Thursday, November 03, 2005

the fifth element goes digital


Let's be frank - the music video has become the fifth of element of hip-hop. Moreso than any other genre, the rap video has come to be as much a form of expression in the culture as any of the four elements. Arguably, given that bombing and breaking aren't always as relevant to every rap artist or consumer, one could argue that the music video has become possibly the third most important medium of expression in hip-hop. Through the likes of MTV and BET, the grandiloquent imagery of this unique visual artform has slowly become a staple part of not only hip-hop culture but more generally our cultural zeitgeist, as evidenced by the adoption of phrases like "bling" into the Oxford English dictionary. So like I said, the music video is un-officially the fifth element. ¿Comprende?

So when Apple announced that they would start shipping the Ipod with video and more importantly, that the Itunes would start selling music videos, I almost peed on myself (well - not really but you get the idea). Finally - we'd be able to download quality copies of our favourite music videos for just a couple of dollars. Imagine, anything and everything being available at the click of a mouse button. No more would will I have to make video pause-tapes for my own personal archival purposes. Welldone Itunes.

That said, I readily acknowledge that Itunes won't be the first to make videos available on the net – on the contrary, guys like Kobra have been encoding and releasing rap videos through their own sites and P2P engines for years. In fact, I have a couple hundred music videos (many of them encoded by Kobra) that I have downloaded and archived over the years. However, the problem with digital videos in the past has been that one could never be too sure on the quality (this is of course less of a problem now with encoding technology coming of age), you were also typically restricted to the preferences of whoever ripped the videos (Kobra's always been big on Jigga videos) plus you usually had to put up with magnified pictures of scantly clad women or Tupac at the beginning of videos that the rippers use as their tags. But I really never complained - like I said, I happily downloaded 100's of MPEG videos over the years. With Itunes now selling videos, provided your favourite video is in-store you are at least guaranteed a DVD quality download (Itunes will support both QuickTime and MP4/DivX) and that it will be free from all the unnecessary prepubescent twaddle that rippers employ as tags. Videos direct to the consumer will benefit the artist too by creating a new revenue stream, that should help pay for video production costs or simply serve as an extra form of income for the artists (but then I still question whether artists have ever seen much of that Itunes money...industry rule 4080). Hopefully overtime though the net effect of the recent Apple announcement will mean that rappers will be more likely to put out interesting videos and begin to consider releasing more videos from an albums. An even more interesting proposition maybe that rappers may start releasing multiple versions of videos with the hope that the revenue from music video sales will help justify the extra costs. The thought of being able to sell videos like singles could in itself have an amazing impact on the hip-hop industry, as artists may be willing to make videos for fans regardless of whether their record company gets behind it (just imagine back in the day, Nas releasing a complete set of videos for Illimatic solely to please the fans). Prior, to the Apple announcement, hip-hop had already begun to understand the need to independently produce videos solely to meet the demands of fans - take for example 50 ]Cent creating a complete set of videos for The Massacre album (from watching the videos...many were obviously self-funded) and Kanye West privately funding multiple alternative videos for Jesus Walks.

So, it's early days – Itunes video store launched with just 2000 videos. Not much considering what's out there but hopefully enough videos to get consumers interested and more importantly, enough videos to get the record companies behind the concept. Overtime, I am hoping that the record companies start re-releasing through Itunes and other similar websites, lot's of "classic" rap videos. The idea of re-releasing videos would be conceptually similar to the way record companies re-release "classic" 12" and albums every couple of years. If your anything like me, you already currently have a milk crate full of scratchy VHS tapes with your favourite music videos and you possible also have a couple of DVD-ROMs with MPEG videos downloaded over the preceding 10 years. So the thought of finally being able to download quality copies of these videos would simply be r-i-d-i-c-o-l-o-u-s.

Anyway, here's a list of videos I am looking forward to downloading through Itunes some time soon (I guess this would be a list of my favourite videos?) - in no particular order:
Mobb Deep – "Shook Ones Pt II"
Illegal – "Get Buzy"
Ice Cube – "It was a good day"
Nas - "The World is Yours (remix)"
Fat Boys – "Fat Boys"
Flash and The Furious Five – "The Message"
PE – "Night of the Living Bassheads"
EPMD – The Big Payback
ATCQ – "Scenario"
Wu-Tang – "Triumph"
El-P – "Deep Space"
The Roots – "What they do"
Warren G – "Regulate"
Dr Dre – "Dre Day"
Busta Rhymes and ODB – "Woo Hah (Remix)"
Raekwon – "Ice Cream"
Pharcyde - "Drop"

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