Pedagogy of the Oppressors: An Examination of the White Ownership and Control of Hip-Hop

Jada Phelps-Moultrie
Doctoral Candidate
Urban Educational Studies
Indiana University, IUPUI, Indianapolis


Much of the literature advocating using hip hop as a pedagogical method, practice and/or alternative instructional strategy (i.e., Hip hop Based Education, Critical Hip hop Pedagogy) for students who have been historically marginalized  (i.e., African Americans) do so upon the premise that hip hop is chiefly the voice of urban youth, specifically, Black urban youth (Akom, 2009; Bridges, 2011; Hill, 2009; Morrell & Duncan-Andrande, 2002; Powell, 1991). But what if hip-hip is not an authentic voice of urban Black youth? What if hip hop is the voice of the oppressor? What then does that mean for hip hop pedagogy? What is missing from hip hop pedagogical literature (i.e. Akom, 2009; Bridges, 2011; Emdin, 2010; Hill, 2009; Morrell & Duncan, 2002) is the consideration that hip hop is a billion dollar business (Myer & Kleck, 2007) and one that is largely controlled, owned, and consumed by Whites. Therefore, contrary to what hip hop pedagogy based scholars assume, hip hop is not definitively the voice of Black urban youth; rather, it is one that is largely influenced, controlled, and owned by their oppressors who have co-opted and exploited (Negus, 1999) the genre. The central aim of this paper is to demonstrate that Whites primarily control and own the hip hop industry; thus, making hip hop pedagogy serve as a pedagogy of the oppressors. 

Keywords:Hip hop, Hip hop pedagogy, oppressed, oppressors

A Critique of the Premise Behind Hip hop Pedagogy

Much of the literature advocating using hip hop1 as a pedagogical method or practice (i.e., Hip hop Based Education, Critical Hip hop Pedagogy) for students who have  been historically marginalized (i.e., African Americans) do so upon the premise that hip hop is chiefly the voice of urban youth, specifically, Black2  urban youth (Akom, 2009; Bridges, 2011; Emdin, 2010; Hill, 2009; Morrell & Duncan-Andrade, 2002; Powell, 1991). For example, Akom (2009) promotes using Critical Hip hop Pedagogy (CHHP) because some consider hip hop as the dominant language and culture of African American youth (p. 53). Bridges (2011) echoes this same sentiment and contends that hip hop is an aesthetic voice that describes the “collective experience, modes of thinking and epistemologies of urban youth” (p. 326). Other scholars, such as Morrell and Duncan-Andrade (2002), argue that hip hop is “a voice of resistance and liberation for urban youth” (p. 89) imitated through predominantly Black hip hop artists (i.e., Nas, Lauryn Hill, Mos Def, Public Enemy) that are said to accurately depict the lives of urban youth. Morrell and Duncan-Andrade (2002) also cite both Rose (1991) and Powell (1991) who argues that rap is a “reflection of the hopes, concerns, and aspirations of urban Black youth [and] rap lyrics concentrate primarily on the contemporary African American experience (p. 88-89). Congruently, Rivera (2003)argues that hip hop can “be regarded as a reflection of African American and Latino/a youth culture” (as cited by Emdin, 2010, p. 5). Furthermore, Emdin (2010) suggests that the mores of hip hop that are rooted in Black culture, traditions, and experiences “capture and express the central concerns of marginalized populations in scattered contemporary urban settings” (p. 5). However, I contend that hip-hip is not an authentic voice of urban Black youth; rather the genre represents the voice of the oppressor3.

What is missing from hip hop pedagogy literature (i.e., Akom, 2009; Bridges, 2011; Emdin, 2010; Hill, 2009; Morrell & Duncan-Andrande, 2002) is the understanding that hip hop is a billion dollar business (Myer & Kleck, 2007) and one that is largely owned, controlled, and consumed by Whites. Therefore, contrary to what hip hop pedagogy based scholars assume, hip hop is not definitively the voice of Black urban youth (e.g., the oppressed1), but it is one that is largely influenced, controlled, and owned by their oppressors who have co-opted and exploited the genre (Negus, 1999).

The central aim of this paper is to demonstrate that Whites primarily own and control hip hop. Although many scholars argue that hip hop is a genre chiefly under the guise of Blacks, specifically Black urban youth (Akom, 2009; Bridges, 2011; Clay, 2003; Hess, 2005; Hill, 2009; Powell, 1991; Rose, 1991; Smitherman, 1997), this paper challenges these assumptions by focusing on the profound influence Whites have had upon hip hop since its infancy. Beginning with a time period generally regarded as the “golden era” of hip hop (J. Chang, March 28, 2006), I will unpack the web of relationships and the means by which Whites have infiltrated the genre by using examples of well-known White entrepreneurs and executives in the hip hop music industry to demonstrate how they leveraged their interpersonal business affiliations and access to resources to garner control of the emerging hip hop culture engaged by Black youth.

Additionally, this paper will analyze the result of the infiltration of hip hop by reviewing the current corporate landscape of the genre, which is predominantly controlled by a few major media conglomerates that are presently managed under White leadership. Under their leadership, I highlight the depths of ownership and control these handful of conglomerates have had and continue to have over hip hop and hip hop artists, specifically examining how the industry racially frames5 the images and the messages that hip hop represents for their largest consumers, Whites (Davey, March 2, 2007; George, 2005; Kitwana, 2005; Myer & Kleck, 2007; Rose, 2013). Additionally, I connect hip hop's infiltration, control, and ownership by Whites to that of other musical genres (e.g., jazz and blues) that pre-date hip hop but follow similar storylines where Whites “took over” and controlled the direction of the genres. Like hip hop, these preceding genres are disproportionately performed by Blacks, misconstrued to be their music, yet disproportionately are controlled, owned, and consumed by Whites (Myer & Kleck, 2007). This connection ultimately reveals that hip hop is a repeat of a historical annexation by Whites over what is commonly distorted to be "Black music6”. To conclude, this paper will reflect upon these revelations and address the possible implications for using hip hop as a pedagogical method and practice and the effect it could have if little to no attention is paid toward understanding that hip hop is not the voice of urban Black youth, but rather that hip hop is the voice of the oppressor.

Prologue: Back in the Day

When describing the evolution of hip hop, one often begins with nostalgic tales about the genre commonly expressed by the phrase "back in the day" (Forman, 2012). Many hip hop fans describe this celebrated time period as an era led by urban Black youth that signifies the authenticity of the musical genre (Akom, 2009; Hess, 2005; Hill, 2009; Powell, 1991; Rose, 1991; Smitherman, 1997) But, as argued by Forman (2004), these tales lack congruency, which is to say, there is no clear sense of what time frame back in the day actually was. Because the phrase has been applied inconsistently and in such a broad manner, it is the norm for some to argue that back in the day, the "golden era" (J. Chang, March 28, 2006)may reflect a different time in hip hop history.

Some profess that back in the day refers to hip hop in the mid1990s when Bad Boy Entertainment7 (Forman, 2004) and Death Row Records8 collided and metamorphosed rappers, Biggie (Notorious BIG) and Tupac Shakur, into iconic martyrs of the musical genre (Bridges, 2011; Broomfield, 2005). Others claim that the golden era was prior to these mid 90s occurrences and suggest that back in the day applies to when hard core radical acts like N.W.A. (Niggas With Attitudes) and Public Enemy emerged in the late 1980's (Green, August 2, 2004). However, it has also been argued that the era began in the early 80s when Sugar Hill's, “The Message”, also known as “Rapper's Delight” (Forman, 2004; Scott, February 2, 2011) was propelled out of the five boroughs of New York and landed in the hands of a larger and diverse consumer base, specifically White teenagers (George, 2005, p. 60). Furthering the contrasting view of when the golden era transpired, some insist that this nostalgic era transpired during hip hop's documented origins in Harlem and the Bronx within the late 1970’s (George, 2005; Powell, 1991) when Kool DJ Herc, Afrika Bambaataa, and Grandmaster Flash, known as the founding fathers (Forman, 2004; George, 2012) began creating a new mixed flavor of disco beats. While there is no consensus as to when back in the day or the golden era, took place, there has been one element within hip hop that has remained constant since its infancy, that being a substantial presence of Whites infiltrating this musical genre and cultural craze.

Part I: The Origins of Infiltration

“[to] infiltrate: to secretly enter or join (something, such as a group or an organization) in order to get information or do harm” (infiltrate, n.d.).

As the civil rights era staggered out of the 1960s and into the 70s, where the intersection of integration and other legal remedies were said to help solve four hundred years of racism and white supremacy9, the emergence of what some consider an urban folk music and art form forged among Black youth New Yorkers, called hip hop (Chang, 2012, p.34). It has been argued that during this post-civil rights era, the urban youth of the late 1970's began to express their response and resistance toward the treacherous conditions stemming from racism through this new griot10 like art form (Smitherman, 1997; Wright, 2012). Although "hip hop's future was still unclear" (Chang, 2012, p. 38) during this time, the new musical art and dance ingenuity became increasingly popular around the New York boroughs. With this popularity, "cultural vultures11 " (Chang, 2012, p. 38; Charnas, 2010, p. 127) as Africa Bambaataa characterized them (such as Malcolm Mclaren), entered the urban terrain circling hip hop's uncertain future. Surrounding hip hop during these early and uncertain times was a series of White entrepreneurs and executives (e.g., Malcom McLaren, Rick Rubin, Tom Silverman, etc.) that were able to vastly influence the direction of the new genre (Charnas, 2010; George, 2004 ) and drive it away from an art form that has been considered an attempt to express the depths of the social, economic, and psychological effects of the Black Holocaust12  during the aftermath of the civil rights era. To say the least, hip hop and the Black youth who were pioneering this genre were ripe for white infiltration.

