Racism in the music industry – Both sides need change

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Ghostface and Sheek Louch concert in Oshawa produced by The McKee Agency.

I’ll start off this conversation by explaining that I am a white man who has been a music agent for over 20 years and I have produced concerts across North America for some of the biggest black artists in music. I’ve produced concerts for Rihanna, Wu-Tang Clan, 50 Cent and G-Unit, The Roots, Akon, Ludacris, Flo-Rida, Naughty By Nature, Royce da 5’9, Joe Budden and hundreds more. 

I am hear to confirm that there is absolutely a problem with racism within the music industry.

However, one side shouldn’t shoulder all of the blame. Whether you’re black or white, its time to take a long hard look in the mirror.

As an agent, it was my job to set up concert tours for artists across Canada and the United States. I ran my own agency for over a decade and have also worked for the biggest music agency in Canada (The Feldman Agency) and some smaller ones too (Live Tour Artists and Most Wanted Entertainment). I’m certain there are companies I have worked for who hired me because unlike many agents, I was comfortable working with black artists and their management and they didn’t actually have to hire a black person for the job instead.

It was my job to contact venue owners and concerts promoters across the country to try to get them to book my artists in their city. 

I cannot count the amount of times I’ve heard the “N-word” used without caution or concern when I would call or email a white nightclub or festival owner. I’m not talking about small time clubs either, I’m talking about the world’s leading concert promoters and the biggest venues in your city.

In 2008, I produced a concert tour for Royce da 5’9, Joe Budden, D12 and Classified in about 20 cities across Canada. At the tour stop in Ottawa, I was approached by the promoter midway through the show and he explained to me that the police were here to shut down the show and they wanted to speak with me as the tour manager. I went outside and saw an entire street full of police cruisers (at least 15 cars had come for us). It was a mix of local and federal police.  

The police made up some story that they had “heard reports we were travelling with a fugitive they were looking for.” It was complete fiction. I had secured work permits through the Canadian government months in advance and the group had no issue at the border when entering Canada a few days prior (I could write an entire book solely on the racial discrimination the black artists I work with have encountered at the U.S/Canada border).

Regardless, the police wanted everyones passport and so I was placed in a cruiser with 2 (white) cops who took me back to the hotel so I could round up all the passports. I was then driven back to the club where a large group of cops put us all in a line to try and “confirm our identification.” They had no real agenda other than trying to embarrass these men.

This experience was not new to these artists. They’d seen this act before. 

In 2011, I booked a 22 city tour across Canada for Ghostface Killah of the Wu-Tang Clan but I simply couldn’t get one club owner or promoter in Vancouver to book the show from me. The most common response was, “I don’t want that black shit at my club.” I begged and pleaded with every venue in the city but nobody would book it. I eventually found a taker last minute at the Rickshaw Theatre which is more known as a venue for heavy metal bands. We ended up selling out the show but it wasn’t the right venue for that artist and he should have been playing at one more of the hipper venues in the city. 

That same scenario has repeated itself over and over during a 20 year span. 

I have lost count of the amount of times another white man or woman in the music business would pull me aside and ask, “How do you deal with these n***ers everyday?” 

I have also lost count of the amount of times some rapper or his manager has called me a cracker and hurled anti-white slurs towards me. My favourite was the time I was on a conference call with the group Dead Prez when they launched into an anti-white tirade not realizing they were on the phone with a white man. 

Racism is not a problem exclusive to major cities when it comes to the music business. The smaller towns across Canada are usually much worse. I can’t count how many times the local police force in towns like Barrie, Peterborough, Hamilton, Laval, Nelson, Chilliwack or Lethbridge would pay us a visit at the venue to attempt to intimidate the black artists I was on tour with. 

On that same tour with Ghostface in 2011, we had the Winnipeg police show up at the venue trying to arrest an associate of the Wu-Tang Clan for sexual assault after a girl at the show claimed he had assaulted her. I insisted to the police that this artist was on stage performing most of the night and had nothing to do with the allegations. I ended up reviewing security video with police and the club owner until 4am when we found video of the girl falling over on her face in the designated smoking area all by herself. 

Thank God for video cameras.

There was also the time, Ghostface and I were held up at gun point by border officials in Niagara Falls. We both had machine guns pointed in our backs after police had barked orders at us to exit the car, drop the keys on the floor and so on. You know the drill (and now I know it too). Once we provided the proper paper work and permits they released us with no explanation or apology. 

There is a music festival that takes place over the course of one week in Toronto. The who’s who of the music business attend from across the world. Most agencies and labels have to pay thousands of dollars in sponsorship fees in order to have their own official showcase night as part of the festival. I was given a free showcase for my agency several years in a row without having to pay any fee at all because the owner of the festival said he didn’t want to deal directly with black artists. As long as they had one showcase throughout the week with black artists, nobody could accuse them of discrimination. 

There is systematic racism at the highest level of the music industry. There needs to be real change and it has to start at the top.

However, on the other side of the coin its also time that many black artists and their managers look themselves in the mirror as well. 

Drake is continually giving shout outs in his song lyrics to well known gang members and affiliates in Toronto but he is often free from criticism in the media due to his affiliation with the Toronto Raptors. 

This past week, we had another young black rapper named Houdini shot in broad daylight in downtown Toronto. There was a six year-old kid in the line of fire when Houdini was murdered by other young black men. That murder follows the murders of other Toronto rappers Bvlly, Smoke Dawg and several more in recent years.  

In over 20 years of producing concerts, the only time a shooting has ever occurred at one of my shows was at a hip-hop show. That shooting was done by a rapper named Prezi aka Mark Moore and they connected evidence from my concert to another shooting which led to Moore being convicted of four murders. He is currently serving a life-sentence. 

I was subpoenaed to testify at one of his trials but refused to because in the rap game; we all know where snitches end up………

If black artists want to help chip away at the racial barrier, they too need to play a part in creating change. They can’t insist on more opportunities and having access to playing better venues or bigger festivals only to have them shot up two months later.

Change starts at the top and in the words of Michael Jackson; it starts with the man in the mirror. 

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