Labels aren’t what they use to be. Once upon a time they were seen as a rite of passage, a stamp of authenticity, proof that you made it to the big leagues. Kids used to daydream about Roc-A-Fella chains, Def Jam deals, and eventually being able to sue Birdman for royalties. The big labels are now seen as Brutus, using artists to further their own agenda, waiting for a chance to impel them with knives in the back. Independence is the future, small labels with big dreams are cracking the code, entering the industry from the backdoor, and affecting the culture. TDE is an excellent example of a label that started from nothing, and has become a powerhouse in the industry, taking advantage of big brother's resources without changing its core values.
We all know the artists that started under their umbrella, but what I really admire about Top Dawg Entertainment is its internal infrastructure. The label moves as a body, it took different pieces and created something powerful. TDE only pushes one artist at a time, and they seem very unified in their promotional energies. If ScHoolboy Q has a release date coming up, the entire team supports him. They change their Twitter icons, push the singles, promoting as if it was their release. Every TDE artist shared Kendrick’s pre-order link, I look at them as solo artists with a collective mentality.
But this can be understandably frustrating for artists as well. You can have new music, yearning to share it, but are stuck waiting because your brethren's album is weeks away. If you don’t include Punch, there’s six artists officially on TDE. Currently, the rotation is on Kendrick, hopefully Jay Rock comes after, and the cycle will reset with the release of Isaiah Rashad’s sophomore, followed again by Schoolboy Q, SZA and then Ab-Soul. Each TDE album thus far has heavily featured their artists and in-house producers. It helps spread their fan bases. Overly Dedicated was my introduction to Kendrick Lamar, but I also heard Soulo, Q and Jhene Aiko for the first time. Not only did I become a fan of Kendrick, but I hunted down the music of the features. Every one eats, even if it takes a while for the plate to reach your mouth.
TDE's armor isn't completely, absolutely impregnable though. Ab-Soul recently released a new song, "47 Bars," along with the Twitter caption:
“I might get dropped from the label for this 1, but fuck it lol...”."
The song wasn’t released through TDE’s usual channels, instead dropping via a generic SoundCloud account. This isn’t the first time Ab insinuated issues with TDE, more seriously he threatened to leak his album, “These Days…,” as a mixtape back in May of last year. Top Dawg, the label’s CEO responded with, “I dare a nigga on my team leak his album. You can’t rush greatness.” Sure enough, the album dropped in full and, at least from the outside, it appears that TDE and Ab-Soul are on nothing but the best of terms. So the thought of him actually leaving or getting dropped is hard to fathom, if not outside absurd, but it does raise an interesting hypothetical (along the lines of “What If Drake Didn’t Sign to Young Money?”).
If Ab-Soul and TDE did part ways, what labels would Solo move onto next? It's quantum leap time...
What if Ab-Soul Signed to Pro-Era?
“This verse was ghost written by Capital STEEZ, I’m high cause I fly with Loriana’s angel wings, Not cause I smoke weed, we in the era of the Pros” are the first few lines in "47 Bars." This is the kind of lyricism that made me a fan, clever double entendres. STEEZ was hugely into numerology, fascinated with the number 47 and the symbolism that surrounds it. Hence why the opening line deals with him being the ghost writer. He pays homage to STEEZ and gives a nod to the Pro Era squad, prompting CJ Fly to respond on Twitter with, “Then come over to Pro Era Records (Suge Knight voice)” in reference to the possibility of being a home for a stray dog if TDE cut his leash.
He’s obviously close with the label that caught worldwide attention after pictures leaked of Malia Obama wearing their t-shirt. Joey Bada$$ and Ab seemed to be likeminded, their music conveys similar messages when dealing with philosophical perspective, and being two potent wordsmiths. The world wouldn't mind getting more music in the realm of "Enter the Void." There hasn’t been any additions to Pro-Era since they broke into the scene, adding Soulo to the roster would show that they are building and expanding as a label. Wouldn’t be a bad move.
What If Ab-Soul Signed to Mac Miller's REMember Records?