The White Man and Hip hop

Every time the white man comes and offers us something, the…people lose something…Now when I see a white man doing something for our good, I worry about what we will lose. (Rasmussen, 2001, p. 89, 2001)

Malcolm McLaren. For London native, Malcolm McLaren, a British impresario, using what he considered to be a “cultural fad” for the purposes of gain and profit was a battleground that he had already successfully conquered (Chang, 2012; Charnas, 2010). In the mid-1970s, McLaren exposed the world to the rebelliousness of punk, a counterculture, using his European punk rock group, the Sex Pistols (Chang, 2012; Charnas, 2010). After the success of the Sex Pistols in the 70s, punk rock was instantly commodified. In the early 1980s, hip hop became McLaren’s new stomping ground once he heard the sounds of Afrika Bambaataa and the Zulu Nation at a local community center in New York City (Chang, 2012; Charnas, 2010). Realizing that hip hop could be profitable like punk music, McLaren teamed up with San Francisco native, Michael Holman, who was then a Wall Street credit analyst by day and club promoter by night, and Ruza Blue, McLaren’s White female associate and British expatriate (Chang, 2012; Charnas, 2010). The three, McLaren, Holman, and Blue, begin orchestrating "hip hop's culture's first corporate synergy plan" (Chang, 2012, p. 37).

Beginning with the nightlife, McLaren, Holman, and Blue created hip hop nights at local clubs (e.g., The Roxy, Negril) in order to expose hip hop acts like the Zulu Nation and Rock Steady Crew (BBC, December 19, 2008; Chang, 2012; Charnas, 2010) to the mainstream public. To make the DJ the center of club activity, Blue developed the idea to place the DJ on a raised podium (the DJ Booth) to ensure that the DJ’s beats and scratches were the hub of breaking and dancing (BBC, December 19, 2008). This positioning of the DJ that Ruza Blue shaped is still a spatial practice widely used today. To go along with the trio's new marketing plan, McLaren's former girlfriend and business partner, European fashion designer, Vivienne Westwood, re-conceptualized hip hop fashion and pushed an "ethnic hobo" inspired clothing line to match their version of an increasingly popular hip hop cultural style (Chang, 2012). Much of this new reimagined fashion was displayed in McLaren's own hip hop video, “Buffalo Gals”, from his hip hop album, Duck Rock. Along with a two-man DJ crew, World's Famous Supreme Team, and the renowned New York break dancing group, Rock Steady Crew, “Buffalo Gals” became an international hit single and video (Chang, 2012; Charnas, 2010) exposing the world to McLaren's version of hip hop.

His album, Duck Rock, featured replicated beats, breaks, and sampling from artists like Bambaataa and McLaren’s videos seemed to coopt but censor the cultural and social significance that undergirded hip hop during this golden era (Chang, 2012). Chang (2012) describes McLaren’s acts and ambitions as one that “told half of the story” of hip hop, which exposed his “crassly exploitive desire” (p. 37) in relation to the genre. To say the least, McLaren had consciously infiltrated and then appropriated elements of hip hop from Black youth through his own white racial framing, earning him the title of “cultural vulture” in the music industry (Charnas, 2010). Nevertheless, McLaren’s “Buffalo Gals” and Duck Rock album garnered the attention of a world audience for this new musical genre (Chang, 2005). Inevitably, it can be argued that McLaren, set the tone for what the world expected from hip hop--not Black urban youth. 

While McLaren exposed hip hop through international launching of music videos, his partner, Wall Streeter, Michael Holman, attempted to expand the reach of hip hop by creating a new medium for the genre. With the assistance of another Wall Street partner and a group of financial investors, his long term television project, Graffiti Rock, would be where he could become the next Dick Clark. Graffiti Rock, a hybrid of American Bandstand and Soul Train for hip hoppers, had secured syndication in nearly 90 markets across the U.S. (Charnas, 2010). Following in the footsteps of McLaren, Holman and the producers of Graffiti Rock ensured that they displayed their versions of what hip hop should look like, planting white faces among dance participants so that hip hop did not look too scary to television audience members (Charnas, 2010). Although Graffiti Rock did not record after the 1984 pilot, it showed that hip hop could be profitable and that Whites could manipulate it for their own audiences.

Rick Rubin. Ironically, attending the launch party of Graffiti Rock was one of Ruza Blue's acquaintances, Fredrick Jay Rubin (Charnas, 2010). Rubin, a film student at New York University (NYU), had been staking out Ruza Blue's nightclubs featuring hip hop to feed his growing fascination of the genre (Charnas, 2010). A year before Rubin attended Graffiti Rock's launch party in 1984, this Jewish suburban college junior founded a small record label that he was looking to promote. Applying the hip hop lingo he had picked up through his nightclub surveillance, Rick named his label. The word "jam" which applied to a record hip hop fans liked, and the word "death," referring to a record that hip hoppers thought was outstanding, which Rubin interpreted to be '"def" because of the way it was pronounced within the urban Black community, formed his new label name. Marrying the two adopted hip hop words, "jam" and "def," Rick Rubin “founded Def Jam Records in his NYU dorm room” (Samuels, 2004, p. 170) a funded project he could indulge himself in using his parents money (Charnas, 2010), and even one he received college credits for as an independent study (Gueraseva, 2011). At the Graffiti Rock party, the young Ivy Leaguer was introduced to one of the founders of Rush Management, Russell Simmons. At the time, Simmons was the manager of one of the premiered groups to be on Graffiti Rock's debut, Run-DMC. After their introduction, Rubin actively "pursued a friendship with Russell Simmons" (Charnas, 2010, p. 137). At the time, Simmons was vaguely familiar with Rubin himself, not even knowing that he was a White man until their first encounter. However, Simmons knew of Rick's work, specifically Rubin's 1984 summer hip hop hit, “It's Yours”, which was recorded using a drum machine his parents bought him (Charnas, 2010). Through what Charnas (2010) describes as a relentless pursuit of Simmons and his contacts through his company, Rush Management, Rubin was able to win Simmons over, convincing him to allow Rubin to place Run-DMC under his record label, Def Jam Records.

Tom Silverman. To assist the growing Def Jam Records label, Rick Rubin required distributors for his records, and so he called on Tom Silverman (Charnas, 2010). A few years prior to the rise of Def Jam Records, in 1981, a half White and Jewish executive from White Plains, New York, Tom Silverman, began his record label company, Tommy Boy Records (Charnas, 2010) with a  $5,000 loan from his father (Brown, February 25, 2002). By the time Rick Rubin called on Silverman's assistance, Tommy Boy Records had been making head way in the Black music industry. One of Silverman’s first recruited acts was Afrika Bambaataa. Tommy Boy’s first record (Brown, 2002) was Bambaataa’s Planet Rock album in 1982 (, November 19, 2009; Leblanc, March, 6, 2012) which was produced by Arthur Baker, an emerging white producer of hip hop music (Charnas, 2010). Although Bambaataa was instrumental in developing the aesthetics of hip hop and his music alone put Tommy Boy Records on the map, it was Silverman who profited the most from Bambataa's music. First being able to pay his debts off from Bambaataa's “Funky Sensation” hit and then assisting in earning Silverman thousands of dollars by selling over 650,000 copies of Planet Rock, which went certified gold by 1982 (Charnas, 2010; Leblanc, March, 6, 2012). As hip hop became even more popular throughout the 1980s, Tommy Boy Records began to recruit more Black artists. Silverman’s record label roster grew to a sizable number of Black hip hop artists such as Queen Latifah, Force MD’s, Digital Underground, and De La Soul (Brown, February 25, 2002; Leblanc, March, 6, 2012) Like Silverman, Rubin, and McLaren, others took notice of this new Black music market and began purposefully infiltrating this cultural music genre and developing it into an exploitive business venture.

Cory Robbins and Steve Plotnicki. Down to their last dime, after blowing through nearly $30,000 of their parents’ borrowed money, startup record music executives, Cory Robbins (friend of Tom Silverman) and Steve Plotnicki (Charnas, 2010), could finally see the light at the end of the tunnel by the end of 1982. As Robbins and Plotnicki lost much of their parent's investment in disco music, the young White founders of Profile Records turned their attention toward a growing Black market, hip hop music. After signing Harlem's own, Alonzo Brown and Andre Harrell, also known as Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde, Robbins and Plotnicki caught a huge break from the rap duo’s album, Genius Rap. Genius Rap quickly became a hip hop seller and generated over one hundred and fifty thousand dollars in sales within a few short months (Charnas, 2010). Only after a year of launching Profile Records, Andre Harrell and Alonzo Brown had single-handedly earned Robbins and Plotnicki five times over what their parents loaned them. However, the White executives offered Brown and Harrell only a mere $2,000 for the right to publish all of their songs (Charnas, 2010). Realizing that they could make millions from their new business tactics, that being offering a small amount upfront so they did not have to give up the lion's share of the profit on the back end, Robbins and Plotnicki were quickly propelled into millionaire status, leaving their Black talent with pennies (Charnas, 2010).

