By Black Dog Bone, Murder Dog
You made a major impact on Rap music with your three previous albums, then you disappeared from the scene.
I did. I was pretty disgusted with the direction that Hip Hop was taking lately. The blame is to be shared by both the labels and the artists, in that all that's being promoted is negativity. There's no balance. Hip Hop has always been about balance. And Hip Hop is also cyclical in that it goes from positive to negative and back. But the positive is being suppressed, from what I could tell. It's not that the people don't want it. Even with my new single "What Would You Do," it got leaped basically on the Internet. I got a swarm of email responses from it, from people that say basically that this type of thing is needed. I couldn't agree more. Everything that you hear on the radio is not contributing to anything. You hear a lot of reference to dope and a lot of references to pimpin', and that's not all of what the world is about. And that's all that the Hip Hop community is about. But if you were on the outside looking in, you would think that we're all dope dealers and pimps and looking to come up quick. There are those of us that work hard, there are those of us that care about our families. There are those of us that cherish our women. There are those of us that are concerned about the community. But you're not getting that nine times out of ten on songs that get major exposure. The record labels are the ones right now who can decide who's going to succeed. With these labels shrinking and consolidating the way they are, it's becoming even more difficult if you are going against the grain.
So many important labels have closed or been bought out by the conglomerates.
Loud, Priority, Tommy Boy, Rawkus, RCA, Warner...everybody is going through a change right now. There are very few people in A&R positions right now who are willing to take chances. Everybody is a reactionary in the music industry. They wanna latch onto something after it's already going down.
And when they do sign a new artist, they only give them one or two albums. They drop the artists before they've had a chance to develop. In the past, a lot of the big names never had hits and took 5-6 albums to break through.
The talent is cultivated too and it's nurtured. We don't get that anymore. Now everything is a cookie-cutter approach to making music. Everything for the most part that's successful is clique-related. If a star artist introduces a bunch of people, then they end up doing cool, whether or not they have talent. It's a short-lived, quick burn out approach to making music. It's the same with movies. You have movies that might have a really good trailer; the movie could be shitty, but people go out and spend 50 million on it in the first two weeks, then you never heard of it again.
Do you think it's going to change? Right now the music industry is struggling.
Some of that is bullshit. There's a lotta money being made off of music right now--in major labels and a lot of subsidiary labels, that appear to be independent that are really related to a major. There's a lot of backing of majors and a lot of consolidation and claims of the bottom line not bein made and blaming on file sharing and a buncha other things. But none of that is having a major impact. File sharing might have a major impact on single sales, but single sales never drove the industry. You gotta keep in mind that 96% of people that are on the Internet dial-up. You can't file share effectively if you're dialing up. You gotta have high-speed access. If 4% of the people who use to Internet have high-speed access, then they ain't doin' no damage to the industry. Believe that.
Another problem we have right now is the consolidation of the radio stations. Now a few people own all of the stations and independents don't stand a chance.
Not a few people, it's only two--it's only Radio One and Clear Channel. That's it. They pretty much entertain monopoly status between the two of them. There are community and college radios that exist nationwide too. For an artist like me, those are my bread and butter. But commercial radio is a very hard nut to crack anyway. And there's a lot of payola that goes on right now. There's a lot of pay-for-play--for those who don't know what payola means--that is kind of an under the table phenomenon. Of course, it's supposed to be illegal, but it goes on all the time. I read recently that Clear Channel is launching a record company. What's that tell you?
They'll only promote their own artists.
There you go. Unless you are paying in a big way. The real way the pay-for-play works is how much advertising you take out. Or how many things you do in tandem with a particular station, how many artists you can supply for a large concert that's sponsored by the station or something like that. Really it is very difficult, much more so than it ever has been before, to be independent and to be viable in the eyes of the public. Because for the overwhelming majority of the people who buy records, their exposure to Hip Hop is through commercial radio. Period. That's not taking anything from the underground; that's not taking anything from Hip Hop DJs; that's not taking anything from anybody who loves Hip Hop music and supports it. But the reality is that most people who buy Hip Hop records, mainly teenage girls, get it from commercial radio or from commercial video outlets--TRL or BET. And if you're aren't on those outlets, and believe me, if it's hard to get on the radio, it's impossible to get on a major video outlet. Forget about MTV; and since Viacom owns BET, forget about them. I'm not calling any attention to this; it's apparent to anybody in the industry that's trying to do this to make a living.
Why are you doing this? Is it because you care for people or you just want to get it out of your system?
You know I care about people, and I gotta get it outta my system when I know it. This What Would You Do record is not even available commercially. This is some shit that I wanted to put out there to get a voice of dissent out and try to bring some reason and some sense back to Hip Hop. It's self-financed, so I'm not gaining anything from it. I'm not gaining anything from putting out a bunch of promo products.
You can't buy it anywhere?
