photo: Frank Schramm

How a Few Visionaries Brought Underground Black Music to the Masses

After Motown, Black music retreated back into the background — this is how it became mainstream

I started out writing something different.

My mind was focused on the early days of Rap promotions but as I researched how things changed and went down the rabbit hole of names, events, and dollars, I realized I had to write something else.

I thought it was going to be real cut and dry but once you start following the money…

The reality is, no one thought there was any real money in Rap music; not when it first started and record labels thought it was a flash in the pan way of making a quick buck, and not even when rappers began making inroads into the downtown scene amongst artists and white tastemakers.

But there were a couple of individuals that knew. They knew Rap had to be packaged a certain way, they knew that there was a market that had yet to be tapped into, and they knew that at the end of it was a great return.

Some of the names you know. People like Russell Simmons have transcended any one role he played in bringing Rap to a mainstream audience. But it’s the other names that you don’t normally hear, the ones who prefer staying in the background, people who have decades of work under their belt, those are the ones that we’ll be bringing to attention.

We’re going to take you from the days when Jams were local affairs to the more recent times of mega-concerts. It’s a lot of ground to cover, but it’ll be entertaining.

Most people that are into Hip-Hop are familiar with these type flyers. They know about Buddy Esquire and Phase 2. They tout the fact that these flyers were the early crossroads of Writing and Rap.

It was my inroads, how I made my money. You want me to draw a cartoon pic of you with huge gold chains on? Got it. Draw a character of you behind the wheels of steel? No problem. But the most important thing that they wanted was their name. This is a Sho Nuff Productions. This is a Reggie Reg Jam.

Unless you’re an astute Rap Historian, you might not know of many of those early promoters. Why would you? They gained their popularity long before one had to have a hit album to be considered “successful.” You could find their names on flyers: Man Dip Lite, Nubian Productions (Zulu Nation), LTD III, Jay Dee Productions, Vernon J. Brown, etc.

Generally speaking, in the first days of promoted Rap parties (we will refer to them as Jams) the Promoters were local, promoting local acts, in local venues and people stayed in their area.

Donald D and his older brother B-Fats were out of the Drew Hamilton Projects on Fredrick Douglass between 142nd and 143rd and threw their first Jams at the once famous (now demolished) Renaissance Ballroom (The Renny) which was five blocks south (of their place).

Mix Master Mike and Disco Dave, also brothers, were up out of the Lincoln Projects down on 132nd between 5th and Madison. They started throwing Jams at the windowless IS 201 four blocks south (of their place).

That was the general M.O. You rented a place near you. You promoted people in your building or on your block, you blew up your spot. Security? Have your neighborhood tough guys hold the place down (or up). Bambaataa had the Zulus (former Black Spades), Flash had the Casanovas, Mike and Dave had the Cigar Mob, etc. Only people the partygoers had to fear was security.

It might be safe to say that Mike & Dave did a better job of promoting because more people know the Crash Crew than people know Donald D & B-Fats affiliates the Disco Four, but that’s not entirely true. This was a different era. We mostly know the Crash Crew because they made hit records — concrete timestamps of their existence. The Disco Four’s “Move to the Groove” may have been a local hit but for whatever reason, Crash Crew’s “High Power Rapp” left a more indelible mark and has been interpolated by the likes of De La — but that doesn’t mean that they were more popular back in 1980 when those two 12” were released.

Records weren’t the determining factor. That’s why a Harlem World flyer (a Ninth World Production) could have the names of people like MC Rayvon & Johnny Wa of the Magnificent 7 on their flyer. They may not have had a record out, but their sing/rap style was influencing all of Harlem. Their name rang out.

That’s what you had to know as a Promoter in the early days of Rap; you had to know who the people’s champs were. Those are the DJs and rappers the people came to see. But a hit record could change that.

Kurtis Blow, 1980 — Photo: Deborah Feingold

People shit on Kurtis Blow.

