‘Hip Hop, Napster, and the New Music Industry,’

“The net is going to be bigger than television,” says Tajai. “It’s going to be something where everybody is connected.”

Originally published on
August 2nd, 2000

Written by Ken Gibbs

[Excerpts follow for educational purposes. Please see links below to read the full article]

West coast artist and entrepreneur Tajai from the rap crew Souls of Mischief is one of a number of hip-hop artists who have taken advantage of this emerging “parallel industry” [made possible by the Internet.] Operating out of a warehouse in Oakland, California, Tajai runs part of the official website of the Hieroglyphics label (home to label-mates such as Del the Funky Homosapien and Casual). Once on a major label but opting to go independent after a series of sour experiences, Souls of Mischief now has a major distributor but handles all other label functions themselves through their online operation.

A hip-hop fundamentalist with a degree from Stanford, Tajai firmly believes that the Internet will completely transform the music industry. “The net is going to be bigger than television,” he says. “It’s going to be something where everybody is connected.”

Pioneers in the online rap game, Hiero’s site was born in late 1995 when Tajai discovered a Hieroglyphics fan site created by a tech-savvy teenager in Philadelphia named Stinke. Eventually Tajai certified Stinke’s site as the official Hieroglyphics portal, and it blossomed from there. Stinke has been the Hiero Webmaster ever since. “[Rap artists have] always embraced technology, we’ve always made technology to help our music,” he says, listing constantly evolving tools of the trade such as drum machines, samplers, and mixers.  

The Hiero website has evolved as well, going from promotional tool to online store. The first item it offered for sale was a mixed tape by Hiero member Domino with 30 unreleased songs. Eventually, the profits from the sale of the tape were enough to fund Third Eye Vision, the first Hiero independent release, also sold and distributed online. Even though Souls of Mischief continue to have an investment in the traditional industry, Tajai is quick to point out that they aren’t blinded by it. “We’re still distributed through stores, our major releases, but as soon as I press up some of these copies they’re available,” he says. “As soon as I send it to the press I start advertising for it and taking orders for it. It’s instant yield.”

For [Public Enemy’s] Chuck D and other file-sharing proponents, it’s an exciting and welcome prospect. “Now, as far as the Internet is concerned, it gives each artist the ability and the advantage to control every aspect of [their art],” he said in the ABC News interview. 

Power, freedom and instant results are all potential benefits of distributing music independently on the Internet that record companies don’t, won’t or cannot offer. “Every record we made [while signed to a major label] sat for at least a year after it was complete, artwork and everything, before anything happened,” recalls Tajai. “[Record labels] have a formula, and they don’t deviate from it unless the formula doesn’t work. And you don’t find out the formula doesn’t work until your album has flopped.”

Despite the fact that Del and Souls of Mischief, Hiero’s most notable acts, had successful debuts, their subsequent albums on major labels have not done as well. But the experience hasn’t transformed them into label-haters. Tajai knows that the traditional route is still the best choice for those looking for multi-platinum sales, but stresses that the Hieroglyphics family is not interested in the limelight. “We’re more music-based really,” he says. “It’s not just about the image, it’s about the music, and so long as we can get that to the fans I think we’ll be alright.”

[To read the article in full, please click here]

Excerpts reproduced on for educational purposes.

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