I’m glad I’m not a rapper. Between the constant beefs and record label stress, being a rapper in the world of today can leave you questioning your sanity multiple times a day. So when looking at record labels and exactly how necessary they are in the mainstream success of rappers, taking the alternative path of remaining unsigned doesn’t look too bad. From the independent Mac Millers to the signed Drakes of today, deciding to stay independent or get signed to a major label could possibly be one of the most important decisions of a rapper’s career. This decision pretty much determines your path in the rap game and how you’re going to make it to the top. But, is being signed to a record label as glittery as it’s made out to seem?
Mac Miller, Tech N9ne and Immortal Technique are some of the better known independent rappers that make their path of remaining independent look more appeasing than the label route. Apart from the most alluring part being the fact that almost all of the guap made goes straight to your pocket, independent rappers that actually make it big in the industry (very few) have it easy in that they have the freedom to release what they want, how they want it and when they want to. The most frustrating thing as a hip hop head though, is being a fan of a rapper that releases a project once every two years and unfortunately with many rappers that are independent, that’s a reality. Without the record label constantly pushing you to stay on your grind and work at a faster pace, it’s easy to go off track and not make music of the quality expected of you.
Being signed, something more than half of the success-hungry rappers of today drool over, is seen as the easiest way to getting fame and idolized by many. Easy fame doesn’t always mean easy relationships with the label executives. Immortal Technique, well known for his independent rapper activism, describes the idea as “a woman that wants to marry an abusive rich man because she figures she can take the ass whooping for a few years and get some money from the divorce.” Record labels are often seen as too controlling, restricting and cautious in the sense that if your album doesn’t look like it’s going to sell, you won’t be seeing a release any time soon. We’ve seen it in the past with Ab-Soul’s ‘These Days…’ and recently too with Weezy’s Twitter rant where he threatened to leave Young Money Entertainment due to Birdman constantly delaying the release date of ‘Tha Carter V’. All of this accompanied by a small cut on your album’s sale money contributes to the sometimes frowned upon record deal. As Ludacris would say, “You’re signed to a nigga that’s signed to a nigga that’s signed to another nigga. Smart move.”
Although the power of a co-sign (something heavily relied on by unsigned rappers) has, in the past, proven to be strong, is that always going to be enough to get the same success as an actual record deal?
Written by: Kamogelo Tselane