Hey. Thanks for everyone who has shared and posted yesterday’s article on the blog era in hip-hop.
It feels weird to write about any hip-hop business news with everything happening in the U.S. right now. Yesterday, I shared a link to the Minnesota Freedom Fund, which fights to bail out protestors and end the cash bail system. If interested, there’s also a Louisville Community Bail Fund in light of Breonna Taylor’s murder.
There have been some interesting developments in music and entertainment though. Forbes backtracked on Kylie Jenner’s billionaire status. She reportedly fudged the numbers. Her “true” net worth is $900 million. Can’t say I’m surprised. I’ve shared my reservations about the Forbes list net worth calculations here and here.
Today’s member update is brief. It’s an analysis of the rising opportunity in Africa and the hopes that the global music industry gets it right.
Let’s Hope the Music Industry Gets ‘Def Jam Africa’ Right
From The Hollywood Reporter:
A little more than half a year after launching Def Jam South East Asia, Universal Music Group announced Def Jam Africa, a new division based in Johannesburg, South Africa, and Lagos, Nigeria, that will focus on “hip-hop, Afrobeats and trap talent in Africa” and report to Universal Music Sub-Saharan Africa & South Africa managing director Sipho Dlamini.
Over the past few years, the major labels have invested more aggressively in Africa — both to market streaming services and, especially, to sign talent — and Universal now has offices in South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya, the Ivory Coast, Cameroon, Senegal and Morocco…
… “What Def Jam Africa allows us to do is create an aspirational label. If a kid is making hip-hop, we want him to say, ‘I want to sign to Def Jam Africa.'”
When the deal was first announced, I tweeted “Def Jam is no longer a force, but its legacy matters. Rising artists will be inspired by the infrastructure expansion, even if they don’t sign with Def Jam Africa.”
It’s the same sentiment. Def Jam Africa signals identity and focus. There are too many genres of music for everything to fall under the wide umbrella of Universal. Def Jam’s presence will strengthen the ecosystem. Other labels, incubators, and companies will be stronger as a result.
The move is timely too. Apple Music has been active in Africa this past month. It’s expanding its streaming service into 25 African countries. Apple’s artist services company Platoon is offering African artists advances and healthcare. This past week, Apple Music announced its first African radio show, ‘Africa Now Radio with Cuppy.’ It’s great to see initiatives move forward despite the global crises.
It’s exciting, but there’s room for skepticism. The opportunities are tremendous, but will the industry get it right?
Here’s what I wrote last November in The Globalization of Hip-Hop, Part II:
The rise of Afrobeats is reminiscent of dancehall music’s rise twenty years ago. As a Jamaican, it was dope to see Sean Paul and Beenie Man become stars on the global stage. Every A-List rapper wanted a reggae fusion collaboration. But as The Fader called out, dancehall’s moment came and went because the music industry put the cart before the horse:
“Acts like Tanto Metro & Devonte and Elephant Man had major label deals that didn’t yield the global longevity they implicitly promised… How, for instance, do you bolster record sales with concerts, and ramp up radio spins with tried-and-true station visits, if the artist can’t get a US visa?… Historically, I’ve watched a lot of things stall when you have songs and records that get big to a point and then you’re trying to push them in the Midwest or certain places in the South.”
Regulatory factors were overlooked. Contingency plans were nonexistent. There were no local partnerships to address these solvable issues. Instead of ‘Def Jam Jamaica,’ we got Def Jam Vendetta.
The industry has surely learned from those mistakes. But Def Jam “America” has its own issues to sort out.
The label drifted from its hip-hop roots when it signed Justin Bieber and Alessia Cara under Steve Bartels’ leadership. It recently parted ways with Paul Rosenberg after a two-year stint and is still in search of a new leader. Recent initiatives like Rap Camp have had marginal success. Let’s hope Def jam African is managed better than Def Jam America.
Universal Music Group needs to ensure that each region gets the attention it deserves. It needs a detailed plan that looks at specific regions and countries. What’s hot in Accra may not be what’s hot in Nairobi. Remember, most U.S. regions rose to power in hip-hop through grounds-up work. That exactly how the current wave of African regions rose up. The top-down support needs to amplify what’s there and lay the infrastructure down for stability. This is a long game move.
There’s a lot of opportunity in Africa beyond Def Jam. Let’s hope that the Western world’s influence does it right. If successful, there will need to be more than Def Jam Africa. We’ll need Def Jam Ghana, Kenya, Cameroon, South Africa, Senegal and so on.