Life Cycles of Inequity: The Hip-Hop Hustle, Then and Now

Contact: Rebekah Spicuglia

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September 10, 2014 (New York, NY) --  Throughout 2014, Colorlines' “Life Cycles of Inequity” series explores the ways in which inequity impacts the lives of black men. Each installment focuses on a life stage or event in which that impact has been shown to be particularly profound. In the fourth installment of the series, Colorlines released today an exclusive interview and video feature, “The Hip-Hop Hustle, Then and Now.” Renowned blogger, radio host/DJ, and video producer Jay Smooth talks with the pioneering artists working against the odds to recreate that success today. With this interview and video, Colorlines presents an intimate human portrait and explains how the business of selling mix-tapes and CDs on the street evolved into a common strategy for young artists trying to make a living inside what is now a massive, global industry.

“The ‘rap CD hustlers’ New Yorkers walk by every day present a perfect microcosm of hip-hop's ever-evolving role in our culture,” said Jay Smooth. “A complex blend of art and commerce, these young people are committed to overcoming adversity on their own terms.”

Hawking their homemade CDs on street corners, these young rap artists are usually black and male, and generally viewed as a nuisance, sometimes a menace. But speak to these men firsthand and a different picture emerges, as they see few lanes open for them and are committed to working on their own terms to carve out a path toward their dreams.

“Young black artists deeply influence multibillion dollar cultural enterprise--without recognition or pay,” said Kai Wright, Colorlines Editor-at-Large.

“The Hip-Hop Hustle, Then and Now” includes:

  • Exclusive interview with veteran rappers Percee P and Duo Live, who were among the first to work full-time selling their own music on the street in the early 1990s. Their work is traced directly to hip-hop's earliest traditions of "doing for self." While sharing misgivings about how the "CD hustle" has evolved, they take pride in having helped carve a path for young artists committed to working on their own to reach their dreams.
  • Day-in-the-Life Video following rapper/producer Ryan Riggs and his "Rise Young" crew, showing the human story behind the "CD hustlers" that New Yorkers brush past every day. As fame and fortune prove elusive, and they find both society and the music industry's doors closed to them as young black males, Riggs leads a collective of artists that gather everyday in his Canarsie, Brooklyn basement studio, trying to eke out a future by selling homemade CDs.

Hip-hop is not the only place young black artists are trying to make a living, while finding their style, dance and sound appropriated by mainstream performers. Colorlines will also be publishing a photo essay tomorrow, excerpted from photographer Gerard Gaskin's recent book, "Legendary: Inside the House Ballroom Scene,” which chronicles the New York City ballroom scene, with intimate portraits that span decades. From Madonna's 1990 "Vogue" to the Scissor Sisters' 2012 "Let's Have a Kiki," Top 40 performers have consistently mined the house ballroom scene of black and Latino LGBTQ communities around the country for inspiration.

Previous installments in this series highlighted:

The video for “The Hip-Hop Hustle, Then and Now” was produced by Jay Smooth and André Robert Lee, award-winning documentary filmmaker. As veteran reporters, analysts and chroniclers of the black male experience, they bring together different vantages over decades together in a unique collaboration. For interviews or more information, please contact [email protected].

Colorlines is a daily news site where race matters, featuring award-winning investigative reporting and news analysis. Colorlines is published by Race Forward, a national organization that advances racial justice through research, media and practice.