Hip-hop music has never really worked like the traditional music business. In regular music, a label signs an act, they do whatever they have to do to get the right music recorded for the artist, then they send the records out to DJs, start promoting, get a publicist, get some awareness going. Then they hit the road, and that’s that. It’s a little bit more complicated, but let’s keep it short for brevity’s sake.
With hip-hop, it’s never that simple. With rap, there have been very few truly successful creations that have come from within the confines of the industry itself. Studio-created rappers only go but so far. When the money runs out, so do they.
Now when I got into hip-hop, the way you would hear about new artists was from them appearing on different popular radio shows (Stretch and Bobbito, Nighthawks, The Wake Up Show). Maybe they’d be featured in a magazine (The Source “Unsigned Hype”). Even better, they’d feature on someone else’s album, and then you’d look out for everything they did from that point on.
My how far we’ve come since the days of demo tapes.
Does anyone really look for talent anymore?
I haven’t seen Notorious yet (although I’d love to, someone send me some tickets or something), but I’m pretty hyped about the movie. The trailers bring back a lot of memories for me. It’s not that long ago, but I still remember the first time I ever heard Biggie. I remember exactly what I was doing, where I was, and what the conversation was like. I remember the hype.
Which is why I’m wondering, what does a rapper have to do to get a buzz nowadays? See, a few years ago, the “in” thing was controversy, so even Gravy, who’s playing Biggie in the new movie, went and got himself some street cred by allegedly having himself set up in a planned shooting outside of HOT97.
Around that time, it was also really popular to “beef” with other rappers, to war with them on songs and mixtapes, in hopes that people would talk about you enough that it’d warrant some real interest in your real music. Thing was, the real music never came. It was just endless beef and dis records, and the public got tired of it.
Before that, it was all about the cosign. The industry cosign. Oh, he got such and such cosigning him? He must be ill. Oh, Dr Dre sold 50 million records, so you know this new dude’s gonna blow. It was like sports teams. The Celtics got Garnett? Dr. Dre got Busta?
It took a few years, but the cosigns got lame. They became finnicky industry politick moves, like when 50 cosigned Game because Jimmy Iovine told him to. The joke was on you, the public, and it played out in public, and you (the fans) realized these guys were all full of shit, so you stopped buying into it (as evidenced by album sales and said artists newfound irrelevancy). Hats off to you.
Still, there’s a major sector of hip-hop that is trying to play by the old rules, now taking their cheesy affiliations and name-dropping to new heights, uploading their beefs to Youtube, dropping hundreds of songs a year, and in general contributing nothing substantial to the game.
But what’s an effective marketing tool for a new artist besides these things? How can you get people to pay attention to you when it seems like you’re existing in a bubble, and nobody out there paying any attention?
I’ve seen guys go the route of weekly freestyle series. That’s a cool tactic, but kinda played at this point, no? With technology the way it is, the fact that we can record ourselves doing pretty much anything and upload it in minutes, the weekly freestyle or even the daily freestyle seems sort of half-baked. It has a “will rap 4 food” sensibility to it, and that devalues the whole concept to me. That said, I like the fact that there’s an immediacy to it. That you can have any thought, any rhyme, any piece of art you create, and you can get it out there to people.
But is all art meant to be consumed? Not necessarily. There’s something to be said for releasing 5 really high quality freestyles as opposed to releasing 15 of them, and only 3 are good. Assuming most rappers and fans now treat rap like fast food anyway, let’s use a McDonald’s analogy here. Would you be satisfied if only 3 out of every 15 hamburgers you got from McDonald’s actually tasted good? Probably not.
I can’t help but look back at something like the Biggie era and feel that there was a lot more thought that went into things. Things didn’t feel so rushed, so hinging upon a buzz. Maybe that’s because it was harder to make a record then. There were less rappers and fewer songs. Now, it’s not good enough to just make quality material. You have to do something to stand out.
But is standing out that important?
Because while Gravy’s busy having himself shot in the ass, or Ransom is beefing with Joe Budden, or Max B and Jim Jones are airing each other out, there’s some kid out there building his fan base one fan at a time. Maybe it’s a slower process, but it’s more rewarding over the long term.
One might be able to look at the example Duck Down Records has set. For years, this company was out of the spotlight. Flex was dropping bombs on everyone’s records but there’s. And I bring them up for one specific reason, because at one time Flex was dropping bombs on their records. Then all their label problems screwed them up. But somebody like Sean Price was able to have a career revival over the past few years, by just quietly doing what he does best, making quality rap records.
And then you have kids like the Freshman 10, who whether I find them to be great or not, are doing it their own way. They’re getting Honda endorsements and saving planes from terrorists. They’re making records that people want to hear because they’re good, not because they’re cramming them down people’s throats. They’re out there on the internet, you either download them or you don’t. It’s that simple.
I was watching Slumdog Millionaire last night. Couldn’t help but single out the usage of MIA’s “Paper Planes” for the millionth time in a movie or something of the like. I started thinking about all the female rappers in hip-hop that have come and gone over the past ten years or so, many without having a hit nearly as big. But they’ve had plenty of hype, titties falling out on the MTV Awards and all. But where are they now? That the only time we hear from Lil Kim is when a Biggie movie is coming out, or she’s going to jail, is something to take note of. MIA’s barely a rapper. But that’s a rap song, bottom line. And it’s a pretty good one, in case you haven’t noticed (after the year and half its been out).
I think now more than ever, in hip-hop, the side show needs to stop. 50 is dissing Wayne and Kanye now? Fif, take your own advice. Like you said in the first Beef documentary about Ja Rule, “Make a hit record, and then I’ll come fuck with you.” Make a hit! This beef shit does nothing but get people talking for five minutes, then they forget about it. That doesn’t make them come to shows or buy records or do anything really.
For a rapper to get attention, they need to do something different. They need to do something groundbreaking. But they also need to do it and have it actually be good. That’s the knock on 808s and Heartbreak. It’s creative, but it’s just not good. And I can see how people could feel that way.
To me though, we’ve truly come full circle with hip-hop. There really is no story, nothing to write about (sucks for rap mags). It’s about a song ending up on a Myspace page somewhere, or on zshare floating through the blogosphere, and people loving it, and passing it on. It’s that simple. Like the early rap mixtapes. People will pass on what they think is great, and then it just goes from there. And that’s a real buzz.