The million dollar question: How do I get on?
Well, there's no one way anymore. There's no 106 & Park. Virality is no longer an immediate golden ticket. Getting on is a multi-step process, with a lot of platforms to choose from, and a lot of plates to spin.
That said, we posed the question to DJBooth Managing Editor Donna-Claire Chesman and Senior Writer Yoh: How exactly do rappers "get on" in 2019?
Their conversation, lightly edited for content and clarity, follows below.
yoh [12:09 PM]
Hi, Donna. Happy Thursday. What are we talking about today?
donnacwrites [12:09 PM]
Happy Thursday, Yohsipher.
Today we are going to talk about your latest obsession: accessibility and how rapper's get on. You've been mentioning 106 & Park to me often during our calls, and that's made us both wonder: what are the forums for rappers to "get put on" in 2019? How effective are they? Is this just a roundabout way of criticizing blogs? Let's discuss.
yoh [12:20 PM]
First, I want to say I miss 106 & Park. I miss coming home from school, putting on the TV, and being excited about what new videos will be premiered. Life was good, life was easy. There isn't a 106 & Park anymore or a platform that is built as a premier outlet for discovery in the same way. I don't believe there's any one forum to "get put on," but rather, a collection of spaces that create the opportunities to further your visibility. Social media and streaming services replaced the blogs, but the algorithm isn't God. It doesn't control an artist's fate the way 106 felt like it did back in the day.
donnacwrites [12:24 PM]
In a way, social media democratized getting put on, because everyone has the same chance to go viral—technically speaking. But you're right, there is no one forum. You have to spin many plates to build a burgeoning rap career. You don't land on one blog and suddenly book shows, you have to do a press tour. One interview won't cut it, one write-up, what have you. Getting put on boils down to either sparking virality on socials or getting a stream of quality articles written about you on respected platforms; then you're a media darling. The goal is no longer to get put on, on one platform, it's to be seen on as many platforms as possible. You're only on, now, when you're everywhere. One big appearance no longer means anything.
yoh [1:00 PM]
It's so interesting how social media didn't just reinvent the gatekeeper but also completely destroyed the gate. Going viral now is far more likely than it was being the newest video to premiere on 106 & Park. Even in public, there's an appeal to someone who is visible in every room that's worthwhile. For example, to have an effective and worthwhile SXSW, an artist must perform as many shows as possible. Performing just at FADER Fort won't suffice.
What Megan Thee Stallion is doing, her level of visibility across the boards should be the goal. She is being championed by the media, viral on all social platforms, building an organic following through performances, freestyles, and videos. It doesn't feel forced, but she isn't under-saturating her brand.
Do you think there are any tricks to fast track the process?
donnacwrites [1:05 PM]
I'm not sure if there's a trick to making this happen any faster, because I think there's a fair amount of luck involved in landing in the right inbox for instance. Things are all so arbitrary, but it does help to focus on your local scene so you have that built-in fanbase. Focus on what is going on in your local rap community, go viral in your hometown, that way you have a resume for when you make it onto The FADER, Complex, here, and what have you.
Obviously, the music has to be good, but the persona has to be just as strong. I don't mean you need to be fake and sell something you're not. You need to be good at selling exactly who you are, which is what Megan does so well. Sell and keep selling it. There are no tickets to instant success, but consistency and evolution are key. Think of DaBaby going from Baby Jesus to his current iteration, grinding the whole time, and constantly coming with heavy hits.
yoh [1:16 PM]
I've learned the local rap community can be a little tricky. It's a foundation, one that you need, but if you're in a city like Atlanta where there are a lot of rappers, you standout by blowing up outside the city and then bringing that success back home. I often think about how, prior to signing to Dreamville, EarthGang went on tour with Ab-Soul and then Bas. Sell and keep selling, but it helps to find new markets to sell if you feel you've concentrated so much effort without a substantial reward. I love DaBaby's rise. He's a story of perseverance. Sometimes a new identity can work wonders in giving you a fresh start. Outside of 2 Chainz, can you think of any other artist who changed their name, adjusted their brand, and saw success from it?
donnacwrites [1:18 PM]
Certainly diversifying your sell is crucial. Every city is different, and you want to have multiple avenues. Those plates I mentioned, and all. As for 2 Chainz, he is an immeasurable success story. From Playaz Circle to his most recent album, he is a picture of perseverance and payoff. Off the top of my head, I can't think of another rapper quite like Chainz. But I will say that his career arcs are a lesson to artists hoping to get on: it might not always work how you imagine it to, but don't let the look of the journey stop you from enjoying and working the ride.
yoh [1:27 PM]
Amen! I'm excited about Maxo, the new Def Jam signee who recently released his debut album LIL BIG MAN. I can't remember the last time I heard a rap album, released on a major, that didn't have a single trap beat or Auto-Tuned hook. The soulful loops and meditative lyrics grabbed my attention. One listen is enough to recognize an artist who knows what he's selling. I'm interested in seeing how he's marketed, promoted, and pushed. His success could open the doors for other rappers who wish to stylistically rap what isn't commercially widespread but still has an audience. You have to find your audience.
donnacwrites [1:29 PM]
You get on by putting on, so if artists support Maxo, they are subsequently opening doors for themselves. Reap what you sow, and alladat.
yoh [1:32 PM]
That's great advice. Pull up as many times as you can while climbing the mountain. The top doesn't have to be lonely.