live and direct from san francisco, ca
knowledge + independent hustle
live and direct from san francisco, ca
live and direct from san francisco, ca
knowledge + independent hustle
Today I received a tweet from World Star Hip-Hop offering me their promotional services. Now, this is a common occurrence for my peers in the music world (especially rap) but the rest of y’all might not be familiar and I decided to use this experience as a teaching tool.
I responded to WSHH by asking if they would promote the perseverance of our culture and positivity to the youth. I was just fuckin’ with them; if you know anything about World Star you know that’s NOT what they do. But surprisingly they said they were down! Here’s the catch (and most of y’all will probably see this coming):
YOU HAVE TO PAY THEM FOR IT!
$300 for one post, $600 for a medium box, $900 for the top box, $500 for a banner, $200 for an ad- PER DAY. Pretty damn expensive, but they can easily advertise those prices. According to Alexa Internet, Inc., a company that provides data on web traffic, World Star averages over 3.6 million visitors per day. So let’s do the math on that.
Let’s say you’re a young, aspiring rapper who just finished shooting the video to the hottest song you’ve made and have self-released the song on iTunes. If you spent $900 on the top box on WSHH, would you see a return on your investment? Meaning, would that purchase make you at least $900 back? It’s possible. All you would need is 900 out of World Star’s millions of visitors to see your video on the site, and like it so much they run straight to iTunes and spend $0.99 on your single. If 1,800 people do that, you’ve doubled your money. If 100,000 people (still less than just 1/3rd of WSHH’s daily viewers) buy the song, you’ll be ballin’ as soon as that iTunes check comes in and you would most likely skyrocket into being one of the hottest rappers in the underground (at least, during that month).
On the flip-side, let’s say that out of those million of viewers, only 450 decide to buy your single after watching the video. Well, you’ll have made half your money back, which ain’t bad, and most likely many hundreds more will have at least seen your video, even if they don’t buy the song. But what if thousands of people see your video that day, and none of them really like it? What if, all of a sudden, Jay-Z decides to drop a free album on the day you bought your space on World Star and all of a sudden nobody gives a shit about anything else going on in hip-hop for the next 24 hours? Then your shot at instant internet fame has missed and you’re $900 poorer than you were before- which in the case of most rappers means you’re either flat broke or all of a sudden you owe somebody money. Maybe that’s your grandma, who believed in her grandson’s dreams enough to give you 9 bills? Aww. Most likely though, the weed man will want his 900 back and he’s pissed he invested in your shitty song.
My point is the average up-and-coming musician doesn’t usually have $900 laying around, or even $200 for a simple ad, and your success is not guaranteed. More than that, it’s actually quite unlikely, even with World Star’s huge numbers of daily viewers. How many of you have bought a song or album immediately after hearing the artist for the first time? How many of you even click on links to new music by unknown artists? In most cases, it will take a while of seeing someone around, hearing other people talk about them, and actually becoming familiar with an artist before a consumer decides to buy their music (and even then, they’ll probably just download it for free). This was less the case in previous years, where even just producing your own music was a rare feat and enough to get someone’s attention, but with the prominence of the internet and the complete over-saturation of the music industry, it’s harder for new, independent artists to break out.
World Star is not the only outlet available to artists, though. There’s radio, TV, magazines, blogs, and live performances. Unfortunately, just like World Star, the outlets with the biggest audiences tend to charge artists for their services- shit, even the outlets with barely any audience will try to get over on artists. This is detrimental to these media outlets themselves. The message is, that instead of valuing an artist’s talent, creativity, and message, the only thing that an artists has of value to these companies is their money. That’s been nothing new in the mainstream, where major labels have often paid for airplay and print space. But when independent/underground media sources are playing the same game, how can struggling independent artists compete with a major label promotional budget?
