Industry Exposure: How The RIAA has helped damage East Coast hip hop
The RIAA is essentially the hired muscle of the Big 4 Record Labels. (EMI/SONY/WARNER/UNIVERSAL.)
In 2003, Hilary Rosen declared war on small independent music stores and mixtape dj’s, who the Major Labels believed were profiting from illegally bootlegged music. As a result, many of these independent music stores, such as the legendary Beat Street Records, had to close because their main source of income (compilations/mixtapes) were removed through various Cease & Desist Orders. Unfortunatley, they were unable to sustain a profit.
In 2007, mixtape DJ’s DJ Drama and Don Cannon were arrested on RICO charges. (RICO was designed to tackle organized crime, specifically The Mafia).
Now this was wrong on so many levels. But the funny thing is that DJ Drama is receiving these exclusives on behalf of (drum roll please) The Big 4 Labels. These labels have employees whose sole task is to create popularity and anticipation for an upcoming release.
Usually, the label will get in touch with DJ Drama and various DJ’s, send him some exclusives to put on his next mixtape, in the hope that it will create a buzz for a single/album. (This is usually someone from the marketing or PR department).
Mixtapes are an important form of promotion for an artist because they are usually a good form of grassroots marketing and buzz marketing.
So if the labels are giving the music to the DJ’s, how can they lobby the RIAA to prosecute them? They gave them authorized permission to use the music for promotional purposes.
How has this affected the East Coast Hip-Hop Scene?:
Well think about some of the artists who have emerged from the mixtape scene on NY in the past 10 years.
I could easily continue with that list. These guys would be nobodies if it wasnt for the mixtape DJ. The mixtape is an important foundation. Roc-a-fella was so successful because they had DJ Clue signed to them. He was the most popular mixtape DJ from mid 90’s to the dawn of the label. Beans needs promo? Throw him on a Clue tape. We just signed a new artist? Throw him on a Clue tape. This was a competitve advantage for Roc-a-Fella.
And then we have practical issues with the mixtape circuit. The RIAA have threatened DJ’s into not releasing mixtapes. Back in 2001, you had successive mixtapes. There was a Kayslay/Big Mike/Clue/Green Lantern/Whoo Kid/Envy/Sickamore mixtape at least every 7-14 days, just feeding the streets with music. Each DJ competing with each other, which was good for the consumer. Simple supply and demand. Some mixtape DJ’s went digital around 2002 and became even more influential. Mixtapes help to create brand loyalty.
With this avenue of promotion being restricted, the labels have made it harder for unsigned artists to get noticed. Even if the internet is good for viral marketing, you still need to filter and research your audience. You can’t just throw a track or video up and expect 1 million views.