Lookin’ for Hip-Hop in all the Wrong Places

I’ve heard from quite a few people lamenting about the state of today’s hip-hop. Whether it be the lack of innovation and creativity, or the redundancy and general ignorance and foolishness of the lyrics and subject matter, or the oversimplification of the lyrics and instrumentals. You’d think from listening to these people that there’s no other alternative.

And yeah, if you think I’m talking about you, I probably am…but you’re not the only one I’ve heard this from.

What bugs me is that these people complain so much about the “ignorant stuff,” the Street/Trap/Drill rap, the club/party rap, the pop rap, the stuff that’s popular on the radio and in the mainstream, and yet they neglect to acknowledge that there are plenty of established, successful rappers who don’t fit into that vein.

These are the guys who say there’s no more pure lyricism in hip-hop, but have nothing to say when I mention rap legends Talib Kweli and Pharaohe Monch forming a new rap group with 9th Wonder. They complain so much about Iggy Azelia’s pop rap but ignore and underground queen like Jean Grae. They say there are no more real musicians in hip-hop but refuse to acknowledge The Roots, who are rap’s first – and still best – live band. And they talk about Lil’ Wayne and Boosie Badass and everything wrong with hip-hop without acknowledging J-Live (who just released a new album), Lupe Fiasco and everything that is right.

Mainstream audiences are what they are. We always insinuate that the record labels are pushing some agenda on music listeners and are trying to dictate what is trendy and popular. But I’ve actually worked with the young audiences that buy and request the majority of this stuff. I’ll play some so-called “real” hip-hop for them while we’re riding around – the type of stuff that I and my fellow hip-hop snobs love to listen to, and basically get no reaction from these kids and teens. But then I switch to an ig’nant club/street song like “My Hitta” or even Myley Cyrus’ “23” and the kids are instantly excited, dancing around and singing along with the ig’nant lyrics. These audiences (youth, women, dudes in the street) want something for them. They want rap music that’s catchy, that they can dance to, seduce the opposite sex to, or feel like the toughest/richest guy in the world to. And as long as these are the majority of the people who buy and request rap music, this will always be the case, for better or worse. Back in the late 1990s, Neo Soul was a big subgenre in R&B music. D’Angelo and Erykah Badu were breakthrough artists that created a demand for it, and the labels catered to that demand until audiences decided they wanted something else. You could argue that without the Neo Soul Movement, there would be no Alicia Keys, and Angie Stone and Raphael Saadiq would be strictly making songs for other people instead of putting out their own music.

And guess what? There will ALWAYS be kids who gravitate towards simplistic guys like Soulja Boy Tell ‘Em. There will ALWAYS be women who want to see “urrbody in the club getting’ tipsy” and do the latest ratchet dance. There will ALWAYS be dudes in the streets (or wannabes) who think the street stories of Jeezy or Meek Mill or Rick Ross match their lifestyles or their fantasies. That’s not going anywhere. So wishing those types of music will go away is a pipe dream.

But even with that, there is still a solution. If you don’t like the types of rap that permeates the mainstream, there are alternatives, and this is the thing that I want you all to recognize. Judging hip-hop strictly by what’s popular in mainstream audiences is like saying your local WalMart needs to be completely overhauled juts because the produce section has rotten sweet potatoes. If you really want quality hip-hop that doesn’t fit the mold of the street, club and pop rap, then all you have to do is look and dig a bit deeper. These guys are out there, but they may be a bit harder to find because major record labels don’t sign them. They are signed to smaller, indie labels like PRhyme, M.I.A. and J-Live are. They put out their own music like Ras Kass and Jean Grae do on Bandcamp.  They have better-paying dayjobs and put out albums only when they feel like it like Common, the Roots, Mos Def and Ludacris do. These are rappers with smaller but fiercely loyal followings like Mega Ran and Adam Warrock, who tour relentlessly and constantly keep their fans in the loop. These are veterans emcees like Masta Ace and Rah Digga who still find ways to stay relevant even as Hip-Hop changes and evolves. These are guys like Childish Gambino, Chance The Rapper and Run The Jewels, who have sidestepped the record label machine altogether and reinvented how music is consumed. Once you stop looking in the usual spots for the next big thing and really broaden your horizons, you will find that there are more than enough quality rap acts that are closer to what you want than the stuff that you’re complaining about now. And don’t forget, there are a handful of guys in the mainstream who put out quality, non-typical rap, too. The top MCs in the game now (Kendrick, Big Sean, Drake, J-Cole and Big KRITT) didn’t get to that status by putting out bad music.

