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A Clash of Cultures: The Mixed Mindset of the Recording Industry.

In 2007, on a cold January night a SWAT team seized the New York apartment and studio of Tyree “DJ Drama” Simmons, and seized hundreds of CD’s, software, and computer equipment. Authorities subsequently arrested Simmons and held him on racketeering charges with a $10,000 bail.

The bust was conducting by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), and was coordinated due to Simmons massive distribution of his underground mix tapes.

Simmons is a highly revered DJ in the hip-hop scene and shot to stardom in the past  two decades due to his famous tapes that include both well known musicians as well as up and comers. However, this is no tale of an infamous music pirate–you probably have come across some of Simmons work before knowingly or unknowingly, as he’s pretty well known.

The interesting angle to this story is the fact that Simmons mix tapes have been such a staple in the hip-hop community that major labels have been funding Simmons work for years in hopes that his tapes can help garner publicity for their rising new artists. A few artists that attribute their stardom to Simmons mix tapes include, T.I., Chingy, 50 Cent and even hip-hop mogul, Sean “Diddy” Combs.

So, in this scenario, we have major record labels such as Bad Boy (Universal Music) and Def Jam (Warner Music) funding Simmons mix tapes, but in the same breath, we have the RIAA arresting Simmons on racketeering charges for simply doing what the major labels have been funding him to do.

So, what is the issue here? Why is the industry seemingly so schizophrenic? Is this a simple case of the right hand not knowing what the left is doing, or is this a more in-depth issue?

Another example of the mixed mindset of the industry is the widely seen success of sample based music and its trends.

For instance, the technique and sub-genre “Mash Up” has become so popular that DJ/Mash Up Artist Danger Mouse released a mash up of both The Beatles “The White Album” and Jay Z’s “The Black Album” to create “The Gray Album”.

Danger Mouse’s work met critical acclaim to the point where Rolling Stone Magazine named it “one of the best albums of the decade.” However, in a twist of irony, due to copyright restrictions the album was never released for commercial profit, and even its free streams were met with hostility from the RIAA and major record labels and publishers.

My final quip that showcases the mixed mindset of the industry is the mass popularity of other sample based artists that can never release their work. For instance, dub step and electronic artists such as Pretty Lights and Skrillex attract hundreds of thousands of people to their concerts, though, due to copyright law, they can never release their work commercially despite their popularity.

In no way am I stating that I am against copyright law, I am simply stating that legislation has yet to meet up with the technological innovations of our generation. We are living in a time where major labels fund mix tapes and then turn around and prosecute their producer. We are living in an era where artists can pack out stadiums but can never release their work commercially. We are abiding in a time where an industry leader such as Rolling Stone  can deem an album “one of the best of the decade”, but if it were to be released, the artist would be sued and fined.

However, the most awful thing is that if their work was to be released (illegally) it wouldn’t be seen as an artistic endeavor–it would be degraded by the RIAA as piracy and theft.

The solution to this issue is far beyond the scope of this article. However, I believe that we can better understand this “industry schizophrenia” if we explore the clash in cultures of our current generation with the generations that have come before it.

Current Copyright legislation was founded in 1976, however, most of the current issues we see are based upon technological innovations that stemmed with the rise of the internet, circa 1993. So, it becomes obvious how Copyright law can lag behind when it comes to current issues that have stemmed from the internet and recent technology.

However, the clash in culture doesn’t come from the technology itself–the clash actually stems from how the Internet has completely re-written the way information is approached.

Prior to the internet, information was only privy to media outlets such as print, news and radio. If you needed information, you only had a few outlets to choose from. Similarly, if you wanted to share information and you weren’t a broadcaster–you had a very limited audience.

With the surface of the internet, everyone could now be informers, cultivators and even amateur journalists. For the first time, there was no monopoly on media, and now information could freely be shared by anyone. We began to see average Joe bloggers post their views to millions, and we all see it daily with billions of Facebook statuses and Tweets continuously sharing information.

In a similar fashion, the 1990’s also brought rise to P2P file-sharing, and it brought user-friendly mixing software such as Pro-Tools, Audacity and Garageband– so now, not only was the “information monopoly” abandoned, but so was the “music production monopoly”.

