One label controls almost all of hip-hop, and that's a problem for music fans
It's common knowledge that the popular music industry is dominated by a few huge companies, sometimes referred to as the Big Three: Universal Music Group, Sony Music Entertainment and Warner Music Group. It used to be the Big Four, until EMI was subsumed into the other three. Before that, it was the Big Five, which followed the Big Six, etc. As time has gone on, the music market has becoming more and more restrictive in the choices you can actually make as a consumer. According to Nielson SoundScan, these three companies controlled roughly 90 percent of the music market in 2012, and this is a number trending upward. The problem for rap fans, though, is even more severe.
Image via YouTube Jay-Z, trying to convince us his favorite thing about Magna Carta Holy Grail isn't the Samsung deal.
Of the top 25 charting hip-hop singles in 2013, Universal Music Group had a hand in 20, and when you look at the hip-hop landscape as a whole, the reality that one company is completely running the game is almost unavoidable. Cash Money, Def Jam, Aftermath, Roc-A-Fella, GOOD Music, TDE and Bad Boy are all in Universal's stable. Not only do they control your usual corporate-run suspects, they also control the rappers who are expected to change the game, like Kendrick and Kanye. But how much does this consolidation of power actually affect the music made? And most importantly, is there any hope?
Most heads will tell you unequivocally that the monolithic music industry is and always has been a problem in rap's evolution. As hip-hop has become more and more commercial, certain traits that have always been a part of rap have been elevated to primary importance: materialism, misogyny and ultra-masculinity, to name a few, because these are the qualities, for whatever reason, that make money.
Particularly problematic for some is that the controlling interests, dominated by white men, are strikingly homogeneous. The danger is that white men have no stake in hip-hop evolving culturally, only in it evolving economically. A look at history tells us that this fear is rational; artists are unique, but to find one who isn't reinforcing negative racial or socioeconomic stereotypes in order to fit the current template of how a rapper should act is harder than it should be.