Rap Coalition

A HOW-TO RESOURCE FOR RAP ARTISTS, PRODUCERS, & DJs. Since knowledge is power, here is your best defense to succeed in the urban music industry...

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Relevance and Authenticity.

These are two things that every artist must have. They are at the root of success in rap music. If you are not relevant (saying what people want to hear, in a way they want to hear it) or authentic (seen as legitimate by the fans) you will fail. Many labels sign artists lacking in one or both, and then scratch their heads when the project fails after they have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars.

And then once you have relevance and authenticity, you better have the talent, timing, and proper financing behind you to back it up. You can be the most relevant and authentic muthaphukka out there, but if no one knows you are out there, you are bound for obscurity. This is true whether you are signed to a record label or not.

This is true for everything, not just music—relevance and authenticity drives almost everything in life. I watched a DVD about Malcolm X’s assassination tonight (“Brother Minister”) and the reason Malcolm’s popularity and importance grew, and continues to grow even 41 years after his death, is because of his relevance and authenticity. Think about it. His “by any means necessary” voice, came at a time when the rest of the Black “leaders” were saying to “turn the other cheek.” Black folks had been turning the other cheek for so many years there were no more cheeks to turn. And along came a man who said “Enough!” at a time when people were ready to hear it (relevance). And he said it in a way that proved he believed it because he lived the message and breathed the message--he put his life on the line for people of color everyday (authentic). The timing of the message was right, and therefore it spread naturally. The self-reliance message still applies today.

So when I look at artists like DMC and MC Lyte putting out CDs, although I love them both dearly as people and for their contributions to hip hop, I have to ask myself if they are relevant today. I hope they are. Time will tell.

And when I look at labels like Koch that suffer failure after failure (even 50 Cent said in his Vibe interview in January 2004 that Koch is a graveyard where rappers go to kill their careers), I have to ask if the artists they put out are relevant and authentic. Since BG is both relevant and authentic, I am hoping he will be the first artist able to rise from the dead and resurrect his career with an experienced label behind him that puts a legitimate effort and proper budget behind him. Koch will have to remain thankful that the relationship they had with a lawyer who had his own distribution deal there, saw no conflict of interest in bringing BG there, and that it was strong enough for them to land the former star for the three releases they bungled (BG went from a double platinum superstar before landing at Koch, to selling a couple hundred thousand CDs once there). I imagine the law suit BG is said to be filing against them for monies owed isn’t making them quite so thankful, though.

Of course, Koch is not relevant or authentic, in my opinion. Not only does an artist need to be relevant and authentic, but so do all of their affiliations. A legitimate artist, signed to a bullshit label, rarely will succeed. Every now and again, a bullshit label gets lucky and has some success, but it rarely lasts, and never spreads to other acts.

I think the key to relevance and authenticity is having an ear to the street and knowing what is important and what is happening at the grass roots level. Some established artists are great at that while others are not. Many new artists excel at this because they are living at that level. That is why so many established artists rip them off (yes, I said it). This goes for production as well…

If you look at the truly successful artists who’ve sold a lot of CDs, they are usually the ones to do what they are doing first. For example, when production was glossy and smooth in the late 80s and early 90s, up popped WuTang with that gritty, raw, grimy RZA production. When east coast music was at a certain BPM rate, along came Lil Jon with his version of crunk to turn a spotlight on the south and sell a ton of CDs. Master P blazed a trail for No Limit by offering street lyrics in a do-it-big marketing package, first. The Fugees had a sound and style that no one before them had…blazing a trail for hip hop infused soul. Death Row took funk to a new level when east coast sample-infused rap was dominating. Eminem was a white boy with incredible lyrical skill—first (and apparently last, at least thus far).

So, all this to say: be relevant, be authentic, and if you can do it first, you are IN there in a big way! Oh, and have a label with a track record of success and real budget. An experienced staff at that label wouldn’t hurt either… you only get one career. Just ask Master P, if you can catch him between dances.

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