Feeling Out the Vibes
The sudden cancellation of the long-running, highly rated Yo' MTV Raps program was at the forefront of discussion at last week's premiere Vibe Music Seminar in New York, a black culture convention featuring panel discussions, live bands, fashion shows, and more. For the predominantly African-American attendees, the issue underscored an urgent need for more black-owned and -operated businesses in the music industry.
At the “Soul Business” panel, Doctor Dre (who co-hosted Yo' MTV Raps with Ed Lover) was still in shock: “After we did the last show a week ago, I felt like Arsenio Hall for a minute,” Dre joked. “Then I looked in my wallet and felt like Richard Pryor.” A clearly uncomfortable Stephen Hill, the black director of music programming at MTV, was later cornered on the subject. After first denying the program was canceled, he clarified, “It's been revamped. There's going to be a hip-hop show during the day with a new host, new producer, and more videos.” Would MTV reconsider if it received a flood of letters? “No,” Hill quickly answered. “Fuck MTV anyway — we need to own our own television stations,” one spectator mumbled.
That message of black empowerment echoed throughout the rest of the seminar. At the closing “Big Willie” panel, Vibe publisher Quincy Jones stressed, “We're not in business if we don't own copyrights, masters, and negatives!” Jones also gave major props to hip hop as an art form, saying he wished he'd gotten more involved in the genre earlier. “I made a lot of mistakes by being too busy with Michael Jackson in the '80s,” he admitted. Criticizing the trend of major labels buying up small black imprints, Stepsun Records CEO Bill Stephney said: “We've signed off our culture for a couple of dollars. We need to run our own businesses, and run them as a business and not like a day camp for adult black males like they tend to be.”
During “Blowin' Up: Exploring the Relationship Between Urban Artists and the Mainstream Media,” moderator Lesley Pitts of Loose Cannon half-joked, “Doesn't an urban artist have to get arrested to get into the mainstream?” Village Voice music editor Ann Powers (one of the few white panelists) noted how both the “alternative” and mainstream press often misrepresent black artists “out of ignorance.” “We need people of color on editorial boards,” she said.
But the most telling dialogue emerged during the “Film Noir” panel: “Why can't all the Bill Cosbys, Michael Jacksons, and Oprah Winfreys just band their finances together and form one powerful black company?” one attendee asked. “If we could work together,” laughed director Arthur Jafa, “we could have a revolution and forget about filmmaking!”
By Billy Jam