Due to this, anyone could now be an artist, a producer, or a DJ.

As time progressed, the current generation grew up with the ability and technology to speak to the masses and they had access to media like no one ever has before.

The current generation is a generation that legal expert Larry Lessig deems, “The Read/Write generation” where the generations before it are deemed the “Read Only” generation.

The Read Only generation, is a generation that is accustomed to there being a fine line between producer and consumer. A generation that is used to listening to a record, a cassette or a CD and not being able to interact with it.

In comparison, the Read/Write generation is a generation that is accustomed to interacting with and adding onto media and entertainment. For instance, adding upon a Wikipedia article is an example of Read/Write culture, compiling a playlist on your Mp3 is Read/Write culture.

However, the most relevant example is taking a song and remixing, taking two tracks and combining them–and taking a piece of work and rearranging it to say something different. That, too, is Read/Write culture.

A relevant story that Lessig tells to teach people about Read Only and Read/Write culture is a story that stems from an incident with legendary composer, John Phillip Sousa.

With the onslaught of phonographs Sousa complained to congress that due to these “talking machines” people would no longer sing songs together, they would no longer compose, he said that the towns used to “flourish” with songs written by its youth. He said folks would take family songs and build upon them and constantly compose and create. Sousa said that these talking machines would put a strangle hold on creativity and we will all soon “lose our vocal chords”.

In a way, Sousa was correct, with the phonograph there was a line created between artist and consumer, for the first time someone held the monopoly on who was a musician and who was not. These phonographs soon became record players, which became cassettes, which became CD’s, and for the first time there was a clear and bold division between artist and non-artist, between producer and observer. There was now a clear cut line between musician and non musician.

As a result of this, millions of vocal chords were truly lost.

The emergence of Read/Write culture through sample based music, mash-ups and DJ culture is a revival of the vocal chords that Sousa spoke so passionately about. Our current generation is simply taking art and remixing to say something differently, composing it differently.

Though, the worst part of this, is that the way the laws are written the current generation cannot deem themselves “artistic” or as “innovators”.

Due to the way the laws are written, the current generation must do their art in private or else they will be deemed “pirates” and “law breakers”.

It’s certainly a shame that artistic conquests can be deemed illegal and unworthy of public consumption simply because the law has failed to catch up with the technological and social advances.

So, to all of you underground artists fighting the good fight–keep it up. Things are the way they are not because of injustice, but due to a musical revolution that you are on the heels of.

The industry has never seen such a rise in it’s history since the establishment of Sousa’s “talking machines” and it’s only a matter of time before the legalities meet up with the technological and social advances. Plus, with the establishment of alternative licenses such as Creative Commons and the massive popularity of electronic and sampled music the light at the end of the tunnel is getting brighter as we are only becoming more established in this current age of Read/Write culture.

-wta

Childish Gambino, The Resurgence of The Triple Threat.

Back in the good ole’ days (I speak as if I was alive then) we saw artists who were referred to as a “triple threat”, singer, dancer and actor. When contemplating this title one may conjure up thoughts of Ole’ Blue Eyes Frank Sinatra, Dancing Legend Fred Astaire, The Candy Man Sammy Davis Jr. and plenty more.

As culture has evolved, there seems to be barriers between the three. The norm now seems to be if you’re an actor–stick to acting, and if you’re a singer–stick to singing.

This could very well be due to the attempts of the triple threat gone wrong.

A short list:

Steven Seagal plays the blues.

Mariah Carey trying to act.

Bruce Willis trying to sing.

Eddie Murphy singin’ with MJ.

 

It’s a bit disheartening that these folks kinda screwed it up for the rest of ’em. Now when an actor puts out an album it’s usually dismissed fairly quickly, or when a singer puts out a movie–people can’t wait to bash it. This common mindset generally means that when a great actor is also a great musician–people are a bit hesitant about it.

Though, if they’re good enough, that hesitation will surely take a backseat, and it instantly does with Donald Glover’s musical project Childish Gambino.

