The creative landscape is changing. Technologies like Pro Tools, the iPod, and peer-to-peer networks have become mainstream in the digital age, creating a wild frontier of sorts in music. Independent artists can reach mass audiences once forbidden to them. These technologies are fostering the rise of “semiotic democracy”—where more and more people are no longer passive consumers of mass media, but active participants in creating culture. Cops vs Lawyers, Issue 3

الاثنين، تموز ١٩، ٢٠٠٤


by Folklore

Aside from being their postal code, CA is an acronym for Cali Agents, the microphone cooperative consisting of San Francisco native Keida Brewer and Fresno-born Jason Greene–Dick Swan and Bleedy Eyes, or Rasco and Planet Asia respectively. Their sophomore campaign, Head of the State–following 1999’s How the West Was One–reintroduces their independent platform, which Rasco explains tersely as “more of the same.”

Taking it back to ’98, the duo first rallied on the Take it Back Home foot-long from the Soulfather’s debut long-player Time Waits for No Man off Stones Throw. The synthesis of Agents 1 and 2 was successful. However Rasco’s Unassisted 12” proved to be the standout nod. Subsequently, Time Waits emerged as an outstanding opus, receiving the “Top Indie Album of ’98” vote from the once-reputable Source Magazine.

Peanut Butter Wolf’s executive production assisted Rasco in building a dependable reputation, but Wolf’s influence extended further than moving units. “He’s like my favorite person, man,” Rasco says of Wolf. “The only person that I really felt like I met in the game that I respect and that respected me was Wolf. Outside of Asia...Chris [PB Wolf] is the only one that looked out for me and I felt like had my best interest [in mind] as well as I had his.”

Hailing from San Jose, P.B. Wolf manifested the Bay Area’s independent spirit in his Stones Throw label, which served as a one of the catalysts for Rasco’s own label. “I wanted what Wolf [was] doing,” says Rasco. “I wanted to do for somebody else what he did for me. Even the guys that I got on my label now look at me in that same light. They know that I got their best interests at hand, and I’m making sure that they’re all taken care of.”
The other catalyst is reflected in his business’ moniker, Pockets Linted. “It starts at the top: we’ll be getting a bigger piece of the pie by doing our own manufacturing,” explains Rasco. “Secondly, you get to keep an eye on everything that’s goin’ on. You know exactly how many records have been pressed. No records can be pressed without you doin’ it, so you’re just more in control. All the way down [to] the retail program and promotion, I’m involved all the way until the very last letter.”

With few exceptions, Bay Area musicians maintain the indie tradition–see Living Legends, Hieroglyphics, Quannum, et al.–enabling them to direct their artistry-turned-professions and avoid industry rule number 4080. Perhaps this phenomenon is what has allowed them to remain an autonomous collective, and recognizably so. “The Bay has a sound, but then again, it has different sounds,” says Rasco. “You might have that E-40 Click mafia, what they call mob music. You might have that and recognize that a dude is from the Bay, and that’s Bay Area music. But then again, you got different sounds like myself or Hiero or Zion I that make it what it is. Being out here kinda allows you to just be yourself.”
However, this creative control comes at the expense of sacrificing certain major label luxuries: aside from production and promotion expenses and nationwide exposure, you sacrifice your time.

“But the detriment [of running my own label] is that I spend a lot of time working on the business side and which then cuts back on the artistic side,” says Rasco. “So, I would like to be in the studio a lot more doing other things, but doing all of that in a day and having a kid, it keeps me from getting into the studio like I really really want to. It’s a hard juggle, but for me, I try to take time out for both, and it ends up workin’ out.

Cali Agent No. 1 has a staunch philosophy to match his unyielding work ethic. Case in point: the intro to Head of the State, which is an excerpt from The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings, a 1976 movie starring Richard Pryor, James Earl Jones, and Billy Dee Williams. The movie’s about a black player-owned baseball team on the road, playing local teams for money, and white Negro League owners plotting to thwart them...
“What do we never run out of in this country?” part of the excerpt says, and then punchlines with: “White folks.”

Despite certain critique, Rasco holds fast to his premise: “The underground game right now has become more of a white emcee’s game. And so, you got cats who don’t even know Peanut Butter Wolf, or they don’t know Rasco, or they don’t know anybody. They just come out and that’s how it goes. That’s what’s running the game right now. To me, emcees that rock like we do–or black emcees in the underground–it’s a minority now.

“Not saying that white emcees shouldn’t be in there. I don’t care what color you are, if you got skills it don’t matter. My point is that you got cats that are comin’ out–that are not talented–that are getting a lot of hype. I know dudes in Oakland, San Francisco, and New York that will rap circles around these dudes, and these cats don’t have records out...[Touring] in 2001, unless you got either a white act on the bill, or you bring in a white crowd, they won’t book you.

“It was the flipside before,” he continues. “Because when I was on Stones Throw, Peanut Butter Wolf wouldn’t even show his face. People wanted to do interviews or take pictures of me and him, and he didn’t want to do it. And there was a reason he didn’t want to do it because everybody that met him in 1998 through 2000 gave him the same response, [a surprised] ‘Damn, you Peanut Butter Wolf?’...Then, I opened a magazine three or four years later and he’s on a full-page ad. Whether good or bad, I just noticed that it changed, so I just spoke on it.”

Not coincidentally, a certain bottle-blonde emcee from the Motor City began showing his face in ’99 to much fanfare–and protest. Like this Oscar-winning Shady Records owner, Soulfather is also a paternal figure to his five-year-old daughter.
“I got over the initial jolt of having a kid, and that person being dependent on you and stuff like that, so now it’s just like second nature,” says Rasco. “That’s just another responsibility that I have–it’s a big giant one, it’s the biggest one I got. But I just look at it that way and try to enjoy her.”

Responsibility keeps families and businesses buoyant, and produces independent success regardless of how the record industry sells it. “Honestly man, I just look at each goal that I set, and it’s not necessarily numbers goals,” explains Rasco. “It’s just, I wanted to see my first album come out and it did, and so to me that was a success... Everything that I kinda wanted to do—and do it the way I want to do it has been for me a successful venture that I set out on... At the end of the day, if you’re making a living from it and you’re able to do it the way you want, then to me it’s successful.”