With his new album, Bay Area boss J.Stalin shines a light on Bay Area rap — and his own 12-year career
It's a sign of how much rap has changed since the analog era, when E-40's innovation as an independent artist was to drop an album "like a pregnant beeyatch, every 8 or 9 months," compared with the lethargic, every year or two pace of major-label acts. Raised in the generation of the laptop studio, Stalin was among the innovators delivering a constant stream of music to his fans in the form of mixtapes, collaborations, and side projects in between proper solo albums. Waiting nine months between projects is almost unheard of for J, who has something like 30 discs to his credit at this point.
"I've been trying to work more strategically," he says. "Work smarter, not harder. I've been doing more of the clothing line, selling Livewire Clothing at all my shows. Been doing a lot of pop-up stores in stores selling them, plus we got the online store. I popped off my website; I be giving away free music on there. My new artists Lil June and L'Jay, you can download they albums on my website."
This is another key to Stalin's success: He's always thought of himself not simply as an artist, but as the CEO of Livewire Records, a company he has conjured into existence through sheer force of will, his own talent, and an uncanny ability to form alliances and develop artists. Even the short list of Livewire artists — Shady Nate, Philthy Rich, Stevie Joe, Lil Blood — is impressive, and Stalin is constantly building the roster. He still talks to major labels from time to time, but the decline of their business model, coupled with his success going through Universal's independent distribution channel, Fontana, there's not much the majors can offer him these days.
"Really, if ain't nobody trying to give me money to put out multiple artists and projects, there's not really no point. We at the position now where all the things that the label is talking about, we damn near can do ourselves," he concludes. "Unless they giving out some millions — not one million, millions."