My point is that the only reason you don’t see a quality alternative to the “Bad” rap is that you aren’t really looking for it. But it’s still out there, and there’s plenty of it. Ghostface Killa, Pharoahe Monch, and Black Thought are three of the most well-respected emcees in rap music, regardless of whether you acknowledge them or not. Techn9ne and Hopsin are two of the most creative and technically proficient rappers in the game, whether you acknowledge them or not. Lecrae leads a whole subgenre of Christian-themed rappers that fit all of your criteria, and they are successful whether you recognize that or not. Slaughterhouse will be rap’s number one group with or without an endorsement from either you or Eminem. And Run The Jewels II is still one of 2014’s most critically acclaimed rap albums, regardless of whether it was on your list.

Just like all of you, I wait for the day when mainstream audiences start demanding more thoughtful, intelligent and creative hip-hop: the labels won’t change until the people who give them money change what they want to listen to. But I’m not holding my breath. In the meantime, I am going to find and enjoy (and in my case, write and record) the type of hip-hop that speaks to me. Let the lil’uns have their Soulja Boy, Meek Mill and Iggy: I’ve got something else altogether in my music player.

The Origin of Jugghead

The Origin of Jugghead

If you’ve spent any time with me or on this site, you’ll know that I dabble in music. I was fully immersed in the rap game from the mid 80’s until about 2001. I took a break from it for a few years, but after I got married, I started rhyming and producing again. If you visit my Jugghead site, you can listen to a bunch ofmy music, and download a few albums for free.

Many people have asked me why I gave myself the stagename “Jugghead.”

And the answer is a loooong one.

My first rhymes were said waaaaaay back in 1986. My and my Buddy Ed were playing on his brand new Vetrex (wow), when his older sister Ebony (Who I thought was fine as heck but I couldn’t holler at her ’cause she was 16 and I was 11) came in bouncing a mixtape featuring some guy named Doug E. Fresh. Me and Ed was feeling it so hard, we put the video game aside, picked up his old Casio keyboard with the wack preprogrammed beats, and started dropping rhymes as “Eazy E and DDT.” I was DDT because that’s the signature I use whenever I get the high score on video games. We did about three wack songs that night, but our interest in being the next great MC’s lasted about as long as our attention spans, which suffice to say weren’t that long. By the end of the night we were watching Leave it to Beaver reruns (like you didn’t. don’t front) and playing with Transformers without one single thought about getting into the rap game.

I didn’t get serious about rapping until 1989, when I First heard the D.O.C. That album is basically what sparked me to want to be an MC. It was listening to “The Grand Finale” that I wrote my first ever real rap song, “No Mars” which was a battle rap. I liked what I wrote so much I followed it up with a few other songs: “Just a Decent Guy,” “Somebody Cut The Cheeze,” and “I am The Law.” If you think those titles are corny, the actual lyrics were worse. Back then I didn’t have the nerve to actually say any of the songs I was rapping, so I just wrote. I didn’t even have a stagename.

I moved to a new neighborhood in 1990, and met up with Proffessor Crookyd (Back then he was called “Kid Vicious” I kid you not.) we got bored one day and thought, “Hey, why don’t we start a rap group?” My Moms was a professional songwriter, and had a small studio in our basement that she used. She was happy to see me take an interest in the “family business” (My dad was a bass player in a group that featured Babyface and members of Midnight Star before he married my moms) so she let us use her equipment, just so long as we didn’t break anything. We got a couple of the other boys in the neighborhood and formed “Tha Master Assassinz,” and I was MC Will, co-group leader and the producer of the group (it was my studio, so naturally I made all the beats). We did a few freestyle songs, and PC actually got me to perform those dumb songs I wrote way back, but it was nothing really serious.

