Dan Charnas is a veteran of the hip hop business and one of a few early writers of hip hop journalism. His newest book is The Big Payback: The History of the Business of Hip Hop.
JESSE THORN: It’s The Sound of Young America, I’m Jesse Thorn. My guest on the program is Dan Charnas. He’s held basically every position there is to hold, outside of artist, in the world of hip hop; and has made the transition from a record company guy to writer. His new gargantuan book is, I think, one of the better books about hip hop I’ve ever read. It’s called the Big Payback: The History of the Business of Hip Hop. Dan Charnas, thanks for being on The Sound of Young America.
DAN CHARNAS: Thanks for having me.
JESSE THORN: The obvious question is: there are all these books of hip hop history, such as Jeff Chang’s Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop and Brian Coleman’s Check the Technique and a million others; why did you think it was important to write a book that was specifically about the business side of hip hop?
DAN CHARNAS: That’s a really good question. I want to note that Jeff Chang’s book Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop was really one of the big inspirations for writing this book, because what Jeff did was - - he really wrote the first linear history of the culture and more specifically of the generation. None of the great books of hip hop really talked about how the records were made; not in terms of how they were made in the studio, but how the artists got signed, how they got developed, how they got pushed out into the world. But then the larger question of how did this obscure street culture that nobody knew about from the streets of New York become, within 30 years, the world’s predominant pop culture and a multi-billion dollar business. You can’t tell that story, which is a great American story, without talking about the business people.
Weird Al Yankovic is the undisputed king of parody music and the all-time bestselling accordionist. His new children's book is When I Grow Up. His new album is due this summer.
JESSE THORN: I’m tempted to say that my next guest needs no introduction, except that it occurs to me now that this is the radio and you can’t see him. He’s Weird Al Yankovic; probably the best song parodist of all time. He’s sold more than 12 million records, and now he has a brand new book for kids called When I Grow Up that was a New York Times best seller. His new record comes out in the summer, and it’s such an honor to have him on The Sound of Young America. Weird Al, welcome to the show.
WEIRD AL YANKOVIC: I appreciate that, thank you.
Our good friend Mr. Tom Scharpling, from Show Business, has created this delightful video for a little band from Canada you may have heard of. It features numerous Show Business personalities, including past Sound guests like Ted Leo, Julie Klausner, Wyatt Cenac and Todd Barry.
Enjoy it, America.
If you're not yet tired of the wonderful story of our pal Jonathan Coulton, check out this Time Magazine piece about his unique business model.
Dave Tompkins is a former columnist for The Wire who writes frequently about hip-hop and popular music. His work has appeared in Vibe, The Village Voice, The Believer and Wax Poetics.
His new book, How To Wreck A Nice Beach, describes how the vocoder was created to guard phones from codebreakers during World War II, and soon became a voice-altering tool for musicians. In this way, we see the vocoder as it was used by FDR, JFK, Stanley Kubrick, Stevie Wonder, Neil Young, Kraftwerk, the Cylons, Henry Kissinger, and Winston Churchill.
Bilal Oliver is a jazz and soul singer; his second LP, Airtight's Revenge, was just released. He broke onto the scene in the early 2000s with the Raphael Saadiq-produced hit "Soul Sista," but he turned to jazz clubs and progressive soul just a few years later, frustrating his record label. In the meantime, he recorded with artists like Dr. Dre, Jay-Z and Scarface. His new album is his first in almost ten years.
Flying Lotus is a critically acclaimed music producer. His sound lies somewhere between progressive hip-hop and dance music. This year he's released an LP, Cosmogramma, and an EP, Pattern+Grid World.
FlyLo talks with Jesse Thorn about how he found his aesthetic, about his Aunt, Alice Coltrane, about how his mother convinced him to submit music to Cartoon Netowrk's [adult swim], about the influence of the late hip-hop producer Jay Dilla and more.
Gerald Casale and Mark Mothersbaugh are founding members of the art-rock band Devo. They had remarkable chart success in the early 1980s, including the hit Whip It. Their philosophy of devolution, compelling videos and bold aesthetic presentation were as big a part of the band as their danceable rock music. Their latest record, Something For Everybody, is their first since 1990.
Gerry and Mark talk with us about how they arrived at their theory that mankind was on an inexorable downward slide, and how playing rock and roll music in crazy outfits fit into that philosophical framework. They also chat about the philosophy behind their new project. On "Something For Everybody," every song has been focus grouped, and every element of presentation has been selected for maximum saleability. Also, they talk about that Swiffer commercial where "Whip It" was changed to "Swiff It."