Saturday, December 20, 2008

Definitive Ltd.

In this new age of ringtone rap, there's come a controversial series of releases: a new hip-hop phenomenon of very limited, high-priced collectible records of previoulsy unreleased material. It all started in the summer of '06 when Ed Catto posted on The Vinyl Exchange forums that he had the complete, unreleased album by The Freestyle Professors, a very dope and underrated crew that was affiliated with DITC. They'd only released one (excellent) 12" back in 1994, but now Catto was working with the artists themselves to press up a very limited run of the entire double LP. Each copy was signed and hand-numbered, and cost a cool $100.

In an online interview with Platform8470, Branesparker (one of the FPs) spoke on the subject, "We felt this was a fair price considering the bootleg of the original was selling for fifty and wasn’t from the original masters. We also gave a classic album cover. Until this dropped, the world never knew what I looked like. There are 4 unreleased songs, plus 2 unreleased instrumentals. All copies are hand numbered and autographed by original group members and we threw in 2 new songs from our new EP. Plus this album (thanks to my collectors, much love) is not gonna lose its value; the price can only go up if you choose to sell your copy years from now. My fans must understand this project was put out only for collectors... We are aware that 100 bucks is a lot of money to some people." Adding, "I was like; if they can buy my OG EP for 500 [on EBay, which was happening] and I don’t get a dime, then they can support me for 100, get more music and help finance Freestyle Records so I can drop affordable albums."

The online debates about the expense have not stopped since then.

But regardless, a number of artists and start-up labels have followed Frestyle Records' lead. In fact, on The Vinyl Addicts forum, Catto pointed out that, "news about our release was made public on the internet months in advance (I began receiving payments in June) and was the subject of quite a bit of controversy (particularly on the old Vinyl Exchange board). There is no question in my mind that the FP's release softened the blow for the DWG release and prepared vinyl heads for the prospect of limited edition collector's-only vinyl release priced accordingly."

The important thing to remember here is that none of these are bootlegs. There are certainly plenty of bootlegs out there (some have even tried to inflate their prices to match those of these limited releases, which is extra shady), but all of the limited releases I'm discussing here are fully supporting the artists.

So now here's a complete list of all the great limiteds we've had so far (drop me a comment if I've forgotten any!), in no particular order. ...They're links if I've previously blogged about 'em.

Freestyle Records:
Freestyle Professors - Your Pockets Been P:cked 2LP (500 copies)
Showbiz & A.G. – Broken Chains: Soul Clap & Runaway Slave Unreleased, 1990-1992 2EP (500 copies, yet to ship)
*notes: Freestyle Records has since gone on to put out more affordable projects, both on CD and vinyl, of new and unreleased material by the Professors.

Hot Chillin':
Kool G Rap - Men At Work 12" (500 copies)
Big Daddy Kane - Set It Off 12" (500 copies)

Diggers With Grattitude:
Phill Most Chill - The Be Intelligent EP (100 copies)
Godfather Don - The Slave of New York EP (150 copies)
Unique - Die Hard EP (175 copies)
The Juice Crew EP (350 copies - yet to ship)
*notes: DWG has also released a pair of inexpensive 7"s of unreleased Main Source and Cadence of Raw Produce material, and a mix CD called Lungbutters.

Vinyl Addicts:
Lord Finesse - Funky Dope Maneuver EP (200 copies)
Sport G. & Mastermind - Let The Rhythm Roll EP (250 copies)

One Leg Up:
Herb McGruff - The Demo EP (200 copies)
The Cenobites - Demented Thoughts EP (200 copies)
Lord Digga - The High Plains Drifter EP (200 copies)
Shorty Long & DJ Mike Smooth - South Boogie EP (200 copies)
*notes: apparently, in 2009, a bonus 12" will be awarded to everyone who ordered all five limited releases from One Leg Up - fifth release pending. No word on what will be on that 12" yet.

Blue Concept:
Alps Cru - Loudmouths 12" (300 copies)
*notes: Blue Concept has announced another limited Alps Cru release in the new year.

Soundtable/ No Sleep:
Lord Finesse - Return of the Funky Man remixes EP - (300 copies)
Large Pro - Secret Design 12" (300 copies)
B.I.G. & Sadat X - Come On 12" (300 copies)
Rakim - The Cellar EP (300 copies)
Lord Finesse - Rare Selections EP Vol. 1 (300 copies)
Lord Finesse - Rare Selections EP Vol. 2 (300 copies)
Lord Finesse - Rare Selections EP Vol. 3 (300 copies)
*notes: No Sleep also put out affordable CD releases by Godfather Don and Kwest tha Madd Ladd, plus the unreleased Ill Biskits album, 2 Finesse compilations, a Nick Wiz comp, the Buckwild comp, and a mix CD of DITC material by DJ Boogie Blind.

