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Steady Bootlegging Online

The web provides new forum for bootleggers to peddle their wares

Bootlegging has always been a problem in hip-hop. In the past,
cassettes were sold from wooden bins| on busted-ass card tables
usually situated on a street corner in Lower Manhattan. The tapes
looked like they’d been shelved for years, and the list of songs
was usually faded to the point of being incomprehensible. Even
worse, most of the tapes sounded like they had been recorded
through two tin cans. The seller risked both a beatdown from the
artist and a ticket from the NYPD.

And while enterprising individuals are still steady bootlegging,
the Internet has changed everything. It’s now easy to get a CD of
unreleased/never-heard tracks, or whole albums by your favorite
crews; and because the sales take place on the web, it’s relatively
anonymous. Online vendors need not fear the wrath of a disgruntled
artist who’s listened to Onyx’s “Bitchassbootlegguz” one too many
times. For between $12-$15 (plus $3 shipping and handling), you can
order a 77-minute digitally recorded CD chock full of material you
can’t get anywhere else from some guy/gal who’s only available
address is a P.O. Box in Halifax, Nova Scotia. And the artist
doesn’t make a dime.

The culture has changed, gone are the days when bootleggers are
regarded as pariahs. Selling CDs that fall somewhere between a
mixtape and a full-length album knockoff is now a “legit” way to
make a buck on the web.

Web sites focused on selling CDs without the artists or record
labels’ consent first came to the fore about a year ago, driven by
sales of bootleg 2Pac albums. Makaveli 2 and 3
sprung up all over the web and sold in droves, with none of the
money going to Tupac’s mother, Afeni Shakur. There are now at least
a dozen bootleg 2Pac albums, plus half a dozen remix albums,
compilations, dedications, etc. (Tupac was rumored to be able to
record up to six songs a day.)

And ‘Pac is not the only victim of this practice. Tracks by Mobb
Deep and Nas were so heavily bootlegged that they were forced to go
back to lab to record new tracks, or in Nas’ case, redo a whole
album.

Operators of these Web sites don’t necessarily feel their actions
are amoral. The webmasters of hiphopspot.com, a popular unlicensed
online store, aren’t talking, but their associate, Paul Lewis, said
there’s “not a huge gap” between what they do and what someone like
DJ Clue does. “It’s the same thing in a different outfit,” he
said.

Lewis lamented that hiphopshop.com has gotten a bum rap thus far.
“We’ve been singled out as the ultimate source for your bootlegging
needs,” he said, “and that’s unfair. Selling CDs on the web is
pretty prolific. We’re not the only ones doing it.”

Regardless of who is doing what, artists have been affected by it.
When Mobb Deep heard that tracks from their album were popping up
across the nation, they went back to the studio to record new
material. However, they appear not to be too ticked off by the
whole experience. Jonathan Lighty, Mobb Deep’s manager, said that
the group has moved on.

“We’re not even worried about it,” he boasted. “Niggas is upset
because it’s their money, but we ain’t tripping. We’re not happy,
but we’re not mad.”

Lighty said that Murder Muzik, the group’s fourth album,
and Mobb Deep bootleg CD sold by www.hiphopshop.com have, at most,
only four tracks in common. Most of the tracks on the bootleg are
throwaway tracks recorded between the release of the third and
fourth albums.

But this isn’t always the case. Craig Mannix, Columbia Record’s
Canadian Manager of Urban Music, said the leak of 15 track led to
the entire re-recording of Nastradamus, Nas’ follow-up to
the recently released I Am. He said the 15 tracks were
originally supposed to be part of Am, which was scheduled
to be a double album. When the tracks were leaked the double album
was converted into two single albums. Mannix is still in disbelief
that as many as 15 tracks got leaked, and said he heard “heads
rolled” as a result.

Lighty said he doesn’t know how the Mobb Deep tracks were
leaked.

“Some of them were let out by someone who hangs out around us, and
that was unfortunate,” he said. “So we had to handle that. But
after it was mastered and turned over to the label, 6,000 press
copies were sent out. Lots of people had it at Loud, and they
weren’t as tight with it as me, the engineer, and Havoc and P
(Prodigy) were. They didn’t sit and work on it for two years.
[Still], we don’t know [exactly] how it happened.”

Lewis explained they sell CDs as a necessary means to keep
hiphopspot.com afloat.

“We operate Snoop’s Doghouse and The Tank, a Web site for No Limit,
which are both non-profit fan Web sites. But it’s rather expensive
to run these sites, and we need to make the money to make sure that
hiphopspot.com can keep on running all their other great
sites.”

Mannix isn’t buying it; he’s still fairly critical of the whole
endeavor. “You know, record companies have gotten a bad rap as far
as ripping off artists. But selling bootleg CDs on the web affects
the label and the artists. It can severely hurt their sales, and
can really hurt their chances of making a living.”

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