Confessions of a Failed Hip-Hop Publicist: An Open Retirement Letter

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For decades, now 40-year-old Sebastien Elkouby has worked as a talent scout, publicist, journalist, and promoter who tried to shine a light on hip-hop with substance. As 2013 starts to pick up speed, Sebastien has come to the realization that he's had enough. In his open retirement letter he offers insight into his perspective of an industry that he's no longer happy with. Even if you don't agree with him, it's a fascinating point of view from someone who has spent years trying to balance out good intentions with a sustainable career in a sometimes greedy and complicated industry.

Click through to read his full, unedited letter.

Click to start the list

  • robin traktor

    “Behind every rapper who claims to be a thug, there are countless professionals who send their kids to private schools while promoting music which sends our kids to prison.” this is a little shortsighted no? It’s not the music you listen to that makes you a criminal, it’s this socio-economic crisis, generational poverty, education and bad parenthood imo the music you listen too is maybe another result of those factors…

  • -____-

    Not only that, but he said he grew up on Public Enemy, and he’s upset about the violence, money, and strippers portrayed in hip-hop now? Those rappers were just as bad, if not worse, about spreading violence, money, and strippers.

    Also, if every time someone listens to Big Sean or Nicki Minaj and goes to jail. Than if I listen to Azealia Banks, I’m gay. Or if I listen to Deadmau5 I do molly. It’s the same logic applications that he’s using.

  • http://www.billcollectorz.com Your Daddy

    I don’t think the unnamed commenter has ever heard Public Enemy. Their music is far from being about violence money and strippers. Their message is about the oppression blacks in America. Robin Tracker makes a good point, however seams to be ignorant of the other half of the quote. “Art imitates life and life imitates art.” Entertainment and art are big parts of the social fabric and therefor contribute to its ills. Oscar Wildes 1989 essay entitled “The Decay of Lying” proposes that life imitates art far more than art imitates life. You all should read it. Further more, radio doesn’t simply play what the people want. If that were true we would hear a lot more Kendrick Lemar on the radio since he has out sold many of the artists including those who dominate air waves. He gets a little play but artists with a negative message get far more even though their record isn’t doing as well. This suggests an attempt to influence listeners

  • Devin Middleton

    I appreciate the kind of integrity it takes to walk away from a paying job, but I just personally hate this ‘old head’ attitude people have nowadays. First off, Big Sean, Rick Ross, and Nicki Minaj talk about more than just clubs and sex. Still, they do allow themselves to enjoy life and have fun. They’re people too. They do the same things we do, but we complain b/c theyre ‘role models.’ No, they are musicians, not our nannies. They are not here to raise our kids for us. Most new rappers are in their mid 20s. They are still figuring out life as it is. What were you doing at 24? Going to clubs and meeting alot of women? Probably,n even if not who are to judge? Most of these rappers aren’t making music for 10 year olds, theyre making music for people in their same age range who can relate. Yo Gabba Gabbas got that demographic covered (and lets not act like their music isnt dope).

  • Devin Middleton

    Also, @Confusion

    Will you guys be bringing Open Mic back anytime soon?

  • -____-

    Money: “Flavor Flav shake yo’ booty
    Get rich, do your dance, it’s your duty
    Stack paper, and let’s get crazy
    Throw your hands in the air then be Swayze
    Flavor Flav shake yo’ booty
    Get rich, do your dance, it’s your duty
    Stack paper, and let’s get crazy
    Throw your hands in the air then be Swayze
    Flavor Flav shake yo’ booty
    Get rich, do your dance, it’s your duty
    Stack paper, and let’s get crazy
    Throw your hands in the air then be Swayze”

    Violence: “Made the call, took the fall
    Broke the laws
    Not my fault they’re fallin’ off
    Known as fair square
    Throughout my years
    So I growl at the livin’ foul
    Black to the bone my home is your home
    So welcome to the Terrordome
    Subordinate terror
    Kickin’ off an era
    Cold deliverin’ pain
    My 98 was 87 on a record yo
    So now I go Bronco”

