For Corporations, When Colored Girls are Degraded: An Open Letter to CEO Lucien Grainge of Universal Music Group

“All I want for my birthday is a big booty hoe.” – 2 Chainz, rapper

Well all I want for my birthday is for music corporations to be held accountable for routinely degrading women of color.

Four powerful corporations are behind the majority of music we hear on the radio and the videos we see on tv. Four Corporations are behind the artists who get rightfully criticized — and then quickly forgotten. But how often do these corporations get called out?

Let’s keep this in mind as we watch the recently released music video “Birthday Song” performed by rappers 2 Chainz and Kanye West. The song is owned by Universal Music Group  (UMG), the world’s largest music corporation.

Okay, so most of us probably know rappers Kanye and 2 Chainz. And we definitely know what they want for their birthday. But let’s turn our attention to someone less familiar, someone else who helped get this song/video in front of your eyeballs and ears — because well, he and his team of senior executives produce, market, distribute and profit from it. Let’s meet Lucian Grainge, the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Universal Music Group. He is regarded as the most powerful executive in the music industry.

Mr. Grainge, I will cut to the chase: Have you watched any of the videos, listened to any of the music you own lately?

Why do you (and your staff and board members) think it is acceptable to routinely exploit women of color in your music?

Do you ever think of the black and brown girls navigating the lifestyles and values that your music glorify?

Do you consider the historical and present day context in which your music circulates?

After all, women of color being degraded, dehumanized and reduced to ASS — is nothing new. We live in a world where black and brown women’s bodies have been exploited since slavery. Where 19th century European freak shows exhibited the “unusual” body of Saartjie Baartman, a South African woman whose remains were finally returned to her homeland in 2002 after legal battles with the French government. Mr. Grainge, your disregard for black and brown women’s bodies is the same disregard that enabled a history of forced sterilization, the shackling of birthing black mothers in prison. Mr. Grainge, your indifference resembles the indifference of a rape culture that overlooks the men who rape, while blaming the women and girls of color, who experience sexual violence at disproportionate rates.  Research[1] has proven that the objectification of women in today’s toxic media environment has harmful effects on women and girls.

It is in this greater context of sexual exploitation where the dehumanization of black and brown women has become standard in commercial hip hop. The “Birthday Song” is simply one example. There are countless others.

For decades, artists, fans, and scholar activists have been writing and making films about this exploitation, rallying against it, provoking dialogue, engaging community and offering alternative messages that are rarely celebrated by corporations like UMG. Even young girls are speaking up (see  Spark Summit and Watoto from the Nile). Are you listening to them?

Together we are fighting this exploitation and the internalized oppression that it reinforces in communities of color and our greater society. In your mansion, Mr. Grainge, you probably never concern yourself with the struggles of black and brown girls or something called internalized oppression. But this reality is too close for many of us to ignore.

Mr. Grainge, as CEO of the largest music company in America, be clear that you, your senior executives and board members are contributing to a legacy of exploitation.

Now, I realize that considering questions and providing a moral response would compromise your bottom line. Your bottom line is more important than any black and brown girls and women who are internalizing the harmful messages YOU own and distribute.

Given this logic, it is clear that you will ONLY support change if your bottom line is at stake. And that’s why I’m writing this. I’m calling on advertisers & consumers to stop supporting your company, Universal Music Group, until you stop exploiting black and brown women in your music. It’s that simple.

I am also asking educators everywhere to help young people understand the role that corporations play in our mediated lives. Young people need to understand why it is that UMG’s music, songs like “Birthday Song” – flood our radio, youtube and music television. Educators, parents and peers need to have conversations about the meaning of popular music, unpack the harsh and complicated realities these messages reveal.  Ultimately, it’s bigger than one corporation. One artist. One song.

Still, Mr. Lucian Grainge, as CEO of Universal Music Group you cannot deny your power as a leader in the music industry. Therefore, you must do something.

Right now, you, your board members, your staff —  are a critical part of the problem. I’m calling on you to be part of the solution. And I hope others join me.

What is your response?

