The music industry is a very fickle scene. So much goes on behind closed doors that we’ll never know about, but every so often a story slips through the cracks of what could have been and blows our collective minds.
For example, Troy Ave recently released a spoken word track in which he details a period of time where he pursued a deal with TDE. While I don’t believe for a second that TDE actually intended on signing Troy, it did make me wonder how differently things might be in hip-hop had some other almost-signings actually gone through.
How would the careers of the artists be different? How much more—or less—successful would those labels have been? Would we be existing within an entirely different hip-hop landscape?
Let’s take a look...
Chance The Rapper
Nearly signed with:TDE
Actually signed with: Nobody
While this potential signing didn’t get much further than talks with TDE president Dave Free, similar to his almost-signing with Sony, the ramifications of this actually happening would have been insane.
First of all, much of Chance The Rapper's acclaim is rooted in the fact that everything he’s accomplished has been done without signing to a label. From White House visits to GRAMMY awards, Chance’s refusal to forsake artistic sovereignty for the sake of increased exposure and income has been a battle cry for legions of artists wanting to do things themselves.
Had Chance signed with TDE, I imagine his artistic integrity would’ve remained intact, but his story wouldn’t be nearly as inspirational to the hordes of independent rappers that look up to him and diehard fans who idolize him.
On the flip side, Chance would’ve been smack dab in the middle of a roster that currently houses some of hip-hop’s most exciting acts, and it’s a roster that frequently collaborates in-house. This would’ve inevitably led to the Chance and Kendrick collaboration the world has been collectively pining for, as well as increased collaborations with Ab-Soul, ScHoolboy Q and the rest of TDE.
I’m glad Chance decided to do his own thing, and his success over the past three years speaks for itself, but who here wouldn’t love to see what would’ve happened if Chano had a creative force like TDE behind him?
Nearly signed with: Duck Down Records
Actually signed with: Interscope / Aftermath
Holy shit, this one’s a doozy.
Before Eminem was a Rap God, he was just another hungry underground emcee from Detroit with a passion for hip-hop that extended far beyond the mainstream and stuck around even after Dr. Dre signed him and made history.
On the Marshall Mathers LP 2 bonus track “Don’t Front,” Eminem recreated Black Moon’s “I Got Cha Opin,” in which he describes almost signing to Duck Down Records after being passed on by fellow indie giants Rawkus and Loud.
Word to Buckshot and Dru-Ha, why the fuck not? / You don't like it? Suck a cock! / Almost forgot, before I signed with the Doc / I almost signed with Duck Down / ‘Cause Rawkus didn't make no offers, so mothafuck Loud / They jerked me around, so what's up now?
For the uninitiated, Duck Down is an independent label that’s been operating for nearly 25 years and has been the home to such legendary artists as Pharoahe Monch, Smif-N-Wesson, Sean Price, Heltah Skeltah and more.
Notice something those names have in common? Here’s a hint: they’re all rap legends planted firmly in the underground. Had Eminem gone the Duck Down route, we’d likely be talking about him in the context of the aforementioned underground legends instead of, arguably, the most successful rapper of all time.
Status aside, Eminem’s signing to Aftermath re-invigorated Dr. Dre and was directly responsible for the now-inescapable presence of Shady/Aftermath. And without Aftermath, it’s entirely possible 50 Cent never is able to resurrect his rap career after a failed stint at Columbia Records (and nine gunshot wounds) and current rap god Kendrick Lamar might still be peddling mixtapes through a completely independent TDE rather than dominating the charts with major label backing.
Nearly signed with:Cash Money Records
Actually signed with:Roc-A-Fella / Def Jam
Yeah, you read that right. Although former DJBooth scribe Lucas laid out the details of this almost-occurrence over a year ago, a surprising number of people still have no idea this almost happened.
In an interview with veteran Chicago rapper Mikkey Halsted, Lucas uncovered the full story of Kanye’s parallel career path, which was brought on by Cash Money’s interest in Halsted himself. Long story short, Kanye didn’t want to sign with Cash Money because he felt they were a little “too street” and really wanted to work with Roc-A-Fella.
Present-day circumstances tell us Kanye made the right move, but I can’t help but wonder how things would’ve played out had Kanye signed the dotted line on a Cash Money deal.