That changed when my Moms got us a performance at a summer talent show on the southside of Flint. We decided that the “Master Assassinz” thing wasn’t cool enough, So we needed a new gimmick. We became “Codename I.C.E.” (No, the I.C.E. didn’t really stand for anything) after all the rappers who had ice in their names at the time (ice Cube, Ice T, Smooth Ice, Ice Cream Tee, Mixmaster Ice, you get the idea). We all had to have an ice-related name: We had R-Tek Ice, DJ Ice, The Snowman, PC was Cold Ice and I was Chilled Ice (although by the time we did the show I was Crush Ice). The performance went pretty well, to the point where we thought we could actually be a successful rap group. We were always rehearsing, and in the studio working on new demo material. since hip-hop was transitioning from the political stuff to the Gangsta stuff, our gimmick was that we were “hip-hop terrorists.” Don’t ask where we got it from. By the end of our first summer we had finished our first demo “The Debut,” which I still have a copy of somewhere, actually. I then did a solo joint (which I lost) called “Tha Monstaman,” where I tried SO hard to be the next Chuck D (but then again, who Didn’t? Everybody wanted to be the next Chuck D back then).

When High School started, the pro-black, conscious stuff was officially passé, so PC suggested we change our name and image. Now we were gangsta rappas, and our group name was ADG, for “All Day Gangstas” (Of course, ADG was also PC’s initials: Anthony Deshay Gray. Coincidence?) I changed my name appropriately to “Gangsta De” Don’t ask me where that came from. We QUICKLY changed to something else. We evolved with hip-hop, and around the time Tribe, De La and Digital Underground all dropped their second albums, we became a more laid-back, stylin’ and profilin’ hip-hop group. “S.T.Y.L.E.” was our name, for “Steppin’ To You Like Enemies.” Crook became Shay-D, and I started off as Furious Styles (yep, just like THAT Furious Styles), but after seeing the movie “FX” I changed it to Furious X. I could still do my pro-black shtick (having the X in my name), but then I could abbreviate my name to F/X and be the producer behind the scenes (Clever, huh?) S.T.Y.L.E. only lasted one demo before our members started pursuing other interests (namely, girls), but as Furious X I managed to do about 4 solo albums (“Save the Drama for Your Mama,” “Mind Games: The Next Step,” “Army of One” and “Also Known as Peasy”) before The fam came on hard times, and Moms had to pawn off all her studio equipment. (AND sell the pawn tickets. what chall know about that kind of struggle? WHAT!!!)

Now, I’ve known Hookdiggy, Waxo and Devastator for EVER, but I didn’t find out until high school that Will and Jon were doing the hip-hop thing. After we traded demos and stuff, and I told Hook about my non-studio dilemma, he recommended I get at Wax and see about laying some tracks with him. Jon was happy to do some stuff, and by graduation day I had recorded three more basement albums (“Return of the Pease,” Pease Plus: the remix album” and “Peasyman: Nuff Said.” Notice a theme?). After a while, I introduced PC to Wax and they started doing stuff. Yes, many of these songs were over other, more established artists’ music, and yes, we gave away these albums for free? You now what that means? That means we were doing the “free album/mixtape” thing approximately 25 years before it was cool. Respect.

Junior year, Crook and I formed a two man group called QnA (Quan and Anthony. Get it? CLEVER! CLEVER!!!), and he had us recording our demo “S.T.Y.L.E.” at his studio. I had gotten rid of “F/X’ and changed my name to “Peasyman,” after a nickname I earned in high school for my perpetually nappy hair. All of our peeps guest starred on it: this led to Hookdiggy and I doing our first collabo track together (“Nuthin Kan Sayve Ya”) and to us meeting Don Dada, who is related to PC and had also started recording there. Crook and I decided to go our separate ways for good after that, mainly because he wanted to take his music in one direction, and I wanted to go another way. but at the time Dev had starting rapping, so the four of us decided to form our own “supergroup” called Menace 2 Society. Then that *&@$&#$% Movie came out, and every rap group under the sun started calling themselves Menace To Society. so we just abbreviated our name to M2S and told folks that it didn’t stand for anything. We did our first basement demo “Strait Frum Tha L” and I swear we were the biggest psychopathic hardcore gangster killers in the world. We must have killed the entire population of Detroit on that album. Twice.

