Draft Day: What Label Should Your Favorite Rapper Sign To?
Sports and hip-hop go together like Jay Z and Jay Z' sports management company. Hip-hop is a competitive genre by design and relies on a mix of individual talent and team dynamics, which is why it fits so well into the context of sports. In that vein, why aren’t music "drafts" as big of a deal as they are in the NFL or NBA? Rappers acquiring other rappers, getting picked up by major labels, or deciding to go indie is a fascinating process. We need a hip-hop version of Chris Broussard, to cover what artist TDE is thinking of signing next the way he covered where Lebron would sign his next contract.
Currently, there are a host of rappers that have either refused to sign, have had trouble with their labels, or were dropped/released for a variety of reasons. Where should some of these artists sign if given the chance? If you don't think we're going to spend way too long thinking about these hypothetical scenarios, you don't know The DJBooth. (Unless of course one of these artists actually signs with the label we suggested, in which case we'll pretend like we knew it for sure the whole time. You know, just like sports reporters!)
With that out of the way let's get into the draft...
Chance the Rapper - OVO Sound (WMG)
Every label needs an heir apparent, a rapper that has the potential to take the throne and in the process keep the old king in the conversation. Where would Jay be without Kanye and the success of Watch the Throne? 50 Cent helped Eminem soldier on when he was battling through drug addiction and lackluster output. Even Drake’s success has re-invigorated Wayne’s appeal. So in the same manner, Drake should be on the lookout for an artist that can one day help him weather the storm of old age and irrelevancy.
Chance the Rapper has the potential to be a franchise player. He has the fans, the music, and critical success. Signing to OVO Sound could do a few things for Chance. First it would align him with the most popular rapper in the game. A Drake co-sign can pretty much make anyone a star. He’s done it with Future, Migos, The Weeknd, and ILoveMakonnen. Imagine what a Drake co-sign could do for someone who is already established. Similarly, Drake’s Warner imprint is very much lacking a star. Majid Jordan is still building. PARTYNEXTDOOR is buzzing but doesn't seem to have solo superstar potential, and has yet to shake The Weeknd’s shadow. Chance would represent the imprint’s first star.
Chance is the opposite of Drake in almost every way. Mr. Graham has cultivated a roster that fits the Drakonian aesthetic, and that’s the problem. The reason Nicki and Drake succeeded under YMCMB is because they offered something different. They were more than Wayne clones, and in the process made Wayne stretch his own creative ambitions. Chance isn’t the coolest rapper in the world, but that’s his charm. He has the potential to create and solidify his own sound and become just as big as Drake on his own terms. While its exciting to see Chance conquer the game on an independent level, seeing him swing for the majors would be just as thrilling.
Lupe Fiasco - G.O.O.D. Music (Island Def Jam)
Lupe’s relationship with Atlantic Records is one of the most tumultuous affairs between a rapper and their record label in recent memory. Atlantic and Lupe have been at odds for years, and there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight. Recently, on Sirius XM Radio’s Hip-Hop Nation show The Tor Guide, Lupe went on record regarding his problems with Atlantic stating:
“I don’t have a 360 deal. Since they can’t eat off my merchandise or my publishing or my touring they treat me like a third-class citizen up there. I paid the price for that....They tried to negotiate it with me, it’s just, the money wasn’t right. It just wasn’t right. And we were like, ‘Nah.’ Then they were like, ‘Well, if you don’t sign this 360 deal we can’t guarantee we’re gonna promote your records.’” (via Smoking Section)
Above all else, Lupe has paid the price for his creative freedom. If Lupe was facing a real draft his chances would definitely be minimized based off the fact that he put up early numbers in his career (“Kick Push,” Food and Liquor, The Cool), but has been held back by a team that never gave him enough time on the field to prove himself.
At this point G.O.O.D. Music could use Lupe as much as Lupe could use G.O.O.D. Music. The label has lost some of its biggest stars in the last few years, (i.e. Kid Cudi, Common) and is in need of a heavyweight. Lupe has one of the most dedicated fan bases in music; fans that will stage boycotts in his name. Kanye has always done his best work when he’s helping hip-hop legends like Pusha T and Common gain back a degree of their relevance. Lupe already has the foundation, now he just needs the major co-sign and Kanye’s signature stamp.
The two already proved they have the chemistry. “Touch the Sky” is still among Kanye and Lupe’s best songs. Now all they need to do is align themselves, and perhaps give Lupe the type of focus he was missing under Atlantic. Lupe has the talent, creativity, and drive, now all he needs is an executive producer like Ye to mold his vision into a coherent sound. Kanye has already sworn off producing “radio ready” singles under the G.O.O.D. Music umbrella and Lupe could benefit from this newfound creative control.
Update From Lupe:
Vic Mensa - Aftermath (Interscope/UMG)
Vic Mensa is the perfect example of a mindie artist. Half of Mensa and Chance’s appeal is their indie aesthetic, and if Mensa is signed why would any major label want to ruin the DIY platform Vic’s spent so much time building?
However, if Vic is still shopping around for a deal, then Aftermath is a viable option. Aftermath Entertainment knows how to market lyrical virtuosos, and inevitably turn them into household names. Dre did it with Eminem and Kendrick, with whom Vic shares a lot of stylistic traits. Listening to Vic’s debut solo mixtape, INNANETAPE, after the dissolution of Kids These Days, it wasn’t hard to glean why Mensa has gotten to this point. He’s so multi-talented that he can sound just as comfortable at home with a backing band as with a simple 808 kick and snare.
In the last few months Vic has moved farther away from pure hip-hop, and has been dabbling in the EDM scene thanks to his opening slot with house heavyweights Disclosure. But if given the right opportunity Vic could definitely hold his own with Aftermath’s resident lyricists.
