âTen or 15 years ago it was good that something was available on vinyl again,â says Christopher Stevenson of Be With Records. Since buyers can usually find a well-known album on the internet, their focus is on re-releases that provide a superior listening experience.
Then there’s the collecting aspect: it threatens to turn record collecting into a pinball mess that has nothing to do with listening to records. With only 750 copies available at retail for $ 60, the 2013 edition of “Chess Pieces” of GZA’s Get on Down Liquid swords now trades up to $ 300. âThe whole collection, and ‘there are only 200 copies of it made,’ it depresses me because everyone should have access to owning a music record they love,â says Papa D of Get on Down . âBut the trend is that people want to find collectibles. His company tries to strike a balance by offering limited edition variants and black vinylâ good catalog âeditions.
But Chopped Herring Records’ Lipitch makes no apologies for limiting his runs to around 500 or less. âThere are many ways to get music. They don’t get the item, that’s what they don’t get, âhe says. “If you can make people look for it a bit, they like it more when they find it.”
Rap reissue labels are still largely owned by middle-aged white men.
As the market diversifies beyond its origins as predominantly male DJs and cash diggers, the racial and gender dynamics of the labels that fuel it remain the same. The fact that white men in the United States and Europe are cataloging and repackaging an art form created primarily by black artists creates a troubling discussion about who is profiting from this burgeoning market. Asked about structural racism and sexism within rap reissue labels, one label owner declined to comment. A second danced around the issue, affirming his decades-long commitment to the genre.
“It’s embarrassing, isn’t it?” said Lipitch of minced herring. “That’s a really tough question, man, and it’s too bad it is.” Obviously, there has to be a more diverse property.
VMP was founded by two white executives, Matt Fiedler and Tyler Barstow. But Berenson says the company is actively trying to diversify internally with the help of Women in music. âThis is the larger systemic problem that we see not only in the music industry, but in all industries. As a woman of color, I would like to see a world in which that changes, âshe says. âThe only way to do this is to have people in positions of power who feel strongly about making these changes within their organization. (Before this story went to press, VMP announced that it had hired journalist Marcus J. Moore as director of its hip-hop division.)
Some players in the music industry have argued that these companies rely on tacit marketing campaigns aimed at regular white collectors instead of actively courting a diverse clientele. Alexandria Henson launched Black girls love vinyl on Instagram in 2017. âI was inspired by the work of DJ Beverly Bond with everything she does with Black Girls RockHenson writes via email. Henson is looking for beat classics from MF Doom, Slum Village and Lapalux. When asked if labels are effective for black women, she said no. “I don’t think it’s done on purpose, but just like crate diggin ‘, are these labels digging for this community?” She wonders. âOur musical tastes are varied and very eclectic. Go ahead and do some research! “
Edwards’ LA Club Resource is a rare case of a black-owned label that produces rap reissues, although it has only released a handful so far. Asked about the lack of black entrepreneurs in this space, he replies, “Yes, I think about it a lot.” But he adds, âI wish there were more independent black-owned record companies. But to be honest, the world right now is messed upâ¦ However, the music that comes out is OK for me.
As more players enter the field, it’s unclear which companies will survive.
The vinyl reissue landscape has become hyper-competitive. As ATlinks, some albums result in competing luxury reissues, whether it’s Get on Down, Vinyl Me Please, or retailers like Urban Outfitters and Newbury Comics. âWith more labels chasing less fruit on hand, it’s more common for us to see a reissue request denied because someone else came in first, or the person holding the rights reissues it itself, âexplains Be With Stevenson of records.