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I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately. I’m not going to lie, I (allegedly) pirate shit all the time, and so do you. I kind of have my own set of rules concerning the practice though, just like you. For instance, I might (allegedly) download a movie illegally, but only in the case of something I’m not sure I want to see on the big screen. However if I love the movie, I will pay the exorbitant price of $30 to own in high definition on a Blu-Ray disc. And guiltily, I will probably upgrade my Blu-Ray disc when the Special Double Dip Edition comes out. The same goes for any album I love; I’ll definitely spring for the deluxe vinyl edition or oh-you-fancy-huh CD box set.

However I think as far as the music industry goes, things have gone too far. The last straw for me, which made me shake my head in disgust was watching the aftermath of the Dr. Dre “Under Pressure” leak. As you may have noticed, we did not post the song here. Why? Because we respect the artist. And that is not just in the case of Dr. Dre, but pretty much anyone, even if we don’t like them as people (i.e. Benzino). We’re not in the business of fucking up people’s careers or artistic vision for a few extra clicks.  That’s not how we play. Any music that is released here is with the consent of the artist. We didn’t sell 2Pac bootlegs right after he died, either.

But the general attitude of the rap blog community seems to be “well, once it’s out there, it’s out there and there’s nothing you can do about it”. That statement is true, but on the same token, it is a fallacy that suggests a crime is okay because everyone else is doing it. Hey, everyone else here at this party has raped the 15 year old girl in the back room, so what’s the difference if you do it too? Yes, that is an extreme comparison, but pretending like your actions don’t contribute to the big picture is incorrect, because everyone is thinking that way.

I was pretty disgusted to see a blogger (and I don’t remember which one or who, or I would name them here) try to tell Dr. Dre in a blog post that he shouldn’t have made us wait so long for Detox anyway, so that justifies his leaking of the song, more or less suggesting it’s Dre’s own fault. Is this Alice In Wonderland? What the fuck has the world come to where some dude in his apartment tells Dr. Dre what’s what? It kind of like “Hey Picasso, don’t be mad that I broke into your home and stole your unfinished painting, the world wants to see it now, so fuck whatever plans you had for it”.

And if you really want to get into why it’s fucked up, beyond the fact that it has interrupted the creative process, business strategy, and fucking release date for Detox, it’s this: essentially, douchey bloggers are collecting checks from ad dollars made from the non-permitted downloads of a song that Dre probably will not release now, because of the leak. This makes our type seem like the cockroaches of the industry.

As many may remember, I went in on Shake of 2 Dope Boys a couple of months back for being shocked – shocked – that he didn’t get a warm response from Lupe Fiasco, who was mad at him for leaking his music, and then threatening to never “support” Lupe on the site again (yeah, that panned out). The backlash we received from members of the blogging community – many of them who engage in similar practices, was not surprising. Again, my issue with this situation (despite some erroneous reporting on my part) was the privileged attitude of a young blogger that believes himself to have every right to leak an artist’s stolen, unfinished music whenever he chooses, and then expects to get a hip-hop hug from said artist backstage. Too bad you fucked up, dummy.

The third episode I witnessed that inspired this article was some idiot on Twitter telling El-P that he downloaded all of his albums illegally, and that if he didn’t like that, it’s his own fault for not having a better business plan. This, clearly, like the two examples before it, is another lame excuse by someone who wants to justify their stealing of something directly to the artist’s face, for some reason. Guilty conscience, maybe?

But there are a few positives to piracy. The first is, FREE SHIT! Everyone loves free shit! You never have to buy anything, ever again! Now you can steal it! And there’s no leering Tower Records employee watching you while you do it. Dope! This one comes with a price, sure, but for the fans, it is a positive. The only downfall here is that you don’t get the thrill of the heist that you might get from walking out of Tower with a pocket full of $10.99 tapes.

Another positive of piracy is that, in some cases, it removes the prospect of certain artists being forced to try to make a “hit single” for today’s audience. Take Raekwon or DJ Shadow, for instance. Both artists found themselves trying to cross over, in some respect, with albums like Immobilarity or The Outsider, which downright offended the fans. While the artists will probably stand by even their worst works, the bottom line is that they made records like these in order to please the major label system, in hopes of carving out a hit record that would help sell an album that sounds nothing like the single. This stopped being about the longtime fans, and more about the disposable ones. But, once music itself became a “worthless product” – meaning something you can only make money on if you have a massive ringtone hit – many artists stopped even trying to achieve this. Guys like Raekwon could now focus on making albums, not singles, and he released his best album in years with Only Built For Cuban Linx 2. If there is no money in it either way, then why not make it the way you want it? Ironically, Rae making the realest music ever landed him gigs with Kanye and Justin Bieber, which we’re sure got him a pretty penny. Thanks, piracy!

The other positive to piracy is that it allows music to travel much faster and get into the hands of more people. Artists like 50 Cent, Lil’ Wayne, and Drake owe their careers to piracy of their mixtapes (which they allowed and controlled), leading them to much bigger, lucrative things like Vitamin Water companies and million dollar world tours.

