Hip-Hop Wired’s Michael “Ice-Blue” Harris recently sat down with scholar Dr. Boyce Watkins. The Syracuse University Financial Professor and advocate for African-Americans obtaining education and economic empowerment and warrior against racial injustice goes in on a few topics affecting Black America in the first of many insightful interviews.
HipHopWired: As far as Hip-Hop is concerned, you’ve been one of the people who….you’re part of the Hip-Hop generation, you speak to the Hip-Hop generation without criticizing but you do point out some of the things that are wrong. What are some of the changes you think we as men need to step up and do with the music?
Boyce Watkins: We need to stop being high paid hoes and learn how to be pimps. The truth is that…I actually wrote an article about this literally three days ago. Basically I created a hypothetical conversation between a rapper, a hypothetical rapper named Cash Money and the record label. Basically, Cash Money’s going to the executive and he’s saying, “Oh I know that my last album, Booties, Hoes and B*t*hes did real well on the charts but I’ve been thinking that this stuff’s not positive and I want to do something more positive next time, so I’m gonna do an album called Studying, Homework and Better Grades…” or something like that. I was just being silly so the executive is basically saying, “You know that’s a great idea Cash Money, I really feel ya dawg but the thing is that Booties, Hoes and B**ches sold two million copies last time and our projections show that the people who follow you, they want more booties, extra hoes and many more bi**hes so we’re thinking that that would be a great album title for your next release.
So you know he might come back and say, “Yeah but we can’t just think about the money, we gotta actually think about how this music effects the community…” And then eventually the conversation gets threatening and the executive pulls out the pimp hand and says, “Look if you don’t stick with the program, then we can replace you with a phone call because there’s always someone in the projects that wants to be the next Soulja Boy…” And eventually he gives in to that. The point of the whole story is that people think Hip-Hop and entertainment is controlled by the artist. To some extent artists have some degree of creative freedom, we can’t deny that but really entertainment is driven by corporate America, driven by businesses, driven by ownership. So if you look at guys like T.I. or even Diddy, I like their models a lot better because they seem to be striving for actually owning and controlling the business model that drives the entertainment they release to the public and that’s what I like to see. I’d like to see every rapper in America take a couple of classes in business so they can understand how to be a true player and not continue to be played.
HipHopWired: Okay, okay. I’m definitely with you on that. Speaking of you coming from a financial background, what are some things you personally see that we as Black people need to step up on? What are we wasting our money on that can go to other places?
Boyce Watkins: One of our great challenges that a lot of us have, as Americans period, not just as Black people is that a lot of us are used to being consumers and laborers. Instead we’ve got to think investors and holders and that means that… I’ve never been the person to criticize someone for buying Air Jordans or big screen TVs but that can’t be 100% where you use your money. If you get a check for $20,000 because your lotto ticket cashed in, are you just gonna go out and buy yourself a new Ford Explorer and then be broke again the next day or are you maybe gonna consume half of that money and then take the other half and invest it somewhere where that money is gonna grow in value and that’s an art that needs to be taught.
The thing is as long as you’re a consumer and a laborer; someone else will always control your destiny. You will never have true freedom and one of the things people don’t understand is that a lack of financial freedom, that creates our lack of social and political freedom. Imagine the conversations that a lot of Black people across America would have with their boss if they suddenly had a million dollars in the bank and didn’t need their jobs anymore. But most of us remain silent on important issues because we are scared of losing our jobs and I’m not just talking about poor people who work at McDonald’s, I’m talking about professors and doctors and lawyers.
Even they fall for the high paid hoe model of success which says it doesn’t matter who’s controlling my process, all that matters is how much I’m getting paid. Just thinking that having a high income means you’re doing well financially and people don’t understand that whatever platform you’re on, somebody could rip that away from you in a second. So you’ve got to figure out how you can own something to actually build wealth in America and we got to get out of that laborer, consumer mentality and become owners and investors.