I’ve written about Childish Gambino before and praised his recent EP. Not only is he rather hilarious, his hip-hop albums are definetly a testament to his multi-talented stature. Glover brings the passionate story telling flavor that’s often missed with the over produced and under written rap we hear on the radio today.

Glovers new track Bonfire, off his soon to be released album, Camp, gives us a small glimpse of whats to come.

The sample alone is terribly catchy. It combines sirens, a vocal chorus and an electric guitar that gives the track a sense of urgency. This urgency is only amplified with Glovers unique and rhythmic rapping style. His voice itself is a mix of singing/rapping/singing. His delivery seems flawless and is delivered smooth.

The song itself, Bonfire, speaks of burning up the competition, however, the song also speaks of the fire that’s burning inside of Glover.

Glover generally uses a theme of overcoming in his music as well as destroying barriers. This song is no different as Glover raps about breaking down barriers of black and white music, and being respected for his rapping skills despite being a well known actor, too. Though this theme is important to him, I can see this become an over used topic. For instance, the only time I hear anyone hating on him for being a rapper/actor is when he raps about it. Hopefully he starts to weed this topic out.

However, everything from the mixing to the tempo on this track is dead on. Bonfire gives his fans a taste of whats to come as we wait for the November 15th drop date.

Donald Glover AKA Childish Gambino is our generations take on the infamous triple threat. Comedian, Actor, Rapper.

The Rise of The Configurative and Experiential Culture in the Music Industry.

I never really understood the current electro-phenomenon that is dubstep, or as my more pretentious friends would correct me, “Post-Dubstep”, since the genre we hear now is an evolutionary product of years past.

(And I thought that prefixes like “post” and suffixes like “core” were on their way out, I guess I was mistaken. Yes, I’m talking to you post-electronic mathcore, and other nonsensical genre titles!)

Ahem, anyhow, I just could never get into it. To me, dubstep was just a combination of things I have heard before–a bit of techno/electronica with a few other flares built in.

It started to seem just like another trend that folks cling to so that they have a piece of art that they can claim as their own–a certain musical identity in which they can base their personality upon.

Now, clasping towards a musical identity isn’t a bad thing–there still exists die hard punk fans who cling to their roots and so on and so forth, and I am all about the mesh of music and it’s culture. Though to me, dubstep was just another budding fad that will slowly but surely fade out or even transform into something new.

However, it wasn’t until a few friends of mine put on a widely popular local rave that my outlook started to change. The event itself was a whopping success, partially due to the professionalism put into each aspect. One friend is a lighting technician at the Hard Rock Casino and the other friend is a successful local DJ, so they really brought their a-game. Under the bright lights, smoke machines and industrial sized bubble makers–my outlooked switched from outside observer to understander to..hell I’ll admit it, enjoyer.

Though, the phenomenon that is becoming dubstep may seem fairly simple to some–great tunes that include a good atmosphere–but to me it’s actually a bit more complex and it speaks loads about the current state of the industry. The genre really shows us about two particular aspects of the industry: the experiential aspect and the artistic aspect through cultural configuration.

To speak of the artistic aspect of dubstep, we have to talk about sampling. Sampling is the ultimate form of cultural configuration. Sampling gives people the opportunity to take multiple songs and create (configure) them into a new artistic entity. This idea of configuring existing products to create a new one is seen all throughout electronic and dubstep culture. In a similar fashion, we see configuration through the environment too. Dubstep culture takes pieces of techno (lights and rave parties), hip hop (bass beats and even rapping in some cases), rock (rock based samples) and many more to create its own culture. We are now seeing the break out of genres that enable people to create their own environment rather than just something that can be heard. This configuration becomes even more apparent when one gets their hands on the proper mixing software, and realizes that they, too, can take their stab at a decent mash-up or dubstep mix.

Dubstep also reflects the experiential aspect of music today. Everyone knows that nowadays labels and artists seek most of their revenue and promotions through live performances. Dubstep and electronic culture are no different in the way that they promote their live performances as a major part of the dubstep experience.