Clive Davis and Columbia Records. Much of what has been characterized as the infiltration of hip hop has taken place from the late 1970s to early 80s. But one can argue that no matter what the musical genre would become, whether it was disco, rhythm and blues (R&B), or hip hop, Whites were preparing to infiltrate Black music when Black artists (e.g. Aretha Franklin, Temptations, Isaac Hayes) began racially “crossing over”13 into the mainstream music market in the 1960s (Harper, 1989). The unprecedented crossover success of Black artists for white audiences’ enjoyment was a financial accomplishment that primarily Berry Gordy of Motown Music,14 a growing Black owned independent label15, was solely reaping without the competition of major record labels16 (Kelley, 2002; Negus, 1999). However, major record labels took notice of Gordy’s profitable gains in the music industry from his successful crossover acts. For example, Kelley (2002) claims that during the Civil Rights Movement, major labels began investigating the profitability of Black music (soul music). Kelley (2002) notes, “[d]uring the civil rights period, executives at major labels, looking at the success of the Motown and Stax labels with Black artist, began asking themselves, is black music profitable? (p. 9).” Once Motown’s sound became a multi-million dollar contender with the major labels, the answer became “yes”, and record companies began to make strategic plans to take over whatever Black music was formed or would form out of the Black community--whether it was hip hop or another genre17. Part of this strategic plan was following the recommendations in the “Harvard Business Report” titled, "A Study of the Soul Music Environment Prepared for Columbia Records Group" (Charnas, 2010; Kelley, 2002; Negus, 1999; Sanjek, 2002) released in 1972. The report urged Columbia to "buy its way into the Black music market" (Charnas, 2010, p. 12) and recommended that it create Black divisions within their music conglomerates (Negus, 1999). But during this time, the CEO of Columbia Records, Clive Davis, had already formulated a plan to take over the music created and produced by Blacks through its purchase of two independent Black owned labels (Philadelphia International and Stax Record Label) years before the “Harvard Business Report” published its findings and recommendations for Columbia Records (Charnas, 2010).

In response to the “Harvard Business Report” and witnessing of the up and coming independent label, Motown, Negus (1999) declares that Black divisions were created and a restructuring within the major labels to deal with “race music” began to matriculate. Often times, within these Black divisions a few African Americans were given titles of executive but were allowed little “space to establish their own agenda” (Negus, 1999, p.660). For example, Negus (1999) highlights Garofal noting that Black personnel had been systematically excluded from any position of power within the industry not only during this time, but extending well into the period when hip hop would be established as a recognizable genre. Negus (1999) details that during this pre hip hop age, African Americans within the industry were often used to recruit Black acts, but as soon as their recruited artist reached platinum18, the executive’s artist then came under the management of a much higher White executive. After these successful platinum artists had been handed over to a superior executive, the Black executive was then tasked to find the next act to groom and prepare to make the label millions. Ultimately, the Black executives’ job was to find Black acts and make them successful. As the Black artist music becomes more popular, “the black executive becomes obsolete” (Negus, 1999, p. 660) and the artists is then under the control of the Black executive superior like Clive Davis, Tom Silverman, Cory Robbins, Steve Plotnicki (i.e. ,white executives).

What is clear from these examples is that the infiltration of hip hop by White outsiders was in the making prior to its golden era. Whether one was an impresario looking for the next cultural fad to exploit, like Malcolm McLaren, or a major record label, like Columbia Records, that had the ability to purchase Black-owned independent labels, hip hop became what hip hop artist, KRS-One characterizes, “the revolution that failed” (as cited in Baldwin, 2004, p. 183). White executives, entrepreneurs, Ivy Leaguers, and major record companies that understood the business of music and could leverage resources to gain control of it, undoubtedly took advantage and ultimately infiltrated hip hop’s growing popularity.

Part II: The Ownership of Hip Hop

THE SOURCE: Well let me ask you something…who owns hip hop now?

BAM [Afrika Bambaataa] : White industry.

HERC [DJ Herc]: Whites. (George, 2012, p. 54)

Independent Labels

In the year 1988, hip hop had reached nearly a million dollars in sales and comprised a sizable portion of the music industry (Basu, 2005; McLeod, 1999). A decade later, in 1998, hip hop ousted traditional top genres, such as Country and Rock, by selling over 81 millionrecords and increasing its sales by 31 percent in one year (Basu, 2005; Morrell & Duncan-Andrade, 2002). This breakthrough, made hip hop the number one selling genre for the first time in history (Basu, 2005; Morrell & Duncan-Andrade, 2002). Throughout the new millennium, hip hop’s profit and popularity has continued to climb. For example, in the year 2001, U.S. national sales in hip hop made up 12 percent of the music market, selling 762.8 million albums (Basu, 2005).  By 2002, hip hop was considered the fastest growing musical genre in the world (Basu, 2005). In its 35- year span, hip hop has evolved into a billion dollar industry (Watson, February 18, 2004).

Although hip hop has made tremendous monetary gains, the existence of independent labels that are controlled and owned by Blacks has dwindled through its tenure. This dwindling existence is largely attributed to a variety of challenges embedded in the infrastructure of the music industry, which seemingly only major labels are financially equipped to handle and sustain. To illustrate these challenges, Powell (1991) discusses the difficulties independent labels have in raising a substantial amount of capital in order to function until their artists are in high demand by consumers and the label is able to recoup its investment (p. 255). For example, when record labels acquire artists, strategic planning and financial resources must go into developing and marketing them and their recordings in order to break an act into a major market. In the late 1980s, it cost major record labels an average of $65,000 dollars to develop a hip hop artist (Powell, 1991). Most likely, artists do not have this capital readily available in order to fund their musical venture and the label would have to internally raise the finances to promote them. According to the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI)19, major record labels spend over ten times what they spent in the 1980s to cultivate their artists (Industry, n.d.). IFPI reports:

[Major record labels] invested $4.8 billion dollars in discovering, nurturing and marketing artists in 2010. Record labels today invest an average $1 million to break a new pop act in a major market. That investment supports a variety of production and promotional pursuits that most individual artists would never be able to afford on their own, including advances, recording time, music video creation, tour support and marketing. (as cited by Kennedy, March 31, 2011, para 2)

Moreover, Powell (1991) explains that independent labels lack the capacity to reach consumers, compete for retail shelf-space, promote their artist nationally, and release records quickly to meet the demand of consumers. Consequently, independents must rely heavily on the major labels to promote and distribute their artist’s recordings (Powell, 1991). However, Basu (2005) argues that because of this reliance, many hip hop labels are “not really independent” and instead they should be considered “intermediaries within the production of music (p. 267)”. Furthermore, Basu (2005) declares that “owners” of these intermediaries are “no more than titular CEO’s [and that the] music industry is run by conglomerates whose increasing ownership colonizes leisure” (p. 267). Basu (2005) uses a number of examples to demonstrate this intermediary relationship between “independent” Black-owned hip hop labels and major labels. For instance, 80 percent of Aftermath Entertainment, founded by accomplished rapper, Dr. Dre, is owned by Interscope Records (Basu, 2005). Interscope Records was founded and is chaired by White producer, Jimmy Iovine (Schillaci, December 22, 2011). Universal Music Group, a major record label, is the parent company of Interscope Records (U. M. Group, 2014). Other well-known intermediary hip hop labels have similar relationships with major labels. Roc Nation (Makarechi, April 9, 2013), Cash Money, Bad Boy Entertainment, and So So Def Records (Basu, 2005; U. M. Group, 2014), each founded by popular Black hip hop stars (e.g. Roc Nation was founded by Jay-Z and Bad Boy Entertainment was founded by Sean Combs), are under the governance of a major record label that owns a controlling share of the “independent” label.  

Major Record Labels

As highlighted earlier in this article, the key difference between major and independent labels is that majors have the capital and capacity to promote and distribute the artist recordings. Currently, 87 percent of the music market is controlled primarily by three major record labels20 (Christman, April 13, 2013). These major labels, also referred to as the “Big Three” (Sisario, 2012), are Universal Music Group (UMG), Sony Music Entertainment, and Warner Music Group (WMG) (Christman, April 13, 2013).

Universal Music Group. In 2012, UMG acquired EMI21, which was the largest British music entertainment company in the world (U. M. Group, September 28, 2012). According to the quarter one “Neilsen Soundscan Reports22” published in April 2013, the acquisition of EMI has made UMG the chief market-share holder in the music oligopoly, with a controlling ownership of 37 percent (Christman, April 13, 2013). Under UMG, a number of well-known hip hop artists (e.g., 50 cent, Eve, Nelly, Nicki Minaj) are under contractual obligations with them (U. M. Group, 2014). Additionally, UMG owns and administers over a million copyrights and thousands of music catalogs of hip hop music (U. M. Group, 2014). Universal also owns the works of hip hop pioneers, such as KRS-One and A Tribe Called Quest (U. M. Group, 2014). Universal Music Group has many divisions, record labels, etc. within its organization, and at the helm of UMG are White executives (e.g., Lucian Grainge, Chairman; Zachary Horowitz, President and Chief Operating Officer) (Businessweek)-not Blacks and moreover, not Black youth.

