Let me start by saying, “I know.” And “it’s not your fault.” This industry can be VERY fake and exceptionally frustrating at times. I’m in my 25th year, and while I’ve had the opportunity to impact many artists and even positively change the lives of quite a few rappers, I can’t imagine having to deal with fame, expectations of fans and the industry, and making money all while having to be creative and create great art. For the most part, you’ve handled it amazingly.
I’ve never met you, but we have a friend in common who is the editor of a rap magazine. That person thinks you are an awesome human being, which is why I’ve chosen to write this letter to support you. While I know this industry chews up and spits out good people, I think managing expectations and building a great team to insulate and support you is key. I don’t know your team nor am I anywhere near your camp so I may be way off with this suggestion, but speak with and get advice from those who have strong teams in place to help build their careers, which is actually empire building: Jay Z, Chance The Rapper, Nas, Eminem, Taylor Swift, The Beastie Boys, Madonna, etc. Seek their counsel. Find out how they built their teams and infrastructures. Ask all of them–bet they will take your call when they find out why you’re calling. Either build a strong team or allow the strong team you have in place to do their jobs and insulate you. They are there to protect you. Or should be.
Just in case you’re doing this: Don’t make your life the music business. It’s where you work, not live. It took me over a decade to learn this one. Spend time only with the people who truly care about you in the industry, and treat the others like co-workers, not friends. Learn to decipher who is around because they want something and who’s around because they care about you. Treat everyone with respect, but know the difference. Keep the opportunists at arm’s length. Have a buffer between you and them.
In today’s music business, you are the leader. You call the shots. Never before has it been so artist driven because you are in direct connection with your fans. Not the label, not the production company, not the distributor, but you. Also, although the fans are riding along with you, they don’t see the trickery, the fakeness, or the bullshit. They only see your reaction to it. They love YOU. Not what surrounds you. The music industry is like the messy restaurant kitchen. When you bring the food out of the kitchen into the restaurant, the diners (the fans) don’t care what the kitchen looks like, they just want to eat great food. Keep delivering great food and let your team deal with the kitchen. Focus on the diners (sorry for the food analogy, I’m hungry).
And you’re absolutely correct about today’s world being driven by negativity and sensationalism. We have stars gaining attention who are better trolls than they are talented artists, we have artists dropping dead left and right from excessive drug use to numb the pain, the rap music industry resembles the WWE more and more everyday, and we have label execs and support staff who are bigger stars than most artists. There is negativity and there is also fuckery. I see first hand what rappers go through with their labels.
But there’s also a lot of beauty. There are people struggling with life issues who turn to music to comfort and advise them. There are children that your music is raising–it shouldn’t be that way, but it is. There are causes and issues that are brought to light by artists (and a football player) taking a stand and illuminating it. There are people who become attached to your songs, and you, through your music. It’s a bond that is awesomely special. You’re from DC? So you have a community, a city that feels a sense of pride because you made it whether they say it to your face or not. You beat the odds, love! You are making money for expressing your ideas and passion via a rhyme–a skill you’ve mastered. I understand that you love sports, and have been embraced by that community because you built fame and awareness with your music. You’ve changed lives. You’re living your dream. You’re not working 3 minimum wage jobs just to keep a roof over your family’s heads like many people out here are doing. You have freedom and the ability to express yourself through art.
I’m not belittling your pain or your feelings. Truth is, I empathize with your frustration, with Lupe’s frustration, with Lil Wayne, with 50 Cent, with Young Buck, with every artist who’s been on the receiving end of the fuckery that can be part of this business of music.
Wale, I’m a white woman. White. Woman. That’s two strikes against me in urban music. Add to this fact that everyday I help educate artists about the music business–I think the artists have more vale than the money, the labels, the suits. That’s another strike. Additionally, I’ve done some of the best deals in urban music–I have the gaul to demand artists get a better share of the pie that their own talent creates. Strike Four. And lastly, for the past decade, I’ve helped artists build their own independent labels and bypass the major label system. Strike five. It’s a miracle my car hasn’t blown up randomly. LoL. And the funny part is everyone would send flowers. Some would even cry…. fake fucks.
But my point is that to last in this industry, YOU have to change your perception and change how you handle the ugliness and bullshit that comes at you. Insulate yourself with a great team if you don’t already have that in place and adjust how the negativity and bullshit reaches you and is processed by you. Set up YOUR empire to build what’s important to YOU and maybe even change the world a little if that’s important to you. If not, that’s fine too. I know the realities of this industry and how it works behind the smoke and mirrors–I understand how challenging it is. Keep the positive and uplifting around you and get rid of the rest. Make the change you want to see in yourself, your company, and your life. Lead by example. At some point, the negativity will no longer matter because you’ll have a bigger purpose. The evil will no longer affect you. You do have a bigger purpose, whatever that is, inside of you that you’re passionate about (for me it’s helping rappers). Don’t quit the music industry, use it as a stepping stone to create something bigger and better that will impact the world. And whatever that bigger and better is, it will change your life. Many other rappers with far less talent have done this. You can too.
I hope you don’t mind me reaching out to you. But I feel qualified. I’ve suffered more bullshit and ugliness in this industry than you could ever imagine. But it never stopped me nor will it. I hope you find the peace you deserve. I wish you all the best. Big, big, big muthaphukking hug!