Dubstep proves to us that music isn’t necessarily about just music anymore–it’s about the environment and experience. Sure dubstep music can be fun just listening to it on your i-pod, however, the music takes on a whole new form when in the right place with the right people at the right time. It promotes the experience.

Now that record sales are dying, we are seeing a rise in genres that really promote an experiential type of culture, rather than just a song. Genres that promote great music, but also a certain environment, a certain feeling, and a certain experience. I would argue that the death of album sales, is becoming the birth of a musical society based upon musical culture and musical experience.

This is brilliance, people. Pure brilliance.

A$AP Rocky, Bass

 

I remember when I was 13 and chopped and screwed music was getting really popular. Then I heard the new ASAP Rocky track “Bass” and I was reminded why that faded out in 2002.

A$AP Rocky was born and raised in Harlem, New York and is no stranger to what he even refers to as, “the cliche’ rap lifestyle.” Rocky is well known on the underground New York rap scene and is slowly getting mainstream success. Not too long ago Rocky released “Purple Swag”, a tribute to Texas chopped and screwed legends and the subsequent youtube video reached an impressive 100k views in less than a week.

In the song Bass we hear what seems to be an angry Rocky give a peculiar cliche’ rant which further leads into a smooth rapping style that is met with a steady and rhymic drum beat.

Rocky’s impressive and laid back delivery opens the song nicely and in turn, this leads to a chopped and screwed hook. The rest of the song stays true and greatly emphasizes Rocky’s style. East Coast rap is known for its smooth delivery, raw content and melodic style–without a doubt Rocky encompasses all these traits, and even stays true to that New York zing despite the track being yet another tribute to chopped and screwed rappers. My issue has nothing to do with Rocky as an artist, just with the chopped and screwed hooks.

If we look at the history of rap, we see that it is an ever evolving force. We see trends and styles constantly coming and going–the age of the emcee, gangster rap, the rise of Chicago rap that tread on the edge of spoken word poetry, and much much more. I feel as if its only detrimental to go back in time as opposed to moving forward. In Rock’s track Bass, I find issue with the repeative use of the chopped hook, however, if one were to check out the track Grippin’ Woodgrain which uses less of a chopped hook, you can really see Rocky’s vocal prowess start to shine.

Right now hip hop is in a very interesting place. We are beginning to see many trends coming and going, and many people are making their own niche’ in the vast array of hip hop culture. OFWGKTA are becoming well known for their anti-commercial approach–even using the word “swag” in an ironic way to show the “over use” of the word. This same hate of the word swag as also been noted by A$AP Rocky on occasions. Similarly to OFWGKTA we have Kreayshawn who is also using an over the top persona (maybe?) to find her place in the rap game.

Oppositely, Rocky isn’t using chopped and screwed ironically, nor has he claimed to, he was using it as a tribute to Texas rappers. My issue with it, is that it transcends tribute and is starting to fall into the realm of gimmick. Rocky, you have tremendous talent and vocal ability. Make it your own, instead of trying to mimic the sounds of retired, and often washed up, Southern rappers.

Greetings! We’re back.

Hello all,
I apologize for the lack of posts! This blog was originally intended to act as a medium for my internship with Sony Records. Not all of the groups I wrote about were Sony related, actually most weren’t. It was simply a project to hone my writing skills and stay abreast of current industry updates. So, that being said, with the start of my senior semester and the close of my internship, I’ve put the blog on a back burner. I’m excited to say, that the blogs off the back burning, and the water is boilin’. Thank you to all who have read even when I haven’t posted in six months! I have some stellar reviews and articles coming your way.

 

-Tyler

Kanye West and Jay Z, Otis ft. Otis Redding

The clock ticks down upon the August 1st release date of  Watch The Throne, the hyped up Kanye and Jay Z collaboration that has the potential to be one of the most legendary albums in recent years.

Of course Jay Z and Kanye go way back, Jay Z was the one who gave Kanye his start as a performer– ‘Ye used to only be  known for his production skills–producing albums for not only Hova but numerous other artists, too. Jay Z was the one who signed Kayne as an artist and showed the world that Kanye had a knack not only for production, but rhyming too.

This of course snowballed into where Kanye is now, a “King” of the industry, who is just as well known and respected as the rap mogul Jay-Z.