When talent is sacrificed for money or commercial value, you start seeing a lot of WACK SHIT. Even the wackest of the wack can become a hit if it’s played enough times by enough people. If a label can afford World Star ads, KMEL spins, music video rotation on MTV, and the cover of The Source, enough people are going to hear their music and eventually accept it. On the other end, the content and integrity of these media outlets are sorely compromised. Instead of seeking out dope, original, new music to showcase, they are simply waiting for the next customer and will promote something even if it sucks. Even if you got booed of the stage at your last gig at some dive bar, you can open up for Wu-Tang if you buy and resell presage tickets for the promoter. You can get your shitty, poorly-mixed song played on the radio 50 times a day, if you drop off a fat loaf of bread for the program director. You can get a 5-page cover story in a magazine even if you’ve only been rapping for a month, if the editor gets a few racks. And World Star Hip Hop will promote drug use and violence, as well as my positive message to the youth- as long as they’re getting paid for it.
So where does that leave us? Well, for the most part, those of us who really love the culture of hip-hop are fucked. But we pretty much already knew that. Hey, if spending thousands of dollars on World Star placement works for you, more power to you- go for it. But fortunately, there are other avenues and outlets that exist for underground artists to be heard. Community and internet radio, small blogs, social media, and most importantly, the people themselves. We may not be able to compete with the monster that the music industry has become, but we can still push on, get our music heard, and hopefully make a lil’ scratch for ourselves.
The biggest point I wish to convey to you is that success in music can be and usually is PAID FOR. WSHH is just one example but just about every major media outlet and many independent ones function the same way. So the next time you can’t stop hearing about the latest hit smash from a new artist, ask whether that artist found success because he’s talented, or because he paid for it.
I had a few thoughts while reading a book called “San Francisco: Then & Now,” which shows past and present pictures of SF landmarks and neighborhoods. Of course you know the Golden Gate Bridge is gonna be in there, plus Fisherman’s Wharf, Transamerica Pyramid, etc. I wanted to look for residential neighborhoods but could only find the Marina, Telegraph Hill, Nob Hill, and the Sunset. When reading about the Sunset the book said the alphabetic street names (Anza, Balboa, Cabrillo, etc.) were all named after Spanish colonizers, meaning the people who stole those very same lands and murdered and enslaved the population living on them. I will always think about that whenever I drive through the Avenues from now on.
To me, gentrification is colonization. Not to lessen what the Indigenous went through, but I think SF locals can identify with being forced out of your homeland and watching a conquering race/class take over the land while appropriating your culture and directly benefiting from your hard labor.
Another action colonizers take is wiping out the history of the people being colonized. Looking back at this book that mentions almost no working-class areas, I realized that our neighborhoods have never really been included. Based off the pictures in this book, it would be easy to assume that only white people live/lived in SF. There was a small blurb about Fillmore’s jazz history but what about the proud dockworkers that settled Bayview/Hunter’s Point, or the diverse artists and musicians of the Excelsior? Actually I’m having a hard time thinking of other historical facts about these neighborhoods because, come to think of it, they’ve never been taught to me!
I recall an article in Huffington Posts about black business leaders boycotting San Francisco because black residents are being shut out of the tourism industry. I read the comments and saw things like “Why would anyone want to go to black neighborhoods in SF?” or “They’re too dangerous for tourists to visit.” Yet Chinatown is full of poor folks, and definitely has a history of gangs, crime, and violence, but is still one of the biggest tourist draws in the city. Perhaps being able to benefit from worldwide tourism has allowed Chinatown to gain more economic power and prosperity, while also shaking the same stigmas as other Asian/black/Latino neighborhoods. If our history and our value is unknown or unacknowledged, then I guess it’s on us to document and tell our own histories in our own way. We have to show these yuppies, hipsters, tourists, corporations, and greedy politicians that we have always played a crucial role in this city and that our culture and history is beautiful and deserves to be recognized.
One final thought. When looking at a picture of Golden Gate & Taylor (off Market St) from 1922, I saw well-dressed white folks walking to and from local shops and businesses. Now that same intersection is part of the Tenderloin and swarming with drug addicts, dealers, and struggling businesses. It’s also being heavily gentrified right now as part of Mid-Market redevelopment. Crazy how once neighborhoods become populated with poor people of color, they are neglected, flooded with drugs (crack dealers do not own planes), and given a bad reputation. To me it seems like the people of these neighborhoods are made to die a slow, institutional, systemic and social death. As they are being neglected, the rich make plans bulldoze over their lives and legacies to build new housing and businesses that those poor people would never have been able to afford. It’s very likely that 2022’s picture of Golden Gate & Taylor might also feature well-dressed white folks enjoying successful local businesses without a poor person in sight.
