Monday, June 30, 2008

Dart Adams presents Commerce Ruins Everything Around Me: The Fuck You Pay Me Era Of Hip Hop (1996-)

I received quite a bit of e-mail about my Project: Wideawake post last week. It was mostly about the part where I wrote that we all know how the music got to be like turns out that a fair amount of the readers who were directed to my blog from links that Rafi @ Oh Word, Jeff Weiss @ Passion Of The Weiss and Brandon Soderberg @ No Trivia put up don't remember or know what happened in Hip Hop back then that got us here.

In that case, I'll do a quick overview about the era that most people say Hip Hop went to shit and I'll explain about how that wasn't a cut and dry bad thing. I'll also try to do a fair job of explaining the climate of the day back in the post Telecommunications Era Hip Hop/Rap industry (1996/1997). Here we go:

After the Telecommunications Act of 1996 was passed it became a brave new world, emcees and crews that used to rule the airwaves before all of a sudden had a hard time getting on the radio. At the same time, a bunch of acts that heads had only read their names in passing in those ads in The Source were not only getting on the radio but their videos were breaking the regular rotation on BET and MTV.

The rest of the country became familiar with names like J. Prince, Tony Draper, Sean Combs and Suge Knight. These men were heads of industry, entrepreneurs, trailblazers, mavericks and ahead of their time. These early adopters were the first to reap the benefits of the new world and the direction it was taking.

Before these men stepped onto the Hip Hop scene, people didn't talk business in regards to their releases. Instead, they talked about the music. These men would tell you about how many units they Soundscanned in a period of time with no airplay or video. They'd talk about owning your masters. They'd talk about chart positions and endorsement deals. These motherfuckers read The Robb Report more faithfully than The Source.

The next wave of young CEO's and entrepreneurs took the stage as Chris Lighty, Steve Stoute, Damon Dash, Irv Gotti and Lance "Un" Rivera all began setting marks and enforcing them. Once the floodgates opened and the Rap industry ate from the fruit of knowledge and realized they were naked in the wilderness the only thing left to do was for them to cover themselves. Instead of leaves, they chose to adorn themselves in tailored suits and platinum jewelry. After a year of these men being on the scene every kid on the playground knew what points were and how much a standard industry deal was.

After a while, it became vogue to aspire to be a Hip Hop executive rather than a rapper. The seed was planted years ago when the Wu Tang Clan went into Steve Rifkind's office and asked for a deal that would change the landscape of Hip Hop music forever. The executives that guided the Wu were named Divine and Power.

Everyone was conscious of how many spins a week their song was getting on what station and in what region. Hip Hop began outselling Country albums regularly...that was something most of us thought would never happen back in the days. The sky was the limit. The rules had all been broken now and there was no turning back.

Even producers got down with the program and began selling hooks along with the track and telling artists to use less syllables, slow down their flows and dumb down their music so kids could remember the lyrics. The main aim now was to make the tracks accessible for radio to give it a chance to crossover. MTV had fallen in love with Rap all of a sudden...funny considering just 15 years ago they had to be threatened with picketing and boycotts just to play Run DMC's "Rock Box".

This was a strange era for Hip Hop. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times depending on who you talk to. One person will say that 1997-2000 was a great era for music while others of us will remember it as the time they abandoned the mainstream altogether. For me it was odd because throughout these years I HATED one of my all time favorite emcees with a passion because he was making horrible albums.

The landscape had changed so much in those years that it was nothing to hear kids on the bus talking about how much Swizz Beats sells tracks for or what kind of car Jay-Z had in his new video or how much the platinum jewelry that Juvenile rocked was worth. These kids would argue about how many units Master P's last album moved but none of them were talking about the music ITSELF, they focused on minor details about surrounding shit that was somewhat involved with the industry. This is where the problem truly lied.

There was so much focus on how many units you sold, how much platinum you rocked, if you had a Bentley or a Phantom or not, how many spins you got a day on Hot 97 or how much your in house producers charge for a track and how much money you command for a show or a guest appearance. The obsession with status and the pursuit of material objects began overshadowing the actual music aspect of the music business and now it had seeped into the head of the listener. Before you knew it, the audience wouldn't accept the artist unless he ALREADY looked or appeared to be successful. What the fuck?

