What exactly does it take to make money in the music industry today? For Philadelphia artist SUNWUN (Something U Never Witnessed Until Now) it all boils down to two things: hustle and grind. Sure, the lucky few will go viral on Soundcloud. But for every Lil Pump there are a thousand other aspiring musicians looking to make their mixtapes household names. In a volatile marketplace, SUNWUN has found stability through hustling and grinding, expanding his focus to business in addition to music. He just dropped a dope project, The Supreme EP, a couple of weeks ago and is hard at work running his own recording studio in north Philadelphia. But what’s coolest about SUNWUN is that he’s figured out how to make the idea of a working musician actually work. Here’s a conversation I had with him recently:
PETER (Highlark): You’ve opened for some big-name golden age hip hop artists in the past. Do you think they’re appreciated enough?
SUNWUN: I don’t think they’re appreciated enough today. A lot of it has to do with the oversaturation of music. Nowadays, a song is old after two weeks. If a song comes out and after two weeks it’s old, how do you think people look at a song from the ‘90s or even the ‘80s? But so many of our songs came from that. And that was only 20 years ago! You can’t forget the root from which it all came … It’s like opening a book and starting to read from the middle and telling everyone you read the book.
PETER: What are your thoughts on modern rap?
SUNWUN: I feel like a lot of substance is lost in today’s music. People just want a beat that bangs so that they can jig to it or whatnot: We get it, people shoot guns and sell drugs in the ghetto. How long are we going to let these kinds of songs dominate music? You can talk down on it all you want but nothing’s going to happen unless you do something.
PETER: What sets you apart as an artist today? What do you call your music?
SUNWUN: I would classify it as ‘conscious street music’ because it does have that street edge, but it’s got jewels sprinkled in-between. [What sets me apart is that] I walk the line between being a gangster rapper and a backpack rapper, so I guess you can call that genre whatever.
PETER: The rap listener demographic has definitely changed over the past couple of decades. Could you speak to that? What kind of people listen to your music?
SUNWUN: The target demographic for me would probably be 25-30 and older. I’ve performed in all kinds of venues, young crowds and old crowds, and gotten dope reactions. My music isn’t for everybody. If you don’t want to think just a little bit, it’s not for you. If you can’t rewind the record, it’s not for you. Everything’s changing today because hip hop is a young genre itself — five years from now, two years from now, rap might have a totally different listener demographic. But for me, my lane is being a representative of [golden age hip hop].
PETER: You’re a working musician. How do you swing that? And how does someone become successful as a working musician today?
SUNWUN: Consistent hustle and grind. I was fortunate enough to take my craft into another aspect of the game: I run a recording studio here in Philadelphia. Doing that keeps my finger on the pulse, knowing what people are doing here. It’s really about promoting your brand, getting your streams and merch moving. You need to create a movement, something that people feel they want to be a part of so that they buy into it. If you don’t do that, you’re going to have a very difficult time sustaining yourself as an artist. Everybody and their grandmother has a mixtape out right now. Everybody. It’s cool, but the people who truly put effort into their craft will rise above.
PETER: You’re based in Philadelphia. What interesting things are going on there that everyone should know about?
SUNWUN: Personally I think one of the most interesting things that’s going on is what my brother Chill Moody is doing by serving as a hip hop ambassador here in the city. He’s one of the first artists to brew his own beer. That type of innovation is going on the city right now, continuing to expand hip hop into different markets. In the same breath you’ve got people like Meek Mill, totally on the other side of the fence, who are making noise as well … What I love about the city is that you can get everything down here, whatever you want.
PETER: You mentioned Chill Moody and how he’s building a brand for himself. Would you say that kind of renaissance man-type thing is happening across the country?
SUNWUN:I hope it’s happening around the country. It’s more prominent and in my face here. Usually those kinds of crossovers happen on the mainstream level; a rapper having his own beer sounds like something a major label artist would do. Nowadays it’s happening more on an independent level. We’ve got not-as-known artists doing joint ventures, expanding their own brands.
PETER: Is that a new trend?
SUNWUN: The focus was more so on making records in the ‘90s. There were sponsorships, like the Snoop Dogg St. Ides beer commercial, but not partnerships, artists doing their own things with companies. The partnership is rather new in terms of how long hip hop has been around. It was forced upon us because with the age of the internet and free downloads, people needed to find more creative ways to make money. So instead of just hearing your record, your audience could go get your clothes, wear your t-shirts, your hats. I know artists who made deals with potato chip companies and got their own brand of potato chips.
PETER: So you can’t just make music anymore?
SUNWUN:Absolutely not, not if you want to make a living. To survive, you’ve got to get creative with it, you’ve got to hustle. You can’t just do it twice a week and expect to yield some dope return.