Remember when all anyone could talk about was whether or not Drake would sign a major deal? Sure, that was two whole years ago, which means it might as well have been 20, but if you think back real hard maybe you’ll remember that when the buzz surrounding Drake’s free Internet mixtape So Far Gone was loud enough to shake the walls at every major label, the question surrounding Drake’s next move wasn’t just where would he sign, but would he sign at all? In the end, of course, Drake signed to Universal/Young Money/Cash Money and the rest is well, YMCMB, b****! (Or something like that.)
The recent rise of Odd Future/OFWGKTA from Southern California skate rap punks to Billboard Magazine cover boys didn’t have quite the undeniable force of Drake’s movement, but it has been just as loud, if not louder. And last week’s Billboard look is sure to only bring more noise. But as disruptive as OFWGKTA is as both a movement and a collective – Who’s in the group, exactly? Who does what? What’s an Earl Sweatshirt? – so far they’ve proven reluctant to exist completely outside the system they came in so seemingly ready to destroy. Front man Tyler the Creator recently signed a deal with XL Recordings and Mellow Hype has a deal with Fat Possum Records, best known as the home to blues rockers The Black Keys.
But with crooner Frank Ocean, Island Def Jam signee, Justin Bieber songwriter and OFWGKTA affiliate landing a review of his self-released LP, Nostalgia, Ultra, in the New York Times over the weekend, the question of who needs a deal and why is worth another look. Sure, Ocean has gotten work doing in-house writing at IDJ, but with Nostalgia, Ultra. now poised to take off, you have to wonder why a collective like OFWGKTA would ever need to sign a deal, or even a Wu-Tang-like federation of them (as they appear set to do)?
Artists have long complained about labels – stifling creativity, shelving albums, stealing money. Lupe Fiasco got into such a roe with Atlantic Records over his recent album, Lasers, that his fans staged a protest – “Fiasco Friday” – demanding the album’s release, last fall. Even more so than Drake, OFWGKTA proved the tools are there – it was their steady stream of self-produced music and videos, all released for free through Tumblr, broadcast on YouTube and publicized on Twitter – that set the stage for their Jimmy Fallon moment and their big Billboard break. Will the next big thing finally stand alone and capitalize?