    Strippers: “Made the call, took the fall
    Broke the laws
    Not my fault they’re fallin’ off
    Known as fair square
    Throughout my years
    So I growl at the livin’ foul
    Black to the bone my home is your home
    So welcome to the Terrordome
    Subordinate terror
    Kickin’ off an era
    Cold deliverin’ pain
    My 98 was 87 on a record yo
    So now I go Bronco”

  • http://www.billcollectorz.com Your Daddy

    Every HipHop artists has made at least a couple of songs about money. That’s not even in question. The “Violent” lyrics you quoted are from a song about chucks anger at the many racially charged hate crimes of the error. That’s why he says I growl at the livin foul. And subordinate terror and so on. If you would have finished the reading the lyric that you obviously just looked up on the web you would have seen “when I’m mad I put it down on pad” and a few references to specific hate crimes in New York and the nation. And you missed strippers.

  • http://www.twitter.com/jeevens Jeremy

    @Devin: The issue is that while prominent figures like Nicki Minaj may cover other topics, many of them have an image or brand that leans heavily towards a combination of sex, drugs, clubs, and violence. Many of their big selling singles revolve around those topics. Many of their press shots are blatant in this regard, and their music videos are often overly sexualised (many would argue to the point of objectifying those in them and contributing to a culture of misogyny).
    They are role models by nature of their job. They’re famous, in the public eye, and more importantly, they strongly appeal to a young (often malleable) demographic. They are role models whether they like it or not. They have every choice – if they don’t want to be role models – to stop. Retire from the public eye. This isn’t some disservice the world is doing them by making them famous and rich, they have a great deal of autonomy in the matter. But to pretend they aren’t role models or influential is naive.
    I don’t think the point being made is that rappers shouldn’t talk about clubs and relationships and things relevant to them, but more so that many of them dangerously glamourise those topics, influencing people who don’t know better. When kids hear that on the radio or internet or wherever (let’s not pretend that kids aren’t regularly exposed to this music, despite the intended demographic the artist aims for), and that’s all they’re bombarded with, it becomes unhealthy – because it becomes all too easy for them to develop the mindset of “this is all there is to life and this is what is important”.
    You’re right, they are people too – but as artists, (I believe) they have a degree of responsibility.

  • gk

    dude sounds like a youtube comment real hip hop warrior stfu dude. to say that music is the root of our societal woes is ignorant and counterproductive. rampant materialism and sexism and homophobia in our culture isnt a result of hip hop…the fact that its in hip hop is a result of our culture.

    art should be judged for arts sake dont try and bring morality into the argument. i agree there are problems and messages that need to be addressed but like i said these are problems that go beyond the music.

    and fucking lool just google searched this guy of course this dude is white.

    are you telling me rappers werent talkign about sex and money and drugs back in the day?

    this whole old school real hip hop argument is stale and harms hip hop creativity more than anything..

  • j

    We need Lauryn Hill back. She’s just an example of Hip
    Hop artists who’s music crossed platforms. She’s not a role model but her music was radio friendly and always had a great message. Those time in Hip Hop seem to be long gone except for a few out of the bunch.

  • Devin Middleton

    @Jeremy I see your point, but to give you a bit of background, I volunteer with a youth center and there was a recent death of one of the members this past summer. These kids dont have fathers, some have brothers that have died, so to a few their youth leaders are all they have. We had a meeting after this person’s death, and I was astounded by how few of these kids would talk about it, even when you could see on their faces how much they were struggling with it. These kids don’t know how to talk about certain things and be vulnerable, and some of them won’t learn for quite awhile. Now what if one of them became a famous rapper. Their only means of expressing themself may be music, but it may not be very self aware. It may come off as violent, angry, ignorant, whatever, but sometimes writing about it may be the only way to make sense of it all and not get lost in it. Maybe when that musician is older, a further removed, they’ll have better insight to their trauma. But these artist are their own people with their own demons, and we cant expect that just b/c theyre in the public light, they suddenly mature 10 years and become proper role models. They are young, and its not their rresponsibility to raise someone else’s child. We cant say that just b/c certain parents cant keep their kids from listening to the radio, or even just having an open enough environment to talk everyday about their attitudes towards sex and drugs, that these rappers now become responsible for what happens to them. Further more, if there weren’t real world influences close to home, like in their neighborhoods or in their schools, that pressure these kids into drugs and sex, I dont think we’d see music as a huge determining factor.

