Hip-Hop Is Driving The Music Business, But Few Black Executives Are Brought Along For The Ride

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Hi. We recently created AFH TV, Ambrosia For Heads’ streaming video service, because we believe real Hip-Hop deserves its own dedicated TV home, but we need your help to make it great. Please subscribe to AFH TV. It is only $1.99/month or $12/year, and already features some amazing content, but the best is yet to come. Thank you for all of your support.

Hip-Hop continues to prove itself as big business that is driving culture across the commercial landscape. With that success, it is important to acknowledge those helping to push the culture, music, and business ahead. Even with all of the success, including a 19.2% growth in audio consumption during the first quarter of 2018, according to figures published in Billboard, the ethnic representation between those at the top and the talent whose music fans consume is still disproportionate.

Gail Mitchell penned a Billboard feature about the lack of diversity at top-level positions (presidential and ownership posts), particularly in the genre of Rap/Hip-Hop. The report finds that even though there are people of color serving as major label executives, it is disproportionate.

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Executives of color in these positions include Sylvia Rhone (Epic Records President), “Big” Jon Platt (Warner/Chappell Music Chairman/CEO), Ethiopia Habtemariam (Motown Records President), and Jeffrey Harleston (Universal Music Group Executive Vice President, Business and Legal Affairs/General Counsel).

“There’s definitely a challenge in the music industry with respect to the pipeline for Black executives, which is interesting when you think about the impact of the music that is being sold, because a lot of that is urban music and Black culture,” Julian Petty, music attorney and partner at law firm Nixon Peabody, recently told the magazine. “You can’t just have a few folks there. We’ve got to figure that out.”

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A deeper look also exposes the practices of those who make decisions and how they communicate with the artists signed to their labels. A structure emerges of disproportionate work and subsequent credit being wrongfully allocated based on white executives who often lack the proper tools to connect with their talent.

“[White executives] think that because they cut the check, that it buys them favor with the young, often Black artists from the hood,” a former major-label senior vice president said of a scenario that often plays out. “It’s all good until the white executives can’t communicate with the new millionaire and his management team. Then the executives stress out the Black female product manager to get answers about the artist, his new album, video edits, etc., because the white head of the company doesn’t want to offend the new young black millionaire. So the Black executives do all the grunt work while the white executives get the credit.”

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There are executive positions often occupied by people of color. The A&R, a post tasked with signing, motivating, and managing artist’s creative direction is often filled by prominent figures. No I.D., Sha Money XL, Jim Jones, Irv Gotti, and the late Chris Lighty all held this position at major labels. Meanwhile, lesser-known execs work in this area for labels. However, more wealth and power is further up the executive ladder.

There have been recent African American promotions and hires, but the Billboard piece cites it’s not unprecedented that Black people are hired in waves only to either be forced out by label “restructuring” or voluntarily leave based on non-ideal environments at their workplace. The latter is a part of a power struggle many Black executives face upon being hired. They’re given a big title, but not the authority that usually goes along with it. Or, as an anonymous record company executive stated, “It’s like back in the day when sharecroppers tended the cotton fields, tilling the soil, sowing the seeds and nurturing the crop through all sorts of challenges. ​When the crop proved to be bountiful as harvest time rolled around, the white overseers stepped in and took charge, reaping most of the profits.”

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Read Gail Mitchell’s Billboard feature.

#BonusBeat: Last year, Hip-Hop’s conscious MCs dominated the Forbes top-earners list:

This video examines what that says about the culture and genre.