- October 01, 2006
Stones Throw Records mogul and vinyl archaeologist Egon digs deep with Cut Chemist and Mr. Life about collaborating, their new records and the trials and tribulations of being on an indie vs a major label.
Egon: You two connecting was kind of odd. I never anticipated hearing Lif over a Cut Chemist beat.
Cut Chemist: think we actually met formally through producer Edan just sitting down and hanging out somewhere. I obviously knew your work. Mr. Lif: I think it was through Brian Coleman. Cut: Yes, the writer extraordinaire.
Egon: Rakim Told Me is one of his books.
Cut: We never really spoke about doing a track together. It came to fruition through Edan.
Egon: Now 'Storm' is one of three vocal tracks on your new album?
Cut: This is probably the only 'traditional' vocal track. That's the beauty about this new record because it's such a hybrid of different genres. I had a good time doing that song. Mr.
Lif: I had a good time listening to where you took it. I had no idea what you were going to do with it.
Cut: When people hear the instrumental most people may think it's some Clipse shit. They definitely won't think it's from me.
Egon: Especially lately, your sound has changed some.
Cut: I'm trying to do the anti-Cut thing on every song. You know, tear it down and build it back up.
Egon: Lif, you've put out records primarily on independents; in fact, you have a record out now on the largest indie hip-hop label, Def Jux. Cut, you've done a combination and currently you're with Warner Brothers. There are definitely big differences between the two.
Cut: I always said that I'd never sign to a label like Warner Brothers because they were so corporate. I was so involved in independent music that I never thought it would come to that. When Jurassic 5 got signed to Interscope, we were signed by someone who left and eventually ended up at Warner Brothers. He was the guy that signed me at WB. This was all through Beat Down, which was a subsidiary. I liked the dialog between the independent and major. Beat Down got let go, but because it was still under the guy that signed me I figured I was safe, Warner Brothers has given me the support that I would've gotten from an independent label, which I never would have expected.
Egon: How do you clear the amount of samples that you use? You can't take the amount of chances you would on an indie.
Cut: You do what you can; that's why it's taken four years to come out.
Egon: It's not like you're sampling some common record that's going to be easily recognized. You're sampling some deep-dish music that you have to clear.
Cut: They have to see the paperwork and know that it's all legit. The more obscure you get, the harder it is to find these people. When you're sampling stuff like Al Green, they're clearing samples all day. When you're trying to clear something in Poland it takes a while. The music's worth it so you do what you gotta do to make it happen.
Egon: Lif, have you ever thought about doing a major label release and having to clear every single sample?
Lif: Wow, I feel like I have to do that anyway unless we're going to flip it so hard that it's unrecognizable. I have a trail of tears for songs that I couldn't put out and a lot of them never made it to this new record.
Egon: Running an independent label myself and trying to stay on top of clearing every sample, you always have to be prepared that someone's going to come knock on your door someday and try to settle.
Cut: Even if they don't even own it.
Egon: If something slips by you could be exposing your entire company to some serious problems. We're talking about independent companies here where you're trying to build things up to where you even have some money. A lot of people who are going after those using samples don't care. They've heard of that one Ohio Players sample that got 3.5 million dollars from the estate of Biggie Smalls. That sample being on a record that sold ten million copies is a lot different than it being on a 12-inch that sold 1,000. Do you feel that something needs to change?
Cut: There has to be a structure that says, 'If you take this, then you owe this.' No one's doing that because all the people making the money are the lawyers and the corporations. It's not in their best interest to form something like that. The artist and the art is suffering. The progression of music suffers because art gets limited. Why not at least bestow the same legal rights that visual artist's have that says that you can change things ten-percent?
Egon: Nothing has been brought to the Supreme Court's attention about this. They refused to hear the case of James Newton who was sampled by the Beastie Boys. It was decided on a state level and the Beastie Boys won. They not only won but they went after him for legal damages.
Cut: I remember when I got that email and I thought. 'Finally, we got one!
Egon: Lif, you may be able to comment on this as a vocalist. Traditionally, you have the person who writes the song and then the vocalist. Each person gets fifty- percent. But now, if you're using that sample they want eighty-percent of that song.
Lif: What I'm taking from this is that we're all confused about this. Cut's saying that there should be some sort of order put to it. The corporations aren't going to benefit in any way from it. For me, it's just a dark cloud over the art. It's a different era and it's not good for the art. On one level it could push people to do new and innovative things, but on another there's a foundation of hip-hop that's difficult to stray away from.
Egon: With both of your records scheduled to come out around the same time Lif, if you sell 100,000 copies it's going to be the success story of the year. Cut, if you sell 100,000 copies it's going to be a different story.
Cut: Once you enter the major label market you are now in the general population. Stones Throw and Def Jux definitely have their markets and they go after them hard. Warner Brothers have so many genres and sometimes the publicity will get lost. When you're on a major you want to sell to people who aren't necessarily independent minded. Warner is treating this like an independent record, which is good.
Egon: One thing that's great about indies is that once you hit a certain plateau at retail, the industry looks at you and recognizes what you're doing.
Lif: I've been lucky to be on a label that has hit a certain benchmark and retailers know that I'm going to work the hell out of the record. I'm on the road a lot. The industry has changed a lot with downloading. It seems like all the labels are trying to catch up. Like Cut said, it's like the wild, wild west-a kind of anything goes mentality.
Cut: Everything is big media now. It's all about licensing and people downloading to their phones.
Egon: I think the indies are the ones reaping the rewards now because the majors had the mentality that they could shut illegal file sharing down. They felt like they could shut down piracy and downloads. There were so many false starts.
Cut: That's like when New York tried to impose the jaywalk law!
Egon: Indies are almost leveling the playing field. Look at the top 100 list on iTunes. You can get some Indies that will be on the Top 10.
Cut: You don't even need to sell records to be #1. Look at Gnarls Barkley.
Egon: Talk about a record that was done independently! That was Danger Mouse and Cee-lo doing that before they had a deal, before Danger Mouse had the Grey Album and before he'd done Dangerdoom and all that. They had a good idea, started working on it and waited until there was going to be some kind of frenzy for people looking for the next best thing. That's one thing I do think major labels are looking for these days. They're looking for a product like yours because who would have called it that Gnarls Barkley was going to go where it went. That record is on its way to the top.
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