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Off the Record

Anticon's Sole Leaves The Label He Founded, Label Manager Shaun Koplow Responds

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Wed, Feb 10, 2010 at 7:10 AM

click to enlarge Sole goes it alone.
  • Sole goes it alone.
Indie hip-hop has been taking a beating of late. Last Tuesday, Brooklyn-based rapper, producer and label head El-P announced that he'd be stepping down from the small empire he'd built at Def Jux, and that the label itself was on hiatus (read Erin Broadley's report here). Well, yesterday -- exactly one week later -- El-P's onetime rival Sole announced a similar move: he's leaving the label that he founded and heretofore co-owned, Anticon.

Anticon has evolved in numerous ways since its inception in 1998. The company's roots better resemble a co-op than a traditional record label, where its eight co-owners -- seven artists, one business manager -- split up various duties in order to have a stable home for their left-field rap creations. But much has changed for those artists since. WHY?, for instance, morphed from the alias of co-founder Yoni Wolf into a psychedelic pop band with only vague ties to hip-hop, and Anticon's current setup reflects both a broadened palette and a far-less contrarian stance than that which fueled its very first release, Anticon Presents: Music For The Advancement Of Hip-Hop.

The label has also moved its headquarters from the Bay Area to Los Angeles, sharing a office Downtown with Alpha Pup Records, and its day-to-day is no longer handled by its founders. LA Weekly wrote an extensive piece about this evolution in late 2008. After the jump, we reprint Sole's parting statement, and talk to Anticon label manager Shaun Koplow about the big change.

Here is Sole's official statement, published on his website, which reveals that he will be taking his back-catalog with him. After that, Koplow fields some questions from West Coast Sound, with a few Sole vids interspersed for old time's sake.

Today, with a heavy heart I end 11+ years of working with anticon. In the early days of the label, anticon was a pet project of mine, a life-long dream. We fulfilled the dream of a collectively run record label and put out many great records and stood as an image of defiance against the music industry. Those memories, I will always have and be proud of. Sadly, those times are gone, and I need to live in the present as I prepare for the future.

Leaving the company was not an easy decision, but it was made necessary by a number of factors. Upon returning to the states from a 2-year exile in Spain, I found myself increasingly at odds with the business end of anticon and began doing more DIY work via soleone.org. Running my own website and taking a more hands on approach with my art has always brought me great satisfaction and it is what I am choosing to return to. There are no ill feelings between myself and members of anticon. I will continue to work with many of the artists and will always love them as brothers and consider them allies. This is a decision to change the way my music will be exploited and adapt to shifting paradigms.

We created anticon as a response to what was going on at the time in the music industry - the indy boom of the late 90's. There were still a viable music industry then and people bought records. That's how we built up our empire. The music industry isn't just dying, but what it means to be a recording artist is changing. Technology is making everything cheap, and cheapening everything it touches. Soon the old ways of selling records will be a distant memory, along with magazines, working musicians and employed blue-collar dads. It's not a time to cry about the recession, or urge people to go to their local mom and pops and pick up the new sole & skyrider LP. Technology is working its magic, and instead of being a passenger on its ship, I have decided to plot a new course for myself.

The very fact that I have thrived in this environment still sometimes is a surprise to me. I'm 32 today. I put out my first vinyl when I was 16. For me its always been about ethics & passion, doing what felt right in my core and acting on that, whether or not it was the popular or conventionally wise thing to do.

From now on now all my releases will be made available @ soleone.org via my new label Black Canyon Records and exclusively distributed worldwide via Revolver USA. There is an email newsletter list ton soleone.org, if you wish to be kept in the loop on my releases/updates that will be the best place.

Peace

Tim "sole" Holland

West Coast Sound: The obvious first -- how do you feel about all this?

Shaun Koplow: The word I'd choose to describe Tim's moving on is "tragic." Tim leaving goes against the original ideals of Anticon. Anticon began as, and still remains, a group effort -- though to a lesser extent regarding day-to-day operations -- and it was Tim who really carried the label in its infancy. Ideally, Anticon and Sole would be married until the end, but let's face it, this world is far from ideal. What began over 10 years ago has naturally evolved. For us, that entails changes in our sonic output, in the details of our operations, and also in the nature of our personal relationships. What worked then shouldn't necessarily work for all of us now.

We've been navigating the realities of Tim leaving for a few months. Much of the distress and shock has passed. Tragic as it is, there's an air of relief -- and I feel safe enough saying that this is a feeling shared amongst Tim and the remaining members of Anticon -- not relief that he is gone, but relief that a relationship no longer working has been called off on amicable terms. Also that my personal relationship with Tim will no longer be strained by Sole or Anticon business affairs. When I began to intern for the label in 2001, he was a friend. With this behind us, I feel we can still be friends.

WCS: Do see this as a necessary step for the growth of the label -- I.E. moving further away from the collective model that it began with?

Koplow: No. I don't see separating from Tim to be necessary for our growth. And I don't know if we'll ever lose our past, but I wouldn't want us to. I appreciate our evolution. I don't conscientiously dwell on it, but I actually enjoy the all-encompassing aspect of our history: Where we've come from, where we are, where we are going.

It's interesting looking at message board response. A lot of people draw thick lines in the sand. Many of our old fans are quick to say we're lost, that we fell off. The main complaint for those folks is that we aren't putting out things in the vein of what we used to, which is to say hip hop. The funny thing is, when I look back at our 2009 release schedule, I see more rap than we've released in years, along with music that's different from our beginnings.

The only way I see Tim's parting as a necessary step, is that both of us are now more free to do what we need to -- the same as any separated married couple must feel. We no longer have to remain in a less-than-satisfactory situation for the sake of the other party.

Tim told me this was the hardest decision he's ever had to make, yet once he made it, it was a weight off his chest. Him not being on our roster is no weight off my chest, but no longer having somebody unhappy with the work that I do for them is.

WCS: Sole seems to imply that Anticon as "an image of defiance against the music industry" no longer exists. How do you feel about that statement?

Koplow: I don't know quite how to interpret that. I don't think it really matters though. The image of defiance Anticon once had was incredible in context, but I don't think it was sustainable. Maybe where Tim and I differ is that I'm generally not a fan of grand political statements in the music industry. I'm not saying I'm looking to be a sheep, but I would prefer to be positive entity over one that alienates others. Also, I think it's a bit reaching to assume that all the artists originally associated with Anticon would want to be affiliated with such bold politics. That part of our past is both a blessing and a curse.

What matters to me at the end of the day is that we put out music we believe in and do our best with that music. Although the label was started by a number of our artists, ultimately it was necessary that they hired outside help to keep the ship afloat. Naturally our concerns are going to be different from our artists. If we have lost a specific edge -- and some original fans because of it -- we've picked up others. I'm very happy with our roster, the records we have put out, and our future releases.

WCS: How would you characterize the core reason for the split?

Koplow: There are really no juicy details worth getting into. Ultimately, we got to a point where Tim, the other founders of Anticon, and I had grown apart in certain ways. We didn't see eye-to-eye as much as we would have hoped. Tim seemed genuinely excited to go on his own and we all decided that it'd be the healthiest solution to our impasse.

----- end interview. -----

This journalist has covered Anticon closely for nearly a decade, so it's with a likewise heavy heart that he shares this poignant clip from the collective's late-'90s Oakland salad days. Yes, that curly-haired fella is WHY? frontman Yoni Wolf, and one who leads the "Down with the day-job!" chant is Themselves/Subtle/13 & God vocalist Doseone -- both are Anticon founders and co-owners.

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