The Defiant Masters Of The Masters
Defiance is a position, a position of resistance that pits you against authority and power. It’s a position that demands complete faith, a lack of fear and a determination to pursue your purpose. Defiance isn’t born naturally out of a state of privilege, it’s a refusal to tow the line, follow the rules, or bend to power. It powers the urge to see beyond the limits, visualise possibilities others can’t perceive. It’s the urge to do better, be better, live better than everyone else. Hip hop was born out of a spirit of defiance, it lives off the hustle and breeds on the audacity to dream.
After 40 years, Hip Hop is arguably experiencing a generational divide. A first generation of rappers who are facing the realisation that there’s a new defiance being born out of the next generation. It’s too early to say how Hip Hop will grow out of this phase of ‘teen rappers vs grown-up rappers’, and yes its true “nobody wins when the family feuds”, but this defiance is also giving birth to a renewed renaissance.
Lessons have been learnt, some have been burnt, while others have risen like phoenixes. On one hand, Rap is growing up, on another it’s being reborn. 2017 may just be marked as the year when two generations both defined a different path to mastering their own futures.
Whether you hate them now, or hated them before, the top tier of the Forbes Cash Kings have never been compliant. Jay-Z, Diddy, Dr Dre are used to being hated and derided for defiantly transforming Hip Hop into a business. They’ve always been about running the record business, being the masters of their own legacies, and they’ve taken note of the mistakes made by their predecessors.
Music industry history has been tarred with multiple cases of bankruptcies and battles. While the news that Prince’s catalogue could be streamed on Spotify, had some media platforms yelping shamelessly with excitement, real Prince fans knew the price he’d paid when he scrawled ‘Slave’ on his face over his embittered fall out with Warner Music.
If you’ve caught BET’s dramatisation of the rise and fall of one of R&B’s biggest boy bands in ‘The Story of New Edition’, its a jarring reminder of just how this business has no mercy. The list goes on an on, from TLC to Toni Braxon to MC Hammer, Eazy E to Marvin Gaye, there’s been a legacy of dodgy deals and deal brokers.
“Y’all out here still takin’ advances, huh?”
Back in 2008, when Radiohead spurned the option to renegotiate their deal with EMI and opted instead to go it alone, their coup was viewed widely as a sign of the end of the music industry as we knew it. It didn’t kill the industry, but it pointed the power away from the labels to the power of a fanbase. Today deals are being brokered on this new wave of defiance, one that can only been brokered when you’ve done the hustle to build your own platform. You’d have to be a dumbass or downright desperate to frankly even entertain a 360 deal today. From Russ, to 21 Savage, SZA to Jessie Reyez, many more labels are opening up to negotiate deals with artists who are retaining control of their own platforms, their rights and doing deals which wouldn’t even be on the table for labels 10 years ago.
SZA as Jimmy Iovine revealed in a recent interview for Beats 1, built a buzz in 2 years that went from a deal with a 15/85 split to a bidding war where TDE eventually secured SZA a 70/30 split for ‘CTRL’.
You’re only worth what you own. This debt-ridden state of existence gives us fewer options than living on credit, studying to get weighed down with student debt or working to live in a house mortgaged to the hilt. The idea of ownership feels more remote than ever before. So why should anyone care whether Jay’s got million dollar’s worth of advice for us in an album for $9.99?
Jay-Z’s “4:44” album launched to widespread acclaim, shutting down any doubters who reckoned his relevancy may be in question. 50 might have coined the album as ‘golf-course music’, but there’s no debating the fact that Jay’s masterfully leaving a larger and lasting legacy with this album.
“Financial freedom my only hope, fucking living rich and dying broke”
As for the business of it, the deal brokered with Sprint secured that first week Platinum certified status for Jay’s 13th album. And Tidal, well the wider instincts of some potential subscribers, still seem to be driven by a determination to avoid signing up, at any cost. In fact its a defiant position that frankly I just don’t get anymore. Are we even talking about a value for money equation because the returns from Tidal’s investments into artists don’t exactly leave us shortchanged.
While Jay’s explicit that he’d be “damned if I drink some Belvedere while Puff got CÎROC”, its also the time to talk about Sean “Diddy” Combs. In another new documentary ‘Can’t Stop Won’t Stop’, we’re given some more million dollar insight into one of Hip Hop’s most notorious empire builders. “Greatness is complicated” and Diddy’s been a complicated yet consistent figure when it comes to closing the deal.
From the millionaires to billionaires, hip hop has its own elite class now. There’s no denying that most of us aren’t flush with credit but neither were they. Their legacy is built on creating something out of nothing. Take it or leave it, it’s an inspiring story of a defiance to succeed, against all odds.
‘The Defiant Ones’ a new documentary directed by Allen Hughes, spans decades across the careers of two of the most revered and respected figures in this music game. Eminem describes their partnership as “Jimmy Iovine is the levitator, Dre is the innovator”. Premiered on HBO, the film cuts across their individual stories and illuminates how they discovered their common ground.
New ground is still being broken in an industry that was once very broken. The power struggle is still too real, the spirit of defiance is a necessity and the battle still needs to be fought on the outside not in the family. Whether you choose to watch the footnotes for ‘The Story of OJ’ or take notes from these new documentaries, this is a moment of time where we’re starting to understanding the real cost of fame – and whether it really is a gift or a curse?
Chris Rock puts it plainly in footnotes, “Fame is the greatest gift god can give a black man”.