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Name: Adam Bernard
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Selling Out or Smart Business?
Thursday, May 14, 2009

In the fall of 2008 Jean Grae sold her services on CraigsList for $800 a verse. Just last week Prince Po of Organized Konfusion fame took to his Facebook status to offer up a verse to anyone who was interested and had a checkbook. Today I’m going to try to figure out if this is selling out, or simply smart business.

On the one hand I believe that artists should get paid for their work. I don’t think anyone, not even the pirates who are currently torrenting their “favorite” artists in another web browser right now (BTW – They’re not really your favorites if you refuse to purchase their albums), would argue with that. Everybody has to eat and I can definitely understand the idea that if an artist isn’t giving away his album for free then a guest appearance should be paid for since said guest appearance is, hypothetically, helping to sell the album. That just makes sense. If your services are helping someone generate money you deserve to be paid for those services.

On the other hand, where is the quality control here? Neither Jean Grae’s nor Prince Po’s posts said anything about potentially denying an artist a guest appearance. If you’re willing to work with anyone for a check doesn’t that technically lesson the impact of your guest appearance since you’re no longer a hot commodity and having you as a guest on a song is no longer a sign of ascension up Hip-Hop’s respect ladder? If you’re not a hard “get” what’s the point of having you on a track? Because you’re a name? You won’t be if you spit a 16 for any rapper who wants one. So while it’s great for MC No Name that he can suddenly have a big name guest appearance on a song, he had better get that song out to the masses quickly because once everyone finds out that anyone can get that big name artist it won’t be very impressive anymore.

Most of the artists I’ve spoken with about this don’t have to worry about such outcomes because they consider the act of selling verses to rappers they don’t know personally as blasphemous. They won’t work with someone unless they have an already established relationship with them and respect their music. This is the way it always was back in the day. You met someone and if you connected with them and you liked each other’s music you’d jump on a track together. The internet has, of course, given us new ways to meet people, but I understand the idea that even if you meet on a message board or in a chat room (they still have those, right?) artists should know each other and be familiar with each other’s work before collaborating.

In the very short term the blind selling of verses can probably work to make some established artists a couple of bucks and get a few wealthy up and comers noticed. In the long run, however, I don’t see it working as an effective business model. The lifespan of selling oneself to any and all buyers has a roof on its income potential. I’d even go as far as to say it has a severely limited income potential for the big name artists who are considering going down that path, and it will really only help out the first few up and comers who shell out the dough for said artist’s features. It’s a lose-lose proposition… but is it selling out? I don’t know, but it’s definitely selling something that’s far too valuable to put a price tag on and that’s one’s reputation.


posted by Adam Bernard @ 7:45 AM  
  • At 1:34 PM, Blogger Thirtyseven said…


    That's just broke artists being backed into a corner by their own bad decisions.

    For real, though, the price list for buying verses from Your Favorite Rappers is remarkably low. It's just not generally published on Craigslist.

  • At 5:01 PM, Blogger Dyalekt said…

    I agree completely. It doesn't seem like selling out or being fake, but the approach is definitely short sighted. Aside from monetarily and fan excitednessly devaluing your work... can't you find another avenue to make money with your skill? I know these talented and well known MC's are able to produce more than just a hot 16.

    This is just like all those taggers asking for $500 to bomb a train in your town. Oh wait no, they all became graphic and clothing designers.

  • At 5:36 PM, Blogger kats said…

    I actually don't think it's selling out, but I do think it's bad business. I think whatever few bucks you get for a verse isn't worth how much that move devalues you as an artist...it's basically admitting that it's all over. Once you do a bunch of verses for a few bucks with Joe Shmoe on myspace, are you really ever going to do real shit again? Just really seems desperate to me...also, and no disrespect to the specific artists you mentioned, but it isn't worth the money either - am I to believe that this will be a serious effort on their part, that they'll promote the project, or even care what it is?...forget it. Once it's come down to this, maybe it's time to get actual jobs and both make more money and not embarrass yourself as an artist.

  • At 12:00 PM, Blogger Dingus said…

    They can do whatever they want, they're both sick.

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