Or…Why Internet Darlings Still Have Work To Do

While interloping inside of the Nah Right/Smoking Section event at South by Southwest event last Thursday, a small thought dawned upon me. Many of the artists on the bill were A) featured in XXL’s now yearly “Freshmen Class” publication and B) from all over the country. J. Cole is from Fayette, North Carolina, Freddie Gibbs is from Gary, Indiana, Yelawolf is from Alabama and so on and so forth.

Thankfully, there was no sight of O.J. Da Juiceman.

It wasn’t a slight to any Texas rapper that wasn’t a part of this particular showcase because Texas has had major influence on many of the artists (see Freddie Gibbs taking a break out of his set to do “Mind Playing Tricks On Me” by Geto Boys) – it was merely because many internet and media publications have championed these artists for their hard work, dedication and actual skill.

That hard work hardly translates into fans below the Mason Dixon line.

It took maybe a giant Jay-Z co-sign and sheer word of mouth for J. Cole to even be mentioned around these parts. While “Light’s Please” is a fan-favorite from sea to shining sea, the rest of the Warm Up mixtape either goes unnoticed to the casual fan or bumped heavily from a newfound stan. While many decide to condemn the radio for its constant playing of dance tracks and feel good songs out of nowhere, there isn’t a large screaming mass out there in the South who would love to hear something like “Exhibit C” played on any Top 40 hip-hop station. In New York, DJ Envy of all people had a moment of heart thinking why Jay Electronica’s opus should even belong on the radio. Thankfully, Envy added “Exhibit C” to the Hot 97 playlist, much to the joy of internet fans everywhere.

But here is what radio executives, Top 40 programmers and the general public who consistently buy CDs will tell you – people aren’t going to instantly request some “mixtape rapper” just because twenty five people on a blog site think he is dope. They’ll say it under their breaths but radio usually caters to what is popular in the club. Hence why Texas rap music is saturated with nothing but dance tracks that hold back songs with actual content.

How Drake crashed radio with tracks from his So Far Gone tape is both a blessing and a curse to artists on the rise. It’s a blessing mainly because all of those songs like “November 18th” & “Successful” came from something the general public could have grasped for absolutely free. However, it’s a curse because of the quality of those songs which catered to the syrupy and ever multi-faceted hip-hop scene here in Houston (November 18th) and album quality with notable guests contributing in Lil Wayne & Trey Songz (Successful).

While it’s understood that you can’t necessarily cater to everybody, there are those fans who will find solace in artists who fit their everyday lives (see the rising number of Curren$y and Wiz Khalifa fans). Those who want that sort of recognition on the radio have to realize that their chance of doing so always somehow involves the risk of selling out. If they come out as super lyrical, they are going to have to either dumb their lyrics down (covered in a previous article here) or merely have to force their content and hope a fan base will eat it up (see Lupe Fiasco).

So how does a rapper these days even make it?

The independent labels are acting like majors, shelving talent and instead putting out artists that are more like get rich quick schemes. Texas independent artists seemingly have to follow the dance trend emanating out of Dallas before ending up on Asylum/Warner Brothers. Ask the GS Boyz what happened once they were asked to make a hit after “Stanky Legg” blew up. They couldn’t do it and they wound up breaking up. You not only have to be lyrical great to gain respect, you have to make hits as well.

What does this rhetoric mean for an upcoming rapper looking to make it big in a world where being on a “major” isn’t as cracked up as it used to be? Make your own lane.

Drake had the chance once So Far Gone dropped to literally take everything you knew about the music industry and instead settled for a label who had his backing and blessing since sometime in 2007. While that may be fine for him, you can still find homegrown talent like The NiceGuys, Hollywood FLOSS, cARTer and others for example who will perform at anytime, anywhere as long as they leave you thinking, damn I have to check for these guys. It doesn’t hurt to stretch outside of your comfort zone because as big as a fan of a particular artist as one person may be, listening to the same type of artist could possibly grow tiresome after awhile.

Unless you see no hope for yourself and Waka Flocka Flame is the chicken noodle soup for the dope boy’s soul.