Monday, June 27, 2011

Dear Kanye West

Kanye's lucky he makes good music (no pun intended) Name another artist that could insult America's sweetheart on national television, then sell his label to her label...

via Yahoo!
14-time Grammy-winner (and 30-time Grammy nominee) Kanye West's independent record label G.O.O.D. Music, has been signed to an exclusive long-term worldwide label agreement with the Island Def Jam Music Group (IDJMG). The announcement was made today by Kanye West, Barry Weiss, Chairman & CEO of Universal Motown Republic Group (UMRG) and Island Def Jam Music Group (IDJMG) and Steve Bartels, President & COO, Island Def Jam Music Group.

The artist vs. the labels. The artists vs. the labels. The artists vs. the labels. That's all we've heard since the New Music Cartel banded together to instigate the 'blog era' in hip-hop. The entity of internet users, companies and artists all in a constant tug of war with the 'Big 4' labels. The internet has allowed for artists to circumvent the distribution tactics of the 'Big 4' by giving artists the means to do it themselves. I suppose that's a cardinal sin with record labels. Who gets over on the consumer is actually the consumer's choice: whether they'll pay 99 cents on iTunes or head to YHTN or 2Dbz or the dearth of other blogs and websites dedicated to sharing music.


For hours we could discuss labels clamping down on artists for doing just that. Sicking the RIAA on consumers and artists, removing profile pages and songs, shutting down websites, and adding more restriction to the way the artists operate; all at the expense of means to control how we get our music. Another can be made Lupe out of you and your music can take a cozy seat on the shelf. Even so, artists (and their teams, cliques and sets) do enter in these agreements voluntarily. They want to get paid for their work while controlling it on their journey to the top. Sometimes, they allow their music to get out, sometimes they get extremely aggy and go on Twitter rants. Depends on the artist...

The 'here and now' age sees to it that a rise to stardom is an impatient and difficult one, no matter how talented the artist. Forget Universal and Def Jam. Diddy has enough people in Bad Boy's graveyard to prove that a label can do with you what they want. Yet rather than scale Everest on foot, MCs can take the slightly off-balance, green-eyed helicopter known as the label. The ever-borderline drunk pilots run such a good game in the brochures or on magazine covers, so MCs usually don't have a problem handing over their intellectual property. Can you blame guys like Saigon for staying onboard for that long, even when a label has complete control over your artistic freedom?

Kanye, you know this. You're in a position of power compared to the labels, given all your impressive tenure. They have to bow out to you. Banking on success over failure in music is the labels' business, and you've done it well. Twitter retweets itself stupid when you tweet. From performing at the Democratic National Convention to doing a BET Cypher, straddling the line of rapping to the masses and the internet-savvy comes naturally. Who else has performed at Facebook and Twitter? With GOOD Music's appearance under Def Jam, the blogosphere/internet and labels have reason to coexist. Your imprint has already entranced the labels by spawning the career of grammy-winning John Legend. Those GOOD Friday tracks endeared you to the internet, while KiD CuDi, Big Sean, and Cyhi Da Prynce, endeared your name to it.

Bringing GOOD Music to the masses on Def Jam makes that link official. Yes we've seen internet-borne artists from other imprints link with labels. Drake and Nicki are prime examples of that, yet Cash Money Records had already existed on a label at that point. To boot, internet and blog savvy seem to be driving GOOD Music's first official albums under Def Jam. A good deal of Finally Famous has hit the web, and the same will be true for Fear of God II, Royal Flush II, Watch the Throne and To Be Continuum.

Still the question begs, why Kanye? Does hip-hop actually need the labels, or can artists do without them? Curren$y is doing pretty well for himself without major backing and jokes about it in songs. SlaughterHouse makes decent bank on their records, too. So do we really need that link? Isn't this what hip-hop has preached about for years? (insert lyrics here) The results, while promising, are mixed to say the least. Drake was in the limelight, getting around (YMCMB's label)'s iron fist to some degree with his deal, but even he can incur the wrath of the labels. On the other hand, Wale and J. Cole are having trouble catching on via labels, despite internet fanfare. Ross has a hand in it, but on a lesser scale with Meek and Pill. They have a different following altogether, and Maybach Music is signing so many acts, it's hard to tell who even has a chance to drop.

To me, the merits of your transaction boil down to another age-old battle in hip-hop: the album vs. the mixtape. In the Golden Era and beyond, having an album out meant you made it. Having an album was the equivalent of a hot stock ready to explode. Even if you only had one, an album gave the artist recognition and fame, however short-lived. These days, putting out an internet mixtape is like putting out your hand to shake; everyone does it. Yet, mixtapes today are generating more buzz and acclaim than albums. Lately the mixtape is like the incredible foreplay, while the album is the anti-climactic climax. Given Big Sean's first-up status, he'll be the inaugural internet-borne artist (sorry Drake, you were on Degrassi) to debut on a major label. His mixtapes upload like hotcakes, but will your blessing and quintessential power move sell albums? I'm guessing yes, simply because we're coming to a big impasse in the industry. You've forged a new bridge, it's only right you be able to cross it...


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