SNL Takes A Chance

After forty years of hosting some of the biggest names in music history, a true anomaly occurred last Saturday at Saturday Night Live. For the first time ever, SNL hosted an unsigned artist as their musical guest of the night. Unsurprisingly that artist just so happens to be one of the biggest names in music these days: Chance The Rapper.


Since releasing his debut album, Acid Rap, in 2013, Chance The Rapper has become infamous for his anti-label approach to the music industry. Though the Rapper is not featured on streaming services like Spotify or Pandora, he is perhaps Hip Hop’s hottest new star. Speaking to Billboard in 2014, Chance gleefully remarked, “I can do whatever I want…I can do whatever videos I want, I can play whatever shows I want, I can release when I want, talk how I want, freely about any subject.”

This is of course not the case for many signed artists. For instance, in 2007, pop singer Kelly Clarkson and then-Sony-BMG head Clive Davis publicly clashed over the direction of Clarkson’s album, My December. Though Davis wanted Clarkson to work with Pop-hitmakers, Clarkson stood her ground and came out with an edgy rock-oriented album. Though the outcome was what Clarkson wanted, along the way she had to deal with bureaucratic obstacles, galore.  Davis literally told her, she was a “shitty writer” and she should “shut up and sing”.


Perhaps Chance’s success is routed in the fact that he has no Clive Davis breathing down his neck for more releases. In my opinion, the authenticity and originality Chance projects are what makes him such an attractive artist. The unsigned approach simply allows that attitude to shine. Nonetheless, it is truly encouraging that an artist with no label ties is able to come to fruition on such a large scale. To tie this into my continuing series of hip hop-related happenings, my first thought (and hope) is that this could be the start of a new generation of hip hop–one without any de facto industry obligations to be signed. If this is the case, what could come next? Artists who were previously too intimidated by domineering labels could look at Chance’s model and try to emulate it. I think it’s a great sign for hip hop and music, overall.

R&B is King

I think growing up I had a major misconception of what R&B meant. At times, I thought it was only Luther Vandross and Quincy Jones slow jams. Then, I heard Prince for the and my perspective on the genre shifted, accordingly. Yet, all the while, my ignorance still brought me to the conclusion that it was a stlye of music which had a devoted following, which solely existed on a niche station somewhere in the XM/Satellite radio-sphere.

Maybe it was D’angelo that finally made realize I had been sorely mistaken. Then came Lauryn Hill, Erykah Badu, Maxwell, and the rest of the neo-soul pantheon, who each left an indelible mark on my heart in the shape of behind-the-beat rhythm sections and make-you-swoon vocals. Whatever it was I was hooked.


Around that time, an album that sort of fell into the genre, but also had elements of hip hop and electronic and everything else music has ever known, fell into my lap. It was Frank Ocean’s, Channel Orange. I’m not sure this was the advent of the elctronic-infused R&B that dominates radio stations and soundcloud homepages, alike. But it was the freshest (both badass and refreshing) style of music I had heard in years. I was not the only one who had this opinion. The album was ranked number one of the year by numerous critics, won a grammy for Best Urban Contemporary Album, and went gold in numerous markets around the world.


Whether or not Channel Orange catalyzed the most fashionable trend in music today is a subjective debate, but it is undeniable that since 2012 R&B has become the hottest genre around. The past year has been no exception. A review of iHeartRadio’s monthly playlists revealed that the genre was the most popular of 2015, followed by Pop, Rap, Country, and Latin.

As a lover of the genre, my motherly instinct leads me to believe this overwhelming success, a testament to the artistry of R&B, might actually serve to hamper its progress. Not that success is an inherently  bad thing in music, but I feel that in many cases it leads to a diluting of originality–a siphoning out of the elements that made an artists who they were. Since achieving worldwide fame, contemporary R&B superstars such as The Weeknd, Miguel, and, of course, Franck Ocean have put out music that I listen to regularly and really respect. As long as these aforementioned stylistic tastemakers do not succumb to the pressures of stardom, the genre will continue to push musical boundaries for years to come.




Rick Ross: A Ghostwriter All Along

A dull moment is never something one would associate with Rick Ross. With his eighth studio album, Black Market, on its way, slated for release December 9th, Ross has been very vocal about one of the album’s tracks, “Ghostwriter.” Naturally, the song discusses its namesake and its author’s role as an uncredited writer of many of today’s top rap verses.


