Vince Staples Took Smaller Def Jam Budget in Exchange for Creative Control

Signing to a major label can work in 2016 if you sign a smart deal.

Vince Staples is intelligent, articulate, bold and opinionated. In other words, he's a quote machine. Over the past 12 months, Staples has admitted that he joined a gang "because I wanted to kill people," asserted that he's prepared to quit rap, and urged the world to view major labels as "unsung heroes" and not villains. And those are just three of a countless number of examples.

In an outstanding new interview with Vulture, in which the 23-year-old emcee talked about his new EP, his former life as a Crip, and teetering on the thin line between happiness and insanity, among other topics, the following excerpt caught my attention:

"Though signed to a major label, [Staples] has minimal obligations to Def Jam: In exchange for a smaller budget, he’s been granted the time and aesthetic control to develop a body of work that he can take pride in without exception."


Just last week, we learned that Mac Miller's deal with Warner Bros. includes minimal oversight and no A&R control, an environment that allowed the Pittsburgh native to create a daring love album like The Divine Feminine. Similarly, Staples' Prima Donna EP is a concept album—a genius, original body of work that doesn't contain a single radio-ready single and isn't your "typical" major label release.

While some signed artists view their major label as a "music bank"—a corporation with fat pockets that can pay out a large advance—Staples, at the behest of his well-connected, veteran artist manager Corey Smyth, decided to view his Def Jam deal as a conduit to making the music he wanted to make but on a larger scale.

That smaller budget, which most likely includes lesser digital marketing, promotions, and radio muscle, hasn't lead to a single RIAA certification, but, in turn, Staples can go to sleep at night knowing he hasn't once comprised his artistic integrity in the name of pleasing a bunch of suits who know nothing about his life or his music.

More and more artists are quickly realizing that the key to success in the major label system is structuring a smart deal—one that provides a wealth of creative control in place of more upfront money and a bigger budget.