Hip Hop Mathematics: A lesson for Teachers
by Bruce Banter
Ninety-Nine percent of the time when Hip Hop and mathematics are heard in the same sentence, the reference is to the 5 Percent Nation's teachings, which many rappers have been influenced by and permeate much of the lingo of rap, particularly rappers from the Northeast. However in today's mathematics lesson I propose to use simple math to point out a little known fact that can't be emphasized enough. This fact is that the overwhelming majority of rappers are not rich or wealthy. In fact, if they are relying on record sales to live off of, then chances are they are as strapped for cash as most people.
I know you don't believe me but you might believe Jay Z. In November of 2004 Jay-Z told Allison Samuels of Newsweek, "I wanted to set them straight (kids) on the likelihood of them making it, I broke it down to them by saying that they even had a better chance of being an NBA player than they did a rapper. I was, like, 'Keep it real - there are about 200 or more NBA players getting a check. There are only about 10 to 20 rappers that are in the game making money with album after album. Do the math and get your education'."
Jay-Z was basically saying that rappers are not getting paid anything like the public is led to believe. Most teachers today are struggling, trying to get middle school and high school kids to pick realistic career choices but when asked what they want to be kids are choosing rap more and more. This is in part due to the illusion of wealth portrayed on television by music videos or popular entertainment shows such as, Yo MTV Cribs and BET's "How I am living". Most of the material items we see are on loan or rented by record labels and not owned by the artist. It's hard for teachers to fight against these images and try to offer a more realistic example of how they might want to earn a wage in their future.
We could flip through the pages of history and steal excerpts from some of the most famous rappers of today to have the kids hear it coming straight from the horse's mouth. Here are just a few examples of the biggest one of the past 3 years.
Lil Jon August 2005, Lil Jon says he doesn't plan on delivering another album to the label he is signed with. Lil Jon says he hasn't received any royalties from TVT Records and plans to take legal action. He said, "I've had record sales totaling probably like 10 million and I ain't seen no money from the label. None at all. Zip, zero. Show money and production is how I'm getting paid."
Eric B. & Rakim Jan 2004, Eric B and Rakim sue Def Jam. Eric B. believes that "Paid in Full" - in its initial incarnation, re-releases and special editions has raked in more than $100 million from sales and licensing, yet he is saying they were not getting a dime.
Sept 2003, DMX was quoted as saying, "I made 122 million dollars for Def Jam in one #ucking year! How much of that did I see? Three? And it wasn't a gift, it was a loan. How the #uck you gonna loan me? I made you 122 million dollars in one year and you loan me three? #igga #uck you." So DMX retired (he's back for 2005) but had some parting words "I refuse to give another dime to that record label, to Def Jam ... The highest paid artist gets paid 18 cents on the dollar, it's straight robbery. They still own your music and they ask for maybe 27 songs each album and they only use about 16 and give the rest away. It's straight robbery man, I can't be a part of it anymore ... All the radio stations are bought and paid for, it all comes from the heads of the record companies. It's not about talent anymore." DMX added that he would like to start a union to protect the rights of artists. He said, "I actually wanted to start a union. Protect the rights of the artist. We have no one to look out for our rights. We have a few people that look out for our best interest in terms of collecting our money but what about what's in a contract?"
These examples might appear extreme but they are real life situations straight from the artist mouth. The best way to make it sink in to students is prepare a lesson with them doing the numbers. An exercise in mathematics might register in the minds of today youth best because math is so objective. Here's an actual filing by the NY Daily news from 2003.
These are the actual figures compiled from industry sources although the group name is fictional all numbers and situations are real:
New York City's hottest new group is G Murder, a four-piece gangsta' rock group from Brooklyn. Because they've got buzz, the band gets a 15% royalty rate (higher than the traditional 12%), a few points above the usual amount for a new artist.
Its debut, "Crunktastic," goes gold - only 128 of more than 30,000 records reached that level in 2002. The Gold Record Gross: 500,000 albums sell at $16.98 = $8,490,000 The G Murders' royalty is 15% of retail. That's $1,273,500.
But the Contract calls for "packaging deductions" of 25%, so the gross drops to $6,367,500. Then there's promotional albums and giveaways the labels give to wholesalers, retailers, radio and the press. That's a "free goods" charge of 15%, so the gross drops another to $5,094,000. So, the band's royalty is actually: $764,100. The record company keeps the packaging and "free goods" funds. After collecting a $9.99 wholesale price, it also reaps an additional $829,900. The $3,500,000 balance goes to retailers, assuming they sell the record for list price.
Because the band was hot, they got an advance from the record company of $300,000. They spent $200,000 of that recording the album, which included a $50,000 advance to the producer. They pocketed the remaining $100,000. Additionally, the label spent $100,000 making the band's first video, which got them played on MTV2. The band owes all of this money back to the label.
So the royalty drops to $364,100.
But the band's producer also earned a 4% royalty of $203,760, of which he already received $50,000. So the band has to pay him an additional $153,760, reducing their royalty to $210,340.
After pocketing $310,340 (which includes the remaining $100,000 of the advance), the band has to pay their manager 15%, or $46,551, and give 2% of the total deal, or $101,880, to the power lawyer who got them the deal in the first place. That takes the band down to $161,909.
That's not bad money, but it's split four ways, or $40,477.25 each, about the same as a city sanitation worker with two years' experience, without health benefits, vacation and retirement fund. But with, of course, groupies.
Let the students ask their parents how much money they make, if parents decide that is too personal to share have the students ask them how much are their monthly bills and multiply that by 12. Math is the best way to help this sink in.
More lessons in math should follow. Educators must "carpe diem" this and show the youth how unrealistic it is to expect to be a highly paid athlete and that the chance that they will make it as a musical entertainer is even lower but as a highly paid musical entertainer is against all odds. According to the National Federation of State High School associations, the odds at becoming a professional athlete were always bad. The chances of getting into the pros in baseball are 0.50, 0.09 for the NFL, and basketball is even lower. Consider rap odds are lowest of them all even though it has no official governing body like sports. Comparatively a average hard working student has a better chance at becoming a brain surgeon or a successful attorney.
Emphasize that unless you sell millions and millions of records it takes a lot of time before the artist typical 12% royalty rate pays some dividend. Industry expert Wendy Day told me last year "If you have a standard 12 point deal you going to have to pay back millions of dollars in money that was spent to pay radio, studio time, to shoot video from your 12% royalty." Day said the recoding industry is set up like share cropping, you have to pay back all monies that are spent and usually artist don't control how the money is spent.
If this doesn't sink in give them more mathematics until it does.
Released: August 22nd, 2005