Dr. Dre had The Chronic rejected by labels so many times he almost gave up. Drake used to email us looking for song posts. Jay Z got turned down so often he decided his only option was to start his own label. Hip-hop history's most astounding careers all come from very humble beginnings, and Outkast is no different.
This weekend I watched the new Organized Noize documentary, which is required viewing for any hip-hop fan, but while there are some large-scale lessons to be drawn from the doc that I'll try to get to later, there's this one gem I need to share right now: holy shit, did you know that "Player's Ball" was originally made for a Christmas album?
The story goes a little something like this:
- Production trio Organized Noize try to get L.A. Reid, at the time the head of the R&B label LaFace Records, to sign these kids that go by Outkast. Reid's hesitant, he doesn't know anything about hip-hop, won't these "gangster" rappers ruin the clean R&B look of LaFace?
- Reid relents and signs them, but he's still not really sold, isn't giving them much backing or support. He tells them they need to contribute to the label's 1993 album, A LaFace Family Christmas. (Notice how they get so little respect on the album cover they're buried in the bottom right with their picture cut off by text.)
- Outkast are not happy, they feel like Reid's going to kill their career before it even starts by making them look corny on a Christmas album. So they decide, fuck it, they're making the song they want to make. But so it's technically a "Christmas" song Andre starts the first verse off with "It's beginning to look a lot like...what?" and later in the verse works in "You thought I'd break my neck, to deck...the halls? Oh naw" along with a few other small nods to the holiday season.
Note: This is the point at which my head exploded. I'll give you a moment to sweep up your brain matter too...and now back to the story.
- "Player's Ball" is an unexpected hit, radio DJs can't stop playing this one song on a Christmas album. Reid realizes he might actually have something here, releases "Player's Ball" as a stand-alone single, none other than Puff Daddy directs the music video, and it explodes even further.
- Reid's now convinced. He green lights their 1994 debut album, Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik, which established Outkast as a commercial and artistic force. Fast forward a few years they've sold over 25 million albums and are the only hip-hop act to ever win an Album of the Year GRAMMY, and it all started from this one song for a Christmas album.
I don't think you need me to spell out the lesson here. Push on even when people doubt you, your biggest successes will come when you're most purely being yourself and, more specifically, it all started with Organized Noize. You need to watch that documentary.
By Nathan S, the managing editor of DJBooth and a hip-hop writer. His beard is awesome. This is his Twitter.
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