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Kendrick Lamar and the Future of pgLang
Kendrick Lamar always seemed more interested in the art than the business. He earned a Pulitzer Prize before he ever topped a Forbes list. You’ll learn more about him from the Library of Congress than from a Bloomberg Terminal. He respects hip-hop’s moguls but has never been about that life himself.
But when he launched pgLang in 2020, it felt like a potential turning point. After 17 years under Top Dawg Entertainment, he was ready to branch out on his own with business partner—and former TDE partner— Dave Free. pgLang is now his hub for creators. His record label. Every move since then, including the release of his final TDE album, Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers, is the sign of an artist who wants ownership and the benefits that come with it. But how far is he willing to go?
The corporations are all in on Kendrick
Kendrick’s Big Steppers Tour was announced in collaboration with Cash App. The digital payments company is offering a presale to customers who have the Cash Card debit card, which makes perfect sense.
For years, exclusive pre-sales concert tickets went to American Express or Visa cardholders. Those perks made sense when the concert pre-sale is for tickets to a Broadway show or a Philharmonic symphony. The demographics match. But for a hip-hop concert? It always felt like a stretch.
Why should rappers reward the people who stack frequent flyer miles when they could instead reward Cash App users who are much more likely to be hip-hop fans! Block, Cash App’s parent company, has benefited greatly from hip-hop culture, from Tidal to Cash App Studios, and wants in.
This tour will also be sponsored by Amazon Music, which has live-streamed a growing number of hip-hop concerts. In the past year, the company has done two shows with Tyler, The Creator, Kanye West and Drake’s benefit concert, Latto, Summer Walker, The Weeknd, the Dreamville Festival, and more. Plus, Amazon now has exclusive shows on Amp, its livestream audio app, with Joe Budden, DJ Akademiks, Wayno, and more.
Amazon Music likely saw the success Apple Music had by broadcasting both Verzuz and Ye’s listening parties, and wanted in. Both companies operate somewhat similarly in music. They don’t need their music content to be profitable. As long as it helps attract more customers to Prime, AWS, or AirPod sales, then their model works. They would love to partner with any superstar, especially someone of Kendrick’s caliber.
The opportunity to bankroll pgLang
Kendrick clearly wants to put pgLang on the map. He’s going on tour with his cousin Baby Keem and Tanna Leone, the only other two other artists signed to pgLang. But how far does he want to take this company? Is this venture a vehicle so he can own, earn, and create on his terms? Or is he building an empire?
If he goes the empire route, then Big Tech can bankroll his future endeavors. Amazon and Cash App would love to be the Live Nation to his Roc Nation.
But Kendrick’s not the Jay Z type. Jay is a capitalist who owns all the praise and criticism that comes with it. If Jay Z became the majority owner of an NFL or NBA team in the next 10 years, we wouldn’t be surprised! Most of us expect it to happen.
Meanwhile, Kendrick spends his money like a man of the people. He’s been called cheap for buying a $500,000 house and Toyota Camry for his sister. He’s invested in a few startups, like Triller and EngineEars, but he’s done far more in real estate than startups. Kendrick operates more like the “$1.58 millionaires” who make up most of the U.S. wealthy class. If we found out that he owns a car wash and a parking lot in Compton, no one would be surprised.
The beauty of ownership is that it can look several different ways. If Kendrick wants to build pgLang into a successful lifestyle business for his cousin and labelmates, he can. He can distribute his thoughts and music through his Windows 95-style oklama.com website and still create a buzz. He still has his publishing deal with Universal Music Publishing Group. He’ll find the best of both worlds.
If he ever changes his mind and wants to level up, the big tech companies are waiting to help him make that happen. They know that it’s harder than ever for newer artists to reach the same popularity as artist like Kendrick who rose to fame before streaming took off. They are ready, but it’s up to Kendrick on what he’s willing to do next.