Cardi B rode hilarious Instagram videos into a deal with Atlantic — and a number one hit. Danielle “Bhad Barbie” Bregoli turned being a bad ass kid into a deal with Atlantic. If you believe DJ Akademiks’ recent tweet, Instagram personalities like Boonk and Fatboy SSE may have ridden being obnoxious to as-of-yet-unannounced deals.
Matt Ox turned pre-pubescent irony into a deal with Warner Bros., and Blac Chyna parlayed Kardashian-related fame into an alleged bidding war because…we’re still unsure. It’s fitting that in post-regional hip-hop, the newest hotbed for signees isn’t a city, but the viral charts. It seems like the only parameter for a modern label signee is: Do they come with a built-in audience?
Sure, the music business has always been about making money above all, but in previous generations, there was more discernment and regard for musical integrity. Novelty acts like Vanilla Ice and Deion Sanders were fewer and farther in between in the ‘90s and ‘00s. Rocafella used to have Carmen Electra and seemingly every athlete you can imagine in videos, but they never tried to actually sign anybody who wasn’t an established artist with proven musical ability.
Even when they considered signing jeweler Ben Baller, he said Dame asked him to spit to see how he’d sound on a record first. But nowadays, it feels like we’re at the point where many major label’s rosters are being built solely based off social metrics from an air-conditioned room far away from the culture they’re watering down.
Murder Inc CEO and industry executive Irv Gotti recently lamented to Funk Master Flex that when he first brought DMX, he of 74 million records sold, to the Def Jam offices, no one understood his appeal until he explained it to them — and he even left the label when they wouldn’t sign DMX initially. If the next DMX walked into Atlantic, would he merely be told to make an IG barking at people and hit them back once he’s accrued a million followers?
I wonder what happened to all those DMX-like figures who were never “understood” throughout the years, who didn’t have advocates like Gotti with enough cachet to vouch for their money-making ability. Today, there are, no doubt, gifted-but-troubled kids who don’t have consistent access or the know-how to capitalize off the internet. Who in the music industry will vouch for them, or even know how to reach them? Who in the music industry will have the necessary skills to discern if they’re great musicians or artists?
It may be easy to say they should use the internet to “get on” themselves, but the artists who have had the biggest victories in hip-hop have relied on people with connections to the industry to open the door. Drake got on with the help of J Prince Jr. telling Lil Wayne and Birdman at Cash Money to peep his music. Migos and Lil Yachty work with Coach K, who had managed Jeezy and Gucci Mane before. DJ Drama helped Lil Uzi Vert get his deal. Charlie Mack did the same for Meek Mill. Ditto Rocko and Future. Throw these figures out of the equation and you have to wonder how well the artists fare in the ephemerality of Soundcloud and Youtube. The cream rises to the top, sure, but how much longer would it take?
How much less potent is the current hip-hop canon without the work of those talented artists who couldn’t find an “in” and resolved to give up their improbable rap dream and get a 9-to-5 — or worse yet, became prey to a carceral state or coffin, all while label heads are scrolling the #lmao hashtag on Twitter for their next big thing?