When people think of modern rappers, they often contemplate pink dreads, face tattoos, and wildly multicolored grills that adorn Generation Z’s recent contributions to rap’s ever-growing cast of characters, but what they miss in their complaints about hip-hop’s supposed lack of lyrics and fascination with drug culture is the fact that many of these new rappers are self-made successes.
Twenty years ago, a Lil Yachty, Lil Xan, Lil Pump, Lil Uzi Vert, or Lil Skies would not have been possible, not just because grumpy gangbangers would have booed them out of open mics or because they lacked sufficient respect for the legends of yesteryear, but simply because the infrastructure for creating a rap career didn’t exist. Today, almost anyone can “make it” in the music business because the music business is largely uninvolved with the process of making it.
Because of advancements in technology, including the advent of streaming, social media, and the mainstreaming of digital audio and visual recording devices, the average teenager with dreams of rap stardom can skip the search for a record deal, delivering music straight to fans and monetizing that attention almost overnight.
However, it takes the right kind of savvy to take advantage of that innovation, which is why Generation Z is uniquely suited to building and running their own rap empires from the ground up.
In 1991, Robert Fitzgerald Diggs, better known as The RZA of Wu-Tang Clan, was heralded as a business wiz for masterminding the successful label negotiations of separate deals for each of the 10 members of the group after signing the collective to RCA Records.
In 2018, Clifford Ian Simpson, better known as Kevin Abstract of Brockhampton, posted a calming reassurance to fans worried that the infamous 14-member “boy band” would have its DIY style and unfiltered aesthetic revamped after signing to the same record label that once housed the legendary Wu.
While RZA was considered a visionary, Kevin Abstract was just doing what kids do these days. At 21-years-old, Simpson is a member of a generation that has never known a world without high-speed internet, and his formative years were spent, like any other member of his generation, learning an increasingly complex but increasingly user-friendly succession of digital applications to socialize, produce content, and promote it online.
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hey how ya doin. just wanted to let you guys know that we have decided to partner with RCA and the next records will be released through those guys. i wanted to be very clear about this and let y’all know that nothin changes. videos still diy, music still made in our house, and we’re still gonna make the best possible product for y’all. they understood that we wanted to be the biggest boyband in the world and I’m a firm believer in not being able to do everything on your own. Find people whose morals and vision align with yours and follow that. Apple had to get out of the garage at some point. thanks for giving a fuck and thanks for my management for guiding us in the best possible direction yeehaw
By doing what came naturally to him, Abstract was able to build a loyal fanbase for himself and his 13 friends, successfully market and promote three albums in one year, and parlay that into a reported $16 million record deal that includes six albums over three years, all while protecting the band’s touring and merchandise revenue.