Grade A Certified

"You gotta read the labels…"

Posted by Mr. Put On on June 17, 2009

 

Do you remember the fall of 2003? I do. Quite vividly, in fact. It was the start of my senior year of high school. I copped about 10 plain white tees from Foot Locker (the four for $20 joints…don’t act like I was alone) and a fresh pair of white-on-white Air Force One’s. You couldn’t tell me I wasn’t fly. I also had to start applying to colleges and making grown-up decisions about life. Plus, there was this girl I was chasing after and had a crazy crush on that didn’t want anything to do with me. But this is a happy space, so let’s keep it that way.

Do you remember the soundtrack from that year? You probably got up on some ass while a crunk Lil’ Jon track was blasting. Or you were confused when Andre 3000 was singing “Hey Ya!” and made us all think Outkast was on the verge of breaking up. And it was damn-near impossible to keep up with all of 50 Cent’s diss records, seeing as how he had beef with…well, everybody. Some things never change.

It was also the time, before Jay, Dame, and Biggs split-up. that Roc-A-Fella Records boasted one of the most talented and hotly anticipated rosters in all of Hip-Hop. I won’t front: I was a Roc-A-Fella stan. Whether it was Cam’Ron and the Diplomats, Freeway, or the never-saw-the-light-of-fucking-day M.O.P. album, I salivated for everything that sported a Roc-A-Fella logo. Even Young Gunz. Don’t judge me.

In addition, there was this young producer signed to the Roc who was making a name for himself by providing beats for Jay-Z, Talib Kweli, Ludacris, and every other dickrider trying to copy their style. Back then, you probably knew him as the guy who got in that car accident and produced “Takeover.” Now you call him Kanye West.

Despite all the hype that surrounded Kanye’s production resume, the Chi-town representative really wanted to be known as a rapper. But let’s face facts – when you’re signed to the same label as Jay-Z, Cam’Ron, Beanie Sigel, and M.O.P., your nickname isn’t exactly “priority.” And had it been anyone else other than Kanye, they may have just sat back in the cut, played their position and waited their turn. From what we know of Kanye now, that shit just wasn’t going to happen.

Enter “Through the Wire.”

See, Kanye didn’t possess the attitude that says “sit around and wait for the label to make moves” (see: Saigon). He believed in himself and his music so much that he financed a video for the “Through the Wire” out of his own pocket, got spins on MTV, and created his own damn buzz, sans the Roc-A-Fella co-sign. He forced Jay and Dame’s hand and made them devote time and money to their brightest new star and capitalize off his self-promotion. And it’s a good thing they did, because there is only so much you can accomplish no matter how much money you put behind a Memphis Bleek project. But I digress.

Kanye was able to build his own buzz from the ground up, with little-to-no backing from his record label. In 2003. This is before the current era where blogs rule Hip-Hop. Now, in 2009, any rapper looking to be successful must be a mainstay on Nah Right or College Radio Music (big ups) before a label takes notice. You can just look at Asher Roth, Kid Cudi, Charles Hamilton (for better or worse), or Wale for proof of this. They’ve all taken a Kanye-esque approach to their careers, with the help of blogs, and delivered their music straight to the people without label interference. In turn, they created interest in themselves and their brand, subsequently signing major label deals and being heralded as the next big thing.

My question is: what if Kanye wasn’t signed to Roc-A-Fella? What if Kanye would have parlayed his connections in the biz into more shows, released more free music, independently produced his own music videos, and created a buzz so big he could perform on national television without being signed?

Answer: he would be Drake.

Drake is in a position that, to my knowledge, no rapper has been in the history of Hip-Hop. Whereas the entire XXL Freshman class (of which, Drake was not included) has signed major label deals based on their internet presence, Drake has surpassed them all in popularity while remaining unsigned. He’s selling out venues like the House of Blues and he doesn’t even have a record in stores. I opened up the most recent issue of XXL to check out the article on Mos Def, and as I thumbed through it, who did I see in an advertisement for LRG clothing? Talk about irony.

Now this 22-year-old actor turned rapper/singer has the entire music world’s ear. Naturally, the bidding wars have begun. Every label wants him. Scratch that – every label needs him. With everyone’s record sales on the decline, who wouldn’t like to get their hands on the next megastar that has all the girl’s panties flying? Drake has the potential to turn any record label’s balance sheet from red to black.

But does Drake need them?

Take a moment and seriously think about this: what can a label, major or indie, do for Drake right now that he hasn’t already accomplished on his own? He’s on Hot 97. He’s in Rolling Stone magazine. He’s on MTV. He’s selling out shows. He did a joint with Mary J. Blige, my niggas (c) Hov. He did it all by himself. No label support. And his buzz hasn’t stopped growing yet.

Unless Jimmy Iovine tells this kid he can, literally, fly him to the fucking moon to do a concert and broadcast it on NBC in primetime, I don’t see a reason for him to sign with anybody.

I can’t take credit for this idea. The thought first occurred to me when Skillz mentioned it on Twitter a while back. He was right, though. Drake doesn’t need a label – it’s the other way around. So if these labels aren’t throwing around NFL size signing bonuses in these meetings, what’s the point?

