I don’t care if it’s Tech N9ne signing his name on a million Strangers’ titties or Def-i responding to every Facebook comment on his fan page’s timeline; working underground hip-hop artists on every level depend on the same thing for their survival. The support of their fans. And as a fan of hip-hop, it’s in your best interest to support the bejeezus out of every artist whose music you enjoy.
If you want your favorite underground hip-hop artists to make music, support their dreams.
But what’s “support” really mean? Here’s a bit of news that shouldn’t serve as a wake up call to too many of you: “liking” your favorite rapper’s page or favoriting their latest tweet is peanuts.
Truly supporting hip-hop art takes more work than that. Here are five things you can do as a fan of underground hip-hop to more meaningfully and productively support your favorite artists.
1. Spread The Music In Person
This past year, my New Year’s Resolution was to only play local underground hip-hop artists that I know in person and rock with on a personal level whenever the AUX chord comes my way. As a result, dozens of homies now name KWG among their favorite West Coast MCs and slide a track or two by Lost, the Artist or Notrotious next to Chance and Gambino on their own playlists.
That can cause a ripple effect, but it has much more impact than just helping the dude down the street who raps rack up a couple plays on SoundCloud.
Ultimately, artists like Tech only succeed in the long term because every Technician feels personally invested in Strangeland’s unique story. That kind of bond is only very rarely created through a digital exchange; Nina himself built his empire on years and years of touring and countless personal contacts.
Sitting a friend down and showing them an artist you really care about can recreate a shade of that personal experience, and give your homie a more unique reason to check out the rappers you ride for than if you just spammed their inbox with music videos. If you’re a DJ or trusted taste maker in your community, even better, but every fan can do their part in spreading the word on a personal and intimate level.
2. Stop Stealing Art You Believe In
Look, I’m not gonna front and pretend like I bought every album in my iTunes library. But if you really believe in the music that your favorite underground hip-hop artist creates, putting your money where your mouth is is hugely important.
When you can, buy albums outright and directly from artists themselves whenever possible. When you can only spare a buck or two, cop the single or donate on Bandcamp.
If you hunger for more music than your wallet can support, start streaming things on Spotify or watching YouTube videos instead of reaching straight for the torrent search bar. Yeah, your favorite rapper barely makes a fraction of a penny when you stream things on most services, but it still counts for something if you leave that Tidal playlist on a constant loop.
“Buy my music, don’t steal it.” –Vince Staples
Personally, I try to buy one album per month. Usually that’s my favorite drop by anyone from Nas to Jeff Turner to Kendrick Lamar; whatever I’ve listened to the most in a month or has moved me the most, I will support with my hard earned cheddar.
When I can, it’s a physical copy bought straight from the hands of a hungry artist at a merch booth in the back of a dirty bar. Because that’s just how it should be done. Speaking of which…
3. Go To The Fucking Show, Buy The Fucking Merch
Look, for years the headline hasn’t changed: the record industry is broken and dead and never coming back and probably barely worth mourning. Which is why everyone from Chance to Lil B to Alien Family needs YOU, as a fan of underground hip-hop, to step the fuck up.
Go to the fucking show and buy the fucking merch, or your favorite artist will starve and their kids will starve and they will stop rapping and go work at a bank and you will live in a cold and empty world where the only rapping left is corporate and contrived pop-trap and you will cry the late great real spill of yesteryear and you will only have yourself to blame. Yes, it’s that important.
To “get to the next level,” no matter what level they are currently on, underground hip-hop artists need to prove to venues that they can bring in heads. Go to the show and you get to support your favorite rapper’s ascension to bigger and bigger venues while seeing them do their thing in person. Win-win.
Plus, many of your favorite rappers probably play shows that are way cheaper than you’d assume. I recently saw KRS for fifteen bucks.
There’s NOTHING like seeing your favorite artists live.
And while most venues either give artists a cut of the door or pay them upfront based on how many heads can be expected, going to shows provides you with an even better way to support the art you want to see winning. Buy the fucking merch.
Shut up and do it: walk to the back of that bar and find that table with a stoned roadie or, very often, the artist you believe in in the flesh. Buy a shirt, have a conversation, and put a dollar into an underground hip-hop artist’s pocket all at once. Win-win-win. Maybe someone from Strange will even sign your girlfriend’s jiggly bits.
4. Support Their Wider Presence On The Hip-hop Interwebs
Unless you are a thirteen year old living in 2009, you probably know by now that there are a LOT of cool places around the web beyond Facebook and Twitter. Hip-hop lives in every single one of those places. And one of the most important ways you can support the underground hip-hop artists you love through digital means is checking out where else they reside around the hip-hop internet outside of the basic social media landscape.
Peeping an artist’s website can be a great way to learn more about them and get all of their media and info in one place, but it can also help the artist directly by providing them with web traffic figures that can be leveraged to secure blog placements in the future.
And while you are on their site, jump on that indie rapper’s mailing list to make sure you never miss an important update about their art. Digital numbers like these aren’t as obvious of a way to show your support as a Facebook like, but they can be even more important for the continued success of artists.
Even better than browsing your favorite rapper’s site? Engage with material when they are featured in the media and on hip-hop blogs. If a blog chooses to do a write-up on an underground hip-hop artist that you believe in and that post gets a ton of shares, comments, and interactions, said blog will be more likely to do more write-ups on said artist in the future.
It ain’t rocket science, just another win-win-win that takes moments of your time but can do a ton in securing exposure for music you want to see supported.
5. Go Beyond Basic Social Media Interactions
If these other four ideas all sound like too much effort (and they aren’t, #BUYTHEFUCKINGMERCH) there are plenty of ways you can support good hip-hop quickly and easily through social media beyond a basic “like” on a page or status.
Generally, every positive interaction on social media sites like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter are a good thing since they will lead to greater exposure, but there is a very significant hierarchy to how much support these interactions really translate into on the artist’s end.
On Facebook and Instagram, likes that come immediately or very shortly after material is posted will help those posts have a further “reach” and cross more eyeballs. Comments are even more important in improving the reach of anything that an artist posts, and Shares/Reposts take the cake for being even more significant. Same goes for Twitter: re-tweets are king.
Don’t worry too much about how or why, just get it through your head: a comment and share does a lot more to show your support than clicking that thumb and hoping that a notification and a warm and fuzzy feeling will keep your favorite rapper’s bills paid.
If you really support an artist, SHOW IT.
The Bottom Line?
It’s not the 90’s, when big labels had big funds to invest in acts like Tupac or Lauryn Hill, acts that could straddle the too often conflicting worlds of commercial success and artistic excellence. It’s not the early 2000’s, when indie legends like MF Doom could count on regular record sales and a deep catalog to keep the lights on.
In this shit-speckled stage in the evolution of the underground hip-hop industry, artists on every level need YOU in order to keep making music.
Which means it’s up to you to do more than just throw a few “likes” around and hope for a better XXL class next year. Support the music you want to see getting made in the hip-hop scene, and the hip-hop scene will keep producing the kinds of music you want to hear. Fail to show your support, and we can expect more Boats, less Writeousness, plain and simple.
It ain’t that hard. Especially if you stop making excuses and put your money where your ears are.
How else can you support underground music? Sound off in the comments below.