A lot of people think each crop of new rappers is pushed onto the masses by a record label pumping money into the system thinking that they came out of nowhere or were chosen by the Illuminati. While it is true that the labels help market rappers and do spend money to do this, most rappers don’t come out of nowhere. If you’re an up and coming rapper you’re delusional if you think all you need is that co-sign, especially when you’ve only released one or two mixtapes (or haven’t even released a mixtape or a song for that matter). The fact is if you want a real shot at making it, you are going to need to drop at least 5 to 10 mixtapes in order to get any kind of traction. Gone are the days where you could spit one verse on a record and get signed (AZ). Gone are the days when you could rap over other people’s beats and get signed (50 Cent). And certainly gone are the days when you could walk into a record company and ask to be signed (Ice-T). Every rapper that’s serious about making it, is going to have to put in work.
Let’s take a look at a few rappers that are currently hot and have the potential to make it even bigger and who of course seemingly came out of nowhere.
Sure you may have heard of Meek Mill from his 2010’s Philly hit “Red Rose” but did you know the guy has been putting out mixtapes since 2005? In fact, Meek has put out 12 mixtapes in 8 years. That’s unbelievable. Sure only a handful of people heard his first few mixtapes but his Flamer series in 2008 is when he started gaining traction and building a following. His Flamer series was so popular that it caught the attention of T.I. who signed him to Grand Hustle for his 2010 mixtape Mr.Philadelphia. Obviously things didn’t work out with Grand Hustle, but that didn’t stop Meek from dropping Dreamchasers which lead to his signing with Ross which has led to his current success.
You see it’s a process. It’s not overnight. One thing leads to another. “I”m a Boss” isn’t Meek’s first collab with Ross. It was actually on the Red Rose (Remix) in 2010. That’s how Ross got to know know Meek. Once Ross got his label deal for MMG, and he saw that Meek was still putting in work and buzzing in Philly, it’s not that hard to say, “Hey I need to sign this guy”. You see no one’s going to want to work with you if you are not tested. You need to drop tons of mixtapes in order to learn about your craft. You need to do tons of no-budget youtube videos to learn about your craft. You need to do tons of free shows where no one shows up in order to learn about your craft. But there comes a point where you have to step it up and be mindful to develop a following, otherwise you’ll end up like those unsigned 40 year old rappers.
Another rapper who seemingly came out of nowhere is 2Chainz. But he really didn’t, he had been working the system for years, having dropped a group album under the name Playaz Circle through Ludacris’ DTP and Def Jam. He even had that hit song, “Duffle Bag Boy” featuring Lil Wayne when Wayne’s career was taking off. Again, fans may not be familiar with 2Chainz as a solo rapper but he’s put out 7 mixtapes since 2007. That’s dedication. He could have called it quits after the Playaz Circle stuff didn’t work out. But he didn’t. He stayed in the game. 2Chainz is in his mid-30s and is only getting hot now. What does that tell you? Age doesn’t matter. What matters is who is developing a following, who is developing their product and who is learning and applying the most.
Say what you will about Mac’s skils or fanbase, but you cannot deny he doesn’t work. Since 2007, he’s put out 8 mixtapes and one album. That’s 9 projects, in just 6 years!
Since 2005, Wiz has put out 10 mixtapes, 3 albums and 1 collab album. He’s done 14 projects in 8 years! This is an insane work ethic. Ask yourself how many mixtapes you’ve released?
Earn the Privilege to Get Better
What you can learn from these rappers is that they earned the privilege to get better. If you are not putting out material on a consistent basis people are not only going to forget you, you’re going to forget yourself. You’re doing a disservice to yourself by not allowing yourself to learn and get better. Think about it? Every time you do something over and over again, you learn. When you started playing ball you weren’t as good as you are now? Remember that corny saying, “practice makes perfect”. It’s a corny saying for a reason, it’s true. Sure you can make the argument of quality over quantity but how many unsigned rappers have access to great mixing, production, videos and cover art? The majority of mixtapes/songs/videos that these guys have done are nowhere near as good as their recent mixtapes. The reason is because they earned the privilege to get better. When you suck at something, nobody wants to work with you. Producers will charge you more. Video directors will charge you more. Graphic designers will charge you more. It’s because you’re a nobody and your music sucks. What you need to do is show these people that you can do it on a small scale. And don’t do it in a way to spite them, even if you do get better they still wont want to work with you. And you are going to eventually need their help. It doesn’t matter if only a hundred people hear your first mixtape or only a thousand people watch your video. What you need to do is earn respect.
A second thing you should take from them is “staying in the game”. You need to set your life up so that you can afford to be an unsigned rapper. If this means having a job, or side hustle, or business, or even signing to a rapper’s boutique label so be it. You just need enough income to live and to invest into creating your product. Obviously this can get expensive so you need to cut costs, but this is where learning to do stuff yourself helps. Of course, having friends that can do your videos, graphics, production and mixing helps. If all your friends are losers try to get new friends or learn to produce, learn to mix, learn to edit video, learn to record yourself. Sure you wont be as good as someone that’s trained to do it but at least you’ll learn about the process of putting material out. If you’re as good of a rapper as you think you are you will attract all those people to help you out as you go along. Once people see the slightest bit of potential in you they’re going to want to come along for the ride. The main thing for you to focus on is: when is you’re next project coming out?