Have you ever seen The Devil’s Advocate? It stars Al Pacino and an annoying Keanu Reeves in what appears to be a modern-day adaptation of Paradise Lost, in a weird sexualised, supernatural way. A promising lawyer from the bible belt of Florida finds himself on a case that could make or break his career. After successfully winning the case in dubious circumstances, he is offered a job at one of New York City’s most prestigious law firms. With that job offer, bizarrely comes the offer of an apartment that just makes you feel sick when you look at the broom cupboard you find yourself living in. Kevin Lomax (Reeves) and his wife Mary Ann (Charlize Theron) find themselves enjoying the lifestyle of high-flying lawyers until they find out life isn’t what they expected. Suddenly Mary Ann feels more alone and isolated, partly due to the fact Kevin is engrossed in his work and ignorant to his wife’s well-being. Eventually, Lomax falls further down the rabbit hole where he bumps into a number of scantily-clad women, the farther he falls. His employer, Milton (Pacino) reveals more and more of his darker side to Kevin. After the suicide of his wife and general downward spiral of his life, the previously esteemed lawyer confronts his boss. In the climax of the film we find out that Milton (ironically named) is Lucifer himself in the husky-voiced, 100-fags-a-day body of Al Pacino and Kevin is his son. After that, it appears that it was all a dream, I used to read Word Up magazine…nope, just me; Lomax finds himself back in the Florida courtroom in which the film began.
Hopefully the moral of that story was clear, it tells the tale of a lawyer who sells his soul to the devil himself and ends up being the property of the corporation he works for. This situation isn’t dissimilar to that of many musicians that sign to major record labels, sacrificing the art that earned them a deal in the first place. Some artists have been able to exercise freedom of creativity whilst signed to a major label, however, some have been unfortunate. Not only have they had to sacrifice their art, they’ve given up their image and potential earnings from profit made beyond the record deal; tours, merchandise, endorsements, appearances and so on. Young Guru, one of Jay-Z’s producers, once made the point that the money offered in an initial deal is a loan. You hear artists brag about how they got signed for ‘a mill’, that’s great but don’t fool us into thinking that’s yours – that ‘mill’ you signed for is for studio time for a potential album.
Do the labels know what we ,as the consumer and buyer, really want? The middle-class parents would rather their children listen to some good, wholesome music. Whilst the ‘hip hop heads’ want rap to go back to that ‘pure hip hop sound’ which is as vacuous as a Daily Mail reader on Question Time. I forgot the buyers of rap music didn’t I? They’d rather spend £7.99 on an album that didn’t feature lines such as “I love bad bitches that’s my fuckin’ problem, yeah I love to fuck bad bitches that’s my fuckin’ problem” right? As catchy (and misogynistic) as those songs may be, the majority are terrible and unwanted. I have a few possible solutions to alleviate label influences on studio albums. They may not be the best alternatives to what we have at the moment, but anything’s better than what we have right now?
The Notorious B.I.G and Puff Daddy (at the time, I think) put Life After Death together circa 1995-97, which unfortunately ended up being a part posthumous album. It was a double album but the surreptitious beauty of it was that one disc was pure gritty rap that the late rapper was known for – whilst the other disc featured songs that were radio and club-friendly. I’m still not quite sure what club-friendly entails because if Pow (Forward Riddim) drops in a club, there is nothing friendly about what ensues. What a double album like Life After Death ensures is that every stakeholder is left satisfied; the not-so-educated rap listener, the ‘hip hop heads’, the clubs and radio and label executives. On the other hand, the John Milton-esque (The Devil’s Advocate) label execs may feel that they don’t want to pay for the studio time, twice over.
Sites such as Kickstarter have made crowd-sourcing so widely accessible, so it poses the question – why not release crowd-funded albums? Studio time, production, mastering, engineering and promotion all cost a lot of money, that’s if you really want your tape to get ‘out there’. All it means is that the artist in question is creatively free from any label influence and can put out an album that the fans and more importantly, the artist want. In return, for donating, the artist can give people a free copy of the album, tickets to a gig or a t-shirt if they want. Detroit-native Elzhi has rejected major label offers to fund project solely from the contributions from Kickstarter. It’s an honourable move that should inspire young emcees that they don’t need to be backed by Roc Nation to make it back. Also bear in mind, a label like Roc Nation has certain commitments to meet set by its distributor and operator, which are Universal Music Group and Sony Music Entertainment, respectively.
Last night, Chance the Rapper tweeted the following, “What’s funny is if I had signed they would’ve never let me do any of this touring before an album dropped.” In addition, the likelihood of the label asking for a percentage of any money made from the #SocialExperimentTour would’ve been strong. Because what kind of sick world do we live in where an artist can’t make money for themselves other than what they make from an album? It’s enlightening to hear a young rapper resisting the temptation of the slick serpent in favour of promoting a critically acclaimed mixtape through a tour. Chance’s aforementioned Acid Rap remains my favourite release of the year because of this. Above all of the great albums, mixtapes and extended plays that I’ve been blessed with a grounded and soulful yet captivating tape in Acid Rap.
Round up every label executive that persists on putting profit before art and haul them off to a pig farm…..
Personally, I much prefer the idea of a crowd-funded album which allows more freedom of expression. Like myself, I’m sure others would feel more comfortable putting more money in the pocket of an artist than the £1 they probably make from the sale of a £7.99 album sold on iTunes. Like other independent artists, Chance the Rapper is the Oliver Queen of rap. Aiming to bring down the establishment of record labels layer by layer, ensuring that we, the people, are delivered the most potent music he has to offer.
P.S. The ‘extreme lengths’ suggestion was satirical. You need to make these things clear nowadays, apparently.