Archive for the ‘J.I.L.S. – Journeys in Liquidation Sales’ category

R.I.P. Fatbeats (J.I.L.S.)

August 25, 2010

The Last Stop for Hip-Hop

As you’ve probably noticed, there was only one update to our site last week. That’s because I’ve honestly been dreading having to write the following post. Continuing our series of Journeys in Liquidation Sales, it’s my sad duty to cover the closing of a very specific beloved hangout and record store known as Fatbeats. I have a lot of emotional investment in this place, so please pardon any diverting from our standard Popular Path.

On September 4th, 2010, the world famous record store FatBeats will close its door for the last time and Hip-Hop will have lost another Mecca. Granted, Hip-Hop is a youth culture whose consistant vibrancy has always come from new kids always doing something completely different from those who came before them, but FatBeats held the distinction of being one of the few locations that would acknowledge the past by looking to the future through the spectrum of a genuine love for the culture. With the ceiling covered with authentic first-run promotional posters of classic albums, the walls lined with classic and current vinyl releases and a special section devoted to autographed promo 8 X 10 of rap’s most celebrated icons and beloved unsung heroes, it was something of a living museum of rap music. The closest thing we have ever had to a Hip-Hop Hall of Fame, it became everything from a tourist destination to a regular hangout for just about everyone that passed through its doors.

Part of me still can't believed this happened. The instore, not the broken nose.

Many are citing its closing as a “sign of the times” and playing all sorts of blame games from the most prevalent “nobody’s supporting record stores” sentiment, to the bitter few complaining FatBeats “didn’t support independent artists.” The latter is a complete and utter fabrication as FatBeats carried plenty of local/underground Hip-Hop, but I’ll get into that in a bit. Most importantly, I want to address the former, and if you take nothing else from the rest of this article or don’t want to hear someone lament the loss of a place that meant a lot to them, please take the next paragraph as the definition of what FatBeats meant.

I moved to New York in August, 2004 where I lived in Washington Square Park. A Sam Goody has just closed, but there were 19 other music stores within a ten minute walk of where I lived including a Tower Records, a Virgin Megastore, a FYE and countless Mom-and-Pops. Six years later, FatBeats has outlived ALL but ONE. Now, think of these large record stores with billion-dollar conglomerates behind them who couldn’t stay afloat in the highest-priced rent area of the most expensive city in the country and realize that this comparatively hole-in-the-wall store that ignored what was popular to ONLY CARRY MUSIC THEY LIKED outlived ALL OF THEM by AT LEAST A YEAR. If that isn’t a sign of unbelievable support from a community, I don’t know what is. They followed an insane business model, which was to follow their hearts, and not only did it work, but it made them the last man standing. As sad as it is that all things must come to an end, the Last Stop for Hip-Hop is going out with the honor and respect that it deserves.

Now, if I may switch things up a bit, I’m going to spend the rest of this post sharing some of my favorite FatBeats memories, in chronological order.

– As I mentioned earlier, I first moved to New York in August, 2004. I moved here for school* and had my first day at NYU on September 7th. That evening, immediately after class, I set foot into FatBeats for the first time for a Rob Sonic instore. It was the release of his album Telicatessen at the height of my 18-year-old indie-rap fandom. Seeing how many artists I had spent so many years listening to back in Minnesota just casually walking through the front door and sharing the same breathing room blew my mind. Not only did I get to meet many of my heroes, I got to know many of the local rap enthusiasts and other NYU students that, to this day, became some of my closest friends. This is also where I met NYC favorite Creature who considered Fatbeats’ storefront his “office” as he educated me on everything there is to know about the scene.

Oh, hi me!

– Soon Fatbeats became the both my hangout as well as the place I would show whenever I would walk near it with anyone. I remember pointing it out during a first date with a girl on Valentine’s Day that year at a pizza place within eyeshot of it, describing it as “a hangout.” She said “It’s a record store, what do you do there?” “You know…rap things.” Those rap things would include two months later when I got to freestyle over an original Evil Dee beat at a Beatminerz instore. There’s somethings you don’t expect to do as an 18-year-old from Minnesota, and that one was pretty high on the list but FatBeats made it a reality.

