A chat between Matt Grant and Anticon's Baillie about all sorts of stuff. There's questions answered about the label, creative control, aims, motivations and the future.
The West Coast based label Anticon is famous for its progressive sound and a stable of artists that embody the constant evolution of hiphop. These artists include, amongst others, the likes of Sage Francis, Sole, cLOUDDEAD, Doseone and Alias. I managed to catch up with Anticon manager and co-founder Baillie Parker, perhaps the unsung hero of the label, to get some breaking news on what's going on at Anticon and to discuss the many issues that have arisen as part of the recent changes in hiphop music and culture. So please…take the time to read and absorb the words of a hiphop head who through this interview expresses both honesty and thoughtfulness on a number of issues and has got to be bigged up in particular for his reasoned, constructive response to the potentially divisive comments recently made by Defari… step up Baillie…
So first off, you manage the label right? What duties and responsibilities does that involve?
It means making financial decisions for the label which involves the marketing, publicity, advertising decisions. Managing the manufacturing and distribution of our records. Pretty much all decisions regarding the business of the label.
To what extent do you exercise control in relation to the rest of the Anticon collective?
Anticon is collectively owned by myself, Why?, Sole, Nosdam, Alias, Jel, Doseone, Pedestrian, so they have a lot of input, but they trust me with most decisions. I like to make sure that all of our artists, including those not involved in the ownership have a lot of say in how their record is marketed.
Anticon is in its sixth year, what impact on hiphop as a whole do you feel your label has had?
Well at this point, I think a lot of people would insist that we're not hip hop any more or maybe they think we never were and we're even less now, maybe that's an impact in itself. I think more than anything, the artists on Anticon make music that is heavily influenced by hip hop without concerning themselves with how it's going to be labelled or categorised. I'm not sure Anticon has had any impact on the more traditional hip hop "scene."
What was the original aim that motivated you to set up the label?
Pedestrian and Sole came up with the name and the idea of the label and then the other artists got involved. Initially it was just to get the records out into the world. Initially, they all found the hip hop industry/business side a tough place to penetrate, so they thought they'd start their own thing.
And what has been your favourite memory of these past six years?
That's a tough question…
OK, so where do you see Anticon, and hiphop in general, in another six years?
I'm not sure, that's really hard to imagine. Time goes by fast, especially in the world of music, things change so rapidly. I'd like to think that Anticon continues to put out music, but on a larger scale while maintaining it's ethics.
What would you say is the main thing that binds the Anticon collective?
It's an obvious answer, maybe to easy, but it's music. For whatever reason all these guys have a bond over the music they create. As different as each person's music is from each other, they draw from some of the same influences, so nobody understands the music we put out better than ourselves.
If you had to list Anticon's "Ten Commandments of Good Hip Hop", what would they be?
There should be no Ten Commandments. People feeling like they need to stick to certain expectations, formulas and guidelines is what's making it so stale. Not that all of it is stale, but the stale stuff…
In the UK we do have lots of labels representing hip-hop, we've never had real interest from the majors and so this culture of artist entrepreneurship has developed. With the commercialisation and subsequent sanitisation of hiphop by major labels, do you think this setting up of labels is the best way for artists to keep creative control of their music? Or are there negatives in pursuing a music career in this way?
In this day and age I don't see how anyone doing anything interesting musically can do it without being on an independent label. I think this is too bad. Air time on radio stations and television are getting more and more repetitive. If you don't fit a certain formula it's pretty much impossible to make it on a major label. The good news is this has created a growing indie scene which is cool, but there's so much music, almost too much. The indie market is over saturated.
Given the power of media forms like MTV in controlling the agenda and the finance the majors can use to market their produce, how hard is it for artists signed to independent labels to break through in the USA?
I think it's pretty much impossible to get into the major market. There are a few indies with a lot of power that get a foot in that world, but most of us can't. On the other hand, there's a growing audience for independent music. It's on college radio and in clubs, not on TV or commercial radio, the problem is as I said earlier, it's over saturated. it's just too easy to put out music, make a CD, so a lot of good stuff doesn't get the attention it should.
Would you agree that the US underground scene shares much common ground with its UK counterpart in its continuous struggle for recognition?
I would think so. I think it's easier to get recognition over there (in Britain), but maybe that's because we're from the US. I also think it's because everything is smaller there and closer together, which helps. Magazines seem more likely to cover mainstream and indie over there whereas here it seems like it's more sharply divided.
What do you think about the US hiphop scene in general at the minute? Is it on a high or a low?
I don't think there is a hip hop "scene" any more here. Everything is a scene, everybody is into hip hop now.
And what has been your experience of British hiphop?
I haven't had much if any experience with British hip hop.
You have a strong fan base over here in the UK, how do you manage to distribute your releases across the world to places like Britain? I would imagine the internet has made this easier…
The internet has made this easier, but we have a company we work with called Southern, who work with lots of other great indie labels, that get our records all over Europe.
If Anticon had come ten years earlier before the rise of the internet, do you think your artists would have had the same success? I suppose what I am getting at is do you think the perceived role of the internet in your success is over exaggerated?
