A little over a decade ago, 50 Cent caught the eye of Eminem with the independent album Guess Who’s Back? 50 released mixtape after mixtape of himself and his G-Unit crew rapping over popular beats, raising his profile before he dropped his major label debut in 2003. Following the single “Wanksta” off the 8 Mile soundtrack, and complete with a Dr. Dre production credit when those still happened, 50 put out “In da Club” leading up to the release of Get Rich or Die Tryin’, his now 8x platinum album. But the record industry has changed since then, and it’s apparent as ever with the news that 50 Cent is leaving Shady/Aftermath and Interscope Records.
50 Cent has been falling from musical relevance since 2007, when his third major label record, Curtis, was released on the same day as Kanye West’s Graduation, as epitomized by the cover the two rappers shared on Rolling Stone magazine. Not coincidentally, the music business has been in a free fall since those records came out (as well as the larger economy), with CD sales dropping 15 percent from the previous year 2006, and pretty much everything trending downward since the invention of Napster. 50 has been versatile though, with his big Vitamin Water endorsement deal after his G-Unit Reebok sneakers made him a reported $80 million, and has recently been pushing his headphone company SMS Audio.
The last official album 50 Cent released was 2009′s Before I Self Destruct. It was originally due out in 2007, but got pushed to 2008 and eventually the following year before it finally hit shelves. Since then, 50 has put out quality mixtapes straight to the internet like The Big 10 and The Lost Tape with DJ Drama, as well as an independent album called 5 (Murder by Numbers). On top of that, he’s put out enough loosies to make up a surprisingly good compilation. As an individual who wasn’t a fan of 2005′s The Massacre, I think his best music has always been put out through ways other than major labels (besdies GRODT of course, and the soundtrack to the film of the same name).
In an interview with Forbes magazine since the split with Interscope, 50 insinuated he was more comfortable micro-managing his own career rather than leaving it up to suits. The article also indicates that 50 is still tied to Interscope for “distribution and support,” but it becomes clearer and clearer that the major label has nothing to offer an artist like 50 Cent. In the past year alone, Jay-Z has put out an album through a cell phone, Kanye used his own unheard-of minimal and maximal marketing, and Beyoncé silently put her album on iTunes with videos and all. Numerous artists are using Radiohead’s pay-what-you-want scale for albums, and with the 360° deals of companies owning everything an artist does being much worse than they originally seemed, there’s not much major labels can offer anymore. Look no further than the completely lackluster rollouts of albums by ScHoolboy Q and Rick Ross.
In an interview with Vlad TV last year, Nelly made a compelling case for Chief Keef, someone who became wildly popular without a major record label even being aware of him, to not sign with a label at all. He said that hypothetically the best thing for Keef to do is put out mixtapes, set up a deal with iTunes to drop singles himself, and tour. With venues for music like iTunes or Spotify netting artists either seven cents a download or thousandths of a penny for a stream, it makes much more sense for artists to own as much of their art as possible. Obviously each artist is different in the way they market themselves, but Twitter and Tumblr (and kind of Facebook) are the types of media that do much better when run by the artists themselves. Finding music blogs to post a song takes absolutely no effort if the fan base is already retweeting and reblogging, and any artist trying to get on Complex or Fader or whatever won’t bring enough clicks to make it worth it. A rapper faking a New York Times article pays bigger dividends than actually being featured in the New York Times.
Whether or not 50 has a great album in the tank is up in the air (I would probably bet against it if using my own money). But there’s very little use for major labels if an artist has an end game past getting a big advance check. Royalties, likeness, answering to someone else, and deciding when music drops should not be in Steve Berman’s hands when Interscope can’t do anything 50 already can. I would venture Dr. Dre, with all of his business savvy, would find another way to release Detox if he were indeed more interested in putting out music than selling headphones.
50 Cent has two upcoming albums. Animal Ambition is due out June 3 and Street King Immortal is due out later in the year.
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