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...

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

What do you do if you are lyrical (underground/backpack/hip hop) and looking for radio play? What if you are more organic and signed to a label that focuses on radio play (Saigon)?

This Blog has been a long time coming.

I receive so many complaints about hip hop artists not getting the same budgets as commercial rappers or gangsta rappers, and that the commercial radio avenue is cut off to them. This is true. But it's based on economics, NOT on some old white guy sitting back in a corporate office blocking real hip hop. Puh-lease.

Back in the late 90s, I became excited when Rawkus sprung up. It was financed by a Murdoch (deep pockets) and a love for lyrical hip hop. I just knew that the artists signed to Rawkus, such as Mos Def, Talib Kweli, and Black Starr were finally going to get the budgets, and therefore the shine, that they deserved. Rawkus was going to be a Fat Beats on steroids (for the record, Fat Beats was always the label that got raided by the majors for this type of talent). And it was. When Mos Def released on Rawkus, he was given a budget of over a million dollars in marketing and promotion. He got a Jay-Z type push, but did not sell Jay-Z type numbers. His project sold between 350,000 and 400,000 CDs, at a time when other artists were going Gold and Platinum with similar budgets. For Rawkus, this was a failure.

I called the guys who ran Rawkus to find out what went wrong. They explained that the market was changing, and from the day they started their business to that day, sales of vinyl decreased almost by one-third. Yep, the market was changing. The more intelligent lyrics began to sell less and less, and the more entertaining party and gangsta music was selling more and more. As a business, record labels followed the sales. Hip hop is a culture, but the music business is not. It's a business first, and businesses follow economic trends: sales. The music business does NOT exist to support (or benefit) the culture. It exists to sell something to fans that they want.

I often heard the arguments of the more lyrical artists that they did not get a fair shot because the labels pushed their more commercial labelmates while pushing them out of the way. Their projects would be put on hold so a gangsta rapper could come out first, or so a radio rapper could drop before them even if they were signed after them. Jay Z mentioned in his lyrics that to sell more he had to dumb his lyrics down. Was it art or entertainment? Arguments ensued. It all came down to business.

Then downloading came into vogue and I was excited because I knew the playing field would now be leveled. The more lyrical artists could be discovered by all the fans who must be searching for them--searching for better, or more intelligent music. But what downloaded in record numbers was the same shit I heard on the radio everyday. The commercial stuff and the gangsta stuff. The backpack rap stayed a small niche market. Rappers like Rhymefest came out angry and dissing the more successful artists like David Banner (the ones who had the potential to be backpack, but chose to make a living). Art versus commerce, still.

Because I love lyricists, I have spent time with the more lyrical underground artists. I have accepted the fact that their budgets will be smaller, less and less labels will want to sign them (that's OK, the internet allows them to get their own shit out there), and without a Kanye beat they won't be getting radio play on the major commercial stations. Problem is, their budgets don't allow for a Kanye beat because it's all about spending less and trying to sell more. A catch 22.

OK, before you stop reading right here, please understand that radio exists to sell commercials. It doesn't exist to contribute positively to any culture, it doesn't exist to inform the community, and it doesn't exist to break new and innovative music. In fact, anything but. A grip of research has been done by all of these huge wealthy conglomerates, and the research shows that when a listener hears a song where they can not happily sing along, they change the station to hear a song where they can sing along. When they change the channel, they miss commercials, and the station's ad price drops because the listeners drops. Simple economics.

Think about it logically for a minute. I have two words to say: Laffy Taffy. No one in the world, including Bill Gates, has enough money to have paid for that song to play as much as it did. The song was a hit fucking record (yes, that makes me cry too). Radio played it because kids requested it, it researched well, and ad sales went up. Downloads occurred by the millions.

So, what happens to my friend Saigon who says he's more organic and less radio friendly, yet is signed to Atlantic, a record label that focuses 100% on radio play? Now what happens? What happens to the hundreds of artists who email me asking how they too can get accepted at radio without "selling out?"

This isn't an easy answer, because the truth is just that many will never get radio play. If they do not make music that fits the format of the radio station and is of competitive commercial quality, they won't get played on most radio stations. Without a real budget, they won't get radio play. Without a "hit record" today, they won't get radio play. There are just too many other folks with bigger budgets, deeper pockets, and better connections to fill the few slots available at radio today. It's more competitive than ever.

Back in the day, rap wasn't accepted on commercial radio formats, so no one worried about getting on the radio. Word of mouth was key, and for a few hours a week, college radio played some rap music. It was easier to get onto college radio back then, than commercial radio today. Somehow, artists felt they were missing something if they could not get added to radio. This increased need for radio play has gotten out of hand today. Now a radio station might have only 4 or 5 available slots to fill with new songs, but there are 67 records there vying for those spots--with budgets, with well-connected radio promoters pushing them, and with established artists and well-known producers. How will you compete?

The best way to attract radio attention, is NOT to head up to the station to drop off a CD of your newest song. You need to blow it up in the clubs and at the street level first. Let the radio DJs come looking for you because your song gets so hot on the streets. If you have a hot record on the streets, it will end up at radio. That is the definition of a hit record. Banner's Like a Pimp, Webbie's Girl Gimme That, Webbie's Bad B*tch, Magic's I Drank, I Smoke, Acafool's Hatablockas, etc, all started out as songs that hit the clubs and streets hard (mostly because there were no budgets available for radio play initially). But the songs started to grow legs on their own, and radio embraced it. You can't buy that kind of authenticity (and many have tried). But there is no way around the fact that if the radio powers-that-be do not think your song fits their format, sound, or necessary quality, you will NOT be getting any radio play. Period.

So, when you hear the more commercial artists getting spins, and you want the same push for your music, you may have to go back and rethink your sound, your production, and/or your style. Me, personally? I'd say fuck it and keep doing what I was doing and find other ways to spread my music to the masses aside from radio. Of course, I am not a rapper...

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