In 2013, Lauryn Hill served a three month jail sentence for, of all things, tax evasion. I was shocked and dismayed by her case, mainly because I know where she comes from and she’s an intelligent, educated person. Someone steered her wrong. I don’t personally know the other increasing number of hip hop tax evaders, but I know they must be misguided and misinformed.
I could understand, if everyone could have a private army, private education and private transportation system, there would be no need for taxes. If the world were at total peace and we all shared all our resources freely and in some kind of utopian Star Trek world, we wouldn’t need a system to pay into.
This is not Star Trek, sadly, and not everyone thinks sharing is the right thing to do. There are people who think you should pay for what you can pay for and if you can’t feed, clothe or house your children in the way you see fit on your own dime, you shouldn’t have children. If someone wants to knock you down and take all of your things, you should be able to defend yourself alone, with no help or with help from some kindly passer-by. Impoverished, differently-abled and less fortunate citizens would suffer if we lived by those rules. For me, that is an unacceptable situation.
As much as people hate to admit it, government attempts to find a balance between those who care about everyone and those who care only about themselves. It is a system of taxation that attempts to treat everyone fairly.
Taxation is not supposed to be some kind of penalty. It helps our society function. It ensures that every member of our community can be educated and housed and clothed, regardless of who they are or where they came from. It keeps the streets clean and the roads safe. It helps support people who are not fortunate enough to be able to make money under their own steam.
The miseducation lingers somewhere around the premise that somehow this society does not contribute to the success of the taxpayer. We in this country are fortunate to be supported, albeit with fluctuations, in our schooling and career paths. We may disagree with our elected officials, but we are protected by the constitution to speak our dissent. That freedom comes at a relatively small cost to us these days – after all, it’s only money.
Another unfortunate victim of these evasions is the lesser-earning musician. Artists who do their own taxes must be even more scrupulous and, even in doing so, they are opened up to closer inspection and possible audits, even when everything is in order. Most working musicians do not have the freedom to cancel a tour in order to go over the books with an IRS agent. Art needs artists to survive and vice-versa. Let’s not push everyone out.
Hip hop provides us with a dissenting voice for our community. It is our responsibility to pay taxes as a way of giving back to that community and to give more, through donations to charities, if it’s within our means (it’s tax deductible, mostly). Many popular artists have used their wealth and influence to start their own 501(c)(3)s. That’s where our power for change lies, working from within the system, rather than working without it.
Advice from anyone who says you live and work apart from the community that supports you is miseducation.