But it’s the traditional Black way of shitting on a thing. A perfect example of that kind of shit is how people dog out Jheri Curls. I never had one, we were too broke, but long before the Caesar cut inoculated the Black man from activator, the Curl reigned supreme.

Now everyone wanna act all brand new and talk bad about the Curl like they ain’t mess up a Member’s Only jacket with drip-drip chemicals in they hair, like they ain’t walk around with one of them shower cap-like bags on they head.

That type of shitting on — yeah, that’s the kind that people do Kurtis Blow. We loved Kurtis Blow. When “The Breaks” came out, Black folk young and old were rocking to that jawn from Park Hill to Montebello. And we weren’t alone. “The Breaks” was a National hit.

Aside from the that, any research you want to do on the burgeoning Rap Industry will have to include Kurtis Blow. If you want to bridge the gap from the Jam era to the Record/Radio breakthrough era, you’re going to have to go through Blow as well.

If there were no Kurtis Blow, perhaps Queens would have had another star Sociologist. Or maybe that Sociology student would have followed his father’s path and become a Minister. Hard to say. But what can be said is, if you want to learn about early Russell Simmons and the next phase of Rap promotions you’re gonna have to go through Kurtis Blow, yo.


Berry Gordy did what no one before him had ever done.

Sure, Black music had been crossing over since the beginning of recorded music, that is, after all, how ‘Race Records’ began — white folk hearing Black music, its appeal, and knowing that profits would be closely attached.

What Berry Gordy did was different. Gordy made a product that was clean and acceptable by everyone. It wasn’t like the music made in the 50’s like “Sh Boom” where white folk came, cribbed the publishing, and gave those words to a more acceptable white face.

Berry Gordy made the kind of artists that white folk adored.

But the World was changing. The Civil Rights Bill ain’t stop no white folk from going upside a Black man or woman’s head. Nor did the Civil Rights Bill stop COINTELPRO. Civil Rights Bill ain’t squelch the growing dissatisfaction that the youth had begun to feel.

That dissatisfaction came across in the music. Berry Gordy tried to fight it at first but the floodgates couldn’t stop the rush of protest. Soon the Temptations were making protest records followed by works that went against Motown’s raison d’être. Black music would quickly become segmented again.


McNichols Arena must have been jumping. The “Cinco De Mayo” Celebration concert (that took place 13 days after the 5th of May) had a jam-packed roster: Cameo, Sister Sledge, War, One Way, Dazz Band, & LA Connection, all were on stage performing: “Alligator Woman,” “My Guy,” “Outlaw,” “Cutie Pie,” “Whip It,” & “Burn Me Up,” respectively.

This concert took place right before “The Conflict of 82” where me and my older brother were beefing with everyone on our block, Glencoe, Hudson, & Holly. That’s what these songs remind me of. But we ain’t see no parts of this show. I was ten and he was twelve. Nonetheless, these groups and their music were apart of our daily fabric. I remember the “Alligator Woman” video. I loved the “Outlaw” (one). These songs played on Magic 1510 KDKO. And most importantly for this writing, they were BLACK.

I’m sure if we did a census of the 7,623 people who attended that concert on Tuesday, May 18th 1982, 7,620 of them were Black or Mexican and three of them were white. You don’t hear these songs on old school white stations, and white folk didn’t listen to this type of music.

Despite that fact, Michael A Rosenberg was one of the biggest promoters of Black concerts, in particular the Budweiser Superfest. Starting in 1980, The Budweiser Superfest was Anhueser-Busch’s way of pushing their product on the Black community. And shit, they had The O’Jays, Rick James, Ashford & Simpson, GQ, Phyllis Hyman, the Bar Kays, with special guest star Teddy Pendergrass…how you NOT going to that?

For the next four years, Michael A Rosenberg remained the promoter of the biggest Black concert series in America until the protest of a Jesse Jackson led consortium of Promoters finally steered that job into the hands of the man that promoted that McNichols Arena throwdown mentioned above. That man was Al Haymon…and we’ll get back to him.

It’s 1982 New York.

