Written by Ashton Howard @a20h
You can’t always rap your way into the industry. Here’s a quick story from a rapper’s point of view.
I make music bro. Check out this track it’s fire!
– *Insert random rebellious teen in 2016*
What once was considered a badge of honor, the phrase, “I’m a rapper” is now met with looks of confusion and repugnance. I would know, I attempted the same thing.
About 3 years ago during my senior year of high school, I tore my ACL and meniscus during a routine drive to the basket during a game against the wackest school in the state. The blow effectively ended my hoop dreams of becoming the next Kevin Durant – side note, a big middle finger to you KD, #ThunderUp. After dedicating most of my childhood attentions to playing basketball, I was unsure of the next step in my life and found solace in the form of writing. Not just any writing, though. I didn’t want to be an author. I wasn’t too keen on journalism quite yet either, but something else was catching my brain….. Music.
Like anybody else who prides themselves on knowing the history behind every classic hip-hop album, I dabbled in freestyling. Long story short, my friends who I would freestyle to at parties and events – often inebriated and incredibly, um, “lifted” we’ll say – had finally gassed me enough to push me into recording music. Like many others, I assumed that these friends who pushed me into the game, would serve as my “promo” team of sorts. I was also convinced that my city would be behind me after I dropped my first record and that the rest of my life would be one big replay of the “Rough Ryders’ Anthem” video.
What happened next was me performing at a lot of open mics disguised as “shows” and even more heartbreak. Look, Erykah Badu said it best, “I’m an artist, and I’m sensitive about my shit.” That shit hurts when you put your all into something and people just dismiss it without even listening, especially when you love this culture with everything you’ve got and want nothing more than to be apart of it.
I get it.
But here’s the thing that I had to realize and many of you too will have to realize; rapping isn’t the only way in. In fact, it’s precisely the hardest way in. Everybody and their momma wants to be a rapper these days. All you need is a mic, laptop, FL Studio, and an understanding of how to rip beats from YouTube and you’re damn near on an even playing field with many of your favorite up and comers. This type of easy access causes for saturation of the market, which at times can bring us gems like Joey Bada$$, but most of the time leaves us with written “freestyles” over industry beats that we’ve all heard way too many times.
With that type of saturation occurring, there’s a great chance that you and your music will be overlooked so why not find other more effective ways of standing out? After my reality slapped me in the mouth and sobered me up — literally — I decided to find other ways to access the industry, thus unlocking all sorts of jobs that I didn’t even know existed. There’s absolutely no shame in becoming an engineer, producer, A&R, journalist, editor, manager, PR specialist, or any of the other thousands of jobs that make up this industry. People, especially the youth, fail to realize that these artists are corporations, they are ran by a team. I understand that it’s hard to understand that when you only see Drake on stage, but Drake is a team, not one person (save the ghostwriting jokes). Drake is made up of a coalition of people who love music and found their way in and made a contribution towards this culture that had nothing to do with them performing one lyric. Still, look at the profound effect it’s had.
Now, I’m not saying stop making music, nor am I saying give up on your dreams of being an established artist. Plenty of background unknown songwriters have become bonafide stars out of nowhere — The Dream, Rick Ross, etc. — they were just patient enough to wait there turn. With the overnight success of Soundcloud sensation, Lil Yachty, many people envision themselves in the same light, instead of carving out a realistic plan to feed themselves and their families off this music shit. This has left us with an established sub-genre of hip-hop called, “Soundcloud Rap” where struggle rappers are easier to find than a Rattata — shoutout Pokemon Go.
In all, while you’re working on your bars, just know that there are other ways to truly make a mark in this game if you love it that much. Plenty of people work the backgrounds and live happy lives at the same parties that your beloved rappers attend, without the paparazzi. So next time you’re thinking about penning lyrics to that new Metro Boomin instrumental, consider ditching that application and choosing a new title. Do your googles and find out the men and women behind the steel curtain that is your favorite artists’ image. Find out who makes the wheels turn, because the position of “rapper” in hip-hop has been filled.
P.S. If this article hurt your feelings in anyway, I’m probably talking to you.
P.P.S. I don’t want to hear nor see any, “Hip-Hop is dead” comments again as long as The Cool Kids are back together. I won’t have it.