Wendy Day of Rap Coalition talks about why she founded it, its achievements, the mainstream V the underground and lots more.
What was your first experience of hiphop and when did you establish the Rap Coalition?
My first experience with hip hop (I prefer to spell it as two words) was seeing Grand Master Flash and the Furious Five perform at University of Pennsylvania in 1980. They appeared with Psychedelic Furs, who were my favorite group at the time. I was a freshman in university at the time. After that, I was hooked. I consumed everything rap related (the word hip hop had not been invented yet…LOL).
I started Rap Coalition in March of 1992, out of disgust at the way artists were being treated, to help them for free. It was my way of giving back for all the happiness and joy the music had given me over the years.
What was the original intention for the Rap Coalition and what do you feel has been its biggest achievements to date?
Originally, I broke oppressive contracts between artists and unsavory managers, labels, and production company. Anything that was unfairly oppressive for the artist had to go. Our biggest achievement as a company would be the change we've made in the quality of contracts out there. Artists today are FAR more savvy than ever before.
To what extent do you feel that hiphop remains exploited and 'raped' by huge businesses and people with dollar signs in their eyes?
What started out as a pimp game by large corporations has turned into a way for artists and their teams to get paid from an art form. While some exploitation is inevitable in any capitalistic society, by and large things have changed to give artists the power. The artists and their teams are more knowledgeable about what is fair and acceptable, and they no longer give away their art form for free or close to free.
Rap music has forged a way for an entire generation to make money who would not have had anyway to do so prior. It has created urban entrepreneurs who have been able to experience success through doing what they love. Has the art form been commercialized? Yes, and some fans complain about this regularly. Are artists still being raped? Not like they were… I feel we have a lot of work to still do, but we have come a very long way!
Do you feel that there stands any chance of true hiphop music and culture successfully countering the actions of the vultures, and winning 'the war'?
Hip Hop is the culture and rap is the musical art form within hip hop. Hip hop is a lifestyle, so yes, it will survive. Music and fads change so rap music will be no different. It will change and grow and come in and out of vogue over and over. For example, there is a current swing back to the importance of lyricism, which I haven't seen since I did RapOlympics in 1997. It's 8 years later…today's average rap fan was 8 to 13 years old when I did RapOlympics. They have no clue….now they want to hear strong lyrics. Fads change… Every five years or so, old school rap music comes back into fashion—the only difference is what's classified as "old school" is ever changing due to time.
What stands out in your mind as being the biggest exploitation of hiphop since it came to prominence?
The biggest exploitation, recently, is a company like McDonald's offering to pay artists for mentioning their brand in a song, and deciding only to pay them every time the song is played on the radio. The biggest exploitation from back in the day is the amount of labels that took the publishing from the artists in order to put their records out. VERY few artists who created rap, receive any money from the music they made. Their labels, most of which are no longer in business but STILL collect fat checks, are the ones profiting from their art form.
Would you agree that a lot of the biggest artists such as 50 Cent and Dr. Dre, show too much of a buisness attitude to the public, and lean too far away from the role of an artist and creative mind?
Sadly, the fans are eager to see the business side. It's no longer entertainment when the cameras are rolling in the board rooms. ha ha ha As the fans clamor for more behind the scenes stuff, the artists give it to them. They are salesmen. They react by providing what the fans ask for. The fans vote with their dollars. I just wish they'd all give FACTUAL business side information if that's what they want to do. Sometimes they exaggerate facts to make themselves seem smarter and shrewder. To those of us who know the truth, they look stupid.
Having played a role in launching Eminem's hugely successful career, how do you feel about seeing him build his Shady Records empire, and making a huge impact with his many signings, many of whom are his friends and associates rather than talented minds?
I played such a small role in launching his career, but thanks for the compliment. He is the reason he is successful. There were just some of us around him who recognized what he had earlier than others. I am proud of him as an artist and even more proud of him as a human being. The way he has handled his public life and his level of fame is outstanding. He is humble, talented, and a tremendous person! There are not many artists like him, and even fewer people like him. We watched him grow up publicly and I would not wish that on my worst enemy.
