Thursday, October 7th 2010
Another battle between artist and label is taking flight, as Nas has begun his offensive against the Def Jam label for being reluctant to release his Lost Tapes 2 compilation album as a credit toward his contractual obligation.
The first Lost Tapes compilation, released in 2002, quickly earned a place in the ranks of fan-favorite Nas work with tracks like No Idea’s Original, Drunk By Myself and Poppa Was a Playa. To be fair, however, the record sold just over 300,000 copies, and that was nearly a decade ago, when Sam Goody and Tower Records still existed. Back when people still believed you had to take it deep and hard in the wallet in order to have the music you loved in the only format that made sense: a bulky, fragile plastic CD.
Arguments are already cropping up that the label simply doesn’t understand the cultural impact of such an album, and they’re foolish to drag heels on what’s sure to be an underground hit among fans. There’s just one problem: “underground hit” doesn’t generally equal strong album revenue for the labels, who are already scrambling to protect their dwindling dollars while being dragged, kicking and screaming, into the world of evolving distribution technologies and formats.
The rapper had personally announced a Dec. 14 release for the collection, eager to share the wares that may have slipped through the cracks in recent years, during which he’s been involved in several high-profile projects including his most recent collaboration album with Damian Marley and his controversy-magnet “Untitled” album (which he personally titled Nigger before the label censors took hold).
The problem? Def Jam doesn’t want to release it as an album that counts towards his record deal. It’s nearly guaranteed not to sell as much as a new “official” Nas studio album would, and the label may very well have a point in their view that the artist is attempting to shortchange his contract with a compilation album instead of a fully marketed LP.
Nas wants the label’s unconditional support, however. He wants them to stroke his ego and share his vision, while they’re looking for profit margin and business sensibility. It’s an adversary relationship, as Bob Lefsetz puts it, ultimately another nail in the coffin of the majors. You’re not going to find an artist in the world shouting “there’s no ‘I’ in team!” because he’s there to get paid. He’s there for his bottom line and his exposure. The suits who eat, fuck and shit quality artists each and every day without a thought are nowhere near an understanding of an era where the business end was symbiotic with the creative end.
Then again, Nas isn’t exactly the Springsteen or Zeppelin of rap, and his faith in his own mass marketability may be overblown. Despite increasingly high-profile projects, he’s still on the fringe of mainstream recognizability, and no Midwestern cow housewife is namechecking Nas alongside 50 Cent and Jay-Z as she tries to relate to her kids. And while that speaks nothing of artistic credibility, it does say a hell of a lot about the bottom line potential.
Here’s Nas’ argument – we’d like to hear your thoughts/enlightened insight in the comments.
To: LA Reid, Steve Bartels, Steve Gawley, Michael Seltzer, Joseph Borrino, Chris Hicks
Subject: PUT MY SHIT OUT!
Peace to all,
With all do respect to you all, Nas is NOBODY’s slave. This is not the 1800?s, respect me and I will respect you.
I won’t even tap dance around in an email, I will get right into it. People connect to the Artist @ the end of the day, they don’t connect with the executives. Honestly, nobody even cares what label puts out a great record, they care about who recorded it. Yet time and time again its the executives who always stand in the way of a creative artist’s dream and aspirations. You don’t help draw the truth from my deepest and most inner soul, you don’t even do a great job @ selling it. The #1 problem with DEF JAM is pretty simple and obvious, the executives think they are the stars. You aren’t…. not even close. As a matter of fact, you wish you were, but it didn’t work out so you took a desk job. To the consumer, I COME FIRST. Stop trying to deprive them! I have a fan base that dies for my music and a RAP label that doesn’t understand RAP. Pretty fucked up situation
This isn’t the 90?s though. Beefing with record labels is so 15 years ago. @ this point I just need you all to be very clear where I stand and how I feel about “my label.” I could go on twitter or hot 97 tomorrow and get 100,000 protesters @ your building but I choose to walk my own path my own way because since day one I have been my own man. I did business with Tommy Mottola and Donnie Einer, two of the most psycho dudes this business ever created. I worked well with them for one major reason……. they believed in me. The didn’t give a fuck about what any radio station or magazine said….those dudes had me.
Lost Tapes is a movement and a very important set up piece for my career as it stands. I started this over 5 years ago @ Columbia and nobody knew what it was or what it did but the label put it out as an LP and the fans went crazy for it and I single handlely built a new brand of rap albums. It’s smart and after 5 years it’s still a head of the game. This feels great and you not feeling what I’m feeling is disturbing. Don’t get in the way of my creativity. We are aligned with the stars here, this is a movement. There is a thing called KARMA that comes to haunt you when you tamper with the aligning stars. WE ARE GIVING THE PEOPLE EXACTLY WHAT THEY WANT. Stop throwing dog shit on a MAGICAL moment.
You don’t get another Nas recording that doesn’t count against my deal….PERIOD! Keep your bullshit $200,000.00 fund. Open the REAL budget. This is a New York pioneers ALBUM, there ain’t many of us. I am ready to drop in the 4th quarter. You don’t even have shit coming out! Stop being your own worst enemy. Let’s get money!
In an era when more artists than ever before – even high-profile megastars – are doing it for themselves, saying fuck the radio, fuck Rolling Stone, fuck the labels, we’re going to be seeing more and more of these conflicts.
What’s your take?