In this episode we chat with Ben Sauberman. Ben’s still a Hunter College student, but don’t let that fool you — he’s no ordinary college kid. For starters, he’s super passionate about gangster rap, so if you’re curious about what’s going on in the underground scene, Ben’s your guy.
In the past year, Ben’s been working on his own personal project centered on capturing the YouTube network of influence around gangster rap. Thanks to his deep interest in its various genres, Ben quickly noticed that artists in this scene got big through a complex network of local cinematographers, aka people who were good with cameras and shot cool music videos. Just like Cole Bennett did with Lyrical Lemonade, these cinematographers soon became their city or area’s go-to people, helping to fashion the local rap scene through their YouTube music video channels.
If you're an artist and you have $150-250 to shoot a music video, you're not traveling, you're basically gonna hit up someone you know ... or [someone] you've seen another local artist do a music video with — you're likely to hit up someone who's very within reach, cheap.... You're not going to go to New York City, LA ... so rather than hit up some major videographer who's gonna be way out of your budget in a different area, you're gonna hit up the people who are close to you....Videographers have become the centralized curator.
His 700+ YouTube channel influencer list (sample) breaks emerging rap down into regions, genres and styles, illustrating how "new" markets are emerging out of longstanding hotspots like Atlanta, New York City, and California.
There have always been artists from other cities.... Historically, they've migrated to the hip-hop centers. Young Dolph is a good example. He's from Memphis ... but he migrated to Atlanta, because that's where Gucci Mane was, who became a really big part of his career and Zaytoven, a big producer in his career.... He would never say he wasn't a Memphis rapper, but at the same time, he was so deep in the Atlanta thing that he kinda felt like an Atlanta rapper.... Whereas now, you have these [YouTube] channels ... everybody's got a camera, and every city's got 20 [channels]. I definitely feel like they've empowered these different scenes.
Ben hasn’t been out there with a video camera himself, but he has been analyzing artists' success in his own way by gradually curating a juicy list of regionalized YouTube rap outlets. Using several key factors, including channel name, view count, and contact info, Ben has organized his list to gain a better understanding of just how powerful and important YouTube can be for developing burgeoning local rap culture.
I noticed that 1) a lot of producers are posting their stuff on YouTube, and 2) it was becoming a marketplace for beats.... So, type beats are really big, but what's happening..... You're basically emulating a bigger producer's style or a bigger rapper's beat preference ... and what that breeds is very similar underground rappers.... At the same time, it makes it really clear when there's a new great rapper because not only is the sound really good, but it's different.
Since 2016, Ben’s been working in Connecticut as a promoter and stage manager at Big Mike the Ruler Events. Starting mid-last year, Ben also kicked things off as a talent manager and writer at Sparky, a music company in LA, where he now helps reach out to artists, run studio sessions, write blog articles, and scout for emerging Rap and R&B acts.
And his East Coast introduction to music came in a very organic and local way.
I grew up outside New Haven, [Toad's Place] is a legendary Connecticut venue.... There'd be all these opening acts.... I'd be there before the shows, after the shows.... It was just cool to hang out with these people who were just trying to grind and go get it.
Ben's exactly the kind of music operator that combines his passion for music and the rigor of data analysis into a fierce business acumen, and we're psyched to see what he does in the years to come.