And you’re asked to place a bet on who will be the next to make it in the Rap world. You probably would go with the Fantastic Romantic Five, the Cold Crush Brothers, Master Don & the Def Committee, or maybe Grandmixer DST & the Infinity 4 MCs.

Treacherous Three were New York popular but not Nationally popular. Afrika Bambaataa and the Soul Sonic Force as well as Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five were known the world over, mostly because of hit records; same with Kurtis Blow.

These were bankable acts and mostly from the Bronx and Harlem. Wouldn’t no one bank on Queens being the place that would produce the next big thing. And wouldn’t no one bank on Kurtis Blow’s record carrier/apprentice being that person either. Not even Blow’s manager, Russell Simmons.

Kurtis Blow, a Harlemite, met Simmons, straight outta Hollis (Queens), at City College. They shared the love of Hip-Hop and Simmons became Kurtis Blow’s manager. Blow and Simmons agreed to blow up in Queens (since it wasn’t overrun with MCs like Harlem). Kurtis Blow explains how they decided on that:

One day in school I learned — in one of my Journalism classes — that the way you make it in broadcasting is you have to go to the outskirts of major cities because its so competitive in the major city. So you go to outskirts, to the boondocks, and you get a track record. You pull out a couple of number ones in a small town and then you go back to the city.
So, I thought about that. I said, “Russell, we need to go out to your hood — Hollis, Queens — and open up a club.” So we did that. We opened up a club called Night Fever Disco in 1977…

Blow was the talent and Simmons was the Manager/Promoter. It was Russell Simmons (alongside Rocky Ford) that got Blow’s “Christmas Rap” recorded. It was Russell Simmons (alongside Rocky Ford) that landed Kurtis Blow a major record label contract with Mercury. And it was Russell Simmons that got Kurtis Blow booked as an opening act for many of the aforementioned Al Haymon R&B concerts.

Rap was still a novelty and bands found it amusing that these rappers wouldn’t travel with a band, just a DJ with records. Rap’s place was hole in the wall clubs, places that barely held 500 people, never mind the Auditoriums and Arenas that R&B acts needed five or six acts to fill.

That was the old way of thinking.

The new way of thinking was inline with how Fab Five Freddy and Mike Holman (whom we’ve talked about several times) saw things. The new way of thinking recognized that this Hip-Hop thing may have a greater potential to cross over to non-Black audiences than even R&B. That was the thinking of Bernard Zekri and Jean Karakos when they decided to promote the week-long New York City Rap Tour that took place between 21 November and 28 1982. But even these visionaries confined their artists to the tried and true Afrika Bambaataa, Soul Sonic Force, Grandmixer DXT, etc.

Russell Simmons was taking another route.


While the Bronx and Harlem groups continued to dominate the Jams, Russell Simmons was steady building up a roster. And it wasn’t as if Simmons didn’t try to manage the more popular acts. He approached the Cold Crush Brothers about management and this is how Grandmaster Caz remembers it:

We were here approached by Russell Simmons back in the day. He offered us a contract, but he wanted us to change our name from Cold Crush to the Kold Krush Krew, using K’s instead of C’s, so we would have been the KKK MCs. We wasn’t haven’t that. After that we signed with Tuff City. Grandmaster Caz — Vibe Magazine, Oct 97, pg 72

Imagine how different their fate would have been had they rolled with Rush.

I’m not going to go into the massive success of Run DMC’s “Sucker MCs/It’s Like That” or the amazing Larry Smith productions but suffice it to say that it was the success of that single and Run DMC’s subsequent self-titled debut album (the first album I ever purchased) that would bring people knocking on Simmons’ door, Jive Records being one. The label brought Whodini to Rush. “They wanted the whole thing to be more like Run DMC,” Larry Smith recalled in a December 1, 1984 Billboard article.

Another person that came knocking was a visionary like Simmons — a concert promoter out of Atlanta— Ricky Walter.

