Tuesday, November 6, 2007

The Gift and the Curse

Pretty corny title, I know...

But Jay-Z's subtitle for his Blueprint 2 album is the perfect phrase for describing what the internet and downloading has done to music artistry. On the one hand, we are given the gift of previewing music waaaay before an album comes out, which used to be a wet dream of mine (figuratively... what?? I love music); and on the other, we have robbed artist of making good music. After all, what's the point of making a hot, cohesive album if all people want to hear is a few hot singles that they're going to download? Artist now are choosing to spend their budget on the hottest producers and a hot hook for two or three songs to sell it and then put bullshit on the rest of an album to fill space. Fuck artistry. Why? Because rarely do people download entire albums--folks download the one or two hot tracks to determine if it's worth buying.

Not only that, but we have also deprived ourselves of fairly judging albums. I used to be a loyal CD purchaser. The fun of buying CD's, for me, was to critique the album all at one time--from the album cover, to the intro, to the sequencing, the collaborations, the beats (regardless of who produced it), the cohesion, the outro.

I remember going into the store for Jay's second album at the midnight sale back in '97. I hadn't heard any of the songs off of the album, save for a few singles. Got home, ripped the cellophane off of the CD, popped it in, read the inside credits and the art work, listened to every track song-by-song and made an opinion of the album after it was over. I didn't even like it very much on the first listen.

The proponent of downloading would say "you could've saved yourself $15 if you would've been able to hear it first," but I also would've never bought the album which is now one of my favorites of all his CDs. Those songs that I thought were skippable on the first listen became my favorites--namely, "You Must Love Me" and "Where I'm From" which is probably Jay's best ever lyrical song. A lot of why the album grew on me had to do with the sequential order of the album's tracks and the "speed" of the album, which are two things that you can't get when you download tracks here and there.

By buying the album and investing in it, it gave me the opportunity to give the album another chance. On the flipside, had I been able to download a few tracks here and there a month before the album came, I would have brushed it off as a wack album and spread the word to others that it was wack. If that would have happened a couple million times from others it may have been "grand opening, grand closing" for Jay.

Kingdom Come fell victim to this in my opinion. Two weeks before the album dropped, songs started leaking and folks started saying "Jay fell off." A few of the folks that told me that hadn't even heard the whole album. After borrowing mine and letting it grow on them it's now one of my friend's favorites (you know who you are).

I'm no different. I was with my boy this weekend and he asked me what I thought about Common's album, Finding Forever. I said "it's alright I guess." After getting grilled on why I thought that, I fessed up and admitted that I hadn't even heard the whole album because I downloaded half the songs. After downloading six songs, my assessment was it was "alright" so I didn't bother downloading the rest and Common is one of my favorites. But me falling to the victim of our "right now" society, I downloaded what I could find weeks before the album dropped.

If Common wasn't as established as he is, this sort of thing would have ruined his career before it even started. If I was in an artists position, why would I take the risk of making a good album when I could put my budget into making singles about crack, guns and 24's since that's what people are buying...excuse me...downloading. Downloading isn't conducive to judging artistic music that's meant to be heard in it's entirety, but rather the newest disposable club tracks.

That's why album sales are low and artists are not being artists anymore. Because of downloading. Because of me.

"The game's fucked up
Nigga's beats is bangin, nigga your hooks did it/
Your lyrics didn't your gangster look did it/
So I would write it if y'all could get it/
Bein intricate'll get you wood, critic/
On the internet, they like you should spit it/
I'm like you should buy it, nigga that's good business"

-Jay-Z's "The Prelude" off of Kingdom Come


Anointed1ne said...

No one says it better than Jay-z. Honestly, I refuse to buy half the albums on the market, because half of them aren't real music.

Jermel said...

I just heard this morning that American Gangster will not be offered on iTunes. Jay-Z's reason for doing this is that the album is a story, and that's how it should be received, as a complete story, Not bits and pieces here and there as is the case with iTunes.

It's weird. Record companies wonder why they can't sell albums anymore and the answer is so obvious. You don't market albums. You market singles! Club music has always been around, but only in the past 4-5 years did club music become the cornerstone of hip hop and R&B. The reason why artists could have so many singles back in the day is because they had that many good songs on their albums-good album first, singles second. Not vice versa. Take a listen to Mary J. Blige's "What's the 411". That album is filled with hits, not because they tried to make a bunch of singles, but because they tried to make a good album.

K.B. said...

I purposefully try to avoid hearing some CD's before they come out. I did this with the new "American Gangster" album, and I'm glad I did. It was well worth the wait.

But, like anointed1ne said... alot of albums just aren't that good anymore. People are marketing ringtones and stuff, so mainstream albums are garbage.

Well, I'm sure there are good underground cd's that we just haven't picked up on yet. Remember, we used to be the audience for underground music. We don't have the time (or aren't taking the time) to search those gems out anymore.

ETS said...

The flip side is that a lot of "artists" aren't that good, but get more credit than they deserve because so many other folks are so bad! It's not hard to sound "deep" when everything on the radio is about shawty's, supermanning, and drugs.

Andrew The Asshole said...

How many soulja boys and gurls out there posting new you tube videos hoping their $.99 single goes gold. ("while J's is 4 bucks")

I think this trash makes us appreciate tru artist even more. You can go to Target and Walmart to buy "art" for under $29.99 while connoisseurs of fine art will spend upward of Mil for tru art.