What's The Best Label In Hip-Hop? | Okayplayer vs. DJBooth
In the internet age we can often get too caught up in meaningless argument, but that doesn’t mean there’s no place for debate. After all, what would hip-hop be without arguments about whether Jay or Nas won their beef? This isn’t a passive culture, it’s made for active participation, and so DJBooth and Okayplayer have joined forces to bring some of that good natured debate back.
As part of a new series we’ll ask a question, pick opposing sides, lay out our arguments and then allow you to select the winner. And to kick things off, we’re tackling an essential question; What’s the best label in hip-hop? This is music, not math, so there’s no precise formula, that’s what makes the debate fun, but in considering our picks, we’re weighing the depth of the label’s roster, the quality of its artists and the music it puts out, its influence on culture and on the charts, and just generally how smoothly and efficiently it operates.
And with those ground rules out of the way, let’s get to it. — Nathan Slavik, DJBooth
TDE is The Best Label in Hip-Hop – Okayplayer
Is anyone out there really screaming G.O.O.D. Music like they are for Top Dawg Entertainment? The label started by Anthony “Top Dawg” Tiffith has ascended the ranks to become one of the domineering forces in hip-hop today. Despite the powerhouse sensibilities of Kanye West and co., that brand of overly-glossed, coked-out rap lives and dies off of its leader’s reputation, which judging by the Twittersphere, isn’t doing so well.
The Left Coast Cosa Nostra are supreme in numerous ways, but here are the first two: Dave Free and Sounwave. Tiffith holds everyone accountable as CEO, Kendrick Lamar and ScHoolboy Q may be the proverbial “stars” on the roll call, but these two are the company’s anchors. Free, who is the president of the label, makes sure that the accounts are verified and puts everyone on the roster in a position to shine on the grander stage. Put Isaiah Rashad in a Sprite commercial, sure! Sign K. Dot to an exclusive Reebok deal, fine! Either way you’ve got to go through Dave first. Plus, the opportunity is not only plush for the pockets, but good for the community as evidence of the latter.
Sounwave, who is one-fourth of the Digi+Phonics, holds down the sonic structure of TDE in tact alongside Dave Free. Whether it was lacing “Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe,” “m.A.A.d. City,” or even the To Pimp a Butterfly revolution-starting cut, “Alright,” the man known as Mark Spears is a Grammy-nominated force that is on par with some of the best in the business. Who else put trap music next to jazz fusion, if not for the in-house soundboard of Top Dawg Entertainment? Speaking of the best, the rest of the TDE roster has an undeniable quantifier that G.O.O.D. Music lacks: true consistency and strategic planning.
Yes, King Push is the lord of the drug tales and Big Sean is the witty cat from the D, but can either weave a tongue-twisting diatribe better than Ab-Soul? Common and John Legend are award-winning performers, very true, but they’re like two senior citizens when paired against the duo of street-wise veterans like ScHoolboy Q and Jay Rock. We’re no stranger to the Native Tongue/Zulu Nation tandem of Q-Tip and Yasiin Bey here on this site, but you have to dock points from your argument since we are all still wondering where The Last Zulu and Bey’s retirement album are actually at. TDE, thanks to Top, Punch and Free, have given the listener’s just what they needed at the right time.
Has G.O.O.D. Music even released a “G.O.O.D. Friday” track, yet, as we’re careening towards Mr. West’s seventh studio album? No, and you know why? It is because Kanye has had to reshuffle his deck after TDE’s franchise player changed the game. Now, when you go out on the road, you don’t have to play the arenas and stadiums to make a massive impact. An artist’s appearance on late night television now has to be original and spectacular if anyone is going to talk about it the next morning. Kanye West and his company’s president Pusha T are racking their brains right now at this very moment trying to top what Cornrow Kenny did on Saturday Night Live, so why would anyone think that G.O.O.D. was really good…?
Where acts like Teyana Taylor and CyHi tha Prynce have failed to get out from the starting blocks, TDE’s own SZA, a stunningly awesome vocalist, just gave Rihanna one of her best songs from her ANTI album with “Consideration.” The aforementioned Isaiah Rashad even doubled-down on his Civila Demo with, “Smile,” a track that made music pubs like ours cheese from ear-to-ear. And Punch, the label’s co-president with Dave Free, continues to satiate listeners with his tales from the street delivered loosies. As G.O.O.D. Music attempts to engage more with the people, TDE is already there, embedded in the mix, throwing community gatherings and toy drives in the Nickerson Gardens Projects in California, and giving people that audio-rich nourishment they sorely need! We do agree that no label is perfect, but you won’t find one that’s more rooted, rich, connected, creative and deeply soulful than Top Dawg Entertainment.
In the final analysis, TDE is a well-rounded roster that manages to hold together as a coherent crew and aesthetic without being cookie-cutter. While G.O.O.D. Music is characterized by (very) inconsistent flashes of brilliance, TDE artists have owned the year their respective projects dropped on more than one occasion, with more than one star—in other words, the shine of their star artists—all their star artists—has been amplified by the label’s strategic moves, instead of the other way around.
>>>Does DJBooth’s argument about G.O.O.D. Music hold water? Find out on the next page…