“Selling out” is a phrase that is probably overused when discussing rappers: who gave in to the label, who made a radio song, etc. Is there any merit to this classification of saying someone “sold out?”
The term, “selling out,” gets tossed around quite a bit when talking about music. Whether it be claiming your bygone favorite rapper has sold out since his glory days, or maybe that a rapper has sold out right from the start and only cares about the money, the term gets thrown around very frequently. Just what does “selling out” entail, and why are those who are very interested in the art of music so disgusted by it?
“Selling out” can happen all at once, or it can be repeated behavior. Whether a rapper sells out on a song, a whole album, or for the rest of his career, it has happened to many a rapper. What really characterizes the “selling out” process is when the rapper sacrifices the integrity and quality of his work to appeal to a wider audience and to make more of a profit for himself. While I don’t mean to shame anyone for wanting to make more money, my issue with it is when the music is sacrificed in order to do so. I understand all rappers evolve and change their styles as their careers move forward, but there’s definitely a line between “selling out” and “evolving”, and it’s a line that any reputable rapper needs to approach very cautiously.
It is a very subjective thing to decide who has sold out in rap music, but I’ve developed a great rule of thumb to clarify things. I ask myself three questions about any given album, song, or feature: 1) Is the music in question trending on twitter, 2) Do people ages 16-24 who are fair-weather fans of rap music enjoy it/are for more familiar with it than that of the artist’s older work, and 3) Is the artist making far more money off of the music in question than that of their older music. Now, a yes to one or two of the questions definitely doesn’t garner the rapper the reputation of selling out, but if yes is answered to all three, then I go ahead with the assumption that the artist sold out on the project. It’s a pretty sure-fire three questions to ask, and helps clarify some grey areas when it comes to rappers emerging into the mainstream.
For example, let’s use Chance the Rapper’s Coloring Book. This is just my opinion on the mixtape and I know many people are very big fans of it, so don’t take my analysis too personally. I really do enjoy a handful of songs on the mixtape. Regardless, let’s apply the three questions.
The answer to #1 is absolutely yes. Coloring Book was a huge deal when it came out about a year ago, and was trending all over Twitter with people singing its praises. It really gained a lot of steam through social media and people tweeting and retweeting about it, and gave it a lot of attention that it otherwise would not have received had it not been for Twitter.
#2 is yes as well. While a lot of people in the rap community love Chance’s previous project, Acid Rap, other fair-weather fans of rap don’t enjoy it nearly as much as Coloring Book, or aren’t familiar with it at all. Coloring Book is far more catchy, and has the obvious gospel, feel-good vibe to it, which a bigger denomination of people enjoy opposed to his schizophrenic, off-kilter jazz atmosphere on Acid Rap. A whole lot more people who aren’t big into rap liked Coloring Book opposed to Acid Rap due to its more accessible, mainstream sound.
Question #3 is a big one with this project. The answer is yes again, and it really rubs me the wrong way here. While I do enjoy rappers making mixtapes so fans can enjoy their music for free, Chance did it in a very condescending way on Coloring Book. He made it more than clear as he shoved it down our throats again and again that this was his third mixtape and that it wasn’t a studio album, so therefore wouldn’t be sold. He went on to talk about it even more, as he clamored and clamored over the fact that it was a mixtape, not an album, but then he turned around and sold it to Apple Music for $500,000 without blinking an eye. He sold the rights to the album, excuse me, the “mixtape”, to Apple Music, so I’m not so sure it can even classify as a mixtape anymore, as people pay a monthly subscription for Apple Music so the music on here really isn’t free. This was a bit over-the-top on his part, and is why he gets a definite yes on #3.
The answers to these questions are all very subjective, so while I consider Chance to be selling out on Coloring Book, you may not at all. Either way, using this system helps me determine whether a rapper has sold out, and maybe it can help you too. All I’m asking is that when you look at any piece of music, think about it a little deeper before you rush to claim someone is selling out.