Kendrick Lamar may be one of the hottest acts in music right now, but the Compton-born rapper is getting a raw deal financially, according to former hip-hop mogul Suge Knight. In a recent interview, Knight shined a light on music industry standards that turn artists like Kendrick and The Game into what he called “slaves” with “two of the worst deals in the industry.”
Speaking on The Arsenio Hall Show this week, the erstwhile head of Death Row Records said that Lamar and Game are likely getting a pittance compared to what they are generating for the multiple tiers of companies and go-betweens above them.
“If you look at Interscope, the two guys from Compton — Game, Kendrick Lamar — got two of the worst deals in the industry,” Knight explained. “What people don’t realize is Universal [Music Group] is the ship, then Aftermath get they cut, then G-Unit get they cut, then the guy who really have Game signed [takes his piece], then it came to Game… then it’s Kendrick Lamar.”
When it comes to Kendrick Lamar, the story isn’t much different. The “Swimming Pools” performer, who shot from underground king to platinum-certified artist over the past year, is signed to Top Dawg Entertainment. Top Dawg feeds into Dr. Dre-owned Aftermath Entertainment, which itself is a part of Interscope Records. Interscope, of course, is a part of Universal Music Group, the largest music corporation in the world.
(When it comes to shady music dealings, one might want to take Suge at his word. Notorious for his gang affiliations, the rough-and-tumble record mogul once allegedly dangled Vanilla Ice by his ankles from a hotel balcony in order to secure royalties from “Ice Ice Baby.”)
On Arsenio’s show, Knight continued to explain, drawing a connection to an ugly chapter in American history by comparing Kendrick Lamar and Game, two rap millionaires, to slaves.
“The reality is there’s more slavery now than ever,” Knight opined. To be fair, “whips” and “chains” are involved in both rapping and slavery, but that comment met resistance from Arsenio, who checked Knight: “Not quite slavery.”
“When you was a slave, you knew it was bad,” Knight backpedaled. “When you was a slave, you was like, ‘S**t, it’s bad.’ But it’s worse when somebody make you be a celebrity and put you on a status and you thanking a person for stabbing you in the back.”
It may seem like an illustration of Q-Tip’s Industry Rule #4080, but Suge this week was simply spelling out the way much of the record business works now. The pyramid scheme-like structure of the industry has been the target of much criticism in the past, but very few major acts have been able to attain the heights they’ve reached without playing the game.
The Interscope banner alone covers Azalea Banks, Lana Del Rey, Eminem, Fergie, Nelly Furtado, LMFAO, Madonna, Lady Gaga, and M.I.A. It is also home to Imagine Dragons, who recently collaborated with Kendrick Lamar on a celebrated Grammy performance. In the biz, they call that “synergy.”
Neither “slavery” nor a “bad record deal” appear to be slowing down Lamar, though. In addition to the Grammy performance, Kendrick recently took the stage with Janelle Monae and Pharrell at the NBA All Star Game, rocking the crowd with selections from his celebrated album Good Kid, M.A.A.D City. Lamar is also currently on tour with Eminem, with plans for a follow-up album and a possible short film based off Good Kid.