Since these kids had now grown up with seeing Diddy and the Bad Boy Family dancing around in shiny suits and throwing around money all the time it made sense. It made even more sense because Master P was already rich by the time these kids first saw his videos when he rocked his gaudy jewelry and drove his expensive cars. It made even more sense when you factored in that the Cash Money Millionaires were dripping in platinum and had cars with the factory stickers still on them in their first videos. Perception became reality to them. It was all fucked up now!

Before all of this, artists were used to getting screwed over. Now, artists could take control of their careers and brand themselves. Now rappers would go off and do multiple endorsement deals, act, start clothing lines and really become a part of popular culture. They couldn't be denied a seat at the table anymore. Like Nelly said "Let me in now, let me in now! Donald Trump, Bill Gates let me in now!". They had no choice but to pay attention now. Hip Hop had taken over the business world as well...

Whether it was on the mainstream where Rap albums dominated the Billboard sales and hot singles charts or on the college stations where underground Hip Hop reigned supreme there was nowhere you could go to escape it. After the Survival Of The Illest and Hard Knock Life Tours that Def Jam engineered the floodgates were opened once again. Now Rap groups could go out and sell out stadiums and get that long dough. The artists and CEO's reveled in ain't a thing indeed.

The aesthetic of the music changed and it became less and less sample based. Why? Because you have to pay to clear samples, dummy! On top of that you have to sit around and wait to hear back from a lawyer to hear how much the artist wants for the sample usage and sometimes they want some of the publishing. You can't be fuckin' with a producers money! What ended up happening was cats just played beats on their Casio keyboards and came up with their own shit.

When it began getting popular, they branded themselves by saying their names all over the track and even doing the hooks (that way you get more of the publishing!). They became bigger than the artists themselves! Then they pushed up their prices to exorbitant levels but what else do you expect? If you wanna hit, you're gonna have to pay for it. Hip Hop was big business and everyone (especially corporations) began to want a piece of it.

Kids in elementary school were singing "Bling Bling" with their friends at the playground at the same time I was walking by them with my walkman on drowning out their singing by listening to Soundbombing 2 and patiently waiting for this whole era of Hip Hop to be "over" and waited for it to get back to the "real shit". What an idiot I was for thinking that. Were things really better before when the artists were getting contractually raped? Nas can't feed Destiny or pay for her college education with the proceeds from "Illmatic"!

In conclusion, there is no one person to blame because when the game changed you either had two choices: sink or swim. You could step down to the indies or stay in the game and try to get on the charts like everyone else was trying to do. If you wanted to feed your family, you had to try to stay "hot" and do whatever was poppin' at the time. Everybody can share in the "blame"for what happened to the music, no one is completely exempt. If you think I'm kidding go back and YouTube some old Nas videos for a trip down memory lane.

Also keep in mind that the entire landscape had changed. The economy was booming because Bill Clinton was in office and MTV's Cribs had become "Lifestyles Of The Rich And Famous" for a new generation. If it didn't make dollars than it didn't make sense for everyone across the board. Everyone wanted to be "Big Pimpin'" and get that money.

They'd copy whoever had a popular sound or flow to get signed to a record deal and labels and execs would lather, rinse, repeat. How can you try to "be true to Hip Hop" when all of the people telling you to do so are fuckin' broke and you're getting rich doing what you're doing? A rapper with no hits, sales or show money coming in is broke. A producer is just work for hire and if no one is buying he's broke. Now extrapolate that over 12 years and get back to me about the state of the Hip Hop/Rap music industry today.


Friday, June 27, 2008

What's New In Dart's iPod #36 AKA Enter The 36th Chamber

What up, people? I'm writing this blog from my G5 Mac because my workhorse G3 laptop has died on me again last week to the day. This means that I've been late with all of my posts this week so far. I need to rearrange my schedule so I'll be able to post daily without any type of delays. This has also hindered the longer blogs that I've working on because all of the outlines for my Grime blog and my Rapper/Actor blog are all on my dead laptop. Sucks for me.

In order to compensate I'll have to resort to the rapid fire review blog format today because of time constraints created by my current situation. Hopefully, I can find a way to remedy the situation and I'll be able to post all of the blogs I listed in my last Coming Soon up sometime this Summer. If not, I'll be up to the wee hours of the morning trying to rewrite all of that shit. I'm not looking forward to that at all but I'm willing to do it.

