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Dan Charnas on "The Big Payback: The History of the Business of Hip-Hop"

Marketplace Staff Dec 31, 2010

Dan Charnas on "The Big Payback: The History of the Business of Hip-Hop"

Marketplace Staff Dec 31, 2010


JEREMY HOBSON: If you take a look at Billboard’s list of the top selling albums of the week, you’ve got a lot of hip hop artists in the top 20. Diddy, Rihanna, Kanye West.

Well, that’s no surprise to Dan Charnas. He got into the hip hop business two decades ago and he’s just written a book on the history of the business of Hip Hop. He joins us now. Good morning.

DAN CHARNAS: Good morning.

HOBSON: So first give us a sense of the industry that we’re talking about here. How fast has the hip-hop industry grown and how big is it today?

It started as just people going to clubs and parties and now it’s all over the world. The last French election there were rap theme songs for each Presidential candidate.

HOBSON: How did it go from the clubs of Harlem to what it has become today, which is really just as big as any other genre of music?

CHARNAS: It wasn’t even thought of as music. It was just stuff that was done at parties. And somebody had an idea to put that on a record and that was Silvia Robinson, of Sugar Hill records, and her record was rappers delight. And the auspicious thing about that record is that even though it was the first record, it was a huge record.

HOBSON: What’s the biggest disaster of the hip-hop business that you cover in this book?

CHARNAS: It’s the story of a small vinyl printing plant in Los Angeles called Macola Records. And it was founded by a guy named Don McMillan and these guys in the mid-1980s kept giving him these records to press up and finally he started distributing them nationally. And what happens with this guy is that he doesn’t sign these artists to contracts, and in the end, ends up loosing all of them. And these artists include, Eazy-E, Dr. Dre, NWA, Ice Cube.

HOBSON: All along the way as you write in your book there’s a relationship between the hip-hop artist and businessmen who are making it happen. Both have a lot to gain and a lot to lose from each other. How did each side walk that line?

CHARNAS: At first, it was a sort of a traditional artist-to-industry relationship. But as we moved into the ’90s, artists became entrepreneurs themselves. Sean Combs, obviously, Jay-Z, you’re talking about people who have been hustlers from the beginning, coming from some of the communities that Jay and Puff came from, you kind of know how to make a buck because you’ve been watching your parents hustle, you watched the guys on the street corner hustle. Hip-hop draws on that energy.

HOBSON: Dan Charnas, author of The Big Payback: The History of the Business of Hip-Hop. Thanks so much for joining us.

CHARNAS: Thank you.

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