‘Uncommon Approach’ is a column written by Paul “Nasa” Loverro, owner of independent label Uncommon Records. With this frequent column, he gives readers an all access look at the ups and downs of running an independent Hip Hop label in this day and age. An in-depth column from the perspective of an Indie label owner.
Well, this is it. A completely different era has begun. This is what we all (myself included) wanted right? Maybe the old saying “Be careful what you wish for” is true. It certainly applies here. I’m talking about the closing of Fat Beats‘ two remaining retail stores in New York City and Los Angeles, but I focus on the NYC location in this article.
This wasn’t unexpected by me personally. I’ve been going to Fat Beats since they were in a basement on East 9th (their original location, that later became Bobbito’s Footwork). I was there when you couldn’t even see the records on the wall because there were so many people shopping. These days the hustle and bustle of the city is no longer in record shops, you usually had your run of the place in visits these days.
Recognizing the 90s Indie Scene in NYC
I recently did a podcast on Uncommon Radio with Cirrus Minor where we broke down the NYC indie scene that was around between 1995 and 1997. That was the seed that, in my mind this entire “undeground/indie hip hop” thing grew from. Me and Cirrus felt like it was important that someone document the original records and try to give some sort of historical context. The scene has become so much larger then New York and so damn long ago that things were getting lost. Kids didn’t have respect for The Juggaknots, Siah & Yeshua, Company Flow and others the way we felt they should. In that episode we talked about how at that time Fat Beats was like the capital of indie hip hop in this city.
The Community Center
It was the meeting point, it was the community center. You’d listen to a jam on Stretch & Bob (or another underground show), and that weekend you’d travel to Fat Beats to either find out more about the artist you’d heard, by hounding DJ Eclipse (as I did many times), or you bought the actual vinyl that they spun that Thursday. While you were there, you picked up as many flyers as you could so you knew what was going on that month. It was that simple. It was a cycle:
Hear record/buy record/get informed of shows/go to shows
That connection was so solid in NYC in the mid to late 90s I don’t know if it was ever equaled anyplace else. Over time, Stretch & Bob‘s show went away, publicists and major label distribution got involved in the music and the internet took the place of the community. It all just withered away, we saw it dying slowly and couldn’t do anything about it.
Fat Beats was die hard
Despite some naysayers, Fat Beats DID try to do something about it. I’d be lying if the sentence “I can’t believe they haven’t shut down yet” didn’t come out of my mouth as long ago as 3 or 4 years ago. Fat Beats kept the dream alive. They were a place to go to get local indie artists from NYC, underground artists from across the country and to study up on your history too. The fact that they outlived Tower & Virgin in Manhattan, not to mention Sam Goody (feet away) and Coconuts (across the street) is a testament to their legacy.
When we were pressing CDs more so then we are now, Fat Beats carried our stuff. When we put out ‘We Are, Vol. 1‘, they allowed us to do an in store there, it was one of the proudest moments of my life, along with the first time I saw the ‘Woke’ 12″ from my group The Presence on the wall with all the other new releases back in 2003. I came prepared with a camera that day.
I’ve got lots of memories besides my own accomplishments, the packed to the windows in stores, Percee P out front, Gray’s Papaya’s ‘Recession Special’ and just being a young guy at 20-21 years old and dropping most of my pay check in there and walking out with a stack of 12-15 12″s.
I don’t have a lot of those personal interaction stories at Fat Beats, I’m the kind of guy that starts out slow, builds up and then hopefully surpasses many other in everything I do. When I was on the come up, I was too shy to really talk to heads, that just wasn’t me. But I was there. I was next to many a conversation, I was spending money, I was growing up in that record store! And now it’s gone.
It’s not coming back
Fat Beats was the last vestige of the 90′s indie hip-hop scene in NYC. When I first started Uncommon Records, my goal was to keep that very scene ALIVE. I now realize that, that scene is dead and there will never be another one like it ever again. I always held out hope, that with the right mix of people, we could bring it back. But now that Fat Beats isn’t there, it just brings the reality of the situation more to the forefront.
So what do we do now? I’m not sure. For a cat like me that’s in his young 30s it’s going to be hard (although I’ve been gradually doing it) to admit that people that hear my music today weren’t listening to rap music in 1996. It’s hard to just cut off that entire part of my brain and approach this music with out the context of that era. It will always be part of me as a person, but as a business man in 2010, I have to let it go. This is deep, I won’t front, typing this and putting this into words is actually painful.
The Post Fat Beats era
It’s a clean slate, for better or for worse, for hip-hop as a whole. No matter what your stee is. I’m thankfully on vacation this week from the day job, I’ve set aside Thursday as the day that I’m going to Fat Beats for the last time. I have no idea how hard I might take it when I’m actually there for the last time. When I walked through the door at East 9th, I was 17. When I walk out on Thursday on 6th Avenue, I will be 32. I’m not sure I have to say anything else about how important this is then that. I’m proud to be able to say “I was there”. RIP Fat Beats, RIP to the 90s NYC Indie Hip Hop Scene, Give a welcome to the world for the Post Fat Beats era.
Read all columns by Paul “Nasa” Loverro HERE