Four months ago, I spoke with blossoming rap star Russ about the secret signings happening behind the scenes in the music industry.
Rap artists signing record deals and withholding the news isn’t a new phenomenon, but hearing an artist expose such a fraudulent side of the industry was rather refreshing. Russ, like so many of us, wants to believe what we see and believe what we are told, but what is presented as the truth on many occasions is simply an illusion. Once Russ was able to enter the very system that sold him a dream, he received an ugly look at rap's reality.
"Getting behind the scene of the industry is learning that Superman has a stunt double" - Russ
The above quote comes from Russ' recent interview with VladTV. The Roswell, Georgia by way of New Jersey rapper is still a merciless voice of truth and is on a path to blow away all the smoke and break all the mirrors keeping rap fans disillusioned. Using Superman as a metaphor is perfect because, for most young rap fans, rappers resemble superheroes; imagine the man you believed could leap tall buildings in a single bound, was more powerful than a locomotive and faster than a speeding bullet was nothing more than a man in a cape pretending for admirers. Expand the thought to an entire industry, and you’ll be able to comprehend why Russ is on a mission of exposure—he wants people to stop seeing heroes and see the lies before our eyes.
It's been said countless times that the music industry is fake, but few artists carry the disappointment that Russ expresses. The Vlad interview mainly focuses on money, touring and the false narrative that certain rappers are truly popping. What’s most important about this dialogue is the realization for some that in 2017, touring is how an artist makes most of their money, and if you aren’t able to sell tickets, people will rightfully question the legitimacy of your fan base. Making noise online is commendable, but can you transition that noise into real, screaming fans?
Russ' entire livelihood has been based on the fans who buy his merch, who come see him perform, and who are constantly streaming his music—he’s living the reality of a rap star. Without a big co-sign, Russ is doing it completely by himself, and proud of it.
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Despite all the money flashing, all the diamonds dancing, all the candy-painted cars, are some of today’s most talked-about rappers able to tweet a ticket link and have their show sell out? Are they arriving in cities and being met by waves of fans? Are these fans putting money in their pockets?
Who is really popping, and who has their camera at an angle where it only appears their career is popping? Russ believes the percentage of rappers who have a fan base that will purchase hard tickets and sell-out entire tours is somewhere around 2%. He names Kendrick, Cole, G-Eazy and Logic as a select few who aren't just pretending but are truly the big stars in rap today.
Are you truly a rap star or just portraying the life of one? It’s an interesting question when everyone seems to carry themselves as if they're the biggest rock star on the planet. Part of the disillusion comes from the idea that rappers feel they have to boast, brag and portray an image to fit the ideal of rap stardom. It becomes a full-time job protecting the lie, and hoping fans never see through the tall tales.
Being a rapper is hard, and becoming rich in this business is a strenuous struggle very few accomplish. Rap may be all about the Benjamins, but only a handful of rappers are actually raking in dead presidents through streams, touring and merch. There are other avenues to make money, but will they last as your relevance fades?
What secures Russ is a foundation of fans that are prepared to spend every nickel and dime because they believe in his art. Russ is a great example of building up supporters who will keep you fed. The blogs, the media, the timeline—none of that matters if real people aren’t prepared to spend their hard earned money and priceless time on you and your art.
Rappers will continue to lie, but Russ will continue to drop knowledge that makes us look a little harder at what really matters—the fans. They’ll let you know who is making money and who is making up lies.
By Yoh, aka Yoh's Not Popping, aka @Yoh31.
Photo Credit: Instagram