Miles Davis and Jimi Hendrix wanted to make a record together, but Hendrix died before they could get it done. And before his death, Davis was searching for a hip hop producer to cut tracks with. Davis was an adventurous spirit who pushed the envelope until the end, and he was definitely not going to continue to play Bill Evans charts or Cole Porter and Gershwin standards forever – he moved on. At some point, we all have to. I loved the record business of the ’80s, 90s, and ’00s but I’m excited about the way it is now, and I am optimistically looking forward to the future.
As a major label promotion man who eventually experienced platinum level success as an A&R man, I was a reasonably well compensated and high profile participant in what was essentially a manufacturing business that placed ultimate importance on the shifting of the plastic and vinyl that the music was embedded on as its end game. But that’s all changed, even though there’s an upswing in vinyl sales, now the little pieces of plastic and vinyl are being phased out – by the record companies that once all but murdered in order to sell them – so the music itself can be consumed digitally over the web.
Technology has realigned virtually every critical relationship in the process that begins in the mind and soul of a creative individual – with musical intentions – and eventually makes its way to the end user. Internet and satellite radio are plentiful, and this has all lessened the grip that brick and mortar retail, terrestrial radio and record companies had on the game. With no one to guide, lead, force or promote them, consumers can now find new music on You Tube, on Soundcloud and Mix Cloud. Once they’ve heard it they can download the music legally or illegally from any number of independent digital outlets, underground file sharing services or from iTunes. Or they can stream the music on one of several services.
I adapted to this new reality; I began to network aggressively on social media, I took several digital subscriptions to consumer publications and read them for news of e-business. I read The Digital Music Report and Pitchfork. I used my extensive knowledge of music, and my collection of over 30,000 MP3 files to program iPods for celebrity friends and others. I read books. I read scripts. I looked for Music Supervision gigs in film and television by using the apps for Hollywood trade publications. I became an advisor to the Universal Hip Hop Museum and suggested that in advance of breaking ground on a physical space, a “virtual museum” collection could be curated and displayed on a website. I became a freelance writer, and an announcer on Beats 1 Radio. I realized I wasn’t going to beat ’em so I joined ’em. Call it gospel, blues, jazz, soul, funk, hip hop, trap or Urban it’s all Black Music, and much of it is still the music of struggle, of strength, of joy and pain and I am proud to continue to play some small part in its preservation and it’s exposure.
Black Music is no longer the sole province of the well dressed occupants of corner office suites located on high floors of Sixth Avenue skyscrapers. The democratizing affect of the Internet has eroded the need for the middle man mentality that impeded the progress of hip hop in its early years, and denied the impact of downloading and file sharing until it was almost too late. Now the music has outgrown the relationship that record companies enjoyed with retail and radio for decades. It’s viral, it’s infected everything and everyone in its wake, it’s global. It’s bigger than the radio, bigger than spins, bigger than anyone who induced spins for a living.
For the entire summer of 2010, leading up to the release of his Dark and Twisted Fantasy project, on a weekly basis, Kanye West previewed early mixes of each album track on Twitter, for free, before he dropped the completed album in the fall. During the promotional set up phase of the project he went to the home offices of Google and Facebook to perform selections from the album. When the record was released he went to number 1 on Billboard’s Pop Albums Chart. Beyoncé no longer turns her record into her record company or services radio with a single, she now shoots a long form video, plays it one time on HBO, and for a limited amount of time, she now makes the album exclusively available through Tidal – her husband’s streaming service – waits a bit, puts the record up on iTunes for downloading and goes to number one. She then embarks on an extensive Black Lives Matter influenced tour and sells out football arenas across the nation. And Frank Ocean, after feeling unappreciated by his record company, fulfilled his contractual obligation to the label by releasing an album exclusively through Apple Music, and then bought his way out of his deal, digitally released another record the following week with no radio, no set up, and no warning and entered the Billboard chart at number one. Clearly things have changed. The artists are no longer playing the game the way it had been played before. They’ve started a league of their own.
Now the music is in the The Roots Picnic, The Made In America Labor Day jump off and Afro Punk. It’s in the fourth season of the Yeezy fashion collection, it’s in the bespoke sartorial splendor of Nile Rodgers’ gear, it’s in the startling world wide success of Straight out of Compton, it’s in the deal that Apple struck with Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine, it’s in Barack Obama’s voice as he sings an Al Green classic from the stage of the Apollo Theater. It’s Q-Tip going to the White House. It’s in the Hotline Bling, it’s in the Bad Boy Reunion Tour, the Netflix series, The Get Down, the 50 Cent produced, STARZ series, Power, the deeply sarcastic and brilliant humor of Donald Glover’s FX series, Atlanta. It’s Rhianna covering Vogue, it’s in her Work. It’s in Revolt TV. It’s in the bohemian hood funk of Anderson .Paak, the songs of freedom of Gregory Porter and the sweet and low sexiness of Kandace Springs. It’s Amy Schumer telling Charlie Rose that Obama’s summer playlist is cool because it includes a track from D’Angelo’s Brown Sugar album, it’s in Chris Rock’s Top 5 MCs, it’s Black Thought and ?uestlove rocking with Adele on The Tonight Show. It’s in All Def Digital. It’s in the prose of Colson Whitehead, Bryan Stevenson, Ta-Nehisi Coates and Heather Ann Thompson. It’s Kendrick Lamar illustrating the genocide of over incarceration on stage at The Grammys. It’s in the bold swagger of Ryan Coogler’s Creed, it’s in Common’s acceptance speech at the Oscars, it’s in Meshell Ndegeocello’s moving score for Queen Sugar. It was on the CDs that Alton Sterling was selling, it’s in Formation, it’s in your Lemonade, it’s in this essay, it’s everywhere. Can’t you feel it?