HipHopWired: So we can say you took a loss recently when you said the comments you made on Bill O’Reilly’s show affected your tenureship. What makes you continue to not fall back? Because you see it can affect, I would say, your money or whatever you’re trying to do.
Boyce Watkins: Well the bottom line is this, I wouldn’t have made all those comments I’ve been making over the past five years if I didn’t feel financially secure and able to control my destiny. You know I wasn’t just a scholar out running my mouth; I was building a business behind everything I did. When you really want to be successful I think you need to soak up as much game as you can from the people that you admire. I did that. I soaked game from Muhammad Ali, I soaked game form Malcolm X, I soaked up game from Dr. Michael Eric Dyson, Cornell West, but I also have always been willing to critique my heroes and find out things they did that could be done better.
One thing I noticed was that a Black man has more control over his destiny in America when he owns the business behind whatever it is that he’s doing. When me and my brother started off with the Michael Eric Dyson model, we said okay, Michael Eric Dyson’s books get published through a big white publishing company. Well, we’re going to own the publishing company so when I sell a book that money goes into my bank account. Michael Eric Dyson, when he goes in the media he has a publicist, a PR firm that takes care of him. Well we own our PR firm. When Michael Eric Dyson goes out and gives a speech, he’s getting booked by a speaker’s bureau owned by white people. We own one of the largest Black speaker’s bureaus in the country (Great Black Speakers Bureau), my brother (Lawrence Watkins) is the CEO and I’m the majority share holder. So long story short, it was that continued creation of wealth building and financial security that really didn’t cause me to break a sweat when Syracuse started tripping. I knew it was going to happen.
If you look all throughout history nothing really changes that much. If you look throughout history any Black man who walks around saying the Shyte that I say eventually gets punished for it. I knew it was coming and believe me it’s not over. Anybody that gets in our path to success, we’ll come at you hard and that’s the bottom line. So we’re not done with Syracuse…not done at all.
HipHopWired: Does it get tiresome arguing and debating with conservatives, right wingers and “Eternal Happy Negroes” who are clueless and try to justify some of the insane actions and racist comments delivered by people like Bill O’Reilly?
Boyce Watkins: Do I ever get tired of it? (Laughs) I guess if I let it, it would make me tired but the thing is I knew stepping in this game it was a marathon, and it’s not no sprint. Now it took us 400 years to get to where we are right now as a society to build this racial inequality. It took us a long time, so it’s not going to get fixed in five years. It’s probably going to be fixed after I’m dead. So I see myself as part of a relay team. My ancestors handed me the baton, so I’ll run as hard and as fast as I can so I can pass that baton to somebody else. Now that I’m 38 I’m reaching that OG status so my number one objective in life is to spread my intellectual seeds so to speak by basically planting as much of the wisdom I’m gaining into as many young people as I can. So that when I hand them the baton, they are not afraid to run. It’s just like the movie Forrest Gump where the girl just says, “Run Forrest Run” and Forrest did that and ran as fast as he could. It’s the same way, that’s what we got to do because America makes you afraid to run.
As a Black man especially, it makes you afraid to be strong. When you step strong like that, people will challenge you, they’ll question you. They’ll undermine you, they’ll tell you that you’re not good enough, you’re not smart, they’ll find every little chink in your armor they can find and you’ve got to make sure you are fully prepared to go to battle. And your armor is your intellect. So Black men have to be as educated as they can possibly be but education means nothing if not accompanied by courage. Just like in football you can be 350 pounds and run a 40 yard dash in 4.2 seconds but if you are afraid to go with that line at full speed then you’re going to become as weak as a butterfly. You have effectively castrated yourself. What I just say to people is it does get tiresome, it’s not an easy battle but you just get up everyday and you ask yourself how am I going to be a great man today. That’s the number one question I think you can ask and then the other thing is don’t be afraid to embrace your greatness and go out there and do the best you can and everything will work itself out.
For more information on Dr. Watkins, log on to http://www.boycewatkins.com.