May 31, 2012
15 notes

Game, Told

Here are some tips for you, rappers/artists looking to get on, that I have been meaning to give away for a while. This is inspired in part by The Smoking Section’s list of eight people a rapper needs, though I’m not gonna tell you you should have “sexy” ladies around to hand your music out.

  • Be interesting. I don’t care that much how, honestly, though I will say that the rape and murder and senseless violence and racism and sexism wells are pretty well tapped by everyone ahead of you, so “being a genuinely good person and eloquent about it” might be “your niche” or something. But diverging from the field is good: anyone who matters and who can put you on has heard dozens, scores, maybe hundreds of examples of pale imitations of your influences, and thousands of songs about the topics that first come to mind. But not everyone has heard hybrids of Mac Dre and Carolina Liar (note: I do not want to hear that particular thing, probably), or a good rap song about being transsexual, or a country ballad about racism. Don’t be afraid to innovate, and remember one of Kanye’s greatest lines: “Everybody feel a way about Ye, but at least y’all feel somethin’!”
  • Antagonize people with your art, not yourself. People who actually have jobs as critics and/or the majority of functioning members of society will turn on good stuff from shitty people faster than shitty stuff from good people. Call this the Chris Brown Principle: You can be one of the greatest talents in the world, but if you are pure jackass, that will be your first impression; the flip side is that people want to like what their friends do. (n.b.: Obviously not nearly something Brown started, but he’s this generation’s touchstone.)
  • Be Internet-savvy β€” meaning listener-savvy. If I were managing an artist (probably never) or putting out my own music (probably never), I would make sure that the song(s) existed on YouTube, one of the Internet’s largest search engines, and Soundcloud, a clean and effective platform, at the very least, with full, correct lyrics, correct and consistent titling, and producer information.
  • Be available. Adding a contact email to the above would help, but just having a public email or a public Facebook page or a public MySpace page or a public Twitter handle β€” just one of them β€” helps anyone who wants to report on you do so. And if you want to make money off what you do, you want to help those people.
  • Seek criticism. If your work is something you think is interesting, find someone you love and ask that person what she doesn’t like about it, and find someone you can barely stand and ask that person what he loves about it. And accept that criticism, too.
  • Avoid spam. I only speak for myself, but I’ll never click a link to a song from someone I’ve never interacted with on Twitter, and I block and report as spam most of the people who show up in my mentions with unsolicited links; I know a lot of other rap blogger/critic/fan people in that same boat. The way you get around this, so you can eventually put your work in the hands of people who matter, is by taking an interest in what those people do and building a rapport that makes passing off a song less likely to be a hassle for the person you’re passing it to and more likely to be giving a critic something to sink teeth into. It will not happen overnight, or maybe over a month, but if you are diligent and see people as people instead of as opportunities to leverage, it will work out eventually.
  • Do it yourself, for as long as you can… You have a computer, or know where to find one? (You probably do, if you are reading this.) You don’t need a web designer; you can just start a Tumblr or another free blog and fiddle around with it to archive all your link. You probably don’t need a videographer until you have a song you really think can pop. You probably don’t need more than a mixing engineer and a producer … and if you know or can teach yourself how to do that, you won’t need that. You don’t need a manager until you start booking shows and collaborating with people, and only then to really make sure you’re not getting ripped off. (Figuring out whether your manager will rip you off is an important decision, though.) All of this will not only make you better at the things you will have to do all the time, but it will keep more of the money you will eventually make in your pocket.
  • …but never hesitate to ask for help. Other people have done this longer and will do this better than you. If you make an effort to learn from them and let them teach you, you will gain both skills and connections that will help.
  • If you are releasing a mixtape, do not do it through a mixtape site that screws up your song titles. Just take the 15 to 20 minutes to edit the ID3 tags and make them informative and consistent, zip it up, and upload it to a file-sharing site or three. And then keep those links handy.
  • If you must “freestyle” or “cover” things, be distinctive. I am listening to Labrinth’s “Earthquake” right now, and wondering why no rapper has absconded with that squall of synths and drums from an arcade on an alien planet and ripped it apart; your chance of making noise with good raps on something like that is better than your chance of taking a popular song (think of the endless “Niggas in Paris” and “A Milli” freestyles) and making it enough your own for your version to catch on. To do that, you have to be reaaaaaallllllly good at rapping: Angel Haze, who tears apart a lot of beats, comes to mind, and the Re-Up Gang’s mixtapes are a good example.
  • Do not be Karmin. The flipside of the above is that Karmin essentially exists because it is “distinctive” for a white, oddly-coiffed Berklee grad to cover Busta Rhymes rapping very fast in a nasal voice and edit out the cuss words so that everyone can rap along. That is an extraordinarily cynical and soulless way to get on, even in the music industry, but if you can deal with having no respect from any critic and being locked in the major label system (you won’t sustain a career being “distinctive” on your own forever; being competent usually comes into play), have at it, you carapace of a human.
  1. dalatu said: Some good stuff, but don’t support Karmin hate.
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