De La Soul, Nike, and corporate everything

De La Soul Are You In? Album.jpg
My favorite music right now is the new album by De La Soul, Are You In?: Nike+ Original Run--a new take on rap-rock-techno in 45 bracing minutes, with production by Detroit's Young RJ and Chicago duo Flosstradamus, with the latter mixing the results into one continuous track.

This is also De La's first album since 2004's The Grind Date (on Sanctuary Urban), and first new material since the new songs spiking their 2006 rarities comp Impossible: Mission TV Series: PT. 1, released on their own AOI Records label.

The reason you haven't heard about it is because the new album is actually an iTunes exclusive released by Nike, the latest in the company's series of "running mixes" by artists such as LCD Soundsystem, Aesop Rock, A-Trak, and Crystal Method. De La are on record claiming the mix is hardly just, or even, a "poster for Nike," and they're right: It's more like a shoe than a poster for shoes--a Nike product, straight up.

Am I the only De La Soul fan who finds this sad? Forget Nike for a minute, a company that could make sweatshops a thing of the past if it wanted to, and obviously doesn't want to. Are You In? (as in "R-U-N," get it?) says something about the music industry De La Soul has fled. "The objective of a record label is just selling records," said Dave Jolicoeur in an interview with Avertising Age. "I think they could almost care less about the creative aspect of it. So this is cool, you've got a company that creates."

In 20 years, will there even be record companies? Or just artists sponsored by corporations selling other things?

And what about the people who write about artists? As the wave of layoffs reaches my doorstep (my fiancee, my book editor, and a good friend all lost their jobs in recent weeks), I note that my best pay for writing about music comes from eMusic, an online store that doesn't run pans. Maybe one day I'll simply review the new De La Soul for Nike directly, to be published on their website.

People who think the corporatization of everything is as natural as the weather probably don't feel that corporations have fucked us with this economic collapse. But they have fucked us. Not just in their hold on government, which gave us the current crises, but in their hold on business thinking itself. Talk to anyone in any field, and you'll hear about business after business becoming more "corporate"--i.e. stupider, more centralized, less efficient, less fair, and more prone to "self-destruction"--though the "selves" getting destroyed are never the ones on top, who are rewarded.

This is the story of American industry in our lifetime, one that David Simon, creator of HBO's The Wire (whose show about New Orleans just got green-lit by HBO), framed very well recently on Bill Moyers when talking about newspapers:

"A lot of the general tone in journalism right now is that of martyrology... 'We were doing our job. Making the world safe for democracy. And all of a sudden, terra firma shifted, new technology. Who knew that the Internet was going to overwhelm us?'

"I would buy that if I wasn't in journalism for the years that immediately preceded the Internet, because I took the third buyout from the Baltimore Sun. I was about reporter number 80 or 90 who left, in 1995. Long before the Internet had had its impact. ... Those buyouts happened when the Baltimore Sun was earning 37 percent profits...

"We now know this, because it's in bankruptcy, and the books are open. Thirty-seven percent profits. All that R&D money that was supposed to go in to make newspapers more essential, more viable, more able to explain the complexities of the world. It went to shareholders in the Tribune Company. Or the L.A. Times Mirror Company before that. And ultimately, when the Internet did hit, they had an inferior product, that was not essential enough that they could charge online for it.

"I mean, the guys who are running newspapers, over the last 20 or 30 years, have to be singular in the manner in which they destroyed their own industry. It's even more profound than Detroit making Chevy Vegas and Pacers and Gremlins and believing that no self-respecting American would buy a Japanese car in 1973. It's analogous up to a point, except it's not analogous in that a Nissan is a pretty good car, and a Toyota is a pretty good car. The Internet, while it's great for commentary and froth, doesn't do very much first-generation reporting at all... The economic model can't sustain that kind of reporting. And to lose to that, because you didn't-- They had contempt for their own product...

"For 20 years, they looked upon the copy as being the stuff that went around the ads. The ads were the God. And then all of a sudden the ads were not there, and the copy, they had had contempt for. They had actually marginalized themselves."


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