Who is World Around? We Are World Around… Vol. 1
So, when I finally woke up on New Year’s Day, I found a mix called We Are World Around (WaWa) in my inbox. World Around Records has been a favorite label of mine for a few years now, right up there with Stones Throw and Downtown. Fortunately, I have one of their phone numbers, so I called up Justin Boland and asked him for an interview. Justin, a.k.a. Thirtyseven, is one of the Founders of the label, an accomplished emcee and a pretty nasty beat producer under the alias DJ Multiple Sex Partners.
When did World Around Records come together and what did it look like in the beginning?
I literally had to call up Dr. Quandary on this one, he is our official historian. We started up in August of 2006 after about a year of conversation and planning, and our roster looked much different then. What truly established us was the creation of our Website and our branding in 2008. We were extremely lucky to have talented and professional friends willing to help us out with that. After the Site launched it gave us a lot more credibility, no question.
Our core concept has always been the mutual promotional platform. That’s never changed and never will. I think we’ve got a very diverse roster but our common threads make for a strong operation. Watching our “Albums” page grow has been both humbling and amazing. The sheer amount of talent we’ve got under one roof is what keeps me motivated every day.
Where do you see yourselves today, what direction are you headed?
In 2010, we finally came to grips with how to make a promotional platform work – and that involves a great deal of energy. Doing successful promo work comes down to a lot of wasted effort, so building up patience muscles has been my main challenge. At the same time, the long odds make it a much sweeter payoff when we do manage to make some noise about a project, like Louis Mackey’s instrumental EP, Destroyer of All Things.
In terms of our future, right now we’re talking about transitioning to a boutique publicity firm. We might be doing that under another brand or business, in order to maintain the integrity of what we’ve built as artists, but it’s definitely time to put everything we’ve learned to work.
What does a label even mean in 2011?
I think it generally means you’re losing money… that would appear to be the primary activity of most labels in the past 5 years. I think a reasonable bare minimum expectation for a record label would be financing and distributing album releases for your artists. World Around simply doesn’t have the funding to do that, although we’d love to.
I’m very agnostic about the music industry debates. I have reached the very unpopular conclusion that there are no solutions for the problems this industry faces. I don’t glorify piracy and I don’t pretend there’s any excuse for it, but there’s also no possible means of stopping it short of massive solar flares or EMP attacks.
We’re not pessimists, though. I know for a fact I can make a living off my music. The industry per se is definitely doomed, but then again, the industry never had much to do with music. Since we started this, Dr. Quandary and I have both agreed that we’d like to see all our artists get too big for World Around. We want to be a launchpad, we don’t want to be controlling their careers. That might ultimately be what separates us from a “label” – we promote what we believe in, not what we expect to make money.
Naturetone seemed to come out of no where a couple years back when he crushed the Algorhythms Remix Contest. What’s his deal right now?
Naturetone took a pilgrimage to Japan in 2010 and also released his instrumental album, Nihon, which is a tribute to Japanese music and culture. That album has been a pretty steady staple of my work soundtrack ever since. He’s already had a successful hip hop career in Switzerland and the music he’s making now is incredible.
The fact that Naturetone wanted to work with us and join the roster was a huge booster shot going into 2010. I would say bringing him on board was a major turning point for the label – not that he necessarily caused that, but it came right before we really started to click and get respect from the people we respected. In the months since we released Nihon, there’s been a major shift in the tides and we’ve realized all this work is finally paying off.
How about this kid Daimyo, didn’t he start making beats for you guys when he was like 4 or something?
Heh. Daimyo! is currently 18 years old and about to go on tour for the first time. We’ve cracked a lot of jokes about his kid prodigy status over the years, but we officially have to stop in 2011. When Dr. Quandary first discovered him, he was about to turn 16 and he was already a beast. What sets him apart is musicianship and mixing. He composes. He also plays multiple instruments incredibly well, and he will be on the road this spring and summer with an exceptional Philly rapper by the name of Witness. This will be Witness’ first tour with a live band and the rehearsal footage I’ve heard is just amazing.
I’ve got to say, man, when I turned on that WaWa album and heard your song “Trust,” I was pretty floored. I hadn’t heard anything that nice in a while. When did you write that out?
