GZA On A&R, Labels, And – Art

The connection between making art and the business of selling it has fascinated me my entire life. 

It’s an exchange for value. Kind of intangible. Kind of so tangible you can’t even put words on it so much as feel it. Yes, there’s product you can buy. But in the end, consumption is pure experience. 

When GZA said, “First of all, who’s your A&R? A mountain climber who plays the electric guitar?” he was getting at the heart of the connection. Are people trying to sell your art who know nothing about you?

And then on the labels, and the faux relationships with businesses you risk by being in the business of making art, he… I can’t put one quote. The entire song “Labels” has bar after bar of magic. It’s the art of war and the war of art in a song. 

When A&R Steve Rifkind signed Wu Tang to Loud Records, he gave the act an unheard of level of creative and career control. He famously broke the mold and said all the artists could have deals outside of the group’s primary deal. This was crazy and unprecedented and fair to describe as crazy-unprecedented. 

Rifkind’s loyalty wasn’t solely to the business, which he had faith would follow, but to enabling the artists to make their art. 

Whatever we’re making, we need people around us who understand our artistic ethos. 

It doesn’t mean they have to exactly share or even fully understand our vision. I don’t think GZA could have described exactly what he was doing in the early 90s in businessy terms. But the people around him got how it made them feel. 

Feel is the most important thing. It’s what transcends business. It’s what validates the artistic expression. 

Ps. Your job is not your identity