Nuala Cabral, FAAN Mail

Work Cited:

[1] Halliwell, E., Malson, H., Tischner, I. (2011). Are contemporary media images which seem to display women as sexually empowered actually harmful to women? Psychology of Women Quarterly, 35(1) 38-45.


About Nuala Cabral

Nuala Cabral is an educator, activist, filmmaker and co-founder of FAAN Mail, a media literacy and activist project based in Philadelphia.

Posted on September 8, 2012, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 41 Comments.

  1. Reblogged this on politics from the eyes of an ebony mom and commented:
    time to stop addressing issues to the rappers…Time to talk to the owners. Ebony Mom

  2. Reblogged this on The Diary of Tieira Ryder and commented:
    I hate to see any woman degraded in this manner. I wonder how many times some of these rappers can say they prefer Light skin women with long hair? Its like beating a dead horse over and over and now that we have some of these reality shows out with black women exploiting themselves it doesnt help. It goes to prove that we still are animals (even though many of us are not) and helps the enemy keep us down. Its really sad/sickening where we are at in the media today.

    The womans body is a beautiful thing, shouldn’t be readily available to just any man.

  3. The movie and TV producers degrade black women in many ways. One way is to show mainly mulatto black women who look as close to white as possible and still be able to claim to be black. Black men seem to prefer any race, but black women. I feel sorry for the black woman in our society. Maybe if black mothers would teach their sons to appreciate the beauty of being a black woman the sons might grow up to look upon black women as being beautiful or at least desirable as wives. I’ve known black women who were exceptional, but who could not find a decent black man who would marry them. Sad that so many black men are so shallow.

  4. While we wait for an answer, let’s also see what we can do to raise our collective self esteem. It’s hurtful to watch sistahs being exploited and even more painful to know that many of these video vixens are willing participants in the exploitation of black women.

  5. Why did you address this to Mr. Lucien? He is not the one writing and rapping the lyrics or buying and dancing to the music. He is a business man. No, it does not mean that he is not responsible for his part in this disfunction, it but if there was money in rapping/singing about necrophilia, then I am sure he would push that too. Black men, our black men are the ones rapping these misogynistic lyrics and sadly, black women are the ones that are buying and dancing to the music. This is not the white man’s problem, he gave us the tools of self hatred and we have ignorantly claimed them as our own and use them every chance we get to tear each other down using them. There is plenty of responsibility to go around and I suggest we look in the mirror first.

    • First? Last? Either/Or? This thinking is not useful here. This is about collective responsibility, right now. Many of us are looking in the mirror – and we need to continue to do that. Challenging internalized oppression is obviously important. But as this is happening, we must ALSO call out those who profit and distribute these messages. My open letter is calling for accountability and change from all of us. UMG, as the largest music corp in the US, is part of this problem – but rarely criticized. They TOO must be part of the solution.

    • AMEN. Although I must point out that Mr. Lucien, by being a by-stander in this is by extension complicit in the production and distribution of this trash.

  6. Not only the women but the children in this video. There should be a law against these types of music videos. What are they teaching?

  7. The answer is simple; stop buying such albums and stop listening to such music. I am always amazed when people complain about the state of rap music when it is not a necessity for survival. You don’t HAVE to listen to it you CHOOSE to, so choose better, seek out artists whose values mirror yours and support them.

    Kanye West is neither the only rapper out there nor the most talented; he just happens to be over hyped.

  8. Ok, I’ve said this so many times before and I even wrote a book that included a chapter about the exploitation of black women in Hip Hop, shouldn’t responsibility start with the black women who’s being exploited? In my book, The Most Dangerous Gang In America: The NYPD, I dedicated a full chapter to this subject. To be honest, I could’ve written a whole book about this subject. While it is socially acceptable to ask the chairman of the biggest music company to change the direction of his artists, it is also our duty and responsibility to change the bottom line within the music industry. If these CEO’s weren’t making so much money, none of this garbage would be spewed out by these illiterate rappers. The next time you’re at a club and 2 Chainz’s song comes on and all the girls bumrush the dance floor, just ask them why? Why do black women sing along to songs like, “Bitch betta have my money?” It starts at home and we need to educate these young women and hit the corporations in their pockets in order to see change. Writing letters to a CEO who probably has never been in contact with a regular black female will change nothing. These CEO’s only see the hood through the cinematic vision of a video director. They haven’t the slightest idea the impact this garbage has on our community. Should they be held accountable? Of course, but we need to hit them in their pocket in order for us to change the direction of Hip Hop or any music that denigrates women.