With that out of our system, we mellowed our sound out a bit (okay, a LOT) and around the time we went to college, we got really serious about getting our music heard. I had also decided that “Peasyman” was WAAAAY too corny a name to be up in the industry with (If I had known the industry would see such clever names as Juvenile, Magoo, Silkk Da Shocka, Trick Daddy and Lil Boosie, I would have reconsidered.) So I was about to call myself “Juggernaut,” when surprise, surprise, somebody else dropped an album going by that name. so I took the “jugg” and added “head”, and my current stagename was born.

what’s in a name? I have no idea what in the world possessed me to call myself “Jugghead.” Honestly. I tried to put some meaning behind the name, like saying my flow and style is laid back like the Jughead in Archie comics, or even going the abbreviation route like “Jesters Underestimate the Greatness of God, but He’ll Eventually Ascend from Darkness.” but nothing’s sticking. So eff it. I called myself Jugghead because it seemed like a freaking good idea at the time, which is pretty much why I do everything I do.

Next, whenever I get around to volume two, I’ll discuss the “Phalanx” years. If anybody wants the movie rights, holla.

Mood Music

Got something on my mind I need to get your input on.

You all know I’m a huge music buff. I listen to just about everything, but one my biggest loves is intellectual or “backpack” hip-hop. and over the past few months, a few of my favorite artists have released new material I’ve been peeping.

First of all, Comedian Donald Glover (from community and 30 rock) moonlights as the rapper Childish Gambino, and he’s actually pretty good. he released a concept album called “Because the Internet” which is about the confusion in his personal life and how we all have been negatively affected by the internet. Good stuff.

I’m also a big fan of underground rap legend Pharoahe Monch, and he released an album called PTSD which is actually kind of self-explanatory. It’s a concept album about depression and its causes.

The third album I picked up is from Royce Da 5’9, Joe Budden, Crooked I and Joel Ortiz, collectively known as the battle rap supergroup Slaughterhouse. It was a free album called House Rules which is a preview of their upcoming major album. but on House Rules they talked a lot about their personal struggles like losing family members to cancer and being so po’ you can’t afford the o and the r.

And the latest album i grabbed is by by my favorite rap group, The Roots. Their album is called “and then you shoot your cousin.” and it’s another concept album about dumb rap cliches and the sad, hopeless people who live by them.

Real cheery stuff, right?

Well, I didn’t think anything of the subject matter at the time, I just liked the music. I was listening to these albums on heavy rotation for the past couple of months, especially the Roots album. it’s musically brilliant and the songs haunt you. I mean, they REALLY haunt you. right now I’ve got the melodies and lyrics of a few of the songs stuck in my head. And therein lies the problem.

I just had a dream of trying to commit suicide. Believe me, guys, i have absolutely NO desire to kill myself. yeah, there’s a lot of crap in my life I wish would improve, but things could be a ton worse. I have a beautiful, loving wife, a job, a house and two cars, family that supports me through thick and thin, and great friends like you all who give me reasons to smile. I like myself, and I like my life. but in my dream, I’m literally wrestling with myself mentally, telling myself the only way my family will be safe is if i died. this dream bothered me for the rest of the day. I wondered why would I have these thoughts even subconsciously.

I had to take a serious look at the music i was listening to. Specifically these four albums, which I had been listening to more than anything else as of late. it’s basically a whole lot of sad songs about sad people leading sad lives. everyone in these songs is miserable, and I’m wondering if that has somehow filtered into my mind and made me miserable too.

Am I offbase with this? is this music really affecting my mood that much or am i overanalysing things? either way, i think I’m going to take those albums off of my playlist for a while and listen to some more positive, uplifting music. doesn’t necessarily have to be gospel, but some of that will be on the menu too. Any suggestions?

The New Breed

I admit it: I’m an old fuddy-duddy when it comes to music. I have become the guy I hated when I was a teenager: the one who hated the new music and swore that his music from his time was better than the new crap that is popular today. And for the most part that still holds true. I stopped truly paying attention to new rap artists after 2005, mainly because the stuff I had been hearing either on the radio or in the streets has been so bland and disappointing.

But recently I’ve had reason to rethink my position. I still think the vast majority of today’s hip-hop is crap, but I have to acknowledge that there are a few artists in this new generation of MC that interest me. And in my opinion, they’re all pretty darned good at rocking the mic.

So here is my informal, unofficial top ten list in no particular order (except for the #1 guy) of rappers who debuted post-2005 that I’m into. This is not an all-encompassing list, as I might (and probably will) stumble across some new MCs in the future that I want to follow (I’m looking at you, Sammus and Wordburglar), but these are the top guys on my list right now.

