Fuck Fox News; I don’t listen to y’all ass
Music writers like me have bashed the Recording Industry Association of America, a private-sector trade-group that represents big record labels, ever since it basically sued Napster out of existence and made all of our lives a little bit shittier. But the music industry went through a massive and unprecedented sales nosedive last year, mostly because of the decentralized file-sharing services that sprang up in Napster’s wake. So maybe the RIAA was right to be paranoid that kids wouldn’t buy albums when they could download them, though their tactic of suing individual downloaders certainly didn’t do a whole lot to engender customer loyalty. The agents of the RIAA are working to keep the record industry alive, and technology has turned that into a huge job, especially when nobody can be quite certain where the legitimate side of the industry ends and where the illegal stuff begins. Last night, the RIAA sent SWAT teams to raid the studios of the DJ Drama and Don Cannon and to arrest the two mixtape DJs. Mixtapes have long occupied a sort of music-industry grey area: they grab unauthorized pieces of music from all over, but they do it to build buzz for rappers and producers, many of whom are already part of the major-label system and who absolutely need mixtape buzz to help them sell conventional albums. The music industry has long cooperated with mixtape DJs, but mixtapes probably aren’t strictly legal, and I suppose it’s possible to argue that they cut into legitimate album sales. So maybe the RIAA’s clampdown on Drama and Cannon will look like a savvy move in a couple of years. I just can’t imagine it.
On this local Atlanta Fox news report, which music websites are already rightly lambasting as a piece of shitty one-sided fear-mongering journalism, an RIAA representative named Matthew Kilgo describes Drama and Cannon’s studios and label headquarters as a massive counterfeiting operation, and one local cop says that it’s “not uncommon” to find drugs and firearms in raids like this one, even though they didn’t actually find any this time. The Fox people seem content just to parrot the line of bullshit that Kilgo feeds them, which is a huge problem in itself. But here’s what amazes me about the story: Kilgo seems to believe all the bullshit himself. He seems incensed that criminals like Drama and Cannon would be so flagrant as to operate right out in the open, selling their counterfeit CDs on their website like it was legal. I don’t know if Kilgo was the one who actually spearheaded the raid, but he seems totally unaware that he’s messing with an integral part of the music industry, that Drama has a major-label deal and a Rolodex full of label contacts, that he’s standing behind T.I. on the cover of this month’s XXL. This raid is the first time the RIAA has gone directly after a big-name mixtape DJ, and they’ve gone after probably the single biggest name in that world. So maybe I’m just being naive here, but I don’t think the raid represents a sea change in the music industry’s tolerance of mixtapes, mostly because the music industry doesn’t employ any evil masterminds smart enough to orchestrate a sweeping change in policy like that. More likely, it’s just another example of the industry’s staggering incompetence and disorganization, a case of the right hand not knowing what the left hand is doing. My guess is that Kilgo and his boss heard about the mixtape trade somewhere and decided to lash out against it without bothering to figure out how much the major labels depend on those mixtapes. Either Kilgo is doing an amazing acting job in that news broadcast or he has no idea that he’s fucking with the mechanics of his industry. The Fox broadcast clearly shows the cops boxing up and confiscating mixtapes, not bootleg albums, and I’m not sure Kilgo realizes there’s a difference between the two.
I keep picturing Lyor Cohen and LA Reid slapping their foreheads in dismay when they hear about the raid. Virtually every major new rap star of the past couple of years has come out of the mixtape world. Drama was personally instrumental in creating a couple of those stars, T.I. and Young Jeezy. T.I. had the only big-selling rap album of last year, and the tapes he did with Drama were a huge part of the reason it was able to sell. Rap labels are desperate to get Drama to do their artists’ tapes; my other big theory about the raid is that some record executive got mad that Drama wouldn’t do a tape for his rapper and called in the raid as sour-grapes retaliation. Drama is also the only mixtape DJ whose tapes I’ll buy on name alone. I don’t think I’d be so upset about the RIAA raid if they’d arrested Mick Boogie or Big Mike instead. Drama builds mixtapes that flow as well as conventional albums. I had no reservations about listing his and Lil Wayne’s Dedication 2 tape as one of my ten favorite albums of last year, and I know a few critics who included more than one Drama tape in their top tens. So they’ve managed to arrest a true artist, and they’ve arrested him specifically for practicing his art. A SWAT team has raided his offices, detained his employees, and confiscated all his shit, all because someone in the RIAA is either desperate with greed or laughably stupid. Either way, it’s fucked up.
Drama and Cannon are going to be fine. They’re being charged with racketeering, but I imagine that the recording equipment that the police confiscated in the raid will be enough to prove that they’re not just bootlegging CDs. A half-decent lawyer should be able to get the charges dismissed, and they can afford a better-than-half-decent lawyer. Even if they’re found guilty, I can’t imagine they’ll serve any prison time. They’ve got a major-label album coming out this year. Cannon runs the Aphiliates label, which now has its own deal, and he’s also been doing a lot of producing lately. Drama is T.I.’s touring DJ. If the Atlanta police do destroy all the CDs they confiscated, it won’t be more than a financial setback for them. If they’d had arrested Mick Boogie or Big Mike, maybe those arrests would be enough to force those guys into retirement. Mixtapes are a huge part of what Drama and Cannon do, but they’ve got a whole lot of other stuff going on. Even if the RIAA manages to completely shut down the mixtape trade, Drama and Cannon will keep working. Still, it’s a travesty that Drama and Cannon should have to go through this bullshit ordeal at all. The music industry may be facing a disastrous year, but Drama and Cannon aren’t the problem. The problem is that the record industry employs people dumb enough to demand the arrests of Drama and Cannon.