If You Could Sign to Any Label, Who Are You Signing With?
If you are on this site, reading this right now, you're probably either a rapper, or you've thought about being a rapper. I know I have. The only thing holding me back is that little thing called skill, but if it weren't for that, I would totally be the next Kanye. Well, no matter how often you think about it or how bad you want to be rapping alongside Drake, it probably isn't in the cards, sorry. Still, we can always daydream right?
So just imagine this (fucking obviously) hypothetical situation. You are a good rapper. So good in fact that it awoke Tupac's ghost, who proceeded to go on Hot 97 and tell the world you are the next great rapper, before flying all the way to rapper heaven. Ghost Tupac's co-sign has opened doors like never before. Your Twitter followers have increased exponentially, companies are lining up to hire you as a sponsor, and most importantly, every single label out there wants to sign you. Every single one, without hesitation. You could walk in the doors of Aftermath and Dre would be willing to throw away his Apple/Beats deal to get you\. Kanye would leave Kim to get out on GOOD Music (let's be real he's probably looking for an out anyway). Jay would commission a personalized Basquiat for your bathroom. You get the idea. Every label want's you, and you could get any deal you asked for, but which one do you want? Where are you going to sign?
Before we get to the fun part, let's get the boring fine print out of the way. These days label relations are so intermingled and murky it can give you a headache trying to figure out which rapper is where and why; even the Lanisters are grossed out at how incestuous they are. We could write a whole separate post breaking down how where TDE, Aftermath and Interscope are connected, and where they're not.
For the sake of this absurdly detailed question of the week, we are gonna throw all that out; the point is you can sign anywhere and dictate your terms. Obviously, if you are more interested in number one hits and reality TV, a major is probably still better. If you want to make dope music maybe an indie is better, but keep in mind, you probably won't make as much money. The choices are your's and your's alone! So, which artist/label do you trust most with your career?
Roc Nation/Jay Z:
Initially, I thought Jay would be the obvious number one, but he more I think about it, the less I like it. On the one hand it's Jay fuckin' Z. He's easily the most popular figure in hip-hop and one of the best in business too."branding" is a big buzz word in hip-hop and Jay Z is perhaps the best example. Dude isn't a businessman he's a business, mannnn. That might be good say, if you want to expand into having you own line of sparkling water this might be the way to go, but it seems like Jay isn't really gonna give a fuck about your music when making more than your album would ever make on the Cano deal.
I mean, Cole just got his chain after five years and two albums; do you want to wait that long? Plus his track record isn't exactly spotless. Jay Elec is living on the moon with his rich wife, Cole stumbled out of the gate, and let's not forget Memphis Bleek. Plus, his music isn't great anymore, so while a feature would do wonders for YouTube views, the song itself might not be so great. Jay's name might be worth it alone, but, unless you are a baseball player or a painting, there is a lot of risk if you are going to put your career in his hands. On the other hand, maybe you get to see Beyonce...
Like Jay, Diddy's pro's come from the business side. If he is motivated to push your product, it will sell. However, you aren't a bottle of vodka, you are a rapper, so are you really going to trust a guy whose label is imploding with your music career? Just ask Los about the tight ship that is Bad Boy. Honestly, this is one of the last labels I would sign with, but to be fair, he did make French Montana popular. If he can make that Mr. Potato Head lookin, no talent hack into a chart topper, imagine what he can do with an artist who has talent.
If I were concerned with money and fame only, it feels like MMG would be the move. You can question the quality of the music, but you can't question the strength and popularity of the label. With Meek, Wale, Rockie Fresh, Fat Trel, and Ross himself, there are all sorts of artists making a splash on different levels; those smaller artist have a pretty big ceiling. Ross ain't a bad businessman either (well, depends on how you want to look at the Reebok fiasco) but his focus is on the music. That being said if you aren't into that style of music, it might not be the best place for you. He made Wale famous, but also ruined him as the special artist he once was. Your call.
Of all the hip-hop businessmen, Dre is the most successful. Of course 99% of that business side is beats by Dre, but hey a billion is a billion right? Not only is he the richest, but he is still heavily focused on making music. Obviously there's Eminem, but he's so big, he's pretty much his own entity. The real selling point here is Kendrick. No Dre no GKMC, no TDE takeover, no Control, no nothing. It's hard to find a con here. Maybe the new billion dollar deal will change things, but Dre stills seems focused on making music. He is a savvy business man, and incredible producer, and a legendary figure in hip-hop with a proven track record. The only issue I could see is the Beats By Dre clause in the contract. Every Aftermath artist has to have a Beats product in their video. That would piss me the fuck off; shameless self-promotion. Still, I'm willing to take that if it means having the next GKMC.
OVO doesn't have nearly the track record that any of the other big names do, but that could very well change in a few years. Oh yeah they also have that guy named Drake. You know, perhaps the most popular rapper in the game. Sure they aren't as well established as Jay Z or Dre, but it might be kind of interesting to be a part of something from the start and it doesn't hurt when the start is already pretty damn high up on the food chain. This could be the label of the future...
strong>YMCMB/ Lil Wayne:
Do you really want to be label mates with Paris Hilton and Tyga? You may get a number one single here and there, but the ceiling and the basement is very, very low. Besides isn't Lil Wayne retiring or something? On the other hand, Weezy and company have put on Drake and Nicki Minaj in recent years - who's got a better track record than that?
This would be my pick. Not just because I love Kanye, but working with him would do wonders for your career. He could single handedly make you a star with just one feature. Plus, you know he actually cares about the music. With the other big names, businesses comes first, but I feel like, with Kanye, the emphasis is always on the music. He might be busy making metal skirts, but he'd drop that in a heart beat if he knew you were going to put out some doo doo. The line-up, the brand name, the track record, the fame and money, but most importantly, the focus is always on the music. You even have a your own pool of producers to pick from. GOOD Music would be so much fun.
Instead of doing each one of these separately, I figured it was better to blend 'em. Sure Strange and Jamla are vastly different stylistically, but in terms of structure and goals, they are pretty similar. All of these guys are committed to making great music, even if it means making less money. You won't be living on scraps, but you definitely will not be able to buy that new Maybach (at least not yet). What you get in return is the freedom to make the music you want to make with out having to worry about radio singles and soulless execs. If, at the end of the day, your music means more than the money, I'd recommend one of these fine labels.
Don't want any hands in your pockets. Want to do it all yourself? Fuck a label, do it on your own. Of course this means you'll have to do it all on your own. PR, A&R, marketing, videos...all of it. Signing with a label can open doors that you didn't even know existed and if you choose to pass on that, you might have a harder time getting to the top. That being said, it is possible, look at Macklemore and, on a smaller scale, Chance The Rapper. You get total control, but sometimes, that might not be a good thing. Your call...
When push comes to shove, I'm going G.O.O.D Music. I won't lie, being rich and famous ( mainly rich) is part of it, but I'd also like to make some good music. Also, Kanye is my favorite emcee and producer, so why the fuck would I not want to sign there? Of course that's just me different strokes for different folks.
So where are you signing? Sounds like the perfect chance to spend way too much time thinking about this awesome hypothetical situation.
[Lucas Garrison is a writer for DJBooth.net. His favorite album is "College Dropout", but you can also tweet him your favorite Migos songs at @LucasDJBooth.]