Pictured above is Lyor Cohen, former Warner Music Group chairman and veteran hip hop culture vulture, according to Roc-A-Fella Records co-founder Dame Dash.
Nearly a decade after the dissolution of Roc-a-Fella Records, Dame is lately settling old scores and picking new fights via indie website interviews and Instagram rants affixed to photos of Cohen as well as Hot 97 host and DJ Funkmaster Flex, former Def Jam president Joie Manda, and hip hop brand mogul Steve Stoute.
In his public feuding with Stoute in particular, Dame has frequently cited two wince-inducing brand endorsement deals as evidence of Stoute’s corny capitalism: Jay Z's Reebok S. Carters, which he believed diminished his brand, and Mary J. Blige singing about crispy chicken in a swiftly panned and scrapped commercial for Burger King. (Stoute and his firm have denied involvement in the Burger King campaign.)
The bout of the month, however, is Dame Dash vs. Funkmaster Flex, who's twice dedicated several minutes of his afternoon show to disparage Dame's career and alienation from the music industry. Dame clapped at Flex's subservency to Hot 97 and Emmis Communications' programming directives in an interview on the Combat Jack Show podcast last Friday. Answering Flex’s accusation that “culture vulture” is code for “rich white people” and "white rap fans," alternatively, Dame argues that Steve Stoute, for one, is proof that exploitation in hip-hop isn’t just a matter of black vs. white, but also artists vs. executives, and creativity vs. power.
We have just witnessed a major sports franchise in a major city be forced out the hands of a billionaire.And so can a culture from a station— Chuck D (@MrChuckD) June 9, 2014
Meanwhile, Public Enemy frontman Chuck D is 100-plus hours deep into a Twitter rant against Hot 97, sparring with morning co-host and former programming director Ebro Darden over the quality of the station’s programming as well as its annual Summer Jam lineups. Where Chuck D argues that Hot 97 has a duty to promote less pop rap and less derogatory content, Peter Rosenberg answers, “No one owns hip hop. It’s a collective culture, and we all do our best to support it.”
So loaded with various resentments, “culture vulture” is something of a catch-all, kill-all epithet these days, especially since Pusha T revived the term on his acclaimed solo debut last year. Yet the culture's always had villains. In Dame's estimation, there are radio programming lords like Ebro. There are skeevy executives like Stoute. To rap's core fanbase, there are peripheral artists like Macklemore and Flo Rida who, while globally successful, stand at the margins of regard among rap fans and critics alike. Even with co-signs from #realrap acts like Meek Mill, SchoolBoy Q, and B.I.G. Krit, Macklemore is written up/off as a tourist. There are white kids, who ruin everything.
Everyone is welcome at the table but don't let them tell you it's not Black Music. Never, ever. The devil is a lie.— Reggie O$$É (@Combat_Jack) June 8, 2014
All this appropriation angst is older than Macklemore, older than Eminem, older than N.W.A; it is, in fact, older than hip-hop. It is the history of black music, word to Louis Armstrong and Chuck Berry. If you indulge this notion that art and its attendant culture can be stolen, rather than remixed, by outsiders, you’re still left with the question of whether, say, Macklemore is truly an outsider just by virtue of his being white, when he’s been rapping longer than many young, indisputable fans have been listening.
Meanwhile, Dame Dash is blackballed, Chuck D is rolled under an M20 bus, Beanie Sigel is broke, Peedi Crack is nowhere to be found, and Macklemore isn’t quite billable for all that red ink, now is he? Jabbing at goofy white boys is fun sport but if we're out to "save" and preserve the culture, we should mind when Def Jam's corporate board and balance sheet pressures Jay Z into recording the worst album of his career, or when the very same Lyor shelves Lupe for three years and then emerges from his office to patronize the artist’s fanbase with a boombox.
It's a wack and bitter perspective that casts scrutiny and aspersions onto the least powerful players of all—artists and fans—to the quiet relief of the programming directors and executive hustlers, including Dame Dash, so indie and pure, who nonetheless allgedly bilked Curren$y for $1.5 million in 2011. Dame owes Curren$y. Dame owes Sigel. Birdman owes Manny. Puffy, a mogul who's undeniably "of the culture," has gaffled more artists than history can tally. All this funky accounting and formalized warfare of record contracts; this is the agony of black American music. Hipsters are the distraction. Macklemore is the petty effigy. Such as Elvis is forever the celebrity scapegoat for the savvy of Sun Records.
Rick Rubin exists; white fans attend festivals featuring rappers; novelty rappers spit successfully, and yet their impact is marginal to the life and good times of your average rap fan. The culture stands, though artists do fall, sometimes they fall hard, often at the hands of a powerful few who do, occasionally, betray the artform, the artists, and the culture. Peeping Beanie Sigel's latest YouTube appearances right now, I must assume that Sigel lives on a Broad Street bench. Juelz Santana is out here shilling for pyramid schemes. DMX is nothing but stubble and spectacle and bones on a platter at the heart of an evacuated dining room. The vultures ate him alive.