Arguably the one album that everybody began to and does know The Roots for, Things Fall Apart was released 15 years ago last month. An album that was very much apart of the shifting dynamic in terms of diversity in Hip Hop in 1999, this album got Black Thought, Questlove and the gang a big time Grammy nomination, but more importantly, represented the growing diversity in Hip Hop at the start of a new millennium. It’s an album that, at the time, combined many of the different elements of black music that at the time made it so interesting and so entrancing: gritty, underground Hip Hop, “Neo Soul” instrumentation, an old school, live band feel, and just a touch of mainstream sensibilities to get it noticed by folks outside of Hip Hop circles. No other artist or group at the time could have pulled of a myriad of songs like “You Got Me”, “Double Trouble”, “Love Of My Life”, “The Next Movement” and “Without A Doubt” so effortlessly, and all on the same album. Sure, the Philly boys has already released several masterpieces by this point in their career, namely Do You Want More?!!!??! and Illadeph Halflife. But Things Fall Apart was just that moment, that occurrence, that one shining light in such an amazing and diverse musical career that just about all of us can point to and say, “Yup, that’s where they really hit their stride.” Between Mos Def imitating the scat-like improvisations of “Planet Rock” on “Double Trouble” to the incomparable Ursala Rucker with her dark and haunting poetry on “The Return To Innocence Lost” to three of the most amazing women in Hip Hop and R&B (read: Jill Scott, Erykah Badu, Eve) contributing to the lead single “You Got Me”, Things Fall Apart made everything come together for The Roots.
This past week, the 2011 BET Hip Hop Awards was watched by millions, and actually received some critical acclaim for its diversity of acts, stellar performances from the likes of Lupe Fiasco, Erykah Badu, B.o.B., Rick Ross and Big Sean, and top-notch lyrical skills in what has become the shows main draw, the cyphers (where careers can actually be made and/or broken.) And I’ve got to commend the network for the good job they did on the Awards show (even though I’m not forgiving them for the years of horrendously horri-awful programming they’ve subjected many of us to for a while.) But what I saw actually got me to thinking about a conversation I had with a fellow entertainment professional a few months ago. In talking to said person, we began discussing some of the ideas we’ve had for companies, as well as some of the music, business and music business websites we follow on a regular basis. Ultimately, the conversation turned towards the following idea: Where are the sites that dedicated to the BUSINESS side of the hip hop music industry?
Seems like a fair enough questions when you survey the landscape of music business resources. And honestly, I’m sure there are a few of them out there that may actually do a descent job of covering both the entertainment side and the business side of hip hop music. But (and this is merely one man’s personal opinion) when it comes to hip hop websites, I personally can see why someone would think that there aren’t many resources out there to turn to get a better understanding of the business of hip hop. The person I was having this conversation with ultimately said that he believed the hip hop community could benefit from a website similar to, say, Hypebot, Artisthouse Music or Black Enterprise, just with more of a focus on hip hop music and everything that goes into the business of it.
Is that a valid argument? Would there be a market for a website/company like that to exist? Or would it contribute to the saturation that we’re currently experiencing in terms of online music outlets? We can give all of these questions a pretty big “MAYBE, MAYBE NOT…” But here’s something that at least does carry some validity: hip hop is a billion dollar musical juggernaut that isn’t going away any time too soon, and the more people who want to get involved in it know about the history of its business practices, the power brokers, the better off the music and the culture will be. Sure, we’ve got tons of great hip hop websites, blogs and online magazines that cover the music and the culture with great vigor and passion. But it’s becoming more and more important to see beyond the glitz, glamor, celebrities, gloss and posturing that many take at face value. There’s a whole machine that makes the engine of hip hop run, and its fuel comes from promotions, digital distribution, press and publicity, design, research and development, journalism, branding, social media, networking and entrepreneurship. The folks that control these areas are the REAL power players, and not necessarily those that you see on in the public eye all of the time.
Ultimately, there’s a whole lot more to the game than just the music. So, maybe it is high time for a major hip hop website that focuses on the business side of things to be brought to fruition. Only time will tell if the dream comes true.