Fat Beats is closing. I’m gonna let that sink in. For those that aren’t residents of New York, Los Angeles, or the handful of cities lucky enough to have one, Fat Beats is (was. Fuck!) a legendary hip hop institution, a one stop resource for records and paraphernalia. They practically launched the careers of a number of well known emcees and DJs. Their eponymous label, Fat Beats Records, put out albums by Black Milk (Popular Demand!), One Be Lo (S.O.N.O.G.R.A.M.), and others. Plenty of hip hop’s royalty passed through their doors, for personal appearances and snagging new records. But I’m not here to give a history lesson. You got the innanet for that. I am here to beg you to please stop killing music.
Fat Beats shuttering their doors after 16 years is depressing as hell, but it’s not shocking. How many of us have similar stories? My personal favorite record store, a tiny, unassuming storefront on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, stood by me through thick and thin. When I was knee deep in my grunge phase, they stocked more Nirvana bootlegs than I could afford to buy. When I ate, breathed, and slept Rawkus, they sold me Soundbombing and Lyricist Lounge compilations. When I came back home from college directionless and depressed, they snuck me new Ryan Adams albums weeks before release (back in the days when getting an album early meant something). They appeased every quirky music nerd instinct at every stage in my life until they closed their doors in December of 2005. They couldn’t make rent. People weren’t buying music anymore.
Now I’m not going to get into the systemic mismanagement and ignorance that birthed the beast that’s eating the music industry. (Greg Kot already did in Ripped: How the Wired Generation Revolutionized Music. You should grab that.) I am gonna tell you that your Robin Hood attitude toward this situation is not helping. You probably think you’re sticking it to the big record labels by stealing (We’re calling it stealing now.) their music online. In a sense you are, and you were right to be on the offensive. There was too much money funneling into all the wrong hands. Middle men were the millionaires. The artists were seeing a mere pittance of the returns from songs they wrote and performed. The markup on CDs was ridiculous. When albums started popping up for free online, illegal downloading seemed like a natural reaction. Fuck those guys, right? If only it was that simple. Walk with me.
Screwing over the record company by not buying the record trickles down to everyone. It especially hurts the artists, some of whom live or die by record sales. When the artists and the label lose money, so do the producers. When the producers, artists, and label are running low, so are the record stores and concert venues who make their money off the success of the artists. Jerking the record label brings everybody down. It’s like bombing a whole town to attack a few insurgents. That’s some George W. Bush shit. C’mon, son.
Now I’m not saying you should run out and buy every single release. That’s absolutely too much to ask at this point. But the moral of the story is: things cost money. Even these free albums and mixtapes we snap up ungratefully from our favorite artists on a daily basis are costing hundreds, even thousands, in equipment, producer costs, and studio time. We can’t reasonably expect them to continue down this path of bleeding, sweating, and toiling over tracks only to essentially gift us the fruits of their labor. It’s time for us to do our part. Buy a song. Cop an album. Go to a show. Buy a T-shirt. Do something, anything, Lord have mercy Jesus! And if you don’t wanna pony up your money, that’s okay too, I guess. But I definitely don’t wanna hear your whiny complaints about record stores closing, bands breaking up, albums going out of print, or anything else. ‘Cause it’s your fault.