Self-Contained Beats And Rhymes, And How (Why) I Turned Down a Major Label Record Deal
|By Amir Said (Sa'id)|
There's a familiar feeling that all unknown artists have. It's a feeling of hope—that one day, people will know and appreciate your music. For most, that hope dissolves, and for many reasons. Some artists are whack, but still troop it as if they will one day make it. Likewise, some artists are dope, but fail to ever seriously put in the proper effort. Then there are those artists who are dope and committed to the process, yet because of mitigating circumstances (music industry bullshit, jail time, lack of funds, no team support, wrong location, wrong time, frustration, etc.), they never quite get the level of recognition equal to their talent. Then there's my story.
My pursuit was perhaps best characterized by my commitment to music and
my extreme leeriness of the music industry (more specifically, the typical individuals that populate it). Unlike most people who even get close enough to sniff a major label record deal, I was never enamored by the whole major label system. In fact, even before I learned of some of their most oppressive and reprehensible practices, I viewed the major labels as a poorly ran entertainment cartel, one that was predicated upon cheap (indentured) labor, and mostly void of any sense of creative integrity. So for me, the goal was never to get with the major label system, but instead, to get as far away from it as I could.
In 1995, I had been making beats (on kind of a "committed" basis) for just about two years. Thing is, I was rhymin' before I started making beats. And, well, after the frustration of having to wait for other people to make beats for me to write to, I started making beats for myself. Although I was serious almost right from the start, I probably didn't develop a decent level of skill until 1999. Thing about that time frame is, unlike many cats today, who, the very same week that they download some music production software application or buy a beat machine, immediately call themselves a "producer," I had a reverence for the art of beatmaking that was instilled in me by the beatmakers who I looked up to and taught me. Therefore, I was constantly reminded by how much time and effort it would take to build a decent level of beatmaking skills.
By the end of 2000, it all began to come together for me. My beatmaking skills had finally caught up with my rhyming skills, and within months, I would make "Milk," the song that would give me my first true level of recognition. In 2001, a very close friend of mine, Tamika "Tammy" Butler, was working at Daddy's House Recording Studio (Bad Boy's recording home). Tammy regularly came in direct contact with various beatmakers (producers), rappers, and other music professionals, so naturally, I put together a CD for her to pass on to those individuals who she and I thought might receive my music well. The CD was hastily put together, nothing fancy at all (a trait that sticks with me to this day), and aside from "Milk," it only included two other songs, can't remember which two, but they're in my music "vault."
Because I scrutinized (perhaps overly) who Tammy gave the CD to, she would call me from the studio, tell me that "so-and-so" was there, then ask if it was OK to let them hear my CD. Ironically, I'd say no. But not because I thought that my music wasn't good enough. On the contrary, I knew my music was good enough. However, I had strong concerns about who exactly heard it. Well, as it was bound to perhaps happen, Tammy, overrode my "no," and let a couple of people hear my CD that I asked her not to.
First, DJ Tony Touch! So I'm at home, working on some beats, and Tammy calls. She tells me that not only did she let DJ Tony Touch hear my CD (against my wishes), but that she let him "hold" the actual CD! Before I could erupt with anger, she goes on to tell me that DJ Tony Touch told her to tell me that my song, "Milk is a MONSTER!" and that he would be placing it on his upcoming mixtape. Now dig it, this was pivotal news for several reasons: (1) this was the first time that a known and respected hip hop/rap music insider had certified my music; (2) that he was willing to place my song on his mixtape (free of charge), meant that he really did believe it was a monster; and (3) DJ Tony Touch's reaction was the exact sort of reaction that I anticipated (hoped for) from a respected hip hop/rap insider. Taking a cue from DJ Tony Touch's co-sign, I didn't bother to wait for any more "approvals," instead, I immediately went to work and ripped off ten new songs. Together with "Milk" these songs would become my first album, Soul Review.
Several months after Soul Review had been out, catching some street buzz in New York (mostly in Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx), I get a call from Marcus Logan, then VP of Marketing at Arista/Star Trak Entertainment. After a series of phone conferences, Logan informs me that he's worked up three "deals": (1) An album deal with Arista; (2) a single deal with Motown; and (3) a "development" deal with Artist Direct that would land significant upfront money. Rather than pursue any of those opportunities presented to me, I told Marcus Logan that I no longer was interested in landing a major label deal. Thus, I opted for a path of my own, an "independent" path. After one last phone conference, in which Logan tried to tell me that I was making a big mistake, and in which I thanked him for all that he done and tried to do for me, I walked away from it all, choosing instead, to flip my music in my own way. After that, Marcus Logan and I never spoke again. And I went on to sell out every single copy of my album, without any marketing team or major label backing.
Two years later, Tammy met with Logan in his office. She presented him with a copy of the Third Edition of my book, The BeatTips Manual. Thing is, because he had sincerely believed in me and my music, I had wanted to repay him by including him with my BeatTips projects. However, whether he had been put off by me turning down the offers that he had worked to get for me, or he had simply found no merit in what I was doing, he showed little interest in being involved...
Oh, and there's one more thing about this time. Tammy would again eventually, against my wishes, give a copy of Soul Review to someone. Perhaps because I'd gotten mad at her for letting some people hear the early version of the album, or maybe because she simply forgot, whatever the case, it wasn't until three years later (around 2004) that she told me that Just Blaze had told her to tell me to "give him a call!" A missed opportunity? Perhaps. Tammy certainly thinks so. In fact, she still feels bad about not immediately relaying his message to me. But funny how things turn out, though. Two weeks ago, on a Saturday night, Just and I spoke...inside of his new studio. It was a private meeting we both agreed to, in which we discussed things that held lots of promise for the both of us. I had called him the Friday night before. It wasn't the first call. And it probably won't be the last.
And with that, here's "Milk," the song that landed me a major label record deal, and in hindsight, really kicked off a lot for me...
Sa'id - "Milk," from the album Soul Review