Hey! I’m gonna record another Trapital mailbag podcast next week. The last one was fun and I want to bring it back. Fielding any questions hip-hop related! Reply to this email and send me your questions by Tuesday, February 25.
Today’s update covers why the Buffalo hip-hop group Griselda is winning, and a collection of articles on Genius’ TV partnership, D Smoke, The Chernin Group, The Weeknd and Verizon, and the already infamous Lovers and Friends festival.
Genius Content Heads to TV for the First Time with Fuse Media Partnership (Murray Stassen / Music Business Worldwide)
Entertainment media brand Fuse Media and lyrics platform Genius have entered into a partnership that will bring Genius’s digital content to Fuse.
The series will feature Genius’s artist-centric content, including Verified, Deconstructed, and For The Record With Rob Markman, along with other existing formats that will air under the Genius x Fuse banner.
D Smoke Talks Kendrick Lamar Comparisons & Dangers Of Addiction (Rob Markman / For The Record)
This time last year, D Smoke was a relatively unknown artist with rap dreams that he is currently living out thanks to career-changing co-signs from Cardi B, Chance the Rapper and T.I. The Inglewood, Calif. native made headlines in 2019 after he was crowned king on the first season of Netflix’s hit rap competition show, ‘Rhythm + Flow,’ and now he is looking to fulfill his promise off the strength of his new album, ‘Black Habits.’
Note – I shared this interview from a Slack discussion we had yesterday about D Smoke. I think he’s immensely talented and want it to be recognized, but hip-hop rarely knows what to do with someone with that much potential. Will his bilingual talents be viewed as a legitimate value add or a novelty? Reminds me of the hype around Wale in the late 2000s. This may sound ridiculous in retrospect, but I never thought Maybach Music Group was the right fit for him and his ceiling should have been much higher, as I wrote about in MMG Didn’t Live Up to its Potential.
Peter Chernin’s Unexpectedly Successful Third Act (Tom Dotan / The Information)
More than a decade after leaving News Corp, Peter Chernin has hit his stride with a foot in Hollywood and another in investing. In an interview, he looks back and ahead. In Hollywood, guessing Peter Chernin’s next job in the entertainment industry has long been something of a parlor game.
Note – this is a paywalled article, but you can check out The Information for $1/month for 3 months using this link. Chernin dropped some interesting insights on his ideal media investments, which may be helpful for many of you in this space.
The Weeknd Teams Up With Verizon Up for Next-Level Fan Experiences: Exclusive (Rania Aniftos / Billboard)
The Weeknd is the latest superstar to team up with Verizon Up to bring fans opportunities for exclusive access to concerts and private experiences throughout 2020.
The crooner, who just announced his After Hours 2020 tour, is offering Verizon Up ticket holders access to an exclusive stage-side experience within the Verizon Up Members section, with VIP artist meet and greets available at select shows.
The Lovers and Friends festival lineup is 20 years late and also right on time (Shawn Cooke / Mic)
On Tuesday, a festival lineup filled to the brim with ‘90s and early aughts hip-hop and R&B stars began to circulate on social media. Lovers & Friends was set to feature an impressive if not impossible set of headliners for a 2020 festival: Lauryn Hill, TLC, and Usher, Lil Jon, and Ludacris. Further down the bill was a flurry of artists about 20 years removed from their heyday: Sean Paul, Ja Rule, Nelly, Eve, Twista, Cam’ron, Trina, Foxy Brown, and many more.
Note – had an interesting discussion about Lovers & Friends with a few people via my new Community number. I’ll be using the number more often for stuff like this! To get the next set of questions, click here or text me at 415-234-3074.
The Rise of Griselda
When Buffalo normally gets mentioned in the pop culture ethos, it’s because Buffalo Bills fans are wildin’ at a tailgate. When we normally hear today’s artists do 90s style hip-hop, it’s to pay a brief homage, not to legitimately pursue the path. This makes the rise of Griselda—a Buffalo hip-hop crew with an iconic boom bap sound— one of the more intriguing stories in rap.