– Unlike other record stores, Fatbeats didn’t really have a stage or artist area so in-store performances took place right in the middle of the store, allowing for a real one-on-one interaction with artists you really couldn’t get anywhere else. Over the years I got to watch ToneDef autograph my copy of his album by un-ironically filling up the entire cover art with his five-step plan/instructions for how Hip-Hop is to be evaluated and elevated over the next decade, hear first-hand about X-Clan’s Brother J’s admiration of the Kottonmouth Kings, see Brother Ali’s face light-up with the news his album was debuting on the Billboard 200 at #69, enjoy stories from Evil Dee about what a bitch it was to clear samples from overseas artists, pass along a message to Sean Price from the security guard at my dorm that referenced very specific people from the Brownsville project he grew up in, Pack FM demand that I leave the store for referring to a shot he took at Ja Rule’s ‘Blood in My Eye’ album as “disrespecting the g.o.a.t.,” witness C-Rayz Walz give an entire radio interview over the phone with his answers in the form of freestyle rhymes, have one-time Fatbeats staple Percee-P give me his phone number “in the event I ever become a blogger or music journalist and want to do an interview,” out-of-towners Zion-I being unintentionally super-early for their instore by getting there on time, and countless others that either are skipping my mind or that I could never print. (ask me sometime)

– But what I’ll most remember FatBeats for was when I had an instore there. Like I mentioned earlier, there’s a smattering of belly-aching from a few in the scene who think that because FatBeats never stocked them or their boys that they never supported independent artists. Truthfully, it’s because Fatbeats had pretty high standards and through its 16-year existence, you only really made it in the indieground when Fatbeats carried you. It took me three releases until they finally stocked me, and my instore on April 30th, 2008 I’ll always remember as one of the proudest moments of my life. I came to New York four-years prior with no friends, worked really hard and had finally achieved a lifelong dream. The turnout was the third-biggest of that year (only behind Q-Tip and Immortal Technique) and really felt like a graduation or a validation of what I had done over the past decade.

A very good feeling.

So thanks FatBeats for being the perfect idealized record store.

We give FatBeats a Five Out of Five

So until next time…let’s agree to agree!

*and stayed for the pie.

R.I.P. Hollywood Video

May 14, 2010

RIP to The 'Wood 1988-2010

While the beautiful people out in Hollywood, California (formerly Hollywoodland, California) flock to empty their pockets in efforts to save a landmark reminder of where they are, 49 other states this week were given notice that their neighborhood land of the stars was about to become a ghost town. Founded in 1988 by Mark Wattles, Hollywood Video was truly the movie lover’s chain. By shelving the latest independent, foreign and genuinely oddball titles next to box office hits, it presented a level playing field for all films not seen since the initial Video Boom of the 1980s. It also was the only nationwide chain that carried an equal amount of movies in letterbox/widescreen and pan-and-scan formats and, unlike rival Blockbuster Video, DIDN’T edit their movies ensuring proper intact viewings of Basic Instinct, Life of Brian and Last Tango in Paris for generations of moviegoers.

What always stood out for me about Hollywood Video was how truly “Hollywood” it felt. At a time when most video chains were just some DMV-Hallmark Store hybrid, Hollywood really seemed like a piece of Hollywood. Red carpet floors, classic film images decorating the walls, and exteriors having everything from light-up Hollywood sign reproductions to the more-elaborate Golden-Era Hollywood theater recreations, it would always stand out amidst the bland strip-mall culture of urban sprawl. The decorum and often overkilled uniform of the employees almost subliminally reminded you that movies were something special and you were privileged enough to be surrounded by them. There was something for everybody without having to bend for anyone else. The catalog of films was as wide as the Heavens but intimate enough to make it feel like they were just for you.

Yes, this was an actual Hollywood Video.

