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Labels to online: the changing landscape of the rap industry

Labels to online: the changing landscape of the rap industry

Florida-based rapper Hard Target may not be a household name, but he has toured with the self-proclaimed Macklemore of the Czech Republic.

This international reach did not happen overnight. Hard Target, whose real name is Ryan Fleming, started his rap career by playing small venues in his hometown of Spring Hill, Florida.

“I want people to understand, like at the end of the day, I came from the open mic, “ said the 29-year-old.


Florida-based rapper Hard Target performs at a packed venue. (courtesy of Ryan Fleming)

Target earned credit by dominating rap battles, but he also caught the attention of Marpo, a well-known rapper in Prague, who is also 29. The unexpected duo connected on the Internet.

Target is from a breed of rappers who are finding more inventive ways to get their unique voice and point-of-view heard. They do not need to depend on major record labels to build their careers.

“Artists like myself, most artists, we’re going to just go grassroots and build it from the ground up,” said Chris Carpenter, a 36-year-old rapper who goes by SeeFor Yourself or C4. “Find our niche market, and there are so many different avenues.”

Rapper SeeFor Yourself.  Based in Riverside, California. (photo courtesy of Chris Carpenter)

Rapper SeeFor Yourself. Based in Riverside, California. (photo courtesy of Chris Carpenter)

The Internet is one of the biggest avenues.

“I met him (Hard Target) through internet, through SoundClick,” said Marpo, who connected with Target nine years ago. “I heard (a) couple of his songs and I was like, ‘He’s really good, so it would be cool to get him on a song.’  So I wrote him and he said, ‘Yeah, why not?’”

SoundClick is a website for uploading music. Marpo was looking for people he could feature on his next album and he liked Target.

“He can sing and not a lot of rappers, especially in the Czech Republic, can sing,” Marpo said.

Rapper Marpo from the Czech Republic. (courtesy of Otakar Petrina)

Rapper Marpo from the Czech Republic. (courtesy of Otakar Petrina)

Today Target is with a small label called Blackedout Records, but along with Marpo he is a member of Trouble Gang, a group with several members from both the Czech Republic and United States. It’s a prime example of how the Internet breaks down cultural and geographical barriers in the music industry.

C4, who grew up in Killeen, Texas but is an established rapper in Riverside, California, also uses the Internet to steer his career and produce the type of music he wants to make. He uses TuneCore, an online distributor, to publish his music. He will be releasing an album independently this January through TuneCore called Emotional Rollercoaster.

“You just really have to find your lane and create what you want to make, so being an independent artist allows you to do that,” C4 said.

He said having the support of a major label can be great but, “They’re not doing artist development…and it’s going to be radio singles.”

Both Marpo and Target have had their challenges with producing radio hits.

“I just got drained trying to make that radio hit for everyone,” Target said. “I got tired of trying to… make that club song and I just got to the point I was done making music.”

This was in 2010. Target’s daughter was 2-years-old, and he supported his family and music making as a freelance graphic designer. Even though he felt defeated, his passion for music prevailed and he released a song called “Down a Road,” which currently has over 600,000 views on YouTube.

Marpo, born Otakar Petřina, was born and raised in Prague, and even though he is well known in the Czech Republic’s music industry he still cannot get his music played on the radio.

“I don’t need radios to play my sh*t, “ Marpo said. “And they don’t play me, and we don’t need it because we pack clubs.”

Marpo comes from a deep music background. He said his father is one of the top guitar players in the Czech Republic. As an individual Marpo is more recognized as a rapper, but he is also the drummer of a popular Czech rock band called Chinaski.

Marpo said his rap music is not played on the radio in the Czech Republic, because music that does not have positive lyrics or sounds like a pop song is banned.

Marpo said he released two records with Universe Music, but has had a better experience being independent.

“I got a major deal and I was so happy about it but then I realized it’s just (a) bunch of bullsh*t…they tell you how you got to do it…people that doesn’t know nothing about music,” Marpo said.

Marpo also has impressive YouTube stats. His video for the song “Emma,” which features Target has over 1.5 million views. “Emma” is a song Marpo dedicated to his 2-year-old daughter.

C4 is about to release a video on YouTube and other online venues with a renowned rap artist who was signed to one of the biggest labels of all, Bad Boy Records.

Artimus Irvin, whose stage name is Dr. Stank, signed to Bad Boy in the late 90s with a group called FUNC JUNK. He said they were the first west coast act to sign to Bad Boy.

“I wish I had this great story but I don’t,” said Dr. Stank. “Basically we were just signed for like a year. We didn’t go out to New York or anything like that. We were just on the label.”

Now the 40-year-old who said his music is “hip-hop with a certain funkiness,” just made his first music video in his career. The song for the video is called “Turn That Sh*t Up” and will be released later this month.

SeeFor Yourself and Dr. Stank on set for music video "Turn That Sh*t Up." (courtesy of Chris Carpenter)

SeeFor Yourself and Dr. Stank on set for music video “Turn That Sh*t Up.” (courtesy of Chris Carpenter)

Dr. Stank has been in the rap game long enough to know and have experienced the changes in the industry.

“(Today) You can download a program, record an album in your room and then put it out to the world,” Dr. Stank said. “Back then it was like we were knocking on doors, like literally knocking on record labels’ doors.”



About Sydney Lawson

Sydney Lawson's passion for television began after college when she was a national spokesperson for the Got Milk? Campaign and she hopes to have a career in broadcast journalism covering features and entertainment.

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