In the music industry, receiving a lucrative record deal is a definite mixed blessing. Getting recognized by major labels is a huge accomplishment, not to be diminished by anyone. In hip-hop, a genre where popular artists are popping up left right and centre, due to the easy ability to publish one’s own music, it is even more of a feat to catch the eye of the few executives who can make or break a career. Although there is a lot of gratification in signing a record deal, doing so may turn a potential hip-hop superstar from a hit to a flop.
Over the past few years, there were several notable deal signings of worshipped “underground” artists that might very well mean the downfall of those revered rappers’ cult followings. J. Cole and Jay Electronica are two of the most notable hip-hop signees from the past couple years, both having agreed to to contracts with Jay-Z‘s Roc Nation label. J. Cole is an artist who I wrote about earlier this year, calling him one of the must-hear up and comers in music. My article, written in June, came out just before Cole went on a several week streak, calling it “Any Given Sunday,” releasing a variety of material every Sunday, ranging from album artwork for his then-pending record, or even a small mixtape of unreleased music. As Kanye West did with his “GOOD Fridays,” J. Cole drew in a large following, even larger than he started with, just because of the weekly anticipation for new material. Yes, a lot of what was released over this span was solid, some of it from his early days, but following this build up, Cole released his debut album, Cole World: The Sideline Story. The album was received with critical acclaim, including my own in this review, but still didn’t wind up being the smash hit that I had expected. Comparing that album to any of his past mixtapes, it is fair to say that there were some restrictions with the artistic freedom in writing lyrics for the record, but let’s just hope that this doesn’t remain a common factor with his new musical creations in the future.
Here is another part of my “Shiny Suit Theory” (pun very much intended). In 2010, Jay Electronica, possibly my favorite rapper making music at the moment, signed his own record deal with the very same label, Roc Nation. Now, as a rapper, Jay Electronica is known in part for his unbelievable 9 minute track, “Act 1: Eternal Sunshine (The Pledge)”, which is a track with no drums and a continuous sample of non-stop music from the movie, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Playing shows on rare occasions in North America (my having seen one of those awesome concerts—actually, probably my favorite concert ever), Jay has accrued a major following of underground, yet not so straight-outta-Compton hardcore rap fans.
I am in a precarious situation right now, as I am one of those ravenous fans, but am scared to fully invest my love in a rapper after he has signed with a major label after seeing how Lupe Fiasco was neglected by Atlantic Music Group this past year. Lupe is a former favourite of mine, having released two of the most monumental rap albums of the decade in Food And Liquor and The Cool. I’m not sure about you, but I DETESTED Lasers. Atlantic Records held back the potential of one of the greatest rappers of the young century and for that, the label lost a true music supporter in me. Having said that, I think that it’s fair to pull in a quote that in my opinion looks at how record labels just don’t care about the fans’ appreciation for music, they just want the artists’ potential and fan bases to make the most money. Here’s that aforementioned lyric from one of the upstart artists of the year, The Weeknd, sang in his song, “The Party & The Afterparty.”
“They don’t want my love. They just want my potential.”
Please, J. Cole and Jay Electronica, do NOT go the way of anyone who might be heard on Much Music or TRL. I know I’m going to get a lot of dirty looks for this comment but do not transform into what Wiz Khalifa has become or B.O.B or even the beloved Kid Cudi (on his albums, that is—his mixtapes are gold). So as a fan of music, please, please, please, don’t sell out: just DO NOT go from a hit to a flop!
Here’s just another great example of the potential Jay Electronica has shown, but might yet be taken and silenced. Here, he demonstrates his talent for being able to rap over any sort of beat by rapping with the band The Bullitts and Lucy Liu.