It's no secret that major record labels have long been known to take advantage of naïve, uneducated rappers who are anxious to sign a recording contract and aren't interested in reading the fine print or thinking big picture.
In 2015, shortly before he released his album HitNRun as a Tidal exclusive, the late great Prince once called major label contracts "slavery." "I would tell any young artist... don't sign," he said.
While Prince is sadly gone, his sentiment thankfully hasn't been lost on some of today's rising stars.
In a new interview with Prologue, rapper A$AP Ferg used a question about how he handles fear to explain how, instead of becoming a slave to his record label, he managed to flip the script.
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"Most people would be like slaves to the label, but they slaves to me," he said. "That's how I look at it."
"I used to always hear people say, 'Soon as you get signed, you're signing your soul to the devil and all of these people, these sharks in the room, they gonna take your soul, and they gonna take all your money and you're gonna wind up with nothing.' I would see different people who got hits who would wind up with nothing and I'm like, I don't want to wind up like them. So, that was a lot of fear. I'm a kid, I've never been in the music industry, I don't what this thing entails. So just by me being so fearful of it, I had to study it to the max to the point I didn't fear it anymore."
Last year, when Ferg branded record labels as nothing more than "music banks"—a place where young talent can grab some cash off their buzz and get out of the hood—I urged artists not to view them in the same light.
It's one thing to be fearful of getting screwed over by "the man" and using that fear as motivation to read up on record contracts and to hire smart, trustworthy people who have your best interest at heart, and it's another to make rash, ill-calculated decisions because that same fear is telling you not to pass up on an opportunity to sign on the dotted line and be handed a nice advance (that has to be paid back).
Setting aside the fact that Ferg's comments from one interview to another are somewhat contradictory—record labels are businesses and they do make investments in signing young talent, but like Ferg said you need the upper hand in any negotiation—his experiences within the label system should help a lot of young artists avoid signing rotten, awful deals.
And remember, unless you want to hear your music on the radio, you don't need a record label. They need you.