This is certainly a different era for independent hip-hop. While basement tapes have existed for years, its evolution is nearing its apex now. In a society obsessed with mp3’s and everything digital, the independent hip-hop artist has undergone significant changes.
There was a time many years ago when it was the priority of the independent artist to get a record deal. That was the goal – go out, make a demo, get signed. Nothing more, and nothing less. As the corporate world has seemed to pimp the majority of their artists, hip-hop included, more and more have become, as El-P put it, “independent as fuck.” The reason? Artists were tired of spending their entire lives trying to getting a deal, getting one, and getting 20 cents of every sale, while they only sold 20 000 albums. Hip-hop, even at the major label level, simply wasn’t paying the bells like it should.
So people went the underground route, manufacturing tapes and selling them out of their backpack, or if they had saved a little, their car. The extra effort sold less, much less than their major label contemporaries, but their return per sale dwarfed their counterparts. The popularity of the independent artist grew.
Independent hip-hop will not die. As long as the genre is around, there will always be one kid that thinks he can make it. But the definition of
the independent mc has been altered dramatically. More and more, you’re unlikely to find kids who sell tapes on the corner. The real-time dubbing has been replaced with CD writers and mp3 trading. Places like mp3.com are able to provide a forum for anyone able to make a song.
And even the creation of the song has been changed. Costly drum machines and samplers are preferred, but not necessary in today’s market. Someone starting out can program beats on his personal computer, though the product isn’t likely to be groundbreaking. With a computer-based song, that artist can upload it to an mp3 site and have their music heard.
The outcome isn’t likely to garner a lot of listens from the audience, but it has a much more detrimental effect. It shouldn’t be easy to make an album. It should require hours of time and effort, polishing sounds until they’re absolutely perfect. The journey itself should be arduous enough that in the end, the product is equal to the sum of its parts.
It’s become too easy to do everything. While the newfound opportunities of our digital world makes it possible for people like Aceyalone and Slug to become the stars they are, it has flooded us with music by MC Anonymous. Everywhere you look, someone is asking you to listen to their mp3, or shopping their album that took all of 3 weeks to produce after getting a few programs on the computer. People aren’t cutting their teeth by battling other mc’s, rather they’ve found solace with their computer mic. Too many haven’t learned how to flow correctly to the beat and how to write their lyrics. Independent shouldn’t be synonymous with amateur.
That isn’t to say there isn’t the diamond in the rough waiting around, because I’ve seen him, several times. But I believe these talents would
have made it anyway, because the truly great ones always find a way to get their music heard. And for every Anticon label that makes its mark on the internet, there are hundreds of startups paying the $70 registration fee for a domain and putting out much weaker music.
The scene is weaker lately, and the concentration of good artists is very small indeed. It’s starting to feel like mainstream hip-hop in a way. You have one underground champion that is getting enough money to live on by selling a few thousand albums and getting $6 a shot, and one hundred wannabees trying to be him. It’s being harder to identify the talent.
I don’t discourage anyone that has the passion. But unless you’re doing your music with real, genuine fervor, you shouldn’t be making records. The scene doesn’t need more people who follow hip-hop as some sort of fad, like Billy Ray Cyrus and the pet rock. Put the mic down and just freestyle. Freestyle until your lips are tired. Freestyle until your throat is dry. Don’t be satisfied until you’re confident that you can make a worthwhile contribution. Stop making albums and spending money that could be used for charity. No one’s interested in hearing it anymore.