Sony Music Entertainment. In the first quarter of 2013, Sony grew its market share to 29.9%, making it the second largest music label in the world (Christman, April 13, 2013).  Like UMG, Sony also has an extensive catalogue of music and is the parent company of many labels that govern hip hop artist such as, Artista Records, Epic Records, and Roc Nation (Entertainment, 2013). Jay-Z, ASAP Rocky, Chris Brown, Travis Porter, Yung Joc, Usher, Snoop Lion (aka Snoop Dogg), Three 6 Mafia, Andre 3000, Yo Gotti are examples of hip hop acts that are represented by Sony Music (Entertainment, 2013). In terms of leadership, Sony does not have any executives (e.g., President, CEO, Chairman, etc.) who are Black within the parent company. However, in 2011, Sony did appoint former record producer and Grammy Award recipient, Antonio ‘L.A.’ Reid, as Chairman and CEO of Epic Records (Entertainment, July 18, 2011). Reid directly reports to executive, Doug Morris, who is Chief Executive Officer of Sony Music Entertainment (Entertainment, July 18, 2011) and he too is White.

Warner Music Group. WMG controls 20.1%, the third largest share of the music industry (Christman, April 13, 2013).  Atlantic Records which is controlled by its parent company, WMG, own the masters of notable hip hop artists like Missy Elliot, Flo Rida, Lupe Fiasco, and T.I. (W. M. Group, 2011). In late 2013, and early 2014, Warner Music Group announced several individuals promoted to executive positions within the company. In December 2013, Dan McCaroll, was named President of Warner Music Bros. Records. McCaroll will report to Chairman and CEO, Cameron Strang (W. M. Group, December 20,  2013). In January 2014, Clark Miller was appointed as Executive Vice President. Miller will work in partnership with Jon Platt, Warner’s President of its North America division (W. M. Group, January 22, 2014). Like the other leading major music labels, there are no Black executives that have been appointed to date.  

Part III: Redirecting Hip Hop from Griot to Gangsta

“By 1988, the conscious manipulation of racial stereotypes had become rap’s leading edge” (Samuels, 2004, p. 72).

The White Consumer and Hip hop

After thirty or so years since McLaren, Rubin, Silverman, Robbins, Plotnicki, Davis, and other White executives cornered the hip hop market in its infancy, the genre has continued to dominant the industry by proving its viability within a declining music market. In 2013, record sales plummeted by 8.4 percent, but rap was the only genre that showed a sales increase (Christman, April 13, 2013). This is largely due to the arcane devotion of hip hop’s biggest and most profitable target consumer suburban White teenage consumers, that has made up nearly 80 percent of its sales since hip hop’s golden years (Asante, 2008; Basu, 2005; D. Davey, March 2, 2007; Kitwana, 2005; Kitwana, 2006; McLeod, 1999; Morrell & Duncan-Andrade, 2002; Samuels, 2004; Treiman, December 10, 2004; Watson, February 18, 2004).

As a consequence of hip hop’s control under White executives and continuing appeal to White suburban youth, some argue that the genre has become “an art form reduced to product placement, the selling of a lifestyle, and ultimately, a huge ad for imprisonment” (Sandman, April 17, 2013, para 3). Powell (1991) acknowledges this degeneration, claiming that hip hop’s rising negative aspects (e.g., use of explicit language and sexual imagery) is a departure from its origins in the 1970s where artists, like the Last Poets , aimed to combat white racism and supremacy by serving as musical griots to the Black community. Some have argued that this degeneration materialized with the rise of the commercialization of hip hop (Rose, 2013; Tummons, 2009; Watson, February 18, 2004) and this opinion has often been expressed by artist themselves.

For example, Nas, a distinguished hip hop artist, metaphorically described the degeneration of hip hop in the mid-2000s, when we professed that “hip hop was dead” (D.  Davey, April 24, 2013; D. Davey, March 2, 2007) and again, most recently in a 2012 interview, when he claimed that “hip hop has died many deaths (Viera, June 24, 2012, para 2).” Nas professes that hip hop first died when it transformed from park jam songs to mass media anthems, and then when it malformed into the corrupt anti-black image ran by white corporate America that we see today (Viera, June 24, 2012).

Yasiin Bey, formerly known as Mos Def, a celebrated hip hop artist, has voiced the same sentiment regarding hip hop. He mercilessly characterized the sadistic erosion of hip hop as, “The Rape Over” (Treiman, December 10, 2004). According to Mos Def, the rapist of hip hop are the White executives of various media conglomerates (e.g. MTV, Viacom, Time Warner/AOL) that have exploited the culture and genre (Asante, 2008; Treiman, December 10, 2004), like the cultural vultures that Afrika Bambaataa claimed had emerged during the golden era of hip hop. Hip hop editor and journalist, Bakari Kitwana has also supported the “Rape Over” claim. Kitwana states that “Whites run hip hop…from the business executives at major [record] labels to the suburban [white] teen consumers (B. Kitwana, 2005, para 7).”

Whether one is a die-hard consumer of hip hop or a casual observer of the genre, it is apparent that many mainstream artists and their songs do not approach the hip hop platform from the standpoint of eradicating oppressive conditions, like Powell (1991) describes the griots of the Bronx (e.g. The Last Poets). Instead, throughout the years, there have been a host of song lyrics and video images that have demonstrated that hip hop has been used to succumb to how Whites have traditionally stereotyped Black people to be (e.g. hypersexual, criminal, deviant). This deviation of hip hop has been characterized by Rose (2013) as the “gangsta-pimp-ho trinity (p. 5).” Moreover, some have argued that this departure from griots of the Black community to gangstas of the ghetto, was not an accidental force fueled by commercialism, rather it was a “…conscious manipulation of racial stereotypes [that] had become rap’s leading edge (Samuels, 2004, p. 72)” perpetrated by White executives.

Ghettocentrism. This conscious manipulation of hip hop into a  “gangsta-pimp-ho trinity” can be best exemplified by analyzing a number of recruited artists by White executives (e.g., Run-DMC, Schoolly D, N.W.A., Public Enemy and Tupac) that entered the hip hop world that represented what Nelson George called “ghettocentrism” (as cited by Samuels, 2004, p. 174). In order to make “music [hip hop] more definitively black” (p. 171) to appease White consumers, according to Samuels (2004), Run-DMC was one of the first acts to market for a White audience drawn from racial stereotypes. Run-DMC, recruited under Rick Rubin’s Def Jam label, comprised of young Black middle-class young adults, whose parents were college education and had never been part of any gang. This upbringing was far removed from any ghettocentric lifestyle. However, Samuels (2004) argues that they would transform from bourgeois to ghetto on the stage for their white consumer fans with their street style clothing and hard-core act.

Samuels (2004) also discusses the origins of gangsta-rap, a form of ghettocentric hip hop, by describing the rise of artist Schoolly D (Jesse B. Weaver) in 1988 under Jive Records. Fagone describes Schoolly D as “the first rapper to make bitches and hos, drugs and guns, his exclusive lyrical territory (March 25, 2012, para 2).” Schoolly represented the stereotypical image of a hypersexual criminal that Whites had historically associated with Black male behavior (Samuels, 2004). Schoolly’s first self-titled gangsta-rap album, Schoolly D, sold more than half a million records and white teens were Schoolly’s largest following (Samuels, 2004). Supportively, Nachbar & Lausé (1992) affirms that in order to feed the white market, deviant Black male acts were sought after. For example, Nachbar and Lausé claim that Rick Rubin deliberately recruited Public Enemy "to significantly broaden rap’s appeal to young whites.” (Nachbar & Lausé, 1992, p. 357). Although Public Enemy’s songs seem to challenge the status quo and take a more critical stance than artist like Schoolly D, Samuels (2004) claims that it was their posturing, parading, and, “highly charged theater of race” that White listeners were attracted to.

Like Samuels (2004) and Nachbar and Lausé (1992), Wright (2004) also highlights this redirection of hip hop for white audiences. Wright (2012) cites Chuck D of former Public Enemy, who claimed that although legendary hip hop artist Tupac may have had a sense of loyalty to Black people when he was a rapper in the early to mid-90s, he found that when he positioned himself as pro-Black and positive, it did not garner the same type of attention from its mainstream audience as it did when he was being negative in his music. Thus, “the more he played the bad boy or rude boy image, the bigger and bigger he got” (Wright, 2012, p. 521).  Unfortunately, the enormous record sales of Run-DMC, Schoolly D, N.W.A., Public Enemy, Tupac, etc., among White consumers have exhibited a startling trend-“the more rappers were packaged as Black violent criminals, the bigger their white audiences became” (Samuels, 2004, p. 168).

Lyrical Control and Suppression. Even when hip hop artist attempt to serve as truth-tellers or griots, their music is often controlled and suppressed by corporate executives. Historically this suppression and control has occurred when lyrics exclusively discuss issues of racism, white supremacy, and/or liberation of Blacks (Charnas, 2010). The most well-known example of this is Ice-T's "Cop Killer". After Ice-T’s “Cop Killer” track off his Body Count record, which spawned national controversy in the early 1990s between Time Warner and police departments across the country, the censorship of hip hop artist began to drastically increase (Charnas, 2010). Charnas (2010) states, “the more political and rebellious the song, the more likely it was to be suppressed” (Charnas, 2010, p. 392). According to Charnas (2010), Chief Executive, Mo Ostin of Time Warner, professed that the record company would be “vigilant about reviewing lyrics and artwork” (p. 390) before records were released in response to the controversy surrounding the “Cop Killer” track. Other record companies began to follow suit behind Time Warner by suppressing lyrics and controversial political rebellious albums created by Black hip hop artists. For example, artist Intelligent Hoodlum signed under A&M records and Funken-Klien under a subsidiary of the Walt Disney Company, both sought to release anti-cop songs from their albums in the 1990s. However, both were forced to drop the song or shop for another label because of the complaints from their record companies and its distributers.

