Sunday, 21 September 2014

Facts about hip-hop and prison for profit


GoldenUndergroundTV recently released an interview I did with them late last year. I got a bit animated at the end. Only so many interviews in a row I could handle being asked about Chief Keef.

My tirade wasn’t really about Chief Keef. It wasn’t about Gucci Mane or Wocka Flocka or any of the acts spontaneously catapulted into stardom by synchronized mass media coverage despite seemingly universal indifference (at the very best) regarding their talent. Whose arrests, involvement in underaged pregnancies, concert shootouts, and facial tattoos, dominate conversation for weeks at a time, with their actual music a mere afterthought, if thought of at all.

My tirade was about marketing. It was about media powers seeking out the biggest pretend criminal kingpins they can find, (many of whom who shamelessly adopt the names of actual real life criminal kingpins like 50 Cent and Rick Ross), and
exalting them as the poster children for a culture. It was about an art form reduced to product placement, the selling of a lifestyle, and ultimately, a huge ad for imprisonment.
This is not my opinion.
Last year Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the biggest name in the private prison industry, contacted 48 states offering to buy their prisons. One stipulation of eligibility for the deal was particularly bizarre: “an assurance by the agency partner that the agency has sufficient inmate population to maintain a minimum 90% occupancy rate over the term of the contract.

What kind of legitimate and ethical measures could possibly be taken to ensure the maintenance of a 90% prison occupancy rate?
Two months later an anonymous email was sent out to various members of the music and publishing industries giving an account of a meeting where it was determined that hip-hop music would be manipulated to drive up privatized prison profits. Its author, despite claiming to be a former industry insider, did not provide the names of anyone involved in the plot, nor did he specify by which company he himself was employed. As such, the letter was largely regarded as a fraud for lack of facts.
Ninety percent of what Americans read, watch and listen to is controlled by only six media companies. PBS’s Frontline has described the conglomerates that determine what information is disseminated to the public as a “web of business relationships that now defines America’s media and culture.” Business relationships. Last year a mere 232 media executives were responsible for the intake of 277 million Americans, controlling all the avenues necessary to manufacture any celebrity and incite any trend. Time Warner, as owner of Warner Bros Records (among many other record labels), can not only sign an artist to a recording contract but, as the owner of Entertainment Weekly, can see to it that they get next week’s cover. Also the owner of New Line Cinemas, HBO and TNT, they can have their artist cast in a leading role in a film that, when pulled from theaters, will be put into rotation first on premium, then on basic, cable. Without any consideration to the music whatsoever, the artist will already be a star, though such monopolies also extend into radio stations and networks that air music videos. For consumers, choice is often illusory. Both BET and MTV belong to Viacom. While Hot 97, NYC’s top hip hop station, is owned by Emmis Communications, online streaming is controlled by Clear Channel, who also owns rival station Power 105.
None of this is exactly breaking news, but when ownership of these media conglomerates is cross checked with ownership of the biggest names in prison privatization, interesting new facts emerge.

According to public analysis from Bloomberg, the largest holder in Corrections Corporation of America is Vanguard Group Incorporated. Interestingly enough, Vanguard also holds considerable stake in the media giants determining this country’s culture. In fact, Vanguard is the third largest holder in both Viacom and Time Warner. Vanguard is also the third largest holder in the GEO Group, whose correctional, detention and community reentry services boast 101 facilities, approximately 73,000 beds and 18,000 employees. Second nationally only to Corrections Corporation of America, GEO’s facilities are located not only in the United States but in the United Kingdom, Australia and South Africa.
You may be thinking, “Well, Vanguard is only the third largest holder in those media conglomerates, which is no guarantee that they’re calling any shots.” Well, the number-one holder of both Viacom and Time Warner is a company called Blackrock. Blackrock is the second largest holder in Corrections Corporation of America, second only to Vanguard, and the sixth largest holder in the GEO Group.
There are many other startling overlaps in private-prison/mass-media ownership, but two Read More

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