If you’ve been reading my shit for any amount of time now, you’ve probably noticed I’m a cynical bastard. Any time I see a news item about hip-hop from a business perspective, I immediately assume there’s some underlying scheme to perpetuate this current state of affairs, in which the ranks of the ownership class in hip-hop are staffed by relatively secretive tall Israelis – and meanwhile the artists, who do all of the heavy lifting that actually generates such an insane amount of wealth in the first place might, if they’re lucky, function as fake executives and owners of various businesses, so as to create the perception of real ownership. The thing is, I’m right
more often than not always.
Take for example this blog by Jermaine Dupri at the Huffington Post. Reading it yesterday, the first thing that crossed my mind was that this was obviously an attempt by JD to drum up interest in his new book, which is indeed advertised on the same page as his blog and then plugged again in the blog itself for good measure. And the second thing that crossed my mind is that the TIs at Universal must have put him up to this. They may have even written the post themselves and attached his name to it, just like I’m sure someone else actually wrote his book.
You see, the TIs at Universal are pissed at Apple and iTunes, because they’re the only one making any money on music these days. What’s more, they don’t even have to sweat signing and developing artists and recording music; all they have to do is let labels upload their shit into their system, and then take a nice little chunk any time they sell something. And there’s hardly any real overhead, other than what it costs to develop the site and pay for the bandwidth, so they’re probably making a mint profit-wise.
In particular, Doug Morris from Universal was involved in a row with Steve Jobs from Apple earlier this year having to do with the cut Apple receives from each song that’s downloaded. Because Doug Morris needed to get some money from somewhere, and obviously getting Jay-Z to come up with a good idea was out of the question, he decided he’d just demand that iTunes take less money from each song downloaded. But he was at a loss for leverage business-wise, since iTunes controls the lion’s share of the online music industry. He could take his proverbial marbles and go home, but he’d be taking a substantial financial hit to do so.
So Doug Morris is planning on teaming up with the TIs from a few other major labels (i.e. probably his cousins) and releasing his own version of iTunes. Only thing is, it’s probably gonna take a while to come out, and when it does, it’s probably gonna suck balls – just like almost all of the other pay music download services, including iTunes. I’m sure they figure they can fucking trounce iTunes, since the vast majority of music released these days is controlled by a few major labels; if you want to buy some bullshit from Def Jam or Atlantic Records, you’ll have no choice but to cop from Doug Morris. Given their track record though with regard to managing change and adapting to new technologies, I wouldn’t be surprised if they somehow managed to fuck this up.
In the meantime, it’s pretty obvious to me that pulling Jay-Z’s American Gangster from iTunes, and then making such a huge spectacle of it, was just an effort to fuck with Apple. Never mind all of that bullshit in the Jay-Z press release and the Jermaine Dupri blog about Jay wanting people to listen to the album in full. Major labels used to pull this shit all the time back when there were actual record stores. Since the vast majority of people who went in record stores in any given week were there to cop what was hot that week in particular, labels knew they could fuck with record stores by not sending them new releases. And if it was one of the year’s biggest releases, like American Gangster, it could probably fuck up a store’s entire quarter. That’s all that was going on here.
But whatever. After all, who gives a shit whether most of the money from an album’s sale goes into Steve Jobs’ pocket or Doug Morris’ pocket? Most people probably couldn’t pick either of them out of a lineup. For all we know, they could be the same guy, just fucking with us. I do find it unfortunate though that this latest chain of events is probably gonna lead to yet another situation in which one of the primary business institutions of our culture is controlled by a secret cabal of tall Israelis, with a few black guys like Jay-Z and Jermaine Dupri serving as a public front, in case anyone gets suspicious. With the amount of resources these assholes have, you’d think they’d be interested in starting their own iTunes, not helping Doug Morris start his.