Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Internet Killed The Mixtape Star

The views and opinions expressed in the following feature editorial are those expressly of the writer of this piece and do not necessarily reflect those of HipHopDX.
In September, 2007, the Hip Hop world was rocked when a 17 year-old Georgia native named DeAndre Cortez Way, better known as Soulja Boy Tell 'Em watched his single “Crank That” (Soulja Boy) topped Billboard’s Hot 100 charts.
The then 16 year-old dropped a song that displayed little in the way of rhyme skill, with a maddeningly minimalistic beat. The same could be said for the dance craze it started. The result? Digital sales of 4,213,918 downloads, and 77,166,210 YouTube views. Instant fame for the teenage rookie, who joined 50 Cent, Eminem and The Game as Interscope Records' then-flagship stars. And still the biggest "southern ringtone hit" to date.

But that wasn’t the amazing part of Soulja Boy’s story.

What was crazy was how the guy got on. He didn’t drop off a CD to anyone. He wasn’t spotted in a talent show. He wasn’t an established artist's protege. He didn’t even drop a few bars in a chance, fairy tale encounter with a record executive in an elevator.

Soulja Boy was discovered on MySpace.
Yup. MySpace. The site that everybody from 2005 to 2008 used for hook-ups and to pose with cars they didn't own, sunglasses on, and theme music they felt described them. Mr. Collipark, the southern veteran producer who was behind the Ying Yang Twins’ biggest songs, listened to Soulja Boy’s music, saw his "hit" potential, and from there arranged a meeting with his Atlanta neighbor. And the rest was history.
Well, history in the making. Because the MySpace star-making machine didn’t stop there. If you listen to Top 40 Radio, you have to know who Sean Kingston is. The young, portly said-to-be-teen also made music on his MySpace page. He was also an aspiring rapper (he does rap, although his biggest hits are his “singing” compositions.) And he also was discovered by a record producer. J.R. Rotem, the head of the label/production team Beluga Heights, signed Kingston to a deal, distributed by Epic/Koch. Kingston then dropped the single “Beautiful Girls” in 2007 (the same summer season that “Crank That” dropped).
In case you thought MySpace was the only place that Hip Hop dreams were made of (because you certainly can’t use it for hook-ups anymore), YouTube is a platform for young hopeful emcees as well. This past spring, Ohio native Jola posted a self made video for his single, “She Say.” The catchy, Journey-sampled song caught the eye of none other than Jermaine Dupri. After watching and loving the song and video, he contacted Jola, flew him to Atlanta, and then signed the young spitter to his So So Def label.

What’s the point of telling these stories? The point is that new mixtape is….the Internet. If you want to get on, those physical CDs that you pressed up? You may want to invest in a wi-fi carrier and a flip-cam instead. The days of the showcase, the hand-to-hand CD hustle, the demo, even spitting on a radio show are numbered. For up and coming emcees, a digital camera and a username is the way to possible stardom, provided you have the traffic.
Looking at the state of the music industry, it’s easy to see why label execs are looking to the ‘net to find new acts. In the last few years, whole departments at imprints were gutted. So that means there just aren’t enough people at the labels to scout the country for talent. That’s one of the reasons A&R’s depend on BDS numbers to sign acts these days.
But, the Internet is a big help to industry heads because…it’s easy. It’s easier for A&R’s to get on the’ net and find an artist. You can log into MySpace and see craploads of unsigned rappers and producers. Now, the hits each MySpace page gets (and the song plays) are a huge part of the MySpace equation. The hits equal buzz, and some skewed equation for potential buyers. The artists on MySpace do have to market themselves. They just cant put songs on their page and hope that somebody just stumbles across them. But, if an artist, producer, or deejay has a strong marketing game and great songs, MySpace can be an awesome way to be heard. And, for music industry folk, they can do searches for rappers city by city, state by state. If you’re looking for the next new sound, why not search for rappers and producers in Arizona?

Even though MySpace has it’s share of success stories, YouTube is starting to be the place for new talent. Since digital cameras are relatively cheap, it’s way easier for an unsigned act to make their own low budget video. (And, most artist budgets at a major label are no longer able to include Hype Williams for a $900,000 video shoot. Those days went the ways of shiny suits.)

Once indie stars such as Curren$y and Wiz Khalifa built massive followings via their YouTube videos. Wiz had a contract with Warner Brothers, left it, and then kept his buzz building through touring and self-made videos, song leaks and spot dates. Look him up on YouTube, then look at his video for his album release party in his hometown of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The line outside of the venue looks like the line to opening night of Avatar. Curren$y also steadily built his buzz with a number of YouTube videos before recently singing to Def Jam. The former Young Money artist, plus the Taylor Gang leader, prove that Internet presence can do more for you than a major label - even or 2006-era Lil Wayne's cosign.
The pinnacle of YouTube success may come courtesy of the previously mentioned Jola incident. Jola was a rapper based out of Dayton-area Ohio who was pretty much unknown. He released the the self made video to his single, “She Say,” and garnered a fair amount of views. Some of his contacts he made in the industry while trying to get on knew Jermaine Dupri. Dupri was tipped off to Jola’s video, saw it, and flipped. He had to sign Jola, and he did. Did a connection help Jola? Certainly. But, Dupri saw Jola in the video. And he saw his star potential. That’s very important in today’s digital landscape. Star making visuals.

Even the hand-to-hand mixtape game has changed. In the past, rappers, deejays, and producers would hand out pressed up CDs to music industry execs in the hopes of getting heard. Now, most disscussions/converstaions are done via e-mail or text message. And if an artist wants to send some music, all he/she has to do is send the industry rep a YouTube or MySpace URL. It’s that easy now. The days of handing out pressed up CDs is all but over. (At least you don’t have to come out of a club with four or five CDs on your windshield anymore).

The explosion of “Tech-Hop” isn’t without it’s problems. Every Rap music media member has had loads of e-mails from rappers peddling their new digital mixtapes. And only a few of them are ever listened to, and even fewer are any good. Ditto with YouYube vids. Some are entertaining and fun. Others, shoddy and sloppy and pointless to the visual medium. Even on MySpace, some beginning rappers clearly need work on their craft before they post their songs online. And, an just because a kid kills on the ’net, doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll do damage on the radio.
All in all, we live in a world where the biggest label head may well be Steve Jobs. Nobody is pimping the game like iTunes. At this point, the least an artist can do is get on a webpage or some digital platform and post their music or videos. After all, in Hip Hop, the game is either to keep up with the Joneses or speed right past them, but never to get behind the times. Ayo technology.

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