Do you feel its more beneficial to hiphop that underground and independant artists like Immortal Technique, stay well away from big buisnesses and labels, or do you feel they should infultrate the mainstream more?
They can't infiltrate unless they change the style that created the fans they now have. Entering the mainstream is a decision on the side of the fans (the majority of pop culture chooses whether or not to purchase). I don't believe it's as simple as they don't know about them so they haven't gravitated to them. I believe it's more that they have a sound that appeals to a small niche of people and their success will be determined by how well they reach their own niche. Talib, Mos Def and Roots are perfect examples of artists who've well saturated their niche. Mos Def will never sell Eminem or 50 Cent type numbers, even with their budgets. Their sound is too niche oriented.
For underground rap groups (which are also sometimes referred to as backpack rap or intelligent rap), it is crucial that they understand who their market is and reach them directly. Since their market is not everyone, it's important to be more targeted with their spending. I think indie labels are best suited to maximize these types of efforts. Also, if an indie sells 200,000 CDs for an underground group it's considered a success. Everyone makes money! If a major sells 200,000 CDs for a project, it's considered a failure and no one makes money, therefore no one is happy. Let's face it—this is a business!
Are huge labels such as Def Jam now utterly damagaing to hiphop or do they still hold some benefits?
It depends on what you consider "damaging." Small labels are not equipped to sell millions of CDs of an artist or a group. But a major label is. Without Interscope, Sony, Def Jam, etc, we would not have the success of Nelly, 50 Cent, Eminem, etc. Some might say "good!" but the reality is that a lot of families eat because of Nelly, 50 Cent, and Eminem and artists who sell a lot of CDs. Corporate America pays rap artists a lot of money every year to do endorsements, promotions, tours, etc, and they would not exist without mainstream market penetration. In terms of business, this is an excellent thing. In terms of the culture, I don't know if it's such a good thing to have such overt commercialism and materialism. I'm not here for an esoteric discussion on the effects of capitalism on society. I exist to make sure artists are paid fairly and properly by those who want to exploit their art form.
What I have noticed personally, is that rap reaching such a huge segment of the population is sparking discussions regarding race. Kids who normally would have no access to anyone who doesn't look like them, now have to deal with other races. It can be as simple as white kids, Asian kids, Latino kids, and Black kids all coming together for a concert or for a discussion surrounding their favorite artists. Black performers are now embracing white audiences. Suburban white kids have a definite understanding of the experience through the eyes of their favorite artists. Puffy's kids and Jay Z's kids will be going to school and sitting next to Donald Trump's kids and Bill Gates' kids. Maybe in a few generations we can wipe out racism as we know it today!
Have you ever considered writing a book of sorts which young artists could use for an insight into the industry that they otherwise might not get?
Yes. I am in the process of writing a book now. My fear is that I won't reach my market because they do not like to read.
Would you ever consider taking the Rap Coalition abroad in some form, and targetting hiphop scenes in other nations?
Eventually. The music industries outside of the US are still so small that it would be very costly to do so.
Have you ever come to the UK and experienced our hiphop scene? If so, what did you think?
Yep. I am in the UK once a year. My attorney, Jay Quatrini from Davenport & Lyons, spends two weeks in London and two weeks in New York, every month. He has been doing this since the early 90s. I have a VERY solid handle on what's going on in the UK's music scene. In comparison to the US it is much smaller and more intimate. The style is different and the lyrical subject matter is different. The opportunity for financial control is the same however. Also, the need for someone trustworthy to help artists from the less savory folks is needed too.
Would you like to end the interview with some shout out's or final messages?
If you are getting into the music industry with the intention of having control of your own career, it is important to surround yourself with a competent and experienced team. No one can do it alone! Research the hell out of this industry before you jump in with both feet. It can either be a vicious sea swarming with sharks, or it can be a wonderful and exciting way to make a living. The direction your career goes is in direct proportion to how much you learn and what moves you choose to make!
And coming very soon…