Collegium on Wednesday, March 27th, presented by Red Bull Studios, featured a multi-dimensional look into today’s world of hip-hop. Led by respected hip-hop journalist Shaheem Reid of XXL and MTV News, the panelists’ discussion centered on the development of production duo Sean C. & LV’s new album Loud Dreams Vol. 1. Released on Tuesday, the album features hip-hop heavyweights like Pusha T, Bun B, Fabolous, Raekwon and many more. Joining Reid and Sean C. & LV were chief engineer of Red Bull Studios New York Chris Tabron, artist duo CharlieRED, and veteran emcee Styles P. All of the panelists are featured on Loud Dreams Vol. 1.
The panel addressed the evolving role of mixtapes. “The nomenclature needs to be updated, because it’s basically an album,” said Tabron. “To me, growing up, it was a way to hear something exclusive. The difference between a mixtape and an album is in the marketing.” Sean C. added, “People use the term ‘mixtape’ to take pressure off of themselves. They don’t want pressure from the label to have as much success as an ‘album’ even though they’re the same thing.” The once-competitive mixtape circuit has become accessible to anyone. The panelists agreed that success in today’s mixtape circuit lies in one’s connections, networking and social media skills.
Given that music creation has become so accessible, Reid asked the panelists to weigh in on the idea of needing the “machine” of a major label. Reid cited Macklemore as a hip-hop artist who achieved success without a label, and in his success, still does not rely on one. Styles P said, “Major labels are machines. But when you’re independent, you become the machine. The majors are now looking at the artist as the type of machine they are. They’ll ask, ‘What’s your Twitter following?’ They want someone who invests in themselves. At the end of the day you’re the machine anyway. It comes down to how much work you’re willing to do.”
But at a time when anyone can make music and use social media, how does an aspiring artist stand out from the crowd and make him or herself valuable? Sean C. stressed the importance of relationships and networking. Tabron added, “Know your audience. And in terms of staying power, you need to be yourself. People respond to sincerity.”
On one end of the table sat Styles P, who has been active in the New York hip-hop scene for over 20 years and offered insightful retrospectives. On the other end were CharlieRED’s Chauncy Sherod and Cobaine Ivory, a young duo who released their first EP in December 2012. The diversity of the panelists offered contrasting points of view, but all of the panelists agreed that New York rap is in a good place, and are optimistic for the future. Tabron justified his optimism with a simple yet thought-provoking argument: “A river is always strongest at the source.”