The artists signed to Top Dawg Entertainment are some of the the most talented hip–hop artists out today. Yet, with just a couple of exceptions, TDE’s management of such a strong group of artists has been subpar to say the least. TDE has signed Kendrick Lamar, SZA, Schoolboy Q, Ab-Soul, Isaiah Rashad, Jay Rock, Lance Skiiiwalker, and SiR, all artists who either possess incredible potential or have already displayed their capacity to make consistently great music. So why do they drop music so rarely, and more importantly, why does it seem that so many of these rappers have had issues with their label?
Many people would argue that SZA’s most recent album, Ctrl, was one of the best albums of 2017. Yet, from SZA’s perspective, the release of Ctrl and the label’s actions before its release were nothing short of inexcusable. In an interview with The Guardian, SZA said, “They just took my hard drive from me … Give me another month and it would’ve been something completely different." SZA was frustrated with her label to the point of tweeting, “I actually quit," going on to say Terrence “Punch” Henderson, co–president of TDE, "can release my album if he ever feels like it." The tweet itself has since been deleted.
This is not the sign of a record label that manages its artists well. Considering that SZA herself is now a certified platinum artist and has grown a huge fanbase along the way, TDE should be rewarding their artists for their creativity and talent, not mistrusting them and forcing them to release an album they might not think is ready. In an interview with Fader, SZA continued, “I didn’t even fuck with my own album, so I was so confused and almost, like, angry that everyone fucked with it so much”.
Misunderstandings and rumors around the release of new albums seem to be all–too–common for TDE’s artists, and these issues have extended to the record label’s most prolific artist, Kendrick Lamar. Isaiah Rashad, a fellow TDE rapper, said TDE CEO Anthony "Top Dawg" Tiffith played him “damn near” a full album of Kendrick Lamar songs, while Lamar himself stated “I got more music coming, ya dig what I'm saying?" immediately following the release of his album DAMN. in 2017. Yet Top Dawg himself Instagrammed, “KDOT don’t have a new album coming no time soon," quashing any ideas that Lamar would be able to release the music as promised. For a record label consisting of this much talent, it is unfortunate that personalities are getting in the way of what should matter most: the music.
Following two 2018 TDE album releases, Jay Rock’s Redemption and SiR’s November (plus TDE’s Black Panther soundtrack), fans of the label were told that two more albums would be released by the year’s end. Yet, by February 2019, there are no new TDE albums in sight. Artists promising albums to fans then delaying the release is nothing new in hip–hop, but this news came from Top Dawg himself, not an artist trying to build up hype for their latest release. On one hand, TDE has made extensive efforts to stop their artists from promising releases of new music, but on the other hand, Top Dawg himself has unabashedly made the same promises, and none have come to fruition.
On the other hand, it should be noted that the exposure TDE has given to their artists has been instrumental to their success. However, the TDE leadership has undoubtedly mismanaged multiple situations with their artists. In order to foster a trustworthy relationship with their artists, TDE simply cannot force releases from SZA, force Kendrick Lamar to backtrack, or mislead fans with promises of new music. Labels should not demand such intense control over artists when the artists themselves have a different vision for their work. Many of these artists' contracts with TDE aren't long–term, and if Top Dawg doesn't learn to handle their artists with more respect, their star roster might look to another label to sign with in the future.