Twenty fourteen. We live in an interesting time. Music has never been as eclectic, varied and copious as it is now. For the more quixotic of us, it is difficult to be glum about the current order. There’s tons of music, more than you could ever listen to in your lifetime, and most of it is actually pretty good. However, for artists struggling to get noticed or music journalists trying to keep abreast of the industry’s latest happenings, it is difficult not to pine for the good ol’ days when you had to go to your local CD shop to grab the latest A Tribe Called Quest CD; you know, the days when ‘people wore pyjamas and lived life slow’. So many artists these days are soliciting for shout outs and peddling mixtapes that it’s hard for any one artist to stand out from the crowd. Journalists and industry analysts are similarly burdened. The music industry is simply moving too fast for them to keep track of (in a bid to squeeze profits). Why is this? Well, the music industry is a turbulent beast at heart. Turbulence precludes stagnation and implies evolution which in turn ensures adaptability. Adaptability is an asset. However evolution all too often presages disaster as well. Indeed, like all beasts the music industry doesn’t merely evolve. Sometimes it gets loose from it’s tether and careens into what seems to be an inescapable demise. How do we track this sort of change so that we can stop it in its tracks? with the way the music industry is structured, it’s very difficult to do any thorough investigative research on it. Thereby, answering questions like (In the past twenty years how has the music industry changed?) becomes an unnecessarily tiresome endeavour.
Or does it?
Let’s think about it. The beast now is definitely not the same beast that was there twenty years ago. What’s more the transmutation that the beast has undergone is not an enigma. To keen eyes, the new beast is bigger, much bigger than it’s ever been … and it’s devouring everything …
In order to look at the music industry in greater detail it will be important for us to limit the scope of our analysis to one particular genre, so lets do that. Let us examine hip-hop. Comparing hip-hop now to twenty years ago, it should be fairly obvious that the genre has undergone a huge, no massive, expansion. There’s more of everything now. There are more musicians, there are more albums, there are more mixtapes, there are more fans, … etc. It’s almost dizzying in its magnitude. How has this affected artists? To the artist’s with reasonable business acumen who have already managed to break into the mainstream, today’s world abounds with opportunity. For starters fans are, for better or worse, dumb. Charge an exorbitant price for a concert and they’ll still come in droves if your brand is strong enough (*cough* Hov). Again if you’ve got them soundly whipped, and your fans are articulate & schooled in the arts of persuasion, they will be able to talk naysayers into becoming fans. Moreover, fans solicit, they facebook, they instagram, they tweet, they breed; they breed more fans who will fellate and breed even more fans who will buy more albums and attend more concerts thus resulting in an inexhaustible cornucopia that will ensure that the artist in question never touches destitution. For consumers of music, the new order has been a mixed blessing of sorts. It’s had its fair share of advantages but it has had a positively pernicious bent to it as well. With so much music floating around, sifting through it has become, for many, an exercise in futility. To borrow an overused aphorism, it has become like ‘finding a needle in a haystack’. And yet the music keeps on piling up. As we inch ever closer to infinity more and more of us are becoming disillusioned. The promise of infinity, it turns out, is a double edged sword.
Just what does it mean to be mainstream then? There are a lot of rappers who are undeniably mainstream. They have got the money, the fanbase and the clout to prove their legitimacy. Conversely, there are lots of rappers, whose reach is primarily local. Their careers are totally under the aegis of their locality, and moving away from this results in decreased sales. Finally there are innumerable rappers who sit in between these two extremes. They are widely known in the nethermost reaches of the web, but are for all intents and purposes invisible in the ‘real’ world.
It should be noted that it is not unusual for artists to flit in between these three categories in the course of their careers.
Two-9, a popular rap supergroup, hailing from Atlanta Georgia, find themselves sitting in the latter category. Two-9’s fanbase is primarily local, but they have enough online presence to transcend the unflattering ‘cul-de-sac rapper’ trope. Two-9’s roster rivals that of contemporary rap super groups like OFWGKTA & A$AP Mob. Mix five average to talented MCs, a female DJ, an in-house graphic designer / video editor together and you have got Two-9.
Here is the roster in it’s totality:
Curtis Williams (@ThatBoyCurtis) [LEADER]
Retro Sushi (@RetroSushi)
DJ Osh Kosh (@DJosh_Kosh)
Two-9 clearly have the chops to make it big. Culling for gems in their vast discography will leave you being dazzled by the flashy raps, kaleidoscopic artwork and bouncy production. So why has the group not experienced a precipitous rise to the top? The issue is one of numbers. There are simply too many groups operating in the music industry right now, and it is difficult to get noticed. However, Two-9 possesses a wild card, a characteristic that might just serve to distinguish it from the multitude of rap groups coming out in the wash. In a recent interview for JENESIS Magazine, Curtis Williams, the group’s de facto leader was asked a similar kind of question. His response was cogent and penetrating.
JENESIS Magazine: 2012 was, like a really big year for like rap groups, hip-hop groups. What separates you guys from other groups out there that are rapping?
Curtis Williams: Being from Atlanta. That’s pretty much the biggest difference …
Two-9’s recent induction into The Official Boondocks mixtape (i.e. Fat Toney) has allowed them to bask in the limelight somewhat.
While a song in an obscure show’s mixtape is probably not the best platform for the group to launch itself to mainstream success, it’s a good start. To get to the finish line, Two-9 will need more than just a shout out. It will need the most dependable conveyance the music industry has ever known:
Two-9’s discography (listen, critique, disseminate):