Non-paying Lupe Fiasco Fans to Protest Atlantic Records on 10/15

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Lupe Fiasco - Lasers

"Lasers" is in limbo (Atlantic Records)

The Village Voice interviewed the teenage leader of a grassroots campaign to get Atlantic Records to release the new Lupe Fiasco album (right), who is organizing a protest in front of the label’s headquarters on October 15.  It’s a rare opportunity to see the forces of internet piracy and social media come into contact with the buildings and executives of the music business they have worked hard to tear down.  Atlantic Records is based at 1290 Avenue of the Americas, and buildings like that have tight security.  The kids will need permits they don’t yet have, according to the Voice interview.

As a promotion person with a conscience, it’s very impressive to hear LaCorte’s deep thoughts on the current state of hip hop.   In addition to being able to rally fans online (mostly through a Kanye West message board), he seems to have a good intuition on how the company operates and what artists it gets behind.  LaCorte makes a wonderful pitch for Lupe Fiasco as an artist and has gathered almost 30,000 names for an online petition for Atlantic to release the Lupe album.

But let’s look a little closer.  First of all, LaCorte admits that he didn’t buy the first two Lupe albums! Does he really have a right to protest against a company he is not a patron of? He told the Voice that he listened to the albums online but that sounds far-fetched.  He’s not even a customer and has no standing to criticize the company.  He and his friends are the reason Lupe has to rise to a higher commercial standard than he would in previous eras: even the most ardent consumers of music are not willing to pay for the content.

I wonder how many of the other signees of the petition have a similar affection for the music and distaste for paying a fair price for it.  There are 30,000 signees.  If they all bought the new Lupe album in the first week, where would that leave WMG/Atlantic in weeks two, three and four?  Probably struggling to reach 100,000, and that does not equal a profitable project when it has to be promoted in competitive channels like hip hop radio.  Atlantic (and any other major label) needs a mass audience for any artist to truly succeed.  And there’s an excellent chance the resentment of this particular audience will lead to more piracy than legitimate sales – the 30,000 first week is hardly guaranteed.

And young LaCorte has left out another important fact: Lyor Cohen and his staff have a well-earned reputation for breeding success in hip hop.  He didn’t get there by suppressing artistic vision.  My impression is the staff loves Lupe and wants him to keep rising in stature, not leveling off and serving a small community of fans.  It’s not Atlantic’s fault that radio and the bulk of fans like a different style of music than Lupe’s, and it’s their job to serve that mainstream hip hop audience as well as possible, for the survival of the company.   With so much theft and the online “streams” LaCorte refers to, they have no choice but to go as wide as possible with every release.

The protest on October 15 could be a rare face-to-face meeting between the corporate forces of the music business and disaffected fans.  I give Matthew LaCorte immense credit for marshaling these forces (and wouldn’t be surprised if Atlantic gave him a job someday), but he is also a bit naive as to the fan’s role in Lupe Fiasco/Atlatnic’s predicament. Perhaps he can build his legion into an army of paying customers. If so, my guess is Atlantic will give them more Lupe Fiasco albums than they can handle.

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