Well my view is that it's not just about price.. and can be about, dare I say it.... "the right tool for the job" and so it depends.
I also think... that where one should spend one's money.. when looking at this from a business perspective, depends on how you conceptualize your approach to the business.. that this should drive your priorities and so its a little hard to give a good universal answer to your questions.
My feeling is that that your top priority ought to be learning and exploring...
I don't know very much about rap, but what I'd imagine.. is that if I was serious about wanting to have a career as a rapper..
Well first of all I wouldn't be hiring producers.. I'd be looking for some kind DJ producer folks to team up with..
So #1 The development of you're material.. you want to focus on both developing great material and on your abilities to make great material.. and I'd imagine that would be best done when you're teaming up with a producer / dj type of person.
(Not only that I think it's psychologically easier to think of your self more as a part of a team then on your own)
#2 It's not just a question of how groovy your material is, it's also a question of how well you can sell that material to a live audience.. and so I'd want to put some focus on that.. and I think that works best with a live DJ.
Again.. don't know a lot about rap.. but I'd imagine this is critical for making a career happen.. I mean as a rule of thumb at least.
#3 Obviously.. working on making records is important.. so you want to focus on that as well.
#4 You want to focus on learning the business, and sorta learning and developing your own kinda approach to the business.
I'd probably weight my goals more towards the artist side then the business side at first.. just cause I want to start with a good product really.
When it comes to the business goals..
I think it's best to do it grass roots.. which is to say that in promotion you can ether do a lot of leg work and spend not a lot of money, or do less leg work and spend a lot of money.. and it's a continuum between these two.. and I think for a variety of reasons you want to start with a focus on the leg work...
It's good to dream big but please try and keep your self in check and don't look for some kinda magic bullet that will cause you to make it big over night.. aim at the long hall... and a lot of that is about artistic integrity and a grass roots approach.
So this means you don't really need to spend a lot of money on promotion.
Now.. I think of there as being a kind of DIY tool kit.. and this is kinda a long story..
So for instance I think there's a certain value in having a web site that's designed in a way to facilitate how you're approaching the business / where you're at. As in good web design isn't simply about how pretty it is but about how it helps you in achieving your objectives.
And it all starts with objectives.
Some folks will go through various social networking sites and not bother with there own site but I don't think this is a good long term strategy.. On the other hand "your own website" could be a wordpress website.. where you simply find a decent theme that meets your objectives, more or less, rather hiring a designer... but then as a I designer I always want to advocate hiring designers http://static.gearslutz.com/board/im...ilies/wink.gif
How you present your self online is important.. and I can see why one might want to spend some money on video and photographic equipment.. or consider it... although you can probably get away with an iPhone or something.
But I don't know.. lets get back to equipment.
On the isolation both I would ask you "um, what exactly are you trying to isolate your self from?"
You can use filters to minimize the effect of the space you're recording in, that's probably the route I would take.
This like microphone preamps and converts tend to have the biggest impact when you're stacking tracks together, so if the production about a lot of software instruments, and maybe some hardware in there somewhere.. (and it's the producer who's gear is recording said hardware)... then preamps and converts are going to have less impact on what you're doing then if you were trying to record a rock band or something.
So.. what microphone sounds best has a lot to do with how that microphone interacts with your voice.. or whatever you're recording.. and along with this.. what kinda sound you're maybe going with... and there's the interaction between that microphone and the preamp...
The thing is you can get very good preamps for not a lot of money.. and if you really only need to convert one audio channel.. all and all you don't have to spend a tun of money. I mean I can imagine a very affordable set up.
Now as for microphones.. as I say.. depends on how they interact with your voice.. More expensive microphones often have better off axis response.. often we might talk about something that can function better as a work horse kinda microphone.. which doesn't matter to you too much cause you're only interested in recording your voice anyway.
I like the idea of going to a studio.. and besides just trying to make a groovy recording as your objective.. it might be to try and figure out what might be a good audio chain for you.. and that might be the best approach to all this.
But as a more general answer.. When we are talking about more high end gear..
Well you ever see the term "mastering grade" on the marketing material of like.. and piece of gear? Do you know what mastering grade means? Its term used by copywriters to make you think it's extra special.. end of story. A mastering engineer might want different features then a mix engineer.. but without getting too deep into it.. the difference isn't really about quality..
What I'm driving at here is that there's specific things that are important to someone who's performing a particular kind of roll.. that there job..
Now if you're recording and mixing bands day in and day out.. what you want for that job is different then if you didn't do that day in and day out.. and some of that has to do with workflow.. and you have to get this sound of whatever quality inside of a time constraint defined by a budget..
But you... as someone trying to record your self inside of.. lets say a home recording context.. well have different needs.
So sometimes spending more money is specific to the problem of recording and mixing day in and day out.. or the particular problems of a commercial studio.. or I mean the the advantages of that.. in a kind of.. what your priorities are.. then it is something that's quality independent of context.
Another thing is that mass production makes things cheaper.. and since there's significantly less commercial studios then musicians in bedrooms.. you don't see economies of scale working on behalf of commercial studio gear in the same way you do with musicians in bed rooms.
All of that said.. clearly good gear is best.. but spending more money does not equal better gear or gear with more value for a person in your position..
(I can't believe i wrote such a long response.. ok, shutting up now)