Saturday, October 22, 2011

Signed or Unsigned? What Matters?

In 2011, many new young rap artists are coming out the woodwork it seems, delivering stellar music, building massive, loyal fan bases, and making their own buzz, side stepping the traditional route of going through a "label."  Acts like Odd Future's Tyler the Creator, Emilio Rojas, Los, French Montana, make it look easy...establishing their own rep in hip hop through self promotion and crafting their brand.  Tyler the Creator had labels in an all out bidding war for him, as they wanted to capitalize off the hype he himself created through his music and controversial antics.  The rapper Hopsin has made a name for himself that although isn't a household name, many people on the internet praise him for his raw lyricism and no nonsense flow.  French Montana has been grinding with his music for quite some time, delivering a host of mixtapes to his fans and flooding the streets with hot songs and features, the whole time doing it independently for the most part.  Los, formerly signed to Diddy and Bad Boy, has carved a lane for himself in the underground and a large majority of his core fans consider him the "best rapper alive" and not @LilTunechi.  Even emcees longer in the game like Immortal Technique, Blu, and Elzhi have put out quality music and received the respect of hip hop fans and their peers as well, and a major record label had nothing to do with it.  This leads to my main question....

Does a major label mean anything anymore?

Its 2011, and record labels aren't as prestigious as they used to be.  Much of that has to do with the artists that have big fan bases but aren't on a major.  Yes you still have your big name record labels, like the heavy hitting Young Money/Cash Money records, MMG/Warner Bro.s, Roc Nation, GOOD Music, Shady, Def Jam still around, and even the least talked about Atlantic has some good artists.  In mainstream, majors still play a huge part in exposure to a crossover audience, and fans still do say "Wow this guy is great!  Why isn't he signed?  Jay should pick this guy up."  But in the grand scheme of things....is it better to be unsigned in today's hip hop?  Do majors matter for real for real?

It is an artist responsibility to build their brand, develop a core audience, an image, a signature sound, and make more listeners/DJs/and radio come to them.  More and more rappers are doing this through mixtapes, EPs, individual touring, putting all the pressure on themselves and receiving all the rewards.  Yes, a major record deal would take everything for any aspiring artist to the next level, exposing their product to a wider audience.  But more and more rappers are sticking to their roots, their core fan base, making large sums of money through shows, meet and greets, merchandising, and even selling mixtapes...SELLING MIXTAPES???  Los said it himself that he doesn't need a record deal to be successful, and that him being dropped from Bad Boy turned out to be a blessing cuz now he can direct his career the way he wants it to go, give his fans what they want, and get a larger majority of the profit.  Many people may hear that and wave it off as false, not believing a rapper would rather be independent than to be signed with a major record label the likes of YMCMB.  But its true.

These days, some of the hottest acts in hip hop are either independent or signed to independent labels.  Myself being an artist, I can't say that I am against major labels, as there are clear advantages to being signed.  But being unsigned is not the end of the world anymore.  Rappers have full creative freedom with their music, don't have to worry bout label issues or sample clearances or deadlines.  Being unsigned has a new appeal to it like never before.  I'm sure that rappers still have the dream of having that meeting with Jay-Z like J. Cole did, or signing that dotted line next to Rick Ross like Meek Mill did, or freestyling for Kanye like Big Sean did.  But rappers are also being more practical and productive.  Acts like Kendrick Lamar and Emilio Rojas are coming up in the game, taking hip hop by storm through pure lyricism and unique flow and delivery, and their fans really couldn't care less if they get a major deal or not.

Thats what I think it ultimately comes down to...the fans.  If an artist is comfortable with the core fan base they have made and is living well off that fan base, then more than likely that artist has no real reason to seek a deal.  If an artist wants a larger audience, wants their face on tv and wants to perform on a national stage, he/she may branch out for that deal.  The fans play a role in that regard, and it is ultimately the artist's decision.  But if you ask me, (you didn't) I don't think it matters.  The fans are what matters in my opinion.

I know this blog was a little short, a little less in depth, but hey........fuck it.  Whurlin......

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