Editorial / Music

[Editorial]: Positioning, Perception, Timing – How To Make It In Hip-Hop

This piece was written by Ian Steinbach.

Someone is doing it better than you.

Right now, somewhere in the world, someone is doing the thing you do WAY better than you ever could. Good thing they are wallowing in complete obscurity.

At the same time, someone far worse than you at what you do is getting paid to do it. Someone has the job you want, and from a technical standpoint, you deserve it more.

Why is this so? Why are the most qualified people not the ones with the jobs? Why don’t the best rappers make it? I see people, friends even, asking themselves these questions on a regular basis.

The answer is simple.

Skill isn’t everything.

People in the Boston hip-hop community have this mentality about being best. They want to be the best in Boston, they want to be the best in New England, in America, in the world. Many of us dream of one day going global, and why shouldn’t we? These are good dreams to have.

The problem here is that the focus is wrong. Bars aren’t everything, nor are rhyme schemes, nor metaphors. There are innumerable talented spitters out there. I’m sure the nastiest rapper in America is somewhere in the Midwest right now, alone in a tiny apartment, far away from any cypher or studio. Things tend to work out that way.

Having established that skill isn’t everything, what DOES matter?

Positioning.

Perception.

Timing.

What’s your niche? Are you boom-bap? Turn up? Are you on some trippy third eye ish? OK, you’ve figured out your positioning. Identify who listens to your style of hip-hop, and find a way to appeal to them. Do whatever it takes to make your music reach them… except spam. Don’t spam. Start the conversation with a “Hey, how are you? How’ve you been?” Five minutes of conversation will greatly increase the chances someone will listen to you when you try to share your work. Want to establish your position in other cities? Find artists and producers from those cities, and collaborate with them on a mutual respect tip – if you make quality work together, THEY will want to spread YOUR WORK for you. In turn, you’ll be spreading their work as well – it’s a symbiotic relationship.

Once you’ve worked on your positioning and you are feeling better about your spot in the hip-hop scene as a whole, a new question arises. What is your perception like? What do people think of you? Are you that nice guy who supports at every event? Are you the jerk who spams his music and forgets faces after meeting them? These things not only matter on the local tip, but the global one as well. If you have some two-year-old video of yourself rapping in a bad cypher, with bad audio/video quality, you might want to consider taking that down. You might have had label reps looking into you without you even knowing it – are you comfortable with them seeing EVERY representation of you available online?

ONLY LET THEM SEE WHAT YOU WANT THEM TO SEE.

Once you have control of your own positioning as well as the public’s perception of yourself, you are prepared to release material. Don’t be that rapper who releases a single for no reason. When you go to release new music, ask yourself: “How will this track help me grow in a week? In a month? How does will this track affect perception of myself? Will it change my positioning?” When you release a single or project, people will want more if it is good. You need to be prepared to actually GO somewhere if your buzz starts to rise. This all comes down to timing. You should ALWAYS have unreleased quality material – someone’s buzz can rise and fall in a day.

Look at Joey Bada$$ – he released ‘1999’ and people went nuts. They wanted more. If Joey had been unprepared, it would have taken him awhile to get out another project – he could have lost a lot of his buzz if he’d taken too long with a followup. However, Joey had the Rejex tape – whether or not it was even assembled as a B-side tape from the get-go is irrelevant. Joey had more quality music in his back pocket, and he was able to release it and ride the buzz wave generated by his debut tape.

Joey was a few steps ahead…

We ALL need to be a few steps ahead.

Don’t have a plan for what you’ll do if your project blows up? Then why drop it?

If you can’t tell me who your fan base is or what kind of artists they listen to, then you don’t understand yourself as an artist.

If you can’t tell me how your fans would describe your personality/demeanor, then you don’t understand yourself as an artist.

If you can’t tell me what your week-by-week plans are for after the mixtape drop, then you simply aren’t prepared.

Positioning.

Perception.

Timing.

Learn these.

I’m a musician myself – I’ve been playing the drums a long time. So I know how badly you want to do it for the music. How you don’t want the business and planning to matter. How you want your music to be so good that it transcends business and marketing and goes directly into the hearts of your listeners. Sadly, this isn’t realistic. Kendrick Lamar is incredible… and we would not know his name if connected people hadn’t discovered him and decided to push his music.

Meet people. Network. Be personable. And when you get the right opportunity, you better be prepared.

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