It’s the year 2017 and the foretold death of labels adjunct to the rise of streaming and self-publishing is finally becoming a reality. The independent success of Chance the Rapper and Frank Ocean last year became a benchmark for how artists can best reap the benefits of the digital age without a record label acting as the middle man between them and the consumers of the music.
In this part of the world, 2016 was the year artists tried to break away from their record deals or forced all parties invested in their careers to negotiate better terms. Starting with Skales vs Baseline Music, then RunTown vs Eric Manny two legal label disputes that reached public arrest proportions to the embarrassment of both label and artist. The biggest shocker of all was the silent exit of Lil Kesh, Adekunle Gold, Chinko Ekun and Viktoh from YBNL, a presumably strong underdog imprint where relationships between artists and management seems to have been informed by pre-existing familial ties. Former big player labels like Mavins, EME+ and Chocolate City, the last 16 months have been a scramble to either keep releasing material or remain culturally relevant. Top flight acts of the early 2010s like Ice Prince, Iyanya, Dr Sid and Cynthia Morgan are languishing in the Afropop underbelly and slipping through the charts. Interestingly, younger labels like DMW, G-Worldwide and E-Money have silently coveted what’s left today’s audience by capitalising on the influence of a lone flagship act who spills over to the rest of his team.
Despite the many benefits of a digital age, that breeding ground purpose of a branded label is nearly insurmountable. It is no oddity that Mayorkun, who is currently having success with “Mama” and “Blow The Whistle” is signed to Davido, one of the biggest acts on the continent, same applies for Wizkid and Mr Eazi. The rarity of success stories like D’banj and Don Jazzy’s Mo-Hits era, of two home boys who hustled from the trenches, evolved to birth the careers of Wande Coal, Dr Sid, D’Prince and K.Switch, a tight-knit formation that caused the whole nation heartache when the two head hunchos parted ways circa 2012. Music requires a network because collaborations are just as important as affiliations. The journey of every great rapper is the typical example of this, because understandably hip-hop inherently requires such relationships more than any other genre. Interviews will either tell you of how Dr Dre piggy-backed Eminem’s controversial career on his for nearly a decade. Or of how Jay-Z was only person that had faith in Kanye when the whole world was certain West had lost his mind.
Though the release of Chocolate City’s TICBN (The Indestructible Choc Boi Nation album in 2015 earmarked CC’s last attempt to establish all its biggest acts under a project, the label’s uncertain place in the music industry since the dissolution of the initial formation of M.I, Jesse Jagz, Ice Prince and Brymo, leaves doubts about a re-emergence at a soon to come future date. In this obscurity, enters Tinny Entertainment, the label behind the recent success of YCEE. Label CEO Arokodare Tinny Timilehin, founded the imprint in 2012 with YCEE as its first signed act. In a soundscape with a drought of good rappers, the formula for YCEE was predetermined by capitalising on this void. After the success of 2014’s “Jagaban“. Earlier this year Tinny Entertainment recently unveiled Bella Allubo and DappTuburna as its newly signed acts.
Future prospects for a label like Tinny are illimitable, especially after YCEE‘s “Juice” peaked as one of the most played songs of the summer. The single set things in motions for the release of YCEE’s First Wave EP, a project that was trailed with rumoured talks of a possible Sony distribution deal to corner foreign markets. Both Bella Alubo and Dapo Turburna have also followed the year with moderately successful singles. Tinny is working with a small team and limited resources no doubt, but the label has already fronted multiple collaborations between its signed acts as a way of solidifying the brand.
Last week, the label released “Komije” featuring YCEE, the first song under its official collective, Tinny Mafia. Though the signed reigned in on YCEE as a singular firebrand for the collective, the idea is not lost on similarly banded MoHits and Choc Boy type groups. With Bella Alubo primed for stardom, and eyes on Dapo Turburna to prove himself, it’s safe to expect a compilation album from Tinny Mafia in the coming months. Perhaps since the label filled the rap void in Nigeria with YCEE, the same could be expected of a resurgence of the nostalgic era of independent collectives where artists of the same calibre thrive as a unit