  1. Random. When you hear the phrase “Stay humble, stay hungry,” you don’t think that applies to most music stars. This has been the epitome of Mega Ran’s character. This is the reason why he is atop my list of “new” MCs that I follow. The fact that despite his status as a rising star in indie hip-hop, he makes himself VERY accessible to his fans. I feel less like a fan and more like a colleague and a peer: he has been a FB friend of mine (under his government name, no less) for the past 2 years, and I correspond with him regularly like I do with my closet and most trusted friends. I even sent him a link to my latest rap album (you can download it for free at http://jugghead.bandcamp.com/album/chapter-2), and he said he liked it. In addition to being a great MC, he also comes off as a likable PERSON, and that’s more important.
    on top of that, he has redefined the game for indie rap artists, proven that rappers can be successful and build careers for themselves by giving out free music, and has become one of the faces and poster children for Nerdcore. He is a master wordsmith, and quite frankly NOBODY is better at putting together a concept album. It’s basically his calling card.
    Every time he releases something new, I’m putting it on my “must grab” list. His song “Doubt Me” is one of my morning anthems to get me ready for my day. And at every opportunity I’m telling people about this guy and even sharing some of my favorite Mega Ran songs with them.
  2. Kendrick Lamar. For the longest time I was trying not to buy into K-Dot’s hype. The whole “New King Of The West” talk must have been hyperbole, right? After all, they said the same thing about Game and we saw how well that panned out. But when one of my kids finally convinced me to give the guy a shot, and I heard of the Grammy nomination, I had to dig deeper into his style. After peeping “Good Kid, mAAdCity” – and looking up the lyrics, I am firmly in the K. Lamar camp. The boy is The Truth.
  3. Childish Gambino. I don’t watch a lot of Television, and I don’t really try to get into this new breed of rapper, so in pretty much every way conceivable I slept on the work of Mr. Donald Glover. But then I hear via the blogvines about how great this “Because The Internet” album is, and I decide to give him a chance via his “Royalty” free album (I refuse to call it a mixtape). To say I was blown away would be an understatement. The dude’s use of wit and clever wordplay coupled with his Gift of Gab-like willingness to change styles and deliveries – oftentimes in midverse – along with his thoughtfulness and honesty, and you get a nice combination of talent. Oh yeah, dude also can sing and he makes his own beats. I finally checked out BTI –mainly because I’m a sucker for a concept album –  and I recommend it to everybody. Finally, unlike 99% of he MCs who claim to be rich, Bino actually has the numbers to back up his boasts. He was a superstar entertainer long before he picked up a mic.
  4. OMG. Ice cube’s youngest son carries his father’s legacy well. He has a voice similar to Cube’s and he has the same amount of confidence on the mic that Cube had, too. He claim’s his dad’s Lench Mob crew and works with Lench Mob member DJ Crazy Tunes? Bonus. I wish he’d deliver a little more social commentary like his father did, but even if he doesn’t, I like him the way he is.
  5. Yelawolf. I didn’t know anything About Yeller until I heard he got signed along with Slaughterhouse to Shady Records. I checked him out on Youtube and was immediately a fan. He has a very unique voice and delivery style, and while everybody nowadays is rapping double-time, few can do it with a style that doesn’t sound carbon copied from other rappers. Yelawolf is one of those few.
  6. Lecrae. Being a Christian fan of hip-hop, I’m actually a bit ashamed that I don’t support Christian Hip-Hop more. Aside from the likes of Da TRUTH and T-Bone, I really couldn’t tell you anything about Christ Rap. Lecrae’s mixtapes really opened my eyes to what could be done with that medium and that message. Dude is honest and insightful, without delving into a lot of the tired clichés that you hear from a lot of gospel rappers.
  7. Jon Connor. I’m not just putting him on this list because he’s from my hometown. Jon is a talented MC who actually knows a few people I’m connected to. He’s a pure MC with awesome punchlines, and a unique story to tell, which is actually a consistent theme among the new rappers I like.
  8. Big Sean. This is another local flavor, as Big Sean hails from Detroit. He’s another one I ignored “just because he’s new,” but like some of the other guys on the list, I gave him a try on his “Detroit” free album, and I was impressed. And his single “Beware” was flat out brilliant. The guy is a very polished lyricist and performer, and has a style similar to Drake’s without copying. I actually think he’s proven himself more clever.
  9. Wale & Big KRITT. The Roots endorsed these two. That’s good enough for me.

