Editor: Tef Poe is an artist from St. Louis City. Through powerful imagery and complicated honesty, he has earned a reputation as one of the best rappers telling the story of St. Louis, which is about much more than one place. Poe has been featured in music publications such as XXL and Urb Magazine. His project The Hero Killer was released on January 21 and will be followed up by a full-length with DJ Burn One entitled Cheer For The Villain. Follow him on twitter @tefpoe. Get The Hero Killer here.
I'm going to say some things in this article that may hurt a few feelings, but if you listen and pay attention you'll learn something, I promise.
I've honestly grown to the point where I hate writing articles that consist of pointers given to other artists. Something about it just makes me feel slightly cornball-ish. I'm not an industry titan; I'm still learning the ropes and figuring out certain things about the grind myself. I feel like one too many rappers sincerely expect someone to figure it out for them, rather than figuring it out for themselves by committing to research through the trial-and-error process. Education really is the key, and you just have to put yourself in a position to learn the game.
Over the course of the last few months I've tried to give away some golden nuggets. I know for a fact some of these tactics work, because I've used them myself and reaped the benefits they've produced. If you're making music for the sole purpose of obtaining a massive radio hit, you are, in fact, hustling backwards. I mean, this works for some artists, but for the most part this is not how you build a fanbase whatsoever. I'm not saying you shouldn't attempt to create a smash record for the radio; I'm simply saying that, initially, this can't be your primary objective. People don't become fans of your work through one song. This isn't 1993, and even the artists you assume are one-hit wonders or "radio" rappers have a track record that has allowed them to build a fanbase and nurture it outside of the radio. The truth is, thousands of dollars go into promoting a song via the radio. Most artists hire companies that specialize in securing these spins. There are some grassroots movements that end up growing wings on their own, but more than likely you don't have the talent or hustle behind you to share this unlikely fate.
I've witnessed artists like Saint Orleans grind it out on a person-by-person basis in a way that did not consist of spamming his music. Artists like Saint O. don't need radio to exist, and without its influence their core fanbase would still support them. Being on the radio is an added pro for Saint O., but he would exist without it, and he didn't harass us into liking him. I see rappers on social networks spamming and borderline harassing people nonstop -- in 2013 there's absolutely too much material floating around online for this approach to work.
I'm sure at this point you want to know what actually does work. The truth is, there's no solidified formula, but a few things are tried-and-true sure shots. Being a genuinely interesting person outside of your music always works better than anything under the sun in terms of pushing your brand and exposing it to new listeners. This alone is part of the reason I write this weekly column; I use this format as a platform to speak to potential music lovers. I try to show them I'm a real person with real concerns and a sense of humor. I strongly believe genuinely being yourself works, for the most part.
I remember a relatively unknown genius of a rapper named January Elle approached me and my friend Nate on the street. He gave us a copy of his CD and kept on pushing. We left the CD on the floor of Nate's car for almost the entire summer. We finally popped it in one morning while sitting outside of Black Spade's house. It was 4 a.m. according to the clock, and for some reason this music sounded so amazing Nate took it upon himself to find January Elle (back then he was named Jaunuary Blaq) the next day. We became friends with him through this encounter and forever will remain fans of his music on some level.
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