LOS ANGELES--Chatting with rapper Busta Rhymes about smartphones, his sons, and the business of online music distribution isn't how I had intended to spend part of my afternoon.
Yet the artist made a surprise appearance at thein LA this afternoon and graciously granted CNET an interview. Rhymes joins other artists, like Coldplay and The Rolling Stones, whose work will be made exclusively available to Google Music users as part of a partnership between Google and publishers like Sony, Universal, and EMI. The effusive Busta sat down with me to share his views on the intersection of technology and the music industry.
ANDROID AND THE INTERNET
Q: I see you have a BlackBerry. Is that the Bold?
Busta Rhymes: I have the BlackBerry Bold 900, but that's only because I'm not really a tech freak yet. I'm a late bloomer, but I'm on my way.
So you're a late bloomer, but you said you bought an Android phone for your son.
Yeah, because he actually put me on to it. I knew about it, but I really never had one to understand the dynamic of the phone, so you know, it's different when you actually go and get it, and get the whole spiel from the sales rep, and you realize how crazy the phone is. So I had to get it for my son because he just graduated high school and went to college.
Which phone did he want?
I don't know the name of it. He made me get him the latest version of the Android phone. I have to get the name of it and get back to you. I could actually make a call...
And now his little brother wants one too.
His two little brothers. So I gotta do that for them too, because they like to copy whatever he has going on.
You're going to have to get them one on T-Mobile, so they can listen to your exclusive tracks...though I'm sure they get the exclusive anyway.
Yeah, you know, that's a given, but they still wanna be able to know that they discovered the exclusives themselves, instead of getting it spoon fed from Dad all the time, because it makes them feel cooler. So, you know, that's their thing. Like, in the meantime, until they actually download it from their phone, they're living on the Internet, trying to introduce me to whatever's hot, as if I'm not already in tune with it.
Well, what have they introduced you to?
It's usually music. Like they are always online and asking me, "Dad, did you hear the new Future's track 'Tony Montana'? This just came out." And they start singing along with it or they'll play something new from Drake or they'll play something new from Wayne. Like they're really music-driven kids. You know, they were born into it. They take great pleasure in being able to act like they're introducing me to something.
BEING INVOLVED WITH GOOGLE MUSIC
Let me switch gears and ask you about participating in Google Music. What has that experience been like?
The experience has been extremely refreshing. I've been recording music professionally for 20 years this year. We put out my first album in '91 with my first group, called Leaders of the New School, so in 2011, 20 years later, the same routine absolutely becomes redundant.
When you have the opportunity to be a part of something (pauses) It's always great to be a part of something new, but it's a whole other different dynamic and anxiety when you're a part of the new revolutionary, groundbreaking turning point and shift in a climate for the world. Like, this isn't just for music, this is for the world. It's a statement.
And being part of something like that is a milestone, and a turning point for me in my career. It says so much in so many different dynamics. I'm so proud of this alliance and this union and just being a part of the most powerful search engine in existence, and the fact that they are making such a conscious effort to provide and facilitate a platform for artists that gives us the empowerment and the strength for being that much more independently driven. It just really does a lot for the faith of the future of the music, not just creatively, but professionally.
So what is the single best part of the experience so far--what are you looking forward to most with your contributions?
Winning with it.
Winning with it! Awesome.
MUSIC AND THE INTERNET
Here's my last question. Where do you see music going with the Internet?
The beautiful thing about seeing where the music goes with it, is that it's so beyond the ability of sight, that I think that's probably the most exciting thing to me.
What do you mean, "it's beyond the ability of sight?"
Because there's no limitation to where it can go. You get what I'm saying? It's so beyond what we can actually imagine. To me, it's so beyond what we can see, to me it's probably the best situation to always be in, something that actually has no ceiling to it. You know what I'm saying? And it just feels refreshing. Because especially in the last 10 years, music started to feel like it was in an unstable place, from a professional standpoint.
Like, in terms of distribution, or creativity?
Just in terms of the PNL, the profit and losses. It just started to seem like the medium we were using to sell the music and to share the music, and to get the music exposed, was being relinquished in some kind of way. It started to feel like we weren't able to maintain the same strength and power and the same ability to get the acknowledgement for our hard work. Because of there not being a system or an infrastructure designed specifically for the best interests of the artist.
And the old, conventional way is antique! It's troglodytish at this point. We needed something new and fresh, we've been thirsty for it for a long time, and the process of having something and looking for something new and fresh, we also needed something that was new and fresh that was going to empower the ability for us to be in the position that we were once in with being able to share the music, expose the music, have a platform provided where we could get the acknowledgement for the music, and sell the music the way that we once were used to doing it, pre-Internet era [Editor's note: this is a reference to Google Music's artist program as a solution to piracy].
So, it's just an amazing thing to know that some control is starting to be reestablished in the best interest of the artist, and the music, regardless what the genre of the music is, because it's the driving force of what we have to touch the soul of the people.