Skip to content

Top 10 Reasons Why Rap Artists Go Broke – Rap Rehab

    By James L. Walker, Jr., Esq.

    When Keeping It Real Goes All Wrong: 10 Reasons Rap Artists Die Broke!

    Comedian Dave Chappelle was famous for his wicked timing, uncanny humor and delivery of numerous jokes and skits during his three year run with a hot tv show.

    One infamous skit was the “When Keeping It Real Goes All Wrong!”  segment.  In these classics portrayals, some ignorant person was always seen as “Keepin’ It Real” and “Aint nobody gonna chump me,” boasting to only loose it all in the end.

    Well, the rap industry is no different.

    From (as they would boast)  blunts and broads, to ménage a’ trois, the average rapper or wanna-be rapper, puts his being cool or keepin’ it real before being paid.

    They usually fail to realize that the Bentleys, blunts and broads, and bling bling, cost green-green, i.e., dollars and Benjamins.

    I fight with clients all the time in their wanting to have bling-bling rims and teeth rather than keeping the bling-bling in the bank and a retirement fund.

    I have advised or worked with the likes of Afrika Bambatta, Kurtis Blow, DMX and Rakim on a few matters.  These guys seem to get it and understand the history of Hip Hop and what it originally stood for back in the day.

    But, they will tell you they have struggled with the meaning of this new generation and how they handle bizness.

    Not long ago, in a NY Times interview, Jay-Z truthfully shared that there are only 10 guys in the rap game making real money.

    If you listen carefully, and examine the rap game, most are broke and fronting.

    Many will ask you if they can borrow your house or phat ride for an appearance on MTV’s Cribs.  Or for use in a music video.

    With that being said, here are the 10 Simple Reasons Rap Artists Die Broke:

    1. They Don’t Understand Business
    2. They Don’t Read Their Contracts
    3. They Don’t Read Anything
    4. They Don’t Hire A Good Manager
    5. They Don’t Hire A  Good Lawyer
    6. They Don’t know What a Point Is?
    7. They Don’t Understand Music Publishing?
    8. They Don’t Know How To Read A Royalty Statement
    9. They Surround Themselves With All The Wrong People
    10. They Want to be A “Star” For All The Wrong Reasons

    I could flush out each of these points, but some of them are self-evident.

    Most rap artists or artists in general don’t understand good business and what it means to look at themselves as a brand, a business, corporate entity and run things professional.

    Many will sign a deal, get an advance (cash) from a record label and never ever read past page one of their recording contract.   I often email it, scan it and FedEx the contract to them with a repeated request that they read it and “let me know if you have any questions.”

    In order to understand their business and contracts, I also advise them to read books like Donald Passman’s “All You Need To Know About the Music Business”, or even cheaper, I personally send them a copy of my popular, “This Business of Urban Music.

    They still won’t read the books or their royalty statements breaking down what they owe the record label after the album is done and released, i.e., the unrecouped debt.  This is not Keepin’ It Real! And, I’m sarcastically told by many artists, “Yo, Playa that’s what I pay you for…”

    Then there are the handlers.  A few years ago the Lox came after P. Diddy for their publishing and alleged the infamous, he “stole my publishing”, a reference to songs they wrote on their hit albums.

    Well, I asked who did you have handling you and your business when you signed contracts?

    A good manager is the key, just look at the folks who blow up and the folks who self-implode when they hit the top!  READ:  Jay-Z vs. R. Kelly.    If you are handled right, you stay ON TOP.

    Bad managers, bad legal advice and bad handlers just can’t keep you there, if they can even get you there in the first place.

    The Lox went on air and complained loudly on Hot 97 in NYC, but like most artists at the time they did not understand Reasons six or seven above: Music Publishing or what a Point was in their contracts.

    Berry Gordy had a well-known company called “Motown”, but he had an even more powerful company that sold for twice as much called, “Jo-Bete Publishing”, which held all the hits of the Temptations, Supremes, Jackson 5 and tons of other Motown artists.    (I’ll write a separate piece on this later, but know that: Music Publishing is your future as an artist or songwriter).

    The last couple of reasons are pretty simple.  It’s cool to keep it real and be down to earth and approachable, etc.

    When we released DMX’s book, we held a party in Harlem at a black bookstore and he stayed for hours and touched every young person in the room.

    But, Keepin’ It Real, does not mean having 20 of your boys and friends from the old neighborhood on your payroll doing nothing, but riding your wallet and funds as an artist.

    Reason number nine is a very common factor in the failure of rap artists in the present game.   Surround yourself with people who will be truthful, helpful, faithful and loyal to you, but not lie to you.

    Surround yourself with people who are not just “Yes Men” or “Yes Women”, who will do anything you want them to and not help you get to the top and stay there!!!

    This should be number one on my list: Your friends or circle define you. They either take you up or take you down!  Real Talk!!

    Lastly, keep it real with yourself and ask: “Why Do I Want To Be A Rap Artist?”   Real music, talent, gift and poetry or flow in motion (on the Mic)?

    Or, just an ego push, self-glorification, attention grabbing, superhero-wanna be, with no true talent or gift or purpose, taking advantage of the instant, micro-wave-able Super Star rapper title, we give all too freely in today’s music industry.

    Whatever the case, remember these 10 reasons and Keep It Real, before it goes all wrong!

    James L. Walker, Jr., is an attorney based in Atlanta.  He can be reached at [email protected]; or on Twitter @jameslwalkeresq or on his website:   Attorney Walker is Professor, Legal Analyst and the Author of “This Business of Urban Music.”