 

When you get a chance, check these guys out. I think you’ll like them as  much as I do.

Why I Love Concept Albums

I FINALLY got my hands on the major label debut of Kendrick Lamar.  At first, I didn’t want to believe that any of this “New Generation” of MC would be as high quality as the guys I grew up listening to. And by High Quality I mean deep, thoughtful and complex lyrics over something other than Southern Trap beats or Urban pop. I even scoffed at the possibility of K. Lamar besting out my favorite rap group (The Roots) for the best Rap album Grammy. But then, somebody sent me one of Kendrick’s mixtape tracks (Rigamortis) and I was blown away. It’s one thing to hear an MC rap double-time over a slow beat. Just about every rapper does it, and with the exact same cadence and delivery style, too. But Kendrick not only rapped double-time over an uptempo beat (something I haven’t heard done since the 1990s), but later on in the song he kicked into a higher gear and seemed to rap triple-time. All the while, he’s lacing the tracks with the clever metaphors that I prefer to hear in my rappers. This guy was everything I liked about Hip-Hop, and immediately earned my respect.

Flash forward about a year, and I finally get around to buying his Aftermath Debut, “Good Kid, m.A.A.d.City.” I wasn’t really interested in the album, although I respect K. Lamar. I just wasn’t trying to buy a lot of new hip-hop from artists I don’t trust. But I was transporting one of the kids in the children’s center I work at, and his song “Swimming Pools” came on, and the kid explained that it seemed like a song about getting drunk in the club, it was actually an ANTI-drinking song. That piqued my interests, so I looked up the song on Rapgenius.com, and sure enough, the boy was right. What clinched it though was the notes saying this was part of a larger narrative chronicling the growth of Kendrick as a person. That was the clincher: I HAD to get a listen to this album.

I admit it: I’m a sucker for concept albums. Even in this single-dominated music world. I absolutely love it when an artist takes the time to craft together a cohesive, thematic music project where every song is interconnected and all of the parts combine to make a greater whole. Most of my favorite concept albums are stories, with each song being a chapter. I think this takes a lot of thought and planning, and not every artist can pull it off. And the better ones are really engaging, with a LOT of layers to them. I eat that stuff up.

After hearing K. Lamar’s CD all the way through a few times, and looking up the lyrics on Rap Genius, I am thoroughly impressed by the depth of the lyrics. The beats aren’t half-bad, either. This is honestly, the best rap album I’ve heard, well, since “Undun,” which – you guessed it – is another concept album, this time by The Roots.

So, here’s my list (in no particular order) of my favorite concept albums:

  1. Good Kid, m.A.A.d. City, by Kendrick Lamar
  2. Undun, by The Roots
  3. 12 reasons to die, by Ghostface Killah
  4. American Gangster, by Jay-Z
  5. Black Materia, by Random
  6. Disposable arts, by Masta Ace
  7. The Long, Hot Summer, by Masta Ace
  8. Castlevania: Nocturna, by Random
  9. Language Arts, vols. 1-3, by Random
  10. 4-Eva In a Day, by Big K.R.I.T.T.

 

and yeah, I’ve got a lot of Random on this list. So what? He makes good concept albums.

This makes me wonder if I will, or could ever make a cohesive, album-long narrative. I think I could, but it would have to be a subject matter that I’d be totally engaged with enough to write 13 songs totally about it. It’s not impossible, after all, I do have a 3-song trilogy written that tells the story of me and a ladyfriend I was interested in courting. But 3 songs is NOT a full length album. I thought about making a concept album about my favorite video game (Zelda) in the same vein as Random’s video game albums, and I thought about doing a full album chronicling the adventures of my super spy alter ego, James Quan 008 ½. And of course, I could just tell MY story, about the things I experienced growing up in my own “MadCity” of Flint, MI (to quote DJ Quik, “It’s Jus Like Compton.”). but I don’t know. Right now, my schedule is so hectic I have no idea when I’ll get in the studio to record “The Third One,” much less a concept album after that. Oh well, c’est la guerre.

To Free Or Not To Free?

