Six months ago T.I. became perhaps the biggest rapper to ever leave a major label in favor of going indie, departing Columbia Records to focus on hustling his own gang. Now, apparently eager to hook back into the big machine, he's signed a distribution deal with Roc Nation. The King of the South joining forces with Hova? It's a big deal.
This seems like a good time to clear up some misconceptions I'm already seeing about this news. First, T.I. has not signed to Roc Nation as an artist, this is solely a distribution deal. J. Cole and TIP are not now labelmates (although who knows, they might bump into each other at the Roc water cooler or company softball tournament). Roc Nation has no control over the music T.I. makes, he's only using their infrastructure to ship his album to stores, push his songs to radio, etc.
Second, it's also being reported that T.I. has come on board as a part-owner of TIDAL, and while we don't know the exact percentage he now owns, at least one outlet has written that "...we’re sure it’s healthy enough to make gains for the trapper." I wouldn't be so sure, not yet. It's fair to say that TIDAL has struggled since it's mega-celebrity roll out, so far it's notably leaked Rihanna's ANTI album and completely botched Kanye's The Life of Pablo release. They're now on their third (third!) CEO in less than a year, which is never a good sign, and so I wouldn't be surprised if the company's making only meager profits if any profits.
And then by the time Jay Z himself, Beyoncé, Rihanna, Kanye West, Nicki Minaj, Daft Punk, Jack White, Madonna, Arcade Fire, Alicia Keys, Usher, Chris Martin, Calvin Harris, deadmau5, Jason Aldean and J. Cole have all taken their cut, it's actually hard to believe T.I.'s seeing a dime of TIDAL money right now. No, all those celebrities aren't doing this for a monthly check, they're in it for the long haul. Like an enterprising Silicon Valley start-up, they're hoping for a big payday down the road, when a major label, a tech company like Google or even a music streaming competitor can no longer deny their strength and buys them for billions (for contrast Spotify's currently valued at $8.5. billion), netting all the owners a big multi-million payday.
That doesn't take anything away from this partnership at all. In fact, it means T.I.'s trapping on a whole different level. Welcome to the Roc Mr. Harris, it'll be fascinating to see where you go from here.