye West have been censored or pressured to change their lyrics as to not offend various groups including Jews, 9/11 survivors, and white people in general. In the meantime, Bobby Shmurda shares celebratory tales of Black on Black murder via a boardroom performance attended by the mostly white staff of Epic Records and its proud “papa bear”, chairman and CEO, L.A. Reid.

Former BET executive and founder of RapRehab, Paul Porter has a long history of media activism. The outspoken industry veteran has gone head to head with high profile decision-makers and spearheaded many successful initiatives designed to hold media accountable. Rick Ross, Lil’ Wayne, BET, and the Oxygen Network are just a few of those who have succumbed to Paul’s demands. “Programmers and record labels have a bad case of amnesia,” he says. “They want us to believe that content has no effect on the audience they covet. Millions spent on promotion and advertising is common sense evidence that content matters.”  Never one to hold his tongue, Porter concludes, “it’s sad. Even some child molesters admit they’re sick.”

At the end of the day, no matter how many protests, movements, boycotts, and public outrage denouncing the music industry’s depiction of Black people have occurred in the past 2 decades, none of them have made a significant impact. The industry just doesn’t give a shit about Black people unless they’re entertaining the masses.  But can we really expect industry execs to apologize for turning the criminalization of Black people into a billion dollar business when so many artists are willingly dancing to their own demise?

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While watching the video for “Hot N****” by  Epic Records’ newest artist Bobby Shmurda, I could hear a voice in my head repeatedly cry out, “the music industry hates Black people.”

Out of countless amazingly talented unsigned artists waiting for their big break, why would a record company sign yet another half-ass artist whose message is all about death, murder, guns, and more death? It couldn’t possibly be about all the money they project making off this Youtube one-hit wonder since the past couple of years have shown us that viral video stars like Trinidad James and Chief Keef don’t necessarily translate to real-world superstardom.

Why would music industry executives who are supposedly astute businessmen invest in the type of artists other labels don’t seem to have been very successful with? While these rappers may achieve short-term popularity, the amount of free mixtapes, guest appearances, and YouTube-to-MP3 music they put out can’t be profitable for the companies.

Why would someone like Bobby Shmurda get a major label deal on the strength of one poorly-produced video?  Is it because Beyonce did the Shmoney Dance (Bobby’s signature move) during one of her shows? Is it because Jay Z shouted out the dance in a freestyle at a concert? Is it because Drake, Meek Mill, Raekwon (WTF Rae?) and Busta Rhymes co-signed Shmurda?

Why would a label invest in a mediocre rapper who may be “hot” for a minute but will undoubtedly fade into oblivion like so many of his forgettable predecessors? Is it because Bobby Shmurda is an underground sensation who kids in NY have been listening to for the past few months so Epic Records jumped on who they felt might be rap’s next flavor-of-the-moment before someone else does?

Or is it simply because the music industry’s agenda to promote death and dysfunction to Black youth is bigger than its desire to make money?

Yes, I’m a conspiracy theorist. I don’t care how many people ridicule me. I don’t care how many “real street cats” call me an out-of-touch Hip Hop purist who doesn’t know what today’s kids are into. I don’t care how many industry execs mock my extreme views and so-called lack of music business knowledge. I don’t care how many idiots call me a race-baiter. I don’t care how many call me a hater for criticizing a kid I don’t personally know without even giving him a chance to shine. I don’t care how many dumb asses try to convince me that if he didn’t get a record deal, he’d be out shooting or robbing folks (that seems to be a popular opinion on the internet right now). I don’t care how many tell me that Hip Hop can’t always be positive or that I need to leave the days of De La Soul and Public Enemy behind. I don’t care how many fools try to sell me on the idea that the labels are just giving the fans the kind of music they want. I don’t care how many of you tell me that a record company’s goal is to make money, not save lives. I don’t care how many major artists co-sign this misled kid. And I don’t care how many of his fans insult me.