There’s really two places I can attribute my lifelong love of film to. One was the (original) Suncoast in Rosedale, MN, and the other was the Columbia Heights Hollywood Video. I was all of 13-years-old when I discovered The Toxic Avenger in their Cult Classics section, a stretch of shelves that determined my weekend screening schedule for the following three years. From wooing girls on dates with Surf Nazis Must Die!! and The Human Tornado to attempting to explain Naked Lunch and Twin Peaks to my ninth-grade classmates to show how deep I was, to Class of Nuke ‘Em High and Pink Flamingoes teaching me how to talk to girls, to attempting to use the September 11th attacks to get out of paying a late fine on Killjoy, those dusty VHS tapes really struck a chord with me and ignited my love of film. Such incredible worlds created without any regard for genre or convention, it was like someone scribbled down what was heard in the far reaches of the lunchroom and put it on screen. Even dealing with my first major breakup I lost myself in Bamboozled, 8 1/2 and Jan Svankmajer’s Alice which, thanks to Hollywood, were all within eyesight of each other.

Open 365 days a year - thanks Mormons!

Of course, times change and Hollywood seemed to be the only video chain taking an active position, instead of the “well, let’s see how this whole Netflix thing pans out” approach of their cohorts. In 2004, Hollywood shut down 3 out of every 4 locations and moved the inventory into most successful branch in the area. Instead of competing with the Blockbuster/Netflix standard rental approach, they rebranded themselves as a film archive that promised to have whatever you were looking for. Even if the drive was longer, you were pretty much guaranteed to get your Power Rangers: No Clowning Around, Eraserhead and Magic Johnson AIDS videos while still scooping Battlequeen 2020 on DVD for your nerdy hormonal little brother and Dreamgirls on Blu-Ray for the whole family to watch at Christmas. This approach allowed them to flourish in their number 2 position, inspiring long suffering competitors Movie Gallery to acquire the franchise, returning them to their failing standard rental format and in eight more days successfully sinking the company.

Julie Strain IS Barbara Walters IN - a cover art teenage boys will no longer get to see every Friday night.

This is only the latest in the physical media trail of tears. Even after the Tower/Virgin/Circuit City/etc. genocide, it still hurts. When the closing was announced on Monday, I ventured out to the Hollywood Video Bronx location, the last one in NYC, to get one last look at the franchise. With Mystikal’s Greatest Hits as the requiem, I took one last walk up and down the aisles looking for Troma films, esoteric foreign affairs and low budget action movies starring rappers. I saw DVDs like Delta Delta Die and Dead and Rotting which I hadn’t thought of since getting my driver’s permit but used to smirk at their cover arts every weekend for a good stretch of my life. I witnessed a bevy of adolescents buying armfuls of Playstation 2 games as part of the “10 Video Games for 10 Dollars” section and while I’m happy Christmas is coming early for them this year, it’s saddening to think they’re going to grow-up without knowing what it’s like to be physically surrounded by thousands of movies. Literally millions of man-hours* and wildest dreams went into every Hollywood Video location and soon they will all be gone. Granted you don’t miss what you never had and I’m sure they’ll fine their own ways to alienate their high school peers, but as another nail goes into the coffin of a past life, I’m sad Hollywood Video will no longer be a part of my skyline.

So until next time…let’s agree to agree!

*Don’t even think about how many Dog-hours they took!

What is Circuit City, but the People? (J.I.L.S.)

March 17, 2010

The Circuit City of Angels.

Editor’s Note – As part of our ongoing Journeys in Liquidation Sales series here at Popular Opinions, it only seemed right to commemorate the one-year anniversary of Circuit City’s demise where much of JILS‘s inventory came from. This piece originally appeared somewhere else but I decide to have it remixed and digitally remastered with pictures, spun-back cusswords and the most nostalgic and absurd Circuit City clips the internet had to offer, including the in-store only complete Circuit City rap seen below.

“All cities are mad: but the madness is gallant. All cities are beautiful: but the beauty is grim.” ~ Christopher Morley, Where the Blue Begins

“I have a CD in stores, just in time for people to not give a kcuf about CD stores anymore.” ~ Mitch Hedberg

In three more days Circuit City, once the second largest electronic retailer in the United States, will close its doors forever. The latest mega-conglomerate to collapse, its slow burial beneath six feet of unsold Hancock and The Dark Knight DVDs has been met with an almost ‘told-you-so’ indifference and bitter obscenities due to, at a time when the store hasn’t received any new product for a month and has its entire inventory marked to 80% off, Johnny McBargainBin’s anger that he can’t find any of today’s hottest hits. The “Everything Must Go” signs adorn the walls like funeral wreaths, as EuroJungleHouseTrance echos an ominously repetitive requiem.

