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5 Rappers Who Survived PR Disasters (and what we can learn).

W. Tyler Allen
Posted by W. Tyler Allen on Jun 20

I want to talk about public relations, because public relations is not promo. 

In hip hop culture, I've found that public relations (PR) has become synonmous with getting posted on blogs. But that's not it. Or having big-name Twitter pages share your track, but that's not it either. That's not PR at all, that's just promotions.

PR is having about how you carry yourself, it's about the vibe you're giving off. PR is about relationships -- public relationships, media relationships, it's about generating a conversation with fans and writers. Does that include promo? Absolutely, but you can't mistake the forrest for the trees. Public Realtions is all encompassing and it's very much big picture. 

Public Relations, and building relationships ensures longevity for your career. It ensures that you have a recognizable brand, image and personality that vibes well with fans, writers and the general public. However, every now and then, artists really mess that up. 

They may have tweeted something stupid, they may have gotten locked up, or done other things that have put a dent in their reputation. These instances are learning experiences for artists, because we can look back, reflect and adapt accordingly. Did they handle the situation badly? Or did they bounce back?

Here's a few examples that I believe we can learn from. 


1) Macklemore Recovered From Being "Peak Macklemore". 

via Gigantic Squid

Wait, wait, wait... bare with me, please? Because there's something we can learn here. Any artist, before you jump to bashing 'em, see what you can learn from their come-up and moves. 

So, Macklemore didn't really do anything in 2012, however, he rubbed a lot of folks the wrong way. He beat out the much deserving K-Dot and other artists for Best Rap Album as well as Best New Artist, Best Rap Album and Best Rap Performance. He also doubled up on the "corniness" by texting Kendrick Lamar that he "stole" his Grammy.. and then posting it on Instagram. 

It was very off-putting, and it didn't come off as "respect" but moreso came across as, "Hey, look, I'm sorry for winning. PLEASE LIKE ME!". 

His "Same Love" track was also criticisized during that time for really oversimplifying LGBTQ lifestyles: He thought he was gay because he like to clean his room. 

The guy just became a laughing stock and really, it was just because he was coming across as dopey. I'm pretty sure all the other items on this list are specific actions, but Mack just opened his mouth too much, and gave off an unagreebale vibe. 

The Recovery: 

After a two year hiatus, Macklemore reemerged with a coverstory on Complex Magazine, that detailed his struggles with alcoholism, as well as the joyhood of being a father. He then debuted his track Downtown which incorporated rap legends (giving them some royalty money) and was also fun, goofy, poppy and really had it's own lane. 

Sure, since then he's still said some cringeworthy things, but for the most part, he came back without much mention of his Instagram/K-Dot snafu. Has he spoiled that comeback? Maybe a little, he still tries way too hard. But there was atleast a 3-4 month period where we were tolerating Macklemore -- and there's something we can learn from it.

What We Can Learn:

Silence. Is. Golden. 

Can you imagine the backlash if Macklemore went out on a media blitz to defend his Grammy wins? Or if he did something moronic like put out a diss track to his detractors? It's laughable, but God, that's a common rebuttal. 

Macklemore laid low. He took a quick break, focused on being a dad, and wrote some pop-flavored radio singles. Let's also remember how he came back. He came back with a story about being a dad. Not a new single, not a new video -- just a story about being a dad. That's really going to humanize you, and make folks forget about you being really weird in 2012. 

Similarly, his new single, Downtown, gave royalty money to a crew of rap legends -- guys that didn't see much royalty cash in their hey-day due to the industry being so new. No one is going to get mad at that. 

The main takeaway here is that by laying low, you can come back with a new approach. A lot of artists try to come back with rebuttals, or response tracks (looking at you, Meek), and it ends up hurting more than helping. 

See? Even if you're not a fan, you can still learn from the moves and victories. 

2) No One is Mentioning Gucci's Twitter Tirade Anymore. 

(via Huffpost)

Gucci is free and he's been putting in work since stepping outside his cell. Guwop has been pivotal in perfecting a southern rap brand that's influened many others. He's taken artists under his wing, and has created a pretty solid fan-base. 

