Most artists go through the same steps. Selling mix tapes out of the trunk in a parking lot or spending weekend after weekend at open mics. The struggle is real to try and make it in the rap game but a necessary one. Underground is where it usually starts. Develop your fan base and hustle to get it in front of someone that can make it happen.
Those die hard hip hop heads will usually say that the underground stuff is where it’s at. The artists freedom to lay down what they want with the sound they want. That’s where you can really see what that artist is made of. While there’s something to be said for a top notch commercial producer, there’s been plenty of hard core beats out from the underground scene. I, regularly, get links to songs from up and coming artists looking to get noticed. While today’s music is a little more difficult to get into for me, it doesn’t mean I haven’t found something that interested me. I do love to come across old school underground albums from those that I grew up with. You can really feel their passion for the music in those albums specially. I find it grittier than some of the commercial stuff they’ve done simply because they don’t have anyone over them. Not to mention, they’re making these albums specifically trying to showcase what they can do to someone who might sign them. They’re hungry and it shows. Ironically, I typically go and search out those underground albums after I’ve been introduced to them commercially.
So you’ve been discovered. You get signed and now it’s time to go to work. Studio time is the name of the game here. The labels going to want you to put at least a couple songs that they can get promoted on the radio to get you the exposure they want. Gotta grind and make that money. There’s no doubt the advantages of being commercially relevant. Going back to when I was growing up, there were only a few ways you found out about artists, songs or new albums. Most popular way? Radio. I know kids, I’m old. Talking about before the internet. When you had to listen to a radio station and relied on them to keep you up to date on what’s new. That’s where some of my favorite artists were discovered. You hear that radio released song. Then the DJ comes on and tells you who it’s by and talks about the new album release date. Ah, the good old days. Things are a little different nowadays, but the discovery is still the same. With all of the social media outlets out there, they’ve just replaced the DJ having to tell you all of that information. So you find someone you like. You would head to the record store and pick up the album. I can’t describe how many bangers I’ve discovered by this. There are lots of songs that aren’t radio appropriate. You have to discover those yourself. You do that by dropping down some cash and going through the album. For all of these treasures, I sincerely thank the commercial side of this business. Without it, I wouldn’t have been introduced to as many varying artists as I can say I am today.
To all the artists out there, don’t let them rag on you about “going commercial.” Every successful artist had to go, at least a little, commercial. That’s how your name and sound gets out there. Don’t ever resolve to not do what you feel is right and love though. You need to stay true to yourself and your craft but marketing is still something that needs to happen. There is definitely a balance between the two. Find that balance. It’ll keep your label happy and also allow you to do what you do best. Make great music. Keep those trunk tapes coming!