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3 Top Hip-Hop Names Rewrite the Rulebook

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- This column's name, For What It's Worth comes from the title of a song by Stephen Stills and his mid-'60s band, Buffalo Springfield. A protest anthem for the late '60s, the song's hook says simply:
I think it's time we stop, hey, what's that sound?
Everybody look what's going down

That is the theme for each column: Looking at the obvious and seeing how it implies broader trends in our culture, in society. Those trends are evident in certain events, certain headlines, in the kinds of performers and songs that become popular, in the changes that are happening within the music industry, in the value that we put on music's various aspects.

Lately, a confluence of trends has appeared, involving news from three top hip-hop artists, each independently reaching beyond musicians' traditional channels and so, helping to redefine the music industry.

As a group, the overriding intention of popular musicmakers and the labels and promoters that support them is to make money. They'll tell you that the art comes first, but the truth is, if it's not making money for the parties involve, the art usually gets shelved.

This gives commercial music a built-in tension, an inherent conflict of interest, because the true value of music can't be measured. When the goal of music becomes making money, the music itself quickly becomes almost irrelevant, buried deep under unit sales and merchandizing revenue. Balancing artistry and revenue becomes an art in itself.

So when three of the most powerful names in hip-hop, in the space of a few weeks, make headlines by trying to expand the commercial territory of music in one way or another, it's worth paying attention.

On the following pages, I take a look at them, one at a time.

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