A critical component for artists hoping to prosper in the music industry is marketability. Unfortunately too many artists in our area think of being “marketable” as having a good social media game, paying blogs to post videos, signing up for showcases and releasing mixtapes on Soundcloud. They do this because it’s the only formula they know. Never mind that the formula only works if it is a component of a larger brand strategy. Remember, the “business” part of the music business is looking for sales. Contextualize it in this sense; suppose we got a late night call from Kevin Liles and he asked us to name the ten most marketable unsigned local artists? What a Kevin Liles means when he asks for that list is this; “If I invest time and money in this person will I get a profitable return?”
With that in mind, our first answer would be, “Can we name twenty-five?” Because we could do that easily. But if he insists on ten and says, “And tell me why they are marketable”, then this would be our list with the caveat that there are hundreds of Rap/Hip Hop artists in the DC area. Hundreds. We’ve paid attention to a lot of them but nowhere even close to all of them. So any list we compile is a snapshot, a list for today that we could easily interchange tomorrow for 10 other artists we feel just as strongly about.
Some of these names are going to be familiar to folks who closely follow Hip Hop in DC. That’s because of social media buzz, which has become the trend du jour artists use to promote themselves. But that’s not why they’re included in this list. Presence doesn’t always equal potential. Truth be told a lot of artists have significantly better social media skills than they do rhyming skills. And do-it-yourself promotion can easily morph into a brand killer for most artists with next level potential.
Gordo Brega – He’s skilled, with a good body of work and the demographics are extremely favorable in that he can be marketed in a more deliberate, frontal way to a segment of consumers who haven’t been targeted properly. Nearly six in ten Latinos are millennials or younger and they are fully acculturated to Hip Hop but other than Fat Joe, who reps New York, and Pitbull who was born in Miami, where’s the list of comparable artists charting nationally and globally? The industry is looking for them.
Jay IDK – A storyteller who has his own good story to tell as part of a marketing push. He’s already gotten good exposure, has a strong team around him, and there’s every reason to believe his already good product will be even better in 2-3 years as opposed to plateauing.
LyQuin – When we first heard him we were sure we heard “It.” A lot of other folks, including Wale, thought the same thing. And so far there’s been nothing to dispel the confidence we feel about this artist. The industry is already feeling him – note his feature with Chris Brown.
Ras Nebyu – He’s what the industry looks for; cross cultural appeal. He’s DC, he’s Ethiopian, he’s ideal for the college circuit. He’s charismatic, a high energy performer and is the ideal artist to work with next level producers because he understands beats and timing.
LB – His skill level is so high and name recognition so low you could say he’s the perfect example of an unpackaged brand. A&R can introduce him to a wider listening audience choosing any approach that’s going to make the most dynamic splash. His talent will validate the buildup.
Pinky Killa Corn – There’s a whole Pinky Killa-Kult waiting to happen once this artist defines a target audience that reaches a little further down the music buying chain than the demographic her Hippie Life Krew appeals to. Her persona and rapping turn-of-phrase could situate her as firmly in that mid-teen and up demographic as any other female artist if her management team gets that with fewer songs about tequila and kush, more songs that tick upbeat with catchy hooks she could sell as many sweaters, scarves, boots and jewelry as downloads. She’s truly unique. That’s what being marketable is about.
Young Sir – In our opinion there’s no question he is a more versatile and sure-footed rapper than the two DC artists mentioned by Oddisee in his WLVS interview. He represents the quintessential question for all this area’s artists; if talent ain’t the answer then what’s the question?
Slim Jenkinz – Ready made audience, a smooth flow, can sing if she wants to and an innate artist’s personality. We would argue that what that ready-made audience needs to hear is a slightly softer side of Slim. Being a DC rapper and creating lyrics that sound like a hundred other DC rappers isn’t something she needs to rely on. Authenticity in her case means creating an authentic narrative that channels the experience of her own lifestyle.
