Archive for June, 2008

What I’m Hearing, Vol. 3

For last month’s “What I’m Hearing,” click here.

The June iPod update around here has 97 tracks, not including the IndieFeed Hip-Hop tracks, and there is some most excellent music on it. I continued to collect some Indie and Alt-Rock sounds, while also traveling overseas to get some new pixie pop. Let’s see what we’ve got in the June iPod update.

Young Knives, Superabundance: This is a younger band out of Britain that has been releasing music since 2005, but have only recently begun to garner the type of attention and press that would keep their feet dry in a hop across the pond. This album is only their second full length and brings to the table the geek style sound of Say Hi To Your Mom while infusing it with the energy of The Fashion or Tokyo Police Club. Their choruses are catchy without being disgustingly unforgettable. Solid bass work over rollicking drums tie together the British accent on the vocals and the melody guitar parts sometimes accented by string work. This group continues the wave of impressive Brit Rock Pop/Alternative music that has been landing on our shores recently. Don’t Sleep On: “Up All Night,” “Turn Tail,” “Swimming with the Fishes.”

Lykke Li, Little Bit – EP: When I read that this was just a small release, backed by the production assistance of Bjorn Yettling of Peter Bjorn and John, I got pretty excited. The basement pop, lo-fi sounds brought out on Writer’s Block left me wanting more, and they showed excellent judgment and intelligence in crafting a pop-sensible album without turning the hooks into radio refrains that would lead someone to suicide when they couldn’t forget them in morning traffic. Swedish singer Lykke Li has a gentle and soft style, reminiscent recently of pop darlings Feist and Sia. The pixie voice, simple backings and airy production produce four excellent tracks here. The full album came out last month stateside…now I can only hope that they release it on iTunes soon. Don’t Sleep On: The entire EP…it’s only 4 tracks, and they’re all beautiful.

Fleet Foxes, Fleet Foxes: The self-titled debut from this Seattle based band brings together a number of sounds that fit perfectly in landscape. At various times Simon & Garfunkel, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, Beach Boys and chamber music, Fleet Foxes bring together a disparate grouping of sounds that they weave together to create an almost pop-folk album that sounds at various times like classical baroque, and at others like the pastoral longings of 60s singer/songwriters. The acoustic guitars and mellow, drifting vocals call to mind a deserted summer road or quiet walk through a forest. Finely crafted with an extreme attention to detail, I can’t foresee this being the last we hear of the Foxes. Don’t Sleep On: “Blue Ridge Mountains,” “Quiet Houses,” and “White Winter Hymnal.”

Tilly and the Wall, 0: This is the third album released by this 5-piece, Omaha, Nebraska based band. The raw energy and simple production on this album separate it from the legions of power punk pop and other radio driven rock sounds currently. Their distinct Indie Pop sound comes from raw instruments accentuated by a drummer that plays through tap dance. Interesting, exciting and eclectic. Don’t Sleep On: “Pot Kettle Black,” “Poor Man’s Ice Cream,” and “Falling Without Knowing.”

Lil Wayne, Tha Carter III: Not usually a fan of Hip-Pop, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by this album. After hearing “Lollipop” on repeat in an Iowa club, I’ve been interested to see how Lil Wayne would come out on this album, and amazingly, he incorporates a wide variety of styles, both musically and lyrically. True, the music, in production value, can’t touch Sabzi’s beats from Blue Scholars, and lyrically, Wayne is no Immortal Technique, but the album is a fun study in Summer music that brings in rock sounds at time, and goes from a more soulful R&B take on rap to the radio ready “Got Money” with ubiquitous pop chart mainstay T-Pain. While not incredibly amazing, this album is quite a bit of fun, especially when Wayne works in humorous quotes that wouldn’t work for any other rapper in the game like, “I’m not kinda hot/I’m sauna/I sweat money and the bank is my shower.” Don’t Sleep On: “Mr. Carter,” “Shoot Me Down,” and “Let the Beat Build.”

RZA as Bobby Digital, Digi Snacks: RZA has had a tough go of it lately, and it’s not all that surprising. Given fame from his work with the Wu-Tang Clan, yet experimental enough to do some out there cuts for the Kill Bill soundtrack, RZA caught a ton of flak from other members of the Wu over what they considered a musical hijacking on their latest release, 8 Diagrams. Some reviews found RZA’s production on the album to be a great step forward, and one that actually salvaged the CD that was devoid of excellent lyrical material. Others, however, and most notably Raekwon and Ghostface Killah, slammed the production for being soft, hippy and a bastardization of the Wu-Tang sound. Those debates, however, aren’t the topic here, as Digi Snacks finds RZA courting outside help in pursuit of an album that’s perhaps a bit more fun and lighthearted than the Wu material allows for. Slower songs, as well as upbeat and peppy ones pepper a number of tracks that fall somewhere in between on the Wu spectrum. What I enjoy about the album is that RZA’s willingness to take unconventional risks, while they sometimes don’t always pan out, give more of an impression of true artistic exploration than most artists will permit themselves on an album these days. Some work on songs that have a signature sound, release those, and explore between albums. Here, for better or worse, RZA is willing to let it all hang out as Bobby Digital to sometimes poor, and sometimes very great effect. Don’t Sleep On: “Booby Trap,” “Creep,” and “You Can’t Stop Me Now.”

Immortal Technique, The 3rd World: Considering that around 4,000 people have come to Evolving Music to read about the release and review of this album, it’d be a bit repetitive to put anything here. That being said, here is the link to the full album review, and a link to my exclusive interview with Immortal Technique.

Billy Idol @ The Fillmore 6/26/08

Turns out I like love Billy Idol. Not that I ever disliked him, but I never really made it past recognizing his songs on the radio.

That all changed on Thursday.

Since I have a policy of pretty much never turning down free stuff, I jumped at the opportunity to check out Idol’s show at The Fillmore when someone offered me two free tickets, despite already having plans for the evening.

After hitting up the SF Mag Best of the Bay party at the Concourse for a bit (where there was everything from free samples from awesome restaurants, silent auctions, and a Rock Band corner to dancing, free drinks and goody bags…fun times), we cruised over to Fillmore and caught maybe the last hour of the show.

Billy Idol @ The Fillmore
(crappy iPhone photo)

I’ve only been to The Fillmore a handful of times – if I remember correctly, I’ve seen Hieroglyphics, Medeski Martin & Wood, and Reel Big Fish there – but it’s probably one of my favorite concert venues, with its unique atmosphere, chandeliers etc. The audience on Thursday seemed to be made up of primarily hardcore fans who were fist-pumping and singing along to all the songs. I actually knew most of them, so he must have been singing hit after hit.

I couldn’t help but marvel at how good he looks. Still superbly fit and incredibly energetic, Idol struck me as the ultimate performer. Whether he is truly as passionate about live shows as he was early in his career, or he is just doing his job and doing it well, the man knows how to put on a show. Steve Stevens, with his retardedly good guitar playing and silly antics was impressive as well.

Check out the review by hardrockchick for more. Great venue, great vibe, great show. Billy Idol, you can officially count me among the ranks of your fans now. Hot in the City is right!

Classic 80’s Idol video below:

Immortal Technique – The 3rd World Review (full album)

We’ve previously reviewed the original press release cuts from this album. You can read the initial review here.

You can read Evolving Music’s exclusive interview with Immortal Technique here.

The hype and expectations surrounding the release of Immortal Technique’s new album have been extreme. Suffice it to say that upon the release of some of the demo tracks last month, that hype grew, and the feeling surrounding the album was that it was going to be an excellent addition to Tech’s discography, as well as provide an extreme jumping off point for underground hip-hop and global awareness. Upon listening to this album a few times all the way through, I can say that its strength and vision match the hype.

The album kicks off with the “Death March Intro,” a dark and forceful pounding beat backing a vicious 2 minute verse. Where other rappers are content to put a brief intro at the beginning of the album, a skit is standard, Immortal Technique hammers the first track to set the stage for what’s to come. The intro is followed up by “That’s What It Is” which utilizes explosion-like bass sounds in the background and scratching throughout. Tech on here spits about the current state of things within the hip-hop industry and world at large. He rips fake vegetarians and Aryans and talks about his growth as an artist both in content and sound. This moves into “Golpe de Estado,” a slow, trudging beat that utilizes the parade march song from Godfather II as Tech, Temperamento and Veneno lace the track with verses in Spanish. While I can’t understand much of what’s said in this song, the beat and the forcefulness of the lyrics make it enjoyable.

“Harlem Renaissance” showcases the initial strength mentioned in the original album review…Tech’s ability to stay on point and keep his flow tight over music that sounds unconventional on a Tech album. It also shows the type of boost in production evident throughout the album. The moving beat, hand claps and overlaid strings take a small bit of the bite out of Tech’s flow, and to good effect. The song’s backing is musically inspiring, and Tech over the top finds just the right balance between his more relaxed flow and the battle tenor he takes into other tracks.

This is followed by what I view as the weakest track on the album, “Lick Shots,” and amazingly, it’s not because it’s a bad track. The verses, with guest spots from Chino XL and Crooked.I are incredibly solid. The only problem with the track is the repetitive nature of the chorus and the fact that it sounds too fake for Tech. The chanting of “Lick Shots for the Revolution” is tiresome by the end of the track, but again, this weakness only further accentuates how strong the verses are. On other tracks it’s easy for Tech to overshadow his guest stars, but here their verses are just as strong and make for a track that’s great to listen to even if the chorus falls short.

The first beats of “The 3rd World,” while retaining the ragga-street melody style of tracks like “Peruvian Cocaine,” employs a thump and kick beat that’s harder and more fleshed out than Tech listeners are used to hearing. His mastery of lyrics, both in how he fuses lines and words together while never losing sight of his content, is again in full display here with lines like, “from where the bombs that they used to drop on Vietnam/Still has children born deformed 8 months before they’re born.”

This is followed by “Hollywood Drive By” which utilizes a much more mainstream musical backing to accentuate Tech’s flow about blowing up the traditional industry. This is a great example of the irony and intelligence Immortal Technique employs. It’d be easy to rap about taking over the industry and taking down the major labels in typical fashion, but by lacing the stronger than industry standard lyrics over a West Coast style backing that you’d find on the radio, Tech brings to your attention that it doesn’t matter how bouncy the beat is if you’re not rapping intelligently over it. On the advance tracks I was sent, one of them was a radio edit of a freestyle Tech had done a few years ago called “Watch Out.” Amazingly, even though it was an edited version, I absolutely loved the song. Here, “Watch Out” gets a revamped sound. Some of the lyrics have been tweaked, but more importantly, the flow has been re-recorded and sounds incredibly sharp over a beat that samples from the Apocalypse sounding symphony from the central battle scene in Star Wars Episode 3: Revenge of the Sith. The combination makes this track fire and perhaps my favorite on the disc.

When “The Payback” comes on with a vintage hook that could have come out of a Kanye song and laid back horns, the initial auditory reaction is to think the lyrics are going to follow those pop sensible lines. But when Diabolic opens with, “I want to run for President and the focal point when I’m campaignin’/is to put FEMA to work on plantation at Camp David,” it becomes clear that nothing has changed but the background, and even that difference is then altered by Diabolic, Ras Kass and Tech’s forceful delivery and unmistakable style on the third verse. (*Editor’s Note:  Thank you to StreamofConsciousness for the correction on this portion of the review.  See Comments for the original text that has been corrected) By the end of the cut, as much as you could imagine hearing the beat on a radio station, Tech has made it completely his own, and you can’t imagine someone rapping about women, money or any of the other surface level topics popular in the genre today. The song is all the stronger for it.

But Tech is not one to allow listeners to fall into a false sense of expectation. Rather than follow “Reverse Pimpology” up with another listener-friendly and accessible song, Tech uses it as the set-up for his usual album spoken word track. On “Open Your Eyes”, he uses a dark, trudging beat, accentuated with the eerie refrain, “Open your eyes before you die” to speak over on issues concerning the 3rd World, privatization and the abuse of natural resources and indigenous peoples overseas. This dark track is again contrasted nicely by “Payback,” featuring Diabolic and Ras Kass, a song with a laid back beat accentuated with solid horns. Here, Tech definitely lets the beat influence his flow as he relaxes more into the track. The gruff sound of his voice remains, but the pacing is less frenetic and stands out well against the track.

“Stronghold Grip” sees Tech invite Poison Pen and Swave Sevah onto one of the grimiest tracks on the album. The undulating synth work, high pitched overlay and driving bass come together to provide the backing for these three to rip. What’s solid about this track is that unlike other guest spots on the album that feature one verse, these three go back and forth throughout the song, making it a much more collaborative effort than the other lyrics on the album. Tech then throws another curve ball by following up this heavy effort with the more light-hearted and comedic “Mistakes,” which incorporates stories from various points of view of mistakes…a cigarette smoker dying, a player that sees the high school girl he was careless with stripping in a club, a rapper looking back and lamenting signing the major label contract. The melody helps carry the track with Tech’s sense of humor, and his story telling of these mistakes stays true to subject matter.

DJ Green Lantern’s remix of “Parole” comes next. This track is solid. You can hear Tech’s rage over being incarcerated in his voice as Lantern’s marching bass line keeps the head nodding. While a number of the songs on this album are fantastic because of their contrast in terms of musical backing and Tech’s vocals, this track stands out because it sounds like the perfect stylistic harmony between the two, a true blend of their similarities. “Crimes of the Heart,” featuring Maya Azucena finds Immortal Technique rapping about instances of betrayals of the truth and the heart. From this track and lines throughout other cuts, it’s clear that Immortal Technique finds the idea of self-betrayal and dishonesty despicable. The guest here from Azucena provides a nice contrast to the other tracks by bringing in a female voice on the chorus. The background with spacey synth work serves to both ground Tech’s lyrics and set Azucena free to fly over them. The difference between the two makes this song stand out from previous Tech songs, keeping the beat ominous while providing uplifting moments in the form of Azucena.

The album closes with “Rebel Arms” including Da Circle and J. Arch. This track is a great bookend to the album, taking it back to the war-heavy march of the intro and allowing Immortal Technique to run wild with one of the more pointed cut downs of the music industry on the CD. The track gives the final parting shots to the industry, and closes it out on the themed ending. He opens with “The game is polluted with rappers that are really snitches/and most DJs are nothing but industry bitches.” As the track ramps up with added strings, Tech ups his rap and creates an epic sound. The only surprise here is that Immortal Technique doesn’t get the last verse on his own album, but when he’s already said so much, who needs it?

This album had a lot of expectations to live up to, both in my mind, and the mind of other fans following the hype and anticipation surrounding its release. These expectations were amplified when the first advance tracks came through, and I’m very glad to say that the album delivers on all levels. The lyrics continue to carry a consistent and strong message from Immortal Technique, while the production by DJ Green Lantern and several others including Southpaw, reaches a new level from Revolutionary Vol. 2. All told, The 3rd World is a fantastic stepping stone in Immortal Technique’s career, one that shows his diversity and ability to work with other artists while still forming an album that is both musically and philosophically his, without any sacrifice of ideals. It takes a lot to refrain from selling out to an industry and the prevailing bling culture surrounding rappers, but this album demonstrates that Immortal Technique does not face those issues, and only continues to grow in his artistic vision and political message.

Immortal Technique Interview, Part 3

Immortal Technique Cover Art for The 3rd WorldThis week we have posted two parts of our exclusive interview with Immortal Technique. In these interviews Tech has discussed his method for writing music, the effort it takes to self-produce an album, his views on global politics and current events, and insight into the creation of his upcoming album, The 3rd World. In this final segment, Tech talks about music revenue, the remix culture and the upcoming Presidential election.

For Part 1, click here.

For Part 2, click here.

AC: Going off of that in terms of revenue and economy, there has been a lot of talk of internet piracy hurting the income of musicians. In “Obnoxious,” you advocate people to “burn it off the fucking internet and bump it outside,” so you obviously don’t feel that piracy is hurting you. What do you think the difference is between the reality of what musicians make from song and album sales on iTunes, and what the record industry wants consumers to believe they make in order to discourage music piracy?

IT: I definitely would like people to purchase The 3rd World in stores and purchase it online, but I think it was more of a way for me to express my frustration with the music industry. I can’t believe they have the audacity to call anybody else a thief. As much money as they steal from artists, as much as they don’t have a health care program for any of their artists, and I look at stuff like that and I’m disgusted. They go to these conferences and tell kids, “How can you steal a record?” I’m like really?

AC: They’re stealing from their own artists.

IT: How come you steal from your own artists? How come you’re selling the masters of your own stuff to be bootlegged in order to generate a buzz in the hood. You’re doing it to yourself and then you want to blame other people? You Godless piece of shit. How dare you try to take the moral high ground with the rest of the society by claiming that someone else is a thief? Really? What about all the Black artists who R&B and Soul were based on, whose masters were bought up in a fucking fixed contract? How about all the people who never got the money that they deserved because someone else slapped their name on a fucking recording, who didn’t have anything to actually do with the process of making this music, or didn’t participate in any of the song writing? How about all the publishing that you owe people? That’s tantamount to reparations that you owe the Latino and African-American communities. So before they talk about stealing money, they should realize that when you point the finger at somebody, there’s three fingers pointing right back at you.

Besides all that, I think that even though it‘s a great thing to be able to download music, there’s bad things to it too. Like when you don’t want a record to leak yet and then it does. So it’s not like I think downloading is great all the time. I definitely don’t want my record to be leaked before it’s ready to be leaked, cause it might not be the correct version of the song, or I might have wanted to change something to complete my artistic vision. But I think also that what needs to be said is that it’s not downloading that’s killing the music. It’s the fact that a whole bunch of people who don’t know shit about music are in charge of a music department. Like I’m glad that you went to the Wharton Business School, I’m glad that you know how to market a record, but that doesn’t mean you know shit about music. Unfortunately, that’s the problem with Hip-Hop, that’s the problem with our culture. We have a whole bunch of people who have no connection to our culture dictating everything for us. We’ve given a valid opinion to people who are not connected to us, over us.

AC: In the musical aspects of your recordings, how much control do you feel it’s necessary to have? Would you be in support of remix work as long as it didn’t distort your artistic message?

IT: I don’t know, remix work is touchy. I understand people sampling a track or something, but being able to take all of your work and re-do it and release the project and not give you a cut off anything, that’s different. You want to take a song and burn it off the internet, that’s fine. But if you’re burning my music off the internet and then selling it, that’s a whole different type of fraud. That’s not just regular fraud, that’s a violation. That’s some shit that’s going to get your IP address tracked down and beat the fuck up. If you follow my tour with a fucking camera and then try to release a DVD of all my shows, and you’re trying to charge people for it, you know what, I’m not even going to let the law handle you, I’m going to handle you motherfucker.

And I think that this is the point that I’m trying to make…it’s acceptable for people who can’t afford your music or can’t find it in the record stores, which was the issue with Revolutionary Vol. 2 to do that, but I always felt like it didn’t affect me as much because the people that really believed in my work and really believed in my music, they were the same people that were willing to go to the record store after they heard it and try to find the album, or they downloaded it and said, “You know what, I really like this so I’m going to support it.”

AC: Politically and philosophically, you’re the most in depth rapper when it comes to discussing important issues. But a lot of them, racism, poverty, crime, terrorism, religion, breakdown in the educational system, corruption within the political system, these are all tied together, so it becomes like a ball of string. Where do you start unraveling?

IT: I think sometimes I try to take a historical approach more than anything else. Try to talk about how racism came about, talk about the history of terrorism and the history of our involvement in a country, talk about the history of a war and our dealings with specific countries. Then we create a chronological order to follow wherein we take note of specific time periods and the progression of the way in which we became enslaved or became free, or the way we advanced ourselves so we can break them down into subsections. That way we can say, “Ok, this is the origination of this, these are the contributing factors of what made this happen, this is how this plays to this.” Then you start with the origin in history of all of these things because they all do have an origin in history.

Slavery has been around since the Hammurabi period in Mesopotamia, so I think we can look into the origin of lots of things. In terms of whether it’s Communism or Socialism, I mean, it doesn’t start with Karl Marx. I’m sorry to disappoint the adamant White left that sees him as a god. He’s not the father of Communism, he just decided to write down some ideas that were prevalent in all societies going back thousands of years. African and indigenous peoples had a sense of collectivism before Europe even had a structured civilization. That’s not to talk down to Europeans or anything, but just to make the point that this has been going on and the history of our people is older than we can imagine it being. Even the kingdom of Egypt is 4, 5,000 years old, and that doesn’t even begin to describe the kingdoms that came from the Nubians that gave rise to the Egyptians, even though Egyptians are touchy about that subject. But it’s true. These are things that we need to acknowledge, we need to embrace so we can understand our civilization better rather than just falling into the category we always do of being hateful of every civilization besides our own. We need to learn the lessons from history or we’re going to be doomed to repeat them again.

AC: On that note Tech, I have one more question for you if you have time.

IT: Sure.

AC: Basically, our current Administration in this country is a joke. They’ve infringed on our civil rights, deleted emails, judicial firings, and they’ve gotten us into wars we shouldn’t be in. On “Freedom of Speech,” you say, “I love the place that I live, but I hate the people in charge.” We have an election coming up. Do you see any real potential for change in either of these candidates or does it look like more of the same to you?

IT: I think it will be more of the different. It’ll be different things. Obviously we’ve made trillions of dollars of investments in Iraq, and as much as I’d like to believe Barack Obama, who by the way I did vote for, because I vote in every election. Not because I necessarily believe Democracy can’t be circumvented, but more so because when presumptuous motherfuckers come up to me and be like, “Did you vote dude?” and I’ll be like, “well actually I did and it didn’t make a motherfucking difference so get the fuck out of my face and organize something different. Stop thinking that the only way that we can appreciate the democratic rights that we fought for are by voting 25 times every century.” I think that democracy is the institution we set up, not just for voting, and I think that Barack Obama, if he’s elected, will be able to implement more social programs for the benefit of the average American than John McCain. The war will not end. Barack Obama talks about change. You know what’s going to happen? The war’s not going to end, the war’s just going to change. It’s going to be a different war. America tried having a war that was justified by nonsense, a war that was narrated by an idiot. Now they’re going to have a war that is justified and narrated by an incredibly articulate and incredibly intelligent man, if Barack Obama is the one that’s elected. But he’ll have an excuse for it, and for everything, and just from his speech at AIPAC, I don’t think that America’s position on the Israeli-Palestine conflict is going to change. I really don’t think that we’re just going to up and leave Iraq, like I said, the war is just going to change.

AC: And again, that’s assuming we’re intelligent enough to put Obama in when this is a country that for 8 years went with Bush.

IT: Right. He might not even win. We have to realize that the places he beat Hillary Clinton were because people didn’t want Hillary Clinton to win because of the Rush Limbaugh factor, where people were saying, “you know what? We need to smear Obama, we need to make sure he doesn’t come out of this looking rosy, so I want Hillary Clinton to be voted for.”

AC: Right. Well Tech, I won’t take up anymore of your time. I really appreciate you taking the time to talk today.

IT: No doubt. And remember, June 24th, you’ve got The 3rd World, Immortal Technique and DJ Green Lantern, will be on sale in every store, be on myspace.com/immortaltechnique, and of course you can preview the record on viperrecords.com.

So there you have it folks, Immortal Technique’s exclusive interview for Evolving Music. Start getting excited for The 3rd World to drop as the tracks I’ve heard off it are phenomenal. They continue the trend of excellent music supported and punctuated by vicious and powerful lyrics and masterful delivery. Evolving Music and MixMatchMusic would like to thank Immortal Technique for his time in doing this interview, as well as Dennis Paredes, Sam Donado, Public Wizard and Viper Records for helping to make it possible.

Music is Our Weapon

“The music is our weapon. We don’t have any pistols any canons or any bazookas. But we have our voice and it is a powerful weapon.”
Democracy in Dakar

After writing about Ugandan Hip Hop, we received an email from someone over at Sol Productions who is good friends with the Diamonds in the Rough crew. He let us know about another project related to hip hop and politics, which I thought I’d pass on to you all. Here are the trailers for their two new documentaries.

African Underground: Democracy in Dakar

learn more…

African Underground: Democracy in Paris

learn more…

I think what the people over at Sol Productions and Nomadic Wax are doing to educate and inspire people is pretty badass. If any of you know of similar projects related to music, politics and activism, do let us know.

Immortal Technique Interview, Part 2

On Monday I posted part 1 of my interview from last week with Immortal Technique. In it, he touched on his method of writing music and creating albums, his inspiration, his time in prison and his previous work with DJ Green Lantern. In part 2 of this interview, Tech talks more about his upcoming release The 3rd World (due out June 24th), capitalism, the foreign policies of the US and perception of Third World countries. Check back Friday for the third and final installment of this interview.

AC: It’s my understanding that the title of this album, The 3rd World, is also a metaphor that looks at the recording industry as being almost US Imperialistic-like, and the underground scene being more of a 3rd world country, is that correct?

IT: Absolutely. And even in the way we’re presented, they present the underground as some little backwards ass place where nothing really gets done, the same way they say, “the only way that some of these 3rd world countries can be efficient, the only way you dark people can have any sort of success is to privatize everything. Privatize your water, your communications, your transportation industries, sell us your diamonds, sell us the rights to your oil.” And that’s what the industry does when it comes in to deal with another artist. “In order for you to get on, what you have to do is change your image, take the political content out of your music, change the way we market you, sell us your masters, sell us your publishing, sign a 360 deal where we get a huge percentage of your merch and your fucking shows.” And I’ve always looked at that as utter ridiculousness, and I can’t accept stuff like that.

In the same way that that’s done to our people overseas, that’s done to us here. And we’re not any more efficient than anyone else. We think that because of the technological advances of our society that that makes us morally superior and more civilized than anybody else? America still has election fraud just like West Africa; we just had that in 2000. We still assassinate our own presidents; we just did that what, 35, 40 years ago? And after that, Bobby Kennedy? And we’ve had political assassinations after that. We have a high murder rate, we’re a gun culture, we’re no better than anybody else. We’ve definitely funded horribly authoritarian regimes, and then we sort of step away from that.

I look at the example of El Salvador, where we put 1.8 billion dollars a year into a Civil War to fund paramilitary death squads. And because we’re not physically on the ground doing it, we step away from that as if we had nothing to do with the repercussions of it and the horrible human rights abuses, the torture, rape and murder that even ended up claiming the life of an Archbishop of the Catholic church simply because he was telling the troops that were funded by American money and the CIA that it was un-Christian to oppress their own people. And it was un-Christian to commit political genocide against people who thought differently from them. And that it was the will of God and Jesus Christ to show mercy to the poor and to realize how corporations were exploiting people. That’s not Christian Socialism, fucking idiot, that’s Christianity, that’s the spirit of Jesus Christ.

If I come into a room and you’re having a debate with somebody, and I give you a set of kitchen knives, or I give you a gun, and I leave the room and I say, “Handle your business,” and lock the door behind me, just because I’m not in the same room as you when you do what you need to do, or when you do what I put you up to do so I can gain the benefit of you controlling that room economically, that doesn’t alleviate me from the moral responsibility of what has happened there. And I think that that’s something that the American empire will have to admit or it will destroy it in the long run, because truth crushed will always come to light. I’m afraid that Leo Strauss, father of Neoconservatism, was deathly wrong. It wasn’t that Liberalism failed. It was that America became schizophrenic, because on the one hand it claimed to be the bastion of freedom and democracy, and on the other hand, it was a racist police state for Black people and it was spreading its own brand of Imperialism to the rest of the world, just like Russia was. What Russia did to Eastern Europe and Asia was the same thing that America was doing to West African and all of Latin America and the Caribbean. So where’s our moral high ground? Didn’t we do deals with the Taliban before? You want to find excuses for all of this, that’s fine, but you’re just lying to yourself. These aren’t conspiracy theories, these are real life issues. We created the Saddam Husseins, we created Manuel Noriega, because we needed people like that.

AC: Now tying that back into the labels of the underground, what do you think the underground labels need to do, both separately and together, need to do in order to create the kind of backlash needed to change the current industry structure?

IT: Really just make music that has soul. Make music that you want to. I know that there is a trend to just make music that’s radio friendly, this one’s for the radio, this one’s for the bitches, quote unquote. I just make music and then after the album is done, I say to myself, “ok, what can I see playing on the radio? What is more for the streets?” Whereas other people tailor their music for this or that, or they’re like, “Oh, yo, this isn’t a really dope song, these aren’t really great lyrics, but this would probably make a really hot ringtone.” Like, at that point, what the fuck are you really doing?

AC: That leads me to an interesting question. Lately, I don’t know if you’ve been reading about it, but there’s been a few really well publicized stabs at independently releasing albums for free on the internet by Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails. Do you think those releases were an important step in the way the industry is changing, or does the fact that both of these groups were already well established and wealthy enough to release an album for free make it more of a publicity stunt than anything else?

IT: That’s an interesting argument. I mean, can you have Capitalism without capital? That’s essentially what the argument is. Could America have had an Industrial Revolution without the capital it built up from slavery? Probably not. The reason that we abolished slavery was not because we had some sort of guilty conscience. Even in the beginning of the 1900s, they kept African people in the Bronx Zoo as proof that they were the link between man and monkey. They used to keep Pygmy Africans there. I mean, this is reality. Racism was backed up by Eugenicists, by racial science, by the church even, in order to justify continuing the profit margins of slave traders and one subsection of the country. Whereas the other side realized, “You know what? It’s much more efficient for us to be able to have free men do their labor. They work much more efficiently than slaves, and we don’t have to pay for anything. They have to pay for their own things.” The money that they get is regenerated and recycled into the economy itself, it creates a stronger economy.

In the same respect, I have to say that that’s a beautiful concept, and if someone blew up just doing that and giving away their music for free, then obviously they had some other job, but I guess these cats have the benefit of already having a multi-million dollar success. But I wouldn’t necessarily categorize it as publicity stunt or something that was done with some sort of two-faced attempt at garnering even more of a fan base. I mean, it seems like they were just honestly putting their reputation to the test with their fans. They could have miserably failed, and it could have done nothing, and it could have been broke, but they gambled the right way. Obviously they have a very loyal fan base. It’s something that I guess, you’re right, can only be done with a fan base that’s committed to the artist.

AC: Now going off on fan bases, you tour and you make a point of spreading your music outside of the US. What have you seen as the state of record industries in other countries, and how has going abroad helped you spread your message and build your base?

IT: Well I can spit in English and Spanish, so definitely anytime I’m in front of a Latin American audience, or a Spanish speaking audience in Spain, we’ve been able to look at that and think to ourselves, or I think to myself, how far this hip-hop culture has actually come. In other ways though, I look at it and think that in Africa and Latin America, when I’ve been there, people don’t buy anything but bootleg albums. No one goes to the store to pay the equivalent of 10 dollars for a CD because that’s literally like a week’s wage.

AC: The word of mouth surrounding you obviously has been increasing greatly in the last few years, and you’ve done this all without the major labels’ help. For someone like you who was told that the marketing of your music would be difficult, and your content would be difficult to sell, how have you attacked self-marketing, and what has the growing success meant in terms of changing your strategy now?

IT: Lots of people, not just the record labels, told me that this wasn’t going to be lucrative or that no one was going to care, but I was fortunate enough to believe in myself and say, listen, I’m going to do whatever I want, with or without the express permission of other people. There’s no gatekeeper for me. I don’t need somebody to co-sign me to put me on.

Anyone who has supported me has never been because I twisted their arm, it’s been out of the goodness of their own heart because they felt the truth in the music. So I think in terms of marketing myself, I don’t need to create a rap persona, or a different personality in order to sell records. For me, it’s just as simple as getting the word out and getting the music to people. The music sells itself, and the message sells itself. It creates an even stronger support base because we’re drawing in from lots of people who don’t get their struggle talked about, lots of people who never really had the benefit of Hip-Hop addressing some of the issues that they’re dealing with.

For example, I have a song called “Harlem Renaissance” on The 3rd World, wherein we take the struggles like what goes on in Bosnia or Kurdistan, where people are being ethnically cleansed, and struggles in Palestine where people are losing their land to a foreign government’s occupation, and we relate that directly to what goes on in the inner city communities where we’re being ethnically cleansed economically. Where gentrification is changing the face of the neighborhood, but not for us, because the only reason they’re making the neighborhood better is so we can get the fuck out so they can raise the rent or create condominiums that go for 1.5 million dollars, and in the hood, you know people don’t have that type of money. So essentially what you’re saying is “Get the fuck out.” Like one of those rich country clubs, where it’s like, “You know what, it’s not that we don’t want Black and Latino people here, it’s just that it costs $150,000 to be here, so we know who’s going to be here, we know who’s not going to be here.”

In the same way that in the future, there will be a racism based on the reality that there will be different races. There will be a race of people who can afford to be genetically modified and say, “I don’t get AIDS like the rest of you fucking people. I don’t get cancer like you. I was fixed from the point that I was conceived and had different genes added to me to where I’m not as susceptible to levels of cold and heat the way you are, my skin doesn’t develop cancer the way yours does when exposed to this climate.” There will be people who are specifically tailored that way, and that’s going to be based on money as well. All of these things, whether or not we know it, are creating even more divisions in our society, so we know who’s going to be able to afford that sort of modification, and it damn sure ain’t gonna be the majority of the people in Africa or Latin America or Southeast Asia. It’s going to be rich people living in the 1st world. And those of us that look like our people, that will be able to afford that, are only that because they’ve been working for people who have been exploiting our land, and those traditionally are the people who control this country. (Editor’s Note: For an interesting fictional representation of the type of expensive genetic modifications Tech envisions here, check out Gattaca.)

Click on this link for the third and final installment of the interview where Tech talks about the current music industry, remix work, internet piracy and the upcoming Presidential election.

A Music History Primer

The music “industry” has always been an extremely dynamic field that has paralleled the steady evolution of technology, business and society. The industry as we know it is more appropriately referred to as the record industry that began in the early 20th Century with the invention of the gramophone. But, the emergence of modern music is a relatively new development, as for the majority of its history, music was neither considered a form of entertainment nor a secular art.

Music (in some form or another) was an aspect of every ancient civilization, but was used in connection with religious rites/ceremonies. Similarly in medieval times, music was almost exclusively affiliated with social and religious rites and ceremonies. The secularization of music did not commence until the Renaissance, which began in the 14th Century and lasted until the middle of the 17th Century. Yet, until the 18th Century, the process of composing and printing music was mostly commissioned by the royalty and the church. In the mid to late 18th Century, performers and composers began to be commissioned by members of the aristocracy, thereby giving them commercial opportunities to market their music and performances to a more secular part of society. As such, music came to be viewed as a secular source of entertainment, evolving with the tastes of the public. As society grew to become more and more secular, so did music.

The industrial revolution of the 19th Century also greatly affected the music industry, shifting its focus from live performances to the exploitation of sheet music. While the printing press was invented in the 16th Century, the technological improvements of the steam powered press and the rotary printing press made it much faster and cheaper to print. Moreover, the industrial revolution created a middle class of society, which provided a wider consumer base for the exploitation of music. The industrial revolution also made it much cheaper to manufacture pianos, which lowered the price so that more people could purchase pianos. Because of this musicians could truly take advantage of the benefits of the printing press because not only did more people have the means to buy sheet music, but they have the ability to play the notes written on the sheet music at their homes. This lead to the proliferation of parlor music in 19th Century society.

Towards the end of this period of industrial growth, the Pianola was invented. The Pianola is a player piano that mechanically plays songs, thereby eliminating the need for any person to actually render the service of playing the music (this is where mechanical royalties entered the mix). Composers were thus given a much larger consumer base because people no longer needed to know how to play the notes on the sheet music. Rather, the notes would be played for them mechanically through the pianola. This caused for the sweeping rise of the sheet music industry, culminating in its dominance of the 19th Century music industry. This is the point where music fully became a product and no longer a service; the majority of money to be made was now in the sale sheet music, and not in the employment of the artist’s services. However, this was only the beginning of the productization that would dominate the business models of the music industry for the next 150 years.

In the late 19th Century, the advent of the phonogram launched the “record” industry and concluded the dominance of the sheet music industry. The gramophone was invented in 1887 and enabled people to listen to a sound recording of a performance without having to be at the performance. This was far superior to the player piano because it embodied a musician’s actual performance, instead of mechanically reproducing the notes written on sheet music through one single piano. An audience could hear an entire orchestra play a composition in exactly the way it was intended to be heard. The fact that the gramophone was cheaper to purchase than a player piano (and took up much less space) also contributed to its popularity.

The popularity of the gramophone became fully realized with the boom of radio in the 1920s. Radio became the primary source of entertainment in society, and as such, it became the primary marketing tool for the selling of records. Via the radio, a listener could constantly be exposed to new music that could be purchased for the gramophone. Musicians could now, for the first time, market to the general public, as since most Americans listened to the same radio stations. Phonograph recordings completely replaced sheet music as the primary source of revenue for musicians and forever changed the concept of music from a dynamic and interactive entertainment experience to a fixed product.

The original phonographic cylinder was soon replaced by a succession of new mediums, namely vinyl records, beta tapes, cassette tapes, and finally compact discs. In the 20th Century, music has become synonymous with the medium in which it is delivered. As technology improved, the recordings grew in quality and the devices needed to play these recordings lowered in price. As such, the notion of music as a product was easily spread throughout the world, and large profits were earned by the greedy labels.

In the 1980s the industry began making a transition from analog technology to digital, beginning with compact discs and culminating with digital formats distributed online. Digital technology has now been perfected and much like the gramophone did, it has completely revolutionized music creation and distribution. Although the digitalization of the industry has caused ramped piracy and copyright infringement, the Internet and the digital form is an enormous source of revenue and an extremely powerful marketing and distribution tool. In the last few years, digital sales have continued to rise, while CD sales have continued to plummet.

Many argue that the digitalization of the music industry, the latest trend in a long history of industry changes, has caused the retransformation of music from a product back into music as an entertainment service, much like it was before sheet music. The digital form has enabled music not to be tied to the media it is played on, and by separating the music from the product, it can be argued that music now exists as content, or rather a service.

So what do you think? What will the music industry look like in the next 10 years? How about in the next 50?


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