There are three pillars to trio’s run: audience, media, and white space. Let’s break them down:
In a 2019 interview with okayplayer, group member Benny the Butcher explained how Griselda started in merchandise:
Before Griselda was a record label, it was a clothing brand. [founding member Westside Gunn] was already doing clothes and thinking of getting back into again. He had done some music before too. Everything is built on authenticity. Griselda is a movement. It’s cultural, it’s raw, and hard music.
That clothing brand translated to an expansive merchandise offering for each artist in the trio and as a whole. The group sells vinyl records for $100, which are a hit with fans. Nipsey Hussle would be proud to see his $100 mixtape strategy take a new form.
Here’s Conway the Machine, the third member of Griselda, in a recent NPR interview:
I mean middle America and all over the world — tattooing our logos and faces and s*** on they skin. Painting murals all over the country, all over the world, graf artists and all that. People f****** with the merch, buying all the merch up, selling out the shows and staying around for an hour or two after just to get a flick. Get they vinyl signed. The vinyl selling out in five minutes. We ain’t really seen nothing like that since the [Wu Tang Clan].
Griselda’s aware that its music isn’t for everyone, but the group takes pride in building outside the traditional system. Also, their merch play is much more aligned with their vibe. These rappers aren’t dressed like most rappers that drop merch today, so that gives them a leg up.
That aesthetic ties into their music. Their rapping style is a throwback to yesteryear. When ol’ heads complain about today’s hip-hop, they reminisce about acts like Westside Gunn. This gives them an ironic Blue Ocean strategy in today’s landscape. I wrote briefly about this with DaBaby a few months back:
Part of DaBaby’s attraction is the lane he’s carved out. Despite all his antics, the 27-year-old demonstrated his talent as a rapper’s rapper. Rappers who actually spit bars have fallen to the wayside in the mainstream. Hip-hop is as cyclical as any other genre, and DaBaby’s fast-paced flow sets him apart in the southern-hip-hop market. Twenty years ago, rappers like DaBaby were a dime a dozen. He could have easily been a No Limit solider jumpin’ on gold tanks or a Hot Boy standing alongside Weezy F. Baby. But he’s a rarer find in today’s game.
Has RAPPIN’ rappin’ become a blue ocean strategy in modern hip-hop? I won’t go that far. It’s not unexplored by any means. But DaBaby does get to set some parameters in today’s game. His high demand lets him name his price, knowing that other rappers will pay for the unique value-add.
If I could revise this post, I don’t think DaBaby is truly a rapper’s rapper. The Griselda boys are better examples. The limited supply makes the rappers more attractive.
Griselda is a kindred spirit for rap’s ol’ heads, who still control most of mainstream hip-hop media. The crew gets recognition from Charlamagne Tha God, Joe Budden, Sway, and others. This gives them a better chance at coverage than say, an equally popular rapper from Atlanta that has a melodic flow over trap beats. The group has also gotten several co-signs from Jay Z (via a management deal with Roc Nation), 50 Cent, Eminem, Wu-Tang, Drake, and many more. These cosigns add to the coverage they get from mainstream media that already loves them.
One of the most telling lines from the group came from the same NPR interview I referenced:
You know, people thought this lifestyle couldn’t be popular. You had to have the radio hit. You had to have the song in the club. And we showing you that you don’t. We look great. We live great. Our families is eating. Everybody have a great life off of street rap and boom bap. Not disrespecting nobody, but it’s a lot of people that rap on boom bap that live with they mother.
Griselda’s WWCD album reportedly sold less than 10,000 copies in its first week. In their defense, there were no bundles or physical copies sold. All streaming. They also perform at relatively small concert venues. They split the money three ways and are still living a comfortable life. This should be reassurance to those convinced that Travis Scott’s approach, which I wrote about earlier this week, is the only way to truly make it in hip-hop today.