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Roc-A-Fella Co-Founder Kareem “Biggs” Burke Offers Advice to Indies: "Own Your City"

A world tour might be the goal, but an artist must sell out their own backyard first.

As a 20+ year veteran of the music business, Roc-A-Fella co-founder Kareem “Biggs” Burke understands what it takes to make it in the recording industry.

While both the music business and the rap game have undergone significant changes since Biggs and his partners Jay Z and Damon Dash launched their label in 1995—remember, this is what the internet looked like in '95— he's still giving young artists the same advice today that he gave them 22 years ago.

During a Reddit AMA earlier today (February 22), Burke was asked, "Do new artists still need recording contracts these days?" to which he replied:

No, you don’t need a recording contract. There’s a lot of platforms where you and put your music out and make the money yourself. What I tell everybody is one thing that we did a long time ago, which I think is still needs to be done today: other than making yourself known in a presence on the internet, is that you have to go from state to state and city to city and perform. You have to own your city. If you’re not owning the town that you’re in and the word isn’t spreading, it’s gonna be hard for people to gravitate towards you and for you to get that notoriety and be that force you want to be in the music business.

Do you need a contract? No. But at some point, it depends on what you’re trying to do. If you’re trying to grow at a fast pace, it’s kinda hard to do it yourself, so you may need some help. But there’s companies like Rock [sic] Nation that’s taking on a management role and not so much as a label. And they can help you use that as a platform to jump off and expand your career.

Given the incredible success of Chance The Rapper, a poster boy for independence who has staunchly and famously refused to sign a major label deal despite reports of $10 million contract offers, Burke's full-length answer shouldn't come as a surprise. He's right, artists don't need to sign a record deal—especially if they aren't in a position to negotiate a fair deal.

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What they do need to do, however, is own their own backyard.

Do you know how Chance's booking agent knew he would likely be able to sell out a 40-city arena tour? Because he sold out a baseball stadium last summer in his hometown of Chicago.

Now more than ever before, artists are relying on touring and merchandise sales to support the creation of their music. While national and world tours are the ultimate goal for any artist in any genre, any path must begin by selling out local venues. You need to crawl before you walk and walk before you run.

After all, if your own neighborhood doesn't have your back, should you really expect a neighboring town to show love?


By Z, who loves to argue with you on Twitter.

Photo Credits: Instagram



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