“Consumers relate to these artists,” says Junior Foster, the head of global artist relations at Deezer. “It isn’t about the influx of American artists talking only about an American perspective. Now you can touch base with an artist from your own your area, living in the street next to you, talking about things that are relevant to you.”
It’s also no coincidence that many of the scene’s biggest names come from immigrant backgrounds largely marginalized by mainstream culture. Deutschrap, as local-language hip-hop is called in Germany, for instance, is dominated by artists from Muslim backgrounds, says Natascha Augustin, senior creative director at Warner Chappell Music Germany.
“It was like punk rock —very do-it-yourself and this created an intense fan bond, resulting in a huge number of followers,” says Augustin, who has signed many of the leading German rappers to Warner Chappell, including Summer Cem and Capital Bra, helping the company overtake Sony/ATV as the top domestic publisher in Germany for the last two years.
To keep up with the new world order, major labels have increased investment in signing and developing local hip-hop artists in all key and emerging markets. Deals vary from traditional label contracts to bespoke service-level partnerships in which artists benefit from the promotion, distribution and marketing clout a major label can bring, but still retain a degree of independence and a bigger share of the profits.
"What we are offering is a service level, to different degrees," says Frank Briegmann, UMG president/CEO Central Europe and Deutsche Grammophon. "Some artists want a distribution offer, some want more marketing, and some independent hip-hop labels we do deals with want to feel the power of a major company cross over their artists."
Kulling says the shift toward service-level deals offered by BMG — along with Universal, Sony and Warner — reflects the independent mindset of many hip-hop acts. “We deal with rap artists who have new ideas, who basically put the business, in terms of contracts, upside-down,” she says.
“We have changed our structure to be able to respond to these urban genres,” says Brook Demissie, director of GOLD LEAGUE, an urban-focused imprint of Sony Music Germany launched in 2019 as part of a companywide reorganization of Sony Music Germany. "Our deal structure has changed. Our way of communicating has changed."
But global domination is still the ultimate — and most profitable — goal. To grow their market share, labels, publishers and artists are encouraging multi-language and cross border collaborations. They include Warner-signed French rapper Aya Nakamura teaming up with Italy’s Capo Plaza for a remix of her song “Pookie.” Niska’s French No. 1 single “Réseaux,” meanwhile, was remade for international listeners with verses from British rapper Stefflon Don and Quavo. There’s also a German version starring local hip-hop star Nimo.