For Those Who Can't Sleep On Hip Hop

The legendary Hip Hop producer, music industry veteran, and one half of Gangstarr, DJ Premier, and Dilated Peoples’ frontman, Evidence, bring the unfiltered underground sound on this new video.

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In this segment of Insomniac Magazine’s Q&A with Brian Mazzaferri, he explains exactly what it means to embrace a niche and ultimately how I Fight Dragons cut out a slice of their own piece of the music industry. As well, the front man discusses his band’s unique lifetime membership promotion that help them build a relationship with their initial fans. This music act’s marketing techniques should provide valuable lessons for artists and music entrepreneurs of any genre.

How did your execute and manage the lifetime membership USB promotion?

Brian: The USB is largely symbolic. That card was loaded with everything we’d ever released. We have their info in a database that we query when we send out new free stuff or they can email us. We have a special email address form to request tickets to the shows and things like that. We just put together a little EP of a few of songs that we really liked, but weren’t necessarily going to make the album and we recorded them pretty quick and put them out just as a small digital only release. We had a few days before it was going up on iTunes so we ended up sending it out to the lifetime members a couple days early and they had a preview. It was kind of fun for them. Just on the larger side of things, it’s something that’s enabled in the digital era. If we were to have to press physical things of everything and ship them out to even 100 people, that could amount to a lot of costs over time. So because we’re in the digital era, it’s not like we’re delivering something that is valueless, but in the larger scale sense of what we’re doing, we’re able do to without hurting ourselves in a big way.

You have that core fan base that’s always going to be with you because you’ve treated them well.

Brian: That’s the hope. I feel like there’s always an element, especially since we did end up signing with a label and we’re sort of going through that system a little bit there’s always an element of, is this selling out? What is it? I also feel like in the current age, definitions of selling out are a bit blurred, and I ultimately feel like it is about the music. Especially because we have those open lines of communication with fans, everything from Facebook and the Advanced Guard site is even more personal. The band members are a visual element every day and there’s a little chat room and things like that. I feel like that is incredibly important. Even just over the past month we’ve done this Advanced Guard stuff it’s like we’ve really shipped out posters and cards to hundreds of kids around the world that are putting them up and connecting with each other on the website and in the chat room, and that’s the stuff that in a lot of ways I feel like is really cool. Actually, the poster that we’re sending out to kids is designed by one of our fans from the Philippines. He just did some really cool graphic art. And, it was like, hey can we use this? I’m just so excited by the prospects for fan involvement and community building.

Let’s talk a little bit about the music. Obviously, we’re talking about a distinct approach, a niche sound, if you will. Is there something to be said about, for lack of a better word, that very geeky audience that really gets into this? It’s something that they really live. I don’t know if the word geeky is an offensive word, I don’t mean it that way.

Brian: No, not at all. I think the word geeky is awesome. Geeky, nerdy, however you want to described it. It’s funny, those terms are loaded and are changing, and I like that a lot. So much terminology is kind of blending and it’s funny the ways in which the past few years I feel like nerdiness especially has become way cooler than the way it used to be. Geekery in general. People can geek out on anything. You can be a cool person, but have a huge, in-depth knowledge of anything. I think in this era of in-depth knowledge that it’s awesome.

…It’s a weird thing and musically when the band started, the idea was pop rock music with instead of electronic elements, using the re-purposed sounds from old video game hardware. …I came at this as a songwriter and a musician… someone who wanted to write music and loved that sound. Musically, I write songs about things that are important to me and are happening in my life emotionally. And sonically, we try to view a sense of adventure into everything we do as far as epic possibility. For me, for times of sitting in front of a Nintendo and playing old video games, it just seemed like things were limitless and I’d say that’s the sense I hope to bring. I know I’m kind of going from your question to many different places, but did I answer it?

You did. But, at the same time I was also curious about the audience. Do you feel that there is something to be said about having a deeper kinship from the start, even before the music, because of the concept and the fact that you’re part of this community that isn’t always typically catered to by the music industry.

Brian: Yeah. I think MC Chris is a perfect example of that, and a lot of nerd-core hip-hop scene that follows along those lines, MC Lars, MC Frontalot… The chip tune scene is kind of its own funny beast though because they’re much more akin to the punk scene, especially since it’s centered in New York City or Brooklyn. It’s kind of these funny parallel worlds that we’ve become a part of and it’s an interesting dichotomy. The chip tune scene world is a lot more of a traditional scene where it’s got its own rules and things, but the interesting thing to me about the nerdy music movement or world is that I think you’re absolutely right. It’s totally underserved. A lot of the music that is out there chooses. It says I’m not going to address philosophical elements or heady things or on the other side I’m going to be philosophical and heady, but I’m not going to try and make music that necessarily a lot of people can get. I’m just going to be true to what I want to say. I feel like that divide has left a lot of people disenfranchised.

Jon Coulton is another great example of an artist. He’s amazing. He’s kind of built his own little musical empire that is self-sustaining and supporting, and he does amazing things. He had a cruise recently. He never had label funding or anything like that and he’s kind of just built it all up just from the support of people because he writes f**king amazing songs, is what it boils down to. And they’re about nerdy topics. They’re about things that are very much like They Might Be Giants and that sort of thing. He goes off into his own direction and just crafts these beautiful, well done, accessible, but really smart pieces of music. That’s what I think is the most rewarding spot of any small scene. I’ve never been much of one for scenes in general, but as a community I would say the nerd music community…has been super welcoming to us.

(Forward and interview conducted by Israel Vasquetelle.)

More to come from I Fight Dragon’s. If you haven’t read the front man’s interview with Israel Vasquetelle, read it here.

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The music industry dropped the ball on soul a while ago. It’s nice to see Goapele bring it back on her new music video.

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Rappers today, take note: the original King of Rap: Kurtis Blow.

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Hip Hop has been stagnant and formulaic for quite some time. On the new Jay Z and Kanye video for “Otis,” we find the same old themes. Once again, we learn about how they have expensive cars loaded with female models, multiple luxury watches, and we hear of an effortless willingness to murk someone. Didn’t Schoolly D say all this stuff in the ’80s? (If the name doesn’t ring a bell, look him up.) He did. And, at the time (over a quarter century ago) it was distinct. Is what separates the superstars in this genre from the masses just their material wealth? What about ingenuity and talent? Where’s the growth?

We’ve been hearing the same old tired perspective in Hip Hop for decades now. Talking about how many possessions you have is far from fresh anymore. Todays ruling rappers continue to prove that the lowest common denominator is the easiest approach. However, this doesn’t help grow the integrity of the genre. Instead, it further compacts it, keeping it in a box. It’d be interesting if the most prominent rappers were to present Hip Hop as more than a commercial for luxury cars, liquor, and jewelry. It’d be a pleasant surprise to see the genre reinvented, but that appears to be asking for a bit too much from today’s rap royalty. It’s much easier to keep the status quo, and maintain the same stereotypical themes to watch being played out once again on the shallow throne.

Below is Chuck D’s recent online “notice.” The music may be similar, but the substance is clearly substantial. -Iz-Real

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