Yes, I think it's totally exaggerated. We've used the internet effectively as a means of communication, but there's a real side to it. The artists on Anticon were out doing shows, doing freestyle battles, etc. The internet has helped Anticon as much as it's helped all independent artist communicate with their audience. I think the association of Anticon and the internet is probably more relevant when it comes to how some of the artists met each other. It's relevant in that sense.
Defari has gone on record saying.
"I'm out here trying to get shows and a lot of these dudes are taking my money you understand? It's like a lot of these cats are taking my money. The Ugly Ducklings, Atmosphere, Aesop Rock, and all this shit that I ain't even heard of. I guess it's a lot of these young kids that always be on the computer that are into these MC's and these groups that kinda represent and look like them. When I hear these niggaz music I be like "damn that's horrible man." This shit is straight garbage."
What's your view on this?
Ha! Ha!. Ever listened to the mad rapper? No but seriously, he's entitled to his opinion and there is a serious racial issue that he's implying that is very legitimate and serious. But the fact is the audience for what's called "underground hip hop" is largely white, but at least as far as my experience has been it's been largely white for a while now. So now you have these white kids—Aesop Rock, Anticon, etc, who grew up on hip hop in the 80s and early 90s and they're making their own hip hop and I think that's a natural thing. Whether it's a good thing is debatable and I'm not sure if it's good or bad, but it has happened to rock and jazz too. The first show I even went to was Big Daddy Kane, Slick Rick, LL Cool J and De La Soul. There were a good amount of white people at that show back then – granted I grew up in Minneapolis, which is pretty white. I think the problem is with major labels and their realisation that hip hop is such an enormous market which means white people like it. They now control urban radio and they make sure that everything that gets played conforms to a hit making formula, which apparently involves materialism, misogyny and being "street." But these are actually images that white America wants to see, they're largely the "buying" audience. They're not selling this image to black people, they're selling that imagine to white folks in the suburbs – sure some black folks buy into it too – but it's an incredibly racist stereotype that has little basis in reality. Unless Defari fits that formula, they're probably not going to put him on urban radio, so his chances through those once available outlets are now gone and I think that's what we need to get pissed off about.
Have the Anticon tours helped you raised awareness of the label? Do you find you reach out to new fans through these shows or is it about getting the chance to meet existing fans?
Touring is the most important thing we do as a label. I think our artists are at their best live. Part of the whole experience with our artists is seeing them live. It's our best form of promotion.
Are you planning to reach the UK at any point in the near future?
We do all the time! We'll have a bunch of artists touring the UK this fall—Passage and Restiform Bodies as well as Alias.
So which Anticon artists should we be looking out for just now?
Passage's record just came out. It's one of my favorite records we've released. They have a great live thing going on to, so make sure to check them out. After that is the new Dosh record probably and then Jel and Sole are back with new records. People have been waiting for the Jel and Pedestrian Anticon record for a long time, it'll be exciting for those to finally drop.
And in future?
Themselves are going to record a record with the Notwist. Alias is doing a record with a female vocalist and Nosdam will be working with Jessica Baliff – all really exciting upcoming projects.
Are you actively involved in bringing new hiphop talent through? If so, how do you go about doing that?
We don't really do that. These guys are prolific enough.
The Anticon crew started out as hiphop fans that started making their own music and then set up their own label, have you any words of advice for those thinking of doing the same?
Start locally and go from there.
You're based in Oakland on the West Coast – to what extent does your music reflect your location?
Do you think it's foolish when some people say Eminem has paved the way for other white artists or is there actually some truth in that?
Yeah, he probably has in a certain sense. I'm not sure it's such a good thing that he has though because it has the potential to pigeon hole white artists doing hip hop. I like Eminem though.
I have read that you have proclaimed yourselves 'wiggers' – what do you think of this term? Here in the UK most hiphop heads regard it as racist and come down hard on those people who use it…
Yeah, I think it is borderline racist and probably shouldn't be used.. I am not aware that anyone here has proclaimed that, though if they did I would know what they meant. We all have that common history of wishing we were black at some point in our lives.
Despite your popularity within some quarters of the world hiphop scene, other quarters (particularly some US artists) have decided to have beef with you, is this just down to individual personality clashes or do you think there is something greater behind some of the hostility?
Well, I'm not sure what or who you're talking about, but most of that has nothing to do with personalities, because most of the people who say stuff about Anticon have a huge misunderstanding about it's artists and likely have never actually talked to anyone of the Anticon artists.
Has the beef and the hostility from some quarters within the scene actually had a positive effect like making you more determined or making you more solid as a collective?
Maybe, I don't think it has much of an effect on us at all. I think it's more important to the people who are talking shit than it is to us.
Moving on from hiphop politics to government politics, who will you be voting in the elections and do you really think Kerry has anything better to offer than Bush? Is he simply the lesser of two evils?
He is definitely the lesser of two evils. I think he does have better things to offer than Bush. Obviously there are things that I wish he stood for that he probably doesn't, but politics requires compromise. I will be voting for Kerry.
And to finish, do you have anything you want to say to the readers or any shout outs etc?
Thanks for supporting!
Related Links: www.anticon.com