This collaboration of two rap “kings” has had people anticipating the release–the duo dropped the release H.A.M about a year ago, which created more buzz for the effort, and news of collaborations from Frank Ocean to Beyonce has had music fans all over the globe in anticpation.

Just yesterday another release was dropped, Otis. A song that incorporates a sample from Otis Redding’s 1966 hit Try A Little Tenderness.

If you follow my blog you know my affinity for soul music as well as my love for Kanye West and Jay Z, so I was really digging the news that the two chose an old school sample. Especially when Kanye used to be famous for using old school tracks as samples in his early work. The power of the soul sample is met right off the bat, as soon as you hit play. Jay Z quips, “so soulful ain’t it?” And yes, soulful it is.

The track is fairly simple–a hip hop beat, Otis Redding vocals, and West and Jay rapping about their lives of luxury. This simplistic vibe has had many rap critics call the track a “let down” but I say the exact opposite. The track almost mirrors a “free style” and may not have any “defining” moments such as an intense music break, or an overtly catchy hook, but I think in the grand scheme of things, this track will go phenomenally well in the flow of the album.

As a single, I can understand any disappointment. The track may not be as radio friendly as H.A.M was, but it still shows off the duo’s vocal prowess–and the soul sample gives us that smooth laid back feeling that always meshes well in hip hop.

I can certainly see this track being placed in between two more “intense” tracks as a way for Kanye and Jay-Z to just let loose and flow.

“Letting loose”  is actually a great way to describe it–it serves as a track for both artists to just simply rap on without being too confined to structure.

Though when speaking of two legendary artists like Kanye and Jay Z there is no just “simply rapping”, everything they touch seems to turn to gold.

Favorite Lines:

“Luxury rap/The Hermes of verses/Sophisticated ignorance/Write my curses in cursive.”

Wale, Bad Girls Club ft. J. Cole

 

It’s been a minute since we heard from Wale. The last we heard from him he was free styling over a Kriss Kross track, but he hasn’t put out any new Summer singles or releases. Wale’s silence has left fans anticipating new material more than ever–especially after his recent success with hits like Chillin’, 90210, Pretty Girls and his notable guest spot on No Hands. 

Just two days ago, Wale released the new track, Bad Girls Club featuring J. Cole.

The song is not likely to be related to the TV show with the same name, but it touches on similar topics–strong women and an excessive partying lifestyle.

The track opens up with J. Cole singing–something seldom heard from Cole but I’m not mad at it. J. Cole showing off his vocal ability could be beneficial to his career and his guest spot only adds hype to Cole’s upcoming new material.

I also appreciate a vocal chorus in a hip-hop song. It seems to be a lost addition these days and Cole’s hook seems to be reminiscent of the late Nate Dogg, who was notorious for his vocals on rap tracks. It’s is also just plain catchy and effective:

She’s a star if I ever seen one / A perfect 10, and Lord knows that I need one / So now I’m under pressure, I want it bad / She got something I never had / I see her lookin’ at me.” Throughout the song, he commands, “Bad bitches, get low right now.”

The hook then leads us into a drum and keys filled beat where Wale flows with his signature style. Wale raps, “I’m just tryin’ to get you comfortable / And it’s amazing what some liquor and a blunt will do.”

Cole and Wale show great chemistry and have impressive one liners throughout the track,

“I blow trees like a hurricane.”  and “If looks kill, then you’re murdering,” “I get paper like a mailbox, but girl you got me open,” just to name a few.

Sure the track might not touch on social and gender issues like Wale did with 90210, or discuss the struggles of overcoming poverty like Cole did in I Get Up. Instead, it’s a fun song that’s intended for radio and club play, a song that’s supposed to get your foot tapping and head noddin’.

Most of all, the track speaks loads to the diversity encompassed in both Wale and Cole’s work. Both encompass the ability to rap about the heavy stuff but they can also release the upbeat stuff, and pull it off just as nicely.

Check out the track, and keep your ears open for more Wale and Cole material coming at you this summer!

Image Source: Hip Hop Music Dot Com