Why Be A Rapper?

I want this to be my chance to make people remember me when I die.” —Rich Boy

That quote is from an interview I did when Rich Boy—who sounded like he was gargling marbles when he spoke—was still green behind the ears. His answer resulted from a question I like to ask any new artist I speak to: Why? As in, why are you doing this? Why even get into the music business now? What kind of real money can you make in this climate? What’s your motivation?

I don’t have to tell you how bad the sales market is. For an established artist, let alone a new rapper, going gold in this climate is as likely as Lil’ Kim not looking like an Asian cat in a photo. The question of Why is becoming more and more pertinent as the music industry stays going down the drain and record labels keep shoving trash down our throats and refusing to find new digital-based business models. In the end, your favorite MC ends up getting the shaft (no pause. I’m a female), as they’re forced to operate in an industry that just isn’t working. The incentives for a rapper to be in this business are getting slimmer and slimmer. So why even try? Yet, judging from the CDs we get, the plethora of MySpace rappers and the dearth of Show & Prove artists to sift through, there’s no shortage of MCs trying to get on.

Still, many aspiring rappers I speak to admit that they don’t expect much out of the music business. But what’s the alternative? What else are you gonna do if all (you think) you can do is rap? For lots of young Black males in the hood, music is the only legal career option and all they can do is pray they’ll turn out like a 50 or Jeezy. Back in July 2007 before his first album dropped, I asked Plies why he kept going hard with his music:

What motivated you to keep going at it?
For me, it’s different dealing with it on a mainstream level. Like, I didn’t have to put up with bullshit on a mainstream level because me and my brother ran our whole situation so we just had to answer to each other, anything we wanted to do. But now doing it on a corporate level, everybody got an opinion. And a lotta times, it ain’t always in the best interest of the artist. It’s in the best interest of the business… This game is about you being a good return on your investment. That’s all that matters.

I posed the same question to B.O.B. recently.

With the rap game the way it is, how do you stay motivated to keep rapping?
The fact that you even asked that question suggests that there’s definitely a void in music in general and I feel like I’m carrying the torch…when it comes to just getting the music to the people.

He makes a good point. Sometimes your passion for something can override the possibly unfavorable outcome, so I commend any new artist who’s really talented and willing to risk everything—money, time, energy, their future—on showing us what they got. Unfortunately, “I do it for the love” is heard less often these days. I also realize I work at a magazine that needs these hungry new artists in order to stay alive, so why am I even asking this question, but it’s a weird place to be—at this crossroads where you have to decide if a life in the biz is really worth it. I suppose if Nas would’ve just said “fuck it, there’s no money in this,” hip-hop would be at a sore loss. What would you do as an aspiring rapper in this situation? Keep chasing your dream? —clovito

  • Lester Diamond

    The problem is these kids wanna get in the game to be multi-millionaires. I don’t know if the money is still there like it used to be. Hip-hop has become a product to be sold just like everything else nowadays. I think the only thing that can truly save the essence of hip-hop is this recession we’re in. Hip-hop was originally a movement of the poor and neglected. If the culture can acknowledge it’s roots again it will survive, if not I’ll just start listening to emo.

  • Chris the MC

    Im a young aspiring MC and i realize that i may never reach a 50 or Jeezy status but theres nothing else id rather do. I do have options, im current working on cumputer science degree,and thats the problem because im a young black malewho grew up in the hood but i didnt let that hold me back like most others do. The coomunity makes it seem like theres nothing else we can do but rap or ball if not sell drugs and thats why we dominate sports and rap is overcroweded because most of us do wanna make money legally. Me going to school is plan B, and hip- hop is my dream. Even if i was rich and successful in anouther feild i would be unhappy because its not what i dream about. I look up to cats like Talib Kweli because hes far from mainstream and yet he still makes hot music on a regular basis, and thats what i call love for the game.

    • Hate Hate and more Hate

      ^^^ lol @ MC Software

      I can’t wait to hear your rhymes about computer processors and RAM. Don’t get me wrong, computers & geeks are what’s in now. Computers and the internet helped Soulja Boy got into the game. Plus you have more street cred than Plies & Officer Ross, so you can be a gangsta ass nigga that can kill a nigga, fix his computer, and then spit a hot 16 about it.