The audio from this Fresh Fest commercial is EXACTLY the same as the one that played on Power 99. Only difference is the venue name was the Spectrum. Man, we wanted to go to that. It seemed reasonable. We had family in Philly, were there pretty often, AND the concert took place three days after my older brother’s birthday on Sunday, the 14th of October 1984.

Reasonable my ass. My brother got a Roy Rogers meal for his birthday, the Spectrum sold out all 20,000 seats, had an encore performance the next day, and I may or may not have gotten an ass whopping for having a smart mouth about how things went down. Roy damn Rogers. Shameful. But the Fresh Fest…anything but. It was a huge success…and it marked the end of the Jam Era.

It could have gone down differently. Before Ricky Walter went to Russell Simmons, he met up with Sylvia Robinson who was dismissive to say the least. Simmons was Plan B and that turned out to be the right Plan. As I mentioned here, Run DMC even looked like the future, and when Run DMC went gold, that proved to be true. Whodini also went gold. And Kurtis Blow, on the strength of “Basketball” and my personal favorite in his discography, “AJ Scratch,” almost reached gold with 300,000 units moved. This was the backbone of the Fresh Fest.

Adding the Fat Boys (also…gold) to the bill brought Charles Stettler who bullshitted his way into sponsorship from Swatch Watch and you had a show, boys and girls. Walter joined forces with Joe Marsh, Brad Krasner, and Pace out of Houston for National Promotion. Walter hooked up an Atlanta company, Mike Mauldin’s MTM Roadworks for production.

The Swatch Watch New York City Fresh Festival opened on Labor Day weekend in the Fall of 1984 and confounded industry-types and media alike. No one would have imagined that Rap could sell out venues all over the country. Most cities didn’t even have radio stations that played Rap which was usually the industry barometer for the demand of an artist. The Fresh Fest defied that barometer and hauled in $3.5 by the end of its run. Sounds like small numbers now but it’s a far-cry from what artists were pulling in at Harlem World.

Meg Cox wrote a silly-titled article for the Wall Street Journal (Dec 4 1984) where she spoke of the rise of Rap out of obscurity. In this article, she mentions Russell Simmons as one of the success stories of the genre:

Russell Simmons started in the mid-1970s by lining up rappers for college parties. ‘When rap became a recording thing,’ he says, ‘they all came to me because I was the closest thing to management they had.’ Mr. Simmons, 26, now represents 17 acts and is known as the mogul of rap.

That mogul changed Rap in one fell swoop and from that moment on Rap became about the recording artists…but the full crossover hadn’t happened yet. That would take some time and future moguls from Simmons’ leadership tree.

I came of age after the Jam Era was over but by the time Rap took its next major push into the mainstream, I was done.

The time in between was more transitional than anything else. Large acts booked tours and played auditoriums and arenas. My first concerts were a part of the big Rap Act Auditorium/Arena Era.

I’m still struggling to remember/find out where we first saw Run DMC, I believe it was at McNichol’s. I know we also saw them at Red Rocks. The last concert I saw in Denver was Public Enemy at the auditorium formerly known as the Mammoth Gardens.

Public Enemy were big but not Run DMC big —maybe to me, Sayyed Munajj, and the rest of Da Fellas (my high school crew) —but the rest of Denver were done with the East Coast Rap Acts. We discussed where upstart, Rap acts normally performed here, Denver just had an abundance of Theater options, but more often than not, that wasn’t the case.


By the time I was old enough to party, I mean hit clubs, dance, stay out until the wee hours of the morning, R&B had changed. We talked about how Rap Obligerated R&B in great detail here, but I have to say, New Jack Swing turned the genre on its head.

R&B for my parents was the Commodores, LTD, the Ohio Players. My Dad tapped out by the time bands like Starpoint, the Deele, and Rene and Angela came on the scene. My Mom on the other hand, was all in. New Jack Swing was different.

It was ours.

Our parents may have listened to it, but we were at an age where our purchasing power meant something. Purchasing power meant influence. And that influence translated into acts like Guy, New Edition, etc being booked on the Budweiser Superfest, which, incidentally, was still being promoted by Al Haymon.

