Selling Out: An Alternative Definition
Selling Out Has Nothing To Do With Changing Styles
When 50 Cent dropped his debut album Get Rich Or Die Tryin in early 2003, he set the music industry ablaze. While 50 wasn't doing anything new, he quite frankly did it better than anyone ever did it. Gangsta rap was a couple decades old, but he was more gangsta than any other rapper. Diss tracks were around before rap, but his were colder. Bragaddocio was around before music, but he did it better.
I remember seeing the "In Da Club" music video walking into a varsity basketball game (yeah I was once a skinny basketball player). I saw Eminem and Dr Dre and stopped to watch. A few bars into one of the most dope club beats I'd ever heard, a ripped-as-fuck tatted-up dude dropped from the ceiling, pointed at the camera, and shouted, 'Go! Go! Go! Go! Go! Go! Go shawty, it's yo birthday. We gon party like it's yo birthday. We gon sip Bacardi like it's yo birthday. And you know we don't give a fuck it's not yo birthday!' Our team got our asses handed to us that game, but more importantly, I had been smacked in the face by the musical force that was 50 Cent. I must have listened to that album a hundred times that year.
A year later, I had MTV Music Videos on getting ready for school (for you young kids, MTV used to play music). Kanye West's "All Falls Down" came on. A female singer, a basic hip-hop beat, and an acoustic guitar loop accompanied a young woman receiving a bunch of cash from Kanye, who followed the young lady frantically trying to board a plane. Nothing spectacular. But Kanye's lyrics were more down-to-earth and real-to-life than that of any artist I'd heard since Bob Dylan. 'I'm so self-conscious...' What? A rapper admitting he was self-conscious? Preposterous. I didn't get too into Kanye's debut album when it came out, but have since listened to all of Kanye's music very very often.
Why am I bringing attention to two entertainers who don't really need any more attention than they already get? Just wait. I have a purpose.
A young white male growing up in rural America, I was very into metal music. It's what we played in the weight room and it got me pumped up for games. Listening to the angry, dark, sometimes depressing music of Staind, Nirvana, and Chevelle gave me an outlet when I thought no one understood how angry I was at the world and the people around me. I always wanted to join a band, but my friends were athletes and the one band in my school already had a lead singer (the only instrument I played was french horn *wah wah wah*). And while I did ghost write a song that helped my brother win the annual talent show, being a musician seemed out of reach for me.
When the talented realness that were 50 Cent and Kanye West came along, I gathered the courage and inspiration to start a career as a rapper. I know what you're thinking. Eminem was out before 50 and Yeezy, why didn't that get me going? To keep it 100, I didn't want to be a fake Slim Shady. Still don't. I love Eminem, but I hate being labeled even more.
I had a friend at the time who I played basketball with that recorded raps. I looked up to him, and turned to him for help getting into hip-hop. He showed me how to download beats off the internet, how to craft rhyme schemes, and even gave me some CDs with beats on them to freestyle over. I would record on a tape recorder and even made my own beats on a fancy keyboard I had. Honestly, my music sucked. I don't know why he didn't discourage me from making music. But even to this day, even though he has a wife and kid and has since stopped recording, he's the most supportive person in my life of my music.
Throughout the years, my rhymes and beats have slowly gotten better, then worse, then better again. You see, as you may know, being a musician is not a money maker for most people. Studies have shown that less than 5% of musicians earn a living off their music and almost a quarter actually lose money (http://www.dizzyjam.com/blog/#/article/155). While I'm lucky enough not to have lost too much money off my music, it definitely has not been a profitable venture monetarily.
But music has always been there for me as an outlet. When I've felt like my life was falling apart and no one understood me, I had music to turn to. Whether it be writing raps in class, singing sad songs into my cheap microphone, or crafting party anthems on my macbook, hip-hop has always been there since I picked it up almost 15 years ago. Most people don't understand why a white dude from a small town would want to be a rapper. Well, give me a band and I'll give that a try. I can sing, I can scream, I can write, and being in front of large crowds doesn't scare me. Oh, you don't have any connections? Me either. So stfu.
When you're young, they tell you to chase your dreams. Then you get older and they tell you to be realistic. Then you get even older and you wish you had chased your dreams. To any young kids, I'll tell you this. If you really want something, go for it. Just be ready for a lot of criticism and disappointment. Just reality.
Like with my relationships, I've been in and out of music many times. I've written fairly consistently, released quite a few mixtapes and albums, and even played a few shows. I'll spend a few months writing and recording, a few months promoting online and obsessively checking my videos and profiles, then give up out of stress and disappointment. Then I'll focus my energy on a more realistic career.
Which brings me to my final point. Since college, I've been in sales, selling anything from shoes to cell phones to mortgages and credit cards. While sales hasn't been incredibly lucrative, it's made me a hell of a lot more money than music. So my question to you is this: is it not more of a sell-out to give up your passion for money than it is to adapt your craft to make money off it? 50 and Kanye fans may bitch about them selling out to make money, but what would they say about Kyle the Broker who is an amazing musician but GAVE UP music for money? What if Prince (RIP) had gave up music to be a doctor? We may have had a great doctor, but we wouldn't have Purple Rain. Or what if Paul McCartney decided being a rockstar was unrealistic and decided to pursue a career as a teacher? No Beatles, no "Hey Jude", no "Penny Lane". Do you really think your favorite artist makes music solely for personal satisfaction and creative expression? Maybe so. I call bullshit.
Comment at will.
Questions & Answers
© 2017 Chad Allen