A perfect example is his recent Q&A with Dazed Digital - from start to finish his thoughts are candid, raw, and unfiltered. Staples provides insight and commentary on the industry, being a rapper, and Twitter, and not a single word is coated with sugar. His honesty is brutal, he answers each question without a worry of consequence. The entire interview is loaded with an interesting perspective, but his thoughts on major labels truly grabbed my attention.
Q: You’re signed to Def Jam, one of the biggest hip hop labels with a lot of tradition and history, and you exist within a lot of corporate spheres, for example playing all the biggest festivals and Spotify stages. Do you feel like you’re within a system to beat the system?
A: There is no system. There are people that like things and there are people that like things so much that they become very successful and get paid off of it. That’s it. There’s no system, it’s a person with a job who can get fired.
Vince makes signing a record deal seem no different than working a 9 to 5 job, but it’s interesting that he mentions getting fired. He has the luxury of not seeing a system since he’s in a position where he’s already established himself as a rapper who is more liked than disliked. He is within the margin of artists who is successful and receives a nice wage for doing his job well. This isn’t a revolutionary way of thinking, but it’s one that young artists should keep in mind - rapping may be a dream, but it’s still very much a job. Music can be a passion, but to make a living in music, there’s a good chance you will have to operate within the music business.
Q: But are you worried they don’t care about creativity?
A: The people creating don’t even care about creativity. Michael Jackson didn't write all of his music, does that mean he didn’t care about creativity? But Drake has a ghostwriter and ‘he doesn’t love hip hop.’ Def Jam, Universal, all these people, they might be the system, they might not care, but at the end of the day, they’re feeding people. If every artist had a GoFundMe and it was up to the listener and the listener was sending them money to eat and feed their family, it’d be a lot of hungry motherfuckers out there. So, is the bad guy the system or is the bad guy the dude who steals everybody's music but loves it to death? Who’s doing something worse?
Rappers speaking out against their label is common - labels have been painted as the villain since forever. Vince is making a bold statement by shining them in a different light. Within the system, labels are the financial benefactors. They are the bosses who sign the checks.
But he does raise a good question: if the fans were in control of financing an artist's album would that be a successful system? Artists aren’t selling many albums, could they really rely on their fanbase to finance the planning, recording, mixing and mastering of their project? Budgets would be significantly smaller, that's for sure.
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Q: How about Childish Gambino, who leaked his own album?
A: Vince Staples: Did he leak his own album or did he have other revenue streams to the point where it didn’t matter? Cause Atlanta was getting picked up by a TV network – Donald is a different type of person. At the end of the day, no one likes being robbed. Do you love the music enough to be like ‘okay, it doesn’t matter, I’ll figure out a way’? But it’s no way to save the bad guy. Yeah, the system is fucked up, but the system is trying to keep up with the rampant theft that’s going on. They have to cut deals with these people – the Spotify's and so on. I don’t think you can say that any of those people are bad in a sense. Universal doesn’t need music, they have Fast and the Furious, they’re making more money off of one of those movies than they’re making off a couple years of music.
I know for a fact if wasn’t for Universal or Def Jam, or any of these people, I would not be doing what I’m doing to this day. So I don’t necessarily feel like they’re the bad guys. Universal has never commented on people’s pictures when their parents pass away and say, ‘put out a new album.’ The label doesn’t say ‘fuck you, you’re this or you’re that.’ The label doesn’t demean the artist. The label doesn’t comment on Kehlani’s pictures and tell her to go kill herself.
Vince’s follow-up answer is one big bowl of food for thought. Not only does he recognize the parent corporation that funds his major label doesn’t need music, not when Fast & Furious is pulling in millions, but he has no misconception that he is in this position because of his deal with Def Jam. He has a career because of Def Jam, and is able to look forward to retirement because of Def Jam. While acknowledging the system is broken, he doesn’t see the label as the bad guys, just companies complying to the times. Once again, he points the finger back at the people - trolls and commenters that are malicious to artists online. His definition of 'bad guys' aren’t the ones sitting in the offices, but the people sitting at home behind their computers.
People like to point fingers for their shortcomings, especially in music. ‘My album didn’t do that good. Fuck the label for mishandling it.’ Maybe you just didn’t have the hit record you were supposed to have. Maybe you spent too much money on your budget. Maybe it just didn’t work. But at the end of the day, I thought it was about the music, but it’s not about the music. It’s about them, and that’s what people trick us into. People trick people into thinking that someone’s doing them wrong because they wanted more.
It should be enough that your music is out in the world and could possibly help somebody. But at the end of the day nobody gives a fuck about that. People want their credit and their money – they don’t give a fuck that I might have put out an album and sold three copies but those three people that bought my album, I probably changed their life and put them in a better space. They don’t give a fuck about that. They care that they don’t have the car or the house that the other rapper has, and they care that they don’t have the attention the other rapper has. That’s what it’s all based on – I think it’s a selfish place to be. At the end of the day, the music doesn’t belong to you. This is a job where you’re able to display something or showcase your life to possibly help somebody get through some bullshit that they have to possibly deal with. People are trying to get rich and trying to get famous and it’s past that.
Again, Vince gets to speak from a rare position as an artist who has made it in the recording industry. He doesn’t seem frustrated by the industry, but frustrated by the misconception of what matters in the industry. Vince cares more about how many lives are impacted by the music than how many copies are sold. His viewpoint reminds me of Jerry Heller, the man who managed Eazy-E and NWA at the beginning of their careers. As Straight Outta Compton depicts, Jerry was a snake when it came to finances and his underhanded thievery painted him as the villain. Despite being a snake, his role was necessary for NWA’s success. Without Jerry, the story of NWA doesn’t happen the way it plays out. Jerry may have been a snake, but he wore a halo.
Vince's way of thinking isn't wrong or right. Every artist in this system will come to their own conclusions about the inner workings of the music industry. No record deal is the same, so every outlook will be different, but we are used to hearing about the big, bad major labels that suffocate creativity and are hazardous to an artist's career. Vince is offering an alternative perspective. Right or wrong, he is giving us plenty to ponder.
By Yoh, aka Yohmaine Dupri @Yoh31
Photo Credit: Matthew Sochaniwskyj