Sunday, October 24th, 2010

New In The Reader: WHO WE BE PREVIEW + Uncle Jamm’s Army

Check The Reader for two new pieces:

+ A recent piece I did on Obama and race in the U.S. at the mid-point of his first term for the Brazilian weekly magazine, Ilustríssima. The piece also captures some of the themes and topics of my new book, Who We Be: The Colorization of America.

+ An extensive transcript of an interview Mike Nardone and I did for Rap Pages with Rodger “Uncle Jamm” Clayton, Egyptian Lover, and Iceberg of Uncle Jamm’s Army in 1994. Plus you can download a copy of the original article with design by Brent Rollins! We repost it now in tribute to one of the most important figures in West Coast rap. RIP Uncle Jamm.

posted by @ 4:28 pm | 0 Comments

Tuesday, October 12th, 2010

Hip-Hop, Copyright + Cultural Legacy, Part 2 :: A Conversation With Angus Batey

Photo by the great Glen Friedman.

For Part 1, click here.

Here’s Part 2 of my conversation with the fine journalist Angus Batey of The Guardian. (Part 1 is here.) Angus was pulling together material for a piece that came out last Friday on hip-hop reissues.

In this clip, we get deeper into the lost Public Enemy Def Jam boxset, geek out on what hip-hop boxsets could include, and speculate on what this all means for how we pass on our shared musical and cultural history.

Angus: Public Enemy has got a box set out now, but it’s just of the post-Def Jam material. I imagine those issues over clearances for previously unreleased material will remain an issue for Universal. Chuck D has told me that it would have been easy to do under the Def Jam/Sony relationship because there was – to paraphrase him – a very different set of corporate instincts regarding the risk inherent in that kind of project; but after Def Jam was bought out by Universal there was a change in attitude.

He also talked about something he called “new discovery” which would happen if and when anyone went back to the original PE master tapes and remixed or remastered them: there are sonic elements on those records which are unidentifiable, and indeed pretty much inaudible, in the finished and originally released versions, but without which the tracks don’t work – yet the legal onus would be on the company releasing a remaster to go through the multitracks and ensure every last thing was cleared. Chuck said those PE albums didn’t just contain samples from hundreds of records – they came from thousands.

Full clearance would be impossible under the present free-for-all rules; and there is absolutely no incentive for any of the people in the clearance industry to have those rules changed — unless, of course, it could be definitively demonstrated that a flat-rate clearance system would enable so much more sample clearance to take place that the overall sums involved would mean the whole pot of money accruing to each entity along the chain would be greater than that generated through the present system.

Here’s a different question: As a music nerd I yearn to be able to buy something like a box set of “3 Feet High and Rising” that includes all the b-sides and remixes but also the out-takes, the demos, the failed skit ideas, and has a big booklet with new interviews with the band and Prince Paul about how they made the record and what was going on in their heads at the time. (more…)

posted by @ 7:26 am | 11 Comments

Monday, October 11th, 2010

Hip-Hop, Copyright + Cultural Legacy, Part 1 :: A Conversation With Angus Batey

Angus Batey is a one of the most original and thoughtful music critics and cultural journalists I know. Over the past couple of weeks, we had an email exchange that began as an interview for a piece he was doing on hip-hop reissues. That excellent piece was published at The Guardian, where he writes regularly.

That conversation quickly evolved into a broader discussion on what copyrights are good for and bad for, how the record industry handles Black music and artists, and the role that copyright plays in the way we understand musical and cultural history. Here’s Part 1 of the conversation.

Angus: One of the reasons I’ve heard advanced several times for the lack of a hip hop equivalent of the Beatles Anthology series of releases or a big four-disc expanded, remastered box set of a classic rap album is the hip hop audience’s supposed lack of interest in old music and obsession with the new and with what’s coming next. Do you feel this is an excuse for laziness on the part of major labels, or is the average hip hop fan really not that interested in the music’s history?

