In 2016, Jacksonville, Florida rapper Trap Beckham signed a record deal with Def Jam. Since then, the 26-year-old has only released one project—an underpromoted eight-track EP entitled Life Is Lit—but according to Beckham, linking up with a major label was about more than finding a home for his music.
During a recent guest appearance on the Grass Routes Podcast, when he was asked by co-hosts Brandon "Killa BH" Hall and Erin Ashley Simon about his expectations post-signing, Beckham instead listed three primary benefits: celebrities, a co-sign and connections.
"Def Jam has opened crazy doors for me. I done met so many celebrities, so many personalities, it's ridiculous," Beckham told GRP. "It's hard to cover the U.S. and then it's hard to cover the world. When you can have somebody like Def Jam who can co-sign and help push you to those bigger platforms, like, I don't want just be a local artist. This is why I have shows out in Cali and why I have shows up in Milwaukee, and I'm from North Florida. I would never be able to reach those people without Def Jam. It's just about the connections you make."
While it isn't surprising to hear that Beckham, a native of Jacksonville—the 34th largest city in the United States and the fourth largest in Florida—is thankful for the opportunity to get out of his own backyard and earn a stamp of approval from a legendary rap label while playing shows across the country and shaking hands with A-listers, these opportunities all come at a cost.
Obviously, I am not privy to the finer points of Beckham's specific record deal with Def Jam, but given the fact that he wasn't already booking shows on his own in markets outside of his own home state, it's likely he had very little leverage during contract negotiations. In addition to possessing what label A&Rs refer to as "cultural relevance" and boasting impressive social media and on-demand streaming metrics, a strong live performance and being able to sell out a room on the strength of your name is the best bargaining chip an artist can bring to the table.
For Beckham, signing with Def Jam has meant playing shows in cities like Los Angeles and Milwaukee, but an artist does not need a major label specifically to book shows. There are thousands of independent artists who, with the help of an experienced booking agent and a knowledgeable manager, have successfully booked regional, domestic and international tours.
The chorus of veteran artists urging younger talent to avoid signing major label record deals has only grown louder over the past few years, but if Beckham, much like his labelmate Vince Staples, signed a deal that will afford him complete creative control, he might very well be in a better position in the future than if he had continued to grind out a rap career in Nothern Florida.