When you arrive at HipHopDX, you’re encountering an advertisement of some sort. They help pay my salary, but I’m still moving my mouse to avoid them. Adam Smith referred to market forces as the “invisible hand,” but you’d have to be blind to miss the very visible influx of corporate money in Hip Hop this year. I can’t knock Jay Z for dropping what I thought was a mediocre album in Magna Carta Holy Grail if Samsung wants to allegedly give him $30 million. Jay and Kanye can talk about “New Rules” and “New Slaves” all they want, but I don’t think we’re necessarily seeing a reinvention of the wheel.
There are all kinds of numbers to show we don’t buy albums nearly as much as we used to. And I don’t mind if an artist hops in bed with a corporation to subsidize a project, as long as it gives me an alternative to paying $20 for an album that might end up becoming a coaster anyway. The way I see it, the #NewRules are more about us as fans coming to terms with being sold something and corporations ending the senseless process of trying to hide the fact that they’re using rappers (among other celebrities) to sell us those items.
In the time it took you to read those two paragraphs above (while we caked up from more ads), you’re likely hoping a point emerges. Here it is. There’s a difference between truly re-writing the rules of a culture versus a slick marketing campaign that just reuses and repackages the old rules. HipHopDX wanted to engage in some honest conversations with artists who rewrote some of Hip Hop’s rules in 2013. We wanted artists like Kendrick Lamar—who placed dunce caps on the heads of his new school competition and then drove the yellow bus off a cliff in the name of healthy competition with “Control.” We wanted to talk to guys like Nipsey Hussle, who backed up his talk of a paradigm shift in Hip Hop with his “Proud 2 Pay” movement, and in the process bypassed a label and dealt directly with his fans. adidas helped facilitate those conversations.
“We do a lot of hard work,” DJ Mustard offered. “We always support adidas, and adidas supports us. So me, Nipsey, Ty Dolla $ign—we all came out tonight to show our love back. When we ask for our kicks, they’re on top. When we ask for our motherfuckin’ shirts, they’re on point [laughs]. The West is a powerful movement, and you have to respect it.”
We didn’t get Kendrick, and adidas didn’t pay us. In the name of transparency, HipHopDX has provided some rather obvious advertorial content for adidas before. This is not one of those times. Our friends at Cashmere Agency hosted and orchestrated the event, and we were happy to take part. I do think part of whatever Hip Hop is evolving into and the people who cover it should embrace honesty. I can honestly tell you you’re going to see a shitload of adidas clothes and logos. But you’re also going to get some real talk from Nipsey, Crooked I, Skeme and an actual, logical, coherent conversation with RiFF RaFF (no, seriously). And no one is going to outright ask you to get down with the brand, although DJ Mustard came really close. Either way, I think it’s a fair trade. Unlike Jay, we won’t ask for all the personal info stored in your smartphone in exchange for what we hope is an entertaining experience.
“Rules Are Made To Be Broken” - Nipsey Hussle
“I read a ton of books. Recently, I was taught about this book called Contagious, by a dude named Jonah Berger, and that’s the one that kind of inspired the $100 mixtape concept. But outside of that, I recently read The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing, and that was heavy. I read a lot though, man. I’m like a book addict at times. I think there’s a ton of rules to be broken. I think the people who break the rules are gonna win the biggest. It’s a paradigm shift happening, and I think the game is changing. The people who are up on it and taking advantage of it are going to win and win big.”
“Know The Importance Of Bragging Rights” - Crooked I
“There’s so many new artists coming up, and it’s really popping over here. I’m a big Hip Hop debator, so if I’m on the East Coast with my Slaughterhouse family, we wanna start talking about who’s the best rappers and who’s got the hottest beats. I gotta be able to throw some names in the pot so I can have some bragging rights. So the new generation is giving me bragging rights. You’ve got Dom Kennedy, Kendrick Lamar and the whole TDE. My little brothers—the Horseshoe Gang—there’s just so many artists coming up. To me, it’s about preserving the culture, and I’m just proud that a lot of them still do that. I got tired of being the only dude. I’d be in New York telling people, ‘What, you never heard of this dude?’ Now they’ve heard of them all, and they’re out there grindin’.”
“Pitch Both Sides Of The Story” - Skeme
“I’m not gonna glorify the shit to you and act like it’s alright without telling you the side effects also. That was why Pimp C was one of my favorite artists in the first place.
“I’ve been sippin’ lean since I was 15-years-old. So this ain’t a new thing. I don’t really partake in nothing else, and my drug is my thing. I had a close friend of mine really get on me about it and kind of scold me. I’ve heard her tell me a lot of artists that delve into drug world start to change as time goes on. I’m like, ‘If I was gonna do any changing, it was gonna be somewhere in that eight-year gap.’ For me, that’s my way of chillin’. I wouldn’t knock a nigga for smokin’ weed, and I don’t knock a nigga for nothing else you do. I’m just asking for my same love.
“Too many people in Rap pitch the story about all of the wrong shit without telling you what comes with it. They just tell you, ‘Ah you’re gonna get a chain or a Rolex.’ I’m not gonna pitch you that.”
“Understand Your Momentum & Classification” - RiFF RaFF
“Every artist is either going up, going down or just at a plateau. And I’m not at my plateau right now, but I’m going up slow. Once I drop NEON iCON, that’s reaching the next level. That gives me 15 tracks to shoot really big videos with all these big artists. So until I drop that, I’m not a rookie yet. I’ve never had a CD in a store, and I’ve never had a mixed and mastered song until I dropped ‘How To Be The Man.’ After January 28, I’m a rookie. So I have to drop Neon Icon; I have to have NEON iCON to even be considered a rookie. I ain’t did nothing yet.”
“Reflect On Your Accomplishments” - Ty Dolla $ign
“Man, 2013 was incredible, and the next year is gonna go even better. ‘Paranoid’ was my first solo song that took me around the country, so that feels good. It means success, and I’m thankful. I’m just looking forward to growth—more beautiful ladies, more fans and more girls at the shows. I remember DJ Mustard just coming to the house and learning. Then I remember one day he pulled up on me on La Brea and 21st and said, ‘Ty, I’m about to pass you up,’ and he did [laughs]. Shout out to Mustard.”
“Patience Is A Virtue” - YG
“Patience is a virtue. When you going in and making your album…making your music, it’s important you take your time, because something successful don’t happen overnight. The more time you put into it, the more you get out of it. My plan was to drop the album in March 2014 the whole time, but we had to play little games and put the date out. That’s how it goes if you want to get everybody talking. I got Drake on my shit though, and there’s another single coming soon. My album is catered to my life, my culture and the West Coast. It’s like a day in the life of YG from the morning until the night. DJ Mustard did 90% of the album, and Terrace Martin and Ty Dolla $ign each have a track on there.”
Additional reporting by Janice Llamoca and Justin Hunte. Special thanks to Cashmere Agency.