I am reading the news about Dr. Dre being on the cusp of becoming Hip Hop’s first billionaire and I cannot help but think of the stupidity of Suge Knight. Death Row at one point was the hottest label in rap, staffed with two of the best rappers in the industry and a prolific hit-making producer in Dr. Dre.
Despite the numerous platinum albums, the members of Death Row Records stayed in the news for events that had nothing to do with music. Their interest was more in maintaining a façade than music and talent acquisition. Suge Knight positioned himself to become the next Russell Simmons except he could not move out of his own way.
The label fell apart after the murder of Tupac. Mismanagement and desertion left the record label in shambles; jail time for Suge Knight did not help. Eventually, Suge Knight lost the company in a lawsuit and after a meteoric rise he has nothing to show for it.
Suge Knight is not the first to fall flat on his face when the opportunity for greatness is at his doorstep. But there is a common thread in entertainment, especially Hip Hop that sets apart those that understand the business of music and those that do not. Dr. Dre’s Beats brand purchase by Apple is a chance to highlight the pitfalls that befuddle countless rap artists: protecting and fully cashing in on their brand.
A lot of rap artist place a high priority in maintaining street credibility. While I understand this as it pertains to the music, artists should recognize the importance of their overall brand. Snoop Dog is a perfect example of an artist who understands how to balance his brand and the expectation of fans who love his music. P Diddy, Jay Z and Fifty Cent all parlayed their music talent into something with appeal beyond music. The relationship artists build with their fandom and the general public. Now, if your only goal is making music for the hood, then any accommodation of the mainstream will damage that brand. However, if an artist seeks the fame and fortune that comes with mass appeal, then he must also learn to manage his brand for ultimate impact.
Suge Knight created a powerful brand and in short time destroyed it by not balancing the street credibility and he obviously had and the mass appeal that generated the music sells.
The beautiful thing about music artist is that there is more leeway to act a damn fool. Photos of the CEO of JP Morgan circulating on the internet with him piss drunk in Cancun surrounded by strippers with a suitcase full of money on the table would not go over well with his Wall Street pals. With a rapper, at best it’d make TMZ and become a meme on Social Media websites.
But too many arrests, too many violent encounters, too many public beefs and you risk the ire of music fans. This is especially true if the only time you hear about them it is in regards to something other than the music. Lifestyle matters. A destructive lifestyle may enhance one’s street cred, but there is a point where it becomes un-watchable (see Amy Winehouse).
There is a point where artists have to distinguish between street cred and brand. Focus on the former is fine when making the music, but it is the latter that business-minded artist should think about.by