It’s March, 2009. Every industry, save tent manufacturers and repo men, is struggling. With the entertainment industry continuing to have problems, this latest loss is almost eclipsed by the announcement last week that Virgin will be closing all of its stores by June and Best Buy, while not closing, will be shutting down almost two-hundred locations within the next month. It’s hard to believe that just nine years after the industry (as well as downloading) hit an absolute pinnacle, the game shows no real hope for any commercially available physical media.

Circuit Breaker Heartbreaker

As much as I love the 29 CDs and 4 DVDs that I got for a combined total of under $100.00 during this retail trail of tears, it deeply saddens me that (without hyperbole) the physical music business is truly coming to an end. It’s over. Done. Ghost like Swayze. Outie 5000. And it all went so fast, too. I remember the summer of 2000 when the Mall of America had 5 different flourishing music stores inside of its gigantic singular complex. When I returned two years ago, all that remained was an single FYE that had bought out the last Sam Goody in the entire state and was having a “going out of business” sale. I felt a similar shock when I realized that since moving to New York City four years ago, 15 local music stores closed down. Come June, that number increases to 20 with Manhattan solely relying on FatBeats as its only non-electronics based music outlet. Otherwise we have J&R (who are probably not going anywhere as in 1971 they flatout bought the property for their location) and Best Buy (who are also doing-away with their music section but will be gone soon too) and that’s it.

But instead of placing blame, I’d like to take a moment to reflect on some of the great things Circuit City did. When Tower Records, the last strictly-music chain (Tower Video was always a separate entity) fell in 2006, music fans with a taste for more than “today’s hottest hits” were forced to find a new source for our more obscure cravings. While it never came close to Tower’s cornucopia of regional-rap, Circuit City did stand out for its emphasis on 1) selection and 2) catalog titles. New York does have its hip-hop stops, but with the East Coast bias nobody will admit to, and even Minnesota’s own hesitance on getting it’s hands dirty with some of the filthier parts of the south, Circuit City allowed a nationwide accessibility for everything from Eightball & MJG’s debut to Turf Talk and Lil Boosie mixtapes to every single project Cappadonna attached his name to.

They also were the only chain to reach out to the larger indie and overlooked major-label artists for nationwide promotions. The Clipse’s Hell Hath No Fury was given a ridiculously discounted price, drop taken as a hit to the store, its first week of release and thus moved the bulk of its units there. It’s also the only store major OR mom-and-pop I know of that offered free t-shirts from the like of T.I., Scarface AND Tech N9ne if you purchased their albums the week of release. And unlike Best Buy, “The City” (As it’s unfortunately titled pedestrian-friendly 2007 makeover redubbed it) kept its prices low, even after it had buried its competition. To its dying day*, new releases were $11.99, recent hits were $12.99 and extended catalog titles were $9.88. Did this policy drop help or hurt it? Who knows? The bells have been tolling since the industry eliminate the maxi-single in 2001 and the dominos have been falling ever since.

So, what can be done now? I’d suggest we ride the wave back to the shore. It’s labor day weekend, and we have a long autumn ahead of us. All CDs/DVDs are 80% off and there’s some quality stuff you might have your last chance ever to get in there. You may never have another opportunity to get Tech N9ne, Project Pat, UGK and BG’s entire discography for under $50.00 combined. So g’head. Remember as a kid when you saw the Nickelodeon Toy-Run Sweepstakes? Now’s your only chance to live it. TOO LATE! SEE YOU IN HELL! FROM HEAVEN!

So until next time…Let’s Agree to Agree!

*Or at least until it was put on Death Row.

J.I.L.S. ~ Chino XL & Playalitical – “Something Sacred” album review.

September 22, 2009

Welcome to the first installment of Journeys in Liquidation Sales. In this ongoing series, I’ll be reviewing CDs I’ve acquired over the past year at any number of music store “Everything Must Go!” sales. With the collapse of the physical music industry eminent, these sales have become fairly frequent and seeing as present-day New York rap consumers only really seem to care about present-day New York rappers, it allowed someone like me to really clean up once things hit the 70-80% off mark and I could get entire artist discographies for under five bucks. Not only was I able to fill the gaps in my collection, but once the discount hit 90% at Circuit City and Virgin Megastore locations, I was able to take chances on artists I had never heard that were recommended to me, as well as things that just looked interesting.

