Old 50, New Generation

“The rap game is all fucked up now, what are we gonna do now?
How we gonna eat man? 50 back around”

– 50 Cent (“Back Down“)

During the summer of 2010, I was given an opportunity of a lifetime; a chance to intern for 50 Cent and his record label, G-Unit Records. Although many who know me well know about my time at G-Unit, it’s an experience I rarely discuss in great detail, simply for two reasons. One, I would rather show you what I learned rather than tell you. Two, when 50 Cent talks, you listen and absorb. Confidentiality is also important. With that being said, 50 Cent’s headline making antics over the last two weeks do not surprise me. After all, all press is good press, right?

Me and 50 Cent (Summer 2010)

Me and 50 Cent (Summer 2010)

Despite being a commercially successful, worldwide superstar, from a music perspective 50 Cent is a new artist in 2014. The days of gorilla style marketing that fueled early 50 Cent and G-Unit records no longer exist, and rap feuds that 50 loves to engage in have taken to social media, leaving 50 Cent no choice but to reinvent himself as a dominate artist. This means constant promotion, a strong online presence, and one or two solid radio singles. Despite the rapid, uncertain change of the music industry and how listeners consume music, 50 Cent is always going to do things his way and continue to leave people talking. Recently, we have seen this with his shift to taking the independent route and leaving his recording home of over a decade, Interscope Records, a headline making first pitch at the New York Mets game, and reuniting with his G-Unit brothers Lloyd Banks, Tony Yayo, and Young Buck at New York’s Hot97 Summer Jam concert on June 1st.

50 Cent, Young Buck, Tony Yayo & Lloyd Banks at Hot97's Summer Jam (6/1/14)

50 Cent, Young Buck, Tony Yayo & Lloyd Banks at Hot97’s Summer Jam (6/1/14)

Leading up to his fifth studio album in five years, Animal Ambition (released June 3rd), 50 Cent decided to release both songs and visuals weekly for a majority of the songs off the album. In the June 14th issue of Billboard Magazine he said, “When I hear a song on the radio for the very first time, if it’s an artist I like, I know I would go to YouTube to hear it again. I enhanced it and made it better by having the visual already connected to it. Gain the audience, then sustain the audience instead of spending every marketing dollar to keep the audience in place.” Although 50 offers a logical explanation, I personally believe that he crossed the fine line between accessibility and oversaturation, leaving me to purchase a physical copy (yes, I still buy physical copies of CDs) more as a collectors item rather than for the interest of putting in the CD and listening to it. Of course, music and media streaming has played a role in this as well.

“I been patiently waiting for a track to explode on
You can stunt if you want and your ass’ll get rolled on
If it feels like my flow’s been hot for so long
If you thinking I’mma fuckin’ fall off, you’re so wrong”

– 50 Cent (“Patiently Waiting“) 

Often times consumers say to their favorite artist, “we want to the old so-and-so back” or “we want this sound instead,” and that is what 50 Cent did – sort of. As a long time fan, and one with an obvious bias to all things 50 Cent, I question how long 50 Cent has been sitting on this music. In fact, most of the personnel on the album have stated that the music was made four-five years ago. Now this is not necessarily a bad thing considering 50’s grimy, hard-hitting street content is what fans have always gravitated to. I do however,  question if and how a new, younger, audience will relate to this content enough to buy in to 50 Cent the rapper like many of us did back in 2003.

50-cent-animal-ambition-cover

Overall, 50 Cent’s Animal Ambition had a poor rollout, which most likely will result in this being his lowest selling album to date. This is not to say 50 Cent and his staff did not put in enough time or energy, because I know they did, perhaps the release of the album could have been handled differently. The Trey Songz assisted, Dr. Dre produced single “Smoke” (a song originally made for Dre’s “Detox”) is a perfectly capable single for commercial radio, but has not gained enough traction to earn the “hit record” status. Other songs off the album including “Pilot” and “Twisted” would be great radio contenders as well, but with the reuniting of G-Unit and new music from the group on the horizon, this may be 50 Cent’s “throw away” project.

