In early January, 16-year-old Memphis rapper NLE Choppa uploaded a three-minute clip to YouTube of him and his friends dancing, joking around and toting prop guns to the tune of a boisterous hip-hop track called “Shotta Flow.” Helped along by reaction videos from popular hip-hop vloggers, and combined with Choppa’s melodic, heavy-hitting delivery, the rowdy clip quickly made rounds on the internet, reaching 300,000 views within two weeks of its release, according to YouTube -- and racking up more than 10 million views to date.
Within a month, Choppa, whose real name is Bryson Potts, had sparked a bidding war among record companies like Republic, Interscope and Caroline, with bids reaching as high as $3 million. This kind of story is familiar: Young, local rapper goes viral; labels pounce. But this week, the rapper tells Billboard, he turned down those offers to enter a distribution partnership with UnitedMasters, Steve Stoute’s independent distribution company, without an advance and while retaining full ownership of his master recordings.
Stoute says that when the “Shotta Flow” music video caught the eye of UnitedMasters’ A&R team last month, he immediately reached out to Choppa and the rapper's mother, who was acting as his manager, offering distribution for the song. Choppa agreed. “Then, record companies are calling the guy and offering a bunch of money,” Stoute tells Billboard. “Here’s the issue: He’s already just seen, with him owning the rights and us doing distribution, he’s earning money on Spotify and Apple Music, and his song is growing on YouTube. What does he need a record company to do?”