A (Fake) Major Label Exec Explains Why Rap Duos Are Dead

By | Posted October 1, 2015
Face reality, there hasn’t been a platinum album from a rap duo in a decade.
2015-10-01-rap-duos-dead

Gentlemen, welcome to Universascope Brothers RecordsSorry about the wait. Can I get you something to drink? Pepsi? Water? Tea?

Katherine, get these guys some drinks!

Snacks? Pop Chips? No? You guys good?

Okay, great.

Here’s the deal gentleman, I brought you in because I know talent and you my two friends have it. Your style is so fresh, so new, yet has this old school vibe. I’ve seen the mixtape download numbers. I saw that Drake Instagram picture, you’ve been all over DJBooth’s charts. I think you kids have the juice. I really do.

Now, I know what you're thinking, “Holy shit he’s gonna sign us!”

Well, I'm not.

Look, if it was my choice you’d have paperwork in front of you right now. But I got bosses, and they have bosses. The bosses don’t look at talent like I do, they don’t care about raw ability, they want something marketable. Something that will get the kids moving, preferably in the direction of their local venue. And let's be honest, rap duos just don't work anymore. 

Think about it for a second. Who are the duos that inspired you? Outkast? Long gone. UGK? RIP Pimp C. Mobb Deep? They’ve been on a comeback tour since 2010. I was a part of the rollout for their last album, I almost lost my job. The last duo to go platinum? Outkast with Idlewild, and before that it was the Ying Yang Twins. Are you really the next Outkast? Do you really want to be the next Ying Yang Twins? Who was the last duo who really came onto the scene together and achieved long-term, big time success?

Look at these new plaques on the wall, take a long hard look. How many are duos? I’ll wait.

That’s right, zero. There hasn’t been a platinum album from a duo in almost a decade. Sorry to tell you, but duos are dead. There’s just no place for them anywhere in mainstream hip-hop; even in the indie world they are few and far between.

Think about it. Why be a duo when you could be your own act and part of a squad? Live shows are everything now, and nothing screams live show like a mob of people on stage going nuts. I can't remember the last show I went to that didn't have a group of people on stage. Take a look at the one duo who's made it recently, take a look at Rae Sremmurd. They live and eat off that live show. Thier album sold 34,000 copies in the first week. Not bad, not great either. You know how much I’ve heard about their live show? That's why they're landing spots at festivals and award shows. They are more showmen than rappers. I’m not knocking it, it’s actually pretty impressive. They are the last duo, who only raps, who came up with each other, to really achieve any sort of larger success. Wish I had signed those guys when I had the chance. And let's be honest, you guys are no Rae Sremmurd. 

I'm sure you think you can make it together, I admire that, but you need that squad to be your brand. It’s the hook that gets people interested. One of you could be A$AP Rocky, but you can't both be A$AP Rocky. That mob aesthetic, the deep roster, gives you a certain clout. To be honest we wouldn't sign the whole squad either, but we want them because they're good business. By all means, bring them onstage or give them a verse here and there, but they're mostly just walking commercials for the stars. Those seven squad members retweeting your shit? That's a free PR team. All of you wearing the same shit? The merch sells itself. Squads are in. Duos are out. Don't take this the wrong way but you guys are dinosaurs. Flip phones in a smart phone era.  

But for shits and giggles, let’s pretend we sign you. Let’s pretend you guys make it. What happens then? You're childhood friends, but even that bond can be broken with a little bit of fame, wealth and divergent life paths. Look at Clipse. After Lord Willin went platinum, their next two albums took a sharp decline. I remember Pusha T coming in this very same office last year and playing beats he had on deck for the new Clipse album; man he was excited. Some great shit. A month later, No Malice traded it all in for Jesus. I can't knock the man for finding religion, but it sure is bad for business. This isn't the '90s, times are tough. Can you really afford to tie your career to someone else? 

And that's the bottom line here. It’s hard to create, hard to make music, the stress of this industry is just too much for some people. When you're a duo, you're hitching your wagon to another person, one who may not have the same drive and determination. Look at each other, you guys are long time friends, but I’ve seen that bond break quick when shit starts to hit the fan. It’s just too unstable. In a squad, all you need is a ring leader, an A$AP Rocky or Joey Bada$$ to hold things down, the other parts are interchangeable. In a duo? You are forever and always linked with this other person, you are only as strong as the weakest link.

Tell me which one of you is the weak link and I'll sign the other person. 

I know what you're thinking, you aren’t the first duo to sit in these chairs recently You're thinking, 'We’re different, we’re so talented.' Prove it then. You really want to be successful together? Spend some time apart. Nobody is saying you can't work together, but before you do, you both have to be known on your own. I see collab projects coming out the ass right now - Run The Jewels, Big Grams, Mursday, Freddie Gibbs and Madlib - artists are coming together for a project, maybe a tour, then they go their separate ways. Drake and Future just fucked up the Billboard charts on a one-time deal. It worked because both are already known commodities. Two popular rappers coming together for one album? I can market the shit out of that. Do you think the next album, or the one after that, would have that same buzz? People are going apeshit over a hypothetical Kendrick anand J.Cole album like it hits stores tomorrow because they both made it on their own first. You want to succeed together? Separate. 

Questions? No? Great.

Here's what we are going to do. I'm going to give you say….48 hours to decide. If you want to be a part of Universascope Brothers Records, you are going to have to make some serious changes. If you want to move forward it’s going to take some rebranding, and I need to know you both are committed to not being committed to each other. 

I'll have Katherine book us a meeting in a few days and I'll expect your decision. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have another meeting.

Katherine, will you see these gentlemen out please? Take some Pop Chips to go guys, on me.

[Lucas Garrison is a writer for DJBooth.net. His favorite album is “College Dropout,” but you can also tweet him your favorite Migos songs at @LucasDJBooth. Original art via Instagram.]

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