In the end, not everyone can withstand a career of longevity and success the way 50 Cent has been able to. With the reuniting of G-Unit, 50 and the gang not only have the task of recreating the energy that once filled the air of New York City and fans all over the world, but translating their hard-hitting grassroots approach to conform to 2014 standards. So far in the 10 days they have been together, they have already flooded the Internet with four freestyles and planning for a new album by November. How about G-Unity as the title?

G-G-G-G-Unit!

 

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A River of Nickels

“In business it’s about who wants you the most” 

– T.I. (Interview with Larry King for OraTV)

Record Dea;

In recent years, the phrase, “How did [insert rapper here] get a record deal when my flow and lyrics are so much better” has been said one too many times. The truth of the matter is that maybe you are better, but you are failing to make the necessary connections in order to enhance your career. Those who have generated organic, viral fans bases rather than spamming people on Twitter and Facebook have seen the greatest reward. One of the beauties of seeing your music reach maximum attention gives you the ability to understand your fan base and value your worth as a musician. 1 million followers do not translate into $1 million dollars.

“We’re a team, 360 degrees, we will reach your goals!

We’ll get a third of the merch that you sell out on the road

Along with a third of the money you make when you’re out doing your shows

Manager gets 20, booking agent gets 10

So shit, after taxes you and Ryan have 7% to split”

– Macklemore & Ryan Lewis (“Jimmy Iovine”)

Record deals come in two forms these days: 360 deals or joint venture label deals. Recently, we have see Drake form his own label through Warner Bros. Records, in 2011, A$AP Rocky’s deal with Sony/RCA Records/Polo Grounds gave him $3 million and the ability to form his own label A$AP Worldwide, and most recently Trinidad Jame$’ $2 million and Chief Keef’s $6 million deals, respectively.

Bottom line is that you get what you negotiate and despite the hate Chief Keef frequently receives, he got exactly what he wanted. In a recent article by DNAInfo.com Chicago, Keef’s lucrative deal was broken down in ways most people outside the industry rarely see.

chiefkeeffinallyrich

Below, I have simplified and broken down the deal so that aspiring artists/record label owners know what to look for and negotiate when the time comes.

  • Number of albums: 3
  • Must sell 250,000 copies of debut “Finally Rich” by Dec. 31, 2013 in order for Interscope to continue to release Keef’s music

         Note: “Finally Rich” has sold 192,137 copies as of August 1, 2013

  • Advance: Upfront money that is paid directly to a recording artist: $440,000
  • Album Budget: Money used to pay for studio time, producers, and other expenses during the creating of album: $300,000
  • Creation of imprint “Glory Boyz Entertainment (GBE)”
    • Separate 3-year deal
    • GBE Advance: $440,000; additional $180,000 + 40% ownership internship for Chief Keef & manager; additional $10,000 + 10% ownership interest to GBE rapper Fredo Santana
    • GBE Overhead Expenses: Expenses of operating a business: $200,000
    • If Interscope suffers $4.5 million in loses, contract is terminated

“You ask for slack and wanna get cut loose from the label

Not able ’cause you signed at the table

For a pretty cash advance, now they got a song and dance

That you didn’t recoup, more soup wit’ ya meal?

‘Cause this is the real when you get a record deal”

–       A Tribe Called Quest (“Show Business”)

Although Chief Keef may have had the luck of the draw, others have to earn their multi-million dollar deals by way of seniority and longevity. After the December 2012 release of his album, Trouble Man: Heavy Is The Head, Atlanta rapper T.I. became a free agent. After being signed to Atlantic Records for almost 11 years, rumor has it that the self-proclaimed “King of the South” is negotiating a highly structured deal that could earn him an estimated $75 million. If Jay-Z, Dr. Dre, Sony, or Universal, all whom T.I. has met with, want him, they’re going to have to make some big promises.

TI-Dre

T.I. with Dr. Dre

  • 3 albums
  • 10-20% of publishing, touring, merchandise, film and TV rights
  • Endorsement deals with major corporations
  • Exclusive signing of all Grand Hustle artists

Ultimately, it’s your decision; you can be swimming in millions or you can be swimming in pennies and nickels. It’s simple; but you must recognize the difference of perception and reality first. You might be the best lyricist in the world, but can you make a hit record? You might have over 1,000,000 YouTube views, but do you have a local/regional foundation? Have you made your mark and created an impact? You also must take into consideration how times have changed. When T.I. went to L.A. Reid’s office at Arista Records in 2001, following his debut album, I’m Serious, and asked for a $2 million budget for his second album, he was dropped from the label immediately. Today, Trinidad Jame$ has one major song under his belt and limited rap experience, but earned himself his $2 million deal from Def Jam.

Remember, the same about of time you spend hating on an artist for the accomplishment, you could be spending advancing yourself; Talib Kweli taught me that!

T.I. with L.A. Reid

T.I. with L.A. Reid

Trinidad James

Trinidad Jame$

Missed my interview with T.I.? Check it out here!

Update: May 10, 2013 – T.I. Talks ‘$200 Million’ Major Label Deal & ‘G.D.O.D.’ Mixtape (via Billboard)

Rubin & Russell’s Foundation, Joie Manda’s Reign: #DefJamBack

“…Def Jam, the world’s most important hip-hop destination.”

–       Barry Weiss (Chairman and CEO of Universal Republic and Island Def Jam)

As the holiday season rolls around, record labels often scramble to put out albums from the biggest artists on their rosters. With the constant struggle to sell albums these days, it is important that labels go into the fourth quarter of the year full speed ahead to meet quotas and achieve financial success. But what if your label puts out five of its major releases in the summer, and still has a few more highly anticipated albums expected before the end of the year? If you were to ask Joie Manda, president of Def Jam Records, he would probably tell you that that is expected of the historic label. “The Def Jam artist roster has always been synonymous with the greatest in hip-hop, and I intend to carry that tradition into the future,” explained Manda in an official statement in March 2012 when he became Jay-Z’s successor to the Def Jam throne.

Joie Manda, President of Def Jam Records

Sure Lyor Cohen, Kevin Liles, and Jay-Z, all made lasting impacts during their reign’s as Def Jam presidents, but in a time where the entertainment industry has completely changed and become dependent on social media, executives are now dealing with things they’ve never expected. Take Frank Ocean for example. In July, the R&B singer opened up about his love for another man shortly before his debut album Channel Orange was released. In a world where homophobia is such a sensitive topic, Def Jam, as well as many others in the industry, stood next to Mr. Ocean in support.

“Today is a big day for hip-hop, your decision to go public about your sexual orientation gives hope and light to so many young people still living in fear.”

–       Russell Simmons (Founder of Def Jam Records on Frank Ocean’s announcement)

Yes, Frank Ocean’s announcement is a major stepping-stone for the entire music industry, but maintaining the well being for an artist and what they do in their personal lives isn’t a major corporations top priority; record sales are.

As the summer comes to an end, no other major hip-hop record label had as big of a summer as Def Jam. What’s special about their summer release strategy was that they catered to different forms of the urban culture: underground, street, and R&B. To date, the five major releases put out by Def Jam have done very well.

Def Jam Summer 2012 Releases & Record Sales

June

  •  Big K.R.I.T. – Live from the Underground (As of Aug. 15h 83,000)

July

  • Frank Ocean – Channel Orange (As of Aug. 5th 238,000)
  • Nas – Life Is Good (As of Aug. 5th 226,000)

August

  • Rick Ross – God Forgives, I Don’t (As of Aug. 15th 400,000)
  • 2 Chainz – Based on a T.R.U. Story (As of Aug. 21st 145,809)

Big K.R.I.T. & I – April 2011, Ithaca, NY

Upcoming releases:

  • Kanye West & G.O.O.D. Music – Cruel Summer
  • Ludacris – Ludaversal
  • Ne-Yo – R.E.D.
  • Big Boi – Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors

_________________________________________________________________________

“A lot of people get into the trappings, but it’s really about the music, I’m excited about making it the most forward-thinking, premier record label.”