As I get more and more involved in the struggle against gentrification I realize how important it is to document all this information and make it readily-available. This is still a fairly new, developing issue and not everyone has access to the facts. Maybe I will write a book of my own. I don’t want to look at an SF history book in 20 years and see that our struggle to maintain our housing and our culture has also been swept under the rug.
Until today, I have never listened to a Big Sean verse in its entirety. Just thought I’d say that.
Anyway, the whole world went crazy today over the Detroit rapper’s latest song, featuring two of the most highly-acclaimed MCs to come out in the last 5 years. A few weeks ago I decided to disengage with Facebook and Twitter (more coming about that in future posts), but today I happened to log in just to check for important messages and make sure my account wasn’t sending out spam for fake Jordans and dick enlargement pills. Immediately I was bombarded with links to “Control” and everyone’s opinions on it.
For the most part, people had raging hard-ons over the song. Well, not over the song itself but over Kendrick’s verse. Let’s talk about that. Keep it real, it was a pretty good fucking verse. Lyrically, rhythmically, and content-wise: dope. It’s so dope that it pretty much ruins the rest of the song. Like it makes no sense that this verse would be featured on a track by weak ass Big Sean, bruh’s thunder really got stolen on this one. And adding Jay Electronica on at the end is like cooking two turkeys for the Thanksgiving Dinner. Despite the dopeness of Kendrick’s verse, this song and the people’s reaction to it has left me disappointed.
I’m disappointed that so many people all of a sudden raised their hand and praised this verse like it was the greatest written in hip-hop history. Let me explain that a little bit. Before you even try to play me out, this is not the bitter rambling of an underground aspiring MC whose mad jealous and thirsty for attention- trust me I’m writing this strictly as a fan and a participant in the culture. Nor is this an equally-bitter attempt to dis Kendrick or take away anything from that brother. In fact he is one of my favorite “new” rappers, and has been since I first heard him back in 2009 and 9/10 of you motherfuckers were sleeping on him. That’s because I actually dig for music I haven’t heard and give a fuck about listening to artists than no one else gives a fuck about. Which brings me to my next point.
In my opinion, if you jumped out of your seat and shit your drawers after hearing Kendrick’s verse today, you probably haven’t been paying very close attention to hip-hop. Maybe you’ve been following the watered-down, corporate-influenced imitation that passes for hip-hop on many blogs, radio stations, and TV shows. But if you have kept your ear to the street- and by “street” I actually mean “the street,” you know that place full of poverty and crime where hip-hop was born 40 years ago; I don’t mean the cover of XXL- you’ll probably have heard plenty of verses like the one Kendrick dropped today. As Nas said, “No idea’s original” and I hate to break it to some of y’all but what Kendrick expressed on that verse has been done before. I’ve heard a few people draw comparisons of Kendrick’s delivery to stuff by Freestyle Fellowship and other Project Blowed heads. Again, I AM NOT TRYING TO TAKE ANYTHING AWAY FROM KENDRICK! I love his music. But he’s not the only cat out there spitting what he spits in the way that he spits it, and if you like what he does you should want to take an interest in discovering those other folks as well.
In the information age, social networks are the main venue for hip-hop, when it used to be the streets. The reason I keep bringing up the streets so much is because if you actually go outside and listen, you’ll learn something. You’ll hear what people are blasting in their speakers. You’ll see how relevant a rapper’s subject matter is to the reality people are facing out there. And most importantly, you’ll be able to tell who is really having an influence on the people. It’s ironic that most of the fans who wear I Heart Hip-Hop” shirts and break bread on tickets for concerts like Rock The Bells would probably never think of setting foot inside the type of housing project where DJ Kool Herc first coined the term “hip-hop.” Same goes for most businessmen, bloggers, and journalists involved in hip-hop these days. Theses projects, these hoods, these streets, these cities are not all about the pimpin’ and thuggin’ that corporate America has been able to convince people of, they are simply a place where life happens. And in these places where historically-oppressed people continue their day-to-day struggle, hip-hop at its best is the soundtrack for that struggle.