That’s from about 2 years ago. I was trying to write a much darker song but that wound up becoming the genesis for a whole other Algorhythms project. I’ve been working for years on a very bleak concept album called EELRIJUE, Baby! which revolves around an extraterrestrial-eye view of the human race and our intractable problems. EELRIJUE is a purge, for both of us, and yet the hard work of creating it has led me to a newfound sense of optimism.
That’s what led to “Trust” and the album it will be featured on, Ganapatya. Dr. Quandary and I have a certain patchwork spirituality in common, loosely based around the Hindu deity Ganesh, the Remover of Obstacles. As fate would have it, both of these utterly different projects will be finishing up around the same time. It’s been a fun challenge, working through my own Shadow, exorcising my demons, and at the same time mapping a better future and essentially leading myself out of the darkness in the process.
“Trust” was written over a few days and definitely represented a personal turning point, so I’m glad you dig it.
Heh. I felt like you wrote it the day before I heard it, because it was so relevant. Regardless, definitely a successful “lifechanging” type of track. How about in 2011? I heard you’ve been writing lyrics like a madman this year.
Product is everything. My fanbase knows me for long gaps between releases and I’d like to just end that completely this year and maintain a more consistent and prolific schedule. I stopped waiting for inspiration to strike and started learning my own process better. Now I am generally producing at least a 16 bar verse per day.
Talk to any producer from any time period anywhere in the world and they will all agree that rappers as a species are lazy and their promises are worthless. I hit a point where I was no longer comfortable being like that. I have definitely been that dude who takes some beats and then disappears for years, but I’m too old for it now. I’m a lot more cautious about the projects I do take on, and way more focused about getting them done, and done extremely well.
Outside of lyrics, you’ve upped the activity of your music blog as well. Tell us a little about that.
Audible Hype has been a huge success, I’m very proud of that. Our traffic and name recognition is still hovering between modest and small potatoes, but it’s a very precise niche that we’re serving there. When I started Audible Hype, there were a few blogs about the music business but nothing much for Hip Hop. Now there’s a lot of similar sites but we’re not competing. It’s all about raising my own bar with the highest quality content. We’ve been experimenting with guest posts and more straightforward “music blog” posts about songs and projects, so I’m really enjoying it these days.
Being able to interview the artists I look up to, being taken seriously as a media outlet without working for a magazine or an existing brand, that’s pretty much a total victory for the Audible Hype experience. Some of my favorite rappers are regular readers, nothing could make me happier.
Who’s the most interesting emcee you’ve talked to this year on AH?
It’s been a busy year already for that site. My personal highlight was being able to interview the Detroit emcee Magestik Legend, because he’s one of my all-time favorites, I think his technical ability is world-class and being able to pick his brain was awesome.
The most interesting interview, however, was the San Diego veteran Blame One. What sets him apart is that he embodies the concept of the “Musical Middle Class.” He’s not a famous national act, but he’s got respect worldwide from folks who know their hip hop. He makes enough money from his music to support his family, he’s a very humble and hard-working artist, and perhaps best of all, he’s hard at work in his local scene helping new acts develop themselves and get a bigger audience. I have huge respect for Blame One and I’ve gotten a lot of emails from artists about that interview, mostly very excited by such a grounded and realistic success story. He doesn’t need to be on MTV, he doesn’t need a record deal, he’s making money off his music on his own terms without any compromises. That’s my ideal definition of “Making It” and clearly a lot of other artists feel the same.
Any last words for the people who don’t know you yet?
Demand more from hip hop. That’s not a passive thing, either, because nobody is going to serve you. The media exists to serve you what they’re paid to serve – if you want great music it involves looking for it. One thing that’s been a constant through the past decade has been fans complaining. This has always baffled me, because I can name 50 incredible, innovative hip hop acts off the top of my head at any given moment. There is no shortage of real talent out there, and most people reading this haven’t even heard their favorite rapper yet. Odds are, that rapper isn’t me, but they’re out there and they’re making amazing music, right now. I would like to see the disconnect shrink between fans complaining about quality and artists laboring in obscurity. There’s no good reason for either one.
Any last words for the people who do know you?
Thank you, thank you and thank you. Having so many people who listen, and listen closely, is a blessing. I probably don’t deserve the amount of support I’ve gotten so far but 2011 is all about living up to that.
*For more from Boland on the inner workings of World Around, check out his 2010 interview with Wishtank Edu.