–       Joie Manda (August 2012, Billboard Magazine)

Manda really is a forward thinker. One week prior to the official release date [July 17th] of Channel Orange, Frank Ocean appeared on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon and immediately released his album on iTunes after his performance. This move is not uncommon for Def Jam as we have seen it with the release of Jay-Z & Kanye West’s collaboration, Watch The Throne. Whether it is to avoid album leaks, or just great marketing, the method works. As of August 5, 2012, Channel Orange has sold 226,000 copies, with limited singles and videos, & Watch The Throne has sold over 1.5 million copies and grossed $48 million in tour revenue.

A premier record label wouldn’t be anything if it didn’t have a premier artist such as Nas on their roster. In July, Nas released his tenth solo album, Life Is Good, to favorable reviews. The experience Nas brings both physically and literally give listeners something to look forward to and other artists to emulate. Whether Life Is Good sells 1 copy or 1 million copies, Nas continues to keep true to himself, musically, during a time where the formula for making an album is completely structured and governed by record executives.

Ace Hood Album Listening Session – July 2011, NYC

_________________________________________________________________________

“I step in Def Jam building like I’m the shit / Tell them give me $50 million or I’ma quit” 

–       Kanye West (“Mercy”)

Great accomplishments for Def Jam are expected. Not only is the roster of talent very impressive, but also is the list of executives:

If defense wins championships, then Def Jam is going to continue to win. Each one of the names above brings uniqueness, knowledge, and passion that are needed in order to succeed the music industry. We’ve seen what Sha Money XL did for 50 Cent, No I.D. for Kanye West, and DJ Khaled for Rick Ross. Ultimately, the overall experience the Def Jam executives bring to the table will befit every artist and give them the sense of security and confidence they strive for from those who support them.

_________________________________________________________________________

“Def Jam on my heals, should I sign to it? / Million dollar advance for me to rhyme fluent”

–       Rick Ross (“Rich Forever”)

Another strategy the label has inplimented this year is acquiring talents who have successfully laid their own groundwork. With the Chicago hip hop movement on the rise, Def Jam signed Lil’ Reese & Lil’ Durk to solo deals, 2 Chainz proved that a name change and consistent features will make you a household name, and a cocaine snorting, pill popping wild boy by the name of Gunplay has the potential to successfully step out from the shadows of his mentor Rick Ross.

Manda and his staff have proven that if you allow a major artist on your roster to open up their umbrella that they too will breed other artists to reach the same magnitude they have already achieved. Under Kanye West’s direction, Big Sean is growing into a top artist and someone who Def Jam can count on to create hit records, while Pusha T’s lyrics have become deeper and more powerful then ever. Even Jeremih, an artist who was on the verge of being dropped until 50 Cent rejuvenated his career, is putting out music that people are beginning to appreciate even though his music has been solid all along.

_________________________________________________________________________

“Let me be clear, Def Jam is on fire.” 

–       Barry Weiss (Chairman and CEO of Universal Republic and Island Def Jam)

No doubt about it, Def Jam is on fire and consistency is the driving force behind their success. In the last few months, there hasn’t been a week that has gone by where you haven’t seen a new Rick Ross video or heard a new 2 Chainz verse. Rick Ross has never been phased by all the scrutiny and ridicule 50 Cent tried to pin against him, and 2 Chainz never let being in the shadows of Ludacris hold him back; they deserve to have #1 albums and have Def Jam present them with countless opportunities to further their careers and brands.

Def Jam office interviewing Jeremih for ThisIs50.com – Summer 2010, NYC
Interview Link: http://youtu.be/kYw5wG5jsmY

Within the last two years I have been to the Def Jam offices and fortunate to attend Def Jam events in New York City. Personally, I can tell you that those who work there are ectremely dedicated and connected to artists attached to the label. A strong sense of community can go a long way. Don’t be surprised if you continue to see the hashtag #DefJamBack on your Twitter feed into 2013. With the strategies in place at Def Jam, every artist that steps in to the house that Rick and Russell built will come out winning.

