Sacramento rappers need to think beyond the 916
Don’t create the hype?: Ever heard a local musician or rapper say, “I don’t want to make another Sacramento record”? Meaning: He or she wishes not to self-fund, because more often than not, impatience wins, and the artist ends up taking the DIY route, with no promotional team connected beyond Sacramento County lines.
Unfortunately, keeping to the 916 is the downfall of every great rap record born here, and few musicians extend beyond this city’s geographical boundaries. Even fewer earn a buzz that elevates them to a status of local icon.
Last year, 22-year-old rapper Chuuwee inked a deal with Amalgam Digital, an independent record label in Boston. The rapper and label initially released a mixtape and followed up with an album, Wild Style. The announcement was not Death Grips-level huge—few events are—but it still provided a rare moment of optimism for Sacramento hip-hop aficionados. Chuuwee has already been lauded by many as one of the finest in the city, and this deal seemed as though we were sending our golden-child representative to speak on our behalf to the rest of the world.
Unlike Death Grips, however, controversy has not bred hype for Chuuwee. He should be extolled as a West Coast Joey Badass, with an equally fluent gift of gab. Time in the studio with Large Professor—who worked on Nas’ Illmatic debut—should have garnered him bigger notoriety. Trips to the East Coast, however, never seemed to amount to more than a few radio freestyles. Meanwhile, Chuuwee’s former collaborator Lee Bannon, who produced Chuuwee’s 2010 Hot N’ Ready record, is currently in Brooklyn working with the actual Joey Badass, appearing alongside him on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon, and solidifying himself as one of the top producers for hire. A follow-up to Hot N’ Ready was recorded years ago, but still sits on a hard drive somewhere in Bannon’s archives.
This month, Chuuwee released Thrill, a free download bearing no Amalgam logo and featuring “ChiLL PiLL,” a track that airs out the rapper’s grievances with a label that’s “all in [his] wallet.” As a consequence, much of Thrill suffers from Chuuwee’s business frustrations. Prior to its release, Amalgam chief executive Next Anyextee publicly responded to Chuuwee’s social-media complaints with commentary about his signee’s lack of professionalism and money owed to the label. Neither party looks good, but the consequences of a bridge burned will always fall harder on the artist.
It’s good for Chuuwee that his dirty laundry falls short of the diva level Death Grips occupies by its tendency toward self-destructing contracts and canceling tour dates. And, Chuuwee also stands to benefit a great deal this month from a string of West Coast shows on which he’ll open for J.Lately and J.Good.
With that positive event on the horizon, Chuuwee needs to put his label differences and the sour indulgence of Thrill behind him. While flashes of greatness exist on Wild Style, each of his post-Hot N’ Ready releases have just felt like a mixtape. Rekindling a project with Bannon might be out of reach now, but he should look to the formula—one producer, one emcee—as a template for instilling cohesiveness in future projects he intends to categorize as full-length LPs
Long ago, Q-Tip laid out Industry Rule No. 4080: “Record company people are shady.” Heed the words always, since there’s never been a time in the history of the industry that it’s not been applicable. With those words, Q-Tip finalized hip-hop’s stance on greedy A&R reps.
Still, writing songs about an industry long recognized as shady is small-minded, like a “Sacramento record,” and we already need less of those.