However, in 2013, he went on a pretty wild Twitter rant in which he pretty much claimed he had sex with the entireity of female R&B artists. He also stated that just about every hot artist or ATL artist was after-him in some shape or form. 

Dude lost it. 

However, today, we're more focused on the legacy than the multi-day Twitter rant. Why? 

The Recovery: 

Sure, the majority of the reason why we've forgotten, was because the current focus has been on his release. A new story (and 3 years) can make us forget about any PR disaster.

However, due to his legion of fans and supporters, Gucci's release was met with praise, press and collaboration. However, what if he continued his rant, stuck by it -- and then just got locked up? Would his praise be any less? That's hard to say. However, safe to suggest that what he did to recover, was the right approach. 

First, he owned up to it. He apologized personally and publicly to everyone he talked mentioned in his rant. He also talked about his addiction to lean, and his passion for cleaning up his lifestyle. Which personalized him. He wasn't just a figure with an ice cream tattoo and a lean belly. He was a real person, going through a tough time.

However, what really kept his legacy strong, were his supporters. Media, writers and fans stuck by him -- whether it was writing about release rumors, or even fans simply sharing his work and the occasional #FreeGucci post. 

It worked -- he came out of prison with his legacy still relevant and hopping on tracks with folks like Drake and Kanye from day one. (Drake being one of his "targets" in his 2013 rant.)

What We Can Learn:

First, own up to your mistakes. 

It's rare to see artists-- or any human --out right say, "Hey, I messed up. Sorry". Do this. If you're really sorry, say sorry. Don't worry about your ego or image, if you crossed a line, call yourself out.

However, Gucci made a fan-base, and this took decades, but he created a movement of supporters. Some of these supporters were folks he mentored, but others were just people that were aware of him, his story and his legacy.

The main take-away here is to create superfans. Create realtionships (Remember? PR is about relationships?), that will last the test of time. So when you're on a hiatus -- whether it's a break, or God forbit you got locked up, that people still talk about you and celebrate you. Even when you're being lowkey. 

3) Rick Ross Straight Up Promotes Rape.

(via NubiMagazine)

In the track, UOENO, Rozay said, I put molly in her champaign, she ain't even know it, I took her home and enjoyed that, and she ain't even know it. 

That's about as rape-y as it gets. He straight up says, I drugged her and took her home. This line led to some major media backlash, and even caused Reebok to cancel their advertising relationship. 

The Recovery:

At first, Ross said it was a "big misunderstanding", which just pissed off the media (and probably Reebok) more. Eventually, he wrote a sincere apology, and simply went back to focusing on the music. 

What We Can Learn:

Similar to above, with Guwop, own up to your mistakes. 

Look, you're going to rap about what you want to rap about. However, there's a line -- if you're rapping about lean, you know some young kid is going to listen and get interested. If you rap about rape.. well, c'mon now. You can't set that example for young men who look up to you as an artist. These are all things Ross noted in his apology letter. 

If you do a dumb thing, mention it -- but learn from it, and move on. Ross isn't rapping about rape anymore, he learned from it. Learn from your actions, and then focus back on the business. 


4) Not a Disaster but a Huge Branding Change: 2 Chainz

(Via 2Chainz.com)

The blog at A3C did a solid job of discussing 2 Chainz, and for the most part -- he's harmless fun. He's energetic, unique and a pretty solid businessman, too. However, the guy has been at it now for decades. Some hip hop historians may remember him from "Duffle Bag Boy" which, was often miscontrued for a Lil Wayne track. But nope -- it was actually a Chainz song, it's just that he wasn't going by 2 Chainz. He was going by the name Tity Boi

He still uses and references this moniker on occasion, but interestingly enough, traction only picked up after the 2Chainz rebrand. Hmm.

The Recovery:

Do you think ADIDAS would have signed a deal with a dude named Tity Boi?
Do you think top radio would be as open to a rapper named Tity Boi?

