Attention Jay Z: Here’s an Open Letter to You From One of Hip-Hop’s Most Talented Up and Coming Producers (Food for Thought)

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Here’s an open letter to Jay Z from Cam Osteen, a brilliant young producer who has helped to craft the sound for Chance the Rapper, Vic Mensa and others. He recently created a track for Hov but was prevented from getting the track to him. Rather than give up, he’s written an Open Letter to him that’s part commentary on the music business, part demonstration of his knowledge of Jay’s musical tastes and 100% fan appreciation for the man, himself. This is a must read for anyone who’s following a dream or believes in artistic integrity. You can check out the letter and the track below.

Jay-z-timbaland-swizz-beatz-pharrell-rick-ruben

Dear Hov,

About a month ago, I had the opportunity to get this track to you via a trusted source close to you, but unfortunately it never made it. Instead, I was encouraged to make something more along the lines of what you’re already making with other producers. While taking this advice would have increased my chances of getting a record placed with you, it would have also defeated the purpose of me producing a record for you in the first place. Producers depreciate their artistic value when they subjugate their vision to someone else’s. In all my work I seek to set myself apart, not blend in. Without an understanding of their own artistic worth, producers will tend to create as a directive. Consequently, the culture of beatmakers in the music industry begins to resemble that of a sweatshop. Creating your own platform for the release of your first album was the result of your belief in your own worth, which prevented the major labels from being able to dictate your future. That same understanding in myself is what has birthed this letter; choosing to stay true to myself instead of doing what I was told.

My thought process behind the track itself was simple: create something that I, myself, would want to listen to as a fan of yours. Creating from this place ensures that the result is genuine and that I can stand behind it 100%. I started by referencing songs of yours that resonate with me: “Hard Knock Life”, “Empire State of Mind”, “Izzo (H.O.V.A.)”, and “Roc Boys” to name a few. It occurred to me that gospel music is a natural blend of the qualities found in all of those songs: big, soulful, and anthemic. So I decided to sample myself singing the words “Hov is back for you!” like a church choir. From there, I sped that recording up, added the other elements and this became the song. My intention was for those lyrics to function as the song’s hook. All that it’s missing now is you.

Collaboration yields classic records when it is grounded in the desire to make a great song, not meet a quota. It seems, however, that the sole motivation of many producers is to get placements in order to fulfill contracts. This presents a major problem for music when a producer has to choose between following orders in order to get the placement, and creating what they’re driven to create for the artist. The beneficiaries of the contracts producers tend to find themselves bound to often prioritize the former over the latter, therefore producers with matching priorities tend to be seen as more valuable. This in turn motivates producers to create exactly what they’re told in order to secure the placement. Some producers will instead go above and beyond what is expected of them and create based on their own vision, but unfortunately that music is often filtered out before it reaches your ears. In fact, that kind of producer — aware of his own artistic worth — is usually not valued. This goes against the foundation that was laid by the greats who have helped you craft hits. Kanye, Pharrell, Timbaland, and No I.D. are famous for having a strong creative vision of their own that they always get across regardless of what other producers are doing or what they themselves might be encouraged to do by music industry personnel.

I did not write this letter simply to convince you to use my beat, but also to shed light on the producer’s dilemma. The fact that I even have to write you this letter in the first place is a problem that I see compounding upon a bigger problem: artists, and specifically producers, deriving their artistic worth from their ability to meet contractual quotas and allowing that to dictate their art. They are not intrinsically motivated, and so they allow themselves to be validated by outside sources. This is the reason why it didn’t make it to you the first time around. I would’ve had to send something completely different if it was going to have any chance of reaching your ears. So whether you choose to use the beat or not, know that it was derived from my interpretation of your aesthetic and what you mean to me. My conviction in myself was strong enough to keep me motivated to get it to you even in the face of rejection. It’s that same personal conviction which led you to launch Roc-A-Fella Records, and, in turn, the legacy that made you into a living legend. The honor would come from knowing that you took the time to listen to this track, unfiltered, unedited, specifically as it was intended for you.

Thank you for your time and consideration,

Cam Osteen
@iamCam