Labeling a Star

Staff Writer: Ian Clark

The music industry is a tricky scheme. When it comes to music, many artists, but are confronted with an unpleasant fate when they sign a contract in an attempt to make money. Many young artists practically sign their lives away via contractual deals without knowing what they’re actually signing. Labels will present the most appealing information: leading with money of course. With millions on the table, it’s difficult to turn down, but it’s important to know what’s being given up.

Rockstar-personality rapper Lil Uzi Vert recently got out of his long dispute with his label Generation Now, which is headed by legends of modern hip-hop: Don Cannon and DJ Drama, accredited with working among the likes of Pharrell, Snoop Dogg and Chris Brown. After many complaints on various social media platforms (involving some implemented into the releases of songs) the Philadelphia rapper has signed to Roc Nation, a label founded by Jay-Z, as of March 23.


Lil Uzi Vert. Photo Courtesy of NME.

Over the past three years, Uzi has been entangled in the trap of fame: being manipulated by his record label, bombarded by inconsiderate decisions based on his music. Along with two of his albums being delayed for release by several months to several years, he has also accused his label of taking too big of a percentage of his income.

In the eyes of his fans, his frustration is very well justified. In April of 2017, ahead of the release of his overdue album Luv is Rage 2, Uzi tweeted to his supporters, “Can I honestly tell y’all why this album ain’t drop…It’s because of [an] old person who doesn’t understand what’s going on right now……can you guess who?” in reference to DJ Drama.


DJ Drama, half of Lil Uzi Vert’s management duo under Generation Now. Photo courtesy of Red Bull Music Academy Daily.

Even more recently, Uzi was featured on a significantly more underground Philly artist’s track, Shabazz’ “Shells.” Although this isn’t Uzi’s song, he undeniably drew attention to his verse, garnering attention of impatient fans and controlling label managers alike. On the song, he raps: “Tryna figure out how I’m gon’ get out my deal; I’m a bad boy, a reverend, I feel like I’m Ma$e.” The latter line refers to Ma$e, a popular rapper from the 90s who announced his “retirement” from music (while signed to Bad Boy Records, under Sean “Diddy” Combs) in pursuit of a career as a minister. To combat the negative press that was inevitable, DJ Drama took to Instagram to clear the air. He says, “Uzi should put out [his album] tomorrow or any day he wants. He has me and Cannon’s total support and blessings to drop it!” Many fans believe that this is a lie.


Ma$e, an artist referenced by Uzi earlier this year for his contract disobedience. He was signed to Diddy’s Bad Boy Records in the late 90’s and briefly retired from music to become a reverend. Photo courtesy of BBC.

With Uzi’s reference to a label conflict that is nearly 20 years old, it leads to the question: why does hip-hop have such an incompatible history with their respective labels?

To many 2000’s rap fans, Vert’s strife with Generation Now is uncannily similar to that of Lil Wayne’s long-lived disagreement with his label, Cash Money Records, which is headed by Birdman. It started in 2014, after fans started getting impatient during the wait for Wayne’s 5th album installment of his Tha Carter series. In reference to what was restricting the album release, Wayne said “To all my fans, I want [you] to know that my album won’t and hasn’t been released [because Birdman] & Cash Money Rec. refuse to release it.”


Lil Wayne and Birdman getting along at an award show. Photo courtesy of The Fader.

What seems to be the problem is that label executives tend to prey on young artists with a promising future. Don Cannon was one of the first people to fully support Uzi, hosting his first mixtape “The Real Uzi” in 2014, when the rapper was just 19 years old. Birdman came into Wayne’s life at an even more shocking age: he was just 8 years old when taken under his wing. With Uzi and Wayne both coming from rigid upbringings, at a young age it shouldn’t be expected of them to read a full contract, with extensive terms and conditions when millions of dollars are involved.

One upcoming rapper is taking notes and avoiding the ploy of record labels. NLE Choppa is a 16- (yes, 16) year-old rapper from Memphis who first caught eyes with his viral YouTube hit “Shotta Flow” which has amassed over 27 million views since its release in January. This, and the follow up, appropriately titled “Shotta Flow 2” led him to be brought up in conversations between label heads, including the infamous Birdman.

All of this discussion was happening behind closed doors, but in the blink of an eye, a video came out. The video shows Choppa rapping and dancing energetically to an unreleased song and in the corner sits Birdman.


NLE Choppa, an upcoming rapper from Memphis, Tennessee recently denied $3 Million which was offered to him during a bidding war between multiple record labels. Photo courtesy of Genius.

Since then, Choppa has turned down every deal offered to him by various labels involved in a $3 million bidding war over him, including Interscope, Caroline, Republic, and EMPIRE. He also released a song with the title “I Don’t Need No Help” which speaks for itself loud and clear.

Something about seeing a younger artist realize the dangers of the beast that is the music industry is hopeful. With the internet being such a prominent factor in many artists’ careers, it’s safe to assume that Choppa was aware that he still has a future ahead of him regardless of his acceptance status of a $3 million offer. Although big label controversies are generally rare, fans are anticipating what Lil Uzi’s signing to Roc Nation means for his album release and future endeavors.

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