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.
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.
The advent of iTunes, which made it easier to buy individual tracks, has been a game changer in an era when few artists of any genre are making really good full albums. And though I subscribe to Apple Music’s streaming service, I’m still a strong proponent of ownership. I hit the “buy” button on iTunes more than I should; there should be a Crying Jordan meme backdrop on all the receipts Apple emails me.
I’m not really about that streaming life, for three reasons: First, nothing sucks through my 15 GB monthly AT&T data plan like streaming music—I listen to half an Isaac Hayes song and my plan is nearly depleted. Second, spend a decent amount of time in the subway of a major city and let me know how that uninterrupted stream works for you.
Finally, the streaming-music market is a joke for artists’ bottom line; Spotify and the like have the artists (simile redacted because my editors say my writing has a strong anal fixation). Jay Z leveraged this issue to release his own streaming service, Tidal, which was probably headed the way of Sprite Remix and Homeboys From Outer Space if Prince hadn’t died and Beyoncé didn’t drop Lemonade.
As important as I find it is to support artists, I’m also admittedly sloppy: I’ve no scruples about illegally downloading Schindler’s Fist 37 because it just … feels different. And like “Wait a Minute,” there are several older songs I can’t buy digitally but refuse to pay full price for the whole album; Prince’s “Call My Name,” Dale’s “Soulful Moaning” (the soundtrack to the conception of damn near every ’90s baby in Detroit), Tupac’s best cut of all time—all songs I had to download with a Kanye shrug.
If we’re keeping it a full buck, music piracy will be an interminable issue. For every high-paid lawyer who shuts down a torrent site or keeps his or her client’s music off the net, there’s some industrious virgin out there who only leaves his computer for s—t breaks who can circumvent it all—even if only by renaming an album file “Bee-Yonsay—Limin-Aid.”
I don’t expect much to change in a world that loves free. But if music completes you and, like me, you get excited when Amazon emails you to let you know that your CD of Maxwell’s BlackSUMMERSnight has shipped, I implore you to consider paying for it.
And, I mean, if downloading Sperms of Endearment completes you, then consider paying for that as well.
Dustin J. Seibert lifts heavyweights and plays all his video games on hard mode to find peace. He has a better ear for hip-hop than anyone else you know. You can find more of his work at VerySmartBrothas.com.