Nipsey Hussle Explains Why He’s Joining Forces With A Major Label (Video)
Nipsey Hussle, who has created his success independently, is on the verge of dropping his first album backed by a major label. Victory Lap is poised to release on February 16, 2018, via All Money In No Money Out/Atlantic Records, and many Heads have wondered why someone who has time and time again proclaimed, “f*ck the middle-man,” has decided to sign with anybody.
But when looking back at Hussle’s hustle, he’s playing chess not checkers, and he knows the effect of the moves he’s making.
Elliott Wilson and B.Dot of the Rap Radar Podcast caught up with Nip’ at the flagship store of his company, Marathon Clothing. Appropriately, the shop resides on the block that shaped Hussle’s career and life at Crenshaw and Slauson, and today, Hussle holds the deed for much of the area.
When pressed about the decision to ink the deal with Atlantic and what makes this strategic partnership different, he says, “First off, just the terms.” Although he can’t announce the details, he says he got the contract he wanted at the right time in the part of the discussion beginning at 12:00.
“The moment we did it was the moment it was deserved.” He says. Once he had Victory Lap completed, he knew he had the product that could garner the terms that he wanted. He goes on to say that he had always been attracted to that label, and he researched the executives, and “they’re authentic execs” that have “lived up to the legend.” As Nipsey speaks to the track record of the Atlantic executives Craig Kallman, Julie Greenwald and Mike Keyser, who came from Big Beat Records and Def Jam Recordings, respectively, he alludes to the possible nature of his arrangement at the record label. “Roc-A-Fella had a joint venture at Def Jam, when Keyser and Julie was there. Irv [Gotti] and them had their joint venture [Murder Inc. at Def Jam], Ruff Ryders and them had their joint venture [at Def Jam]…Luda[cris] and DTP with Chaka [Zulu had their joint venture at Def Jam]. Jason Geter and T.I. had their joint venture [Grand Hustle] with Julie and Keyser at Atlantic. So, I even knew that I could point to those deals and be like ‘Y’all do these situations. These things happen and y’all have been successful under these terms before.” Even the name of Nipsey’s arrangement, All Money In No Money Out/Atlantic Records, suggests a joint venture with the major record company.
The terms of joint venture deals can range widely, from a profit-sharing arrangement with a royalty rate that is somewhat more favorable to the artist than a traditional label deal, to a pressing and distribution structure, where the record company fronts money to the artist’s imprint and the imprint retains complete control over key aspects of the business, such as creative direction, marketing and ownership of master recordings, with the record company getting a small percentage, in return. Cash Money’s arrangement with Universal Music Group, is an example of the latter. Given the movement Nipsey was able to build on his own, he likely had the clout and resources to command any type of arrangement he wanted with Atlantic.
With the help of the major backing, some of his bigger goals seem a little easier to reach. When pressed, he elaborates on what he hopes to achieve with this LP.
“I think the type of music we make, and the type of message and the type of thing that this is should be consumed on the highest level.” He continues, “And that ain’t with no vanity or no arrogance, I just feel like it deserves to be doing stadium tours and topping Billboard.”
And Atlantic has the hit-making chops, in 2017 alone they ushered another previously independent artist, Cardi B, into unprecedented mainstream success. But just because he’s going to have a little help on the back end, doesn’t mean he’s refocusing his hustle.
“But by no means does the ambition to do those things change the business strategy.” He says. There’s got to be some trust in the moves that Nip makes because he’s proven that he’s not one to take a deal just because it comes across his desk.
Back in 2012 when he was having conversations with Rick Ross’ Maybach Music Group prior to the release of Crenshaw, there were rumors circulating about why it didn’t pan out. But around 46:00, Nip’ squashes the gossip, claiming that he didn’t take the fair deal with MMG because of the work his team had already put in. “We had committed to doing it a certain way, internally.” He says, quickly pointing out that it wasn’t the terms that caused him to pump the brakes. “The offer that [Rick Ross] put on the table was epic.”
It’s that same integrity that has allowed him independent success both with his music and other endeavors. He goes on to explain how he used the DIY model to create his success. “What you’re really just doing is building an infrastructure, you’re building an enterprise around your art.”
And that’s exactly what he’s done with his brand in the past. His interesting and unexpected marketing moves have continued to create an archetype for other indie artists, and have also captured the attention of some big names.
Remember when Hussle sold his mixtape for $100 a pop, and people paid it? He recalls how JAY-Z identified with his method, purchasing 100 copies of Crenshaw. The Rap Radar hosts take some credit for breaking that story, and connecting Hov’ to Nipsey’s mission. And because, as Nip says, “His moves influence everybody,” he went on to sell 1,000 copies the first day. “There’s value outside of the traditional mold.” He says at 48:00. “The valuable thing is about how you monetize the connection that music created.”
It was that very same musical connection that linked Hussle with LeBron James. After LeBron was seen listening to “Blue Laces” in the locker room, Hussle knew that he represented the kind of fan for whom he makes music. “[Lebron James is] a Hip-Hop Head and he came from the struggle.” Nip’ says around the 34:00 mark. “He fit who I’m speaking to.” Connections flow both ways, so when Nipsey wanted to create a little buzz for “Blue Laces 2,” he sent it over to the baller who provided an influential leak of the single via Instagram.
From ideation to marketing to making solid music, Nipsey Hussle has his hands in it all, and just because he now has major backing doesn’t mean he’s letting go of the reigns.