On Tuesday, April 22, J Stalin released his thirteenth album, SID: Shining In Darkness. For most, Stalin fits comfortably in with dozens of other Bay Area artists who have independently built a fan base and found ways to successfully launch independent Rap careers. But, as with any story, there’s more than meets the eye. After taking time to gauge the reception to his latest project, J Stalin reflected on some of the strategies he’s used to keep fans coming back after 13 albums and 14 mixtapes.
During what is already shaping up to be a hectic April release schedule, HipHopDX asked J Stalin to put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) and jot down some of the reasons he’s been able to sustain a career for so long. If you’re blindly tweeting Soundcloud links to bloggers and editors or passing out flyers and mixtape CDs that inevitably end up littering the parking lot of your local nightclub with nothing to show for your efforts, take a moment to heed J Stalin’s advice.
In the meantime, SID: Shining In Darkness is available for purchase via iTunes, Amazon and other retailers. To familiarize yourself with the man dispensing all the advice below, you can stream J. Stalin’s album for free via Soundcloud.
Keep An Open Mind
I always was a huge fan of music, not just Rap but all types of music. My favorite artists of all time are Tupac and Prince, but I decided to pursue Rap as a career after I went to jail when I was 16. All I knew is I never wanted to go back. I was in jail writing raps and performing them for fellow inmates, and that’s when I knew I wanted to be a rapper.
Learn The Importance Of Marketing & Independence
When you sell your own material, the money comes faster when you’re with a label or distributor. You have to wait a grace period to get paid, then they gotta take their cut also. So you wait longer for your money, and sometimes it’s not even that much to have to wait that long…but it’s better in the long run, because the checks don’t stop coming.
Early in my career, I used to bootleg my own records. I used to be on the block selling drugs and CDs at the same time, so if the cops ever stopped me, I would just tell them I was selling CDs. Sometimes I would have cocaine wrapped in plastic in my mouth that I would swallow when the cops came then vomit it back up when they let me go. I started spreading my music through my hood and took off from there.
Build Organic Relationships
I think when you work with other artists, with me it’s just real recognize real. All the artists I work with, I consider my friends and not just a peer doing the same thing I do. I’ve never paid a rapper for a feature; I work on love and respect.
Sacrifice Time To Learn About The Music Industry
The biggest sacrifice I think you make is listening to someone else like a executive producer or a manager, because sometimes you have to do things you don’t want to do. Your manager might think it’s best for you, and most of the times they’re right, because they know the business better then you.
I learned all the business aspects of the game from just being around and in it for a long time and not thinking I know it all. And I learned from listening to people who wanted to help. My managers Will and Stretch taught me a lot, and so did my close friends DJ Devro and DJ Fresh.
Understand What Your Fans Want
I think my fans love three things about me. They love my realness in my music and how I put it all out there. They love when I rap over uptempo beats like “Banga Dance” and “Everyday My Birthday,” and they love the classic Stalin when I just talk that D-boy shit I jumped in the game rapping about. And on this new album #SID, you can expect all three.
Nowadays, you can grow your fan base way easier then the old days because of the large amount of people you can reach from social networks. You don’t have to go to the store and buy records no more—you can just download them. You don’t have to press up CDs, you can just put it out through iTunes. So it’s a big difference from 10 to 15 years ago but change is good.