Nothing you can say negates the fact that Bobby Shmurda and other similar rappers are promoting the worst kind of images and messages. Nothing you can argue negates the fact that what these labels are marketing is toxic, criminal, and racist. No other form of entertainment, be it pop, rock, country, electronic, video games, movies, or TV, glorifies the blatant death and destruction of Black people while passing it off as entertainment you can do a trendy dance to. Mainstream rap is the only form of entertainment that prides itself on depicting reality yet ends up only promoting the ugliest part of that “reality”, often resulting in real-life drama, murder, arrests, and jail sentences. Why does the music industry keep promoting something that any other industry would consider a poor investment and a huge liability? What kind of business can you think of, beyond the field of entertainment, that would knowingly employ someone who glorifies crime and all other forms of disturbing behavior…unless there was a damn good reason?
So what are the music industry’s reasons? Does it have anything to do with “the commercial rap to prison pipeline“? Is it about selling a lifestyle that will send impressionable youth to the private prisons media conglomerates invest in?
I know most of you hate conspiracy theories and will accuse me of spreading baseless allegations. However, how many of you can provide a perfectly ethical answer as to why promoting Black death has become “business as usual”?  Please don’t tell me that it’s based on the age-old business model of  “supply and demand” when we know that the social and financial cons of signing an artist like Bobby Shmurda outweigh the pros.
However, don’t let the Beyonces and Pharells of the world fool you. These pop artists exist because their mass appeal generates millions for the industry. Their success doesn’t take away from the fact that the worst kind of messages and images are still filtered through many Black artists who, despite never achieving megastar status, become popular enough to have a huge influence on fragile young minds, even if their limited success isn’t profitable for their label. These are the artists in question here.

If it really just came down to the argument that sex and violence in music sells, we’d see it equally produced by all ethnic groups and equally targeting all ethnic groups. However, besides Black people, I can’t think of another group, be it White, Asian, Latino, Christian, Jewish, etc, that the music industry feels as comfortable overtly disparaging without a second thought.

Shame on Sha Money XL, who got Shmurda signed, and shame on L.A. Reid, Epic Records’ CEO, for contributing to the perception of Black people as criminals at a time when so many police officers around the nation already see them as a threat for no other reason than being Black. I’m sure the money and accolades make it all worth it. I can’t help but wonder if L.A. Reid would’ve been as open to Shmurda’s “talent” during his time as a judge on X Factor.

Ultimately, once Bobby Shmurda’s 15 minutes of fame are up, record labels will quickly move on to the next “shoot-em-up rapper” and the industry’s big decision makers (Jimmy Iovine, The Lipmans, Barry Weiss, Doug Morris, etc) who market this poison will continue to remain silent and unseen, just like Klansmen protected by the anonymity of their hooded sheets. In the meantime, the deaf, dumb, and blind co-signers will keep making excuses for an industry that celebrates the death and destruction of Black people.
This article can also be found on RapRehab at


As a Hip Hop purist, I’ve always hated the fact that most commercial rap music promotes negative images and messages. Having used Hip Hop culture as a medium to empower youth for the last 15 years, I’ve seen first hand how mainstream rap impacts young impressionable minds. It is disturbing. Having also worked with incarcerated youth, I’ve seen how rap that glorifies irresponsible and criminal behavior has become the soundtrack to their daily lives.

The music industry’s role in promoting negative music has been a hot topic for many years. I’ve personally written about it extensively. What is too often under reported is how young people, including incarcerated youth, are directly impacted by the music. Although the overall effect is easy to imagine, specific details are extremely revealing. Here are some of my personal observations gathered from years of work with teens in traditional schools and juvenile detention centers.

