Just a few weeks ago, Chance the Rapper is reported to have turned down up to $10 million in contract advances with record labels *You Go Boy*. All to keep his freedom—uh… I mean, independence. I don’t blame him, and if I were Chance the Rapper, I would never sign a record deal. Here’s why:
He’s already famous, and rich.
Ok, I don’t actually know if he’s rich, but he ain’t poor, and whatever money he’s making, he’s making it himself and he’s definitely not being exploited to make someone else rich. I don’t know Chance personally, but I’m gonna go ahead and correctly assume that that’s important to him. Obviously, there’s more to music than being rich and famous, like artistry and free expression, but think of every biopic you’ve ever watched, what did they promise the artist? Exactly.
As to the famous assertion, google “coloring book”. Seriously, google it.
He has total creative control over his work.
For artists of color, this is muy importante. I remember listening to a K-Michelle interview where she talked about struggling with her artistry. She was being pigeonholed into a genre of music, even though she’s a classically trained musician. This, of course, is problematic. Because—racism. Being an independent artist gives Chance the freedom (this is starting to sound a lot more like slavery than I expected) to do things like perform a Gospel infused version of his mix-tape Coloring Book at the Grammy’s. This is potentially an entire post itself, but to briefly demonstrate my point, Chance is a rapper, from Chicago, at the Grammy’s performing with Gospel Legend Kirk Franklin and Tamela Mann.
He just won 3 Grammy’s; as an independent artist.
Listen. The Grammy’s don’t define Black excellence. Run DMC doesn’t have any Grammys. Tupac doesn’t have any Grammys. Biggie doesn’t have any Grammys. And a bunch of other Black artists have zero Grammys. So obviously you don’t need a Grammy to recognized as one of the greats. But, it’s not irrelevant that a young, carefree Black man won 3 Grammys. Because—racial tensions.
Historically, contract law has negative implications for people of color.
Honestly, this shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. The laws of this country, including contract laws, were written by white men. Most of the cases that interpret these laws, were interpreted by white men. As wonderful as you might think it would be for the laws of this country to be color-blind *insert eye roll*, the laws are a reflection of the perspective of the people who wrote them; white men. In the name of freedom of contract, the law and the court system often reinforce the uneven distribution of power that comes with contract transactions.
The idea that a contract could represent a grossly uneven distribution of power is called unconscionability. Courts interpret unconscionability on a case by case basis. The Second Restatement handles unconscionability with the following section:
§ 208. Unconscionable Contract or Term
If a contract or term thereof is unconscionable at the time the contract is made a court may refuse to enforce the remainder of the contract, or may enforce the remainder of the contract without the unconscionable term as to avoid any unconscionable result.
The UCC says:
§2-302. Unconscionable Contract or Clause
(1) If the court as a matter of law finds the contract or any clause of the contract to have been unconscionable at the time it was made the court may refuse to enforce the contract, or it may enforce the remainder of the contract without the unconscionable clause, or it may so limit the application of any unconscionable clause as to avoid any unconscionable result.
(2) When it is claimed or appears to the court that the contract or any clause thereof may unconscionable, the parties shall be afforded a reasonable opportunity to present evidence as to its commercial setting, purpose and effect to aid the court in making the determination.
In Georgia, when a court decides whether a contract is unconscionable, or not, they look at age, education, intelligence, business acumen and experience of parties, their relative bargaining power, the conspicuousness of and comprehensibility of the contract language, the oppressiveness of the terms, and the presence or absence of meaningful choice.
Race is not a factor in the decision. Now let’s be clear, I don’t mean that race needs to be explicitly listed as a factor (and I definitely don’t mean that your race alone could mean you’ve entered into an unconscionable contract). For all intensive purposes, race could be factored into any number of these factors (like education for example). But consider this, by leaving the decision on unconscionability in the hands of a judge, it inevitably leaves his bias on the table. For a judge who’s “color blind” and refuses to recognize that he may even have biases, or that there is a gaping hole in the education system that disproportionately affects people of color, obviously, the outcome is injustice. Take for example the many artists who’ve had to file bankruptcy or otherwise been taken advantage of by their record labels based on terms in their contracts. New Edition, Toni Braxton, and Ike Turner for example, and these are just a few I can think of.
So yea, Chance, don’t let anybody trick you off these streets; you the man, stay the man.
Images courtesy of Giphy