Admittedly, I’m not a fan of Drake’s music. It doesn’t speak to me personally. However, as a lover of Hip-Hop, I would like to see Drake succeed outside of the major label system. From where I’m sitting, it would mean, for the first time in a long while, the people chose their own hero based on the music they were feeling, and not by what was jammed down their throats by a radio programmer who doesn’t know the difference between T.I. and T.O.

The internet has opened up many doors for aspiring artists, but it’s not yet completely clear as to what impact blogs and social networking sites will have on the music business. Drake is in a unique position to revolutionize the way we all see/use the internet and what role it will play in future business models. If he could become the first truly independent and successful Hip-Hop artist, who knows how things might change.

It honestly doesn’t look like we’ll get the chance to find out…but it’s a nice thought.

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14 Responses to “"You gotta read the labels…"”

  1. YM said

    Ive been listening to Drake for almost 3 years, mane this was a great article imma send links off my blog http://ytwuniverse.wordpress.com/ ….

    I have seen this guy go from a nobody to a superstar, and been tryin to tell lame’s…

    get @ me

    YM

  2. YM said

    Ive been listening to Drake for almost 3 years, mane this was a great article imma send links off my blog http://ytwuniverse.wordpress.com/ ….

    I have seen this guy go from a nobody to a superstar, and been tryin to tell lame’s…

    get @ me

    YM

  3. dA kId said

    Isn’t Drake under Young Money?????

  4. dA kId said

    Isn’t Drake under Young Money?????

  5. Alisha said

    this is great>>>> gold stars all around!!!

  6. Alisha said

    this is great>>>> gold stars all around!!!

  7. jacko said

    gr8 write up tinz

  8. jacko said

    gr8 write up tinz

  9. Can’t take credit for that one Jacko. That was all Mychal Smith.

  10. Can’t take credit for that one Jacko. That was all Mychal Smith.

  11. D Dotta said

    1) Drake is NOT signed to Young Money, he’s affiliated with them. I might even go as far to say that they handle his management at this point. Just an FYI “da kId.”

    2) M. Smith….good piece of writing. I always knew you were a journalist, just never got a chance to view too many pieces of your work I was interested in reading. This piece has shown me the light.

    3) I would of said this is a great article, but you lost me when you said, “Admittedly, I’m not a fan of Drake’s music. It doesn’t speak to me personally.” I just can’t see how Drake doesn’t speak to you. Not liking his music is 1 thing, but I would roughly estimate that 90% of the fans of Drake I’ve spoken to enjoy him/his music because they feel they can relate to what he’s talking about. In listening to Drake I feel like he’s shared some of my college/18-25 year old experiences. I also feel the same anticipation/desire to become a Rockstar that he speaks about in his early records.

    Or I guess he said it best, we’re both just “Transitioning from fittin in, to standin out.”

  12. D Dotta said

    1) Drake is NOT signed to Young Money, he’s affiliated with them. I might even go as far to say that they handle his management at this point. Just an FYI “da kId.”

    2) M. Smith….good piece of writing. I always knew you were a journalist, just never got a chance to view too many pieces of your work I was interested in reading. This piece has shown me the light.

    3) I would of said this is a great article, but you lost me when you said, “Admittedly, I’m not a fan of Drake’s music. It doesn’t speak to me personally.” I just can’t see how Drake doesn’t speak to you. Not liking his music is 1 thing, but I would roughly estimate that 90% of the fans of Drake I’ve spoken to enjoy him/his music because they feel they can relate to what he’s talking about. In listening to Drake I feel like he’s shared some of my college/18-25 year old experiences. I also feel the same anticipation/desire to become a Rockstar that he speaks about in his early records.

    Or I guess he said it best, we’re both just “Transitioning from fittin in, to standin out.”

  13. Mychal Smith said

    I didn’t expect to have to defend such a personal sentiment, but OK….

    To borrow a phrase from the great philosopher-king Mos Def (I’m being fecitious here), “your grind and my grind ain’t the same, dogg.” You may relate to Drake. That’s cool. You’re you. I’m not. I’ve got a different mentality, different perspective, different experiences, different haircut and different draws than you. Simply: we’re not the same person. Drake speaks your desire to become a rockstar – I couldn’t care less about becoming a rockstar. You say you feel like he’s shared some of your college/18-25 year old experiences. My mind isn’t on that. My day-to-day isn’t about that. I really don’t know how else to put it.

    But thanks all for the kind words.

  14. Mychal Smith said

    I didn’t expect to have to defend such a personal sentiment, but OK….

    To borrow a phrase from the great philosopher-king Mos Def (I’m being fecitious here), “your grind and my grind ain’t the same, dogg.” You may relate to Drake. That’s cool. You’re you. I’m not. I’ve got a different mentality, different perspective, different experiences, different haircut and different draws than you. Simply: we’re not the same person. Drake speaks your desire to become a rockstar – I couldn’t care less about becoming a rockstar. You say you feel like he’s shared some of your college/18-25 year old experiences. My mind isn’t on that. My day-to-day isn’t about that. I really don’t know how else to put it.

    But thanks all for the kind words.

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