It’s hard to believe that a tiny independent hardcore east coast based hip hop label would be still standing after close to 20 years. There have been many labels that have come after them and made millions. Everyone from Bad Boy, Death Row, Rocafella, Suave House, No Limit, Murder Inc and many others have come into the game and cashed in while it seemingly to many that Duckdown is just holding on by a thread.
Fast forward to 2012 and its further from the case. Most of the labels that I mentioned above are either bankrupt or faded into obscurity, All while Duckdown records still remain as the #1 Independent rap label in the underground circuit.
What made Duckdown Records survive through the forever changing rap game is the fact that they stuck to their hardcore roots of hip hop. Whereas many labels in their position have sacrificed artist integrity to chase platinum successes, Duckdown thrived off it.
After being jerked around by Nervous Records for his royalties. Rapper Buckshot decided that he wanted to be the company instead of working for pennies so he partnered up with Drew “Dru Ha” Friedman and formed Duckdown Records which was a name borrowed from the Classic Boogie Down Productions 1992.
They would go around the 5 boroughs and sign young and hungry talent such as OGC(Original Gun Clappaz), Heltah Skeltah, and Smiff N Wesson to form the Boot Camp Click. But before they would release appetizers such as Nocturnal, Da shining, and Da Storm before releasing the potential crossover album titled For the People which was gonna be an album featuring all the members in a group.
The appeal of Duckdown were that they were the true opposite of what was hot at NY at the time. Fans that grew sick of Biggie and Puffy’s commercialism embraced the Boot Camp Click gritty boom bap in your face style and helped them build a momentum which was comparable to Wu Tang’s.
What will always be considered a special moment in Hip Hop was how Tupac Shakur showed interest in working with the Boot Camp Click members Buckshot and Smiff N Wesson. In hoping to defuse an East/West war. Tupac wanted to put the BCC on his One Nation project to show unity among East and West. With Tupac which in 1996 was the biggest artist at that time wanting to do records with them. Buck and Dru saw themselves going nowhere but up.
Beef, Tragedy, and a Critical disappointment
Just as soon as things were starting to look up. Things quickly took a drastic turn. Tupac was killed in September of that year and the tracks which he did with Boot Camp along with the One Nation Project would be shelved. The tracks Pac did with them are surfaced all over the internet but they would remain a mystery to masses for a long period of time.
O.G.C. Da Storm
The beef between Bad Boy and DuckDown would soon escalate to something violent. Even though their affiliation with Tupac may have rubbed Bad Boy the wrong way. It was OGC’s mocking of Biggie and Puffy which further set things off between the two camps. Biggie’s bodyguards would catch OGC member Strang Wondah and give him a beating. Ruck was anxious to take it to the streets in retaliation but Buckshot and Dru-Ha insisted that it would be bad for business. Starang would take the beef on wax as he would do freestyles dissing the Bad Boy camp:
Fans that were yearning for the release of Boot Camp’s debut For the People were further enthused after hearing their freestyles on Funkmaster Flex’s Volume 2 mixtape as they could have been the next big thing after the Wu Tang Clan if everything goes accordingly. The problem is soon as the album got released, It was a critical and artistic disappointment.
What could have been the platform to carry Boot Camp and its artists to the next level ended up being a bust with one of the reasons being that the heavy hitting production from Da Beatminerz which was heavily involved in their previous projects was missing. Hearing a Boot Camp album without a Beatminerz beat was like hearing a Wu Tang album with no Rza beat. Nobody wanted to hear it and the plan blew up in their faces.
The Priority distribution would be a great look for Duckdown. They were label mates with Ice Cube, Snoop Dogg, Master P, and many other big names of that time period. The problem with dealing with a major is that they now had to sell records and soften up their sound to gain that new appeal. Even though album’s from Coco Brovaz(Smiff N Wesson due to the name change) and Heltah Skeltah’s Magnum Force were solid offerings, They weren’t big enough to compete in Priority’s new machine so they ended the distribution partnership in 2000.
Revamping and Repackaging
Despite getting dropped from a major distributor. Buckshot and Dru kept on grinding and looked for ways to stay afloat. They didn’t want to go down like many before them so instead of doing the typical make a million mixtapes or demos of their artists and shipped them to distributors, They had another strategy.
Duckdown kept on putting out solid music in Mom and Pop stores all over the East Coast. Everything from 12 inch Vinyl’s street albums and compilations to keep their brand in the streets. They found ways to keep their artists relevant by having their songs licensed in video games such as Grand Theft Auto, Tv shows, and on ESPN where they had artists do songs for College Basketball games. Duckdown was even endorsed by large companies such as Microsoft, CocaCola, Pepsi, and Reebok which was also very unheard of for an independent label with no “hit records”.
Boom Bye Yeah
Brand Nu Day
Timb Bootz to work
They also found a way to revamp their sound as well.In 2004-2005 They released 3 albums from Buckshot, Smiff N Wesson and Sean Price(originally Rock from Heltah Skeltah)which was marketed as the “triple threat” The music on those projects were hard-hitting and gritty which many felt was missing in their prior releases. Sean Price re introducing himself with his solo debut album titled Monkey Barz which gave him a brand new identity for himself and escaped Ruck’s shadow.
Buckshot teamed up with North Carolina’s own 9th Wonder and did an album titled The Chemistry which was critically acclaimed and Smiff N Wesson took it back to 1995 with their album titled Reloaded which was way better than Rude awakening.
By 2011 Duckdown had a stacked roster and became the go to label for hardcore hip hop fans. Legends such as KRS One, Pharaoh Monch along with many hungry artists and producers who wouldn’t even get a stern look from a Major A&R got signed to the label and gained notoriety among the underground.
Despite the fact that Duckdown’s first week soundscans aren’t touching the Kanye’s or Lil Wayne’s of the world. They still found other avenues to stay in the game and what makes them so respected is that they truly didn’t sell out. They put out some dud albums and some disappointments within their 17 years in business as well as had some major setbacks. But their success should show you that you don’t need every artist to be the next Wayne, Jay or Nicki Minaji to sell.
The artists on Duckdown have built solid fanbases and never abandoned their core which allowed them to survive.
Labels such as Rawkus which started off as strictly Underground started to abandon their core audience in trying to compete with Def Jam. They tried making the artist change their sound and appeal to compete which blew up in their faces and resulted in the label going under. Duckdown not only showed that you can stay in the game making strictly good music but it also doesn’t help to have other hustles going. Look forward to releases from Buck and 9th, Sean Price, Black Rob, and many others for 2012!