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Is Hip-Hop Being Used To Profit The Prison Industrial Complex?

Submitted by on June 20, 2013 – 9:50 amNo Comment

A little over a year ago, a letter was posted to popular blog Hip Hop Is Read – reportedly by an unnamed former music executive. The letter is pretty long, but it essentially says that all the big time music executives were brought together and asked to promote negative stereotypes in hip hop because the large corporations which own most of our media also have large ownership stakes in private prisons. Mind you, the events of this letter supposedly happened some 20 years ago. Here’s an excerpt:

He explained that the companies we work for had invested millions into the building of privately owned prisons and that our positions of influence in the music industry would actually impact the profitability of these investments. I remember many of us in the group immediately looking at each other in confusion. At the time, I didn’t know what a private prison was but I wasn’t the only one. Sure enough, someone asked what these prisons were and what any of this had to do with us. We were told that these prisons were built by privately owned companies who received funding from the government based on the number of inmates. The more inmates, the more money the government would pay these prisons. It was also made clear to us that since these prisons are privately owned, as they become publicly traded, we’d be able to buy shares. Most of us were taken back by this. Again, a couple of people asked what this had to do with us. At this point, my industry colleague who had first opened the meeting took the floor again and answered our questions. He told us that since our employers had become silent investors in this prison business, it was now in their interest to make sure that these prisons remained filled. Our job would be to help make this happen by marketing music which promotes criminal behavior, rap being the music of choice. He assured us that this would be a great situation for us because rap music was becoming an increasingly profitable market for our companies, and as employee, we’d also be able to buy personal stocks in these prisons. Immediately, silence came over the room. You could have heard a pin drop. I remember looking around to make sure I wasn’t dreaming and saw half of the people with dropped jaws. My daze was interrupted when someone shouted, “Is this a f****** joke?” –  Hip Hop Is Read

Of course, this has all the symptoms of an Internet hoax. First of all, no names are given, meaning we’re not inclined to believe this story actually happened or that the writer was indeed an executive. Second, it was posted on a blog with a note that says “this landed in my inbox one minute ago.” Really? One minute? So we post emails to blogs within seconds of receiving them now? Not likely. Finally, it seems quite direct and a bit overly dramatic. However, being the conspiracy theorist that I am maybe we should consider this for a second, these reasons notwithstanding.

This story is a lot less fantastical when given proper context. Consider the fact that 90% of all media is controlled by a mere six companies, many of which have funds invested in private prison corporations either directly or indirectly.

While the claims that were made in this letter and the other theories sparked are not all true, there is an underlying message here that should be blatantly stated. Hip hop is a billion dollar industry, in no small part because many people and entities (including, but not limited to private prison corporations) benefit from the glamorization of prison culture and other negative stereotypes. These images create an entire culture that the world denigrates and wants to keep under lock and key – and here in America, they’ve found a way to get paid while doing just that.

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