op-ed: when black music isn’t accessible to blacks – thoughts on kendrick lamar ticket prices
May 2, 2017
By Antwon Herron / Wear Your Voice Mag*, AFROPUNK Contributor
Since the release of his third studio album, DAMN, rapper Kendrick Lamar has been receiving a mountain of backlash for his song “Humble.” His bona fides as a “woke,” “socially conscious” artist (a description I take great issue with) have been called into question.
However, while most of the focus behind assessing Lamar’s wokeness has been on evaluating his lyrics, I want to ask if anyone, lately, looked at the price of attending an actual Kendrick Lamar concert?
The average price lies somewhere between more than $120 to more than $1,000. Little wonder, then, that the average concert-goer courting intoxication, jumping, screaming, chanting and reciting Lamar’s blackity-black lyrics are white.
To be fair, Lamar is not the only artist seeing the cost of attending his concerts skyrocket. Remember the controversy that Bey had to wade through over the price of admission of her concerts? Promoters and others in the live-concert industry largely set the prices for these tours, but megastars aren’t walking away empty-handed. According to this chart, Kendrick took home about $150,000 a show in 2014 — and his star has risen significantly since then.
And in terms of private taste and lifestyle, from what we can gather, Lamar — relatively speaking that is, compared to his more ostentatious peers in the industry — flies under the radar, despite the financial perks flowing from his album sales. He doesn’t peacock. He doesn’t don jewelry on his person with a price tag that is equivalent of 10 people’s college tuition or mortgage. And, speaking of mortgage, his house — though pricey to the average black homebuyer plying the market — is quaint and, indeed, seems “humble.”
However, whatever personal, anti-capitalist attributes Lamar may have doesn’t affect, or has very little influence on, the rise or drop in ticket prices, and begs us to raise a familiar question:
Should black people — one of the poorest (if not the poorest) communities in the states — shell out exorbitant amounts of money to partake in the experience of seeing their favorite black musicians perform live?
When you say it out loud, and if you’re committed to far left politics, the answer seems pretty clear: no.
Stars like Kendrick and Bey should put more pressure on the industry to keep things affordable. Individual blacks with some financial clout and a huge platform must be dedicated to helping the black community, as a whole, survive. Growing out of this mindframe is the belief that individual black musicians and artists committed to this objective, to the progress of the race, will, or should, lower the price of tickets to ensure the collective enjoyment of the black community — assuming, of course, as I do, that the music was made for a black audience.
This is the central tenet of racial uplift ideology.
However, under capitalism, under a masochistic economic system based on the principle of “blind” forces ruthlessly intervening into the activities of human ecology, things are never as obvious as what we prefer.
Or, perhaps they are, but we continue to believe that blackness can save or fundamentally alter the basic or rudimentary principles of capitalist production. It can’t.
In general, the price of concert tickets in recent years has risen to keep apace with the changing landscape of the American music industry. According to some reports, as the mass popularity of streaming music online became more fully integrated into the music industry’s business models and the consumer habits of legions of fans, album sales for most marquee artists, regardless of color or ethnicity, have nosedived. What this means is, white artists and their label backers are struggling mightily to turn the level of profit they were accustomed to seeing in the pre-internet, pre-streaming age. And we all know that when white America contracts a cold, Black America can expect to develop pneumonia.
Absent cutting costs on the supply-side end, including slashing remunerations for the artist — and by “artist,” I mean both the individual on the stage and the team surrounding this person — there’s very little black artists can do to offset this trend, especially when they are as much invested in the undisturbed functioning of this economic system as anyone else, despite a history of black musicians facing exploitation and negligible rewards for their creativity.
There’s also promoters, security and other miscellaneous staff looking to make a decent living, and that must be considered.
If black artists intend to compete, maintain a firm foothold in the music business, and protect a certain level of respect and creditability amongst their industry peers, the smart business move would be to raise the price of their live performances. Smart, that is, for them. But disastrous for the particular demographic their music is made for.
On the demand side of the equation, in pricing America’s black population out of entertainment and recreation, we find an ethnic community in desperate, dire straits, still wrestling with the existential repercussions of a systemically produced high unemployment rate (14 percent), intergenerational poverty and a steadily growing race-based wealth gap.
Lamar, I’m sure, who is acquainted with poverty and hunger, understands this. I suspect that most of the people in his camp understand the precariousness of the times, as well.
I also suspect that they’re not willing to take a pay cut in order to ease, somewhat, the burden of organizing these events that have been so crucial to the psychic wellbeing of the community from which they sprung.
*This post was originally published on www.wearyourvoicemag.com
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