When Mac Miller moved from Pittsburgh to Los Angeles he found himself within a new circle of rappers. Friendships with Earl Sweatshirt, Tyler The Creator, Vince Staples, ScHoolboy Q and Ab-Soul were formed and strengthened. His massive mansion became the studio, Ab-Soul has stated that a majority of These Days… was recorded in his home. 2014 was a big year for Ab-Soul features, out of all the members in TDE, he did the most outside collaborations. In a good bulk of those features, Mac Miller, also known as Larry Fisherman handled the production. With Mac Miller signing a deal for 10 million with Warner, I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s contemplated a future on Mac's REMember Records imprint. Ab-Soul would have the resources and freedom he desires, while working with one of raps most promising peers. Miller has the production, the budget, and sits in that unnamed middle between mainstream and underground. Ab-Soul hasn’t reached that position, but his enormous fan base and the right platform could put the Black Lip Pastor in front of a huge congregation.
What if Ab-Soul Signed to Roc Nation?
In his interview with Snoop on GGN, Ab-Soul named JAY Z as the rapper he would like to collaborate with, dead or alive. One of my favorite Ab lines come from the song "Illuminate," when he says, “I used to wanna rap like Jay Z, now I feel I could run laps ‘round Jay Z,” a warning shot toward his favorite rapper. I’m a sucker for full circle stories – Wale is now friends with Jerry Seinfeld, making an album with the man that loosely inspired his most acclaimed material. Ab-Soul signing and becoming Jay’s understudy would be huge in hindsight. He’ll also be able to prove his boastful premonition before Jay attempts a second retirement. Never forget, "Jesus Christ and Shawn Carter are my only idols, No, Jesus Christ and Shawn Carter are my only rivals."
What If Ab-Soul Signed to Lupe's 1st & 15th Entertainment?
I remember the days when Lupe and Gemstones were a dynamic duo. Gem is gifted, he was pulling off immaculate singing and rapping in a pre-Drake era. Every song that features him and Lu is like watching Obi-Wan Kenobi spare with Anakin Skywalker (ex. "The Die/We On"). I believed he would crossover into the mainstream, he had the talent, but chose a different path. 1st & 15th needs new blood, someone that can recreate the chemistry that these two had. It’s about time that Obi-Wan found his Luke. Ab-Soul is the first artist that comes to mind. With Lupe overseeing his progress, Soul’s potential could reach a new plateau. Lyrical minds should rap together, Fiasco is proof that dumbing down isn’t the only way to achieve success. Ab-Soul has worked with Nikki Jean, another artist that has made history with Lupe. Now that Lupe is finally free from Atlantic, this is the perfect time to reboot 1st & 15th Entertainment with a brand new signee. Remember that time Ab-Soul said he was Lupe Fiasco on drugs?
What If Ab-Soul Signed to Mass Appeal Records?
Mass Appeal Records has quietly amassed a hip-hop roster full of microphone monsters: Run The Jewels, Fashawn, Bishop Nehru, Boldy James and Dave East, with Nas as the label’s founder. It’s the underground hip-hop dream team. Imagine if Ab-Soul joined the ranks. They haven’t filled the position for the philosophical hippie, he would be the perfect candidate to bring aboard. The label would only be reaffirming its passion for showcasing the best and brightest. It’s a growing movement, one that benefits rappers that aren’t crossing over but deserve a voice on a higher platform.
What If Ab-Soul signed to Def-Jux?
What If Ab-Soul Stays at TDE?
Ideally, I want the Black Hippy crew to stay united and continue to dominate. If he leaves now, or ever, we might never receive a full length Black Hippy album. It would be nice to receive another "Druggy Wit Hoes" installment. The history they’ve made together is something special, watching four guys slowly rise to the ranks together has been incredible to witness. Top Dawg runs his label like a family, it’s deeper than contracts and album sales. He saw something in every artist that he signed, and worked toward getting them the recognition they deserved. I admire that a majority of TDE projects are on iTunes. Before the name was ringing from Compton to China, he saw worth in the art they were creating. Isaiah Rashad and SZA both sold their debuts, a bold move to make with new artists.
Hopefully any existing issues will be hashed out like family business, if they haven't been settled already. His name may be Solo, but Ab's at his best amongst family.
[By Yoh, aka Yohlo Ho, aka @Yoh31.]