‘Own boss, own your masters slaves/The mentality I carry with me to this very day/fuck rich let’s get wealthy who else gon feed we/if I need it imma get it however god help me’ – Jay-Z – No Hook
Contracts all fucked up/ guess that means you’re all fucked up/ signed to one n***a who’s signed to another n***a who’s signed to three n***as/now that’s bad luck - Pusha T – Exodus 23:1
This post stems from Meek Mills latest announcement that he’ll be starting his own label imprint, called Dream Chasers Records. He already has a few artists signed to the imprint including producer Jahlil Beats who already has a publishing deal with Roc Nation. However I’m not all concerned with the names on the label, as much as I am about the actual necessity of the label itself.
Meek’s debut album is in stores and where he’s been one of the brightest newcomers to Hip Hop in the last couple of years, being an artist and being a business man are two completely different things. It seems that artists, especially rappers are all too quick to create their own imprints as soon as they get put on, and where it can be beneficial it can also be counter-productive most of all for the artists signed under that artist.
Obviously we know of successful artist run labels and we witnessed the crew regime that was supreme in the late 90′s, early 2000′s with the Ruff Ryders, Bad Boy, Roc A Fella and G-Unit etc. Though they are pretty much non standing today only mentioned in bouts of nostalgia, only three of the four labels were headed by truly business minded rappers who knew how to separate music and business. Not only that but there’s experience that plays a part. Meek’s debut just hit stores, shouldn’t he be focused on the promotion and success of that project instead of his newest business venture. Hip Hop being the fleeting culture that it is, it’s not guaranteed that he’ll be as popular as he is now in 5 years and it’s not to say he won’t be. It just looks like along with the insistence nature to add hyperbolic value to everything that’s new, a lot of newer artists truly believe they’ve done enough already, so in Meeks case he starts a label. (Ok talk to me about Taylor Gang, talk to me about OF but to that I just say; they came in with those imprints. Meek did not so to me in their cases a certain mindset was already in place).
Meek Mill’s my example so let me just put his own label situation in plain text.
- Meek Mill signed to Rick Ross MMG Label imprint in 2009 (artist founded label)
- MMG is an imprint under Warner Bros (distribution deal with a major)
- Meek Mills career is managed by Roc Nation (another artist founded label)
- His debut album Dreamchasers will be released via MMG and Warner Bros.
Confused? Well this is what some music business looks like.
Being a label head can be a taxing job to then couple that with being an artist could mess with your focus and hinder your team. He’s currently got two Philly rappers signed to his new imprint. I respect him putting his home town on during the height of his success but when you yourself are a new artist still learning the ins and outs if the industry. Does it make the most sense to start handling over people’s dreams? (He could have got himself some reebok deal or something)
His current boss Rick Ross didn’t start his MMG imprint until after his third album. By this time it was clear Rick Ross was consistent artist not a novelty like Sean Kingston. He’d have networked and studied the moves of the industry leaders, whilst building up enough knowledge, experience and contacts inside the industry to understand what was required to run a successful label. Hence the success and popularity of MMG. I believe Rick Ross would have had to be aware of what type of roster would make sense based on his own brand and space within the culture. So in the midst of all the bubble gum rappers and auto tune fads there were no more street rappers, or at least none with an outlet as wide and big as the one Ross had built for himself, which is also called a gap in the market. (Meek signs in 2009, Pusha T signs with GOOD Music in 2010 rappers of similar content, see how their careers stand now, look at who and what was mainstream Hip Hop and remember marketing and business are by design). I’m not going to get into Meeks actual career; I’m just trying to provide some context.
Anyway a nice bit of A&R and you got Meek. Not the most technical rapper but with a distinct flow, high energy and a lack of ‘real’ in the market here you have a success and buzz worthy artist. Now the two rappers he signed I don’t know if they’re going to be the greatest of all time but by the sounds if it I doubt it and I wonder where he found them at. It might just end up being a Bleek & Jay thing or Ross & Gunplay. What I mean by that is, guys from the same side with a bit of talent who have been down and are now being put on, there’s nothing wrong with but there’s nothing financially crazy about it either.
If you’re familiar with rap trio Strong Arm Steady, a few months ago they were in an interview and explained that sometimes signing to other artists is the worst thing you can do. In their situation they signed to Talib Kweli’s Blacksmith imprint in the 2007 but being that they were both artists, conflicts arose when it came to album/single releases, promotions etc. With Kweli prioritising his own work over his signees, granted this is what you do when you’re an artist but when you’re a business man…not so much.
I don’t know Meek’s business acumen, he’s not done much outside of touring and mixtapes to really determine how successful his imprint could be. It just seems a bit rushed. Majors are very quick to drop large advances on artist imprints because they believe they will be able to A&R the same talent which will only generate more money for them (it’s less work for them also). On the flipside artists know they can get big cheques for saying they’ll do this very thing even if in reality they don’t possess the skill set to actually make it a success. A loose example not so closely linked to having a certain level of business acumen but to majors banking on an artist based on another’s artist co-sign. Chief Keef and Interscope, I believe Keef was a bad investment and you only have to look at his time line of mishaps in recent months to see why. However before that, Jimmy Iovine really thought he hit the jackpot when he signed the 17yr old because one of the cultures tastemakers Kanye West co-signed his sound with a monster remix of his local hit ‘I Don’t Like’.
Too often you hear of artists starting labels and then you never hear of the artists or you hear of the problems the signees experience on that label. Take 2 Chainz who was previously signed to DTP a label imprint run by Ludacris, they were tied up in bad contracts and Ludacris didn’t appear to give Playaz Circle a real chance to flourish outside of his own career, the same goes for Bobby Valentino who was signed to the same label and is now an independent artist. In fact where are all those DTP members now ? What about Nelly & St Lunatics I could go on with examples but I could also go on with success stories but like I said at the begging this is a question of necessity. It can be effective and helpful but in some instances such as this it doesn’t seem completely necessary.
What do you think? Should new artist grow into their roles before branching out and handling others?
Do they need to be more established in the industry after the hype fades or should they just get all they can get while its good even if that means the mistreatment and neglect of their signees own futures ?