On Tuesday, August 23, Bavu Blakes was just another Texas rapper trying to make it. Granted, the Dallas-bred MC was already on the fast track; he'd built a sizable following in his current home of Austin and had hosted mixtapes with the likes of Paul Wall.
But the next day, his situation improved dramatically: Blakes was named a finalist in the Scion Nextup Unsigned Emcee Search. Out of thousands of submissions, his song "Black Gold" was handpicked by notable national acts DJ Premier and Sean Cane to compete against nine other rappers in an online vote. The winner would receive a marketing deal, $5,000 cash, a professionally filmed video and more.
Blakes didn't have long to celebrate. The next day, he got a phone call from Inform Ventures, LLC contest organizer Jay Cortez, explaining that "Black Gold" had been disqualified from the contest for "political" content. Cortez pointed to these selected snippets from the song: "Bush and Bin Laden got so much they rotten," "Texas: home of the real Death Row" and "What'd we really go to Iraq for?" Blakes contended that the lines were metaphors with no actual political intent, and offered to edit the song for the sake of the contest. To no avail. He was disqualified.
Word spread rapidly on the Internet, thanks to jumbo-size articles at hip-hop sites such as SOHH.com and Houston Press contributor Matt Sonzala's blog, HoustonSoReal.blogspot.com. The statewide rap community was up in arms with shouts of censorship and diatribes against Scion's attempt to co-opt the culture as a selling point for their cars.
"These companies don't respect hip-hop," Dallas rapper Steve Austin told Wack. "They look at it as a dollar sign. Scion would rather screw Bavu than have somebody [in their contest] that's a political figure."
In an interview with SOHH, Inform Ventures' Patrick Courrielche explained that Blakes's submission "contained disparaging remarks about other people and the song communicated a message that Toyota didn't wish to be associated with." He didn't explain why the judges' approval wasn't questioned before contacting Blakes.
"The people who picked him thought he was good enough," Austin says. "Premier, Sean Cane, these are people we looked up to. So what does it mean to have their knowledge second-guessed by people who don't really care about what they're doing?"
In effect, Scion proves a point that Blakes makes in "Black Gold": "I'm s'posed to be rapping about rims, teeth / Brands of liquor, fashion trends, freaks and heat / Glory to death and destruction I see in the street / If not, they gotta label me 'deep.' "
Reached after the debacle, Blakes was surprisingly upbeat about the whole stink, and with good reason. He believes that the rap game is "90 percent marketing." He'd already received interview phone calls from The Source, among other top-tier media outlets, and "Black Gold" had become the top Texas rap song on Myspace.com, beating both Paul Wall and Mike Jones in plays. Blakes added that he's getting more publicity now than he would have if he'd made the finals and lost.
All hail that doe-eyed siren known as Fiona Apple! Though she can be pretentious and sometimes seems unstable, these are faults we can forgive. Therefore, we do not fatwa Apple, even though her last album title had twice as many words in it as a standard Ramones song. We like Fiona Apple. That is why we listened to her newest album, Extraordinary Machine, months ago when it leaked on the Internet to much public acclaim. But Apple's label, Epic Records, would like us to pretend this didn't happen. For treating us like fools, Epic, we hand you a stinging fatwa!
In a recent press release, Epic crowed that soon we will be able to hear the newly completed album. But we have already heard this album. Perhaps, Epic, you brought in a new producer for this release and ditched the venerable Jon Brion. We have a name for that: a remix album! Epic, you know that we know about the advance version -- this paper even wrote about the leaked album in May. Yet you treat us as if you were a lothario caught in another's embrace: We see right through your Judas kiss!
The days have passed, Epic, when you could pretend that Internet file-sharing did not exist. May all of your bad decisions come back to haunt you, and may all of your albums leak. This is the fatwa as we have pronounced it! It is written. -- The Ayatollah of Rock
RUSSKIE MP3S: THE NEW BLACK
When the Supreme Court ruled in July against Internet sites that enable peer-to-peer file-sharing, it did music downloaders a favor. As anyone who's ever visited P2P sites like Grokster and Morpheus can attest, sound quality is maddeningly dodgy, and the catalog is hopelessly disorganized. The imminent shutdown of these sites should provide the kick in the pants you need to find a better alternative.
Russia is where it's at. Benefiting from lax copyright laws, Russian MP3 sites offer a wide array of music to download for a nominal fee. The music isn't free, but it's close. And because the sites are run as businesses rather than loose collectives, they're much more user-friendly.
With so many Russian sites to choose from, we decided to share a few of our favorites. Of course, the biggest concern in using foreign MP3 sites is giving your credit card number. You don't want some dude named Boris buying new rims for his Lada 110 on your dime. But on all of the sites below, you can use PayPal for secure Internet payments or call a toll-free number and have the charges added to your phone bill. So get your wish list together and join us online.
Site: Allofmp3.com (five to ten cents per song)
Selection: A solid blend of the latest hot releases (R. Kelly, Missy Elliott), with a back catalog deeper than Lake Baikal. One of the rare sites to have the complete works of artists such as Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, Michael Jackson and hundreds of others. There are also plenty of rare finds, like Rage Against the Machine's Bombtrack EP. It's among the most comprehensive collections of music on the Web.
Why you should try it: The site allows you to listen to everything for free before you buy. It's easy to navigate, and you can download complete albums instead of assembling discs song by song.
Site: club.mp3search.ru (ten cents per song)
Selection: Heavy on the rarities and out-of-print discs, from Mountain to Sugar Ray. Doesn't have as many contemporary hits as some other sites, but where else are you going to find that elusive Milli Vanilli remix LP? Also has a vast selection of audio books and ring tones.
Why you should try it: It's interactive and informative. There's a message board where you can request specific songs and albums, and site operators will do their best to get them for you. Moreover, when you select an album by a given artist, the site gives you a full discography of the performer, a rating of the discs and a ranking of the most popular songs -- like iTunes, but without the 99-cent fee. Log on and learn more about Ace of Base than you ever wanted to know.
Site: mp3spy.ru (ten cents per song)
Selection: A huge collection of electronica that spans everything from the latest Deep Dish LP to a vast array of European singles and compilation discs. You can get some albums before their official release, like the hotly anticipated new disc from Swedish metal group Arch Enemy.
Why you should try it: The site may be lacking in older material, and it's weak on hip-hop (virtually no Public Enemy, De La Soul or N.W.A), but it's good for dance music and material available only overseas. Aspiring DJs can build entire sets here.
Site: 3mp3.ru ($9.95 for 200 songs, or $29.95 a month)
Selection: All of the current hits, plus a huge selection of bootlegs and live albums ranging from Metallica to Miles Davis. For completists, this site has tons of rare and unofficial releases, without the high prices associated with non-sanctioned discs -- meaning you no longer have to pay top dollar for a demo version of "Enter Sandman."
Why you should try it: It's one of the best values on the Web. If you upload two albums that the site doesn't have, you get a week's worth of free downloads. By offering unlimited downloads for a low monthly fee, the site allows you to compile a massive catalog in weeks. A great place to start building your collection. -- Jason Bracelin
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