Once upon a time, in a galaxy far, far away, rappers used to have to make demos in order to get signed. A demo for those of you who don’t know, was basically a rough album that had to impress label executives from start to finish. Another way to get signed was to have a mixtape literally circulating through the streets via word of mouth and handing them out to people while begging them to give it a listen. Things are so much different now compared to the 80’s, 90’s and early 2000s, however. Our collective attention spans are so short that all it takes is one song to get a buzz or to even get signed. This has its pros and cons, but all you new rappers need to recognize this and comply if they want to be successful in today’s hip-hop climate.
I was listening to a podcast by Shawn Cotton of SayCheeseTV, which you can listen to above, (it’s only 6 minutes long) and he brought up valid points about why new rappers should not drop full length projects to create a buzz. This is something that has crossed my mind before, due to my dealings with local rappers who I know are really talented, who’s projects were very solid, but didn’t make the impact that was expected. Too many times I watched projects of nine or ten very dope records almost fall on deaf ears and not generate many new fans or supporters. This didn’t make much sense to me, until I thought more thoroughly about this and noticed an alternative approach worked more effectively with similar artists.
If you’re a new rapper from 18-25 you probably grew up watching Kendrick Lamar, J. Cole, Drake, Big Sean, Wiz Khalifa, Frank Ocean, The Weeknd and others have huge success after dropping incredibly well put together mixtapes from 2008-2011. You all might have seen that road to success and try to mimic it subconsciously or consciously, but that time has passed.
What has worked for people in more recent years is have one hit record circulate the internet and follow it up with more hot music, then wait for a big artist like Kanye or Drake to remix or co-sign one of your records. It has worked countless times starting perhaps with A$AP Rocky‘s Purple Swag, Future‘s Tony Montana, Chief Keef‘s I Don’t Like, then Migos and their hit single Versace. Since then, we’ve seen similar formulas succeed again and again with artists like Rich Homie Quan, Makonnen, Bobby Schmurda, Fetty Wap, Post Malone, RamRiddlz, D.R.A.M. and Playboi Carti. They all had one song that blew up on the internet and literally became stars overnight. For the most part, these artists didn’t have a project out, hardly had any hype, didn’t have many fans or supporters, they just happened to reach the right people and their singles went viral. Does the name Slim Jesus ring a bell? The reason you know his name and have likely watched his video was because this is how rappers are discovered now. Do you know the title of the project Drill Time was on? No, me neither, because it doesn’t matter, he has our attention for the next few months as long as he drops hot music to follow up his hit single. I’ve seen someone we cover regularly here on RosecransAve go from talented local unknown, to hometown hero as his song took over the city and gained co-signs from major artists like Chris Brown, Ty Dolla $ign, Skeme and Joe Moses post videos of them turning up to the song. He currently has no projects released, but is reportedly working on one now that the demand is there.
Rappers in 2016 need to be more cognizant of this pattern because that is a major key to success as DJ Khaled would say. The music industry changes drastically every few years and trends are always fleeting. New rappers might make the mistake of working on a project that surfs the newest wave, but by the time they’ve completed said project that wave has crashed and is no longer as gnarly. However, if you only drop one dope song with your own spin on the latest wave you will likely generate more success, popularity and supporters. Like Shawn Cotton said, the energy, effort and time you put in to your full length project is nearly wasted if theirs no demand to hear you in a long format. We don’t want to listen to your album that had no budget behind it, no big guest features, no Metro Boomin’ or other notable producer production, when we can listen to several other projects that check all those boxes.
Cotton made it simple when he said, look at yourself in the mirror new rappers, you are not Jay -Z, yet. Maybe you can be one day, but build your audience and your catalog first, the chances of your debut mixtape being as good as ChanceTheRapper‘s are slim to none. Chance might be one of the only out-liars in this argument, his first mixtape ever, 10 Day was released in early 2012 and eventually went viral, it had no famous guest appearances (at the time Vic Mensa hadn’t blown up yet) and only two noteworthy producers Chunk Inglish and Blended Babies, and I believe he did have a decent sized budget behind this project. Anderson .Paak is another interesting artist who seemingly blew up fairly quickly, but his path is a little more unusual. The artist formerly known as Breezy LoveJoy was a drummer and songwriter since 2011, but in 2014 Paak dropped his incredible Venice project and justly got a lot of attention for it, however he was discovered by Dr. Dre because of his single Suede as a member of his group NxWorries with Producer Knxwledge. Dre likely then went back and listened to Venice and was very impressed so he called him to the studio to work on Compton.
We see this pattern repeated with success, but still some choose to ignore it and take the more difficult road to get to their dream destination. One track, if done correctly, can garner the attention and popularity needed to have that budget, those big guest features (if you want them) and that Metro Boomin’ production so you can make the project you really wanted to make in the first place.
To echo what Shawn said again, it’s a popularity contest, so get popular.