Nas, who turned hip-hop on its ear 20 years ago with his groundbreaking debut album “Illmatic,” is going independent. The venerated rapper, 40, is launching Mass Appeal Records, an independent record label, which, in addition to shepherding a new generation of hip-hop hopefuls, will also provide an outlet for new Nas music when his contract with Def Jam expires later this year.
Mass Appeal Records is co-founded by Peter Bittenbender, 36, and will succeed Decon Records, a boutique hip-hop label-turned-creative studio started by Bittenbender and video director Jason Goldwatch in 2002. The creative studio, which has grown to service blue chip clients including Nike, Rockstar Games and CNN, will continue as Decon while music operations are shifted under the Mass Appeal umbrella.
Last spring, Nas and Bittenbender raised $1.2 million to relaunch the street art and culture publication Mass Appeal magazine, which will serve as a sister company to Mass Appeal Records akin to the relationship between Vice Records and Vice magazine, or The Fader magazine and Fader Label.
“I’m excited to be a part of creating and supporting future careers and legacy artists, promoting love and finding new genius to help the world,” Nas said in an email. “I’m going to be as involved as I need to be, but I also want to be respectful of the art and give artists the space they need to grow and become themselves.”
First among Mass Appeal Records releases, arriving late this summer, will be an annual compilation album featuring friends of the brand like Future, Pusha T, Mac Miller, A$AP Mob and Nas himself performing a cover of the 1994 Gang Starr single that gave the company its name. Also on deck is “Lost Tapes 2,” a collection of unreleased Nas music, and a posthumous album from Pimp C that will pair the Houston icon and UGK member with modern production titans like Juicy J, Mike Will Made It and DJ Mustard.
Sony’s RED is Mass Appeal’s distributor, reuniting Nas with the parent company that released “Illmatic” in 1994. RED won the rights to the label in a bidding war with Caroline and the Alternative Distribution Alliance, putting up an advance in the low seven figures for a multi-year agreement.
“Nas is a tremendous artist and one of hip-hop’s all-time greats,” said Doug Morris, CEO of Sony Music Entertainment. “We are delighted to welcome him back to the Sony Music family.”
Among Mass Appeal’s first signings are the Detroit street rapper Boldy James, 17-year-old New York rapper Bishop Nehru and former XXL Freshman Fashawn. While hip-hop is an obvious area of expertise, Nas and Bittenbender plan to expand the label to include singer/songwriters, EDM artists and DJ/producers.
“We want to become the next XL,” says Bittenbender. “This is an opportunity to take everything we’ve learned and build a global, diversified label from the ground up.”