Sunday, March 30, 2014

Lil Wayne, Drake, Nicki Minaj and The Problems With Young Money

Cash Money Records has held the rap game in a strangle hold for the last few years. Through the label of Young Money, Cash Money Records has made a place for itself within hip hop history as few could have predicted. There have been very few record companies as consistent and that have persevered through industry changes so well.  Since its beginning in 1991 Cash Money has forcefully taken a hold of the music industry and muscled out the competition (No limit Records) by providing a more talented roster of artists that straddle the fine line between hip hop and mass appeal. Under the leadership of Bryan “Birdman” Williams and Ronald “Slim” Williams Young Money have utilized this recruitment tactic to the fullest and in doing so have sold millions and millions of records while further solidifying their position in the rap game.  Through the years Cash Money Records has remained firmly in tact while other companies have come and gone (Bad Boy Records, Rocafella Records).
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But a serious crack has emerged in the armor of Cash Money Records. And it’s coming through the same label Cash Money currently anchors. Young Money. There seems to be a growing level of disagreement in the ranks. Records are not being sold at the same level as their predecessors. Rumors are starting to emerge.  Leadership seems to go one way on some days and then another way on other days. What is going on?

It is my personal opinion that unless the leadership at Cash Money and Young Money makes drastic changes, we are witnessing the end of the domination of Cash Money and quite possibly the end of Young Money. Let’s take a look at these issues and how each “visible” member has contributed to the recent decline.

1.       Bryan “Birdman” Williams and Ronald “Slim” Williams: All successes and failures begin at the very top. The leadership of a company displays the corporate culture, behaviors, and motivations of its staff and team. Most of the blame usually and should ultimately be placed here. Birdman can’t decide if he wants to be a rapper or a CEO. He feels the need for public validation in the same ways that Diddy jumped into almost every one of his artists’ videos and danced around like a clown. Cash Money Records jumps into business ventures without thinking. One minute they’re a perfectly viable record label. The next minute they’re diving head first into dumb oil and gas investments. After seeing the success that Jay Z had with sports management, new rumors are starting to circulate about them jumping into sports management as well. They’ve also signed more than enough vanity acts to rival Andre Young. Limp Bizkit, Bow Wow, Mystikal, Paris Hilton (what was that about) and Busta Rhymes. And of the artists that truly have talent and are signed to the label? They’ve chosen to put them on the backburner, none of them seeing the true shine they deserve to have. Cash Money/Young Money released a compilation that many viewed as a tossed bone to that group of artists; it was an act to placate them. And the dismal promotions and sales showed it. There’s not a wonder that the world is confused about Cash Money. The owners don’t seem to have focus and they jump in any direction.

2.       Lil Wayne: As the CEO of Young Money Records he’s been the man mostly responsible for its success. He’s also been more than responsible for several of its failures. With his incarceration in 2010, during the height of Young Money’s success, the event sent several shock waves through his company.
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     One, the artists that he so heavily mentored and advised began to make ill-advised moves. Sure he advised from jail, but being in jail limits you to being at arm’s length. And when you have such a large company as Young Money had grown to be, it proved to be an issue. His incarceration also killed T-Pain’s move to the label (but seeing how badly T-Pain has recently fallen off, I wouldn’t necessarily call that one a bad move). Ultimately jail and probation changed Weezy. Sobriety revealed a new version of Lil Wayne and the public was not pleased. The albums he released sold decently, but content-wise were horrible. He made inappropriate comments about Emmett Till and caused an uproar in the African American world.  Lil Wayne lost focus and started skateboarding. Next he started telling the world that he would be retiring soon. All of these factors definitely had an impact on his artists as well as the label.

3.       Drake:  Drake has been killing it with sales. He’s absolutely been on fire. But so has his “diva” streak. Instead of accepting his new popularity with grace he’s been quick to lash out against anyone that doesn’t agree with everything he says. He’s engaged in unnecessary feuds with R&B artist Chris
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     Brown (dude you’re the number one selling hip hop artist, why are you fighting over a woman). He’s attacked a hip hop legend in the media (Common) but cowardly refused to respond to his outright challenge to an MC battle (and this again is rumored to be over a woman). Drake kicked Future off of his tour because of Future’s perceived preference towards his own music. Drake got angry at Kendrick Lamar for Kendrick’s verse on “Control”, although Kendrick didn’t release or reveal the track (Big Sean did). Also the “Control” track wasn’t even included on the any commercial album (which made Drake’s anger that much more confusing since he alluded to his belief that Kendrick’s release of the track during the same time that he released his album, kind of made him mad). And when Kendrick called him out for it, once again Drake chose to speak to the media instead of taking things in the tradition of the hip hop greats and engage him in lyrical combat. That was seen as a cowardly move by most hip hop heads. Next is the “Amen” debacle. Drake is Jewish, which isn’t a problem, unless you get on a track with Meek Mill called “Amen” and you openly support the words being said and are considered offensive to many African American Christian families.  It came across as exploitative. Why not make a track about the Jewish faith and say the same types of things to exploit your own religion? Add all of those things up and Drake has a big chunk of the problem on his plate.

4.       Nicki Minaj: When Nicki arrived on the scene she showed so much promise and opportunity. Here was what hip hop truly needed. A woman. And not just any woman but a woman with the lyrical skill to break down misconceptions and sexist views about women and hip hop. But since signing to Young Money Nicki has done nothing but reinforce those bad views. Her contribution to the big crack in Young Money is just as bad as her peers. Her skin has seemed to become several shades lighter.
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     Instead of teaching women to be respected and to try to solidify her status as a real MC, she’s created “Barbies”. Unlike the best female MC to ever do it (MC Lyte) Nicki has taken Black Women back to being objects of desire instead of intelligent women with minds. Nicki released an album (Pink Friday) that was so un-hip hop that few could actually believe it was labeled as such. In the album she pushed forward pop singing and sexual behaviors like a woman intent on penetrating the Billboard Charts. Hip Hop fans were disgusted. Her next move was to American Idol as a judge. A hip hopper on a pop show? Who was advising her? Reaching a new audience isn’t a bad look for anyone but don’t you first need to solidify your hardcore hip hop fans? Only time will tell if this gamble of hers paid off. Next she released an offensively titled song with the photo of Malcolm X on the internet promo. The swift storm and anger she created currently threatens her new album sales unlike anything she could’ve done. Occasionally she shows promise. The verse she spit on Kanye West’s “Monster” killed every single artist that appeared on his album. The whole thing. But hip hop is about consistency and if you don’t learn that rule first, you won’t last long.

 These issues have currently put Cash Money and Young Money in the positions they are in. The issues are correctable and there is plenty of time to right the course of the ship. But someone had better pay attention to what’s going on and fast. Hip Hop has a short amount of patience.