Young Thug, once a sought-after rookie caught up in a contractual tug-of-war between Gucci Mane’s 1017 Brick Squad and Atlantic Records’ Artist Partners Group, is now the proud owner of his very own record label.
Yesterday, Thugga took to Snapchat (the place where most hip-hop news seems to break these days) to announce the launch of his new imprint, YSL Records, which will be operated under his existing label, 300 Entertainment. In his Snapchat story, the Atlanta rapper showed off his brand spanking new YSL Records logo and office while sharing a quick speech from 300’s co-founder Kevin Liles.
“The most important thing that I can say to all of you guys, is not whether it’s 300 or YSL. Look at the guy who committed to us every single day,” Liles says in the clip. “Always standing 300 with us. Him starting a new venture is going to take us to a different mindset. He’s not just an artist, in this particular case.”
It’s a big look for Young Thug, who’s already been on a roll in 2016. He's released three full-length projects (two of which cracked the top 10 of the Billboard 200), toured the country twice and appeared on some of the biggest albums of the year, including Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo, Chance The Rapper’s Coloring Book and Travis Scott’s Birds In the Trap Sing McKnight.
Now, I don’t want to put the label under scrutiny on its first day out the womb or anything, but the launch of YSL Records creates a few questions that will need answering.
For starters, has Young Thug established himself enough to be able to pull off his own label? For all his star quality, Thugger has yet to fully translate his buzz into Billboard success—his highest selling project this year was the Kanye-approved Slime Season 3, which only moved 38,000 units in its first week. Meanwhile, he hasn’t come close to topping 2014’s “Lifestyle” on the Billboard Hot 100. From Rick Ross’ MMG to Drake’s OVO Sound, an artist-owned label needs a bona fide star to build itself around. Whether Young Thug is, or will be, big enough to create his own empire remains to be seen.
Whether that’s Young Thug’s goal for YSL Records is another question. In his 2014 Complex cover story, Thug revealed he wanted to start his own label to put his homies on, which is what rappers have been doing since day one. It’s a tricky topic: should you put art first and sign people you think are talented and have potential? Or should you put loyalty first and give your friends a chance to get out the streets, regardless of how good they are? After all, hip-hop was created to be a voice for the voiceless.
Thug has kept his promise and already signed his childhood friend and frequent collaborator Duke (aka YSL Duke, aka Lil Duke, aka I can’t keep up anymore) to YSL Records, according to XXL. It’s not like Duke has been plucked off the street still stinking of weed and gun powder, but even with two mixtapes and recurring appearances on Barter 6, Slime Season 3 and Jeffery under his belt, it’s not like Duke is poised for stardom either.
Right now probably isn’t the best time to be partnering with 300 Entertainment. In late September, legendary music executive Lyor Cohen announced his departure from the company he co-founded just three years ago to join YouTube as Global Head of Music. Then, last week, 300’s other co-founder Todd Moscowitz followed Lyor out the exit to launch a new joint venture with Universal Music Group called Cold Heat Records. Though no official announcement has been made, it’s likely that Kevin Liles will become the new CEO of 300 Entertainment as of next month.
Still, with Liles’ veteran experience and Thug’s continually rising star, there’s no reason why YSL Records can’t achieve modest success. At best, it could be a lesser 1017 Brick Squad. At worst, it could be a better Black Wall Street Records. Who Thug chooses to sign next is crucial: can he lure a more prominent name like Rich Homie Quan or PeeWee Longway to the label? Or will he focus on building a stable of YSL weed carriers and sign Yak Gotti and Gunna (who, in all fairness, has impressed when given the opportunity).
Whatever the future holds for YSL Records, you’ll probably hear about it first on Young Thug’s Snapchat.
By Andy James. Follow him on Twitter.