For the three of you who don’t know, in addition to all of my other creative exploits, I also dabble in music. I co-run a songwriting company / small record label with my father (www.expectusmusic.com) and I use that as a platform to put out the occasional music project. My last two projects have been underwhelming successes, in that after I failed to sell any copies of them, I started giving the projects away as free downloads. To date, I’ve given out at least 200 copies of my solo debut “48505,” my gospel collaborative effort “Winner Take All,” and my demo mixtape “From The Archives” to friends and family via Facebook on their birthdays. I plan to continue this, btw.

But now, I’m on the cusp of having two major music projects released. First, I’m almost ready to release my second solo album “Chapter 2” and I want it to make as big a splash as it can make given my limited resources. And after that, right around the time my next novel “Godmode” is released, I plan to release a movie score to read the book by.

The main issue for me is how much to charge for the projects, or whether I should charge anything at all. I actually want to have the Godmode soundtrack be available for free IF you buy a copy of the book. With me releasing the project through Bandcamp, that might actually be possible because they make discount codes available. But the big issue is with “Chapter 2.”

See, for me, getting my music heard is more important than turning a profit. The music is just something I do to express my ideas musically, and it’s not my primary creative focus (writing books takes that title). It’s basically another way to build my brand. I know a lot of music insiders (most notably my man Sid UncleJamz Johnson of Cincinnatti) cry foul at the mixtape and free album craze, but you can’t deny that it can work. It’s the way guys like 50 Cent, Yelawolf, Drake and Kendrick Lamar established themselves and built audiences, which caught the attention of major labels. Now, I’m not saying I’m at those guys’ level, but then again, why can’t I be? They all started exactly where I started. Heck, even two former rhyming partners of mine (Hookdiggy and Zod) were able to create a buzz for themselves by giving out free music.

There are two sides to this argument. On one side is the fear that people in my network would balk at paying anything for my music. That’s one reason why I gave away my first few projects, so people could hear my stuff and it would create value and interest in future projects. Whether that was successful or not I don’t know. Out of the 500+ people in my network, many of which have paid me lip service as far as supporting my music endeavors, I wonder which of them would actually shell out 5 bux to support their boy, especially if the music is good (which I think it is). Don’t forget that this is a group of people who, as a collective, wouldn’t spend $5 to download a copy of my last book. And I won’t lie: I’ve seen the entrepreneurial endeavors of my peers and I haven’t been quick to shell out loot to support the majority of them myself. In my defense, though, I have and I do support my peeps whenever and however I can: this very blog you see is hosted by a company owned by a very good friend of mine (www.grefuga,com), I’ve done pro bono and reduced price graphics work for friends like www.snackcetera.com, I’ve recommended the webcomics of friends  – not to mention offering free advertising – at my own webcomic www.theseizurecomic.com, and I’ve ordered jewelry from a graphics client of mine who does really good hand-crafted work (www.neferene.com). But I understand if people are reluctant to pay up.

But on the flip side of that argument, does not charging for the CD show fear or a lack of confidence in my product? Is offering my CD for free practically begging people to give me a listen? I don’t know. I do know this: I don’t have the means or the time to go out and promote this thing traditionally. I don’t have the connections or under-the-table money to get my songs played on the radio. I don’t have the time or the following to get love at shows, and I don’t have a management team who can get me booked if I did have the time. The “get your music heard” music services like Reverbnation require upfront cash or subscriptions, and I don’t have the loot for that. Heck, I don’t even have the money to get a decent video made of one of my songs to post on youtube. There’s a video for one of the songs on “Winner Take All” currently in post-production, but that has been entirely up to the rather busy schedule of the guy editing the video for me, since I can’t afford to pay him to make it a top priority. So giving the album away for free may possibly be the only realistic way I can get the word out about my Album that would actually entice people to give it a listen.

And on top of that, if I do charge for it, then how much should I charge? I first toyed with charging a buck for the whole CD and .50 apiece for individual songs, but why stop there? If people would pay a dollar for my CD, why not 5? I am including the “name your price” feature on my CD, but what should be the minimum price? I don’t know if my ego can take me offering the CD for, like, a buck, and STILL not getting any downloads.

Whatever the choice is, I need to make it quickly. I want to have this CD out by next week, so I can focus my attention on other projects.

So if you’re reading this here blog, and you’re interested in some good Hip-Hop, then check me out at http://jugghead.bandcamp.com, and however much I’m asking for the CD (I promise it won’t be more than 5 bux), show ya boy some love, give a listen to the songs and pick it up if you like it. I’d really appreciate it.