No. But I encourage people to file share it. I want it to be heard. There's no real ulterior motive here, I just want it to be out. I still don't know how I'm going to put my album out. I know a lot of people wanna buy it commercially, so I'll probably make some available for commercial release. But I'm not trying to go down the same road twice, where someone is trying to change what I'm talking about. I went through that shit with the Sleeping With The Enemy record, and I'd be surprised if a company with major backing steps forward and wants to put this out, because they can't. How you gonna put out something that indicts the government, there'd be all kinda shareholders pulling out. Like that "Cop Killer" shit that went down. I don't wanna be in a position where my record is delayed or people oppose it before it gets to the stores and it never comes out. It's easier for me to reach out to people directly. I have my email address available for people to contact me. I answer every fuckin email, I reach out to everybody and I try to do it promptly. It takes time. People have questions about what'd I mean on this or that, and I try to break it down for everybody. It's time-consuming, but it's a way for me to communicate with people directly.
I heard you traveled to Cuba a few years ago. How did that happen?
I went to Cuba in '91 with the Latin American Film Festival. We went down there and performed, it was me and a bunch of other artists. We went down from Miami to Havana and met Fidel there. There were a lot of people that were down with what I was talking about. I had represented Che Guevara and the whole Black Panther ideology. They used to bang my record all the time on Radio Free Miami. So everybody in Havana had access to that radio station. They would hear it and they all knew the words and everything. I went down there to perform and it was thousands and thousands in the crowd, like Summer Jam, it was one of those kinda situations. Met Fidel, and he said that he really appreciated what I was doing, like it's some major shit and that he's in contact with Farrakhan and the whole shit. I've had some pretty interesting shit go down in the course of my career. Went by the Plaza de la Revolution, which kind of detailed an entire movement and overthrow of Batiste's regime. And everything in Cuba was Russian at the time, cause we have embargoes against Cuba in America. So all the products were Soviet-made. Soviet soda, Soviet cars, everything was Soviet-backed. Medical care and education are free down there, and there were a lot of people from Chernobyl getting medical care. You'd see people walking down the street with half their face burned off or missing legs and arms and shit. That was an eye-opening experience, believe me. That's some shit that not everybody can experience firsthand. I've been blessed to be able to go to a lot of different places.
Have you been to Africa?
I haven't been to Africa yet. I've been to Asia a while ago, I'd like to get out and see more. I've been to Europe more times than I can remember, I've had a lotta tours over there--Holland, Italy, Germany, France, Spain. That is one thing that I love about Hip Hop, about my career, is being able to go places. I've been to Australia, I haven't been to New Zealand, but just give me a number. What I do is I'll license each record in different territories. So if I sign on with a record here I won't give 'em overseas rights. That way I can license with BMG in Canada, then I'll go to Virgin in Europe and Sony in Japan. By licensing the record in these respective territories, they manufacture the record. So I have a Japanese version of The Devil Made Me Do It, and all the liner notes and shit are in Japanese. It's tailor-made for that specific market, even though the music is the same. They can manufacture product based on the demand there, as opposed to me exporting. Then I can tour there.
American Hip Hop is in high demand all over the world.
In Japan, Hip Hop and Jazz are huge. Major love. This is a tactic that a lot of independent labels should adopt. When they put money into making a project and making a video--and I don't advise anybody to make a video anymore, cause that shit is impossible to get shown. This is what major labels do, they'll sign you and give you a hundred grand or whatever, then they'll turn around and license your record to different countries and get advances from those countries that they don't have to pay you. So they are recouped on your record before you even come out. They're all paid up, so there's very little to worry about. And if they're licensing the record to other countries, then those licensing fees become the risk of the other country. They make their money back in advance, a lot of people don't realize that. So when you sign away your overseas rights, you're signing away a major chunk of the pie.
When you perform overseas it's a whole different experience. Everybody turns out.
And everybody emulates America over there. I've met Crips and Bloods in Holland. They ain't got no guns, nothing over there. They just walkin' 'round with their fists balled up. Never underestimate the impact that this music has on the whole world. I get emails from people talking about Tupac and Biggie from the bush in Africa. You can't discount the effect that it has on every corner.
A couple of years ago you came up with a record independently. Then what happened?
The Unleashed album was a project that was rushed. I'm not necessarily proud of it. It was an attempt for me to try to launch some additional artists, who I'm still cool with, but it became apparent to me that I need to stay focused on doing what I do. Anybody else that I work on the side is going to be just that, a side project. It's not gonna be my main loot. Everything became so corporatized and so commercialized and so contrary to all that which I stand for, that I decided to let it go. I pretty much began to write it off. Now I'm back in the game and reemerged as a result of recent events, as a result of the climate of the country right now, as a result of a lotta bullshit that I see going on that nobody seems to be addressing.
You just had to come out.
I had to. I couldn't let it go. When you watch TV and you get the same shit on every channel 24 hours a day 7 days a week with the same commercial break and the same stories being presented from the same small number of newsgroups, then you're a victim of propaganda. And we live under a dictatorship here in the United States, make no mistake about it. A lot of people would think that we enjoy a lot more freedom than most, we don't, and a lot of our freedoms have been drastically restricted. The Hip Hop community must realize this because we are the ones who are adversely being affected by this. We are the ones who are going to fall under this increased scrutiny under the guise of the "war on terror." It's synonymous with the "war on drugs" and the war on our community. It's synonymous with an increased police presence in our communities and police brutality and further invasion into our lives.