Monday, September 15, 2008
The art of creating hype by releasing free music is nothing new in the world of hip-hop, where bootlegged mixtapes have kick-started the careers of everyone from Grandmaster Flash to Lil Wayne. The difference today is the sheer quantity of free releases, and the luxury of being able to make a free digital download available to anyone in the world. There's no shame or stigma attached to such a practice, as evidenced by the fact that two of Lawrence's most promising up-and-comers Stik Figa and Spence are giving away their latest releases. Local vets ID and Sleeper, by contrast, have already laid a lot of groundwork and are set to cash in to the tune of actually being to afford a proper CD release of their new album "With Fixed Hands." Whatever their methods, these three artists represent some of the best new sounds in town. They're worth a serious listen and maybe even a buck or two.
The art of creating hype by releasing free music is nothing new in the world of hip-hop, where bootlegged mixtapes have kick-started the careers of everyone from Grandmaster Flash to Lil Wayne. The difference today is the sheer quantity of free releases, and the luxury of being able to make ...
What inspired you to give away your new EP?
John Westbrook Jr., a.k.a. Stik Figa: The idea that if you give somebody a sample of something great or good, its potency will bring them back the second time around. Because it's not happening again, at least not on my end. I know music gets bootlegged and things like that, but on the level that we're dealing with a very hand-to-hand, grassroots level we don't have leaks. Stuff's not hidden in some secret vault or anything. I just made a decision that if I give the music away on the first go-around I can get it to more people and hopefully attract people to come to shows : By the time they come back around to get whatever the next project is, they'll be gracious enough to come up off of that 10 bucks.
Is this a mixtape or is it something different?
Nah, this is not a mixtape at all. The standard concept for a mixtape is to jack beats : I did a mixtape a while ago "The Skinny" which was also given away for free. I don't know if that got spread as widely as it could have. This one is doing a lot better. It's all original music produced by Leonard Dstroy of the Deep Thinkers with great production and some of my best rhymes. So you're really getting a project for the free : I'm letting you off easy.
Have you ever been one of those guys who passes out CDRs on Mass. St.?
Download the Stik Figa album, "TwentyFourSeven" (.zip file/50 MB)
I haven't been that person, but I probably should be : I'm definitely not above pounding the pavement and getting in people's faces. I haven't taken a poll yet to find out whether or not that works for the consumer. I'm from Topeka, so we got enough guys who run up on you at the gas station like, "Hey man, you got five dollars for this music?" : I've (supported) those guys, but that's because I make music. I don't know if that works for the 38-year-old soccer mom though.
When you do make your first million, what are you going to do with it?
I'm putting rims on the Mercury Topaz. Nah, I'm probably gonna put some of it away and by me a really modest crib in like Overland Park or something. I'll probably lease a Sentra or a Maxima or something : and put the rest away for my little dude. Â»
Is this your third collaboration?
Isaac Diehl, a.k.a. iD: Technically the first album was the "Raincloset" demo, which became "Displacement," our debut album on Mush Records. Then Sleeper did a solo album ("The Crawlspace") that features me on about half of it.
How did you approach crafting the music for this release?
Carlos Ransom, a.k.a. Sleeper: About half of it is sample-based from still working off of vinyl, and the other half is circuit-bent sounds and instruments.
Could you clarify what "circuit-bent" means?
Ransom: Basically taking, for example, a Casio SK1 keyboard or a battery-operated Yamaha drum machine or a Speak & Spell and making it produce sounds that it wasn't made to produce.
Diehl: Opening it up and being a mad scientist.
Ransom: It's an art form in itself. It's kind of like crate digging in a way: sometimes you find something really nice, and sometimes you spend a lot of time on it and you don't find anything.
Diehl: Every beat on this album pretty much blew me away when I first heard it : I was kind of intimidated to write to it. It pushed me to try harder to develop my style towards his style of beatmaking and be a better songwriter.
Where can you pick this album up?
Diehl: Circleintosquare.com, which is an online label : Mush has plans to release a second album for us next year. That's why we put this out with Circle Into Square it was done and we're already halfway through the next one.
So the business model is to scrape for pennies by putting out your digital downloads until you get enough capital to invest in an actual hard copy, at which point you file for bankruptcy:
Diehl: The cash kickback you get from that pays for 500 seven-inch records. You use those as promo material, which is then leaked onto Jihad websites. Â»
How did your new EP "Still in School" come together?
Danny Spence: I really started doing stuff when I came up here to go to college. The first thing I put out was called the "Scholar" EP and this is the follow-up to that. It just kind of illustrates that I'm still learning things and trying to fulfill multiple roles as the emcee, DJ, and producer.
So you do all the production as well?
Yeah. I started out as a DJ and then got into production and then emceeing. I still really enjoy doing all of those things.
Can you tell us about your upcoming album?
This new project I was actually working on over the summer. I went back to Austin and met up with my homeboy Disco, who is from Berlin originally. We were in this hip-hop crew called Loose Change a couple years ago before I moved to Lawrence, so we reunited as Disco and Spence. This new album is called "2008.0" It's going to be a (free) EP. We went in a little bit different direction with more minimalist beats. I strayed away from relying heavily on samples and just programmed by own bass lines, keyboard lines, and drums.
How have you found the Lawrence hip-hop scene to be?
It's been kind of a mixed scene. It seems like people who were here 5-7 years ago are saying, "Yeah, you should have been here back then it was crazy back then, it was really happening." Now it seems to have died down a little bit, but I know that there are still kids here doing it.
Have you been giving away "Still in School" as a free digital download?
Download the Spence album, "Still in School" (.zip file/56 MB)
Yeah, it's been a freebie. The main way I've distributed it is on my MySpace : At first I just put out bulletins every hour like "download this, download this, download this," just driving it into people's heads.
Has that turned out well?
I think so. I've gotten good feedback on the record, and putting it out online has allowed a lot more people to hear it than if I was standing on the street like, "Five bucks for a CD man, help me out." I ran into a guy who was doing that about a week ago downtown on a Friday night and he was like, "Yeah man, I made a deal with this record company if I sell 600,000 of these they'll give me an album deal." He was like, "I've already sold 150,000." I was like, "There's no way that's true." I'm not following in his footsteps.
Tell us a bit about your influences.
I actually started out in drum-and-bass and jungle, but by the time I got into it, it had pretty much died in the states. The first hip-hop groups I got into are pretty typical Jurassic Five, Tribe Called Quest, and Pharcyde : Lately I've been jamming the hell out of the new Roots album and acts like The Cool Kids and Kids in the Hall hipster rap, I guess. Â»