Where Are the Locally Grown Rappers?
Photo courtesy of Migos Migos
[Editor's note: Weekly scribe Jeff Weiss's column, "Bizarre Ride," appears on West Coast Sound every Wednesday. His archives are available here.]
Before blogs incubated buzz, the block was the most viable grassroots option for rappers barred from radio, retail and MTV. While New York lays claim to most hip-hop traditions, from the initial "Apache" sample to the first scratch, the modern street team started in late-'80s L.A., when marketing guru Steve Rifkind linked up with local indie label Delicious Vinyl.
Thanks to Rifkind's SRC squad, the logos of old Pharcyde stickers are more seared into my mind than pre-algebra equations. Before I heard Wu-Tang, their logo scarred notebooks at my junior high. It was branding at its best: mixing stark visual iconography and relentless promotion to build intrigue.
See also: Our interview with RZA
It's been at least a decade since any L.A. street team scheme convinced me to check out a new artist. Outside of Venice Beach, you rarely meet a rapper passing out his mixtape or see their stickers plastered to bathroom walls. The street team has been replaced by the spam email, with rappers and their publicists attempting to stoke hype via a three-minute SoundCloud link. It's a top-down approach that contradicts the "started from the bottom" mythos often marketed.
This isn't the case in every American city. Spend three days in Atlanta -- as I recently did for the A3C Hip-Hop Festival -- and you'll be reminded of the rap marketing past. The bubbling Atlanta rap crew Two-9 had stickers on every lamppost and in every bathroom. There were cars towing Two-9 billboards. Other artists advertised themselves via picket signs and passing out innumerable self-pressed CDs and flyers. A Canadian rapper named Pimpton placed a flier underneath the doors of all 502 rooms of the Melia Hotel.
This behavior is endemic at South by Southwest and other festivals, but there's something about Atlanta that's reminiscent of pre-Internet L.A. For one, the city has three radio stations devoted to hip-hop and R&B. At any given moment, you hear local products Future, Rich Homie Quan, 2 Chainz, or Migos, blaring from a car stereo. Next year, it will be someone else. If Atlanta has dominated radio rap for the last decade, it's partly because of this desire to constantly crown new kings.
Aside from Kendrick Lamar, the Power 106 playlist is largely comprised of non-hometown rappers. Despite a Def Jam deal, a 'hood hero like Y.G. only occasionally cracks rotation. Schoolboy Q has earned more airplay from a guest spot on a Macklemore song than his own solo singles. Problem gets spun, but even then, his biggest hit, "Like Whaat," samples a classic '90s song from Louisiana.
See also: The Best L.A. Musicians By Genre