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 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.
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.