How Not to Run an Indie Rap Label


Ten years ago, Matt Diamond started Coalmine Records. The Brooklyn-based independent rap label’s first release was “The Raw,” a 12-inch single featuring the Wu-Tang Clan’s Inspectah Deck, horrorcore-styled rapper Bekay, and one-time savior of New York hip-hop Saigon. Since then the Coalmine vault has stacked up contributions from a list of luminaries that includes Pharoahe Monch, Kool G Rap, and Talib Kweli, plus producers Alchemist and M-Phazes.

In celebration of a decade in the game, Coalmine has released Unearthed this week — a 22-track compilation that’s mixed by the dextrous hands of DJ Revolution and acts as the label’s vital Soundbombing moment. Consider it your daily dose of fortified boom-bap goodness.

In honor of the milestone, here Diamond embarks on a good-natured reminisce about five vital learning steps that come with launching an indie rap label. Naturally, they involve advice on how to deal with Kanye West’s notorious cock-blocking tendencies.

See also: Record Labels Aren’t Dying, They’re Thriving

1. Be Careful When Telling Members of the Wu-Tang Clan to Re-Record Their Verses

“The very first record that I released was “The Raw,” which was a 12-inch single featuring Saigon, Bekay and Inspectah Deck. The track ended up going on Bekay’s Hunger Pains LP after initially being released as a single in 2005. When the track was a work in progress, Saigon and Bekay tracked their vocals first, and with just two 16s it was a bit light time wise, so I gave some thought as to who would be dope to close out the track and Inspectah Deck came to mind.

“I ended up booking some studio time and Deck knocked out a dope verse, but I remember him ending his verse in a way that was kinda unorthodox for Deck — like I think he threw in a really extended “yah kiiiid” as the end which would have been dope had it been Flava Flav, but it just sounded kinda off for Deck.

“I was trying to work up the courage to ask Deck if he’d mind changing up the end, and he was getting set to leave, so I realized I’d better hurry up. I think I had a very quiet panic attack in the process, but I realized this is a situation that’s going to happen again and again if I’m going to be running a label, so I better learn to speak up. I did, and luckily Deck had no problem switching it up — took him all of five seconds, and he gave me a dap, bounced, and that was that. Remember, closed mouths don’t get fed.”

2. Exercise Caution When Telling Rappers to Record Violent Raps

“Historically, Heltah Skeltah was always one of my favorite groups and I still bump Nocturnal on the regular to this day. Needless to say, they were one of the first groups I reached out to work with when I launched Coalmine. They ended up recording the track “Midnight Madness” which was the lead single off the Foundation project, produced by Shuko. The track also ended up getting remixed several times over for our Midnight Madness remix EP, as well.

“I always had a certain vision for the record, so I’ll never forget meeting Ruck and Rock at this studio in Crown Heights. I remember talking to ’em about how I wanted the track to go in a really violent direction. I mean, you hear the instrumental, and it’s just one of those tracks to start a riot to, so it seemed fitting, and if there was ever a group that could deliver on these terms, it would be them. But the hilarity is how they looked at each other — and then looked at me like I was more crazy then they were. I guess the irony was that I was legitimately concerned that they’d be able to make the record violent enough, and having them realize that this was a grave concern of mine was comedy gold. I definitely got the dumbfounded Rodney Dangerfield-esque stare from P.”

3. Always Make Sure to Have R.A. The Rugged Man’s Money In Hand

“When I working on Bekay’s Hunger Pains, we decided to have R.A. The Rugged Man on the Marco Polo-produced track “Pipe Dreams.” It’s a dope track that’s in the form of a label meeting where Bekay essentially plays the role of himself being solicited for a deal, and R.A. plays the role of a sheisty record exec. Anyways, I ended up picking R.A. from midtown and driving him to the same studio in Crown Heights that I recorded with Heltah Skeltah.

“We get to the studio and everything was cool. He wrote and recorded his verse at the spot, Shuko showed up to play ’em some beats, and for whatever reason R.A. changed up his steelo and went into tough guy mode. Basically, he started shouting through the vocal booth into the PA system that allows you to communicate with the mixing engineer, saying that if I didn’t have the money for his verse in the palm of his hand the second that he walks out of the booth then he was gonna snuff me in the face.

“I mean, many of us have heard these crazy R.A. stories so I wasn’t surprised — overall I was more amused than threatened. He got paid, no punches were thrown, the track came out dope, and all was right with the world. I fuck with R.A.’s Film School series — dude needs to bring that back.”

4. Learn It’s Smarter to Barter Your Beats

“One of the first producers I started working with was M-Phazes. It’s a relationship that started after buying this one track off him which ended becoming Pharoahe Monch’s “Clap (One Day).” I remember Phazes asking who I was going to have featured on the track, and I replied “Pharoahe Monch.” Truth is, I didn’t know Monch at the time, but I was convinced he was gonna like the track, so I made it my business to get the track in his hands.

“I was recording a couple of songs with MeLa Machinko who sings vocals for Monch. She got him the track, and from what she told me he liked it, but I also ended up getting that beat, along with a few other of Phazes’ tracks, into his hands personally. Monch was working on his third solo LP at the time and wanted to use the beat for the album, so we ended up bartering that track for him to record what would become “Get Down” for Unearthed, which is also produced by Phazes.

“This is just one of those stories about how the barter system is the smarter system. Phazes went on to produce four tracks for Monch’s W.A.R. album, and I got to release a track with my favorite artist of all time. Everybody wins.”

5. Beware Kanye West’s Cock-Blocking

“I remember being at this club Cain (which is now closed) where DJ Reach was spinning. There was this one girl that I was talking to and towards the end of the night, Reach, myself, the girl and a couple other of peeps all bounced to go to Greenhouse. We made it about as far as the end of the block and out of the corner of my eye I see some dude quickly grab the girl. Now when I mean grab, I’m not talking about the traditional “Hey ma” arm grab — this was a full-fledged, come-from-behind, hands-around-waist get-over-here.

“My first instinct was, “Shit, is this one of those moments where you gotta go into superhero mode and whip a dude’s ass as part of the courting process?” My second instinct was, “Oh, wait, that’s Kanye West.”

“This was a pre-Kimye Kanye so I’m not throwing dude under the bus, but what followed was pretty hilarious: Apparently, Ye and the girl knew each other and he was trying to run some game and get her into the Expedition; all the while Kid Cudi’s with him, but about ten yards in the distance, like literally staring into space. I think my sense of opportunity clicked off before the realization came that I was the victim of a classic cock-block, so I reached into my back pocket to pull out a beat CD of various producers I was working with and asked ‘Ye mid-block if he was looking for any outside production. No shame. He put his game on pause for a second, looked up at me and said, “My man, the only thing outside I’m looking for right now is some outside pussy.”

“Well, either his response upset the girl or she was disappointed in Kanye for not taking my inquiry seriously, but either way he skated off empty handed. Let’s just say the night ended without any outside production (or its alternative) being bought, sold, bartered or given. Unlike the Pharoahe story, nobody wins here — but you can’t win ’em all.”

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