I remember Limewire’s interface as unvarnished, with a complete lack of design character; the UI wasn’t sleek nor sexy, but it was simple—the best kind of simple. William Golding likely imagined the software when he wrote, “The greatest ideas are the simplest.”
Booting up Limewire was no different from standing before a wishing well. Their silence was the same; their purpose was the same. Limewire produced multimedia miracles, and like a wishing well, it cost less than a penny. It was theft; a silent burglary shared amongst thieves who knew the names of various treasure. Limewire users are likely whom André 3000 envisioned when he rapped, “You download it for free, we get charged back for it.”
Limewire, Napster, Kazaa, and other programs from the family tree of peer-to-peer file sharing programs were forbidden fruit with the sweetest taste; the wrong that felt wrong, but also felt like a birthright.
There was a thrill in typing “Lil Wayne” and browsing through all the options; singles, remixes, unofficial remixes, features, and freestyles—all at your fingertips. An artist’s name was enough for fans who wanted the newest and hottest, but specificity was important for collectors. Knowing what you were looking for increased the likelihood of discovery. The search bar was The Father, The Son, and The Holy Spirit.
DJ Drama premiered the T.I., Willie The Kid, and Lloyd collaboration “No More” on Gangsta Grillz radio in Atlanta. By the time T.I. rapped, “Daddy wasn’t in the crib, that made me tougher,” I had Limewire open at the ready. The song was an unreleased exclusive, a gem for the official 2007 Gangsta Grillz: The Album, which meant my results field was empty, but for weeks, I continued to search Limewire. I knew I would eventually find it.
That was the process. The cycle of music consumption was buying what you could, and downloading what you couldn’t. But for most music fans, download totals towered over the number of albums purchased. This was to be expected; you don’t inherit a fortune and decide to work a blue-collar job because your parents did. No, you cash out, and cash out the MP3 generation did. Life was simple, but man, did the industry suffer.
Eventually, the recording community killed off all the major channels that allowed for consumers to download music free, but first label executives had to realize the potential in unbridled access, and the ability to search any artist, album or song under the digital sun.
Music finds you differently in 2019. It’s like being on a peninsula and all the surrounding water is a sea of links. For all the benefits and comfort streaming provides, I often find myself nostalgic for Limewire. The peer-to-peer program didn’t have the visual appeal of Spotify, and it was the reason many computers had impromptu life, but it provided something hard to replace—the need to recognize what you were searching for.
Coming across a song or artist and seeking them out felt rewarding. It still happens today, but rarely does the sensation feel as special. I can't count how many times I've come across an artist on social media or Reddit or YouTube, but when I search their name in TIDAL, Apple Music, or Spotify, there are no results. Not only does that mean I can’t hear them at the moment, but I also know I would never come across their work if I relied solely on these services.
In 2018, I was enamored with the vibrant artwork of Japanese illustrator Eizin Suzuki. After reading how his colorful style inspired the design for Sonic The Hedgehog's Green Hill Zone stage, I needed to know more about Suzuki. That’s how I uncovered Tatsuro Yamashita’s For You, an acclaimed Japenese City Pop album from 1982 with cover art by Suzuki. Finding articles on Yamashita wasn’t difficult—Red Bull published an extensive breakdown of his first eight albums in 2014—but outside of YouTube none of his music is available for streaming on the major player DSPs.
After extensive digging, which included clicking around on more than a few questionable websites, I found an old link to For You. I'm happy to report my search wasn’t in vain; the album is exquisite. It’s full of lush, Sunday morning instrumentation and soul tingling vocals. Most of the lyrics are in Japanese—the only song in complete English is the astounding “YOUR EYES”—but even with a language barrier, Yamashita's voice doesn’t cease being a refreshing wave of tranquility.
Maybe Tatsuro Yamashita is not the best example. We might still be years away from digital service providers fully integrating music catalogs from all over the world. Yet, it came as a surprise that all seven studio albums by soul and jazz poet Gil Scott-Heron and multi-instrumentalist Brian Jackson aren’t present on any service. Admittedly, rapper Mick Jenkins sparked my interest in Heron’s music after the release of his 2018 sophomore album.
The Chicago lyricist cited Heron’s 1971 debut, Pieces of a Man, as an influence for his album of the same name. It’s not surprising Scott-Heron’s universally acclaimed debut Small Talk at 125th and Lenox is on all platforms, but there’s a giant 15-album gap between his first album and his last.
Within that wedge is 1977's Bridges, the fifth collaboration between Gil Scott-Heron and Brian Jackson on Arista Records. I purchased the album on vinyl after hearing their song “We Almost Lost Detriot” during an episode of Frank Ocean’s Blonded Radio. Even though the radio show is an Apple Music exclusive, that particular song can only be found as a live version.
“We Almost Lost Detriot” is about fearing for humanity in the aftermath of a nuclear meltdown. It’s a dreary subject, but when paired with such passionate vocals and blaring horns, the music sinks into your skin like a direct injection of ICY HOT. With Donald Trump "serving" as President of the United States of America, there are no lyrics more fitting than: “No one stopped to think about the people and how they will survive” and “How would we ever get over losing our minds.” So timely and timeless, yet, unrepresented where music is found.
In his Vulture editorial, "How Cash Money Records Changed Rap Forever," music journalist Paul Thompson touched on the swath of southern rap missing from our modern-day archives. “The real, material work put out by many Louisiana rappers of that period is in danger of being lost to the ether due to the fact that it was never cleared for digital streaming platforms,” Thompson writes, aware that we should be celebrating the latest update of Cash Money albums recently being added to streaming services.
How we should still be buying music and supporting the artist directly isn't a new topic for discussion. It has been written and rewritten over the past decade. Still, it’s worth the reminder: we should never rely on streaming services as the only means of finding the artists we wish to support. We relied on Limewire, and then the blogs, but both goldmines came to an unfortunate close.
There are still independent record shops, DJs, and OG blogs to help us find what is hiding in plain sight. The times we live in makes it easier to discover art but can also make the consumer less proactive about the search. The search is where you find what’s for you, not simply what’s available or being juiced by deep-pocketed record labels. The search is what Robert Browning meant when he wrote, “Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?”
Don’t stop searching.
By Yoh, aka Yoh Scott-Heron, aka @Yoh31