Childish Gambino - MMG (Atlantic Records)
Childish Gambino is bigger than most people give him credit for. Because the Internet sold 96,000 in its first week, his single “3005” is in rotation on Hot 97, and he’s led numerous sold out tours. Gambino’s stock has risen in the past three years since his much maligned debut album, and that’s why it makes sense for Gambino to align with a hip-hop heavyweight like Rick Ross.
Signing to Maybach Music Group would be a mutually beneficial endeavor to all involved. Maybach Music Group was once a titan in hip-hop, but has faced multiple setbacks in recent years do to infighting, jail stints, and low album sales. MMG could desperately use a shot in the arm, and Gambino could be just that.
Rick Ross can be a great A&R; he has an ear for beats and is known to give his artists a large degree of creative freedom. Gambino has gone on record about his lack of respect in hip-hop (i.e. the “white rapper” Twitter poem) and even called out his current label, Glassnote Records, for dropping the ball on the release of his single “Sweatpants.”
At first glance, Ross and Gambino are polar opposites. Ross has held up his “drug kingpin” charade for years, while Gambino stayed true to his “son of Kanye” ambitions. However, on closer examination, both artists are masters at employing theatrics in their music. No matter how many time people bring up Ross’s past as a corrections officer or Gambino’s on the sitcom Community, the two have forged ahead to create their own spaces in hip-hop. Together they could find common ground, and give each other legitimacy that many fans think they are lacking. For Ross this means a star that doesn’t need to be considered “street” to be successful. For Gambino this means having a major co-sign that would allow him to create without the fear of being labeled inauthentic.
Trinidad James - Grand Hustle (Columbia)
When you examine label rosters, Grand Hustle’s track record is mixed at best. For every southern legend T.I. signs (i.e. Killer Mike, Trae the Truth, 8Ball & MJG) he counteracts the move with an artist destined for crossover appeal (i.e. B.o.B., Iggy Azalea). If nothing else, T.I. knows how to market audio poop and turn it into pop gold. He helped B.o.B. transition from the king of the blogosphere to the Billboard charts and was instrumental in the beginning stages of Iggy’s career.
That’s why Trinidad James can work for the Hustle Gang family. He’s already had his 15 minutes of fame with “All Gold Everything,” but still might have lingering potential. James will most likely never be taken seriously in the hip-hop game, but neither is Iggy. T.I. has done wonders for her and she isn’t even signed to his label any longer. All James needs is the right hit and he’d back to the middling position of rap superstardom that he found himself in when “All Gold Everything” was first introduced to the interwebs.
Danny Brown - Strange Music (Independent)
When it comes to hustling there aren’t many rappers that know how to put in work like Danny Brown. From features to endless touring, Brown has found a sizeable niche that extends all the way from hip-hop to EDM. That’s why he’d make a great addition to Strange Music.
Tech N9ne and Danny are both hip-hop oddballs, but share a similar independent spirit. Not many rappers can run a multi-million dollar empire, play over 1,000 shows in a year, release multiple albums, and grind on an independent level, but still get love from the mainstream. Strange Music could be the exact place where Danny could study and start to learn fundamentals that would one day help him build his own massive operation. Danny had trouble with his current label Fool’s Gold stemming from the delay of his debut album, Old. So if Danny is ever in a space where he’s looking for a new label, he could do a lot worse than the independent behemoths over at Strange.
GoldLink - Mad Decent (Various)
GoldLink is on the verge of something major. In many ways the enigmatic MC has tapped into the current internet zeitgeist, embodying everything we’ve come to expect from the 21st century rapper without seeming derivative. GoldLink is the perfect blend of hip-hop and electronic, mystery and intrigue, conscious and pop.
GoldLink is so different from your average rapper, it would make sense for him to partner with a label like Mad Decent. Diplo’s label has a history of melding disparate genres and sounds, into one cohesive body of work. They are home to artists as varied as Major Lazer and Baauer to Snoop Lion and Riff Raff. Diplo did an amazing job packaging Riff Raff’s latest album, Neon Icon, into something that simultaneously fits Raff’s brand and elevates it beyond a mere internet joke. While many still hate on Riff Raff, you can’t deny that Neon Icon was a sonically polished effort. Partnering with the Mad Decent family could allow GoldLink to keep his outsider edge, but produce on a bigger budget. Diplo has such clout in the music industry, he can move mountains helping his roster partner with the right people, in order to get their vision across.
Azealia Banks - No One
Azealia Banks can rap...when she wants to. At this point Azealia Banks has had more Twitter beef then hit records. You know you’ve done way too much fighting on Twitter when Complex can devote a whole listicle to it. So it shouldn’t be a surprise that Banks got dropped/released from her label Universal. Azealia went on Twitter to announce the news stating, “Free at last...I’m feeling like Miss Celie at the end of Color Purple” and “Now I get to be the cool indie chick I imagined I would be when I was 14!!!”
As much as Banks wants to be an independent darling, at this point she needs to rebuild and and its getting harder and harder to figure out who would actually sign her. She’s had trouble staying with multiple labels (Universal, XL), can’t keep any type of management, had beefs with anyone and everyone (T.I., Lady Gaga, Iggy Azalea, Nicki Minaj etc.), and all around doesn’t seem like she can avoid controversy for long. This might be a Johnny Manziel situation; most institutions would like to avoid the inevitable media storm that comes with employing such a divisive figure, even if it means passing on someone with true talent.
[By Charles Holmes. He writes things. This is his Twitter.]
Written by Charles Holmes on 08/28/14
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