TDE's Dave Free on Signing to TDE: "You Got to Compete"

"You’re coming into a fold of Kendrick, ScHoolboy, SZA, Jay Rock."
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The Mafia of the West does not go easy on new signees, and why should they? 

In a new interview with VIBE, Top Dawg Entertainment co-president Dave Free broke down what artists should expect when they sign to the label. Known for their tough love approach, Free’s answer should not surprise TDE fans.

“I think the biggest thing for new artists is the competition level,” Free said. “You’re coming into a fold of Kendrick, ScHoolboy [Q], SZA, Jay Rock. There’s less expectation about what the brand can do for you ‘cause the brand is proven, we’ve proven that if we develop time into our artists we can turn our artists into something. You got to compete with Kendrick Lamar, he’s not gonna go easy on you on the track. He gon’ tap that ass on the track for sure so you better come with it. The same thing with SZA, she gon’ get on the track, she gon’ serve it up so you better be ready. Same thing with Jay Rock. Jay Rock holds the crown for the most destroyed tracks from TDE, getting on with artists and destroying everybody on the track. He’s the highest competitor in the camp when it comes to each other. He’s gonna pull the best out of you. So I think the artists are focused more on that. ‘Shit, how do I come in and make an impression on the guys that are killing it already?’

“That’s what I noticed the most and that’s probably the most pressured situation for them. SiR is like, “Man how do I even show these guys I’m tight, how do I even get them to pay attention to me?’ The first time I brought SiR to the studio with Kendrick, Kendrick was like, ‘Go in the booth,’ and it literally reminded me of the time that Top told Kendrick to go in the booth. The first time Dot came, Top was like ‘go in the booth and rap.’ Dot was in the booth for two hours.”

We can gather from Free’s remarks that tough love, pressure, and healthy competition are at the core of the TDE lineage. There’s something to be said for the quality of music a label can produce when lighting a fire under newcomers. TDE’s history of impressive debut albums clearly stands to prove that this approach has its merits.

Yet, TDE’s strategy is not the only successful one. Earlier this month, G.O.O.D Music’s golden boy Valee expressed that his favorite part of signing to the label is the lack of competition. For a creative like Valee, the space to innovate without external pressures or potential biters allows him to produce his best work. 

Kudos to both Valee and Dave Free for finding what works and leaning into it; the creative process can be brutal otherwise. 

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