Jus Paul - You want hooks? Jus Paul is ready right now to jump in any studio anywhere in the country and knock that out for you. He’s got a signature sound that’s strong, distinct, never out of tune, always different enough to match whomever he’s collabing with and still familiar enough to know it’s him. The industry rewards Nate Dogg level talent and Jus Paul is marching in that direction.
Da Big Fella – Is Da Big Fella a rapper who also acts, or an actor who also raps? Either way, his talent and upside in both genres is evident. The beauty of the music industry is that he doesn’t have to choose one. Instead a dedicated management crew can use each to leverage the other. And by the way, his stage show is tight. This is the artist you’d want to include in tours.
So that’s ten of many. We could drop another ten names, but we’d rather hear your list. Hit us up at @_OnStageDC. Who are ten of the most marketable Rap/Hip Hop artists in DC? The floor is yours…
In a June 2016 interview with the Breakfast Club DJ Drama said, “One thing about Atlanta is every 3, 6, 9 months there’s always somebody hot, somebody new.”
Start with that, and as Nicki Minaj says, “Let it soak in like seasoning…” and then weigh it against your own observations about the state of Hip Hop in DC. What did you come up with? That the music industry infrastructures in Atlanta and DC are so wildly different that a fair comparison is impossible to draw? True. But if you conclude that, then it begs the question, “What’s up with that?”
In the past we’ve put a variation of this question to three highly regarded people with insights into the DC music scene; Cathy Hughes, Marcus J. Moore, and DJ Boom. Then we read a recent review by the esteemed music writer Marcus K. Dowling about the “Glowed Up” showcase in which he postulated that we are witnessing a transition in DC Hip Hop that will (maybe) put us on par with major markets. Then we listened to an Oddisee interview on WLVS Radio where homeboy couldn’t even compile a list of up and coming DC artists, which to be fair is not his job.
In a Sophisticated Sunday interview with us Radio One founder Cathy Hughes said, “This city has produced some of the greatest names in music; Marvin Gaye, Duke Ellington, Roberta Flack, Herb Fame, Billy Stewart; I mean the list is endless. Chuck Brown. Chuck Brown created an entire music genre. He created go-go. But I think it’s always going to be hard for the entertainment industry to get a foothold in DC…”
Nationally known music writer Marcus J. Moore, who is now a senior editor at Bandcamp basically did a must-read primer for any DC artist who seriously wants to get to the next level in his “10 Questions 4” interview with OnStage. Importantly he said, “Too many young rappers want to emulate the people who’ve already got on; they dress and rap like Wale, and wonder why no one takes them seriously. We need more young rappers to provide the alternative, to create art that’s dynamic and different, not just the same cookie-cutter nonsense that’s so popular now. The rap game is a rat race, so when they see someone earning money rhyming a certain way, they feel the need to reinvent the wheel instead of making music with staying power. We need artists to provide the alternative, and stop trying to fit in with the crowd. If everyone else is creating what you’re creating, why should anyone pay attention to you? What makes you stand out? Now that Fat Trel is beginning to make national strides, the field is wide open for someone to take the crown. I just hope the next rapper does something unique. They can’t always pop bottles and sell drugs.”
And Listen Vision Studio founder and owner Jeremy Beaver aka DJ Boom in a December 2012 “10 Questions 4” interview pointed out something that 4 years later still provides the best answer to the Atlanta/ DC comparison; “…what the area seems to be missing is industry, i.e., record labels, management companies, booking agencies, and major corporations willing to work with or utilize the wealth of talent in this area. We have BET, Discovery, XM/Sirius, National Geographic, RIAA, Radio One and others; but their local community integration is limited.”
Put those three observations together you come up with; DC has always been a storehouse of talent but where Hip Hop is concerned even our most talented artists can’t find traction because too much of what they’re doing is emulative as opposed to being groundbreaking, and what’s missing is the same music industry infrastructure in place and available in Atlanta, i.e.., record labels and management companies, marketing professionals and access to distribution networks.