[9 February 2006]
Good for Kelly Clarkson, good for U2 and too bad for Kanye but it’s time to move on from the Grammys. After targetting major labels for handing out money and favors for airplay, NY attorney general Eliot Spitzer is now going after the other side and handing out subpoenas to radio stations. And it’s not just small fish that he’s frying…
The lovable folks at Clear Channel and Infinity are targets of this investigation. After getting the green light to rule the airwaves thanks to the Congress and White House (going back to Clinton), these huge powerhouses decided to keep squeezing money from labels who were only too glad to pony up dough to get their artists into play lists. And who were these artists? The short list that’s come out is interesting: Jessica Simpson, Celine Dion, Maroon 5, Good Charlotte, Franz Ferdinand, Switchfoot, Michelle Branch and R.E.M. How’s that for a playlist you could program on your I-Pod? Everything from divas to diva wanna-be’s to up-coming alt figureheads to indie rock gods. Though the artists themsevles aren’t part of this investigation, it would be interesting to know if they did know anything (wink, wink) and how much they did know.
As much as I admire Spitzer (and wonder why other attorney generals sit back and don’t take the lead like this), the fact is that even after he cracks some heads over this and slaps some fines on the companies (which won’t break their bottom line by a long shot), eventually biz-as-usual will resume under another guise. It may not be ‘payola’ per se but there’ll be other ways around whatever laws that are enforced and another cycle of subpoenas will eventually make the rounds.
A better solution would be how to stop this recurring problem long term. Maybe more regular and more scrupulous audits of the labels and stations would help but let’s face it- corruption and taking the easy route when you think you can get away with it ain’t just the American way, it’s human nature many times.
Another one that needs to clean up its act is rapper Busta Rhymes. After his bodyguard was murdered outside a video shoot, he hasn’t been co-operating with the investigation though he’s said that he’ll shell out money for the funeral. The family has pleaded for him to come forward but he still hasn’t yet. It’s thought that when or if he does, other witnesses will come forward too.
So why hasn’t he yet? No doubt that he’s worried that this could snare him in, no matter how close or not he was to the actual incident. Also, it’s not as if law enforcement (or most of the media) is exactly friendly towards hip hop artists. Last year, in a great expose (that’s not online sadly now), the Miami Herald revealed that police in major cities around the country were setting up task forces to shadow the hip-hop community, specifically watching for any crimes they might commit. Could you imagine what a furor would have erupted if they went after country or rock bands instead, merely because of the type of music they were playing? (FYI, the original article was Nicole White And Evelyn McDonnell: “Police Secretly Watching Hip-hop Artists” (Miami Herald, March 9, 2004) )
Nevertheless, the fact of the matter with the Rhymes case is that a man is dead and this was a guy who was putting himself on the line to protect his boss. The least his boss could do for him now is come forward and help to solve his murder. If it does involve someone close to Rhymes (an obvious possibility), that shouldn’t stop him from doing the right thing and speaking up. As a Newsday editorial pointed out, the same silence has stopped any resolution of the murders of Jam Master Jay, Biggie Smalls and Tupac Shakur and the last two are still open cases AFTER TEN YEARS.
This is the kind of thing that keeps giving rap a bad rap and it needs to stop. Otherwise, the music is going to continue to be persecuted and scapegoated whenever it’s convenient.