Crate Escape:
Kurious - A Constipated Monkey Demo Sessions (200 copies)
*notes: CE is now putting out an affordable 7" single by Serocee.

I've blogged about every one that I own, so you can see that I have well less than half (about a quarter) of them. So far, there hasn't been a single release of this nature that I don't consider really dope, but I don't got it like that anymore than most of you. If I was an eccentric millionaire (and believe me, I've got the eccentric part ready, just waiting for the millions), I'd get them all for sure, but I've had to pass on many ...and I downright missed that BDK 12", dangit!

So, what's up with the cost, amirite? How can Invincible afford to press up her 12" and charge $7 through the normal indie hip-hop venues, but these guys have to charge just over or under (depending on the release) $100? Here are a couple of comments Sureshot La Rock of Diggers With Grattitude has said on the subject, "The artists get paid properly for their music (if we sell all of the Marley EPs[meaning the Juice Crew EPs, listed above] and all of the Lungbutters CDs, we'll nearly break even on the Marley project: that should give you an idea of what goes into this). If we were ripping people off, how would we convince the next artist in our series to get involved? The fact that we are still involved with each of the artists we've worked with previously should reassure that no-one is getting ripped off... We are not a record label: none of us sit here online 24/7 counting money we've made off selling limited edition records. So far, to date, any profit (which is far less than people may assume) went into the next project." He added, "We don't have the space, time or investment to press up 10,000 copies of something and then try and sell them. This is a labour of love."

Now, I don't know anymore than you guys. I've never tried to press up a limited run of records to find out all the costs involved. But I'll say this. To anyone who doesn't like how these guys have done it, why don't you just do it yourselves your own way? These labels haven't done anything you couldn't do... they go to the artist(s), pay them for the songs, get them mastered, design the labels/stickers/whatever, go to a plant to get them pressed up, take orders on their website (all you need is a Paypal account), package them all, and ship them out. Everyone reading this can do that, too (granted, you might have to remortage your home to be able to afford it, but that's no more than one of the DWG guys has done). In most cases, they don't have exclusive access or "ins" with the artists (Hot Chillin' being an obvious exception, since Marley Marl owns that label himself) - you can hit up their myspaces or websites just as well as these guys.

And if any of my readers press up some great, unreleased music on vinyl and sells it at a cheap price, you can bet your ass I'll support ya and buy a copy. ...I'll even go further and say that if it's music I'm into in (and if you haven't noticed, I'm into a lot when it comes to hip-hop), I'll guarantee you a review on my blog, with direct links to your site to send customers your way. And then YOU can pick what lost songs released (in most cases, the artists have had more unreleased songs to choose from than just the ones that got pressed up - maybe your taste would be better). I will give you props, money (buying your release), reviews, links, advice. What's more, I'll design the labels and help you select the songs if you like. I can even point you in the direction of some artists who have unreleased albums I'm dying to hear!

And Hell yes, I'd love it if you released your vinyl in the $6-10 range. I might even buy TWO copies if you get something dope out that cheap. Oh, and P.s. - Freestyle Records still have 150 copies left of that original, Your Pockets Been P:cked album. You can order it direct from their site. :-D


  1. Wasn't there also a super limited (like 25 copies) edition of that BDK Hot Chillin single, each cover a panel in a graffiti mural?
    It'll be interesting to see how much all of these releases are worth five years from now.

  2. Thanks for the mention. We still have about 50 of the Showbiz & A.G. - broken Chains: Soul Clap & Runaway Slave Unreleased 1990-1992 available (shipping early January '09). Check details here:

    Also, look for the Freestyle Professors - Confuse A Few 12" followed by the Gryme Tyme 2xLP in the first few months of 2009. Both at a standard price.

    Ed Catto
    Freestyle Records

  3. To anyone who doesn't like how these have done it, why don't you just do it yourselves your own way? These labels haven't done anything you couldn't do... they go to the artist(s), pay them for the songs, get them mastered, design the labels/stickers/whatever, go to a plant to get them pressed up, take orders on their website (all you need is a Paypal account), package them all, and ship them out. Everyone reading this can do that, too.

    Preach on, brother Werner!

  4. JWF, yeah! There's a cool Youtube video of the guy making it. I wonder if someday some collector will get all those copies together and reunite the mural on his wall?