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LOMITA ARTS AND CULTURE BLOG

The Problem with Major Label Rap Music

It is late September in the year 2014 and I am, as usual, thinking about rap music. This hasn’t been a particularly stellar year in terms of major label rap releases. In fact, one might even go so far as to say that this has been a particularly awful year in that realm — we’ve seen very few rap records of note in the past eight months. Sure, we had an awful Wiz Khalifa album that promptly found its way into my laptop’s trash bin, and (thankfully) we saw some released-via-jail Gucci Mane tapes, which were stellar as usual, but lacking that album feel. The sole outlier is YG’s My Krazy Life, released in early March — a fantastic rap record and one that I listened to quite happily for a long time. But that was six months ago. I need new rap albums, and lots of them. Where’s our Nicki? Where’s our Kendrick? Where’s our freakin’ Young Thug?

The answer: stuck in major label rap album purgatory. Let’s look at Nicki Minaj first, as she’s an excellent indicator of current mindsets regarding rap music at major labels. It’s important to keep in mind that most major label rap artists (and here I use the term “rap” quite loosely) follow a two-year album sequence. That is to say, in 2010, Nicki Minaj released Pink Friday, her major label debut. Two years later, in 2012, Minaj released her sophomore effort Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded. It is now mid-to-late 2014, and while Minaj has put out two singles from her upcoming album The Pinkprint, she was only recently given a release date when the album’s second single, “Anaconda,” reached pop ubiquity via a decidedly-raunchy (and entirely awesome) music video. To recap: Nicki Minaj, inarguably the most popular female rapper in the world and arguably one of the most popular female musicians in the world, went an entire six months between releasing her album’s first single and being granted a release date by the major label gods-that-be. This is the modern world of major label rap, as decreed by old white men at record companies. I mean, sure, Nicki was going to get a release date eventually, and it might seem like a stupid thing to focus upon, but it’s incredibly telling. Imagine if Maroon 5 or 1Direction put out a single and didn’t get an album release date for half a year. America’s tweens would revolt!

And what about Young Thug?! This young Atlanta rapper is making some of the most bizarre and exciting rap music to be heard in a long time, probably since ’08-era Lil Wayne (before his days of syrup-sipping came to a close). Thugger is mixing vowels and consonants, squawking and yelping mid-song, and generally creating some disorienting, weird, fantastic rap music. But where’s his album? I mean, “Stoner” was a hit, no? Being relatively unknown and hitting #47 on the Billboard Hot 100 is not an easy feat. And that’s to say nothing of his countless tapes, singles and mixes that have been coursing through America’s streets and clubs for the past year. I lived in Manhattan this past summer, and very few days passed without hearing Young Thug’s “Danny Glover” pulsing out of someone’s car stereo in the West Village.

Yet here we stand: It is 2014 and we still do not have a Young Thug album. Whether Thugger even has a record deal is anyone’s guess — last I heard, he was linked up with Birdman and the YMCMB/RichGang crew, but I don’t think I’ll be convinced until I’m holding a major label Young Thug CD in my hands. Of course, major labels like to use one argument against giving record deals to these kids: it’s “too big of a risk.” I can’t believe that for one second. Set Young Thug up with some good A&R, someone who can guide him in a creative and productive direction (like Wayne had in ’08), get a Young Thug album together, promote it with as much money as you’re promoting [Taylor Swift/Iggy Azalea/INSERT_ARTIST_HERE]’s new album and I guarantee you’ll have a hit on your hands. Money is powerful and it’s foolish for anyone to think that a rapper can make it big enough to survive these days without major label funding. And no, Macklemore is not an exception to this rule: He is a pop star first and foremost, and he made it big quasi-independently by appealing directly to white teens who already love Pitbull and froyo and dancing shows on FOX. Don’t kid yourself.

The sad truth is that major labels don’t listen to kids for whom rap music speaks to directly and potentially even makes a difference, so all we get are a thousand variations on “All About That Bass,” and more rap album delays. But I haven’t lost hope — there are still three months left in the year. I’ll just sit here listening to my Chief Keef and Young Thug, patiently waiting for an album, thank you very much.

Contact Ned Hardy at nedhardy ‘at’ stanford.edu