Jay-Z’s recent announcement of plans to develop Def Jam Left is a strong indicator of the future growth possibilities for left coast hip hop in the wake of Kanye West’s success. Of course, I’m assuming that left relates to left coast and that left coast goes beyond the West Coast underground to indicate a state of mind and I could be horribly wrong in this assumption.
The primary reason that I’m making this leap beyond what Jay-Z told Billboard is that he expressed interest in The Roots as the first signees. They’re from Philly and they represent a long standing tradition of conscious hip hop that has the potential to chart while maintaining a certain level of underground cred. Of course, everytime they do something with mainstream potential they catch a lot of flak from the underground, but isn’t that always what happens?
In any case, Jay-Z points to another distinction of Def Jam Left when he describes it as:
“an artist-driven label with very low deals so people are not pressured by first-week SoundScan [sales], so we can build artists.”
On the one hand that’s great because it means that new artists aren’t necessarily kicked to the curb if they don’t have breakout sales from the beginning. On the other hand, it means that labels get artists more cheaply while not necessarily having to do anything else differently. Nevertheless, it does represent a potentially different mode of thought for a major label.
Jay-Z also played with the idea of eventually putting out another album which I find both unsurprising and unexciting. Don’t get me wrong. I’d enjoy some more hot singles from the man but I think he’s already made whatever contribution he’s going to make. Nevertheless, I like the fact that he’s willing to break new producers and maybe Kanye and The Roots will influence him enough to say something meaningful.