by Tim Frommer
Full disclosure: I'm a big Chuck D fan. I don't necessarily agree with everything he says, but I stand up and applaud his willingness to take a stand, educate and his promotion of dialogue on serious subjects. If none of Public Enemy's songs sparked discussion among your friends, get some new friends. Or buy some Q-Tips.
If you have even a passing interest in the intersection of music and the internet, Mista Chuck has been on your radar. The most recent PE album was available for download before it was available in stores. He has been a frequent panelist at digital music seminars and an outspoken supporter of file sharing as he sees it being a way to break the major labels' stranglehold on artistic freedoms and revenues. Not content with one site to share his views, Chuck has at least four by my count: the official Public Enemy web site; Slamjamz.com, an online-only label; Bringthenoise.com , a streaming audio site; and Rapstation.com, a hip-hop grand central station whose goals are "to empower, educate and enlighten the global rap and hip-hop community." Rapstation.com includes news, views, education, pick hits, music, videos, concert dates and theoretically an ISP, but links to that always served me an error page. A streaming message on each pages reminds, "the Revolution will not be Televised, it will be Digitized. Break free from the Matrix." It's not quite a hip-hop cnn.com, but getting close.
One of the best areas of the site is the "Today in Hip Hop" section that is edited by Bay Area hip-hop pioneer Davey D. "TiHH" is a compendium of news from who's in the studio to reactions on current events as seen through a hip-hop prism. Recently, it has included insightful, and yes incendiary, pieces. Two of the latter are a story on a new controversy between Asian-Americans and P. Diddy and a no-holds-barred interview with Boots of the strident rap act the Coup - they of the now-pulled album cover art depicting the World Trade Center being detonated. Yes, you can see the original artwork on the site.
"Inside the Rhyme" includes artist interviews, a severely lacking concert tour roster and a subsection called "Flip the Script." This is one of the education/discussion-fostering areas of the site that's worthy of one's time and thought. The current article focuses on battered women and gives resources for those in need. A previous "Flip the Script" concerned images of man- and womanhood in hip hop videos.
The "Digital Affairs" has another subsection with a thought-provoking essay in "Hip-hop University." The most recent essay here also takes hip-hop videos to task, this time on the "bling-bling" culture. With yet a third location for Chuck D's own writing, "On the Real," a better organization of the site would be to have these like-minded sections together.
The best area of the "Digital Affairs" section is the "Rapstation Swapmeet" that has just about every file-sharing program available for download with accompanying instructions for use. Plus, there is a trove of articles from various sources following the legality of file sharing, not surprisingly focusing primarily on Napster. Personally, I haven't accepted the cause-effect benefits Napster, Scour, etc. hook, line and sinker. Chuck, Courtney Love and others, haven't made a convincing argument that file sharing will break the traditional record company M.O. or oligarchy. That it needs to be changed gets no argument from me. However, from my perspective, through file sharing the artists aren't getting paid and the smaller fish in the music pool whose songs were and are being shared didn't necessarily see an uptick at the sales counters. Nevertheless, for you who are so inclined to hear new music in this manner, there are seven different programs to choose from.
"MP3Jamz" is self-evident and in general the online music area of the site is robust. In addition to a frequently rotated bundle of new songs that are available for download, there is software to download to be your own Terminator X (or other favorite turntable guru) online, a place for hip hop artists to submit their own songs and links to Rapstation Radio. This last section is really the bringthenoise.com site that has daily live streaming hip hop shows all of which are archived for replay. But, G, can I get playlist? With no stop sets during the shows I streamed, who was rocking my 56K?
Moreso than jazz to date, hip hop seems to be holding its own online with the mainstream and indie rock geek quotient off the charts. The real pay off at Rapstation.com is all that is here beyond the standard sounds. Edutaining the masses as KRS-One might say.