But the negatives far outweigh the positives. Realistically, the above examples are almost flukes and are not indicative of the industry as a whole. Method Man will never be able to recreate the sound he had on Tical and will probably continue to release wack albums that will not make him any money, to which the bloggers would respond, “he doesn’t deserve it!” Despite the quality of the music, if it sells (or had potential to sell in pre-MP3 world), he deserves compensation for the work put forth, just like the guy who mops the floor at Showgirl Video. And Saigon is another artist that has released a shit-ton of mixtapes that led him to nowhere. How do you think he feels about people downloading his music illegally?

People often complain that “hip-hop is dead”, which to me, is one of the most ridiculous statements, usually said by folks that haven’t paid money for music in five years. So let’s get this straight, you want an artist to perform for you, maybe even do a little tap dance, but you aren’t willing to tip him? Not only that, you want him to perform it the way you want it, according to the rules handed down on two stone tablets in 1987 by KRS-One on top of Mt. Sinai, but you still are unwilling to pay a dime? Got it.

Money makes the world go ’round, and without it, you aren’t going to see much “keeping it real” from artists, except in the rare cases of guys like Raekwon. What motivation does someone have to create music that applies to the rules of classic hip-hop if they aren’t going to make anything off of it? Sure, one could argue that a true artist does it for the love, but this is America. Eventually that artist is going to have to get a job at McDonald’s and will disappear into obscurity if his art cannot support him. And no, 50 year old Chuck D does not want to be touring and hocking Public Enemy t-shirts, he wants to be at home with his family, collecting royalty checks.  Piracy will not allow him to do that. So, don’t be offended when you see your favorite rapper doing AOL commercials, he has no other choice.

And lets not forget the labels and the record stores. The independent hip-hop movement is dead, as labels like Definitive Jux and stores like Fat Beats (and HipHopSite, actually) eventually succumbed to nobody buying anything, and in turn, nobody is releasing anything. If you cant see that happening, you are in denial.

Coming back around to square one, this is unfortunately the way it is now, so we must adapt. The once flourishing music industry is broken thanks to piracy, so everyone that wants to remain a part of it must find a new way to get their hustle on. While it may not sound like it, I do embrace piracy, and don’t support RIAA lawsuits against twelve year olds, but I think there needs to be some respect given to the industry, the artists, and at least some way of giving back. The solution is unclear, but please don’t pretend piracy hasn’t killed this industry.

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28 Responses to "Please Don't Pretend Piracy Hasn't Killed This Industry."
  • grimey SHINY says:

    “If you find a bag of weed on the floor motherfucker
    What the fuck you gon do
    Pick it up, pick it up “

  • LDL says:

    Labels shot themselves in the foot by putting garbage music out..Their bum artists couldn’t make good albums, so they stopped selling singles to force us to buy albums. We weren’t stupid, so after getting burned a few times, we started downloading the songs we liked and left the album in the stores..if the album was good, we still bought it, because even when Napster was popping, cats still sold records(we wanted the cover and credits). Piracy as the cause of the decline in sales is bull because if the product was good, we purchased it anyway because a CD in the hand is worth a million iTunes songs on a computer that Apple can delete anytime they feel like…

    P.s. Dr. Dre blows and all of you know he fell off…that song was booty anyway which takes us right back to downloading to keep our hard-earned cream… Also, taking 10+ years to make an album leads to leaks because you have people waiting so long…Shooting themselves in the foot, indeed…

  • brucepthegod says:

    It’s hard not to shake my head in disbelief here as I read these comments. I think Pizzo makes many good points. There are a few points that I also don’t see being made here…

    I keep reading this nonsense that “artists aren’t making quality music”. Like back in the old days when every single disc that came out was an instant classic ? Because you don’t like that particular artist that gives you license to download the entire album without paying, then criticize the artist cause this album didn’t scratch that spot under your ear ? This new attitude that the artist doesn’t deserve to be paid until after you have stolen his/her work and only after you are suitably impressed always surprises me. If you want to see entitlement you should visit a mirror. My point is, weather you believe it or not, the artist has performed a service and does deserve some sort of compensation. Because we have found a new way to steal their music other than shoving it into your coat and walking out of the store with it doesn’t change the fact that you are still stealing from them. Weather you think their album is garbage, and the next person thinks it is a classic is irrelevant. The fact is money does go into making these albums. There are costs involved, the artist should receive some compensation.

    I might have a unique perspective to add to this. I have been a hiphop fan since ’88. So I couldn’t tell you how much money I have spent over the years. I can tell you as a fan and as somebody who has worked in the distribution end of the music industy how much it has changed. I watched the industry slowly kill itself to a certain degree. I watched as the price of singles inflated all the way to $7…yes…$7 for maybe 1,2 or if you were lucky 3 songs. This was for a CD single too..the production costs of which are minimal! Then I watched as towards the end of the 90′s they killed off the single entirely as a means of forcing the sale of albums. Then I also watched the final peak in sales and the beginning of Napster and other illegal downloading mediums gained popularity. I saw the music distribution business dry up, me included as branch offices closed and employee’s were laid off. Myself included. I have watched the greed that the industry practices employed into the 90′s follow into the next decade when the industry didn’t see the writing on the wall and did not try to adapt to the new digital landscape.