  9. Good article with great intentions. I admit I’m guilty of enjoying the music of Kanye, 2Chainz and others…I will say that this is a worthy challenge and much more education has to be provided to the masses on this important topic to really make an impact.

  10. I applaud you for writing this! Commercial hip-hop has for the most part been obscenely vulgar, with constant reference to sex, women as sex toys, and so on. I’m not an expert on the history of hip-hop and rap, but to my knowledge what began as an expression of a grim reality has now evolved into a culture where image conjuring millionaires openly glorify murder, thuggery, drug use, women abuse and subservience, as well as a gang culture. I’ve got endless respect for hip hop artists such as Lupe Fiasco and to an extent Lil’ B who have tried, albeit to no avail, to adjust these attitudes and keep them from the destructive path it’s adherents are hurtling along.

  11. umm.. im pretty sure these women aren’t forced to do these kinds of videos.. they get paid for it, and they dont have to do it, but they chose to…

  12. This is a wonderful article. The more awareness about our black women being degraded and discarded, is more exposure to this issue. I do agree that Lucian Grainge should be held accountable for his role at UMG, but I am also amazed for artists such as Lil Wayne, Drake, 2 Chainz, Kanye West, etc. and how they can reject putting out such horrible music that is inimical but they choose NOT TOO and we are supporting them and their repugnant actions. I am a huge fan of conscious-intellectual hip hop (not rap music) and it SADDENS me how intellectual hip-hop artists doesn’t receive the adequate airtime, money, nor notoriety until sometimes they have to crossover to rap and rap about garbage. Kanye and 2 chainz for an example both used to be intellectual rappers but mainstream media nor our own people embraced them during those times. Lets face it, the music’s industry primary concern is money and what sells in our own communities are in fact music that degrades women, violence, and drugs. I guarantee if women alone stop purchasing albums, stop attending concerts/tours, and just stop being fans of these artists who are polluting our ears, watch how quickly music executives changes their perspective on music for the lack of female consumers will hurt their pockets. We as the black women have to be held accountable for this duration of music that is blasting in our ears for we are probably the biggest consumers and supporters of the very music that constantly abuse us holistically. But what does some women do? Support this horrific style of music while we speak ill or just do not even support the various types of music that uplifts us. Just like Lucian Grainge black women collectively has the power to change the very outlooks of music.

  13. Black people in particular Black women are not the ones buying degrading music. So lets stop the myth of ‘we buy the music therefore its somehow should be allowed to exist’.. The truth of the matter the majority of this music is consumed by folks outside the community. Its often programmed via various outlets by people outside our community. Its via this programming many of us are exposed to the madness.. 2Chains is played at school dances.. He’s highlighted on music award shows.. he’s featured on songs by popular artists including some we may consider pop.. His fame and visibility have made him a crossover artists.. In addition UMG spends lots of money and resources to assure a particular product is promoted and given lots of exposure on commercial outlets. If media outlets can go to great lengths to remove records and demand censorship when artists reference political prisoners like Mumia.. (they did this w/ Public Enemy) or censor words that accuse former President Bush for knocking down the Twin Towers (they did this w/ the song Why by Jadakiss) or the labels themselves demand artist remove words stereotyping ‘Jews for stacking chips’.. (Clive Davis did this w/ All About the Benjmins by Diddy) if they can make moves like this in spite of a songs popularity, they can make moves to lessen the disparaging remarks and images of women.. With all that being said while institutions like UMG are being challenged, I encourage folks to highlight and make known to the world artists who are actually doing the right thing..There are lots of folks making good music we need to be rallying around so artists like 2 Chains dont become the only game in town..

