Screw working for the man
If major record labels can't promote hip-hop anyway, why do rappers even bother with them?
You have to assume this is on the mind of an artist like Method Man, whose last album only sold something like 60,000 copies its first week out and has most likely since slid off the charts entirely. (I'd check to make sure, but who gives a shit anyway?)
Could Mr. Mef have sold just as many copies without the backing of the almighty Def Jam machine? It's hard to say. On the one hand, I'm not aware of too much that Def Jam actually did for the album anyway. Were there any videos made? Probably not.
Granted, Method Man himself is at least partly to blame for his album's commercial failure. But the point remains: hardly anyone knew or gave a shit about the fact that Meth had an album coming out and hence not very many people ran out and copped it.
So it stands to reason that 4:21: The Day After could've done about as well had Method Man released it himself independently. But here's the thing: he almost certainly would've made more money, even if the album didn't do nearly as well.
How much more? It's hard to say, but it could've been quite a bit. The trend these days among a lot of has-been rock groups has been to put out albums on their own labels and collect basically all of the revenue, save for a small distribution fee.
And thanks to new technologies such as digital downloads through services like iTunes, ringtones, USB flash drives and what have you, said distribution costs are relatively minimal. Obviously it costs a lot less to sell an album over the Internets than actually ship it somewhere.
Take for example the Canadian rock band Barenaked Ladies. They claim to have grossed somewhere in the neighborhood of [Dr. Evil voice] one million dollars in the first week of sales for their recent Barenaked Ladies Are Me. It only sold about 8,000 copies in the US that week.
If I had a million dollars, indeed.
Granted, major record labels are still useful to the extent that they can't create superstars on the level of a Jay-Z or a 50 Cent. But in cases where they obviously can't, I don't see why artists should bother with them any longer.