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EVERY SO OFTEN I HEAR A LINE IN A RAP SONG THAT ACTUALLY INSPIRES THOUGHT. SO FOR THIS FIRST INSTALLMENT OF “BETWEEN THE LINES” I EXPLORE A QUOTE FROM GHOSTFACE KILLAH’s VERSE ON “COLD OUTSIDE” …

Rap n****s need to go on strike, so we can get more cash…” -Ghostface Killah, “Cold Outside”

It’s a nightmare scenario for the average hip-hop fan. You click on your favorite blog or login to iTunes and find no new music. Nada. Zilch. Your favorite summer tours like Rock The Bells and Summer Jam are canceled. You tune to your favorite hip-hop radio station and get nothing but static. Rappers have gone on strike.

In the above lyric from “Cuban Linx II,” Ghostface Killa voices the frustration of many working class people and artists in-particular. According to the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (Ifpi) , digital music sales continue to rise, but 95 percent of all digital music is illegally downloaded. So while nine million people bought Lil Wayne’s “Lollipop” single online, millions more stole it.

Even rap’s richest have seen their fortunes shrink during this recession. Jay-Z’s bankroll slipped from $82 million in 2008 to $35 million this year. Over the same period, 50 Cent’s piggy bank declined from $150 Million to $20 million,.[source, Forbes.com] This hardly puts them on the poverty level, but a significant loss nonetheless.

Reacting to the economic slide, labels responded by demanding more from the artist in the form of “360 deals.” Instead of just expecting a slice of record sale profits, an artist must now surrender as well a cut of their live performances, publishing and merchandising rights if they want to get in bed with a major label.

Needless to say, artists are feeling the pinch. Maybe Mr. Dennis Coles is the first to address it out loud, but he certainly won’t be the last.

It’s not the first time rappers have thought that making themselves scarce would improve their lot. Over the years, many MCs — like Jay Z — have threatened retirement. Groups like A Tribe Called Quest have disbanded to underscore the value in their work. As Jay-Z once quipped, “even in my absence my presence is felt.”

But is a hip-hop strike the way to go, or will the fans simply move on to the next MC waiting for a break?

“I would LOVE to see rappers go on strike,” says Wendy Day, founder of The Rap Coalition, a not-for-profit entity created to protect artists from exploitation. She’s been instrumental in negotiating contracts for everyone from Cash Money Records to David Banner.

“The problem with [a strike] is just that we have no unity amongst rappers. And while I am certain a handful would go on strike to better the cause, many selfish rappers would not do it because they wouldn’t want to put their own money/careers on the line like that. We have a severe case of ’I got mine! Get yours…’ in the urban music business…both in front of and behind the cameras!!!”

Shady/Goliath A&R Riggs Morales, who is personally invested in rappers’ being happily employed, understands where Day is coming from.

“Some rappers believe in flooding the market and it helps them to stay relevant in people’s minds,” says Riggs. “While others like Lupe Fiasco, Ludacris, Eminem and Common take their time and release quality projects that are embraced by a loyal fanbase.”

In a previous interview with The Urban Daily and Nodfactor.com, legendary producers Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff explained that they negotiated for their music publishing by refusing to turn in any product.

“It got to a point where we needed ALL of the publishing, or you wouldn’t get the music,” Huff said emphatically.

But is this a viable option for today’s musicians, specifically rappers? Do they need to start making picket signs and planning sit-ins at the radio stations?

“Unions fight for a collective, and the problem is that in the music industry they keep us so divided with individual contracts,” says James Bernard, co-founder of both The Source and XXL magazines. In addition to his pioneering steps in the world of hip-hop journalism, Mr. Bernard has worked extensively as a high level organizer in the Service Employees International Union. “If some people refused to perform under their contracts, other people would step in,” Bernard added.

Artists don’t seem to think rappers can get over themselves enough to organize either.

“Lines are too blurry, the pay scales are too subjective and the nature is too ‘crabs in a barrel,’” says New York MC J-Live. “It’d be nice but I can’t really conceive it.”

If rappers are looking for a motivation to organize, they may need to look past their bank accounts. There are countless examples of artists who become ill, injured or die unexpectedly with no health insurance. It’s deeper than rap.

“There does need to be some organization that recognizes that there is some kind of common interest,” says Bernard. “There’s all sorts of services that people need in common [like] health insurance and contract negotiation. Lawyers become more affordable if you’re sharing the cost. Those are the needs I see.”

So while we feel you on the idea, Ghost, we’re not sure if your peers will have your back on this one.

Tell us what you think. SHOULD RAPPERS GO ON STRIKE?

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