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

السبت، أيلول ١٠، ٢٠٠٥

Balance Weighs in on the Hustle

Flix by Bayeté Ross-Smith
Story by Folklore

The Bay Area is used to being overcast in a vaporous solitude, shrouding its populace within its own hip-hop microcosm. The only problem with a micro-economy is it’s inherently small. With independent business comes the need for independent funding and the necessity to hustle without Daddy Warner-bucks’ bankroll.

This has been a mixed blessing for artists like Balance, though.  While attempting to infiltrate the industry cigar party, Balance and his team of entrepreneurs have developed an innovative marketing strategy that has brought them not only media exposure but also a renewed sense of Bay Area pride.

In 1999, Balance noticed the success of East Coast mixtapes as a means of gathering an audience in the Bay. DJs T-Ski (Mad Idiot) and Vlad the Butcher gave him recurring guest-spots on their mixtapes, and he began producing and distributing his own.

The “Bay Area Mixtape King” moniker came courtesy of DJ Mind Motion when he heard Balance had logged four hundred mixtape appearances.  It’s also the title of his most recent mixtape.

In 2002, he earned another title on Sway and King Tech’s legendary “Wake Up Show”, when Balance and Locksmith (of The Frontline) were anointed by Sway to spearhead a new Bay Area movement, thus knighting them the “New Bay”. Along with The Frontline, Federation, Turf Talk, Mistah Fab, The Team and others throughout the Bay, Balance parlayed the title into a tour de force that’s put the hip-hop world on notice.

“There’s always more strength in numbers,” reaffirms Balance.  “I mean I’ll tell you straight up, when I first started, The Team, Frontline, Mistah Fab, all these artists, we all benefited from being together and calling ourselves the ‘New Bay.’  There’s no way a new artist would get in a magazine by themselves… but when you have a collective of new artists and you have a name for these new artists like ‘New Bay,’ then shit, that’s something to write about.”

The title “New Bay” has the literal “new artist from the Bay” translation, but to Balance it’s symbolic of a movement, without disrespecting anything that might be considered “Old Bay”.

“Whenever you say ‘the Bay Area,’ people automatically have this idea of the past.  There’s nothing wrong with the past because if it wasn’t for the Bay Area there’d be none of these CEOs running their own labels and shit. I feel like ‘New Bay’ is a great term because it brings some new life to the term Bay Area. The whole hustle mentality comes from the Bay Area: E40, Too Short, JT. I think ‘New Bay’ just means [we’re] reinventing ourselves, understanding that, appreciating that, and then being like, ‘Fuck it, we gonna come with some heat now.’

“At first we really didn’t understand how big it was—to us it meant we were just new artists from the Bay Area,” explains Balance. “But, it actually meant a lot more than that, and today I feel that ‘New Bay’ means -– it’s basically like our Harlem Renaissance.”

Balance put himself on a strict promotional regimen, handing out CDs at venues the old fashioned way, as those before him had. “I give out free CDs all the time,” says Balance. “Nobody’s gonna buy your CD if they don’t know who you are.  One of the ways I do it is the old idea of letting somebody hear the product for free and then hopefully when they come back around they’ll buy the shit.”

Just as mixtapes evolved from the hiss of a cassette to the clarity of a CD, Balance adapted the old analog tape hustle to the digital grind of cyberspace.

“[It’s the] same principle: getting your music directly to the people. We’re in a new generation and a lot of kids are on the internet,” explains Balance. “So for me, the internet and mixtapes were my outlet, and I can actually say these were new things that I was tryin’.  Four years ago, everybody was like, ‘What the fuck are you rappin’ on all these mixtapes for, dude?’  ‘Cause it never really had been done like that before.”

With cameos from Royce Da 5’9”, E40, Zion I, The Game, Chamillionaire, amongst others, his mixtapes have been moving steadily and building up to a full-length release.  Balance has been approached by labels such as Rap-A-Lot for said debut album, but has yet to settle with one. His self-titled debut album will feature The Frontline and Houston’s Chamillionaire on vocals, and E-A-Ski, Jake One, J. Wells, Shonuff, and Trackademics on production. Following the one-off deal of his first formal release, Balance plans to release a concept album called The Day Cali Died.

The general public has heard some recent tight West Coast shit from the likes of JT the Bigga Figga’s former protégé, The Game, but Balance and the New Bay also intend to uplift the Bay to the status in which it’s people hold it.

Shouldering a responsibility of that magnitude is no saunter down candycane
lane.  Maintaining ambition in a weathering environment is no joyride either.

“I ain’t gonna sit here and lie. Every week I be wantin’ to quit this shit,” admits Balance, laughing. “[But] there’ll always be something that’ll make me want to stay with it.  That one thing could be a fan that’ll be like, ‘Yo, Balance, when’s your album coming out?  I’m waitin’ for that shit.

Whether or not ‘05 Bay Area hip-hop will bear enough brilliance to bring us within legitimate analogy range to 1925 Harlem is yet to be seen.  What’s being heard from Balance’s New Bay—and a multitude of other independent Bay Area artists spanning hip-hop’s diameter—is both creating it’s own geographically-distinct industry and attracting due attention from monolithic labels who wonder where their share is.

Revolution is the product of discontent, and Balance flipped his discontent into a relentless mixtape and internet campaign. He’s seen substantial independent success and media exposure, but the significance of New Bay is larger than the sum of its emcees. It’s a re-affirmation for Bay Area hip-hop heads who know our thang is going on.