  • When asked to explain what Hip Hop consists of, the majority of kids list violence and gangs as being elements of Hip Hop.
  • When asked to list what their favorite artists rap about, the overwhelming majority list guns, sex, violence, cars, thugs, jewelry, and money as popular topics.
  • When asked to name rappers with positive lyrics, most kids name Drake, Tupac, and Kendrick Lamar (within the last year) but seem unaware of any others.
  • When asked to name female rappers, the overwhelming majority can only think of Nicki Minaj.
  • When asked if rap music influences them, the majority say yes.
  • When asked if they know anyone who tries to emulate what rappers do, 99% say they know one or more people who do.
  • The majority of girls say that most boys seem to learn how to treat girls from their favorite rappers.
  • The majority of boys say that rap music has taught them that girls cannot be trusted.
  • Over half of kids use slang they picked up from the newest songs in their everyday conversations.
  • 99% of kids get all of their music for free. Most have never even owned a CD.
  • The majority of kids only know commercial rappers and aren’t very familiar with the underground scene.
  • Most kids don’t realize that they can use the internet to discover new artists and end up only acknowledging rappers who top the charts.
  • Half of all youth state that they’ve never heard rappers use big words.
  • The overwhelming majority of incarcerated youth say they listen to “gangsta shit” to pump them up to get high or commit a crime.
  • Over half of incarcerated youth refer to rappers who glorify negativity (ex: Chief Keef, Gucci Mane, Lil’ Boosie, 2 Chainz, etc) as “real shit” while rappers whose content is more progressive are labeled “weak” or “corny”.
  • Over half of incarcerated youth dream of becoming rap stars when they get out of jail.
  • During rap writing sessions, most kids write about the same topics commercial artists rap about. 99% of incarcerated youth have an extremely difficult time writing about anything else besides the streets.
  • Half of incarcerated youth say that slow and bass heavy instrumentals (trap music) inspire them to do negative things. They say “something” in the beat has an effect on them.

The previous data is usually gathered within the first few days of working with youth. After I’ve had enough time to teach kids about Hip Hop culture, the music industry, and the “Commercial Rap to Prison Pipeline”, I expose them to pioneers and iconic Hip Hop artists as well as new underground and independent rappers, of whom most of them have never heard before. Some of these artists include:

Grandmaster Flash & the Furious FiveRun DMCPublic EnemyRakimBig Daddy KaneMC LyteDead PrezPharoahe MonchHomeboy SandmanSa-RocSupastition (AKA Kam Moye)Jay Electronica, and Ill Camille.

After having spent a few sessions with me:

  • The overwhelming majority of kids say that the artists I’ve introduced them to sound better than commercial rappers.
  • Most kids wonder why radio doesn’t play these artists in heavy rotation.
  • Most say that they didn’t know rappers could speak intelligently and still sound good.
  • About half of the kids state that mainstream rappers sound stupid in comparison to these newly discovered artists.
  • Many of the kids who are aspiring rappers ask me what they can do to become better lyricist.
  • The majority of them are mad at the mainstream music industry once they’re exposed to alternatives and conclude that the industry is intentionally promoting music to “brainwash” them.

These findings are both disturbing and hopeful. As I’ve stated in previous articles, mainstream rap music can’t be blamed for all of today’s social ills as unemployment, poverty, gangs, drugs, failing school system, and institutionalized racism are the real culprits. However, mainstream rap’s impact on youth cannot be ignored and has undoubtedly contributed to an already troubled society. Still, when seeking solutions and innovative ways to effectively reach our youth, it’s good to know that Hip Hop culture, in the right hands, can have the kind of impact on young people that may help to save their lives.

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Revised edition

In early 2012, a controversial anonymous letter entitled “The Secret Meeting That Changed Rap Music and Destroyed a Generation” hit the internet by storm. The letter, which claims that an unnamed top music industry executive promoted gangsta rap to fill private prisons, was published by hundreds of blogs and websites and was reposted on countless forums, Twitter and Facebook profiles. Across social media, everyone from Public Enemy’s Chuck D to Freeway Ricky Ross had something to say about it. Various YouTube videos were posted to discuss the anonymous letter and translations of the letter were posted in French, Spanish and other languages for international audiences. The Huffington Post even published a critique questioning the validity of the claims made by the anonymous author who, fearing for his wellbeing, provided no names or details that might reveal his identity.

Many skeptics called the letter a hoax due to its poor writing style and general inconsistencies, yet an overwhelming number of people accepted its “facts” at face value. While I have my own concerns regarding the letter’s authenticity, the core message does touch on a frightening reality which doesn’t require any anonymous claims to prove it as truth. This may be why the letter has struck such a nerve with internet audiences. The private prison industrial complex is very real and the people and entities behind it will go to surprising lengths to sustain it.

Although I haven’t come across information confirming the music industry’s direct investment in private prisons, it is public knowledge that General Electric, which co-owns Universal Entertainment, the home of Interscope Records and Def Jam, is the nation’s largest weapons manufacturer as well as a huge investor in private prisons. Both record labels are well known for promoting criminal elements through their music, with Interscope’s Death Row Records probably being the greatest purveyor of “gangsta rap” in history. The notion that there may be a connection between a company that glorifies crime as entertainment and a company that manufactures weapons and invests in prison-for-profit is disturbing to say the least.

But the idea that the music industry has manipulated rap music to glorify misogyny, violence, drugs and materialism is a common belief held in Hip Hop circles. Many artists such as Rhymefest, Wise Intelligent and Too Short have shared their personal experiences which clearly point to a deliberate attempt by the music industry to silence and suppress Hip Hop music with substance. The belief that music (and media in general) can be used as a medium of social engineering is nothing new. In the 1970’s, Black music was already being studied by university researchers to learn how it could be manipulated to ultimately increase consumerism in mainstream markets. In 1990, the release of the book “Hit Men: Power Brokers and Fast Money Inside the Music Business” also points to corrupt business practices which place profit over ethics.

What seems to bother skeptics who simply see the anonymous letter as a cheesy conspiracy theory is the lack of verifiable information to back up its astounding claim. Sadly, as unbelievable as it may be, sicker things have happened which were once labeled “conspiracy theories” until the supporting evidence was uncovered and documented. Ridiculing conspiracy theories may be popular amongst self-righteous contrarians, but their mockeries ring hollow in the face of the following real-life documented government conspiracies.

However, the focus of this article is on the claims that music industry executives invested in private prisons and promoted gangsta rap to influence young people into a life of crime, ultimately leading to higher incarceration and increased profits for those investors.

Michelle Alexander, civil rights attorney and author of the bestselling book “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness”, lays out the horrible truth about the private prison industrial complex in painstaking details. And while she makes no mention of the music industry’s involvement, the truth she uncovers is much more sinister than our anonymous letter could ever suggest.

Despite the letter’s elusive origin, is it really so difficult to fathom that a handful of key players in the entertainment industry would plot such a horrifying scheme when the truth is much more twisted than anyone could possibly imagine? But if you still need convincing, the following links should wake you up!

And the list goes on.

While there might not have been an actual plot to lead young rap fans to prison, the glorification of criminal or risky behavior in mainstream rap couldn’t possibly have been beneficial for young people over the last two generations. After all, how has “Molly”, mainstream rap’s new trendy drug, been so carelessly promoted by major record companies? Since the beginning of the year, at least 10 songs about Molly have already been released. And while most of us understand that the so-called “War on Drugs”, not rap music, is responsible for the incarceration rate, too many of us seem blind to the fact that Rick Ross, 2 Chainz, Trinidad James, Chief Keef, French Montana and all these other rappers are the public spokespeople for an industry that undoubtedly makes money influencing impressionable minds to engage in dangerous (and often illegal) activities.

This isn’t an attack on Hip Hop. There are countless new MC’s, despite being lesser known then their commercial counterparts, who are creative, insightful and keep Hip Hop alive. A matter of fact, it seems that in 2013, a change may be on the horizon with a new crop of innovative artists starting to make noise without the help of the mainstream industry. With that said, there are still more Black and Latino men in jail now than at any other time in our nation’s history. We need to move beyond arguing about the validity of conspiracy theories and deal with the reality of undeniable facts. And while rappers need to be held accountable for their images and lyrics, we also need to see who’s behind them, pulling the strings. Our youth are in serious jeopardy and it isn’t merely a theory. We must take an active role in educating and empowering young people with the proper information. Or, we can stay stuck in front of our computers debating and arguing our opinions while the frightening truth about the private prison industrial complex is right under our nose.