I had a major freaking scare a couple days ago. Seriously. Or at least somewhat seriously, but at the moment it seemed catastrophic, and in the larger sense the implications may be just that. Either way, here’s the story. Just don’t get discouraged by the nerdy esoteric hip-hop details, as what happened to me could happen to anyone, be they fans of Mozart or Mos Def, or both.
As per my routine after a night of drinking way too much and heading home for more pops, on one foggy night last week I sat back on my couch and fired up my phone and Bluetooth speakers and started to stream a cross-section of rappers who can move me in that unbelievably inebriated state. I played some new joints from the likes of Westside Gunn and Homeboy Sandman, then moved on to the eternal staple, Wu-Tang Clan, who of course celebrated the 25th anniversary of their first album last week.
Another round, another deep dive through my web-based catalog. Another round and a blunt after that, and as usual I had to jump to YouTube to find several of the arcane tracks from 30 years of superfandom that I suddenly needed to hear. Most of the time, I can find them on one of the platforms I use—Spotify, Amazon, YouTube, the basics. But this was different. This time I was led to think—however briefly and irrationally and, yes, under the influence—that I may never get to hear a certain song again. And the revelation rocked my world.
The track in question: “Battle Me,” by New York underground icon C-Rayz Walz. It’s a delightful, almost cutesy flippant backslap, a blip on the overall rap music radar but nevertheless a four-minute stretch of perfection I can’t live without. So when I could only find a different instrumental version on YouTube, I panicked. You see, I never owned a physical of “Battle Me,” and so my records and CDs in storage would be no help either. I got emotional.
In short time, I was able to locate the single on BandCamp, buy it, and avert a crisis. But in the time since, I have been hung up on the underlying quagmire of online media, wondering about what would happen if it all simply went away. At this point, almost all the music that I regularly listen to is in the cloud; I basically lease it. Forget one random C-Rayz Walz cut—the thought of losing several of my my most beloved songs entirely is far too much to handle.
Am I being a spoiled brat? Maybe. After all, it’s a hell of a lot easier to find obscure sounds these days than it was back in the ’80s. At the same time, though, advances in technology back then gave way to more personal ownership—take, for example, how many people repurchased their all-time favorites when they dropped in new formats. These days, despite all of the easy access and convenience and digital feats, I can’t help but to feel like everything could disappear in seconds if a server crashes.
Disagree? Battle me.
CHRIS FARAONE, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF
A Queens, NY native who came to New England in 2004 to earn his MA in journalism at Boston University, Chris Faraone is the editor and co-publisher of DigBoston and a co-founder of the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. He has published several books including 99 Nights with the 99 Percent, and has written liner notes for hip-hop gods including Cypress Hill, Pete Rock, Nas, and various members of the Wu-Tang Clan.