However, times are different now and going “viral” is the new going “all-city,” I guess. It’s like people are doing mental and cultural retweets. It’s some serious monkey see, monkey do type shit going down. I feel like the more followers you have the more you can mold public perception. For example, I could probably tell you that a certain artist is good and you should listen. You may agree, you may not- BUT IF THE SOURCE OR 2DOPEBOYZ OR COMPLEX MAG SAYS IT, OH MY GOD LET ME DROP WHAT I’M DOING AND LISTEN! And it is in that way that media and information is regurgitated. That being said, as soon as I hear one person say “HOLY SHIT KENDRICK LAMAR IS THE GREATEST!” I hear five more repeat the same sentiment. I feel the same way when I talk to people about Action Bronson (another one of my new-school favorites) and immediately they tell me “He’s cool, but he sounds like Ghostface.” What! The man does not sound like Ghostface! Maybe there’s a slight tonal resemblance to two rappers (they both have strong NY accents) but creatively and lyrically the two are on totally different levels. But enough people (and enough of the RIGHT people) have made that comparison to the point where almost every time I bring up Bronson, some douchebag brings up Ghostface. “Action Bronson is biting Ghostface.” “Drake is soft and only for the ladies.” “This new Kendrick Lamar verse is the greatest ever.” You see where I’m going with this? It’s like motherfuckers feel included because they share that same, popular opinion as everyone else.
Another reason why I’m disappointed in the response to this song is because much of it seems to be based on shock over the content. It’s a damn shame that something like this happens so rarely that it’s treat as world-shattering news among the hip-hop community. Back in the day you would hear rappers calling each other out constantly. And it wasn’t just some “Ima rap better than you” type of shit. It was “Ima rap better than you and slap the shit out you next time I see you.” Listen to Kurupt’s (one of my favorite OGs) “Calling Out Names” for a good example. But I applaud Kendrick for standing up and being honest with his competitive intentions to be the best out. That type of competitive drive is part of the roots of MCing and hip-hop period. I also like how he attacked the use of Molly and the flamboyant, party-focused lifestyle that most rappers seem to be living nowadays. How did we even get this far to where artists are popular regardless of lyrical skill and it’s cool to do drugs and pop bottles all day? How?
BECAUSE YOU SUPPORTED THAT SHIT!
YOU made the conscious decision to spend your energy, time and money on wack ass motherfuckers who ain’t sayin shit and ain’t about shit. What’s funny to me is that the average fan who spazzed out over the “Control” verse will probably go right back to bumping some Trinidad James or some other bullshit. Meanwhile there are many artists who actually stand for something and have skills to back it up and yet they’re confined to obscurity. Kendrick Lamar could have easily become one of those artists back in ‘09 when TDE was a fledgling brand and the only spotlight K.Dot was getting was a couple blog posts. There are probably several other Kendrick Lamar-quality artists out there whose talents are wasting away as we type. If that’s cool with you, then keep tweeting and blogging. If not, then do something.
As participants of this culture, whether you’re a platinum artist or a graff writer or a b-girl or just a fan, we all have to push artists to bring the best lyrical content they have to offer. We can no longer accept watered-down bullshit from these artists or the magazines, blogs, and DJs that support them. And we must be open and supportive towards new cats coming up. As a kid, I was taught to dig through the crates and study the album covers and the names in the credits. I discovered most of my favorite artists and I never gave a shit how popular they were with anyone else. In fact I liked finding out about rappers that no one else knew about. I encourage you to do the same. Don’t just sit in front of the computer and let these websites and social networks do all the discovering for you.
Support hip-hop culture. Otherwise Kendrick Lamar really WILL be the only voice speaking out and that brother’s gonna get tired of that shit eventually.
PS for the record there is only one GOD MC and that’s motherfuckin’ Rakim. :)
What up y’all. I had a blast presenting this workshop to youth at Rock The School Bells last Saturday and had the idea to share the outline. Being born and raised in San Francisco and a student, fan, and participant in the Bay’s hip-hop scene it was really important for me to do this workshop because I feel like we are slowly losing touch with our culture and I want to see it preserved! It’s a long read and lacks my commentary and the visuals, but I hope you still get something out of it. Peace.