The five projects I'm reviewing today are as follows and will be reviewed in order of listing: Snowgoons "Black Snow", Dwele "Sketches Of A Man" , Gemstones "The Testimony Of Gemstones", Opio "Vulture's Wisdom Volume One" and G-Unit's "Terminate On Sight". For those of you new to the party, I don’t rate albums on a scale or assign them a numerical value out of 5 or 10, instead I merely answer the all important question of “Is it worth buying or not?”. Here's how my "Cop It Or Not" ratings system breaks down below:

Oh No! This CD is a drink coaster/table balancer/doorstop/gerbil/hamster room divider/frisbee/discus/makeshift shield/last ditch choice for a visor/alternate shuriken choice. Sell this shit to whoever is dumb enough to buy it from you.

Maeby (Maybe)! Depending on your own set of personal preferences you might like this joint. Give it a listen first to see if it's in your lane or not.

Mos Def! Cop the album when it drops...'Nuff said.

You'll be making one the worst mistakes of all times if you try to pit one of your verses versus mines! © Dart Adams, 1997

Best Joints: The Curse, Black Snow, Casualties Of War, Who?, Hold Up, This Is Where The Fun Stops, Starlight, Knockatomi Plaza, Pay Attention, Server Justice, Still Got The Ammo, Ride On, Incite A Riot, Lost, Still Waters Run Deep, Raining, Sick Life, The Storm, Avalanche Warning, The Hatred and Helpless

Hot Garbage: N/A (sometimes the orchestral build ups to some tracks get repetitive and there are some meh verses but other than that, nothing)

Dart's Take: This is a solid album from top to bottom, you won't be doing a lot of fast forwarding but the absolute bangers are few and far between on this LP. It's a well made and well produced album but it just fell short of the same energy that "German Lugers" had. This album is stacked with joints and well worth buying but it didn't blow me away. I give it a recommended maybe because I did expect some more heat rocks to be on it.

Best Joints: Sketches Of A Man, Free As A Bird, Feels So Good, Blow Your Mind, A Few Reasons (Truth Pt. 2), Open Your Eyes, Workin' On It, Brandi, 5 Dolla Mic, I'm Cheatin', You Won't Be Lonely, Love Ultra, Travelin' Girl, If You Want To, Shady, 70's, Vain, Spiritual, I'm Sorry (Wake The Music Baby), Body Rock

Hot Garbage: N/A

Dart's Take: I liked this album far more than Usher's but I'm a Dwele fan so take that with a grain of salt. The production was ridiculous, the songs were well written and joints like "A Few Reasons (Truth Pt. 2)", "Workin' On It (Dilla dedication)", "Brandi", "I'm Cheatin'" and "Body Rock" all got a few reloads on the iTunes. I have to give this a mos def and while you're at it check out Wayna's new joint that tops my Late Passes list.

Best Joints: Free Chilly, Fly Away, Where's The Love?, Hater's Love, Still Untamed, We On, Skeletons, Superstar, Bury Me A Gem, My First 16, Time, I Love Her, Good Morning

Hot Garbage: Low Key, Never Give Up, Everything's OK, A Song To You and When I Get On were all just meh to me.

Dart's Take: I'm looking forward to Gemstones LP but this mixtape just sounded like a bunch of outtakes from "The Cool" and freestyles over Lupe tracks rather than a Gemstones mixtape sometimes. If there were more joints like "Time", "Skeletons", "My First 16" and "Bury Me A Gem" rather than freestyles over beats that just missed "The Cool" I could've gotten into it more. Joints like "We On" and "Still Untamed" have been floating around the bloggerverse for hella long so I just expected more. I look forward to the album but I give the mixtape a maybe.

Best Joints: Guilty As Charged, On The Outside Lookin' In, Some Superfly Shit, Chaotic Erotic, About Love, Don Julio, Stop The Press, To The People, Vice Versa, Original Lyricist, Cali Girls, I Need A Money Tree, The Prize and With Or Without You

Hot Garbage: N/A (Some of these songs could've been longer. Other than that...nada)

Dart's Take: I was nodding my head so much that my neck hurt. The Architect did his thing on the boards and Opio spit some of his best shit since "Triangulation Station". "Some Superfly Shit", "Chaotic Erotic", "Don Julio", "Stop The Press", "Vice Versa", "Original Lyricist" and "Without Or Without You" all get constant burn on the iTunes. I can't wait to hear what's on Volume Two, this gets a mos def easy.