Another example of this type of lyrical control and suppression in the music industry is when hip hop artist Paris, a Black Nationalist rapper, was dropped from Tom Silverman’s Tommy Boy label because of his “Bush Killa” song that he recorded prior to his albums release (Charnas, 2010). “Bush Killa” was full of political hyperbole placing President George Bush at the center of his song. Paris eluded in “Bush Killa” to hunt Bush down in response to his political stances. Paris never received the chance to distribute his song after his contract abruptly ended at Tommy Boy. Even after his contract ended, no label was willing to distribute the album (Charnas, 2010).

Some artists have publically expressed this suppression, such as rapper Young Buck in a 2007 radio interview on New York’s Hot 97 radio show ("Fear of intelligent blacks," April 23, 2007 ; Intelligent, April 19, 2007; "The truth on why Young Buck’s Dead or Alive record was removed," February 6, 2012). Angie Martinez, radio host of Hot 97, asked about Young Buck’s plans to release his next album under the Interscope Records label. Young Buck began to discuss a delay in his album’s release due to issues with the “lyrical committee” regarding a controversial track. This controversial track was titled “Fuck the Police”, which addressed the continuation of police brutality in the Black community ("Fear of intelligent blacks," April 23, 2007; Intelligent, April 19, 2007; "The truth on why Young Buck’s Dead or Alive record was removed," February 6, 2012). Accompanying the track was a music video that highlighted the frequent brutal attacks made by the police against Blacks from the Civil Rights to Rodney King and beyond. Young Buck admitted during this interview that Interscope Records and its executive, Jimmy Iovine, stated that the record was “too violent” and decided not include it on his Buck the World album ("Fear of intelligent blacks," April 23,2007 ; Intelligent, April 19, 2007; "The truth on why Young Buck’s Dead or Alive record was removed," February 6, 2012). 

Ironically, Young Buck has released numerous violent recording tracks advocating Black on Black violence. For example on his track “Bang Bang”, from his Straight Outta Cashville album, he brags about the notion of killing a Black man when he states “I'm glad you done seen what it look like when we left …brain fragments from shot-gun blasts'll take a nigga breathe (Brown, 2004, verse 2). ”  Ironically, although Interscope was concerned about the violence “Fuck the Police” would cause against officers, they did not express the same concern when Young Buck, and other hip hop artist under the label, promoted Black on Black violence. These examples clearly demonstrate that although Blacks are largely represented as the artists, the message behind the lyrics that these artist narrate, are largely dictated by the record companies that they serve. Moreover, these messages continue to portray a gangsta mentality that appeases their white audiences more than a griot one that may benefit Black urban youth.

Part IV: We’ve Seen This Before

[T]he appropriation and commodification of black music is nothing new” (Wright, 2012, p. 521).


We have seen the commodification of other genres of music that have derived from Black communities such as blues and jazz. Much like the origins of hip hop, blues was once considered a historical space that African Americans formed to express their depression, oppression, and desired emancipation from the clutches that subjugated them, namely racism and white supremacy (Levine, 1977). From protests ballads like “Mississippi Goddam” (Simone, 1964), written and sang by iconic singer, Nina Simone to Civil Rights anthems, such as “A Change is Gonna Come” (Cooke, 1964), written by one of the god’s of rhythm and blues, Sam Cooke, blues was considered once a platform where Black musicians and songwriters could artistically express the struggle of Black America. However, in his article, “Million-Dollar Juke Joint: Commodifying Blues Culture”, Lieberfeld (1995) demonstrates how the commercialization of the blues culture in the mid-1980s changed from a genre centered on the plight of African Americans to a White subcultural phenomenon. This parallels what we see today in hip hop music--relocating from anthems that may have represented the urban street experience to meeting the demands of White patrons in the suburbs. Once this displacement of blues began to transpire, the genre became an appealing space for Whites to engage in because it was seemingly a “gutsy, sexy, low-down, and dirty” (Lieberfeld, p. 218, 1995) form of entertainment to them. In other words, blues transformed from an artistic expression of Black struggle to a new source of lewd and lustful entertainment for White people to experience. This strongly resembles how hip hop went from “griot” to “gangsta” as pointed out earlier in this article.

Lieberfeld (1995) argues this infiltration of the blues culture began after the release of the $115.2 million ("Internet Movie Database,") box office hit and triple-platinum album, Blues Brothers, starting Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi (1995). From there, the commodification of the blues culture accelerated. Lieberfeld (1995) discusses how the blues culture business became a multi-million dollar commercialized industry that Whites began to economically profit from, vulgarly impersonate, and socially indulge in. Their new fascination with blues even lapsed to the extent of creating commercialized bars for after work and weekend settings, namely the House of Blues.

The House of Blues, founded in the early 1990s by Dan Aykroyd, one of the star actors of Blues Brothers, and Isacc Tigrett (Lieberfeld, 1995), became a popular restaurant and bar chain According to Lieberfeld, the audiences that attended these commercialized blues bars were 98% White (Lieberfeld, pg. 219), yet plastered all over the walls are what White people believed to be representative of Black culture. At the House of Blues, skulls, coffins, and a slew of voodoo paraphernalia laced with displays of African American folk art symbolizing sin and death (Lieberfeld, 1995) decorated this national chain. Lieberfeld argues that this common theme of the commercial chain convinces “white audiences that they are part of something primal and uninhibited” (Lieberfeld, p. 219). Due to the lack of Black ownership and control of these spaces, Lieberfeld asserts (1999) that Whites have been free to define, distort, and decontextualize characteristics of Black culture without exploring all of its complexities that pertain to racism and white supremacy. This form of invasion, exploitation, and commodification of Black cultural appropriations at the expense of entertainment for White audiences can be traced further back than the emergence of the commercialized blues industry in the 1980’s. One could claim that this process originated back in the days of the Cotton Club when jazz music began to reach its peak.


The Cotton Club, situated in the middle of Black Harlem at 142nd and Lenox, was once owned by the Galveston Giant, a black boxer also known as Jack Johnson. Under Johnson, the Cotton Club was originally named Club Deluxe. However, Club Deluxe transferred ownership in the early 1920s to the Irish crime gangster, Owney Madden, also known as The Killer ("Owen Vincent Madden,"). Madden changed the nightclub’s name from Club Deluxe to the infamous Cotton Club. Under the ownership of Madden, the Cotton Club became a lucrative venue for the next 20 years (PBS, n.d.-a). However, throughout its heyday, the Cotton Club was a segregated facility only welcoming patrons who were White and allowing Blacks to be their source of entertainment (McCurdy, 2009).

Despite the racist aims of the Cotton Club’s ownership and management, this is where Black entertainers sought after to get their “big break” into mainstream fame. But this big break would come at an expense. Crossing over into mainstream required catering to what White audiences expected from Black musicians, which was “primitive jungle-styled” music (Lieberfeld,1995).With its jungle theme décor, the 700-seated venue even complemented the expectation of primitive styled music (Lieberfeld, 1995).

In order to meet the demands of White consumers, who paid top dollar to enter the Cotton Club, Black entertainers like Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway, Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, etc., succumbed to the desires of their oppressors--whites, by performing to their liking. This was evident in the series of success that Black entertainers experienced after their debut at the Cotton Club. Duke Ellington purposefully created “jungle music” for the Cotton Club (Hannon, 2012; Salamone, 2008). For example, his song, “Creole Love Call” rose to a worldwide hit after its premier at the all-white only club. Mr. Bojangles Robinson and his stair tapping routines, which he was noted for at the Cotton Club, had launched into an iconic world-wide image when he began performing with blond haired-blue eyed moppet, Shirley Temple in several Hollywood box office films.

Thus, the Cotton Club became the platform where rising Black musicians became agents of white supremacy. Whether it was an unconscious or conscious act, some Black entertainers used their talent to uphold racial stereotypes in exchange for financial and personal advancement--much like what has become of hip hop artists (e.g., Run-DMC, Schoolly D, and Tupac). This demonstrates that Blacks have historically conformed for their White consumers in order to become famous in the music business. To say the least, it can be argued that the artistic contributions of jazz became culturally misrepresented through the agency of some Blacks because ownership and control of profitable venues had laid in the hands of Whites. The Cotton Club can be viewed as the jumping off point of this annexation that set the tone for other Black forms of music, and it continued well into the hip hop era.

This infiltration of both jazz and blues was not about premiering Black artists. On the contrary, rather it was about fulfilling the desires of white audiences. As articulated by Jones in “Blues People: Negro Music in White America”; [White Americans] “had only identified jazz with liberation from the social responsibilities of full citizenship” (Jones, 1999, p. 188). Supportively, Lieberfeld (1995) confirms an analogous sentiment of whites in reference to blues. He states that blues allowed Whites the ability to “transgress safely, loosening the dominant culture’s constraints like an over-tight necktie, and adapt a peripheral culture’s imagined exoticism to their own emotional needs” (Lieberfeld, 1995, p. 218). But I assert, that intertwined with these “exotic and emotional needs”, is what Whites have historically done to Blacks in America, which was to keep structural oppression intact (Hamilton & Ture, 2011) by perpetuating stereotypes via the music industry as demonstrated from the jazz era in the early 1920’s into the hip hop era in the 21st century. 