UPDATE: Joie Manda liked my article!!!

Joie Manda Tweeted my article to 30,000+ followers

Be Careful About What You Sign… Or Don’t Sign

“I’m not a businessman,

I’m a Business, Man

Let me handle my business, damn”

– Jay-Z (“Diamonds (Remix)”)

Jay-Z said it best; that’s probably why he’s one of the greatest musicians of our time. So many artists these days claim to be “about their business” or call themselves “businessmen,” but in reality, what do most of these guys really know about business? Do they know their tax ID number? Did they know which forms and licenses to obtain before starting a label? Most importantly, do they know the difference between a partnership and an LLC? The answer to these questions is probably not many.

Meet Pill. The Atlanta-based rapper signed (or not… more on that in a minute) to Rick Ross’ Maybach Music Group (MMG) via Warner Bros. Records has recently expressed his frustration with both labels due to the lack of promotion of his music. For those who don’t know, most artists generally make these claims. In reality, whose fault do you think it is; the artist or the label? Let’s assume the answer is the artist. Even though you think your music is good, or relevant, it’s probably not if nobody is attracted to it. Additionally, you should probably seek new management and establish a team who will guide you in the right direction. (See my article Hip-Hop’s New Business Model for more information)

Back to Pill. In his defense, he did have a single in 2009 that gained him attention from the labels, but it ultimately didn’t do that well. Once Warner Bros. picked him up, they placed him with Rick Ross in hopes of advancing his career. This worked for a few months (beginning February 2011), and Pill was featured on the crew’s debut album, MMG Presents: Self-Made Vol. 1 (Released in May 2011), but after that, you rarely saw him with the rest of the team. To those who follow Ross’ career this is odd since Meek Mill and Wale, also new acquisitions to Maybach Music, are always seen with the MMG team.

L to R: Pill, Meek Mill, Rick Ross, Wale

Fast forward to January 2012. Pill takes to his Twitter page to vent his frustrations with all parties involved. First bad move. The following day, he told MTV News that he doesn’t speak with Rick Ross and was actually never signed to MMG!!! Second bad move and most likely a lie.

Good luck ever hearing a song from Pill on your TV or radio in the future!

There are so many reasons as to why Pill messed up by deciding to speak his mind. But instead of writing out the laundry list of reasons, I’ll make it short and simple because ALL up and coming artists should follow this advice:

  • READ, READ, READ – contracts are more than just a piece of paper, they are your life
  • Understand the business, before you enter the business
  • DO NOT shout out your “Jewish lawyer” in your songs just because it sounds cool, ACTUALLY USE HIM!
  • Respect those who have given you an opportunity and remain humble
  • If you have a problem with your label, tell them, not your Twitter followers
  • Focus on the music and your brand, let your management/lawyer/accountant do the rest
 Just because your able situation may be bad doesn’t mean you don’t have the opportunity to make it right. Longevity is key, get to work and stop complaining!

… And Pill, being signed to MMG doesn’t seem to be too bad if Wale had the #2 album in the country in November and Meek Mill is one of the most talked about artists in hip-hop.

Update: Popular Memphis rapper Yo Gotti is doing the same thing!

“Holla at my Jewish lawyer

To enjoy the fruit of lettin’ my cash stack.”

– Jay-Z (“No Hook”)

Maintaining Independence: Hip-Hop’s New Business Model

This past semester I took a course titled Hip-Hop Cultures. Now of course your first reaction is, “You’re paying to take a college course on hip-hop?” As we learned, the title was the professors trick to reel us in, but in the end it was worth it (although I didn’t agree with most of the course, another story). For our final project we had to incorporate the main elements of hip-hop and write about them based on course material, personal experience, etc.

For my project, I chose to write about one of the new trends in music. Independent record labels and independent artists are at the forefront of the industry, and are becoming the most successful. Since the paper is 19 pages, I have attached it below. Some of the artists I focused on include Mac Miller, Tech N9ne, Wiz Khalifa, and Cash Money Records.

Enjoy!

Hip-Hop’s New Business Model