The Importance of Collecting Songs In the Digital Era
“Honestly, one of my favorite tracks ever,” Brendan typed after sending a SoundCloud link to “'87 Corvette Wishes.”
Just seeing the names Gerald Walker, XV, Phil Adé and Skeme all together took me back to simpler days, when all four were promising next-up prospects in rap’s booming blog era. This was a special time for people like myself and Brendan, millennial music junkies who spent more time discovering artists on the internet than through radio or television. The soundtrack to those years was curated by bloggers and music writers; who they posted is who we played, who we saw bright futures in.
Sadly, the end of that age came with little warning. While some were able to take their places at the helm of rap’s newest generation, many were left in the days of ZShare links. Sharing music from that strange yet wonderful time is how we reminisce, what allows the memories to linger for just a bit longer.
Even though the song is only five years old, “'87 Corvette Wishes” can't be found on Apple Music, Tidal, Spotify or any other streaming service outside of YouTube. Even the SoundCloud link Brendan sent wasn’t from any of the rapper’s official accounts. Unfortunately, user-uploaded content is always at risk of being flagged and taken down―it is entirely possible that one of his favorite songs will be much harder to find online with every passing year.
In this era of music streaming, if a song isn't on the popular services, does it even exist? Better yet, how long until it is completely forgotten?
One of my favorite mixtapes from 2012 was CurT@!n$’ Killer Tape, a project that can only be found in the archives of Datpiff, Livemixtapes and Bandcamp. Every few months, I wonder what happened to the New York emcee, and I'm saddened with how little of his music ever made it to today's popular platforms.
Dom Kennedy’s From The Westside With Love is also missing, a personal classic that should not be lost in the abyss. XV’s Everybody’s Nobody is a project one might expect to be readily available due to its huge blog presence in 2009, but his breakout project is absent. TiRon’s MSTRD, Charles Hamilton’s Pink Lavalamp, Chiddy Bang’s The Swelly Express, Kendrick's Kendrick Lamar EP, Pac Div's Church League Champions—all notable releases you won’t find on today's streaming service monopoly.
Each project I named is one that I hold in high regards, but won’t be found where music is currently discovered. It seems criminal that many of the breakout mixtapes and albums from the unsung blog heroes are floating around parts of the internet where they can’t receive their deserved recognition or reach new ears. To stay in the dying past instead of moving into the thriving present is how you fall into oblivion.
The internet was once an unlawful Wild West when music first migrated to the web. We are far removed from the days of thinking that releasing music for free absolves you from possible lawsuits. It was one of our many naive ways of thinking, but that shows how cutting-edge releasing projects was online―Mac Miller being sued by Lord Finesse was one of the first times I witnessed a free project leading to a case against an artist.
Streaming has rules—strict laws—and sample clearance is one of the biggest obstacles artists face. Wiz Khalifa's Kush & OJ—not officially available for streaming—is by far his most acclaimed body of work, but it has various samples, ranging from the classic video game Chrono Trigger to Tevin Campbell's "Could It Be.” The problems aren't limited to blog stars either; De La Soul's catalog remains in digital limbo to this day.
Crate digger extraordinaire Knxwledge recently took to Twitter to express his disdain with SoundCloud’s unbearable content protection after uploading his latest sample-driven beat tape. He already experienced a problem a few weeks back when his version of Drake and 21 Savage’s “Sneakin'” was taken down. Songs are flagged before they're even uploaded, which for creators and fans alike is a frustrating predicament.
Knx announced he would have his own audio player soon and would be deleting SoundCloud, an interesting alternative that we'll be watching closely.
ILL HVE MY OWN AUDIO PLAYR SOON. DELETING @SOUNDCLOUD SRY YALL.— [ノレッジ] (@Knxwledge) February 21, 2017
Along with sample clearance, another plausible circumstance for not having older music available is the likelihood that rappers don’t own the rights to their music. Curren$y’s Pilot Talk albums are absent from streaming platforms despite most of his massive catalog being available for stream. The first two Pilot Talk albums were co-released through Dame Dash’s DD172 imprint―the label Spitta ended up suing in 2010. Legal battles with Dame could very well be the issue; Ski Beatz' 24 Hour Karate School, another release from the DD172 imprint, is also unavailable.
The best example of masters ownership being a root problem in the streaming era is the absence of a good portion of Aaliyah’s discography, which has purposely been held back by her uncle Barry Hankerson. Hankerson, who was her manager, is the one who decides where Aaliyah’s music will be made available. As a result, both One in a Million and the self-titled Aaliyah aren’t on any modern digital platforms. While the specific reason why is unknown, it's unlikely that they will appear anytime soon.
It’s also very possible that moving forward, the artists just don't care to upload their old material on new mediums―a way of starting fresh with no attachment to the past. This would be a rather frustrating reason, but artists tend to be the hardest on themselves when it comes to critical analysis. Even if a project brought their big break, artistic resentment is a common mindset.
For all these reasons, it's important for us music junkies not to trust the streaming platforms to be home to our music collections. Too much is missing, and anything can be removed at any time. I’m not certain why the remix to Lloyd's “You” was erased from streaming sites, but it is gone, perhaps for good, and music lovers are now deprived of an excellent André 3000 verse. I felt betrayed, but it was the perfect reminder of why it is important to build my own collection of music and not just trust what Apple or Tidal or Spotify makes available.
Even recent releases aren't safe—I'm still frustratingly baffled by the disappearance of Travis Scott's "Maria I'm Drunk" from Rodeo on streaming platforms.
What if the day comes that streaming ends? What if Datpiff closes up shop? The fall of Blockbuster taught me that any regime could be toppled, and what we believe will last forever could be gone tomorrow.
Availability is the spoiling gift and rotten curse of music streaming. Successfully searching for a song on Apple Music, Tidal, YouTube or Spotify will make you feel as if you have unlimited access, that everything in the history of recorded music rests at your fingertips. The disillusion is only broken when a search is unsuccessful, and the most crushing blow is felt once you realize what was once there has been removed.
I’m almost certain that on a daily basis, more and more music is abruptly taken down with little reason. Music is to be collected. You never know when life presents a situation and you need that perfect song―don't trust the streaming services to have it there for you; they aren’t reliable. Purchase albums, download singles, save remixes, pirate freestyles―do whatever you must to keep the music alive. Create the infinite library that you desire, one that you can trust will always be there.
Music can be lost, songs are forgotten, and the only way to ensure that doesn’t happen is to collect.
A wise man once told us, “Gotta catch 'em all.” He wasn’t referring to our favorite songs, but it is the perfect ideology to have in this strange, yet wonderful time in music.
By Yoh, aka Yoh Ketchum, aka @Yoh31.
Photo Credit: Tumblr