I bring this up for one reason. Rap concerts were banished to Skating Rinks in most cities because of violence, most notably what is dubbed as the Run DMC, Sunday, 17th of August, 1986 ‘Long Beach Riot’ where a reported 200 gang members reeked havoc among a crowd of 14,000 — the fifth time violence had broken out during the Run DMC Raising Hell Tour.

Greg Mack of KDAY remembers a body “flying over the rail and onto the stage” during Whodini’s performance. People Magazine threw out this salacious attack:

Run-D.M.C., the rap kings of Queens, N.Y., and the ghettobred street gangs who have terrorized the band’s fans may share styles of jargon and dress and a love for rap’s edgy, big beat urban sound.

Those things happened with audience members mostly due to the rise in violence caused by the crack wars. It gave Rap a bad name (I wasn’t going to use the pun that was used throughout that era). What happened on the Budweiser Superfest happened with the talent. That’s right. You read that right. Two groups got into it on the Budweiser Superfest. Those groups were New Edition and Guy. Well, really they’re entourage did.

Not sure if they covered it in the New Edition bio series, I ain’t make it that far. But the actual event reads like fiction. One group gets mad at another for staying on stage too long, upset about being checked on overstaying their welcome, band member kicks other group’s equipment.

Group that overstayed welcome, threatens other group. Threatened group calls in hitters from New York. Said hitters arrive in Pittsburgh. One group attacked another before the Sunday, July 9th 1989 show, one person is beat into critical condition, another person grabs a gun resulting in the death of Anthony Bee, security manager of Guy.

The media didn’t speak ill of the groups or the genre. Instead, questions were asked of the promoters and show organizers. The Sun-Sentinel snarked:

The decade-old Budweiser Superfest is a great idea, a much-needed avenue that brings stellar R&B acts to the masses at an affordable price. But since its inception, it has been plagued by organizational difficulties, late starts and a lack of leadership.

That leadership, of course, is Al Haymon…and we’re almost ready to talk about him. Almost.


When I got to college, aside from Clark’s gym, the only place to see Rap acts were tight-ass clubs. Diamond D, Brand Nubian, Black Moon, Wu Tang, Nas, Mobb Deep, we saw all of those acts in some club I can’t remember, think it was the Warehouse. Some club near train tracks and warehouses and vine-covered ditches. Just shit.

I had to dig deep, finish this piece, move on to another topic to find out that the Warehouse was said to be owned by James H. Mason, a club that was allegedly a drug front. And the quality of the place — I could see that. It’s kinda like the bodega with one item on the rack.

Mics went out, weed smoke, a lot of shoving, fights always broke out, tripping over bottles, getting moved by a stampeding crowd, “real” Rap shit.

The famous Gidewon Brothers made their name promoting parties at the Warehouse.

Me, Self, Wakeel, Bashir, Sayyed, Mumeet, Zim, O, & True Islam, (mostly because of Self) would slide in the club, for free, find a corner, and post up — coats still on — damn a coat check. That was the concert going experience.

There’s was nothing glamorous about any of that. It was as gritty as the Army Surplus Store outfits that we rocked during that time. It was as muddy as a RZA beat. I was happy that I ain’t have beef with anyone. You definitely could have got caught slipping.

Diddy changed all of that.


I’ve written about Biggie as being the total embodiment of two eras in several places but it was his murder that ushered in a new era in Rap Tours.

The depression that Diddy fell into after Biggie was murdered that fateful day 9 March 1997 is well documented. That depression is what fueled the Puff Daddy and the Family album, No Way Out. As a result, The No Way Out Tour that supported the album, was seen as a celebration of Biggie’s life.

