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Behind The Rhyme: Does the midwest need a label?

Behind The Rhyme

“Behind The Rhyme” founder CamQuotes posed an interesting question in a recent conversation: “Does the midwest need a record label?” When I asked around, the overwhelmingly affirmative responses threw me for a loop. I don’t doubt that the midwest could use another, be it major or indie, but today’s rap world proclaims itself to be almost overwhelmingly anti-label. However, it would be a misunderstanding to assume that today’s great indie rappers are completely, well, independent.

It’s easy to imagine that artists like Mac Miller, Chance The Rapper, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis did nothing but create their music all by themselves. People assume they put it out on a few social platforms, did some shows, and built fan bases all without a foundation of support. People jump to these conclusions solely because these artists were not backed by major labels.

While I’m not implying that these artists aren’t incredibly self-reliant, even they didn’t make waves with just a dollar and a dream.

Despite not being signed to major labels, many of the most successful indie artists get major funding help. A supporting cast of well-off people helped fund some of Chance’s major career moves. Mateen Cleaves backed Jon Connor before the Aftermath Deal. Rostrum Marketing financially backed Mac Miller. Macklemore and Ryan Lewis have a major distribution deal.

As for RocNation, a entity spun as a “management company” instead of a “record label,” people forget that it was founded by a multimillionaire. Jay-Z started RocNation after leaving his executive seat at Def Jam records. Even this is only nominally independent.

What about Tech N9ne? Glad you asked. In October of 2013, I asked Tech N9ne what the two things are that every artist needs when going independent. This was his answer.

Is the indie game still a great game to be in? You bet. But it comes down to work ethic and money. Whether you are signed to Universal or Ugandan Giant Records, you still need to pay for studio time, beats, features, mixing and mastering. After that, artists need plane tickets, videos and merchandise. Add to these the costs of social media marketing and ad space. Artists need all of this just to drum up interest and book shows. Then there are touring costs, design costs, even more ad costs…It’s hard to understand how anybody thinks that successful indie artists can get things done with next to nothing and nobody around.

Kevin Baker of sums it up like this:

“We definitely need a major label here [in Chicago] as well as a publisher. Indie is cool if you’ve got money and can leverage deals. Artists sit on shelves for a number of reasons. If you are a major, why would you want to invest in someone who doesn’t invest into themselves? This is why most artists go indie because they lack work ethic. Even these “management” companies are all old label executives. I’d rather have a good lawyer than management.”

For more midwest rap, check out our take on Vic Mensa and Joey Purp‘s latest music.

[Originally posted on]




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