Fans Are the New Record Labels
to a label but I own my masters/
Still get it poppin without artist and
Pharoahe Monch, Desire, Desire, 2007.
Last week, LA Times Staff Writer Chris Lee revealed the details of Cash Money
artist Drakes blockbuster record deal. In addition
to a $2 million advance payment, he retains the publishing rights to his songs
and cedes only around 25% of his music sales revenues to the label as a distribution
fee. Drakes deal was unusual to say the least; more so at a time when
recording contracts have taken a few steps up the draconian ladder, as CD sales
bow before the internet age of legal and illegal downloading.
But Drakes popularity and, perhaps,
patience steered him away from engaging in a rush-hour deal that could have
hampered his future. For that, I give him credit.. A couple of weeks back, I expressed
deep regret that the Canadian rapper seemed to have digressed from the
socially responsible content his mixtape start (Room For Improvement, 2006) was littered with. While still holding
those views, I was nonetheless proud to read that this emerging superstar had
enough sense to demand full
publishing rightsa booby trap record labels have historically set up to
control the message and music of their maids (artists).
Unfortunately, Drakes hard work might
have been for naught.
Cortez Bryant (Lil Waynes manager),
who helped establish this deal, proudly announced that the record company
doesnt have any ownership of Drake. It doesnt have participation on
profits. They dont have ownership of his masters. We control his entire
career. Those deals dont happen anymore. And
they dont have to.
Yes, things have changed. Yes, the four
major record labelsUniversal Music Group, Warner Music Group, EMI, and Sony
BMGhave suffered a sharp decline in record sales the last decade. Yes, label
bosses arent as confident as they used to be. But that hardly guarantees that
the music being produced and packaged for an international audience will
witness a dramatic shift in course anytime soon.
The Misogyny, Minstrelsy, and Materialism
contained in most popular radio and TV hits is unlikely to give way to socially
constructive music for one specific reason: Fans. Are. The. New. Record.
Who needs middle-age White men in suits lecturing
you about the music young Black, Latino, and suburban White kids want to listen
to, when the fans themselves have chosen Soulja Boy over Slick Rick, Lil Wayne
over Lupe Fiasco, and T-Pain over Talib Kweli? The implications are obvious.
Gone are the days when record labels ruled
with an iron fist, dictating to artists their agendas and what kind of music
was to meet it. As Canibus once rapped, them days is gone. In these times,
the fans, by-and-large, decide what they want to hear on the radio and watch on
TV. Whether they take full responsibility for this reality or not doesnt deter
it: With fans downloading Drakes latest chart-topping single, Best I Ever
Had, over 600,000 times in one month, it shouldnt surprise anyone when radio
stations and TV stationsdo the mathplay it endlessly on their airwaves.
Though I believe record labels played a
great part in enforcing upon innocent listeners crude lyrical content, I also
think the fans must be held accountable for the artists theyve supported this
past decade. By no means does this exonerate record label executives, whose
fingerprints are printed all over the evidence.
Industry rule #4080/
Record company people are shady/
Through the power of suggestion, the
label bosses, in conjunction with radio and TV outlets, shifted the social
consciousness of Hip-Hop in less than 10 years. They made sure that 90s
luminaries like Public Enemy, KRS-One, Monie Love, A Tribe Called Quest, and
Queen Latifah were completely shut out of the roster that burst forth in the
new millennium, rendering them nearly arcane in this volatile age. So, yes, I
fault the labels, too. But the fans arent entirely inculpable, either. And I
can prove it.
No one can put my contention in more
candid terms than Atlanta rapper Soulja Boy. In a radio interview earlier
this year, Soulja Boy commented on the disappointingly low sales of his
sophomore release, iSouljaBoyTellem,
which sold 46, 000 copies its first week, compared to his debut albums: 117, 262
According to him, because on his second
release he went more in-depth, and tried to step my game up, come with the
lyrics, go in on deeper topics, talk about life, and what its like being a
celebrity (no kidding!), the fans who had catapulted him to international fame
in 2007 couldnt comprehend the content. Nobody wanted to really hear that,
he said. The lesson learned is that successful rappers gotta rap about what the
people wanna hear, per say. And that magical element? Nothing. (Im not
making this up!) souljaboytellem.com,
his official debut, went platinum because I wasnt talking about nothing.