And it was the first Rap Tour of its kind. The No Way Out Tour was a heavily packaged, wildly expensive, and largely successful Tour. It became the tour that all Rap Tours were measured by. Where before, the Fresh Fest grossed $3 million ($9 milly adjusted for inflation), The No Way Out Tour pulled in a whopping $15 Ms (double the amount of shows as the Fresh Fest also…but you get the point). The Fresh Fest acts sold gold records, Li’l Kim, Ma$e, 112, Busta Rhymes, Foxy Brown, Usher and Jay-Z — that’s the list of acts for the No Way Out Tour (although Jigga ended up pulling out) — all platinum selling acts right thur.

Usher said “It’s a family affair, you know? Everybody’s coming together, and showing their talent. It’s almost like a talent show. And it’s definitely hip-hop history.” Nas called it the “Hip-Hop tour of the 90s.” Drake remembers “I remember being 3rd row at the No Way Out Tour in Toronto. Ski goggles to the side and all that. Bad Boy was everything to us.” Diddy changed the perception of what a Rap concert could be…and that’s just the performance side.

On the business side, what Sean Combs did was connect the Rap world with established agencies that were used to handling Rock acts, but never really handled Rap. ICM Partners, the talent and literary agency founded in 1975 acted as a booking agent for the tour, had booked prior Rap tours, for example, they booked the Hit Squad Tour but the scale was small. Mark Siegel, then the VP of ICM offered up this:

At ICM we feel that we should take artists to every market where their records sells. Most agents are afraid they might be asking for problems when booking a rap tour. But we went to buildings where you could control security. We also went back to buildings where we’ve been before. The problem is that not too many experienced promoters want to do rap anymore.

The Hit Squad Tour was auditorium status. The No Way Out Tour was all about the arenas, baby: Marine Midland Arena (now known as the Keybank Center, 19, 200), Palace Of Auburn Hills (22, 076), Mark Of The Quad Cities (now known as I Wireless Center, 9,200), you get the picture. The same way Diddy started the Opulent Video Arms Race, he also started the Big Ass Bundled Rap Tour Arms Race. Next up came the Hard Knock Life Tour.

Say what you want about Jay-Z, he’s always known his value. He quit the No Way Out Tour, felt that he deserved better, and proved it with the Hard Knock Life Tour.

That tour included Redman, DMX, and Method Man and kicked off on 2 March 1999 in Washington DC at the 18, 277 seat MCI Center (now known as the Capital One Arena). After two months and 37 shows, that tour clocked $13 Million. Of course now most people remember the Hard Knock Tour via Backstage, the documentary where Dame Dash screamed on Kevin Liles about Def Jam Jackets…for the culture.

The next big Rap tour was considered to be “the most expensive hip-hop tour ever mounted.” That was the Ruff Ryders/Cash Money Tour and that was headed by, yes, our brother, Al Haymon.

photo: Rob Grabowski Oct. 6, 2016

When people speak of Al Haymon now, they talk of him being a huge mystery. They speak of how he’s never in pictures, doesn’t have a website, only uses a flip phone, etc. Incidentally, that’s not so strange.

I tried looking up information on Phoenix Music Group, the group responsible for starting Summer Jam and a large promoter in Radio Tours — same, same. That company’s founder, Brad Patrick is pretty damn low-key and I only know of his partner, Randy Buzzelli because of this incident:

The only time you see the names of many of these Promoters is either in the trades or more commonly, if something goes wrong.

As we mentioned above, before Al Haymon was the most hated man in boxing, he was one of the most successful Black Promoters in the business. If there was a major tour with R&B artists, Haymon’s name and his company AH Enterprises was involved. When the R&B and Rap worlds began to collide, Haymon took on Rap as well. When Hammer was at the height of his career, Haymon ran those tours. He had a name that could be trusted.

Mark Cheathem, then partner at ICM exclaimed that “what Al Haymon brings is consistency. There is consistency in production and in going to the venue and seeing the same personnel every night.” Because of this trust, no one felt any way about Haymon being over the seven tour trucks and the million dollar sets required for the Ruff Ryder/Cash Money Tour.