    So is the industry to blame ? Oh..most definitely. Few people dislike corporations more than I do. I do take a certain amount of pleasure in watching huge whorish conglomerates vanish even if it is at my own expense to some degree. I am also disgusted with these so called ‘hiphop fans’. I didn’t know until recently that being a music fan meant you are entitled to something for nothing. That seems to be the new reality after reading the replies here. Don’t think that this hasn’t come without consequence. Major labels have always been somewhat whack, but now they are almost entirely whack. The underground artist doesn’t even have a chance at major label distribution and promotion. This is a huge disadvantage for underground artists. So yes, when you don’t buy the underground independent artists release, you are hurting the artist directly and you are hurting hip hop directly. If you are a fan isn’t this counter productive to what you want ? Which is real hiphop ? There was real hiphop on major labels once, but now I see garbage that they pay magazines and websites to promote. At this point, the fans are the problem.

  • KC says:

    Bruce – I agree with a lot of what you said; your post and my post have a lot of common ground.

    Where I disagree with you, in some respect, is your last line “At this point, the fans are the problem”.

    You seem to be in my age group (I’m 35), and I’ve come to adapt my definition of “fans” as opposed to what other people call “fans”. You and I, and Pizzo, and Mr. Graham, and a lot of other people we all know, aren’t what I would consider your run-of-the-mill “fan”. Maybe I’m feeling all self-important, but I think that the time, money, and passion people like us have put into hip hop go beyond fandom – a tier above. Now, are people in our tier without blame for what has happened? Of course not. But, I don’t think there are enough of us to really make a difference either way. In one way, we got taken for granted during the whole destruction of the industry.

    The failure is in the cultivation of that next generation of hip hop listener, where precious few have demonstrated the desire to follow in our footsteps. Maybe it’s a “These kids today..” mentality – which I definitely have – but with the advent of the internet, new music is so easy for them to find, consume, and dismiss that the discovery of something new doesn’t hold the weight it did for us. You were probably like me, where you would buy a tape, listen to it, read the liner notes, see who that rapper thanked and shouted out, go find out about them, and the cycle continues. There was more invested in seeking out new music.

    Major labels used to not have a problem with acts selling 200K. Elektra could live with Pete Rock & CL Smooth, because Metallica was making them enough money to cover it. But while we look at the problem with hip hop and major labels, ALL music is suffering at major labels, and the big name acts can’t cover for the smaller ones anymore. So the labels need them to ALL be big names, and to do that, they follow the formula of the week.

    And because the major labels are content with churning out the same garbage in easily-found packages, that’s what the new consumers (not “fans” anymore, at least, not in the sense we use the word) are trained to look for. They simply can’t be bothered to go out to a record store and buy something on a whim. I teach 7th grade, and my student are legitimately confused as to why I still enjoy going to a record store. They don’t get it. But they all have Flo-Rida on their iPods, and their .99 is just as good as mine, so there’s no need for the labels to cater to me when there’s more of them.

    So, new artists will mold their styles to what sells. What’s more, if those artists are in their early 20s, then they’re influenced by their formative years, which included Ja Rule, Mase, Nelly and that era of music (did you know to my students, DMX is old school? Yup. I threw up in mouth a little.).

    Anyway, long story short (too late) – there’s plenty of blame to go around.

  • Pooch says:

    “If you want to see entitlement you should visit a mirror. My point is, weather you believe it or not, the artist has performed a service and does deserve some sort of compensation.” —– Brucepthegod

    I think that Bruce hits on one of my biggest issues with some of the comments in this post. Some of these dudes are sounding like there is true ENTITLEMENT. The comment that ” I’ve paid thousands of dollars collecting music through the 80’s and 90’s, overpaying for all of it. So I don’t want to hear it.” is some bullsh#@. So are you saying that all these new cats should get jerked because you feel like you overpaid for your music back in the 80′s and 90′s. Get The F#$% Outta Here. Suppose that you were a waiter, which I am sure that a large amount of us have been in the past, (or worked for tips), and you provided a service over and over again, and everyone kept jerking you, and you didn’t make any money. You would probably say that it isn’t worth it and quit, wouldn’t you? I know I would. If everyone who was providing good service, or music, keeps quiting because they aren’t making any money, what are you left with? A bunch of new cats who don’t know any better, aren’t as seasoned and experienced, and therefor (even though their hearts are in it) don’t provide as good of service as we need.

    I would probably say that this is part of the issue with maturity of hip hop nowadays. The overwhelming majority of artists that I grew up on, and were dope, realized that music couldn’t provide enough of a sustainable living and got out. What we are now left with cats that are all 18-26, with not enough life experience, and wonder why hip hop doesn’t grow up with the listeners. For the most part, it continues to focus on the materialistic immature topics. I would argue that the average hip hop head starts to get disenchanted when they find a career, a husband/wife, or have a kid, and they find out what life is truly about. I will still instantley buy a De La Soul, Common, The Roots album. Damn, I bought Ahmad’s album online 2 weeks ago. I do that because they talk about real stuff, and they are dope as hell.

    My Two Cents.

    Pooch

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