On Wiz, Rolling Papers & Atlantic, The Label That Has It All Figured Out

04.03.11 7 years ago 88 Comments

© Meredith Truax

Imagine a label that’s figured it all out.

Imagine the record execs sitting at a board meeting, looking at their financial numbers, in a panic over the state of the company and the music industry in general. The company’s Hip-Hop sales have struggled – a waning roster thinned out by incarcerations and mental breakdowns has crushed the label’s star power. No matter how much money they pump into a Hip-Hop album, and how many fans artist A seems to garner, the label can’t seem to get numbers above 100K.

The wheels start turning. Interests are piqued as executives realize if they can skim some money from artists’ outside endeavors then they can offset the disappointing album sales by scraping in the extra dough. The Internet isn’t earning them any money so it’s time to fully embrace the other multimedia avenues that have been under their noses forever. Consumer money is elastic but movies, TV shows and clothing companies have an unending pool of endorsement cash.

But how does this label tap into this money? Rappers are full of curse worse and their albums are unpredictable. If Rapper A sends the execs a 14-track album full of gritty bars, it won’t get any love from Jersey Shore. So the label starts a search, screening possible crossover hits with already-finished hooks from soft R&B artists backed by xylophones and synths. Perhaps the label even shops the skeletal track to movies looking for songs for its preview. Or they pitch it towards TV shows looking for a track to play during the dramatic monologue of the pilot episode before the rapper even lays a vocal down. Once Sponsor A bites, the label zips the song to the rapper and demands that he made the track his next single regardless of how it gibes with the rest of his album or his library to date. F*ck his loyal fanbase. They don’t buy albums anyway.

The album, full of sponsorship-ready tunes, is released. The singles have already reached top spots on the charts and are in every commercial on television, so they’re primed to score hundreds of thousands of units in its first week. But even if it doesn’t, the label is swimming in extra revenue from the cross-promotions even if an artist didn’t sign a 360 deal. Additionally, you better believe the label is working contracts that offer guarantee at least some of the bread from advertising. It’s a win/win for the label. That’s how the record label has combated the shrinking album sales.

And that seems to be how Atlantic Records has decided to go about business…at least that’s my hypothesis.

I remember when I first heard “Nothing On You” and thought that it was a gross misstep. Why would anybody have a lead single for B.o.B where he just raps and doesn’t sing the hook? I realized the move was probably more calculated than I had originally thought once I heard the way that song, “Airplanes” and “Magic” were on commercials, television shows and movie previews, combined with the fact that “Nothing On You” was a song Atlantic gave B.o.B. Let’s not forget it was rumored that Atlantic was going to shelve Adventures Of Bobby Ray until Bobby signed a 360 deal. I’m not sure if that ever happened but they did eventually work out their disagreement. Suddenly, “Magic” is on Adidas spots and “Airplanes” is on movie previews – helping propel those tracks to number one in the country; a similar trajectory subsequently followed by the album. Atlantic had a winning formula.

Luckily for B.o.B, his innate ability to create compelling tracks made The Adventures Of Bobby Ray an artistic success despite the three watered-down songs.

Fast forward to 2011 and the two most highly-anticipated albums of the young year so far are Lasers and Rolling Papers. And they’re both full of microwaved synthy gibberish. We know “Show Goes On” was Atlantic’s idea, and that song had plenty of cross-promotion. I can only assume that Atlantic sold the song to sponsors before it even got shoved down Lupe’s throat.

Wiz Khalifa’s Rolling Papers is all sing-songy softcore “Hip-Hop” that, to borrow from whoever said this on Twitter the other day, sounds more like LFO than anything from Kush and OJ. The fans are disappointed but, quite frankly, Atlantic probably couldn’t give a shit. The label is sitting pretty with two hundred thousand records sold and countless cross-promotional dollars in their pocket.

The company doesn’t need the Internet anymore. They’re winning, so who cares what the rest of us want to listen to.

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