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strettoblaster - Hip hop labels: great dysfunctional record companies?

Hip hop labels: great dysfunctional record companies?

Does it make sense to talk about Hip Hop labels today?

strettoblaster 04/10/2016

Question: are there still hip hop labels devoted to underground production nowadays?

There was no lack of hip hop labels that produced quality and thick music in the 1990s. A few days ago, looking back to the Groove Attack tribute podcasts, it occurred to me to think just that back in the days, for the lovers of a certain frankly hardcore Hip Hop sound, the situation was objectively thriving.

And it came naturally to me to make a parallel between yesterday and today. It seems that all is not lost.

Leaving aside the plethora of stratospheric (and meteoric, all in all) realities that animated the first half of the nineties, with a 12-inch output that became cult among enthusiasts, from the second half of the “mythical” Nineties to the early 2000s, labels like the Rawkus, the aforementioned Groove Attack, Hydra Entertainment, the Eastern Conference, the Ill Boogie of Dj M-Boogie, for example, followed for a few years by trains such as Def Jux (and I do not intentionally cite realities such as the Anticon or the Quannum Records, more as a matter of sound, so markedly away from the orthodox New York-style boom bap, that for lack of quality), marked that era that we remember so well.

Let’s be clear: this does not conflict in itself with the fact that after 1997 the sound had changed, and a phase in some ways descending had begun: if anything, those labels and the whole backpacking period (the fashion/mania to go around with the backpack over the hoodie, so Nineties and iconic of a period of streetwear fashion, NDA), represented the resistance to a Hip Hop that was, inexorably, changing.

Ironically, the one above is still the story of a defeat.

Talib Kweli at Rawkus

Talib Kweli outside Rawkus’ offices in Manhattan, circa 1998

The labels that came to the fore later, such as the Stones Throw that characterized so much, for better or for worse, the 2000s or Rhymesayers themselves, expressed and represented another world, often a hybrid of other musical genres, and in any case not having the same value.

Leaving aside the Italian situation, which, alas, does not text, in its peculiarity, today as then. The few existing realities were struggling and struggling, not so much and not only due to the evident lack of professionals in the sector, but above all due to the objective scarcity of the listener base, which represents an impossible obstacle. And, considering that the cyclic wave of a fashionable tide that invests our country is retreating for the umpteenth time, this quantity does not seem destined to increase shortly, rather than to decrease.

But abroad? This era of retrofuturism, or revival of a “classic” sound, also seems to have as its focal point the renewed role, or rather the revenge of the hip hop labels: these have in fact returned to represent an era.

An American reality such as Mello Music Group it would not be explained if we did not look at its objective strengths: quality of the artists under contract, innovative distribution methods, and quality control that does not conflict with the quantity of production. Since Gensu Dean’s first album, which was a bit of a revival’s first album in 2012, last year the label scored one hit after another (just think about L’Orange & Kool Keith, the notorious Oddisee, legendary Pete Rock or Apollo Brown) and this year we have also witnessed the remarkable return of Mr Lif.

hip hop labels Mello Music Group

Pete Rock, Oddisee and Apollo Brown

Same logic for the British label High Focus. From an idea of Fliptrix, rapper, and leader of the label, we find ourselves faced with an economically stable reality, with a park of leading artists, quality records, in quantity, cared for in every detail, even visual, well distributed and well promoted. Result: concerts throughout Europe, a record, that of Ocean Wisdom, in the charts and a million and more views on the Youtube channel. And no compromise on the sound front (just to dispel a myth).

Even in the non-English-speaking area, things move in a similar way.

Let’s take the Japanese DLIP: Fujisawa City, after the fashionable collapse of the Tokyo scene, in 2009 a group of young rappers, producers, DJs, skaters, designers, and b-boys from this crew/label with an extremely tough Nineties mentality, with lots of baggy jeans and Timberland. Everything could sound out of time, of course, were it not for the fact that it largely embodies the soul of this revival. And it is accompanied by the same logic already seen: good artists, excellent producers, valuable graphics and records on records, mixtapes, singles. Producing while maintaining quality: it is no coincidence that one of the 5 best records of 2014 is of the Nagmatic and Miles Word pair.

We could add some more, like the Blah Records, the French Effiscienz, (the Australian labels are interesting but other parables follow, but we will quote Crate Cartel Records for love of inventory) but the logic, in large or small is always the same: quality of industrial music production and constant quantity of outputs. So welcome to the revenge of the hip hop labels without compromise, and we hope it lasts.