We know that even getting a Drake shout out on Instagram can put a young artist on the map, so actually being signed to Drake has to be a surefire formula for success, right? Right?
Now that DVSN's Sept. 5th album has been released to the wider world for over a week now (it was originally an iTunes/Apple Music exclusive), we have yet more evidence that says nope. In fact, unless your name is Drake, being signed to OVO is no guarantee you'll even be able to crack the top 100 in album charts, let alone the top 10. Let's review:
- DVSN gets the increasingly boring "mystery artist" roll out. Their identity is kept hidden for months, then there's a big reveal consisting of one SXSW show and an Instagram post heading into the album release. Predictably, that results in Sept 5th peaking at number 133 on the album charts. One...hundred...thirty...three. The album in slot 132? Lana Del Rey's Born to Die, which came out in 2012. Ouch.
- In comparison the label's release before that, Majid Jordan's self-titled debut album, was a blockbuster, reaching as high as 69 on the U.S. album charts. It's a step up from sleeping in a tent, but it's not exactly a platinum plaque.
- Makonnen's the first to make the leap from Drake remix to OVO-signee and while he's certainly in a better position now than he would have been without any Drake attention, his time at OVO doesn't exactly go well. His debut album tops out at 78, and 2015's follow up, ILoveMakkonen2, failed to chart at all. Hence the reason he's seemingly left the label.
- PND, the artist Drake clearly signed because The Weeknd realized that he'd never be a star working under Drake at OVO and never signed, is OVO's most successful venture yet, but that's not saying much. His last album, PND2, went as high as #15, but then fell quickly. To date that album's only sold 16K copies, a number truly independent artists routinely surpass.
For a point of comparison, let's take another label with a huge superstar on their roster, TDE. Purely commercially speaking, TDE's worst performing album of the last few years is Isaiah Rashad's Cilvia Demo, which has currently sold over 30,000 copies - more than OVO's best-selling (non-Drake) album from PND. And the rest of TDE's rapping roster - Jay Rock, ScHoolboy and Ab-Soul - all individually have albums that have charted higher than every (non-Drake) OVO album, and in some cases (like Oxymoron, Control System) by huge margins.
The music coming out of OVO can be great, DVSN's Sept. 5th project is sonically excellent, so that's not the problem. And OVO's clearly great at marketing and promotion. Drake's the most successful artist, and brand, of his generation for a reason, his team understands marketing in the digital age better than almost anyone. So there can really only be one logical reason why OVO artists often can't even manage to crack the Top 50 - Drake's the reason the label exists at all but also is a vacuum, sucking up priorities and resources. Why rush to put out DVSN's album? Because the label needs all its attention on Views From the 6, that's why.
It's the classic logic-circle familiar to so many labels (it's not like Roc Nation's doing much better). They can't justify investing in a new artist without a proven track record at the expense of their superstar breadwinner, so the new artists don't succeed, so the label can't justify investing in them. So signing to Drake may seem like a dream come true for any artist, but the reality of being signed to Drake is a far less glamorous thing.