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Industry rule number four thousand and eighty:

For those who missed it, Phonte of Little Brother recently got into a bit of a blog beef. The origin of the argument itself wasn't that interesting, but he did say something that I thought needed to be further examined. In explaining why he thought most people were not into his group, Phonte stated that, "The majority of the hip-hop audience is dumb . . . because they have to be told what to like or not like."

Continuing on, he made the comment that insiders acknowledge that "tastemakers" are an integral part of the music industry. This is a point that I think a lot of hip hop fans (and music fans in general) aren't really aware of. Whether its a dj at a major club, a promoter with connections at a radio station or a major label A&R, there are individuals who play a significant role in deciding what music the public hears. If a club dj -- and I'm talking about djs in the major cities, not DJ Local from your around the way hole-in-the-wall -- decides he's going to play a certain record over and over (or completely remove a certain artist from the rotation) that can have a huge impact on what songs become popular within that region. And you can bet that promoters from music labels are willing to make it financially worthwhile for a dj to play whatever artist they want him to. During my brief career as a Boston dj, I saw it happen on more than one occasion. Word to Benzino.

More important than clubs, in the process of determining what music achieves national success, is the radio. Though the practice of paying radio stations for broadcasting a specific song, known as "payola," is technically illegal, there is a loophole around it. While the current U.S. law says that radio stations must announce whenever a record label has paid the station for playing a song, this law does not apply if someone other than the record label pays for the "spin." To get around this, record labels hire agents to pay the radio stations a promotional fee to play a song. When a third party pays the radio station, it does not have to be reported to the audience. It isn't always direct payments of money, either. Often, record labels will give members of the radio station (both the radio personality and the executives behind the station) gifts in the form of paid vacations, hotel stays and gift certificates.

The result is that certain songs get constant play on major radio stations without the audience knowing that they are listening to what is essentially a paid advertisement. This affects more than just the listeners of the radio station that is taking in payola bribes. Many smaller radio stations decide what music they will play based on music industry publications that report how many spins a song gets on the major national radio stations. By spending enough money to get a song played on the major radio stations, a record label can create a domino effect causing the song to be put in constant rotation on stations nationwide. Hurt the most by this practice are artists on smaller labels who cannot afford to play the payola game. Without enough promotional money to buy spins on the radio, these artists have little hope of ever seeing a platinum record. Listen to Hot 97 for an hour anytime this month and I will give you better than 50/50 odds of hearing Lil Jon and E-40's Snap Yo Fingers. Do you think people in New York are really that into this song?

At the top of the tastemaker food chain are the A&Rs and other record label executives. If a record label decides that it is not the right time for a certain artist to release an album, whether or not the album has already been put together, then you are not going to hear any music from that artist. M.O.P. claim they have put together over 60 album-ready songs in the past few years, yet they weren't able to release an album until they left Roc-A-Fella. Damon Dash & co. felt that the time was not right for an M.O.P. album, so it was never released. Its not just individual artists, either, that are affected.

Record labels have the power to push an entire genre of music onto the public, whether they like it or not. This has been particularly evident in hip hop, with the labels promoting at various times Crunk, Reggaeton, Snap and Hyphy as the dominant form of rap (though in hindsight, that Hyphy thing never really seemed to work out). Crunk music has been around since the early 90's, but it wasn't until 2003 that any of the major labels picked up on it. Once the promotional machine got behind Crunk, that's pretty much the only hip hop music you could hear on the radio or on t.v. And its not like all of these crunk artists suddenly decided to pick up a microphone at the same time. They had been around for awhile but only received attention once the major labels made a coordinated effort to promote Crunk.

This isn't to say that hip hop fans don't have some responsibility when a group like D4L starts selling records, and this is where I disagree with Phonte, who I think gives too much credit to the industry's ability to brainwash consumers. Hearing a bad song over and over on the radio might get it stuck in your head, and it might even convince you that you don't actually hate it, but you have to take an active role to go out and buy the cd. There's only so much the tastemakers of the music industry can do. They can expose you to the music that they want you to hear, but they don't have the power to pull the money out of your wallet and pay for the album. Maybe we all just have to face the facts and accept that people actually like Laffy Taffy enough to pay for it.

Anyway, to help out their cause, I'm putting up a couple of LB tracks from their Seperate But Equal mixtape. I'm not a big fan of Little Brother, but you might be. Maybe one of you will listen to this stuff and get motivated enough to go pick up one of their albums.

Let It Go feat. Mos Def


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7/25/2006 9:48:07 AM posted by Fresh

Great article, explianed alot of questions that was circulating around my head. And I love the LB, I get any cd produced by 9th wonder. Peace
7/25/2006 11:42:25 AM posted by JR

I picked up Minstrel Show mainly because 9th wonder was involved with the group. The album isnt bad but I dont go out of my way to listen to it. I did like the tracks you put up today tho.

7/25/2006 1:17:56 PM posted by Will I Am

i cant believe people actually would BUY a D4L CD, and then actually "PLAY" the cd in their house or car. I dont think D4L is music you ride to in the car. (maybe its just me.)

i agree that the "tastemakers" cant pull the money out of your pocket, BUT at the same time if they promote something as "hip, hot, cool, fire, etc" if you are a "fair-weather" hip-hop fan and want to be cool, then chances are you'll be the idiot to go and buy a d4l, franchise boyz, or any other snap/hypy/or crunk cd.

hip-hop died somewhere between 96'-97' (lol, depending on who you like more)
7/25/2006 2:37:25 PM posted by Real Deal

That article is spot on. Part of the reason I didn't look back when I moved to JAX from NYC is because I knew I wasn't going to miss anything on hot 97 or its rival - I think they average 3 songs per hour on a constant rotation. Same problem on Sirius and xm radio. I recommend BBC's radio 1. If you look hard enough there are some good mixes. You have to look hard though and suffer the commercials.

To those reading please send fresh a couple bucks so he can fix his second turntable and put out a new mix.

7/25/2006 8:26:55 PM posted by ezryder

@Real: In my opinion, hip hop died the day Flavor Flav's show aired on VH1.

7/26/2006 11:56:26 AM posted by fresh

To reduce Spam on this site, I'm testing out Disqus.
You'll need JavaScript turned on to see comments (if you're using NoScript, add 33jones.com to your list of trusted sites).
Let me know if you like it/dislike it.


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