In Defense of “Sell Out” Musicians

With South by Southwest ending last Sunday, and Coachella looming around the corner, America is finally in the midst of festival season. Discussions about new collaborations and rising stars have begun as a slew of new albums and artists emerging just in time for the spring,

But these discussions have also spurred opinions about which artists are becoming “sell outs,” and which are simply using new media platforms to gain more recognition. For example, in Spin Magazine’s breakdown of the music industry, it classified emerging rapper ASAP Rocky under “Rappers Who’ve Sold Their Soul.” Rocky is currently on tour with Kendrick Lamar (one of Spin’s “Next Big Things”) and Drake. But as long as new artists like Rocky and Lamar maintain their original style, there shouldn’t be a problem with talented musicians becoming more famous.

If up-and-comers are able to attract the attention and collaborate with veterans, the new musicians should be considered successful – not a “sell out” – unless they dramatically change their style. DJ Steve Aoki takes newly-signed artists from his label on tour, as opening acts. Rap icon Snoop Dogg and newcomer Wiz Khalifa created an album together last December that matched up their similar rapping styles. Not sellouts.

These upstarts are simply just trying to make some hard earned cash after their long come-ups.

Before musicians succeed financially and make a name for themselves, many of them have created a presence in online social media, which has begun to play a huge role in generating free, positive publicity.

“Now more than ever, artists have been interactive with their fans through social media, which shows that they still care,” said NYU sophomore and music business major Zach White.

A lot of actual selling out comes when artists sign deals to major labels who oftentimes pressure musicians to modify their music style. Musicians may compromise the artistic integrity of their beats, lyrics or anything else in order to appeal to the mass audiences.

“If artists stopped jumping into contracts and played the field a little more, there would be a lot less selling out,” said White.

Some artists can hopefully follow in the steps of Tyler, the Creator, who established his own record label under the authority of a larger label. Odd Future Records provides Tyler and his crew a more conducive environment for creative freedom, while still benefitting from being a part of Sony’s RED label.

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    Share Your Thoughts


  1. Patrick Domingo says

    Just like Lupe Fiasco and Lasers. Now he’s coming out with F&L2 after admitting to selling out with Lasers. Sounds like a great PR stunt to me.

  2. Tamas Vilaghy says

    This conversation is hardly interesting: legitimacy in hip-hop has always been paradoxical because both wealth and authenticity to one’s birthplace are touted as ideals to aspire to. Trap rap, being the most recent hip-hop subgenre to explode, just happens to be going through this now because people like Gucci, Rocky, Wocka Flocka, etc. are actually finding (dare I say mainstream) success after releasing 3 mixtapes a week for the past couple years.
    But let’s be honest, Wiz Khalifa is hardly a newcomer. He had mixtapes coming out in 2005.
    And I’m not sure Odd Future is the model to follow, simply because they haven’t released much quality material since first blowing up, besides the Rella video, whose music seems like an afterthought to the humor.
    At this point it seems doubtful that signing to a record label is even necessary. Spaceghostpurrp and bedroom producers like him have been doing fine releasing music through the internet, or signing with a label only for a particular release.