At some point, every person who works in the music industry has to face the fact that their not-so-distant past is rooted in racism and financial exploitation. Capitol Records is no exception. The 80-year-old label’s legacy of black artists includes Nat King Cole, Tina Turner and George Clinton, but its roster has featured few others throughout its history to the present day.
In 2022, the label launched FN Meka, a digital rapper so offensive in pulling some of the worst stereotypes about how users perceive our culture, that he single-handedly rolled back equality.
The controversy was initially denounced by black music leaders and notable figures in the hip-hop community and led to our advocacy group, Industry Blackout, issuing a statement addressing the matter directly to Capitol Records. Variety himself reported that sources said the company was already in the process of terminating the deal – however, we dispute this, as we believe it was our supporters and affiliates who started the conversation to start.
Moreover, our sources inside Capitol have reported otherwise. Which brings us to the root and root of the problem: that Capitol Records’ hypocritical platitudes are only intended to avoid public scrutiny, not to make the changes necessary for the improvement of diversity and a inclusive ecosystem.
Less than two years ago, Capitol — which was acquired by Universal Music Group in 2011 along with parent company EMI’s recorded music division for nearly $2 billion — joined much of the music industry. music to signal support for black communities due to public outcry for social justice following the tragic murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. For its part, Capitol hoisted a Black Lives Matter flag atop its 150-foot building in a show of solidarity, joined the “Blackout Tuesday” choir and declared its support for the black community via social media, writing in May 2020, “We see you.”
So how did we get here? Well, it’s simple. We were never “there” to begin with.
Although progress has been made in various sectors of the industry, unfortunately the more things change the more they stay the same and the lack of black executives remains a blind spot in all corners of the music industry.
Although there is apparently hope for diversity in the appointments of Tunji Balogun as CEO of Def Jam, Harvey Mason jr. moving from acting CEO to full-time at the Recording Academy and Jon Platt leading Sony Music Publishing as chairman/CEO, Capitol’s wheels seem to be turning slower. Indeed, it didn’t go unnoticed when Motown, the label founded more than six decades ago by Berry Gordy – which stipulated in its sale to Universal that the label’s future CEOs should be black – divested the parent companies from Capitol Music Group to UMG.
Cue: the FN Meka flub. Visibly absent from the hype Press release was there an involvement of black executives in the Capitol, who do exist although they are indeed rare and the pond continues to shrink. Our advocacy group has personally spoken to several employees of color at the company who cited similar issues that boil down to these claims: “Capitol Records is not a nurturing environment for black employees”; “where there is diversity in personnel, there is no diversity in thought”; “a lack of cultural awareness is the culture there.”
In the days leading up to the fallout on FN Meka, we directly contacted several people who are on The UMG Task Force for Meaningful Change, as well as other affiliates of organizations founded on similar initiatives, and have found our attempts rejected or, in some cases, simply unresponsive. Capitol itself released a statement to the media, but did not address the hugely offensive faux pas on the company’s social media. They also did not promise that additional funds would be allocated to promote their current roster of black artists. (Also wasted: a major opportunity for the label to break into the growing Web3 community.)
To bring things up to date, Industry Blackout has learned, and Variety confirmed that Capitol has parted ways with Ryan Ruden, who served as executive vice president of experiential marketing and business development, and who reportedly spearheaded deals with FN Meka. It’s a beginning.
What is the point of this editorial? Does another call for more black employees sound like a 2022 record breaking? For a building designed around the concept of stacking vinyl records, and currently empty due to a redevelopment to withstand an earthquake, such unstable ground leads to cracks in the foundations of the business it houses. . Capitol, are you listening?