Why I Don’t Steal Music Anymore (for the Most Part)

I’m older and wiser and I make more money.

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In a recent VladTV interview, living rap god Bow Wow (formerly of the “Lil’” variety) discussed his entire career.

He referenced Ray J and Lil’ Kim’s “Wait a Minute,” a joint that I’d forgotten made me nod my head around the turn of the century (and the only worthwhile thing Ray J ever did that wasn’t Kim Kardashian). I hadn’t heard it in a while, so I headed to iTunes to buy it.

No dice.

In music’s biggest outrage since Canibus pulled out the notepad, some devious bastard saw fit to deprive the digital-music market of Ray J’s This Ain’t a Game album. Sure, I could’ve purchased the physical album on Amazon, but who in the blue f–k would buy an actual full disc of songs by Brandy’s little brother? And since I’d sooner use a $10 bill to light my next cigar than buy the “Wait a Minute” imported single, I copped the song for free from a website whose URL I won’t share since it would probably give your PC the Zika virus.

Look, it’s 2016—if you want a single song immediately, you should be able to get it for a dollar and short change with minimal effort. Options to obtain “Wait a Minute” were pretty ass-y, so I five-fingered that bitch. But there’s a high likelihood that it will be the first and last time I steal music this year.

It wasn’t always this way, by any stretch. Though I came up in the era in which you had to buy an entire album just to get one or two hit songs (which is why I still have nearly 1,000 CDs stashed in my crib like Colombian yayo), things changed when an industrious white boy named Shawn Fanning rolled out Napster—the progenitor of music-jacking software—at the beginning of this century, coinciding with my freshman year and my first high-speed Ethernet connection. My whole world became more … musical.

I had a lot of time to kill from all the hos I wasn’t pulling down in college. So I spent much of it downloading free music and burning it on whatever CD-Rs I could afford or scam.

When Eminem and the little drummer dude from Metallica realized that they could potentially be pulling down even more millions without Napster, they publicly led the charge to legally crush the program. But that simply made way for the likes of Audiogalaxy (my personal favorite), Kazaa, AOL getfiles and other glorious ways to get free music with the click-clack of a few keys.

By the time I graduated, my conditioning was conditioned: Why pay for something that I could get gratis? At one point, the only new retail CDs I got were the free promotional joints from writing for my school newspaper. For over a decade, I was disrespectful as hell, taking music I loved without dropping a dime in the pockets of the artists I appreciated.

Oddly enough, it wasn’t Eminem or Lars Ulrich who motivated me to move away from jacking music; it was a combination of finally making the good money that allowed me to afford it and recognition of the sea change in the music industry, which made things harder for artists.

In 2016, album sales don’t mean a goddamn thing unless you’re a portly young Englishwoman with a penchant for cussing out audience members at your sold-out shows. All but the top of the Top 40 artists are basically forced to tour in order to carve out a living; gone are the days when a midtier rapper could go platinum in two weeks and spend the rest of his summer nestling his head on bethonged white booties without the concern that he’d run out of money for his sizable, useless entourage.

Since I have always gravitated toward nonmainstream hip-hop (read: actually broke rappers), the cats I love the most really need my money. Check out the documentary Adult Rappers to understand how real it is for these rappers trying to manage their families and pay the mortgage on their two-and-a-half-bedroom cribs by essentially living on the road and standing in the lobby after shows sipping on-the-house Coronas, hoping someone will buy their CD and/or T-shirt.