The easy thing to do is laugh off Soulja
Boy as a confused adolescent who lacks the intellectual competence to make an
informed judgment about marketing and the recording industry; but that would
miss the point. To a great, and scary, degree, hes right. Many who had
celebrated the sexual escapades he sang (not rapped) about on Crank Dat had a
hard time being preached to about the life of a celebrity on his second album.
And, whether we like it or not, in their
world such radical switch is
comparable to going from Bow Wow to Black Thought.
Even with this reality, certain artists
including Soulja Boy, Rich Boy, and The Clipse are pledging responsibility in
their careerfrom here onward.
Late last year, Soulja Boy released a taped apology
to fans and parents for some of the derogatory content his music was associated
with in the past. Over the past few months, Ive had a chance to meet a lot of
my fans face-to-face and it made me realize that I got a large fan base of kids
that look up to me, he said. I have a greater responsibility to the kids that
want to be like Soulja Boy. I need to set a positive example for them.
His heartfelt and unforced words
included commitments I never imagined possiblecoming from a rapper bound by
certain constraints in his contract: I wouldnt say a role model because I think
parents or a guardian should be a kids main role model; but, from now on, Im
going to make sure that every kid that looks up to me will get a positive image
that the kids and parents can trust.
But a few questions must be asked: Do
those kids prefer positivity over negativityas documented in the declining
sales of his second album? Will the same kids who spent hours learning the
Crank Dat dance check for a more lyrical and less theatrical Soulja Boy? Are
the very parents themselves aware that the problem might not be the artists
anymore, but rather the kids they think they know well?
Time will tell.
Alabama rapper Rich Boy, infamous for
his 2007 hit single Throw Some Ds, recently reflected on an incident he
promises will ensure more substance on his upcoming album. In an interview
with Vibe Magazine, he explained:
I was riding through this project called Roger
Wiliams, and this kid had asked me, Why you rap about crack so much, Richy? And it just messed my head up to the point where I couldnt get mad at the little cat. I was just like, I could tell he seen something real dealing with crack. So I was just like, Man, for the kids like that, Id rather change my topic. If I know kids like that are listening to me. Im going to keep it real and rap about the sh** Ive seen, but Im not going to glorify it. [T]he kids make me feel responsible. I didnt ever feel responsible until a kid actually asked me myself. I heard it from the horses mouth, you know what I
Certainly. I know what you mean. But the
fight is far from over, comrade Richy.
How many fans are like the little kid
who stepped up to Rich Boy, disgusted with commercial raps celebration of the
crack epidemic? How many other fans, presented with the same opportunity,
instead ran out for an autograph or photo-op? How many older fans commended
Rich Boyon blogs, forums, sites, etc.for yelling frantically on his successful
single: Throw some Ds on that bitch?
How many? Enough to keep his head above
the waters his music might have left many drowning in, prior to his date with
fate that day in Roger Williams projects.
1/2th of rap duo The Clipse, recently expressed
similar concerns in a Vlog. Currently, theres a lot of foolishness in Hip-Hop,
he said, and his crew, renowned for their witty street tales, has been a part
of the problem. He also touched on the exaggerations a studio booth can demand
from certain artists, and how he has, at times, fallen victim to it: I guess,
basically, what Im saying is: when I get in that booth and I start recording I
can drive as many Bentleys as I want. I can hop on as many G5s or drop as many
tops as I want. To his fans, 25 and younger, the message was direct: you
got to learn to separate the real from the fake.
In the latest installment of his Vlog
series, titled Young Ni**a This Is You,
Malice crafts an all-too-familiar narrative of a young, ambitious drug dealer
who drops the powder for the pen, but fails to accomplish anything substantive
in the long run. (And the Crack-Rapleave
that to me/ Cause even Rap aint what its cracked up to be/.)
But how many young Ni**as want to hear that? How many young Ni**as would actually take the time to contemplate the
severity of Malices warnings? How many young
Ni**as wouldnt simply move on to the next rapper whos willing to lie to
them about how much fun and rewarding the dope deathstyle is?
How many? Enough to extinguish a whole
generation of bright young people.
What these rappers are doing should be
commended by those who truly care about the future Hip-Hop is inching closer
todrug-driven, crime-centered, fad-focused music. But if the very people whose
ear-drums were fighting to protect appear unconcerned with the music record labels
are directing their way, at what point do we draw the line, forcing them to
fend for themselves?
Tolu Olorunda is a cultural critic and a Columnist for BlackCommentator.com. He can be reached at Tolu.Olorunda@gmail.com.