For starters, it means we'd miss out on some iconic Hov/Ye collabs and never get Watch The Throne (or we'd have one with Ye and Wayne). Also, Kanye’s early production wouldn’t be nearly as iconic as it is now. In Mikkey’s recounting, he mentions that Birdman was hesitant to work with Kanye because of a number of samples he was using at the time. Clearing all those samples would’ve put a serious dent in Birdman’s bottom line, and in my mind, this would’ve most likely resulted in Kanye either being shelved or dramatically shifting his approach to producing, the latter of which doesn’t seem likely. Either way, Birdman probably wouldn't have paid him.
On the flip side, however, Kanye’s presence among the Cash Money roster would’ve surely produced some outlandish collaborations. Imagine a young Weezy rapping over the chipmunk-soul tunes Kanye was pumping out at the time, or Kanye spending his early days in the lab with Mannie Fresh, who he's called the "best producer."
Nearly signed with:Roc-A-Fella Records
Actually signed with: Cash Money Records (Again)
Speaking of Lil Wayne…how’s this for a butterfly effect mindfuck?
Back in 2005, Lil Wayne was fresh off Tha Carter II, which debuted at No. 2 and began the solidification of Wayne as a household name among hip-hop fans. It was also the year his initial deal with Cash Money Records ended, and apparently, Hova was looking to scoop up a bubbling Weezy.
Hov attempted to seriously lowball Wayne, however, leading to his re-upping with Cash Money. And I mean seriously low balled.
I’ll let Weezy himself tell you how badly:
First of all, he was at the 40/40 in the daytime, and when I got up there he was talking, it was Denzel [Washington], it was Derek Jeter. I was like, ‘This is his clique?’ And they up there just [fake] laughing at jokes I just don’t get. He literally sat me down next to him...That man offered me 175 [thousand dollars]. I said, ‘Believe that…’ I was looking like, two teeth in my mouth is 175, like two of them. My bottom teeth. So we laugh about that all the time. We joke about it all the time.
Damn, Jay! It’s not clear if Hov was just woefully ignorant of Wayne’s impending status as a hip-hop superstar of if he was just trying to take advantage of a youngster from New Orleans who might not be as business savvy. One thing is for certain, though—Wayne signing with Roc-A-Fella would’ve changed hip-hop for-e-ver.
For starters, Tha Carter Vwould be out and Wayne would be free of Birdman’s game running. Weezy would also have had a lot more work with Hov, in addition to the rest of the Roc's roster. Who knows, he might have blown up even sooner than he did and became an even bigger star.
The deal would’ve been great for Hov, too. At the time, Roc-A-Fella's artist roster outside of Jay and Kanye wasn't overly impressive—oh, hey Teairra Marí—and the addition of a third top-tier act would’ve solidified them as the most powerful label in the game.
One last thing: we'd get to witness Watch The Throne as a three-headed monster that also included Weezy. *Drops Mic*
Nearly signed with:Atlantic / Songbook Entertainment
Actually signed with:Cash Money / Young Money
At this point, it’s hard to remember a time when Drake wasn’t absolutely killing the game. But that time did exist, and surprisingly it was Trey Songz who was integral to Drizzy’s entrance into our collective hearts and wallets.
The Virginia-bred crooner was one of Drake’s most noteworthy early collaborators and was apparently the first artist to put Drake on a stage. At one point, Trey even attempted to sign Drake to his Songbook imprint which existed under Atlantic Records. Woah.
Considering Songz’s current tepid profile, it’s entirely possible Drake wouldn’t be the superstar he is today had the deal actually gone down, which Trey himself admitted in an interview with The Breakfast Club:
Drake wouldn’t be Drake if we made that decision. Drake wanted to sign to me at a time when I wasn’t even Trey Songz yet.
It’s hard to envision a universe in which Drake doesn’t reign over the charts, but let’s be real—years worth of collaborations with Lil Wayne and Nicki Minaj played a pivotal role in Drake’s current position on top. Say what you will about Drake's "street cred" (or lack thereof), but collabs with Wayne and Birdman did a lot more to further that than alignment with Trey Songz and pop-friendly Atlantic would have.
It's more than likely Drake's career would've blossomed no matter what label acquired his talents, but Cash Money has to thank the universe they landed the biggest sure thing in music. With Wayne's music on lockdown, who else other than Nicki Minaj would they have turned to? Tyga? Gudda Gudda?