Rapper Trinidad James gives good interview!
In 2013, I wrote about an interview he did with The Fader four months after he signed with record label Def Jam on the strength of his independently produced “All Gold Everything” video. He seemed like a sensible guy to me. When The Fader asked him, “Is getting a Def Jam deal kind of like winning a national championship?”, James said, “It’s definitely a blessing. But the real championship is being able to keep longevity in music, and getting the deal is just the beginning. ” He continued:
“Getting the deal is like going to college, but to play and then win the national championship, that’s like the ultimate glory. Because you can get a full ride to go to Duke or North Carolina and then not be shit. Like I can get a deal to go to Def Jam and it’s cool, but if you never even put out a record? You want to be on a label where the artist works to keep going and the label works to keep pushing.”
A little more than a year later, Def Jam dropped him. The issue of label support that he hinted at in the earlier interview came to be a problem. In an interview published by BuzzFeed last week, James said of major labels like Def Jam “if you’re gonna get behind somebody and hold them back, that’s a waste of their time.” He described what happened this way:
“It’s like being an independent store owner and then having that same independent store be inside of a mall. You can’t just throw parties like you wanted to or have in-store events however you wanted to when you were in your own private place. Now that you’re in the mall, you gotta ask permission because you’re in somebody else’s location.”
There’s no reason to turn up one’s nose at a YouTube artist. Justin Bieber was one of those. But he got a lot of professional grooming and support. Meanwhile, other YouTube successes like James sign with major labels only to disappear. Azealia Banks was one of the outspoken ones, taking to Twitter to beg to be released from her deal with Interscope. “I’m really in hell here,” she wrote. “I’m tired of having to consult a group of old white guys about my black girl craft. They don’t even know what they’re listening for or to.” She finally got her way, secured the rights to the songs she worked on while with the label, and released her album Broke With Expensive Taste to good reviews. It was three years after her video “212” brought her to the music industry’s attention.
In the BuzzFeed interview, James took some responsibility for his problems with Def Jam, citing his inexperience in the industry. “I feel like I have to play catch up now as far as understanding the game and understanding how to be an artist.” But, he said, the big labels don’t give the emerging artists time to develop. So he has a recommendation for the next generation of YouTube artists:
“…what they need is just a good investor, not a major label, just a respectful, loyal, worthy investor, somebody who gets what’s going on and let them be the label.”
That advice is actually applicable to a lot of creative endeavors, not just music. A big deal isn’t necessarily the best thing for your long-term success. In the fashion world, department stores can put small designers out of business by not paying for merchandise in a timely fashion. As for investors, James’s “respectful, loyal, worthy” qualities are more important than money. Go back to my 2012 post on shoe line Sigerson Morrison and award-winning menswear designer Simon Spurr to see what can happen when investors and small-business owners don’t see eye to eye.
If you’re an entrepreneur of any sort, heed the lessons James is sharing … but don’t cry for Trinidad! His story has a happy ending, thanks to Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars, who last year sampled some the lyrics of “All Gold Everything” for their long-running No. 1 single “Uptown Funk.”
As BuzzFeed reported, James got songwriting credit and a share of publishing royalties for the song, “a distinction that could make him a very wealthy man for the rest of his career — whether he ever writes another hit or not.” I love it!