Best Joints: Straight Outta Southside, Piano Man (saved by Young Buck), Rider Pt.2 (Young Buck FTW), Casualties Of War (what happened to Banks?), No Days Off (Young Buck once again), T.O.S., Get Down and I Don't Wanna Talk About It

Hot Garbage: Close To Me (1 minute too long), I Like The Way She Do It, Party Ain't Over, Money Make The World Go Round. I need instrumentals for the following tracks to enjoy them: Kitty Kat, Let It Go and Ready Or Not.

Dart's Take: This album bored me more than a Tyler Perry play would (that's saying a lot). G-Unit has managed to remove Young Buck from the group which wouldn't be such a big issue if Lloyd Banks hadn't turned from the Boy Wonder to Generic Mixtape Emcee over the past couple of years. Even his voice sounds different what the fuck happened to him? He used to be a beast and now he's in the same boat as Sheek Louch as dudes that just somehow lost it a la Cappadonna in 2001.

These beats are crazy but G-Unit does the same ol' same ol' over the tracks and they end up wasting them. Am I really supposed to believe that 50 Cent would kill me when stands to lose several endorsement deals over it? Am I supposed to believe the Banks and Yayo are still selling drugs when the show money they get dwarfs whatever money they'd make doing so?

Do I really care who 50 Cent disses on wax if I'm past the age of 18? The only question I have regarding this album is: Yayo, how does 50's ass taste? I give this LP a maybe but for myself it's a fuckin' Olympic discus *Goes outside and flings CD into oncoming traffic*

Late Passes (For Doz Dat Slept):

Projects I'm Looking Forward To Reviewing Once They Leak...I Mean Drop:

Albums I'm Looking Forward To Reviewing Once They Leak...I Mean Drop:

Joe Budden-Padded Room
Rhymefest-El Che
Jay Electronica-Act II: Patents Of Nobility
Jay Electronica-Abracadabra: Let There Be Light
Big Boi-Sir Luscious Leftfoot
Magnif & J Dilla-Detroit Royalty
Blu-God Is Good
Termanology-Politics As Usual
Sean Price, Guilty Simpson & Black Milk-Random Axe
Platinum Pied Pipers-Abundance
Method Man & Redman-Blackout 2
Redman-Muddy Waters 2
B.O.B.-The Adventures Of B.O.B.
The Alchemist-Chemical Warfare
Billy Danze-Behind Gatez
AG & O.C.-Oasis: Together Brothers
Common-Invincible Summer
Omen-Be The Judge
Capone-N-Noreaga-Reporting The War
Phat Kat and Elzhi are Cold Steel
Heltah Skeltah-D.I.R.T (Da Incredible Rap Team)
Royce Da 5'9"-The Bar Exam 2
Elzhi-The Preface

Dart's Fat Tape/CD-R (as of June 27th, 2008):

Talking To God-Termanology
Start It Over-Skyzoo f/Emilio Rojas & Median (prod. by Black Milk)
The Itis-Black ELement (prod. by 6th Sense)
A Better Day-T.I.
Vice Versa-Opio (prod. by The Architect)
Not Gonna Go-Wayna (prod. by Kev Brown)
Grown Folks-Fakts One f/Little Brother (prod. by Fakts One)
Announcement-Common f/Pharrell Williams (prod. by Pharrell Williams)
Over And Out-Hustle Simmons f/Buff1
I Get Up-Sha Stimuli
No Days Off-G-Unit
Pay Attention-Snowgoons f/Decay, Astonish & Scheme (prod. by Snowgoons)
Mega Graphiti-Vordul Mega
The Secret-AZ f/Charlie Rock & Raekwon
Sick-Skillz (prod. by K-1)
Spacedoll-Hayzee (prod. by Hayzee)
Body Rock-Dwele
Incredible-Mickey Factz
Bury Me A Gem-Gemstones
Who?-Snowgoons f/Outerspace (prod. by Snowgoons)
The Rundown-Hustle Simmons f/Fel Sweetenberg & 84
Billy Club-Wayna f/Muhsinah (prod. by Muhsinah)
Stop The Press-Opio (prod. by The Architect)
Dope Boys-The Game f/Travis Barker (prod. by 1500 Or Nothing)

I stay on that cowboy shit/Get me some whiskey and a fuckin' gun! © Junkyard Juju of The Beatnuts