Rick Ross Mastermind Press photo 2014

Recently, in an interview with Time, Ross elaborated on the topic. The hip hop mogul states, “I finally wrote a record telling the way it feels for me to be a ghostwriter, and not only a ghostwriter, but one of the biggest in the rap game.” He goes on to put his role as a ghostwriter in the context of his one career, justifying the practice as something that made sense due to his status. “Because of my own personal success I’ve always been able to keep that in the shadows. On this record, I just felt it was so current. It was needed.”

Ross further added his take on the discrepancy between ghostwriting in pop music versus that of traditional hip hop. In his eyes, the practice is more acceptable in the former, which places its emphasis on the music as an entire entity as opposed to the latter. Specifically citing the rap of artist, DMX, Ross claims ghostwriting is less morally sound to its focus being on the lyrics–words, which in this case, aren’t authored by the stated performing artist.

To put the issue in the context of record label operations, at the end of the day, the artist who performed the lyrics will be the one making the bulk of the song’s consequent revenue. In the Rick Ross conceptualization of ghostwriting perhaps this is only fair with some artists as lyrics solely contribute a piece to the puzzle that is the song as a whole. However, imagine a rapper who’s main selling point is the craft and wit of his lyricism. If these lyrics are not truly authored by that artist, it would seem that the artist’s publishing and recording earnings should be split between the performer and the writer. At least that’s how it works in traditional songwriter scenarios. With ghostwriting, the compensation is different. It is not dependent on the revenue generated from record sales, but rather the compensation is awarded in a one time lump sum prior to the record hitting the shelves. With some artists, such as MF Grimm, who in an interview with Forbes revealed, “I think I set a rate, every bar a thousand dollars”, the payment could be severely disproportionate to the song’s eventual earnings. Additionally, aside from the the money, an artist builds their fan base on the records under their name. If an artist is only writing songs for other artists, how can their own performance career come to fruition?

All this said, I am approaching this from an outsider perspective. In no way have I ever been involved in the hip hop industry and thus, perhaps their are legitimate benefits to being a ghostwriter. Maybe this is the ultimate sign of credibility in terms of hip hop lyricism? Maybe this is the only way to break into the business? Whatever it is, the tradition of ghostwriting is certainly as prevalent as ever with the biggest artists in the world–i.e. Rick Ross–taking part in the practice.



Hotline Bling On Top of The World

For the past week, the internet has been set ablaze with comments, critiques, and some incredible parodies of hip hop artist, Drake’s latest video for his single, “Hotline Bling”, which was released by Apple Music on October 19th. Even Mike Tyson couldn’t resist showing off his rather ‘colorful’ interpretation of the video.

But beyond the vines and buzzfeed lists lies a truly prolific result. Billboard reports that, “Drake is the top musical act in the U.S. on the Billboard 100 chart.” The chart is an aggregate of all of Billboard’s most significant charts. It factors in top 100 songs, album sales, and the social 50–the latter of which, purely denotes how much an artist is trending on social media channels. Among the composite that constitutes Drake’s position at the top of this chart includes digital song sales, up 43 percent, and social reaction (the Mike Tyson’s of the world), which has risen 78 percent.

Since the conception of his hip hop career, Drake’s antics have always put him in the limelight of internet banter. My initial supposition then, was this must aid his live sales. Naturally, facebook fangirls would kill to be able to put Drake snogging Madonna in their Snapstory. Or Drake remarking on his jewish upbringing on their instagram. A genius of marketing, I never thought this would actually transcend into actual music sales. I was wrong. “Hotline Bling” has already been downloaded 153,000 times according to Nielsen. And his mixtape, If You’re Reading This, It’s Too Late, sold 495,000 copies in it’s first week!

To frame this in the context of my hip hop themed blogs, where many hip hop artists are struggling, Drake, who is at his core a rapper is making serious money on all fronts in the volatile 21st century music industry. He may be a source of many laughs across the great expanse of the internet, but Drake’s recent domination of the music industry as a whole is no joke. Watch the original “Hotline Bling” video below:


Jay Z is ‘Big Pimpin’

In my prior blog entry, I wrote about the current state of hip hop as well as hypothesized a return of the the genre’s golden days of the mid 90’s due to a recent merging between P Diddy’s Bad Boy Entertainment and industry giant, Epic Records.  On October 21st, hip hop undoubtedly won again. After a week-long trial regarding a copyright infringement claim by the nephew of Egyptian composer, Baligh Hamdi, against hip hop giants Jay Z and Timbaland, the latter pair have come out victorious. The plaintiff, Osama Ahmed Fahmy, had claimed that a sample in Jay-Z’s 1999 single, “Big Pimpin'” used a sample of his uncle’s 1950’s ballad, “Khosara Khosara.”