Epilogue: Implications of Hip hop Pedagogy

Indeed the interests of the oppressors lie in changing the consciousness of the oppressed, not the situation which oppressed them (Freire, p. 74). This article has focused primarily on the relationship of ownership and control of hip hop between two racial groups, African Americans and Whites, within the commercial music industry. However, hip hop is a pastiche and obscure phenomenon that has touched a variety of domains, from the spiritual sphere (gospel rap) to the pornographic underworld (see Miller-Young, 2008) and has become a transnational enterprise. However, because hip hop pedagogist has essentialized hip hop as a genre “created by and for them [urban youth]” (Morrell & Duncan-Andrande, 2002, p. 88), I have chosen to focus heavily on the interaction of Whites and hip hop in order to challenge this premise. However, essentializing hip hop as a Black, youth, and urban voice is a matter of contention, as it not only presents the voice of those that are Black, youth, or urban, in a singular manner, but it also disregards those voices expressed through hip hop that are not part of either of those aforementioned groups.

Nonetheless, the focus on hip hop as a commodification in this article has been illustrated to demonstrate how the business of hip hop can influence the lyrical expressions, behaviors, actions, or even inactions that may regulate artists. As Negus (1999) argues, in order for one to understand hip hop in its past, present, and subsequent future, cultural and aesthetic explanations of the genre alone are insufficient (p. 489). One must go beyond the music and explore how hip hop “has been created as a self-conscious business activity” (p. 489) where artists, business strategies, record labels, management of talent, selling of records, and the tastes of their consumers, etc. are interconnected. As highlighted by Fitzgerald who quoted hip hop artist Bahamadia23, “You have to understand that this [hip hop] is a business. When you sign your name on the dotted line on your contract you are literally a walking human business (as cited in Negus, 1999, pp. 489-490).”

The literature advocating for the use of hip hop in classrooms as a pedagogical method and instructional strategy (e.g., Akom, 2009; Bridges, 2011; Emdin, 2010; Hill, 2009; Morrell & Duncan-Andrande, 2002; Powell, 1991) have yet attended to how these “walking human businesses” may be influenced by affairs that occur within the industry (e.g., record sales, contractual obligations, consumers, producers, etc.), and how these affairs may manipulate and shape the voice of the artist. To buttress this point, Means Coleman argues, “African Americans and Blackness, have in part, become defined within the symbolic media culture and hence are a product of American mass media--an industry and institution that is similarly informed by society’s histories, politics, and ideologies” (as cited by Balaji, 2009, p. 21). This article has sought to add to the body of hip hop pedagogy literature to address this unattended point by revealing that whites have largely been a force guiding hip hop’s direction from its birth through its commodification for the appeasement of white audiences. Whether this force was infiltrated through management from major record labels dominated by Whites, or through the demand from hip hop’s chief consumers (white suburban teenagers), hip hop, like other forms of expressions (e.g., jazz, blues) has been redirected for the interest of Whites-not necessarily Black youth.

Therefore, using hip hop pedagogy or other forms of this framework (i.e., HHBE, CHHP) may counter its intentions24 and instead of serving to fill the void of being a voiceless population among Black youth, it may reinforce racial stereotypes that have been contrived by white executives for white listeners purported through Black hip hop artist unaware or willing to be agents of this form of oppression. 

In conclusion, as a Black educator for over a decade, that has served primarily Black children and their families, and mother of one school-age son, I, unfortunately, know all too well the severity of marginalization that Black youth have experienced in their schooling. As argued by many hip hop pedagogues, and the central rational for its implementation (e.g., Akom, 2009; Bridges, 2011; Emdin, 2010; Hill, 2009; Morrell & Duncan-Andrande, 2002), I agree, the experiences of our Black youth has been neglected, ignored, and/or have been regarded as insignificant within educational contexts. However, using hip hop pedagogy, without the understanding of how racism, white supremacy, cultural hegemony, and other forms of oppression have operated within the music industry and influences the artist in their behaviors, lyrics, and messages, would serve to further oppress marginalized students. Although, the purpose of hip hop pedagogy is admirable, my analysis regarding the ownership and degree of control that Whites have within the hip hop industry demonstrates that the genre is largely a body that is heavily regulated by others (not Black youth) and the message distributed via hip hop has been tainted by the billion dollar music enterprise. Thus, the first person voice that hip hop undertakes is ultimately not a narrative, but a narration on someone else’s terms. 

A neglected understanding of hip hop’s evolution and present existence as a commercial activity is problematic when positioning hip hop as a resistant voice.  As critical scholars and educators we must disparagingly analyze how whiteness, racism, and other forms of oppression have brought order to the narrations within hip hop when using it to engage youth in the classroom. As we have seen before involving other musical genres that were said to represent a voice of resistance (e.g., jazz, blues) that the interests of the oppressors were central to the form, not the situation of the oppressed. 

References (Producer). (November 19, 2009). Tom Silverman speaks on Afrika Bombaataa & “Planet Rock” the album. Retrieved from

Akom, A. A. (2009). Critical hip hop pedagogy as a form of liberatory praxis. Equity & Excellence in Education, 42(1), 52-66. doi: 10.1080/10665680802612519.

America, R. I. A. o. (n.d.). History of the awards, Retrieved from

Ansley, F. L. (1997). White supremacy (and what we should do about it). In R. S. Delgado, J. (Ed.), Critical white studies: Looking behind the mirror. (pp. 592-595). Temple University Press.

Asante, M. K. (2008). It's bigger than hip hop: The rise of the post-hip-hop generation. New York, NY: St. Martin's Press.

Baldwin, D. L. (2004). Black empires, white desires: the spatial politics of identity in the age of hip-hop. In M. Forman & M. A. Neal (Eds.), That's the Joint!: The Hip-hop Studies Reader (pp. 182-202). New York, NY: Routledge.

Basu, D. (2005). A critical examination of the political economy of the hip-hop industry In C. W. Conrad, J.; Mason, P.; Stewart, J. (Ed.), African Americans in the U.S. Economy (pp. 258-270). Lanham, MD: Rowan & Littlefield Publishers, Inc. 

BBC, W. N. (Producer). (December 19, 2008). First person: Kool Lady Blue. . Retrieved from

Bridges, T. (2011). Towards a pedagogy of hip hop in urban teacher education. The Journal of Negro Education, 80(3), 325-338. 

Broomfield, N. (Writer). (2005). Tupac and Biggie: The story behind the murder of rap’s biggest stars.

Brown, D. (2004 ). Bang Bang. On Straight Outta Cashville. [Recorded by Young Buck]. G Unit/Interscope Records. 

Brown, E. (February 25, 2002). Tommy Boy’s new beat. New York Magazine.

Businessweek, B. (January 25, 2014). Company overview of Bad Boy Worldwide Entertainment Group.  Retrieved January 26, 2014, from.

Bynoe, Y. (2002). Money, power, and respect: A critique of the business of rap music. In N. Kelley (Ed.), R & B: rhythm and business: The political economy of black music (pp. 220-234). New York, NY: Akashic Books.

Calder, Clive. (March 2013), Retrieved from

Chang, J. (2005). Can't stop won't stop: A history of the hip-hop generation. New York, NY: St. Martin's Press.

Chang, J. (2012). Zulus on a time bomb. Hip-hop meets the rockers downtown. . In M. Forman & M. A. Neal (Eds.), That's the joint!: The hip-hop studies reader (2nd ed., pp. 24-39). New York, NY: St. Martin’s Press.

Chang, J. (March 28, 2006). Future Troubles. Three "golden age" hip-hop compilations remind us when now is. The Village Voice Retrieved from

Charnas, D. (2010). The big payback: The history of the business of hip-hop. [Kindle version].  

Christman, E. (April 13, 2013). Soundscan Q1 Report: Taking share. Billboard - the International Newsweekly of Music Video and Home Entertainment, 125, 26-27.

Christman, E. (January 3, 2014). Digital music sales decrease for first time in 2013. Billboard. Retrieved from

Clay, A. (2003). Keepin' it real black youth, hip-hop culture, and black identity. American Behavioral Scientist 46(10), 1346-1358. Retrieved from  doi:10.1177/0002764203046010005.

Cooke, S. (1964). A change is gonna come. On Aint that good news. [Recorded by Sam Cooke]. Los Angeles, CA: ABKCO.

Davey, D. (April 24, 2013). Jailhouse roc: The facts about hip hop and prison for profit.  Retrieved January 13, 2014, from hop-and-prison-for-profit/.

Davey, D. (March 2, 2007). Is hip-hop really dead? San Jose Mercury News. Retrieved from really_dead.

Emdin, C. (2010). Affiliation and alienation: hip-hop rap, and urban science education. Journal of Curriculum Studies, 42 (1), 1-25. doi: 10.1080/00220270903161118.

Entertainment, S. M. (2013). Retrieved April 21, 2013, from

Entertainment, S. M. (July 18, 2011). Sony Music Entertainment names Antonio ‘L.A.’ Reid chairman & ceo, Epic Records. Retrieved from

Fagone, J. (March 25, 2012). Schoolly D is living the American dream: A gangster rapper looks at 50. Philadelphia.

Feagin, J. R. (2010). The white racial frame: Centuries of racial framing and counter-framing. New York, NY: Routledge.

Fear of intelligent blacks. (April 23,2007 ). Black Star News. Retrieved from

Forman, M. (2004). Hip-hop ya don't stop: Hip-hop history and historiography. In M. Forman & M. A. Neal (Eds.), That's the joint!: The hip-hop studies reader (pp. 9-12). New York, NY: Routledge. 

