Ah, to be young again, but would I want to be young in today’s world? Probably not. We had it better. Still, it always makes me jealous to energetic kids partying and having a good time. Such thoughts come to mind with a band called “Stretch” who released a video and single “Bringing Down The House” for their upcoming album “Awkward At It’s Finest.” The video has a long intro featuring some friendly hipster dudes(there’s even beard talk) wearing apparel that I recognize as being straight from the racks at Urban Outfitters and eagerly preparing for a small party.
Then comes the surprise, the music! Perhaps showing how out of touch I’ve become with the youth of today, I was expecting some kind of SXSW style indie rock or maybe some screamo. Yet it turns out to be Eminem soundalike rapping with an electro-indie pop feel. I think this is just a result of the heavy mix of genres people are exposed to today, which influence them. The phrase “What kind of music do you listen to?” used to be a defining question where people gave one answer. Punks listened to punk rock. Wanna-be gangsters listened to rap. Rednecks listened to country. Metalheads and heshers listened to metal. Ravers listened to techno. Average people just listened to normal pop rock. Those days are over, and now even country can be hard to distinguish from hip hop. Whether that’s good or bad..who knows?
In “Bringing Down The House,” Stretch has created a great video. It’s easily something I could see playing on the screen in the mall food court. By that I mean that’s it’s as professional as anything out there, and I could see it appealing to a wide range of people. The band was smart enough to feature some attractive girls in the video. Nothing worse than artists who keep themselves as the center of attention throughout a video thinking you are so into looking at them the whole time. Another thing I like is that even though the vocals are delivered assertively, the band is clearly having some fun and not taking their image too seriously. The lyrics are millennial to the core(Aaron Carter references etc.) The music reminds me of the kind of stuff you hear in a modern strip club, and the song is long enough that you’d get your money’s worth buying a lap dance to it. Pretty decent jam. I’d like to see more videos from these guys and hope they maintain the enthusiasm.
I’m starting to see a lot better rap music coming from Europe than the US. I’m not really clear why that is, but if I were to speculate, it just seems that they pay a lot more attention to the technical side of production and take their time to develop precision in their delivery. A good example of what I’m talking about is Masterlinx Productions.
According to Facebook “Masterlinx was formed in 2005 by Wanos Ive, a music producer, mixing/mastering engineer song writer/artist/editor etc. from Looondoon! UK!” These days, anyone with a laptop can call themselves a producer. That’s why I was pleasantly surprised when I heard some of Masterlinx’ jams. The song “Boss Ah the Party” is tight and professional all the way through. A lot of indie rap music is amateurish, has janky beats and wrongheaded production values. I’ve made many crappy 4-track recordings in my day so I know a legit musical enterprise when I hear it. “Boss Ah The Party” is a high quality jam in every sense. The backing track is electronic and orchestral in nature, and I would listen to it even without the vocals.
The rhymes are on the faster side of the spectrum and delivered with precision(and with a British accent.) Masterlinx also works with a popular Asian female artist, Taramati. A talented vocalist, you can hear her on the song “Body Language.” She has a soulful, somewhat assertive singing style which actually sounds fairly American. The way I judge this type of music when I listen to it is by trying to envision a scene at a club where the song would be playing. If I can realistically picture a packed dance floor filled with the type of people that are into this genre grinding down on each other, making out and and singing along to it as a catchy top 40 song, then it’s a success. With Masterlinx and his jams, I could see it.
One disturbing trend I see with artists and musicians is that they are too associated with social media. What I mean by that is that they are driving people and fans to other people’s websites like Facebook, Soundcloud, etc rather than building up their own website. Nothing wrong with building a presence on social media, but you should be pushing those people to your site, where you silicon valley internet company. Let your domain be the place where people go to find your music and engage with you, the way it used to be way back in the B.M. days(Before Myspace.)
You can build quality content now, too. Bands used to have crappy Geocities pages,(I had several, as well as Tripod and Angelfire) and just having an mp3 file play on your website was a huge hassle in terms of bandwidth and compatibility. I can’t tell you how many times I had a site set up to play music files, and I would go on a different computer to find that they wouldn’t load.
Now however, there are sites with high quality music widgets you can use that will actually host the files for you, so you don’t need to worry about bandwidth. Soundgine is one company that provides such a service. Their music players even have built in Paypal and credit card shopping cart systems so people can purchase albums and tracks right from the player itself. Pretty badass. Let’s face it, people today lack the attention span to even look for a place to purchase your music even if they like it. The players look cool, too. Just having one on your site might boost your cred a bit.
You can see some of the music players in action and try them out here. They can integrate YouTube videos as well. There are a few different styles available,(you can see them here.) and if you insist on driving traffic to Facebook they have widget options that can be put on your FB wall. I personally would recommend the “Mobility” player, as in my opinion everyone checks out and purchases music with exclusively from their smartphone(it works on tablets as well.) Desktop computers seem to be used mostly by cubical workers in corporate America now. Recreational use takes place more on portable devices.
As far as cost goes it looks like these will run you about 20 bucks a month, so make sure you think you can sell 2 or 3 albums every thirty or so days to make it pay for itself. There are some places out there that offer free players out there you can get for your site, but most of them suck as far as features, and they are usually not very aesthetically pleasing. Also, free stuff on the internet tends to be slow, filled with annoying ads and broken(anyone remember free dialup internet with NetZero.) My friend once joked that he was about to have an epileptic seizure from all the blinking banner ads after logging into NetZero for the first time(no offense intended.)
