It’s safe to say that 2009 was easily the year of the free LP. If I go back through this entire year looking at the best and most influential projects a significant percentage of them were free albums. When Travis & I did our first list of the best projects of the 1st quarter of 2009 I noticed that 26 of my 50 picks were either free LP’s, beat tapes or mixtapes. That number is significantly higher than years past and is an even bigger deal considering that these free LP’s often contained material of a quality so high that you couldn’t possibly believe that they were being made available for free download.
Diamond District’s “In The Ruff” was a slap in the face of the Hip Hop listener for several reasons. It was a high quality Hip Hop album that was easily Top 5 of the year already (as an edited 12 song project). It was also made entirely by a triumvirate of emcees and producers that hailed from the DMV and it pretty much embarrassed every single major label Hip Hop release that had dropped previously that year. It was further compounded by the multiple ridiculous free releases by Oddisse (“Odd Summer” & “Odd Autumn”), yU (“Before Taxes” & “The Charlie Ross Project”) and XO (“Monumental” & “Realmatic”) that soon followed.
Arguably the most influential release of the year dropped back in February. Drake’s “So Far Gone” was essentially a Valentine’s Day re-imagining of Kanye West’s “808′s & Heartbreak” album. It mixed singing, Autotune and bars together in a perfect storm of lyricism, R&B, and corporate/radio friendly music. The mixtape also dropped at the perfect time in association with a gang of buzz. It was late hitting the bloggerverse which resulted in a feeding frenzy when it finally dropped. Drake toured both Canada & the US, got a gang of spins on the radio, secured a million plus dollar deal and received Grammy nominations off the strength of a free album. Imagine if XXL picked him instead of Asher Roth?
Albums like Zilla Rocca & Douglas Martin’s 5 O’ Clock Shadowboxers “The Slow Twilight” were A&R’d by a music blogger (Jeff Weiss of The Passion Of Weiss) and distributed strictly through the bloggerverse. The end result was a project that far exceeded even lofty expectations. I remember listening to this album when an early copy was sent to me thinking to myself “If this is what artists and bloggers are capable of bringing together then record labels are in some deep shit”. Giving a cat like Kevin Nottingham a label (HipNOTT Records) is huge and it has huge implications for the future of Hip Hop blogging as well as the music industry. Years from now, 2009 can be looked at as a turning point that forever changed the nature of the Hip Hop game. Just browse through Kenny Fresh’s Fresh Selects or FWMJ‘s Rappers I Know for a glimpse of the future.
If I go down the list of ridiculous free albums or projects from this past 12 months it’s awe inspiring: 14KT’s “Nowalataz”, Dert’s “Talk Strange”, Pac Div’s “Church League Champions”, TiRon’s “Ketchup”, KenLo’s “Craqnuques”, Von Pea’s “The Further Adventures Of Von Pea”, Ilyas’ “I-EL: The Prelude”, Diz Gibran’s “Soon You’ll Understand”, Kooley High’s “Kooley Is High”, Jazz Liberatorz “Fruit Of The Past” & “Clin D’ Oeil”, U-N-I’s “A Love Supreme”, MAGr’s “No News Is Good News”, AB & Daru’s “A Work In Progress”, Kenn Starr’s “It’s Still Real”, DevonWho’s “Waves”, Suzi Analogue’s “World. Excerpts 1-9″, The Red Giants “Chain Reaction”, Blu’s “HerFavoriteColo(u)r”, Emilio Rojas’ “Recession Proof”, Mark Spekt & Lex Boogie’s “Guilty Party”, Stevo’s “Muffins”, Ro Spit’s “Oh Shit! Project”, Quelle’s “Blue Mondays”, Elucid’s “The Sub Bass Diet”, Danny Swain’s “Where Is Danny?” and I still haven’t even scratched the surface yet!
There’s a fine line between a mixtape with some exclusives on it and a free album. The free albums that 2009 has brought us are a different animal because some of them have been re-released in physical form already with very few changes. That should raise eyebrows for both fans and people in the Hip Hop music industry. If Diamond District’s album was ridiculous, made without major label money & interference but Busta Rhymes & Fabolous’ projects had big name guest appearances, big budgets, attention from the top execs and push but still sucked balls then what are major labels good for exactly? I’ll wait… © Katt Williams
In conclusion, these artists now have the advantage of doing shows at venues all over the nation in front of audiences that know and love their material. Now when they come out with material for sale the anticipation level is raised and the fan will be more willing to part with their hard earned money partly because they feel like they owe them already. In any event, the free LP might become the new mixtape if the climate of the industry continues on the same trajectory. We’ll see how it all pans out in the future but the free LP will continue to be the new thing for at least the near future. What up, Bandcamp?