Forman, M. (2012). "Represent": Race, space, and place in rap music, popular music. In M. Neal & M. Forman (Eds.), That's the joint!: the hip-hop studies reader. (2nd ed., pp. 248-269). New York, NY: Routledge.

Freire, P. (2000). Pedagogy of the oppressed: Continuum International Publishing Group.

Garofalo, R. (1992). Popular music and the civil rights movement. In R. Garofalo (Ed.), Rockin’ the Boat: Mass Music and Mass Movements (pp. 231-240). Cambridge, MA: South End Press. 

George, N. (2005). Hip hop America. [Kindle version].   

George, N. (2012). Hip hop's founding fathers speak the truth. In M. A. Neal & M. Forman (Eds.), That's the joint! : The hip-hop studies reader. (2nd ed., pp. 43-54). New York, NY: Routledge. 

Green, T. (August 2, 2004). Remembering the golden age of hip-hop: Flying under radar, rappers able to experiment in the ’80s. Retrieved January 24, 2014, from

Group, U. M. (2014). Retrieved January 16, 2014, from

Group, U. M. (September 28, 2012). Universal Music Group (UMG) closes EMI recorded music acquisition Retrieved January 16, 2014, from

Group, W. M. (2011). Retrieved January 28, 2014, from

Group, W. M. (December 20,  2013). Dan McCarroll Named President, Warner Bros. Records. Retrieved from

Group, W. M. (January 22, 2014). Clark Miller named EVP, North America, operations for Warner/Chappell Music. Retrieved from

Gueraseva, S. (2011). Def Jam, Inc.: Russell Simmons, Rick Rubin, and the extraordinary story of the world's most influential hip-hop label. New York, NY: One World Books.

Hannon Teal, K. (2012). Beyond the Cotton Club: The persistence of Duke Ellington's jungle style. Jazz Perspectives, 6(1-2), 123-149. 

Harling, D. (June 07, 2011 ). Settlement reached in lawsuit between Dr. Dre & WIDEawake Death Row Records. Retrieved from HipHop DX website:

Harper, P. B. (1989). Synesthesia," Crossover," and Blacks in Popular Music. Social Text (23), 102-121. 

Hess, M. ( 2005). Hip-hop realness and the white performer. Critical Studies in Media Communication, 22(5), 372-389. Retrieved from  doi:10.1080/07393180500342878.

Hill, M. L. (2009). Beats, rhymes, and classroom life: Hip-hop pedagogy and the politics of identity New York, NY: Teachers College Press. 

Industry, I. F. o. t. P. (n.d.).  Retrieved January 16, 2014, from

infiltrate. (n.d.). In Merriam-Webster online, from http://www.merriam-

Intelligent, W. (April 19, 2007). Informing the hip hop community: Interscopes lyric committee Retrieved from

Internet Movie Database.

Jones, L. (1999). Blues people: Negro music in white America: HarperCollins.

Kelley, N. (Ed.). (2002). R & B: rhythm and business: The political economy of black music. New York, NY: Akashic Books.

Kennedy, L. (March 31, 2011). Why Being Signed To A Music Label Rocks. Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), (January 27, 2014). Retrieved from label&terminclude=&termexact=

Kitwana, B. (2005). The Cotton Club: Black-conscious hip-hop deals with an overwhelmingly white live audience. The Village Voice, 24(6). Retrieved from 

Kitwana, B. (2006). Why white kids love hip-hop: Wangstas, wiggers, wannabes, and the new reality of race in America. New York, NY: Basic Civitas Books.

Leblanc, L. (March, 6, 2012). Industry Profile: Tom Silverman. Retrieved from

Lieberfeld, D. (1995). Million-dollar juke joint: Commodifying blues culture. African American Review, 29(2), 217-221. 

Owen Vincent Madden.  The encyclopedia of Arkansas history and culture. The Central Arkansas Library System.

Makarechi, K. (April 9, 2013). Jay-Z & Universal ink deal to move Roc Nation Over from Sony, The Huffington Post. Retrieved from

McLeod, K. (1999). Authenticity within hip-hop and other cultures threatened with assimilation. Journal of Communication, 49(4), 134-150. 

Miller-Young, M. (2008). Hip-hop honeys and da hustlaz: Black sexualities in the new hip-hop pornography. Meridians: feminism, race, transnationalism, 8(1), 261-292. 

Morrell, E., & Duncan-Andrade, J. (2002). Promoting academic literacy with urban youth through engaging hip-hop culture. The English Journal, 91(6), 88-92. 

Myer, L., & Kleck, C. (2007). From independent to corporate: A political economic analysis of rap Billboard toppers. Popular Music & Society, 30(2), 137-148. Retrieved from  doi:10.1080/03007760701267649.

Nachbar, J. G., & Lausé, K. (1992). Popular culture: An introductory text: Popular Press.

Neal, M., & Forman, M. (Eds.). (2004). That's the Joint!: The Hip-hop Studies Reader. New York, NY: Routledge.

Neal, M., & Forman, M. (Eds.). (2012). That's the Joint! : The Hip-hop Studies Reader. (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Routledge.

Neal, M. A. (1997). Sold out on soul: The corporate annexation of black popular music. Popular Music & Society, 21(3), 117-135. 

Neal, M. A. (June 3, 2005). Rhythm and bullshit?: The slow decline of r&b, Part One: Rhythm & business, cultural imperialism and. PopMatters. Retrieved from website:

Negus, K. (1999). The business of rap: Between the street and the executive suite. Cultural Studies, 13(3), 488-508. doi: 10.1080/095023899335194.

Parham, T. A. (1999). Invisibility syndrome in African descent people: Understanding the cultural manifestations. The Counseling Psychologist, 27(6), 794-801.

PBS. (n.d.). Cotton Club.  Retrieved January 26, 2014, from

PBS. (n.d.). Race Records  Retrieved January 26, 2014, from

Powell, C. T. (1991). Rap music: An education with a beat from the street. Journal of Negro Education, 60(3), 245-259. 

Rasmussen, D. (2001). Qallunology: A pedagogy for the oppressor. Canadian Journal of Native Education, 25(2), 105-116. 

Rose, T. (1991). Fear of a Black Planet: Rap Music and Black Cultural Politics in the 1990s. Journal of Negro Education, 60(3), 277–291. 

Rose, T. (2013). The hip hop wars: What we talk about when we talk about hip hop--and why it matters. New York, NY.: Basic Civitas Books.

Salamone, F. A. (2008). The culture of jazz: Jazz as critical culture. Landham, MD.; University Press of America.

Samuels, D. (2004). The rap on rap: The black music that isn't either. In M. Forman & M. Neal (Eds.), That's the joint!: The hip hop studies reader (pp. 168-175). New York, NY.: Routledge. 

Sandman, H. (April 17, 2013, May 4, 2013). The facts about hip hop and prison for profit, hop-and-prison-for-profit/.

Sanjek, D. (2002). Tell me something I don't already know: The Harvard Report on soul music revisited. In N. Kelley (Ed.), R & B: rhythm and business: The political economy of black music (pp. 59-76). New York, NY: Akashic Books.

Sanneh, K. (December 14, 2006). ). Nas writes hip hop obituary. The New York Times. Retrieved from

Schillaci, S. (December 22, 2011). Jimmy Iovine to be honored by recording academy's producers & engineers wing, The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved from

Scott, P. (February 2, 2011). Hip hop, Harvard and hoaxes: Exposing the hood myth, The Final Call. Retrieved from

Simone, N. (1964). Mississippi Goddam. On Simone in concert. [Recorded by Nina Simone]. New York City, Carnegie Hall: Philips Records.

Sisario, B. (April 17, 2012). Sony plans major cuts in EMI Jobs, The New York Times. Retrieved from

Sisario, B. (November 11, 2011). EMI is sold for $4.1 Billion in combined deals, consolidating the music industry, The New York Times. Retrieved from

Smith, S. E. (2009). Dancing in the street: Motown and the cultural politics of Detroit: Harvard University Press.

Smitherman, G. (1997). “The Chain Remain the Same”: Communicative practices in the hip hop nation. Journal of Black Studies, 28(1), 3-25. Retrieved from

The Nielsen Company & Billboard’s 2012 music industry report. (January 4, 2013). Business Wire. Retrieved from

The truth on why Young Buck’s Dead or Alive record was removed. (February 6, 2012).  Retrieved from

Treiman, D. (December 10, 2004). Missing Rap Song Sparks Suspicious Musings, The Jewish Daily Forward. Retrieved from

Tummons, J. (2009). Cultural assimilation, appropriation and commercialization: Authenticity in rap music, 1997--2004. Ann Arbor, MI: ProQuest LLC.

Viera, B. (Producer). (June 24, 2012). Exclusive interview: Nas Says ‘hip hop has died many deaths’, ‘doesn’t get the Respect it deserves’. VH1. Retrieved from hop-has-died-many-deaths-doesnt-get-the-respect-it-deserves/.

Watkins, G. (August 31st, 2009 ). Lara Lavi: Death Row Records’ New Warden. Retrieved January 26, 2014, from

Watson, J. (February 18, 2004). Rapper's Delight: A billion-dollar industry. Forbes. Retrieved from

Weems, R. E. (2005). "Bling-Bling" and other recent trends in African American consumerism. In C. W. Conrad, J.; Mason, P.; Stewart, J. (Ed.), African Americans in the U.S. Economy (pp. 252 - 257). Lanham, MD: Rowan & Littlefield Publishers, Inc 

Wright, K. (2004). Rise up hip hop nation: From deconstructing racial politics to building positive solutions. Socialism and Democracy, 18(2), 9-20. 