Something Sacred...not so much.

"Something Sacred"...not so much.

Setting this party into motion is the latest release from an all time favorite of mine, rapper Chino XL. On Something Sacred, he is joined by Denver rapper/producer Playalitical (real name Dustin Robbins, which I think would have worked just as well, if not better as a rap moniker) for a mostly uneven collaborative album that sees Playalitical behind the boards for all but one track, and Chino absent from a full third of the album’s tracks. At first glance, the album reeks of a shoddy cash-in designed to lure one of rap’s most dedicated niche audiences into throwing money towards anything with Chino on it. The art work seems like a hastily-thrown together random assortment of pictures of Chino at an Affliction photo shoot, and the back cover’s track listing includes a, given the situation of my purchase, tragically ironic advertisement for the album itself now being available on iTunes.

But less than desirable marketing conditions are, sadly, nothing new for Chino. In 1996, after making a name for himself as one-half of rap group Art of Origin with darkly comedic punchlines that ran through pop culture references with the barbed wit of an insult comic (“Your career’s like George Burns, I can’t believe it ain’t dead yet”) he found himself signed to Rick Rubin’s American Records for the release of his debut Here to Save You All. It’s this approach that made him two major enemies in the music industry – Tupac Shakur and Whitney Houston. As a result, promotion for the album got pulled and while it was released, it quickly went out of print a few short years later. Chino returned in 2001 with an oft-delayed release I Told You So on Metro Records which seized creative control from him and released the project with an inaccurate track listing and faulty packaging, resulting in numerous scratched CDs. The album also suffered from being released on September 11th, 2001. Some guys just have the worst luck.

But Chino continued with 2006’s Poison Pen, an album that, not unlike its predecessors, featured numerous noteworthy collaborations but suffered from no distribution or marketing. Not that this particularly stifled Chino’s career as he spent the meantime joining the cast of Reno: 911 and appearing in the Rob Reiner film Alex & Emma. Despite this raised profile, Something Sacred arrives with anything but fanfare on the Select-o-Hits label, which does nothing but make the man label-mates with Jimmy Buffet.

As for the album itself, certain elements are better than I expected. Playalitical is not only a capable producer, but a good rapper in his own right. While Chino’s presence seems mainly to elevate Playalitical’s own status, it’s his solo tracks like the haunting “Things to Do in Denver When Your (sic) Dead,” and the album’s closer “Smoke Screen” that make him worth listening to. His voice falls somewhere between Saafir and Ja Rule, and his subtle storytelling adds to the bleak soundscape of his production.

Which is largely why this album doesn’t work. Why any rapper would want to do (or promote his album as) a collaborative album with Chino XL is puzzling enough when you know you’re targeting a fanbase that won’t want to hear you is puzzling enough, but on the tracks where both appear Playalitical shifts his style to match Chino’s punchline-oriented lyrics and, more often than not, can’t keep up. Likewise, Chino neglects the introspective side he showcased on 1996’s “What Am I,” one of the best racial identity songs ever committed to wax, for nothing but his punchline affair, save his final appearance on the album “Be With You” where his waxing poetic about missing his daughters is outshined by troubled Bone Thugz N Harmony member Bizzy Bone’s continued complete insanity.

Something Sacred suffers from not satisfying any audience with the shadow of what it could have been. While it succeeded in tipping me to Playalitical’s existence and the reminder on Chino solo tracks like “Stay in the Lines” that he’s still the king of “what did he just say?” punchline rappers, most of the production is a poor fit for him. His flow is better than ever, but with his 16-bar verse chopped into 8 bar fragments on a handful of his appearance, you would never be able to tell. For the solo tracks, I’d recommend it for a solid $2.00 Liquidation purchase. Otherwise, Chino fans are better off waiting for next year’s Ricanstruction.

We give it a 2 out of 5

Suggested tracks – “Stay in the Lines,” “Be With You,” “Smoke Screen.”

Until next time, let’s agree to agree!