Chainz had a unique style, a unique brand and really great sound. However, it wasn't marketable. We see this often -- there's plenty of artist who rebrand and come back fresher and more recognized. Sure, this rebrand also came with his signing to GOOD Music, which also propelled his reach forward. But regardless, the name change really helped him ease into the rap that also could teeter on those Top 40 stations.  


What We Can Learn:

If you want mass-appeal, be massively appealing. I'm not saying you need to change your look, or change how you speak. But, if you have an image that just isn't press friendly, see what you can change. The radio isn't going to spin a track that's blatantly promoting drugs or violence (well, let's be honest unless you're a major). But even major artists who have songs about dope or violence didn't start out with those -- they eased into those images. 

Sometimes you need to be a bit more fan friendly, without changing who you are as an artist. That song with the profanity slap dab in the middle of the chorus -- probably won't get picked up to be placed in a film. If your cover art is a dead body, likely won't attract too much Top 40 press, right? 

Be aware of how people are going to react to you. Don't think, "if the music is good they'll ride for it", no. Because that's not how the FCC works, that's not how businesses work, you need to be able to present yourself in a way that's genuine, but still palatable to the people you're targeting. 


5) Beef In Hip Hop: Various

(Via RollingStone)

There's really too many to name here: Common, LL Cool J, Diddy, Drake, Meek, Tupac, TI and hell, just about any artist out there kicking as had some form of beef with some other rapper. It could be as subtle as a vague reference on a track or "shade" in an interview to something as harsh as a complete disstrack. 

Two artists feuding has become a staple in hip hop culture -- and let's be honest, pop culture of all sorts. Sometimes, it can be good for an artists career. Such as when the "concious" legend, Common went raw on Ice Cube in his diss track, "The Bitch In Yoo", which certainly sparked Common's name in circles that he may not have been previously. That's not saying he wasn't a well-known guy at the time, he was at the pinnacle of his career, but him going a bit harder than usual, certainly turned some heads and shed extra light on his work. 

However, other times, it can be bad for your career -- such as in the case of Meek Mill, whose "twitter fingers" put him in an unbeatable battle. While there's been hundreds of "think pieces" on Meek/Drake, this won't be another one. I'll keep it short and sweet: Meek, while maybe write about ghostwriting, wasn't going up against a traditional rap artist, he was going up against Drake -- who let's be honest, is powerful, and has a fan base that surpasses hip hop heads. 

He also waited months before making a (really bad) response track, and then six months before dropping a response EP. The fact that he was still talking about the feud, while Drake had a new album in the works, a charting single, and was headlining festivals, just made Meek seem stuck in the past. 

This isn't just in the case of Meek or Drake, it's any artist. When you see them in conflict, it's really important you act accordingly.

The Recovery:

To recover from any sort of diss track or public roasting, the best route -- is to ackowledge, respond, not give it power and move-on. If they sat in the studio and put out a tape talking trash, sure, give 'em a response. If it flops -- move on. This was Meek's issue and plenty of others, they clung to it. However, by moving forward, focusing on new work and new avenues, is really the best way to handle any bad career moves. 

Don't let some rapper mentioning you, be the highlight of your career. Move on. 

What We Can Learn:

We can learn that another artists opinions don't mean much. There's never been an artist who was in a feud and disappeared. Meek was hurt, but I think he'll come back eventually. The other maintakeaway though, is much more broad -- and that's this: 

Don't let something follow you around.

That could be beef, that could be a dumb mistake you did, that could be a charge -- anything. Don't let it define you, or haunt you. Don't bring it up in interviews or Tweet about, after a while, move on. You need to define your work, so, do it. 

W. Tyler Allen

Written by W. Tyler Allen

As a music marketing strategist, Tyler Allen works with an extensive array of artists, labels, music tech, and music retail entities. Tyler began his music industry career with Sony Music Entertainment and RED Distribution, as well as the advertising industry. He is dedicated to giving veteran artists the tools to preserve their legacy, and new artists the tools to begin theirs (as well as everything in between). Learn more at: wtylerconsulting.com

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