I thought this article, referring to the lack of catalogue sales of classic hip-hop was of some interest. It seems the much talked about Long Tail is totally subjective. When applied to music, it’s clearly genre specific, bearing in mind, of course, that hip-hop as a genre seems to be in a fairly hefty decline right now. Whilst I’m not going to predict the demise of any genre its clear that the recent golden age of hip-hop sales is over. Albums such as the rather wonderful recent Hell Hath No Fury by Clipse, would have, in recent years, possibly, with its pedigree, sold in multi-platinum quantities, rather than the now simply respectable, just under a million. And this week, in its second week on the US charts, the most acclaimed hip-hop album of 2006 slipped from 14 to 78!
There is an argument, of course, that hip-hop has always been about the single, and that the digital world has taken up some of the slack in physical sales. But despite that, its pretty hard not to come to come to the conclusion, that for the first time in close to two decades hip-hop ain’t selling.
But that wasn’t what I wanted to post about, it’s an interesting aside. I was more interested in the phenomena of a disappearing heritage. I was putting together the links for the Amazon store I’ve started, after a request or twenty, and I was rather taken aback at how little music that exists outside the mainstream, is readily available, either physically or digitally. I should qualify that. There is a lot of older music out there, its just that the “long tail” or whatever you want to call it, seems to apply to selected genres.
Rock and pop are well catered for, as is jazz. It’s when you move out of those spheres that the problems arise. America seems blissfully unaware of much of its black heritage, especially in the more rhythm based styles. The big Hip Hop albums are out there but, man, there are some gaps. And when it comes to the genre which, arguably has had the most global influence in the past decade, house (and its slightly more twisted cousin, techno) forget about it. Unless you want to head over to Europe, where the traditions and styles seem to have substantially more respect and pay silly money.
Try and find Fingers Inc’s seminal, and massively influential, album Another Side on Amazon – or a dozen other classics of the genre…
That in itself is not a problem if the catalogues are intelligently revisited and complied. But sadly, once again the Americans seem utterly unable to do this with their heritage (in virtually any genre). It’s left up to the British and, increasingly, the Europeans to do document the American musical landscape. Witness the recent Larry Levan anthology out via Rhino (or any Rhino collection for that matter) –not that it isn’t any good, it is, it just isn’t all it could be. It’s an anthology of one their most influential producers/mixers of the eighties, and it’s half-baked; no liner notes of any worth and half the tracks were only “played” by him. It was left up to the British to do decent collections of The Masters at Work, Derrick May, and the only half decent look at the so-called golden age of hip-hop – let alone all the revisits of the likes of Philly and decent Motown compilations.
So when they complain that no-one is buying the music, it’s not that people don’t want to, it’s just that you need to invigorate it, and no one has bothered or seems to know how to anymore. Make it attractive, reinsert the passion. The Europeans and the British constantly tell people how good this stuff is, via intelligent use of the media and smart re-packaging. They understand music is about passion whilst the Americans have forgotten.
Which brings me closer to home (well as close as I’m getting to home sitting in Bali) and a little bit of respect to the way, we, in New Zealand, seem to be wanting to grab some of our heritage of recent. I’m, of course referring partially to the mighty Flying Nun box set. Whilst I tend to feel that Flying Nun had a golden age from 1981 through to about 1988, and was a little bit the conservative old fella after that (and the last CD and a half confirms that pretty much), it’s wonderful to see that people are actually making the effort. An FN box set was a must-compile for a half decade or so and it’s warming to see it done to so incredibly well. I should also mention the rather cool thread of FN memories over at Russell Brown’s new-ish discussion forum. And to Manakura who won the box set for his memory of playing The Skeptics (who never really felt like a FN band to me) A.F.F.C.O, Stu Page directed, video in a meat works boardroom – absolutely perfect.
But, as cool as it is, I hope that’s not it. As a nation, we wax lyrical about our growing cultural awareness but musically we have been absolutely remiss in recent years. Flying Nun itself needs a swag of other intelligent compilations to excite people, another generation, not just the odd greatest hits, with a few unreleased tracks. Things like letting John Campbell loose on the catalogue – or Russell Brown – or Roi Colbert. And then there is the rest of the musical landscape of the past thirty years or so. The slow collapse (and its demise was, as was apparent for years, the culmination of a long steady decline) of FMR put a huge dent in what was available, and more to the point, removed the only avenue for compilers to release albums like the excellent John Baker collections, or The Scavengers. I doubt if Warners would’ve released the Toy Love album, but FMR did.
EMI has done a really good job with its 60s issues, but what now? There is so much that has not been looked at, and is fast disappearing as those of us that were there get older
Just tossing around a few ideas (and now that FMR has gone, god knows who would release or back these):
· The early days of NZ’s urban revolution….the stuff that was coming out of South Auckland and labels like Southside…there was a huge wave of it.
· An NZ post-punk album
· A Deep Grooves collection based around the early dub and electronica the label did so well, and which still sounds so good
· A trawl through the incredible Pagan archives
· A collection of the best non-Flying Nun Auckland bands of the nineties (I’m thinking of the Picassos, Semi Lemon Kola and the rest…there were dozens)
· And perhaps a remix project of the best of the early NZ electronica.
Whether any of these would make money, who knows – probably not, but they are important to restating the musical landscape that we live and create in. And are as worthy of government support through its agencies as anything else.
Oh, and while we are at it, a decent audio tape library, both digital and analogue, already rebuffed by the current government, is essential to keep the legacy that I’m talking about intact. We’ve lost so much already. That we don’t even have the beginnings of one, is criminal.