The Major League: A Selective History of D.C. Rappers on Major Labels
Has Fat Trel gone to a major label? Don’t believe the tweets just yet—there’s no final word on whether the D.C. trap rapper has officially joined Rick Ross’ Atlantic Records subsidiary Maybach Music Group alongside Wale. But if Trel does make the jump, he would join a fairly exclusive circle. D.C. rappers don’t land on major labels too often, and their history with them is spotty at best. Here’s a selective history of DMV hip-hop gone corporate.
The trio consisting of MCs Kokayi, Black Indian, and Sub-Z put out one full-length on French major BMG France: 1997’s Art of War LP. Damningly, the funky, R&B-driven record was scarcely distributed in the U.S., and it didn’t do much to drive the trio’s popularity stateside.
After his foray onto a major with Opus Akoben, young MC Black Indian put out a solo record on MCA, 2000’s Get ‘Em Psyched!!. It included a collabo with Biz Markie, and the eponymous single grew into a D.C. anthem.
“Five o’clock in the morning, where you gonna be? Outside on the corner,” went the refrain in Nonchalant’s 1996 single, “Five O’Clock,” a cautionary tale that deserved its high spot on the hip-hop charts. The D.C. native’s debut LP on MCA, Until the Day, didn’t fare as well as the single, and the label cut ties with her after her second single—1998’s "Take It There" with The Roots—went nowhere.
When Maryland MC Logic appeared on the cover of XXL magazine’s "Freshman" issue this year, local reactions seemed to fall somewhere between "Who is Logic?" and "No seriously, who the fuck is Logic?" Not much later, the 23-year-old from Gaithersburg was signed to Def Jam, an almost unbelievable achievement for the relative rookie who idolizes, of all people, Frank Sinatra.
D.C.’s biggest and most scrutinized rapper now has three major-label albums to his name, and none have been big critical wins. But he still cracked the top of the Billboard charts with his last album, The Gifted, and Wale's local fanbase remains fiercely loyal.
Young rapper Marky turned down a college education to make music with St. Louis' Trackboyz (producers of Nelly's "Air Force Ones"), and he made a minor splash with his first single, the Ready for the World-laced track "Sheila." He later signed to Universal Music Group subsidiary SRC. But the native Marylander has been pretty quiet since his 2012 mixtape, Divine Intervention, only occasionally rearing his head to rhyme over a blog-approved indie track.
DC Don Juan
For a minute there, the Bronx-born, Capitol Heights, Md.–raised rapper Don Juan enjoyed a glimmer of fame when his 2009 single "Lookie Looky" helped him land a deal with Jive Records affiliate Nu Entertainment/Battery. Don Juan hasn’t produced another big single since, but his moment in the spotlight is forever memorialized by the numerous twerk videos the track spawned on YouTube.
In the mid- to late-1990s, no prom, house party, or block party truly took off without at least one spin of DJ Kool’s Top 40 hit "Let Me Clear My Throat." It appeared on Kool’s last studio album, released in 1996 on Rick Rubin’s American Recordings, then part of Warner Bros.