      • Chris the MC

        Haters

      • FaMe

        Stop hating on the kid for doing something positive with his life. I bet you haven’t opened up a book in your life. At least has a plan B. College is a good look but being there isn’t going to be the be all and end all, you still have to go out and get a job. Let the kid dream and work everything else out when that shit happens. Iggnorant as* n*ggas man. F*ck!

  • Chris the MC

    ^^^ my bad i thought i didnt post the first time*

  • General

    The biggest problem is it has all become about the money (whether real or just imagined) and not about the love of the art. Every single you hear anymore is about how much money these cats got, and most of them have nothin. I understand a 50, Puff, Jay, Luda, or Em rappin about all the riches they got, cuz they actually have it, but I’m tired of all these new artists comin into the game and all they talk about is how much shit they got when they barely even eatin. I want artists that show their hunger, not just their “Swag(word that must disappear from Hip-Hop in 09)”. Here is hoping that in 09 we may start to see a return to the hunger that drove hip-hop to the top before the greed and materialism that has taken over brought us back down.

    • DV8

      couldnt have said it better myself

  • AVENGER XL

    The answer to this question is the Art and everyone wants to be good at something. You know cat’s who rebuild cars some don’t become full time mechanics. I know nerds who create programs but are not software engineers everyone has to have a path to follow and it is the hungery artist that may forge the new industry so whatever your motivation. Stay motivated.

    • Hate Hate and more Hate

      naw homie, niggas rap because they can’t slam dunk or they get robbed when they try to sell drugs.

      This rapping shit ain’t that hard. All you have to do is be a good shit talker. Your shit doesn’t even have to rhyme, just look at Prodigy. With rapping you can be whoever you want to be and niggas will believe you, jsut look at 99% of the so-called gangsta rappers. I think niggas is in love with being somebody else and the fame.
      Fame = mo bitches & mo riches aka a youraverage niggas dream

      And for anyone that says they’re rapping for the love of it is full of shit!!! If they really felt like that they would be doing this shit for free, real talk!

      • BIGNAT

        THERE ARE ALOT OF PEOPLE WHO DO THIS SHIT FOR FREE IT’S ON A WEBSITE. THAM I CAN’T THINK OF IT RIGHT NOW MY FRIEND IS ON IT. THESE NIGGAS BE BATTLING AND WRITING VERSUS AND SONGS JUST FOR THE COMMUNITY ON THE SITE. THEY DOING IT FOR THE LOVE BECAUSE NONE OF THEM PEOPLE ON THERE GET PAID.
        I WAS AT ONE OF THERE EVENTS AT THE NEWYORICAN WHICH YOU WOULD KNOW ABOUT IF YOU LIVED IN NYC. OR KNOW SOMEBODY WHO GOES TO THOSE KINDS OF PLACES. WELL IN AUGUST IT WAS HELD SOME PEOPLE RAPPED SOME PEOPLE DID POETRY THE JOINT WAS REAL COOL. THEY HAD PEOPLE WHO JUST KNOW EACH OTHER FROM THE SITE MEETING IN PERSON FOR THE FIRST TIME. LIKE PEOPLE CAME IN FROM FLORIDA PHILLY AND OTHER SPOTS I WAS NOT TRYING TO HEAR EVERY NIGGAS STORY. PLUS THEY HAD SOME FINE CHICKS IN THERE IT WAS A GOOD NIGHT

  • paychexx

    being a rapper aint shit

  • http://www.myspace.com/crockerishiphop Crocker

    The answer is pretty simple for me. It’s my passion. It’s a chance to say the things I want to say. To say the things that aren’t being said. For a shot at making history. And basically just for art’s sake. If you can’t feel any of that, then you are in the wrong profession.

  • http://bkcyph.com BK Cyph

    I do it for the love. straight up, thats all there is to it!

  • Worley

    Take the time to create a QUALITY mix tape. Go straight internet with your sh*t. Generate a buzz. Do local shows. You can open for big names when they come to town. When all is said and done you will probably be less famous but make the same money. Most rappers make zip from albums and everybody ain’t filling stadiums so that 100K a show ain’t really realistic. Besides, it will definitely beat some trifling 9-5.

    Chris the MC keep doing ya thing.