But Haymon’s most important asset was the relationships that he built. Cheathem could say what he said about Haymon because Al Haymon had a longstanding relationship with Phil Casey of ICM. He and Casey, it is reported, threw a 1,000 concerts together, that it was Haymon and Casey that started the Budweiser Superfest and that they “turned an often haphazard business into an assembly-line production. They oversaw lighting, production, marketing and advertising, built an infrastructure, a total package, then plugged artists in.”

A lot of things can be said about Al Haymon…but a poor businessperson ain’t one of em. I’m sure I could write 4,822 plus words on him alone from this research and all that he’s done in boxing but suffice it to say that Haymon made the transition out of music right around the time that Corporations starting merging, and big companies like SFX Entertainment started gobbling up small time promotions and Live Nation swallowed up venues (and promotions companies…including SFX Entertainment) — that’s when Haymon made the pivot to Boxing.

He mastered this music thing.

That Ruff Riders/Cash Money Tour would be the end of the Big Ass Bundled Rap Tour Arms Race, if any happened after that, I can’t recall. Most of the concerts that followed were the Phoenix Music Group type, the Radio Promotion, one off type, the Concert in a club, possibly an auditorium type. Then there’s Kanye.


Like I said in the introduction, I started off just writing about the early promoters in Harlem. I found it fascinating how one crew would run a four or five block radius, deal with the groups from their area, use the local hoods for security, and everyone got money together.

But when I thought about how it all ended, I couldn’t stop there. I had to conclude with where we are now. And that’s impossible to talk about without talking about Kanye.

I’ve written about his genius and how he changed modern Rap before, but what Kanye did as a performer is also of major note. He set out to achieve Pop Star, Rock Star status. That was always his aim, may have been hard to tell in the Kanye as backpacker era, but from 808 and Heartbreaks on, it has become clearly evident.

I’m struggling to think of a Rap artist before Kanye that could headline an arena show WITHOUT the Rap Artist Bundle. Sure, people can do it now. But before Kanye…

And he’s not just up on stage rapping. He’s truly an artist and as his career has flourished, his stage shows have begun to transcend anything anyone would ever classify as Rap (if you haven’t already, check out the Netflix Abstract episode of Es Devlin, set designer for Kanye and others).

Kanye Tours have pulled in between $30 million to $70 million dollars. We’re talking a different world all together.

But why are we talking about Kanye here?

As I mentioned above, the only time we learn about the Promoters and the behind the scenes people is when something goes wrong. Well, if you’re reading this I don’t have to tell you, something went REALLY WRONG on the Saint Pablo Tour.

Kanye already seemed off. He’d been seeming off for years, at least since his Mama died. But once that whole Kim Kardashian Paris robbery took place, Kanye just teetered over the edge. Long rants dissing Jay-Z, calling out Beyonce, just…off. Next thing you know, Kanye’s in the hospital. Then Kanye’s cancelling shows…and that’s where we’ll pick up.

You’ve seen the floating set on The Saint Pablo Tour? You know how expansive a Kanye show can be. That stuff costs a lot of money. You have the sets, the vehicles that move said sets, the venues, security, and…insurance. Kanye’s company, Very Good Touring LLC chose Lloyd’s of England as their insurer…yes…the same Lloyd’s of London that was once a part of a reparations suit for their role in insuring slave ships (oh the irony).

I love lawsuits. All the background information, all the names, all the dates, all of that has to come out. Looking at the Kanye suit one can see that Lloyd’s has subsidiaries that deal with these matters, in Kanye’s case, that’s Cathedral Syndicate, XL Catlin Syndicate, Liberty Syndicate, Markel Syndicate 3000, & Allianz Syndicate…lot of damn syndicates.

The lawsuit goes like this: Kanye nem paid Lloyd’s to cover the costs in case of “tour non-appearance and cancellation” (A Cancellation, Abandonment and Non Appearance Policy) in the event of a Kanye “illness.” Kanye took ill. Missed shows. Wanted the money that his insurance was supposed to pay for. Lloyd’s and its many Syndicates made Kanye take an inordinate amount of tests and jump through uncountable hoops only to stall with a judgement.