  • robin traktor

    @your daddy

    I understand that some people are influenced by the amoral lyrics or by art in general. But i still think that has more to do with that persons background.

  • http://moosetache.over-blog.fr/ Lometto

    It is not because we hear rappers who claim to have guns and shoot that we will do this. In France, it is not the case anyway.
    I like these two aspects of hip-hop. I like the thug atmosphere of Chief Keef or Booba songs, and the sweet ones of other rappers like Oxmo Puccino.

    Sorry for the french references, but a french rapper named Disiz says : “It is the life we’re living that makes the music, not the contrary”.

    Sorry for the english faults.

  • http://www.twitter.com/jeevens Jeremy

    @Devin:
    I totally agree, don’t get me wrong. Most of the onus is on parents and family members, teachers, etc, to provide a welcoming and safe place to discuss drugs, sex, relationships, violence, and all of those topics. And if those people don’t provide that, then the youth in question suffer as a result. Parents have a huge responsibility here when it comes to raising their kids. I just kind of feel like while most artists will continue to mature and grow over the course of their careers, from about the age of 20 or so, they should have a level of self-awareness that allows them to (at least partly) comprehend their responsibility to their audience. Especially if they’re famous, they should begin to recognise the effect their music has. I understand how sometimes that doesn’t happen as a result of their situation and upbringing, which is a huge shame, but we need musicians (and most artists in general) to realise somehow just how much power they have.
    And you’re right, it’s partly real world influences too. But I kind of think if kids do lack that open environment for discussion, if they lack strong parental role models, if they lack a basic education, then it’s all too easy for them to resort to figures like Chief Keef as role models and mentors. Whereas if we had musicians that didn’t glamourise violence and sex and drugs so much, it wouldn’t be glamourised for these youth looking up to them. I don’t know. As you pointed out, it’s kind of a problem that holds little hope outside of intervention with education and family matters. We can’t stop people making music that can be detrimental to youth, but we can teach the youth how interpret the art and explore issues that matter.

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  • gioforeal

    “Well I guess you got the answers,Sebastien!”

  • http://twitter.com/troybrowntv TroyBrownTV

    Very deep article. I’m still sorting thru my feelings on this one. I agree with his principle of not selling a product that you feel is destructive and that you don’t believe in. I wasn’t really around for the RunDMC/Afrika Bambataa era. History is important and it’s a good thing that he is able to teach hip hop history to kids. On the other hand, I like artists like 2Chainz, Nicki Minaj and Trinidad James. They make adult content, and market it to children and teenagers which is very dangerous. At the same time, as an adult I like to hear their records and I don’t want to see it taken off the table because it doesn’t send the right message. I’m at an age now where I’m not looking to rappers as role models. At this age my role models are MLK, Mandela, Malcolm and the like but that wasn’t always the case. I agree with something NORE said that broached this subject which is that it is the artists’ responsibility to make sure that the art isn’t misinterpreted. I want to see artists saying (as 2Chainz and Trinidad do) that they are not gangsters and their music isn’t designed to fuel gangsterism.

  • http://twitter.com/troybrowntv TroyBrownTV

    From a business standpoint, one thing that is for certain; this guy didn’t know that people sell and make millions off of products they don’t endorse, condone, or give a flying f*ck about. thats always been the case and it will always be the case.