Wednesday, March 31, 2004

Jobs in Hip-Hop

Apart from the obvious reaction to this little joyride (which of course is: "hey, that was our tax money you hosed up the wall - but then, what's new?"), let's stop and think about the recorded reason for this grant.

To the more gullible, a continuing justification for the trip - nobody has yet leapt to the defence of the reported 'chilling out' in Hawaii, Fiji, and Paris - is the quite reasonable notion of eventual jobs in hip-hop. One at a time, then.

Hip-hop is now regarded as being 25 (some would say 30) years old. That's a long time for any musical genre, and it shows. According to Nick Crowe (hat-tip to Dennis Dutton at Arts and Letters Daily),

"change is the only option left for a form once built on innovation, but now characterised by self-limiting dogma and paucity of ideas".

And that change, oh heavenly irony - is coming from.... po' white trash like Eminem. The article mentions "the state of emergency in hip-hop". Hmm: if this was a stock, I'd be selling.

So, it seems that the creative side of hip-hop is dying. And that this could have been discerned by a few minutes Googling by the grants advisers. But they're just bureaucrats (even if closely related to the applicant). What about those 'jobs'?

Any sort of artistic endeavour is generally driven by passion. Characters and storylines that rumble around the head until they have to be let out. Fingers that twitch around figures, riffs, patterns, sequences on any musical instrument you like. The need to adopt personae - masks - and parade around as not-oneself. The urge to make visible, in some medium, an inner vision. And early hip-hop was no exception.

Funnily enough, there tend not to be advertisements for 'jobs' in all this. Think how Marquez, JWM Turner, Tom Waits, or Peter Jackson got started. Not by answering ads. It was that pesky inner passion.

Sure, there are 'jobs' around art of any sort. Roadies, managers, ticket-clippers of all kinds, equipment, material and chemical propellant suppliers, groupies, lawyers, marketers, copywriters, security - the list is long. And they can occasionally be found (at least the more legal ones can) in the press, in specialist magazines, and on the tear-off tabs of hand-written sheets of paper on pinboards anywhere.

But, here's the catch. These jobs are generic and contractual. It's the film industry's MO: get the idea, script it out, assemble a company, make a team, make the film, disband the team. It's not a job as much as a series of projects. Anyone in or around these industry groupings knows that. And you tend to be invited in - head-hunted. And that's for the inner circle.

Further out - the security guys, roadies are just strong backs. Groupies, ditto, plus weak minds. Equipment suppliers, they're specialised retailers. Chemical suppliers, they're hoping to stay well under the radar, and that clients don't lab-test the marching powder for purity. Lawyers, marketers, as one artist, Robert Cray sang 'You can tell me a boat full of lawyers just sank' - enough said.

These 'jobs' are everywhere and nowhere. So: 'Jobs in Hip-Hop'. Generic, short-term, contractual, insecure positions, if you're not the artist(e). Bit like supermarket shelf-fillers, really.

If you are the artist(e) - why pick a genre so obviously flaring and dying? Why not create an entirely new one? Why not let those restless urges out on a world always eager for the next big thang?

Inside tip: don't wait till you see it advertised. It'll be waaay too late then.

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