The amount of money in question, a little over $9.8 million. Lloyd’s ain’t coming off that money, bruv. You know what Lloyd’s did? Filed a countersuit. Their suit was simple: our policy is cancelled once you do illegal drugs. You smoked weed. The end.

Looks like, as of 6 November 2017, that case is going before Magistrate Judge Charles F. Eick in California Central District Court with an estimated 8 day trial. Lloyd’s ain’t coming off that money, bruv.


To the uninformed reading this, it may seem like this is simply the natural progression of the art. That all the structures mentioned above, the agencies, the insurers, etc, are what’s needed once your act or group grows large enough to need more than local promotion. I’ve been told that by at least one editor.

But if that were the case, I wouldn’t be writing this.

The reality is since 1972, the year I was born, Black promoters have been speaking about the inequality that existed in promotions.

On November 19, 1998, four Black owned concert promoter companies and their owners filed a lawsuit — ROWE ENTERTAINMENT, INC. V. WILLIAM MORRIS AGENCY, INC. It languished in court for seven years until it was viewed. Five more years would slip by before Judge Robert P. Patterson denied their case.

Their argument (which I don’t agree with) was no Black promoters are responsible for any major white acts. I don’t agree with the that argument only because it’s almost impossible to legally prove that discrimination is the cause behind it. Judge Patterson agreed.

But that argument shows something of great importance separate of the legalities of it. It’s the same argument that Tyrese (poor brother) once brought up in regards to Pop Radio. So called Urban Stations will play Justin Timberlake, or Pink, or Adele, but Pop Stations ain’t gonna be playing Jill Scott, Ledisi, and Tyrese. Why is that?

And that’s just one aspect of the (non-legal) argument. The other part is a more business related one.

Rappers were once able to build their names performing in local venues, put on by local promoters. Now that possibility is almost non-existent. Since the early aughts Live Nation has bought many of the once privately-owned theaters, auditoriums, and arenas all over America. One could argue that none of that is needed in this day and age, that an artist can record their music at home, blah blah blah.

Yeah, that’s the artist. But what about the entrepreneurs? The would be Theater owners? The stage hands? The local promoters? Where are they supposed to get experience?

Promoters like Louis Messina have been with acts like Kenny Chesney since he was an opener, he’s promoted Taylor Swift since she was 17. Two of his sons work with him. Is this even a reality with us?

The crazy thing is, the argument that was made 38 years ago is still valid today. This statement was made by Dick Griffey (another person that could 4, 882 words) in regards to the state of the world of promotions. Keep in mind, the actual field of promotions at that time was still a young field.

Black music is our only natural resource and we (Black promoters) were responsible for promoting these Black artists’ concerts when they drew only 500 people. Then they got exposure on television and suddenly we can’t promote them anymore. Dick Griffey. Jet July 26, 79 pg 14

Just like the natural resources throughout the Continent of Africa, we continue to give ours away for pennies on the dollar. There was a time when white folks wouldn’t even want to be within earshot of Black music. Hell, they didn’t even want one Black song playing during my Senior Prom. And although that was bad, we were cool with it. The music, the scene, the culture, was ours.

If you had of bet on the purity of Hip-Hop, the talented people who created the culture, the Jams, and all of that, you would have lost. The long money was on a more commercial, commerce-oriented music. Now we’ve built it up into a billion dollar industry and we can’t even benefit from it anymore? There’s definitely a problem there…and it’s not the natural progression of things.


This is dedicated to those who built this thing up from the bottom into what it is today: Mixmaster Mike and Disco Dave, Donald D and B Fats, St. Clair, Vernon J. Brown, Dana Goodman, Arthur Armstrong, Russell Simmons, Cedric Walker, Uncle Luke, Uncle Jamm, Dick Griffey, William Garrison, Jesse Boseman, Bill Washington, Fred Jones, Rudy Hartman, Arnie Granit, Bruce Braithwaite, and countless others.