Welcome to part two of Little Leo’s interview* with Phil Chard from African Hip Hop Blog and Two Broke Twimbos. In this segment, we discuss music-making as a career—building respect for the industry within the industry and how respect for copyright comes into play. (If you missed it: Part 1.)
Little Leo: When you’re talking about how African artists can do everything themselves, it sounds like a label doesn’t have a value add. But Cassper Nyovest, he has other artists on his Family Tree label. So, that sounds like there are some artists where they’re not able to do everything themselves or that for them it does make sense to be on a label. How do artists pick and choose whether they need to pull it all together or whether they should find a label or find somebody else to manage the team?
Phil: It all depends. I had a series of posts actually last year where I explained that one of the reasons industries in Africa are failing, especially in Zimbabwe, is that asking an artist to be a creative and then also to be a business man is asking too much of them. Not everyone can do that. So in the event where an artist is only good at being an artist but isn’t good at figuring out how to promote themselves or how to get bookings, how to build their brand, in that instance you bring someone on as a manager or publicist, or you go on a label where those systems are already in place. But especially if you’re big enough or have a big enough hit that garners you a certain amount of income, a certain amount of leverage, there’s no need to sign to a label because you can pull that yourself.
Wizkid did the same thing. Wizkid was signed under Banky W. Then he became bigger than the label, and he was like “ok, it’s time for me to leave the label and start my own thing.” And he surrounded himself with a team of individuals that know how to handle it. So it’s just a matter of thinking long term, building your brand and scaling up.
If you’re an upstart and all you have time for is making music and you don’t have time for anything else, then of course you need to surround yourself with a team. What you have to do is figure out how to manage those costs. If you can’t afford to pay them commission, give them IOUs, whatever it may be. But a lot of artists don’t realize that, which is also the basis of my rant. You’ll find a lot of young artists complaining. It’s very odd, even with our website. We have very clear guidelines; if you want to submit your music, everyone’s on an equal platform. But submit it the right way. Don’t just come out of the blue and spam me with links on Twitter, because if I don’t know you, I’m not going to click on those links. You haven’t built a reputation with me.
We’ve actually put up a number of posts about how artists can submit. If you want to do that on Twitter, build a relationship, build a rapport with me so that if you do tweet me, I know “Oh, this is this guy. I know his stuff; it’s worth checking out.” But I’m not going to be on Twitter the whole day clicking on links, because I’ve got better things to do with my time. So stuff like that, they’ll send you stuff, it’ll get ignored. They’ll rant. “Oh, Phil doesn’t look out for us. Phil hates us.” One of the popular things is—I’m a Zimbabwean by birth—so artists look to me like, “ok, Phil is known continentally, so he’s the guy we should speak to in order to blow up.” But they don’t submit their music. They’ll send me music via WhatsApp. They’ll send me music via Facebook. They’ll send me music on Twitter. And the moment I see that stuff, I’m ignoring it. And then they’ll immediately say “Phil is ignoring us.”
There was one guy who actually did an audit of the stuff and was like “Phil, we’ve done an audit of all the stuff you’ve posted and 10% of your content is Zimbabwean, which is wrong.” And I went into a long tirade about I’m not the Zimbabwean Hip Hop Blog that posts African hip hop occasionally; I’m the African Hip Hop Blog, so I’m posting relevant content. If your music isn’t on par with everyone else on the continent, it’s not my fault; it’s your fault. I’m not here to hold your hand. I owe you guys nothing.
L: Industry size-wise, that’s not exactly a bad percentage.
P: Exactly. I’m a human being. I have biases. My biases are to the people that are from my home nation. If you send me good stuff and it’s half-way decent, I’m going to give you a fair shot. But do it right. That’s the main issue.
Artists don’t take their craft seriously. You want to do an interview with them and you email them or you message them. They don’t get back to you or they give you times and they forget about the interview. You give them a call, “oh sorry, I’m out right now,” “I’m in the studio,” “I’m passed out,” “I’m high.” It’s just a long list of complaints. Or, you’re a blogger dedicated to this stuff, and you analyze their work and you know their work well. And it’s like—In America, the media evolved somewhat—but it’s similar to what Good Morning America does or what Breakfast Radio does where you only have an artist for a short amount of time, so the interviews are very limited. So if they don’t have a project out, it’s literally, “So you recorded this movie? Oh great, how was it? Oh that’s dope. Ok, so, what’s your favorite color? Um, do you like dogs?” And the interview’s over, so there’s no real content. And over here now, the sad thing is, mainstream long-form interviews do that same type of stuff. They’ll literally have maybe 10 questions and thereafter they’re now playing games with artists. “So let’s play a game of word association; tell me, if you were a dog, what type of dog would you be?” That type of stuff, which is literally why I started Two Broke Twimbos, because I was tired of hearing the same old crap.
I’m listening to all these amazing American podcasts where their delving in, like Mark Maron and Combat Jack where they’re delving into the careers of artists for 3 hours and you leave that podcast knowing everything of these amazing stories. But, in Africa, no one knows anything about anyone. And there’s no one cataloging that stuff. So that’s why I started that podcast. And now we have a situation where sometimes when I interview artists, they get shocked as to how well-researched the interviews are. And they’ll even start complaining, like “yo, this interview’s going for 30 minutes, really do you still want to keep talking?” And I’m like, “yeah, we haven’t even got half-way through.” But they’ll rather go and do those cheap, tacky interviews that really add no value to their brand because it’s quote-unquote traditional media. But that's the same traditional media that goes recycling people’s stories, so the moment a woman tweets that she’s pregnant by artist so-and-so, they’ll run that headline without verifying anything. And in your mind, your like, ‘but you chose to go to those people and give them a platform, but it’s clear they don’t respect your craft.”
L: It sounds like you’re also saying in some ways the artists don’t respect their craft, that they’re not taking it seriously.
P: To a certain extent, it’s true. There’s a culture here, a microwavable culture. Everyone is trying to get the next big hit, the next big headline, the next trending topic, with no real consideration to the long-term ramifications of what they’re doing. And it gets frustrating. Even large organizations, they’ll rather have a quote-unquote Twitter celebrity do an absolutely pointless interview than have people that actually produce quality editorial content do that stuff. And it seeps down to the consumer because now the consumer is like “why should I spend 30 minutes of my time watching this good interview, when I can watch a listicle that’s 3 minutes, that tells me nothing but is entertaining.” So, it now devalues the content across the board.
We’ll break here and resume part 3 with the nuanced relationship between artists and copyright.*The conversation has been edited for clarity and reading ease; it is not an exact transcript.