  14. Peace sister
    My name is Johwell St-Cilien and i would love to put you on to this program i created with my partner.
    It is called Kids helping kids. We are basically creating humanitarians through hip hop, Not the so called hip hop this young generation is being subjected to by the media.
    Please watch and get back to me , we already are in 4 different schools in NYC and one YMCA. We took the program to Haiti and will be in Paris this October.
    You can reach me here
    peace and much love.

  15. I think it was a brave thing to address CEO Lucien Grainage. We must also use our power to boycott songs on the airwaves, internet and video shows (BET) and others from promoting work like 2 Chainz and Kanye. Also, we as women have to strongly consider where we want to be (not now, but later) in our lives and careers when we make decisions to take jobs for no or low pay in music videos where we degrade ourselves 1st! before anyone else, musicians or CEOs degrade us. Too many girls and women desire attention from our fathers and seek out the attention of men who could care 2 cents about us. Remember you won’t be a girl forever. One day you will be a woman! media lives on. THINK! nothing can take back what you’ve put out there so put out the message of how you want to be treated, adored and cared for, now and later.

  16. I love you sister for writing this letter! I would love to meet and build with you.

    I threw out my tv and radio years ago. Nothing good for our minds and spirits. Let us see what we can do to build an alternative to these clown shows.

    Please be in touch!!!

  17. Great article, I love all the replies that encourage getting more conscious music out there! It’s our responsibility to call out bullshit where we see it, and to expose the youth to something better! I am so grateful to have come of age in the mid-late 90s when alternative rock and conscious hip hop were abundant!! Thank you riot grrrls and Queens of hip hop for being shining example of female power!! Society has become so degraded that we must take responsibility for the infiltration of media into our lives and of the youths. As artists and consumers it is up to us to share positivity with others and create some culture that we can be proud of! (ps Kill your Television!)

  18. I already don’t support Universal anyway, but this is just more reason to stop supporting them. (But you don’t have to go without music…just so you know. Wikipedia usually lists record labels for every album, and you can easily find out from there if they’re owned by Universal or any other record labels you disagree with. I don’t think I have to tell anyone what to do from there.)

  19. Thank you for writing this letter. This is a powerful step. When I listen to the radio and how music has changed, even in the last ten years, I can’t help but wonder if it is being programmed to be as degrading and dehumanizing as possible on all pop stations.

  20. These images of the money-consumed tough man of color and hyper sexualized woman of color are ancient and it is no wonder that white males are the main consumers of this media. Music producers love to deny that these perpetual images actually influence popular attitudes and behaviors within our communities of color, but they do manifest themselves in our youth and the way they perceive their world, their values and themselves. Why don’t the music producers sign artists that produce music that is empowering to women or men of color? Of course, that’s not what white people want to hear… How much more ridiculous do the music videos have to get to wake up the American population on the most legal and mass produced hate crime that thrives in American culture today? A lot of atrocities of the world are enabled by the silent bystanders. We should be crying in outrage but the mass exposure has desentized us. What will it take for this to stop or for us to at least have more positive representations of our community in the media?

  21. I am a Caucasian, Feminist woman who is a member of N.O.W. in NYC. I advocate for women and girls of all colours, shapes, and sizes. I am so happy people are trying to do something about these horrible music videos. I especially loathe the music video “Monster” by Kanye West. I do not watch t.v., or listen to crap music like this on the radio. I am appalled that videos of this nature are shown on Mtv at all. It hurts to know that men see us women as “bitches and ho’s” instead of thinking, feeling human beings. I don’t know why anyone would write a “song”/make a video like this to begin with. Women of all colours around the world are treated like second class citizens, and I am tired of it. From America to Egypt to Asia..all over the world. Something must be done. It’s so obvous that society is going downhill fast. The dumbing down of America has happen, and will continue to do so for the love of the almighty dollar, at the expense of us women and girls.

  22. Reblogged this on AAWIP RADIO SHOW and commented:
    African American women can lead and take a stand against distorted media images.This is one of the examples of the war on Black women in america that goes ignored.

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