Don't Step to Real Distillaz

After posting a few of my own thoughts about the "Potemkin" distillery discussion that Chuck Cowdery and Steve Ury have so valiantly taken the lead on, and that the Daily Beast turned into a much broader dialogue, I was emailed by a few actual distillers about the issue. One wrote:

I saw your post today and I think you hit the nail on the head in the way you characterized how prideful we producers feel - annoying says it.

I don't say much about this subject, mostly since I am too busy to be bothered. However, I must say my blood pressure does go up a few points when I see some folks from the media who ignore, or are too lazy to see what's going on.

I've made my feelings known concerning the issue, so rather than simply continue to blab about the subject I'll offer some historical perspective. Like I've already said, you're never going to stop this type of marketing from happening, but you can at least look to the past to see how other producers have handled it themselves. In this case, we'll look to the 1990s to see how producers of "legitimate" gangster rap handled those they thought were simply capitalizing on a fad with fake stories of real violence.

Imagine it: you're an African-American kid growing up in the early 90s in South Central Los Angeles. You witness terrible atrocities on a daily basis in your neighborhood and you feel as if the local authorities aren't doing anything about it. You feel alone, segregated, and forgotten by the world, so you write poetry or rhymes about your feelings. Suddenly, after hearing you express yourself at a local event, a man in a fancy suit offers you a million dollar contract to record a hip-hop album about urban life. You confess your heart and soul into that record, getting deep into the nitty gritty of how cold and callous the streets can be. Then the time comes for you to promote your record, but you realize that the market is suddenly flooded with similar styles of expression—some of them true, and others exploitative.

You're enraged. Here you are: an actual victim of violence and abuse in the ghetto, talking about real things that happened to you, having to compete against a bunch of suburban-born rappers who are simply making up tales of gang life and gun fights that never happened. Their phony raps are merely capitalistic efforts to benefit from pop culture's current fascination with "gangsta" rap. They're using your own story against you. You call these "wankstas" out in your rhymes, but no one seems to care.

"Man, that guy wasn't even born in Los Angeles," you tell people. "He's from a rich neighborhood in Dallas!"

"So what," people say. "His beats are tight!"

"But he's not tough!" you reply. "This is all just an act."

No one listens.

So what do you do? You release the most punishing, brutal, bone-cutting, battle rap beatdown of all time. You lay it all out on the table:

If modern distillers who actually distill want to fight back against "Potemkin" distilleries, then they're going to have to start a modern day turf war to get the public's attention. They're going to have to fight for themselves by taking to the airwaves, much like 1990s gangster rappers did in retaliation to inauthentic market saturation. If they want to see actual results, they're going to have to throw some mud and name some names—like Eazy E calling out Dr. Dre—not simply allude to the practice. Respect is going to have to become more important than price or popularity.

But, if history tells us anything (especially in the case of fake gangster rap), it's that it pays to have a tasty product rather than an authentic story. How did the story turn out between Eazy E and Dr. Dre? Not well for Eazy E. He was the real deal, an actual drug dealer and gangster in Compton, and a very talented rapper who simply rhymed about his real life, but he passed away in 1995, not long after the above video was released (although he and Dre did make peace before his death). And what happened to Dr. Dre, who according to Eazy E simply fabricated his tales of thug life in Compton? He just recently became the richest hip-hop artist in history, inking a $3 BILLION deal with Apple for his own Beats Electronics company.

-David Driscoll

David Driscoll