One of the biggest hip-hop stories in the past couple years came when Cash Money CEO Bryan “Birdman” Williams, confronted Power 105.1’s Charlemagne Tha God on the popular and sometimes controversial Breakfast Club morning show back in 2016.
The radio personality upset the “Pop Bottles” mogul with his ongoing joke about Birdman giving out bad deals.
What resulted was a viral moment that can be summed up into one word: ‘Respek’
Birdman was visibly upset because he was called out for doing what every other record label had been doing in the hip-hop industry for years: ripping off their artist in what now is called “slave contracts.”
Look at TLC, who sold up to $10 million worth in records but somehow were only taking home $35,000 a year. Soulja Boy, the OG of internet rap, still can sell out shows internationally with successes like “Crank That”, “Kiss Me Through The Phone” and others sued his ex- manager in 2012, claiming he was coerced into signing multiple bad contracts and we all know from the Straight Outta Compton movie how Eazy-E and N.W.A. manager Jerry Heller dubiously handled the rap group’s finances.
But a trend is changing. Not only are rappers learning to say no to label deals, but they’re becoming savvy businessmen. Here’s a couple MC’s finding a way to make their own bread in a weird time in the industry.
Rich The Kid
Take Rich The Kid for example. In one year’s time, he made the 2016 XXL freshman class, signed to the indie label Quality Control and 300 Entertainment and…. started his own label, signing his own artist in Famous Dex. Who does that? The audacity. I mean, he doesn’t even have an official album out yet.
But this is a new era where artists are taking control into their own hands are redefining what it means to be major players in the most influential genre out right now.
Rich The Kid is taking advantage of having a deal that allows him to pocket most of his change and he’s been capitalizing off of it. In addition to live performance fees and streaming royalties, Rich explained to Forbes mag that recording guest verses or chorus hooks on commission makes for a significant revenue source. He said,
“I make a lot of money off featuring, doing songs with up-and-coming artists… I can charge someone $10,000 to $15,000 to do one song.”
Smart. And when he’s not doing guest verses or doing shows, he’s taking business meetings with multimillionaire business owners, like Gary Vaynerchuk, who gives him advice on how best to expand his brand.
Think of rappers like Wale, J. Cole, Big Sean Kendrick or even Drake. They all made it a point to sign to a label. That was the culture then. Now, artists don’t care about singles or even about releasing albums. They’re starting their own labels, dropping mixtapes on iTunes and signing their own artists. The game has truly changed.
Chance The Rapper
Chance is another guy who is putting his middle finger up to the ways of old. Quite literally. The 2014 XXL freshman cover finalist came into the game saying no to record deals, then started making deals of his own.
On day one of his “Be Encouraged Tour” in San Diego in mid-April he threw shade at the big time record labels. Dissing Aftermath, Def Jam, and Motown among others during his performance of “No Problem,” where the independent emcee famously warns labels not to try and stop him.
Somehow Chance convinced the Grammy’s to consider free music for Grammy consideration, released his second mixtape (yes mixtape) then went on to win three Grammy’s after that.
The new school is coming in cockier than ever.
Not to mention the endorsement deals. If you see anyone walking around with a “3” on a New Era hat, it’s Chance.
He is a brand ambassador for both the Bulls and the White Sox and he even came up with a new Kit-Kat jingle. And he hasn’t even reached year three in the rap game.
Lil Yatchy aka Lil Boat has damn near heard it all. He’s been called poster-child for whack rappers, his music has been dubbed as “mumble rap” and he caught flack for not knowing much about Biggie and Pac. Whatever your opinion of Lil Boat, it’s clear that the self-titled “King of Teens” knows how to market himself.
Since Yachty first stepped on the scene last year the 19-year-old has become a hot commodity for brands across the spectrum. When PUMA and Pink Dolphin came together for a capsule collection last year, Yachty was brought in to be the face.
Lil Boat is a well-known Nautica aficionado, and early this year they hired the 19-year-old to be a creative director after a successful collaboration with Urban Outfitters last November. Even Sprite decided to use Yachty’s “Minnesota” in a 2016 commercial with Lebron James. Not to mention his Superbowl ad with Carly Rae Jepsen for the remake of “It Takes Two” for Target ad.
How’s that for mumbling?
The young artist has already broken into corporate sponsorships in a way that some rappers can only dream of.
We first got a taste of the Harlem’s own A$AP Ferg when he burst on the scene with his banger “Work” which appeared on the A$AP Mob mixtape Lords Never Worry, released in August 2012.
Since then, Ferg has dropped Trap Lord in 2014 and Always Strive and Prosper in 2015 — both received great acclaim — but it’s his interest in fashion that sets him apart from his class and the artists who have come before him.
Pairing up with Astrid Andersen, a menswear designer from Denmark, for the former’s SS16 show, as the “Trap Lord” was brought in to curate the music for the show. They even worked together on a short film with Red Bull Catwalk Studios entitled, Water, which you can see for yourself below:
The game has changed. Artists understand that they have control. Whether it’s establishing their own labels, to making deals directly with brands, the highest form of currency is their online following.
As the game of hip-hop expands and demands more from the culture, it wouldn’t be surprising to see more and more new rappers out the gate land deals that previous artists had to make multiple albums and millions of sales to snag.
And I’m here for it.