Hip-Hop Isn’t Dead, It’s Just Repackaged
Skateboarding ruined hip-hop, and Lil Wayne sucks, but at least we have our CDs and cassettes from the 90s to drown our sorrows.
My tolerance for hip-hop music is at an all-time low. And that means something, coming from a guy who spent the entire 90s immersed in hip-hop culture. It was the only music I listened to from the age of 14 to 24. Most of my early interviews were with the legends of that bygone era: Wu-Tang after their first album, Big Pun after his first single, Fat Joe, Boot Camp, EPMD, and way too many more to list. I still follow some people from that world closely—anything Ghostface or Nas puts out I will purchase—but for the most part, I hate hip-hop now, and I've been trying to play therapist lately to figure out what my problem is.
Then it hit me: skateboarding, my other true love, ruined hip-hop for me.
There was always an unspoken understanding between the two worlds: skaters would not rap, and rappers would not skate. But somewhere along the line, white boys on wheels in Southern California broke that pact and started rhyming—terribly. Before long, some very well-known and talented skaters were picking up the mic or pretending to be producers (Muska Beats?) and giving skateboarders everywhere secondhand embarrassment. Some even quit their day jobs to pursue rap careers. Thankfully, skateboarding was still relatively small when this blight began, and we were able to shield outsiders from our shame. It was sort of like how you don't invite people over to hang out with your retarded uncle because he most likely shit his pants, and it's probably on his hand.
At some point, the rap world found out our guys had broken the truce, and they wanted retribution. They also realized that white kids made up the majority of hip-hop record sales, and the majority of white kids were skateboarding.
And so it began.
The mutterings were initially low and mumbled...
"Did you hear Lil Wayne skates?" or "Lil Wayne showed up at the skatepark."
At first it was kind of cool, like when rumors started surfacing that Dave Chapelle, at the height of Chapelle's Show, was showing up at skateparks around the country to catch a grind.
The difference is that Dave Chapelle isn't governed by money, while Lil Wayne is a rich opportunist. So, naturally, the first thing Wayne does to prove how down he is for skateboarding is to start a skateboarding clothing line to capitalize on it. The saddest part was that many of skateboarding's elite, just like Germany's upper class with Hitler, looked past Weezy's blatantly obvious motives and embraced him because they were fans of his music. Many of my dear friends and your favorite pro skaters are to blame for the past 24-month tidal wave of nonstop Lil Wayne skating photos and video.
And I can't take it any more.
I don't care if Wayne goes on a street mission with the Gonz, Ed Templeton, Natas, and God almighty.
If he spins a 900, I still will not give two fucks.
I do not want to hear Lil Wayne's name mentioned anymore, please.
I just want him to go away and take all his rapper friends who stick the word skateboarding into their songs with him so I can start trying to like hip-hop again.
Please, Wayne, if you're reading this, I'm begging you to go back to your career as a subpar rapper and just skateboard for fun and away from cameras, so I don't have to hear about it.
I digress. The point of today's post was to tell you about a dear old friend of mine, Noah Uman, whom I nearly killed in a drunk-driving accident in upstate New York a decade ago. I thank God every day that I didn't because Noah is a musical genius. He teaches hip-hop history at Belmont University and just started working at Jack White's label, Third Man Records. Not too long ago, he sent me a Fat Boys box set packaged in a pizza box. He'd written the liner notes for the set, as well as having done the audio, photo, and archival research. Like most people my age I liked the Fat Boys because they were a joke, much like the above-named rapper, but I was less excited about the CDs he sent than the pizza-box packaging by Get on Down Records. Visiting their website, I learned they had a bunch of other cool shit like hip-hop puzzles, rare CDs, vinyl reissues, and even a limited edition, 24-karat audiophile gold disc of my favorite rapper's debut album, Ironman, with a 12'' x 12'' puzzle of the album cover.
Since the Fat Boys box set was the only project Noah worked on for the label, I instead decided to ask Get on Down's co-owner/co-creative director, Matt Welch, a few questions about the brand.
VICE: As a white boy from Boston, how can you have such a strong grasp of good hip-hop? No good hip-hop has ever come out of Boston. Shouldn't you be listening to Aerosmith?
Matt: Man, how did you find out I was white? The truth is, once I saw Yo! MTV Raps, I never looked back. All those 80s rock bands that were getting heavy rotation on MTV seemed corny to me. I guess once you see a PE video it's hard to appreciate "Dude Looks Like A Lady." [laughs]
How hood are you anyway, Matt? I danced to Ghostface at my wedding. What do you got?
I can't mess with that. Papa Wu would be proud!
How did Get on Down start? And how were you able to pull off reissues with such big-name artists like Ghostface, Nas, Gza, and ODB?
Get on Down started because we felt there was a void that needed to be filled, so we jumped on the opportunity. We think there is still value in physical media and tangible items—a need that will never be filled by file sharing.
What involvement do the artists have in the projects?
Their involvement varies from project to project, but now that we have established a couple of solid releases and people have a better feel for what we're trying to do, we are opening up better dialogue with the artists directly. When they are available, of course. I have plenty of stories about chasing dudes around to try and get them to be more involved, but I don't chase and tell.
I love the packaging and presentation on these projects. The Fat Boys pizza-box case was brilliant, and the wood box for Ghost's Ironman was beautiful, but it all seems very expensive to produce and you make so few of them. Do you actually turn a profit in the age of free file sharing?
This is a labor of love, but it is not a charity. We are turning a profit. We think we are helping to keep the album format viable and giving fans something that they can connect with on an emotional level. Let's face it—there is nothing sexy or rebellious about file sharing anymore.
Personally, I feel that the 90s was the golden age of hip-hop, and nothing since has touched it, creatively speaking. What's your take on current hip-hop?
I think that every generation thinks their music was/is better than what is out currently. But in our case we might actually be right about that.
The skateboarding world is plagued by daily sightings or mentions of Lil Wayne, and it makes me want to vomit every time. What do you think about him?
Again, once you hit your 30s you are kind of secretly hoping that the kids will come up with something that will shock or alienate you. After all, that's pretty much the job of the youthful generation, isn't it? In that regard, I was at least happy when Odd Future came out.
If you could pick any three artists/albums to repackage, what would they be?
Public Enemy and anything on the original maroon Def Jam label. Well, maybe not my man Orange "Juice" Jones...
Can you please make a puzzle of 2 Live Crew's As Nasty As They Wanna Be for my sons?
Oh man, that would be a fun project. I think it's safe to say that we'll be rocking more puzzles in the future, since they have done so well for us. But nothing is locked in just yet. Stay tuned!
What are some of the next projects you're working on?
Record Store Day, on April 20, is always big for us, and this year is no exception. We have a couple dope sets that we'll be releasing info about next week so follow us on Twitter or Facebook if you want the quick news about what's coming. But I'm really excited about how 2013 is shaping up thus far—we're branching out into books (more news on that next week too) and have a lot of nice momentum. Keep in mind we're less than a year old as an online entity, so shit is just beginning.
Previously - The Wonderful Sieben of Oz
For more reissues and packaging go to Getondown.com