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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

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