Jeff: The people arguing this are either being disingenuous or stupid. The primary market for hip-hop reissues is not the 18-24 year-old demographic, it’s the 35-50 year-old demographic, just as it is for the rest of the reissues market.

Where I go off the rails is when I begin to hear such arguments as a cover for not treating Black music acts in the same way that others are treated. Most Black music tends to fall behind the copyright fences about 10 years after it’s been released.

There’s a cycle that happens to Black music. About 20 years after the music has been released, hipsters and DJs rediscover the music–and champion it once again, oftentimes rewriting the history that comes with it. It happened with jazz, the blues, soul, free jazz, funk, fusion, and now it’s happening again with hip-hop. Hipsters and DJs do two things–they create audiences for previous musical genres and they recontextualize the music at the same time.

This underground economy of hipster rediscovery has lots of upsides to go with its downsides, and it’s worth a longer separate discussion. But let’s focus for a minute on the question of impact. I find it infuriating that right now it is impossible to find De La Soul’s first 6 albums for legal download on iTunes in the U.S. The last one came out in 2001!

Yet major labels would never let a Jackson Browne album or an obscure new wave band with primarily local appeal, like Translator, go out of print. That’s not to diss Jackson Browne or Translator, both of whom I’ve liked, it’s to make the provocative argument that major labels place a low value on Black music not currently on the pop charts. (more…)

posted by @ 9:02 am | 0 Comments

Friday, October 8th, 2010

Fiasco Friday and Rap Artist Protests :: The Agony Of Victory

Why are these people smiling? They have different reasons.

Lupe Fiasco’s third album “Lasers” finally has a release date. After more than 2 years, dozens of songs, a 30,000 signature petition, and threats of a protest next Friday at the Atlantic offices in Manhattan, his album will finally be available on March 8, 2011. A single is being rushed out in about two weeks.

The announcement comes a week before a mass protest organized by Richard Baker and dubbed “Fiasco Friday” was slated to take place. As of this morning, over a thousand signed up through the protest website to attend. No announcements have been made yet as to whether the protest will still go on next week.

Fiasco Friday was simply the most prominent in what seems to be a growing trend of rap artist protests against their labels. Big Boi and Nas have both been involved in similar fights with their labels about albums that they say the companies have wanted to leave on the shelf.

Nas’s beef with Def Jam over the release of “The Lost Tapes Vol. 2” hit a new height with a withering letter to Def Jam execs that hit the web yesterday. Nas even made a veiled reference to Fiasco Friday. In an email headed “PUT MY SHIT OUT” Nas wrote:

Honestly, nobody even cares what label puts out a great record, they care about who recorded it. Yet time and time again its the executives who always stand in the way of a creative artist’s dream and aspirations. You don’t help draw the truth from my deepest and most inner soul, you don’t even do a great job @ selling it. The #1 problem with DEF JAM is pretty simple and obvious, the executives think they are the stars. You aren’t…. not even close. As a matter of fact, you wish you were, but it didn’t work out so you took a desk job. To the consumer, I COME FIRST. Stop trying to deprive them! I have a fan base that dies for my music and a RAP label that doesn’t understand RAP. Pretty fucked up situation

This isn’t the 90′s though. Beefing with record labels is so 15 years ago. @ this point I just need you all to be very clear where I stand and how I feel about “my label.” I could go on twitter or hot 97 tomorrow and get 100,000 protesters @ your building but I choose to walk my own path my own way because since day one I have been my own man.

Nas and Big Boi’s situations are slightly different from Fiasco’s. In both cases, their labels have used the exclusivity and copyright clauses in the artists’ contracts to try to force them to release the works the label wanted to see. In Big Boi’s case, Jive wanted an Outkast record. In Nas’s case, Def Jam wanted a new Nas album. (Nas and Damian Marley’s “Distant Relatives” project was also reportedly held up for months for this reason.)

Lupe Fiasco is a mid-level artist, which is a bad level of hell to be caught on these days. (more…)

posted by @ 10:25 am | 0 Comments

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