The Dark Side of the Music Industry
‘A Jedi’s strength flows from The Force. But beware of the dark side. Anger, fear, aggression – the dark side of The Force are they. Easily they flow, quick to join you in a fight.’
The words of the wise Master Yoda from the ‘Star Wars’ film universe ring true in any walk of life. Yes, even in the world we here, at Drooble, love and explore – the world of music. Art inspires us all; a musician’s strength really does flow from it. But the music industry has its own dark side and its roots lie exactly the diminutive Jedi Master teaches us that they do – in the feelings of fear, aggression and rage. And just like Yoda’s pupils are taught to guard themselves from this elusive dark side, young musicians all around the world should try and do the same. The examples of fallen masters of the art of music are countless and in this article we’ll deal with some of the most famous of them.
Perhaps no rivalry in the history of music has been as brutal and as unforgettable as the feud between the rappers from the East Coast and the West Coast of the American hip-hop scene. The rivalry began in the early 1990’s. The artists of the West Coast established themselves in a very short order as some of the most influential figures in the history of rap music. Leaders among them were the members of The N.W.A. who remain famous and talked about to this very day.
Eazy-E at the time was the owner and manager of Ruthless records, Ice Cube released the most successful albums of his career and the now legendary Doctor Dre ran Death Row records alongside Suge Knight. In 1992 Dre released one of the most influential hip hop albums of all time in The Chronic and brought to international fame new stars such as Snoop Dogg, Warren G and the great Tupac Shakur.
Meanwhile the East Coast took notice. Young rappers in their 20’s such as Nas and the Wu-Tang Clan released their debut albums in the first half of the 1990’s causing the so-called East Coast Renaissance. In 1994 the then 22-year- old Notorious B.I.G. released Ready to Die, considered by many to be a hip-hop classic.
On November 30 th of 1994 the first shots of the war between the two musical factions were fired – quite literally. Tupac Shakur was robbed at gunpoint and shot at in the lobby of Quad Recording Studios in Manhattan. He publicly accused The Notorious B.I.G. and Sean ‘Puff Daddy’ Combs of Bad Boy records of involvement in the incident. They, of course, denied having anything to do with the shooting. Nevertheless, the two released a song called ‘Who Shot Ya?‘ shortly after the incident which 2Pac and the majority of the hip hop community interpreted it as B.I.G.’s way of taunting him despite Combs explicitly stating that the song was recorded before the shooting.
Verbal barbs continued to fly between the warring sides in songs, ceremonial speeches and interviews. Throughout all of 1995 the media became heavily involved and dubbed the rivalry a coastal rap war, reporting on it continually and causing the fans of the music to take sides. It all led up to September 7, 1996, when Tupac Shakur was fatally shot in a drive-by shooting in Las Vegas. Mere six months later his Eastern counterpart The Notorious B.I.G. was also killed in a drive-by shooting in Los Angeles.
Thus the rap genre, the hip-hop culture and the entire world of music lost two of the most gifted, talented and best-selling rap artists of all time. Their names have turned into legends; albums that were recorded by them in life have been released posthumously and have achieved platinum status; and their legacies serve as eternal reminders to the musical world of what happens when professional competition turns into a personal rivalry.
The creator of the 27 Club. The most famous mass murderer in the world of music. The biggest enemy of all celebrities and the best friend of fame and fortune. That’s what addiction is. Just a look at its victims between 1969 and 1971 will give you every piece of evidence you need to know in order to see that I’m not exaggerating in the slightest.
Brian Jones, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison all died at the age of 27 in that time frame. All of their deaths became the cause of media speculation and conspiracy theories that continue to be the subject of discussion to this day. And while details may be disputed, one fact remains clear – addiction caused the downfall of all of these rock legends.
All of them had troubles with alcohol and drug abuse. Many would argue that such substances were the only way these great artists could at least temporarily get out of the material world they despised and did not fully understand. But in the end these same substances ruined the final parts of their lives and careers.
Brian Jones, founder of The Rolling Stones, was asked to leave the group he had formed on the 8 th of June, 1969. Hendrix, described by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as ‘arguably the greatest instrumentalist in the history of rock music’, was booed and jeered at his final live performances in Europe. Before his death Jim Morrison’s erratic behavior caused concerts by The Doors to be cancelled and was arrested on multiple occasions. All of these great pioneers left behind a musical legacy of incredible proportions yet each of them were tainted in the end by their own addictions.
Kurt Cobain in the 1990’s and Amy Winehouse in the beginning of the 2010’s followed that same fate. Their deaths gave fuel to speculations and became the stuff of legends. Both of them left their imprints on the genres of rock and roll, jazz, grunge and blues. And both left this world at the fragile age of 27, an age at which few artists have produced their best work and an age at which most artists hit their creative stride and release their greatest work. Addiction defeated them and took them away from their legions of devoted fans that continue to sing their praises and listen to their music to this day – and will continue to do so long afterwards.
Finally, the problem with corporate greed is just as painfully topical in the world of music as it is in all other walks of life. We have all heard about big record labels that steal money from their artists, exploit their stars to gain greater fortune and give no chances to young up-and- comers. These major record labels are like the Wall Street of music. From The Big Six that functioned in 1988 – Warner Music Group, EMI, Sony, BMG, Universal Music Group and PolyGram – only three continue their existence today having absorbed their other competitors and established themselves as financially dominant on the music market.
There are many reasons why a label ‘goes cold’ on an artist: the person who signed them might have been sacked, leaving them without a champion; they might not have delivered a record that's good enough; or the label might have been bought by a bigger company. It's debatable which is worse: being screwed by your label when a record is successful; having your record released without any promotion; or not being allowed to release your music while you sit out your contract. Perhaps the latter is the most frustrating situation for an artist.
Either way, young performers quickly find out how difficult it is to juggle ‘business-ing and musician-ing’. At that point of their careers they can’t afford the services of managers, agents and so forth, and are quite vulnerable to becoming the victims of such corporate schemes. No wonder the late, great Prince compared record contracts to ‘slavery’ in an interview with The Rolling Stone in 2015 and encouraged young artists not to sign with the major labels.
Music superstars have bypassed the problem by creating their own labels – in the case of Metallica, that’s Blackened Recordings. But even the most commercially successful heavy metal band in history had to wait until their 10 th studio album ‘Hardwired… To Self-Destruct’ to release a record solely through Blackened. What’s left for a debuting performer?
Conflict, greed, the passage of time, and mental illness – these are the main themes in Pink Floyd’s legendary eighth album ‘The Dark Side of The Moon’ according to the almighty Wikipedia. Are those the elements of the dark side of the Moon though, or the dark side of the music industry? Or The Force? Or life as a whole? After all, to us at Drooble, music is life. And while we should treat its dark side with respect and caution, study it and try to evade it, we shouldn’t fear it. The dark side of anything is an inseparable part of the whole thing. And the only way we can create music, use The Force or live our lives the way we want to, is to find a much needed balance between darkness and light.
If Master Yoda was a part of our community at Drooble, he’d say ‘May The Music be with us all’.