Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Reign of Independence Pt. 1- Lupe's Fiasco

In my ominous, humbled opinion, Lasers sucks.

The most disgraceful thing about it all is that it has less to do with Lupe and more to do with Atlantic.

Lasers was supposed to be Lupe’s crowning moment. After releasing seminal hits with his first two long players, fans were clamoring for the third to be a masterpiece. Between his mixtape full of other artists’ tracks ripped to shreds (Enemy of the State) and a Soulja Boy response single (SLR), greatness was expected. Additionally, he was selling a single on I-Tunes. That single (The Show Goes On) eventually went gold. Thus, it was expected that Lupe would do what he is known for: complexity laced beautiful music.

Did he do that? No.

In fact, he went the route of irony. His album cut-turned-video “Dumb It Down” was his declaration of artistic independence. If Atlantic was the British, Lupe would be considered a leader in the Boston Tea Party. Rarely has a hip hop artist, on a major label, noted that they would do it their way. This type of action only came from your Jay-Z’s, Tech-9’s, and (hilariously) RA Da Rugged Man’s. With that song, Lupe had more juice than Bishop.

And just like the end of the movie, Lupe’s artistic momentum fell a ledge.

Why the big change up? Atlantic wanted to fix something that was not broke.

Artistically, Atlantic was not being intelligent. Lupe has a solid fan base of at least 300,000-500,000 guaranteed fans willing to buy his album. He can create a gold single. He can collaborate with almost any artist he feels the need to. He can even snag endorsements and get worldwide recognition. In the end, Lupe is productive enough to be the artist he chooses to be.

Which begs the question: what happened?

I’ll tell you what happened: Atlantic got greedy.

Due to the envisioning of dollar signs, Atlantic wanted more. They wanted more albums sold. They wanted more digital downloads. They wanted more radio spins. They wanted that Black Eye Peas money. However, they didn’t read the present memo: most hip hop heads don’t really care for the Black Eye Peas. Commercial music lovers clamor for them. Hip hop heads are still looking for the group that made “Falling Up”.

If anyone was observant, the warning signs were apparent quite early. Two artists serve as perfect examples of Atlantic messing up a good thing: Saigon and Apathy.

Saigon’s Atlantic relationship can be seen as rocky at best. Although he was signed under the Fort Knox imprint (Just Blaze), he still ran into drama with the label. Being shelved, he ended up in precarious artistic situations (beef with Joe Budden, beef with Prodigy, putting out subpar material, and losing momentum). Eventually released, Saigon found a label home with Suburban Noize Records. Repackaging the album, he put it out amongst a skeptical public.

After purchasing/hearing the album, it became perfectly clear that Atlantic was NOT the label for Saigon. With all intents and purposes, Saigon probably has one of the best (if not the best, depending upon public opinion) albums to come out. And this is material that is 3-5 minimum years old.

Apathy, on the other hand, has a whole different story. Signed directly to the label, Apathy never released anything for them. Ultimately, he got fed up and left. Afterwards, he has released a slew of material and is gearing up to put out Honkey Kong. Nifty title, if I say so myself.

The Apathy story is far from over.

In an interview with posted in December of 2010, he noted that Lupe needed to “jump ship” and “go cake off your own s**t independently. Or go with somebody who completely gets Lupe Fiasco like Kanye West’s label or some s**t like that.”

The problem with major labels is that their business model is dysfunctional. Before, labels made money off of album and single sales. However, sales have decreased over the years. To make up for lost profit, labels now have 360 deals. That way, if you are a newer artist, they make money on everything you stamp your name on. This includes concert sales and merchandising.

Industry wide, veteran artists cannot fathom signing such a deal. This deal is especially ludicrous when major labels do LESS to promote and market their artists.

Another problem with major labels is that they did not take advantage of the digital download movement. When file sharing became popular, many execs either ignored it or chose to fight against it. Napster, a downloading forum, went through litigation hell (shout out to Sean Parker and Shawn Fanning). Even people were sued for file sharing. All of this hard work was all for naught. Physical sales have diminished percentage wise year by year. In fact, hard copy album sales peaked at 785.1 million units in 2000. In 2010, there were 236.2 million units sold. Yet, I-Tunes sales have increased year by year.

Oh, and did I mention that labels are losing like Charlie Sheen in the negative zone?

Then, there is the issue of free music. Many hip hop artists are technologically savvy. Some are opting to go the mixtape route to be heard. Others give out free music through free EPs (free(ep)s). This can be troubling for labels because they don’t make any real money. Also, too many mixtapes tend to be more musically sound than their album counterparts. In addition, there are artists that could care less about selling an album. Those artists have concert shows, endorsements, and merchandise to sell. Last, there are no labels for some of those artists to share in something they did not help acquire.

Lupe is going to be okay. His album is moving units. He will do shows and generate income. He will have side businesses to make money. Yet, his Atlantic contract is a hindrance. They either need to respect his artistry or set him free. He has too much of a fan base to deal with such. Lupe needs to leverage himself into a better situation.

‘Nuff respect and ‘Nuff said.

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