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The Real Thing

The Real Thing

The pioneers of early Hip-Hop in the 1970's and 80's, Grandmaster Flash, Dj Kool Herc(Zulu Nation), and Afrika Bambaataa(Zulu Nation) among them, provide a seldom seen truth for the premise of using widely available technology to revolutionize a site of social interaction. Grandmaster Flash(Joseph Saddler) was raised in the Bronx, NY in the 1960's and 70's and went to technical high school where he was part of a program involving electronic circuitry and many basic components of electronic engineering. Flash founded innovations like the cross-fader and developed techniques known as "Cutting" "Scratching" and "Mixing" which all facilitated the dj’s ability to improvise and respond to the crowd with a limitless variety of sounds for a diverse audience. In redefining the architecture of the turntables, Grandmaster Flash expanded what the environment around them could represent, and tapped the dormant potential of recycling recorded music.

Unlike an audience who goes to the movie theater to watch a film, a position Walter Benjamin once critiqued in “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” saying, "The public is an examiner, yet an absent minded one", Hip-Hop, in it's early stages, depended on an engaged and participatory system involving the audience at every level(Benjamin, 241). Facilitated by a call and response succession, The MC on the microphone, or the dj himself, is just as accountable for responding to the audience as they are to him, keeping the groove in tune with the performance of the entire body, ‘crowdsourcing’ the audience for support, speaking to their experience, and remixing familiar music in new forms.

One should perhaps keep in mind then, the difference between practices of music and the practices of business, at least to consider why it is the music industry’s intent to keep these practices separate, especially with Rap music. Practices of music grow out of communal activity, allowing tension to disperse, while the practices of business focus on secular notions of private property. The recorded medium was an established source of revenue for the music industry by the time Hip-Hop emerged and copyright law says that if someone else performing uses a copyrighted work without providing credit including assets generated by the performance, then they have broken the law. The law denies younger generations the labor of their elders, while fostering a disconnected relationship between musicians and businessmen.

Record labels have A&R (Artist and Repertoire) divisions in charge of talent scouting and artist oversight. An A&R representative serves not only the function of a talent scout(finding artists), like say an employee of an NBA team scouting the talent of any college player they might draft in basketball(a regular practice), but also essentially serves the role of a sports ‘agent’ as well, with the authority granted by labels to offer and negotiate contracts with artists at different levels of particularly granted discretion. Allowing this negotiation to take place legally without law which requires the effective communication of legal parameters is essentially why Hip-Hop culture has remained outside the establishment of Rap Music as a global product.

Continuing the NBA analogy, the role of an NBA ‘agent’ is to negotiate player contracts with NBA teams in order to counter their potential exploitation based upon technical legal understanding(or lack thereof). NBA ‘agents’ generate their salary by receiving a small percentage of the contract(at most 5%) of every player they represent. It is illegal for an NBA ‘agent’ to receive any payment from any NBA team outside of this agreement, in order to prevent a conflict of interests, and keeping the ‘scout’ and the ‘agent’ as two different positions. Yet, in the music industry there are no ‘checks’ for securing an artist’s fair legal representation in contractual negotiations. The talent scout negotiates the contract, and once an artist signs away their music, the company owns it 25 years longer than even they could have with an understanding of copyright law.

Hip-Hop was born of free block parties, about sharing and creating music and became a substantial enough innovative force to bring to the about some of the first copyright tensions commonly associated with remixing today. By taking a finished product and opening it up to the possibility of recomposition, while providing an opportunity for marginalized people to come together and express themselves, the form of early Hip-Hop culture, for a fairly specific yet substantially real social body in a particular moment, nearly unified the work of art with the public sphere to voice the subjective value of a collective struggle. The internet brings this potential to the world.


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