Zakat, R. (2010). Bahamadia, from


1The Source, a renowned hip hop magazine, interviewed what they considered the founding fathers of hip hop (e.g., Afrika Bambataa, DJ herc, Kool DJ), “What do you think now when people say that there’s a certain style of music that’s considered hip hop, and a certain style that’s not considered hip hop? Claims that some records are fake hip hop and some are real?” Bambaataa responds, “They’re ignorant. They don’t know the true forms of hip hop…You got your hard beats, you got your gangsta rap…All of this was all part of hip hop” (George, 1993, p. 44). In that same interview, Kool DJ Herc describes how both hardcore beats that can be considered misogynistic and “soft” rap, like Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince, are both hip hop (George, 1993). Because the founding fathers of hip hop and other academics such as Forman (2000), Hess (2005), and Powell (1991) claim that hip hop and rap are in the same classification, I will use the terms “hip hop” and  “rap” interchangeably throughout this paper.

2Because much of the hip hop pedagogy literature (for example see Akom, 2009; Bridges 2011; Hill, 2009) has not distinguished between the category of African American and Black, I will apply the same use of the categories to this paper. Therefore, African American and Black will be used interchangeably.

3According to Freire (2000), an oppressor is one that is loveless, perpetuates injustice, engenders violence, exploits and rape by virtue of their power (p. 44) the oppressed. Freire (2000) adds that the oppressor is often clothed in false generosity. In summary, the oppressor dehumanizes the oppressed (Freire, 2000). Is the first part a direct quote?

4Drawing from Freire (2000), the oppressed are susceptible to following the guidelines or “prescribed behavior” (p. 49) of the oppressor or given by the oppressor (Freire, 2000). In the world of hip-hop, because the music, and largely, the culture is controlled and owned by Whites. Black hip-hop artists who uphold those behaviors assigned by their oppressors, I argue, have essentially succumbed to the oppressor.

5Feagin (2009), a highly respected sociologist of race and racism in U.S., argues that Whites often racially frame African Americans in media context, which includes music, as subhuman, deviant, hyper-sexual, criminal, violent, dangerous, ignorant, combative beings that lack self-determination (lazy), and require care by Whites. Furthermore, Feagin emphasizes that these framed stereotypes have been deeply embedded in the subconscious of Whites for centuries.

6In the early to mid-1900’s, Billboard referred to music performed by mostly Black artists as “race music” (Myer & Kleck, 2007; Nelson, 1999). By the 1960’s, Billboard had shifted the title from “race music” to “Black music”, and at times referenced this category as “soul music”. For Billboard, the only unified feature of “Black music” was the artist and the target market--Black consumers (Harper, 1989). By the late 1990’s, Billboard had renamed “Black music” to rhythm & blues (R&B) because the entity claimed that non-Blacks were making “Black music” (Powell, 1991). However, for Blacks, their interpretation of what is considered to be “Black music” seems to not only depart from Billboard’s definition, but is foregrounded in their history as oppressed people. For example, Negus (2012) describes specifically rap, which Hess (2005) identifies as Black music, “as an aesthetic form of African-American expression: a resistant, oppositional, countercultural style created via the appropriation of technology and existing musical signs and symbols…drawing on a long tradition of diasporic creativity” (p.656).

7Bad Boy Entertainment Group is an entertainment and media company involved in record production, management of studios, marketing, music publishing, etc. The company was founded in 1992, by Sean Combs. Since 2005, Bad Boy has operated as a subsidiary of Warner Music Group Corp (“Bloomberg”, 2014).

8Death Row Records was founded in the early 1990’s and was home to some of hip hop’s most notable artists, such as Dr. Dre (one of the founders) and Tupac Shakur (Hawkins, G, 2009). Since the departure of Suge Knight (former CEO) due to his legal battles, Death Row Records and its catalogue of hip hop songs has been auctioned and sold to Lara Lavi, founder and CEO of Canadian based entertainment company, WIDEawake Entertainment, for $18 million dollars. Lavi is a “self-proclaimed Jewish soccer mom” (para 1, Hawkins, 2009). Since the 2009 acquisition of the Death Row Records catalogue, WIDEawake Entertainment has faced legal battles over the rights to sell The Chronic, an album by Dr. Dre produced under Death Row Records (Harling, 2011). An undisclosed settlement amount was reached in 2011 between Dr. Dre and WIDEawake Entertainment (Harling, 2011). 

9Using critical legal scholar, Frances Ansley’s description of white supremacy, I am referring to: “a political, economic and cultural system in which Whites overwhelmingly control power and material resources, conscious and unconscious ideas of white superiority and entitlement are widespread, and relations of white dominance and non-white subordination are daily reenacted across a broad array of institutions and social settings” (Ansley, p. 582, 1997).

10According to Smitherman (1997), the rapper can be considered a "post-modern African griot" (p.4). To Smitherman (1997), a griot is a "verbally gifted storyteller and cultural historian in traditional African society.” These griots are expected to testify and be truthful (Smitherman, 1997). This relates to note six which discusses what Blacks consider Black music to mean for their people.

11According to Dekker (2011), culture vultures appropriate or steal a social tool, like music, that is often utilized to contribute to Black self-identity and Black agency.

12The Black Holocaust is also known as the Maafa. "Maafa is a Kiswahili word coined and popularized by Ani (1994) … [it represents] disaster of death and destruction that is beyond human comprehension and convention (Parham, 1999)  and refers to the world-wide oppression (e.g., racism, slavery, imperialism, colonialism, attempted genocide, and white supremacy) that have inflicted Africans and Africans in Diaspora for the last 500 years.

13According to Harper (1989) crossover means “an act’s achievement of a high degree of commercial success due to its appeal across racial boundaries considered to divide the general popular music audience” (p. 102).

14By 1965, Motown was a multi-million dollar success (Smith, 2009) and according to Charnas (2010), Motown was the largest Black owned business in America until it was sold in the 1990’s to MCA Records. Berry Gordy remarked that because the company did not own their own distribution center for their records, they relied heavily on outside distributors, which took the bulk of their earnings. Gordy stated that it took 40 million dollars just to break even in the last years of Motown’s operations. Currently Universal Music Group owns all of the rights, distribution, etc. of all artists that recorded under Motown. The majority of those artists are Black.

15See endnote 16 for difference between independent record label and major record label.

16Traditionally, the role that a major record label plays in the music industry is that they find, record, and promote the artists recording (Fogarty, 2008). Additionally, the label produces and distributes the physical product of the artists recording (e.g., vinyl records, compact discs, etc.). The main and critical difference between an independent label and a major label is that major labels own and control the ability to mass distribute the artist recording and vie for retail space (Fogarty, 2008).

17This practice (major labels buying independent Black-owned labels when they seem profitable) dates back to decades before the 1960s and 70s. According to Negus (1999), during the Great Depression era, Okeh and Paramount, two major record labels, purchased a number of Black independent labels. For example, prior to the Great Depression, Black Swan sold over five million records (PBS, n.d.., para 4) but after the label suffered financially from the effects of the Great Depression (Negus, 1999), it was purchased by a major record label. Black Swan was the first independent Black-owned record label. Black Swan’s slogan before its takeover was, “The Only Genuine Colored Records — Others Are Only Passing for Colored” (PBS, n.d.-b, p. para 4).

18The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) established platinum status in 1976 to signify when an artist has reached at least a million sound recordings sold (America, n.d.).

19International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) represents the recording industry worldwide with over 1300 members in nearly 70 countries and affiliated industry associations in almost 60 countries. Within their membership are the “Big Three” (Universal, Warner, and Sony) major music labels (Industry, n.d.)

20Neilsen Soundscan Quarter Report published by Billboard in April, 2013 was used to define which labels were considered “major record labels” (Christman, April 13, 2013).

21In September 2012, Universal Music Group announced that they had acquired over 25  labels with the acquisition of EMI. Within this acquisition, labels that have historically produced and recorded a number of Black artists, such as Def Jam Recordings and Motown Records, are now under the ownership and control of U M. Group (U. M. Group, September 28, 2012).

22Nielsen SoundScan is considered the entertainment industry's leading data information systems ("The Nielsen Company & Billboard’s 2012 Music Industry Report," January 4, 2013).

23Bahamadia, has been a hip hop artist since 1993 and has achieved both underground and commercial success. She has had musical collaborations with several notable hip hop artists such as Talib Kweli and Erykah Badu (Zakat, 2010).

24Akom (2009) suggests that the CHHP framework creates “pedagogic spaces where marginalized youth are enabled to gain a consciousness of how their own experiences have been shaped by larger social institutions” (p. 63). Hill (2009) notes “that many scholars and practitioners advocate a hip hop-based curriculum because of its connection to the cultural experiences of students” (p. 2). Hill also adds that hip hop can serve as “sites of public and counterpublic pedagogy that counternarrate [students] lived experiences” (p. xvii). Other scholars, for example, Morrell and Duncan-Andrade (2002), assert that through the use of hip hop lyrics in the classroom, “educators can raise critical consciousness in people who have been oppressed” (p. 89) like their urban students. 

Author Note

The author would like to acknowledge Dr. Jomo Mutegi for his involvement, encouragement, and academic support during this research. The author would also like to thank Dr. James Scheurich for his continued academic guidance throughout this process. This research was supported by a block grant funded by the Urban Education Studies Steering Committee.