Fahmy’s argument revolved around the notion that despite receiving $100,000 in an out of court settlement in 2001, “Big Pimpin'” violates his moral rights due to pairing vulgar language with his uncle’s music. What Fahmy did not realize going into last week’s court date was that this law, while completely valid within the realm of his native Egypt, can not be applied in the United States. To add insult to Fahmy’s injured claim, judge, Christina Snyder, told the jury that their decisions would not be necessary as she had already ruled Fahmy’s central argument moot, thus declaring Jay Z and Timbaland innocent.


The two will surely be pleased with decision but perhaps hip hop as a whole should be breathing a sigh of relief. In the wake of a 2014 decision to penalize Robin Thicke and Pharrell $5.3 million for their infringement of Marvin Gaye’s Got To Give Up, on their hit single, “Blurred Lines”, the lines between creativity and intellectual property theft have certainly become blurred. Who knows what small snippet could force your favorite rapper into utter bankruptcy? In any case, a resounding win for “Big Pimpin'” certainly sets a promising tone for the future of hip hop and its integral music making ingredient, sampling.


Bad Boy’s Gone Epic

Bad Boy Entertainment is P Diddy. The hip hop artist turned business mogul began the label in 1993 after his firing as an A&R at Uptown Records. Following a platinum release of Craig Mack’s, “Project Funk The World,” Diddy’s career changed forever when the label released another burgeoning talent’s debut album, Notorious B.I.G, whose “Ready to Die” redefined the genre as a whole. Despite the 1997 murder of Biggie, fast forward 20 years, and Bad Boy is still kicking–continuing to make waves in hip hop.

Over the past two decades, Bad Boy has spent time as a subsidiary of major’s Universal and Warner records.  Meet Epic Records, at whose helm music industry legend and frequent Diddy collaborator, L.A. Reid, proudly sits. On October 5th, Epic, which sits under the massive umbrella of Sony Records, officially signed a deal to make Bad Boy part of its music industry empire. The label will provide a range of services for Bad Boy artists including promotion, marketing, sales, and distribution.*


If Reid and Diddy’s prior relationship is any representation of the strength of the partnership to come, the future of Bad Boy looks promising. Reid recently released a statement regarding the deal, in which he discusses his relationship with Diddy: “Over the years, we not only enjoyed incredible success together, but we also became lifelong friends.” In Diddy’s analagous statement, he reciprocates the sentiment: “I have known L.A. Reid since the very beginning and together we have enjoyed countless successes over our long friendship.”

Considering the climate of the modern day music industry, the question that must be asked is, can this be a sustainable relationship? And will the deal between the two labels actually serve to bolster the businesses of either? One thing is for sure. If Diddy can find another artist with the ability to sell 10 million albums like Biggie’s, “Life After Death” did, Bad Boy will once again be something epic.*

Chvrches, Bieber, and Indie Cred

Scottish electronic band Chvrches has been known to flirt with modern day chart-toppers, some of which–on paper–should clash with their signature 80’s synthpop aesthetic. These include the likes of Justin Timberlake, Rnb singer, Janelle Monae, and the even the pop band, HAIM. Recently, Chvrches has taken a bigger risk than ever before in taking a stab at music’s most controversial tween heartthrob turned public urinator turned, well, actually, pretty respectable Rnb-tinged pop vocalist. Some of you might be asking, what do you mean?!?! No, that’s actually the name of Bieber’s newest single, “What do you mean”:

The song features an impressive vocal performance by Bieber juxtaposed against some airtight production. In adapting the tune to 808’s and saw wave samples, intentional or not, Chrvches, a well respected indie act have given Bieber their seal of approval. So, in conclusion what does this mean? Well, on one end this is just a really cool cover that any lover of pop music can listen to over and over again. But looking at the larger picture, Bieber may have just earned himself some legitimate credibility within a community of indie music fans who have previously written the singer off as the music industry’s village idiot. Watch the rendition as well as the band explain their new found love for Bieber below: