First things first

A Story...

The year is 1994. I'm a junior at Franklin High School and the internet does not exist (as far as I'm concerned). I was compulsive consumer of any and every rap magazine I could get my hands on at the time, and as such whether it was 4080, Rap Pages, The Source, The Flavor ( I know thats a MySpace link and they aren't cool anymore but you NEED to click that and check out the pics they've posted - simply fantastic stuff), or any of the various Seattle mags that came and went, I was most definitely Copping That Shit.

I'm sure I could dig through my magazine collection and figure out when exactly I first heard about Blackalicious's "Melodica" EP. Matter of fact, consider "Deven Goes Through Crates Of His Old Rap Magazines" a definite future installment here. Anyway, at the time Melodica was an import only release, outside of whatever copies were likely being sold in the Bay Area. I hit up Tower Records for weeks on end bugging them to see if they had it in stock with no luck. Yet, every rap magazine I read went on and on about how spectacular this EP was and how Blackalicious were on some completely different shit than the rest of the West Coast was at that time. Regardless, the album might as well have been made out of Unobtanium (c) James Cameron because I have absolutely no chance of hearing, let alone purchasing it. If Charlie Bucket was a obsessive teenage hiphop culture sponge, I was him - without the sad-sack good for nothing family holding me back (keeping it real street here with the Willy Wonka references).

Rolling back the calendar tells me that in 1994 my birthday was on a Tuesday, so it was likely the following weekend of the 26th that I had my bi-weekly visitation with my dad. For my birthday all I asked him to do was take me to a record store that I hadn't previously been to - Silver Platters - south of Northgate Mall, not knowing what I would find exactly and no particular agenda other than to buy some new music. If I was smarter, I would have probably hit up Music Menu down by Franklin for a copy of the Melodica EP, but alas - I was 17, and also a fucking idiot.

While going through the rap section one CD at a time, somewhere between Big Daddy Kane and Bushwick Bill I found *it* - the Swan Lake CD single - hand drawn cover art, black on white, the back side corner of the CD case semi-broken. It took me a minute to wrap my mind around what I had found. I mean, I was not supposed to be holding this. Going through the rest of the cd's they had was completely a blur. I couldn't get to the register and get it in the cd player in the car fast enough.

Nowadays it takes all of about 15 seconds for me to type "Blackalicious - Swan Lake" into Google and be listening to what I mounted a quest for as a teenager. I think it's obvious that something significant has been lost in that we now have nearly unlimited access to hear any and everything at any time. This is not a crusty old "Things Were Better Back Then" allegorical tale about historical superiority based solely on an object's relative age. Consider the simple reality of the situation - things you have to work hard for mean more and have more basic value than things that you receive at no cost. No great surprise there. So why would our implied value on music be any different? Furthermore, you better fucking believe that decreased value is going to impact the actual quantity and quality of what music is being produced. Have you listened to the radio lately?

Artists, as much as we like to think exist in this strange ethereal void outside of reality, in fact have Normal People needs. They pay rent, buy groceries and have families they need to support. All those actions are functions of compensation for their output, and in the absence of that compensation you'll find the absence of art. I'm sure someone will counter with the suggestion that the best art is free. Well, sorry but you're a fucking moron. Maybe in the most extreme case there is some truth to that example, but here is what defeats it - Time.

At some point Jimi Hendrix was content to just wail away on the guitar for an audience of one and no money, but eventually Jimi wants to move out of Mamma Hendrix's house, so he's got two choices: either be financially compensated for being Jimi Hendrix, or be Jimi Jiffy Lube, Jimi Dental Hygienist, Jimmy Zoologist. In all of the later scenarios, he's not Jimi Hendrix, and he's not doing this.

Consider *your* most favorite music - have you supported that artist? Have you done anything to make sure they are in the financial space to keep doing what you so enjoy? Don't get it twisted - major artists are definitely getting their iTunes money, but what about the millions of music makers that aren't at that level? Believe me, I got wrapped up in the whole "music is free!" bullshit like everyone else, but I'm trying to make my amends. That means buying music, but it also means going to shows - specifically for Seattle artists who have put down an amazing legacy of some of the dopest hiphop music ever period - but aren't for whatever reason always the sharpest when it comes to getting a CD for sale in stores.

Back to my particular story, it wouldn't be a tale worth telling had the music been terrible - but it's not. It's an absolutely definitive West Coast record for all the right reasons. Fantastic mc'ing, fantastic production - and for the record, not a straight sample jack either - Chief Xcel chopped that. Quite obviously, it's value to me as a piece of music is wrapped up in the emotional weight of what it took to acquire. My sincere hope however, is that you dear reader, who I'm hoping clicked on the linked YouTube clip of "Swan Lake" this whole piece is about, are able to impart some of the value of my story to your own experience with the music.

There is some guy selling that same "Swan Lake" cd single on Ebay right now for $70, and other than first wondering why, second wondering if I should buy a backup, it just makes me sad for him. Maybe he didn't have to work hard for that copy, so it's essentially disposable. Or maybe he's just got shitty taste and can't recognize dope music.

I can tell you with conviction that my copy of the Swan Lake cd single is going to stay with me until I'm taking a dirt nap, and then passed onto my kids for them to know a little more about what made their Dad tick and to understand one of the things that he loved.


Ike Diamonds said...

Listening to this brought two very vivid things to mind:

A) A certain concert I attended with the author, and one VERY enthusiastic guy with long hippy hair screaming "SOLESIDES" for all he was worth. I am certain he isn't selling his copy.

B) It made me want to bust out a little old school Seattle hip hop, here comes my Walkman Rotation

Morisseau said...

By "dopest hiphop music ever period" from Seattle, I assume you mean this ?

Morisseau said...

of course, if you want to go REAL old school Seattle, MAXIMUM street cred, this is your track:

Deven Morgan said...

I love that the version of Mix A Lot's "Put 'Em On The Glass" uploaded on YouTube was ripped from someone's 1998 Real Video / VHS tape transfer copy. It's so pixelated it looks like bootleg Super NES porn. Speaking of Mix A Lot, he has a fantastic cameo in the video for Jake One's "Home" -

I also love me some Kid Sensation! Fun Fact: He now goes by the rap name XOLA (I have no idea how to pronounce that) and will be performing at a show at the Crocodile Cafe on 04/03 - which will be the topic of an upcoming blog post - along with a ton of other Seattle artists:

D.Black w/ Spaceman
**Ghetto Children (Vitamin D & B-Self)** - This is going to be the shit!!!
Canary Sing
Emerald Street Boys
E Dawg
Specs One
Sonny Bonoho
Suntonio Bandanaz
Fatal Lucciauno
J. Pinder

Tickets are only 10 bones

Unknown said...

I love hip hop names.

Ike Diamonds said...

Would you believe I saw E Dawg perform at a bowling alley in Auburn when I was in high school?

Unknown said...

Here is my question on pirating music and other forms intellectual property. Obviously it is illegal to directly use the intellectual property of another without paying for said use. What about TiVo or DVR? For both of those mediums we simply fast forward through commercials to watch the show. Isn't that a form of piracy? Our price, watching the commercials, is not paid. Yet we still enjoy the full effect of whatever show we want to watch, without paying any price whatsoever. The people who depend on that show to make money might not make any money because no one is watching the adverts, which means the advertisers will not spend the money to buy the tv time, which funds the show to pay the people who make it. In theory tv shows should become worse because the people do not have, as Deven puts it, the financial space to create good shows. I have no idea if this is happening or not but I think the argument can be made that not watching commercials leads to worse tv overall.

Ike Diamonds said...

Well obviously we aren't contractually bound to watch commercials. After all we've been going to the bathroom during the commercial break for decades. But the challenge the DVR presents has driven down commercial revenue for years now.

To counter this television shows have been forced to use creative forms of advertising such as product placement. In 2006 ABC began running ads during commercial breaks for the fictitious Hanso Corporation (a company involved in the show's actual plot) to try and discourage DVR viewers from firing through the commercials. Jimmy Kimmel begins every show with a live skit/commercial in which he and one or more of his crew members make with the funny while shilling a product (very old school huh?).

I don't think the networks have really found what they consider a satisfactory solution as of yet. They have begun allowing you to view episodes OnDemand for a fee to help produce revenue. And DVD sales of TV shows have risen steadily every year to help make up the shortfall as well.

Deven Morgan said...

Ike pretty much nailed it. I'll just add that another thing to keep in mind is that regardless of whether you're watching commercials or not, you're paying a fee to your cable provider that gets kicked up the chain Sopranos style to the networks, which along with straight ad sales gets put into the pool they use for paying for content creation.

Musicians don't have access to any of those avenues of revenue. Even back when major labels were handing out bags of money to any and everyone, that money has serious strings attached to it.

Industry Rule #4080 is no joke.

lar said...

I think Xola is said like cola. Maybe.

Anonymous said...

Lol i never rocked a show @ a bowling alley lol. This is E-Dawg

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