Samples

Major Disappointments
Last month, a member of the B.U.M.S. was spotted waiting dejectedly in the rain for an AC Transit bus, a poster for his rap group's Priority debut behind him. The story of an alternarock band signing the dotted line only to be mistreated and/or dropped by a major label has long been a cliche, but now that same scenario is increasingly prevalent in hip hop. With Bay Area artists becoming prime fodder for the major label signing glut, a slew of local acts have recently seen their dreams go bust.

Though Souls of Mischief caused a stir with their Jive debut, '93 'Til Infinity, the follow-up release was long delayed. "I knew we were in trouble," says Souls manager Damien "Domino" Siguenza, "when just the day after our record [No Man's Land] came out, Jive President Barry Weiss told me, 'As far as we're concerned, the album is dead.' " Understandably bitter, Siguenza, who also manages fellow Hieroglyphics crew-men Casual and Extra Prolific (both prematurely dropped by Jive), says it was "set to fail from the start," claiming that Weiss based his decision on a response someone gave him to the single "Rock It Like That" (which got a good review in The Source). "They didn't even give the video to anyone on time," Siguenza says. "They did all these things so the single would fail, and then they tell me, 'Oh well, it's not happening.' " Jive just announced that there will be no second single from the album, usually an indicator that an act is about to be dropped. At press time, Weiss was not returning calls.

Other local groups, like the Coup and Clever Jeff, have similar tales to tell. "EMI messed up. They let our album Genocide and Juice just sit there on the shelves. They didn't promote it at all," says E-Roc of the Coup, who found themselves without distribution when EMI severed ties with their label, Wild Pitch, earlier this year. Last summer, former Wild Pitch VP MC Serch told Samples that though he thought the Coup "were ready to blow up," Bay Area promotion "could have been stronger" for the critically acclaimed record. "I knew shit was fucked when me and Stu [Fineman] roped in 35 stations to play them and EMI staff got three," he says.

"I don't believe that there are platinum records," says the hip-hop/jazz-flavored Clever Jeff. "There's just platinum promotion." He signed a seven-album deal with Qwest/Warner Bros. only to be abruptly dropped after just one release. "I was a tax write-off," Jeff complains. "Basically they broke their promise to me. ... They never had a record-release party for me, but they had my posters in the back streets of Emeryville where no one would see them."

Of course, label priorities like Noo Trybe's the Luniz get the financial backing to make things happen. Daraka Shaheed of Vallejo indie Young Black Brotha Records negotiated attractive Atlantic deals for both Ray Luv and Young Lay. "[The majors] can take your record worldwide," Shaheed says. "But if your product just doesn't hit, if the streets aren't feeling it, it's not their fault." Like most local industry veterans, he recommends the alternative independent route -- at least initially -- citing successful Jive artists the Click as an example. They built their own regional fan base on Sick Wid' It records, which lent them negotiating power and ensured strong sales no matter how light their promotion. "When an artist signs with a major, they assume that their success is guaranteed," Shaheed says. "False hopes are understandable, but you must remember that it's a gamble, a gamble for both parties."

By Billy Jam

 
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