In my mind the best thing about these kinds of players is that they host the files for you. One of the reasons people use sites like Soundcloud is that to play large music files on a website uses quite a bit of bandwidth, so hosting them on your own would lead to your webhost shutting you down after a couple thousand downloads,(or bumping you up to a high cost plan, dedicated server, etc) which defeats the whole purpose of trying to make your website more popular.
Think of these types of players not just as widgets but as forms of content to build value in your band’s page. Look into these and other methods of attracting fans directly to you.
It’s time for a feature from my ancestral viking(partial) homeland.
Kholebeatz is a Scandinavian rap producer with good hair, who recently released a mixtape, “Factory Sealed 3.” Working with artists all over the world, Kholebeatz is an accomplished producer. YouTube is loaded with tracks produced by this guy. Oddly enough he claims to draw some inspiration from the film “Rocky IV.” I personally prefer the third Rocky which stars Mr.T. Probably some good sample material in that sequel. The Rocky IV ambiance could explain the epic nature of some of his beats. He also has a tendency to collaborate with rappers that have creatively weird names like “DVD”(aka Dividizzl) and “Oral Bee”(LOL!) The crisp and smooth Dividizzl party tracks are some of his best work, and illustrate why so many hip hop artists have been eager to work with him since then.
“Factory Sealed 3″ features Pimpton, Project Pat of Three 6 Mafia, Mike Jones, Dipset, Oral Bee, and a bunch of other artists I’ve never heard of but are probably well known in underground hip hop circles. Kholebeatz’ style is professional yet fun. His beats are trump tight all night, and like Ivan Drago, not afraid to fight. Eurobeats are where it’s at.
Nobody is hungrier for their music to be heard than indie hip hop artists. Whenever I am on the strip in Vegas, I always get stopped and accosted by aspiring rap gods trying to peddle their CDRs. They are out there all day and all night hustling on the streets, like 1920′s newsboys yelling “extra extra!” Not just in Vegas though or on Hollywood Blvd. This sort of thing happens in downtown Scottsdale even. Occasionally I have purchased jams from them, more out of respect for their work ethic than any genuine desire to listen to their music(aside from CD’s being cumbersome to carry, who even still owns a cd player? the number of people is surely dwindling fast.)
Anyhow, this brings me to a hip hop artist known as P.A.T.(no relation to the old Saturday Night Live character.) P.A.T.(whose real name is Pat Fraser) isn’t actually one of those street hustlers. He’s more advanced and sophisticated than that(musically and “promotionally.”) The point though, is that the indie hip hop community is vibrant, determined and interesting while most modern mainstream hip hop is lifeless and dumbed-down. P.A.T.’s 15 song album is cleverly called “P.A.T.M.A.N.(Powerful Artistic Truth, Misunderstood, or America’s Nightmare.”) It’s actually aptly titled, as the album contains each of those elements, and the artist leaves everything open to interpretation by keeping you guessing as to what his intentions and motivations are. At times the lyrics seem typically smug and assertive, but you quickly get the sense that he’s being somewhat ironic, covertly making fun of stereotypical hip hop cliches while knowingly espousing some of them at the same time. The song “Pay Me” is a good example of this: “I hate workin’ for the white man…I’m just playin.’ I hate workin’ period… now I’m serious.” Pat frequently injects humor into his rhymes, with pop culture references coming from left field such as in “Legendary.” I got a chuckle out of lines like “I’m movin’ up like The Jeffersons” and a Wrestlemania (III?) analogy transitioned from a biblical one:
David to Goliath pulling out my slingshot
Hulk Hogan to Andre The Giant with my leg chop
He makes very good usage of samples as well, which provide fishing hook intros to each song, as well as backing to various sections of tracks. As such, they give a refreshingly early 90′s feel to most of the songs. He maintains solid enough production values without veering into overly auto-tuned, shamelessy overproduced pop territory. One thing I would like to see is hip hop artists choosing more obscure samples. It’s too cheap and easy to take a known hook from a classic hit song and basically have a built in, time-tested hook. The best samples should be unrecognizable except to seriously detail oriented movie and music buffs, tv trivia nerds etc. In “Heartache and Pain” Pat appears to sample the Foreigner classic “I Want To Know What Love Is.” He also samples an instrumental portion from “The Look Of Love” as well(which actually works very well with his song but has probably been sampled to death by now.) I think I detected some Laurence Fishburne dialogue in there somewhere, The album contains a lot of other samples, most of which blend in smoothly with his beats and music unremarkably(a good thing.) Hint: If you want a good Laurence Fishburne sample for your next album grab the one from “Apocalypse Now Redux” where he is singing a Beach Boys lyric.
The songs on this album are very catchy, and the lyrics are quite poetic for the most part. In “Soul Searching” he somewhat shockingly mentions that he “sympathizes with the Columbine murderers.” Probably many people would on some level, if they had been bullied or made fun of in school at any time in their life. Whether he is serious or whether it is just a lyrical metaphor, there actually is always some genuine soul searching going on when someone faces potentially dark thoughts. This is the type of stuff that ties the album together nicely with the title. Is it artistic truth and intellectual honesty, misunderstood by unimaginative people? Or is P.A.T. just another embodiment of the worst of hip hop stereotypes? Maybe a bit of both? What seems to separate him from most other hip hop artists is a self awareness and witty sense of humor about the matter. Even though you can tell he has some street cred and could get tough if he wanted to, he comes off more as a guy you’d want to hang out with and wax nostalgic about vintage Super Nintendo games and 80′s TV than someone who’s going to corrupt your children and radicalize oppressed peoples. His demeanor is just too polite and reasonable for all that. Check out his music. It’s worth a few listens.