In recent years there has indeed been a trend for West Coast acts to break the gangsta rap stereotype that their more well known brethren have spread across the world. Crews like the Hieroglyphics have set up their own independent labels and dropped tracks made on their own terms, not some money-crazed label heads'. Part of the success of the Hieroglyphics has been their strong adoption of the Internet as a medium for providing information about themselves as well as for marketing and selling their products online. With the rise of digital audio formats such as MP3, all markers seem to point to the fact that the Internet is going to be very important for musicians in the future. Cut Chemist agrees "I can't really say where it going to go, but there's gonna be a lot more sales through the Internet. We've launched our own website and started selling our merchandise this morning and we already had 27 orders by noon, so that shows a lot. It's going to get crazy, things like MP3 files are already going bonkers. But I don't know where it's gonna go next man."
A very touchy subject in the recording industry at the moment is these very same MP3 files which are being shared across the globe by programs such as Napster, as well as numerous web and FTP sites. Fellow Los Angelean, Dr. Dre has even gone so far as to sue Napster, alleging that their allowing his music to be shared over the Internet has infringed his copyrights and is hurting his record sales. Numark seems to share this negative feeling for MP3s and how easy it is for them to be created, and then distributed over the Internet without the artist receiving any compensation. "I think it's sad, because they know how hard artists work and they know how little artists get paid. All they have to do is call and ask for permission and if there's like, 2 weeks before the record is released they may be able to strike a deal with us. But when people are bootlegging your album that you've been working on for 2 years, and they put it out 2 or 3 months before it's even supposed to be out and they ruin your record sales, not only is that cold, its stealing." I counter this statement with the argument that in countries like South Africa where indepent American and European Hip-Hop labels' distribution often doesn't reach, MP3s are sometimes the only way people can hear their music. Often it's a choice between that or buying an album at a hugely inflated import cost. In such situations, MP3s can be a viable and affordable option for Hip-Hop heads to hear new, underground Hip Hop music from around the world that they otherwise would not have had access to. "That's a really good point, there is definitely a positive side to MP3 files and computers, but still it doesn't negate the fact that people are putting it out before the release date. In the end it ruins things for the artist who's tryin' to give the people the music."
Our debate on the future of the record industry in the digital era is brought to an end with the realisation that it's 2am and the crew still have to pack up their equipment and records. I also have to find my way back to my cross-town motel room although I have no clue how to get there. I thank the two DJ's for their time, say peace, and wonder out into the dark night. Luckily the J5 DJ's have given me plenty to think about as I walk the streets of downtown San Francisco with the preview of Quality Control's tracks still echoing in my ears.