  • http://www.incilin.blogspot.com Incilin

    “I also realize I work at a magazine that needs these hungry new artists in order to stay alive, so why am I even asking this question, but it’s a weird place to be—at this crossroads where you have to decide if a life in the biz is really worth it.”

    ^^^ I feel your pain because as fucked up as the music biz is, the magazine biz is just as, if not more, fucked up (Anyone here follow mediaisdying on Twitter?) I’ve been asking myself a lot lately if trying to be a journalist is good idea, considering how the biz is now. But in the end of the day, I’m like fuck it. You can’t put a price on passion, and if its that much tougher, I’ll go that much harder.

    BTW, on the non-no homo thing, thank god there’s a female writer on this site. There aint been a female voice here since Tara Henley left (And that was like 2 years ago). Go figure it had to be the only female writer to write the first sensible and considerate post on this site in months. HOLA CLOVITO!

  • Chris the MC

    I live in Dallas TX and the local scene is wack as Fuck, my shit dont fit in at all,im just praying for a shift in the game. Although my shit is different i stil get alotta love cuase ppl can relate to pain and working hard to accomplish things, i just that these days if u dont have a dance song you get ignored. i live in the heart of the hood and i see these little kids who never had a real role model and act like these clowns they see on TV. This is so powerful of a platform, and i always had a strong opinion so i wanna be a voice of reason for my ppl. i grew up without expensive cars and cloths and i can live like thatfor the rest of my life. i just wanna share my opinion vocally

  • clovito

    props to the struggling artists. I feel you on just wanting to be heard.

  • king blair

    CUZ I’m the Shit and the best thing breathing on this mudball

  • http://www.jmack972.com JMack

    Damn truth Chris.

    Thats why JMack bullies all those cowards.

    http://WWW.LONESTARHIPHOP.COM

  • Pingback: XXLmag.com - » Rap Music Is The Way Out The Hood Yo

  • Macdatruest

    Rap is different for different people. We taught to look at it as “A Way Out Da Hood” when Coorporations like Sony and Warner Bros. know it is a Multi-Billion Dollar, International Phenomenon. They have to keep us thinking small like slaves( whips, chains, hoes,beef,or king of nothing) because poverty breeds the creativity they suck from us. The only reason Rap is stil around is simply because they know how powerful it is.It’s bigger than all the muthafuckas who commentin’ right now– it’ll be here when we gone. Rap is the Evolution of The African Spoken Word and The Drum Beat remixed over the years generation through generation and it’s still evolving. We will always Pioneer rap, and any other drum lead music with vocals. it’s our Birthright real shit. All this “State of Hip Hop” that fag ass shit is more like propoganda. That’s a way of consolidating all rappers cause Majors would rather see up and comers go down with their sinking ass When it’s all being run like a machine and Major Labels can filter rappers through DJ’s in their pockets,labels can force their Flopping Stars like 50 cent on the Magazine Covers & Radio then Hip Hop is “bringing in the bucks” and it’s doing good. But now that Niggas found out you gotta G.R.I.N.D( Get Rich Independent) and that you better off “Feedin Yourself”,now they say hip hop is Dead. I hear raw ass niggas everyday, but Hip Hop is like T.V. Now, You gotta dig through the shows and find a good series. Otherwise You end up watchin’ some bullshit recycled gameshow starring some recycled ass gameshow coon makin a gameshow.

  • Macdatruest

    I can’t wait until Undergound and Mainstream just zero out and technology catches up with the Corporate Marketing Hop’s chokehold on the game. I can imagine every “up and coming” producer/emcee being able to record, mix and master with good tech. Then release albums via internet. Albums could even be free. No high costs in recording will lead to more carefully crafted albums and fresh talent. Competition would be fueled by creativity, which is what would be necessary to stand out. If someone generates enough buzz or might even drop a classic, of course they tour then make hard copy albums available which would include artwork, album credits, etc. that their fan base would appreciate for 8-10$. In this future way of doing business the so called “hip hop” magazines would do what they were meant to do, talk about emerging good music and the artists behind it. Right now it’s all hate and criticism. But real shit—I’ll Myspace myself a Career. A real fan is a real fan.

  • Chris the Mc

    Call me mr.hitdathoe!