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BLOG: The Age of Do-It-Yourself Rap

Last night I saw Drake perform to an allegedly sold-out S.O.B.s crowd in NYC. The show wasn’t scheduled to start until 8:30pm but the line was already half a block long around 6p.m. (Somebody tell Rick Ross! Haha). His performance was either decent or dope depending on who’s recapping, but Kanye, Ryan Leslie and MC Lyte were among the big names who came out to watch him, and Bun B hit the stage at one point. I started wondering how the hype on this dude got so big…

When I spoke to Drake recently, he made a good point about being part of a new do-it-yourself generation of artists who are taking their destinies into their own hands – like most of the rappers on our 2008 top 10 freshmen cover. Lots of artists put in work to pull themselves up into the industry by their own bootstraps. But Drake is a special case, as you’ve been hearing over and over and over. Still unsigned hype, he hasn’t had any major label backing other than a Lil Wayne cosign (and you can weigh the significance of that however you want) and he’s released three mixtapes, the last of which, So Far Gone, is earning him all this 50 Cent-like mega-buzz. Now he’s got an interesting bidding war going on and he’s letting the labels have at it (fyi Lyor Cohen of Warner Music Group was also in the building last night)

What Drake has done in the past year is basically everything a traditional label would do to introduce an artist. It’s the program that most of today’s MCs are getting with, i.e. Lil Wayne, which is basically promoting their own damn selves. Creating their own market. At this point, Drake has already built his own buzz, his product is appealing enough to a good amount of people and his visibility is growing primarily through word of mouth. It would seem that all he needs a label for now is distribution and pushing his album back (zing!).

Take a look at what a label does before an artist ever drops an album – marketing (creating an image), promotion (radio, Internet, etc) and advance money are all part of the setup stage of familiarizing an artist with his/her audience. But artists have been dropping mixtapes themselves for years now and if you can build up enough hype to set up your own shows, then you’ve got a good start. There’s no money in sales, clearly – “show money” is the key, I hear. So if you can create your own music through mixtapes and then perform that music at shows across the country and you don’t have to split that money with the label because of a 360 deal… Could be profitable, no?

Of course I’m not too naïve too see the benefits of a real label deal, including covering expenses like flying to tour destinations and promoting shows but aren’t those all tax write-offs anyway? A smart enough rapper could conceivably release music entirely on his own these days.

As for the buzz, some people are saying Drake is overhyped but it probably only seems that way because it’s more visible. The buzz could indeed be similar to Fif’s, except that with the Internet we’re now actually able to witness the evolution of an artist in real time, which makes it seem like overkill. We all know that Internet hype doesn’t necessarily translate into sales, but Drake’s recognition is beyond the Internet at this point. His shows are selling out, radio has latched on, and everybody’s dropping his name as if they flew to Toronto and discovered him themselves. What do you think? Does Drake need a record label? Is the do-it-yourself method successful? Or do the artists end up overhyping themselves? –clovito

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