The artist vs. the record label

By Rafael Canton

Courtesy of Myspace

Lupe Fiasco and Nas are two well respected rappers in music. Nas is an iconic rapper that has been a living legend since his classic debut Illmatic in 1994, and Lupe Fiasco has a great following and is considered one of the best lyricists and thinkers in Hip Hop right now. In the past week, they both have had disputes with their record labels with the central point being that their record labels are refusing to release their music right now. Both are in different situations, but they center around the same thing. Why do we see these problems between the artist and the label so frequently?

The real problem is record sales. Lupe is a successful artist. His last album The Cool had a top ten single ‘Superstar, and was certified gold (shipped 500,000 copies) and was featured as a top 10 MC by MTV in 2008.  Now he has an upcoming album titled Lasers that has been in the works for over a year. His album was put on hold by his label Atlantic Records and was not given a release date.  His strong fanbase helped him out by starting petitions to put his album out and planned on October 15th to protest outside of Atlantic’s Headquarters in what was aptly tiled Fiasco Friday. Lupe got his wish after all of these complaints and on October 8th Atlantic Records announced that Lasers will be released March 8th, 2011.

Nas’ issue with his record label Def Jam came out of the blue. Nas penned an open letter to Def Jam this past week explaining his dissatisfaction with how they have treated him.

The Excerpt:

“With all do respect to you all, Nas is NOBODY’s slave. This is not the 1800′s, respect me and I will respect you. I won’t even tap dance around in an email, I will get right into it. People connect to the Artist @ the end of the day, they don’t connect with the executives. Honestly, nobody even cares what label puts out a great record, they care about who recorded it. Yet time and time again its the executives who always stand in the way of a creative artist’s dream and aspirations. You don’t help draw the truth from my deepest and most inner soul, you don’t even do a great job @ selling it. The #1 problem with DEF JAM is pretty simple and obvious, the executives think they are the stars. You aren’t….”

The complaints were mostly about Nas’ upcoming compilation The Lost Tapes 2. This is the sequel to The Lost Tapes which was release in 2002 featuring a compilation of unreleased songs that hadn’t made the cut on his studio albums I Am… & Stillmatic. Def Jam was only willing to give Nas a budget of $200,000. Nas wants more probably because an artist needs a lot more than $200,000 to fund an album when promotion, music videos, etc. comes into play. This issue still remains unsolved and we will see who will break in this battle between the artist & the label.

Now the question is who is right in these situations? The artist or the label? The artist is trying to express themselves through the art of music while trying to make some money. The label is trying to make money off of these artists and honestly both sides are right. They just have conflicting interests. Record labels want to see hit records that help them promote the album and not all artists make hit singles. They don’t want to promote an album that they can’t guarantee will sell a lot of records. In all honesty, that is a bad investment. Artists want to have the freedom to make music that they like, and their fans will like because they also don’t want to be called a sell-out *cough* LL Cool J *cough*

For example, A rapper like Flo Rida (questionable) makes hit singles that are really popular at parties, clubs, and radio, while making a subpar album that sounds like a bunch of pop records that don’t mesh well as a whole, while Nas and Lupe Fiasco don’t really make hit records, but they make classic albums that listeners can at least feel that the artist put work into the art form of making music. Another key factor is the state of the music industry.

The music industry has been talked about for years as a struggling business that is many steps behind technology. These issues have been well-documented, and clearly have affected our favorite music artists in may ways. Gone are the million dollar videos, and now the hot thing to do is green screen videos that are very inexpensive.  Marketing has switched up from physical promotion like posters, street teams, etc. and has switched up to everything being digital. Rappers had big budgets in the 90’s and it worked for the amount of records that these artists were selling. Back in the day an artist would get dropped from a record label even if they could go platinum (ship one million albums). Nowadays it’s really hard to sell that many records, and that has hurt the music industry in such a humongous way. CNN displays how out of hand this situation has become. The total revenue from sales and licensing declined by more than 50% in the past decade. That is not a good look.

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A solution is desperately needed because you will see more problems like the Nas & Lupe Fiasco situations in the near future if the labels can’t capitalize on the technological age of music.  Even if you despise Nas & Lupe, your favorite artist could be next on the proverbial chopping block.

Rafael Canton can be reached at [email protected] To read more from Rafael, visit his website What You Know About That .