Who owns hip hop?

The answers are two-fold: One is the owner of Hip Hop Starz, which is where I heard the song.

The other is a company called Roc-A-Fella, which owns all brands of rappers’ albums.

Which is the answer? Is anyone actually paying the rapper to put out a record? If it’s the answer, it should be a big deal. Hip Hop Starz will not tell me where the money comes from, but there are no doubt profits made from selling the recordings on There are no guarantees that all of the music will reach the fans in a timely fashion.

This is not the first recent case of a rap record being mislabeled as “gangster rap,” an issue that Hip Hop Starz hopes to avoid and rectify. In February of 2008, the label released “L.O.C.,” but the rapper was accused of “swearing.”

But Rap Genius editor Jay Kornak did his own digging and discovered that the name had been changed to “Lil’ Wayne & The Pack.” Hip Hop Starz did not take credit for the edit or dispute the validity of Kornaks findings.

This week, the company said it had removed a “disruptive” rap song from the website’s database. What it did not say was who made the change or why. Kornak, in an email, told me that the company hoped to reach out to Hip Hop Starz and the rapper to try and resolve this issue.

As for how far they can take it, the company says, “Any form of violence is against our principles; however, we do not support the use of weapons,” and they will “take disciplinary action” against users who break this rule “if proven.”

So will I buy the record if I see the picture of Biggie in the record? No way. A rap album is a cultural artifact. The artist has only ownership of the recordings that they create. If the labels are the ones paying, then I see no reason to buy the song.

But if the labels do pay, and if they are a corporation, then I must support Rap Genius and buy the records.

Editor and writer Matt J. Harris blogs at Follow him on Twitter @mjhphotography.

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