TL;DR – I’m dropping a new EP right now in an iterative fashion similar to the approach of releasing a Software as a Service. You can pay what you want on Bandcamp right now and you will receive updated versions of the record as they come. Sign up to the mailing list to stay in the loop.
Back in high school, I had an art teacher that used to say something to the effect of “no work of art is ever finished, we just give up on it.” That idea, of course, has stuck with me as I’ve aged, but has also always been in direct conflict with and fueled my perfectionism. If I don’t give up on it, I can just keep working on it until it’s perfect, right?
Kanye West, for all his faults, has been “building in public” to some degree for a very long time. I remember hearing stripped down versions of “Jesus Walks” back in the early noughties. It was remarkable to see how that song had progressed into its final grammy-winning form. I felt like, as a fan, I had the opportunity to peek behind the curtain.
When that happened, I understood it to be a function of how demos circulate. Yet with his later GOOD Friday drops that led up to My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, the iterative release of “The Life of Pablo” and now the false starts “DONDA” he has been sharing his minimum viable products and iterating into a more final state.
The whole thing has been quite disruptive to a music industry that expects to take in a final product all at once, judge it, and discard it. But, I think Kanye’s approach actually makes much more sense. He’s creating an ongoing spectacle that maintains interest
The album release was once an event. For albums you were excited about, you waited in line on Monday nights to get a copy when the clock struck midnight. Then you took the time to absorb that release until you deeply understood what the artist intended.
At the same time, there were limited outlets to consume the music. If you listened to hip hop, you read The Source or XXL and you watched Rap City or 106 and Park. It was a Coke or Pepsi world, so it was pretty easy to create a moment or an event.
But everything has changed.
The Internet both democratized the ability to release a record and introduced a high fragmentation into the market. Now, if you asked 100 people how they consume music you’d get as many combinations of platforms and channels that they listen to and the sites they read for discovery.
Here’s the thing though, as lesser known artists, we still hold onto our music until we feel it’s perfect and polished before we release it as though that matters. The reality is that it will likely be swept away in the tide of timelines drowning in cat memes and inspirational quotes never to be seen again.
Presumably, the goal is to optimize your music to have the biggest impact it can have on as many people as it can. While that’s certainly possible and people (with resources and followings) do it everyday, you’re effectively focusing more on the people you don’t have than the ones that you do.
If anything, the wealth of releases have proven that your fans are thirsty for new material at all times. Industry be damned, they are all about the direct-to-consumer relationship and that is one of the things that the Internet has made easier than ever before.
So, to adhere to the antiquated model of the music industry doesn’t actually benefit you as an artist. Taking a big swing only to watch your release quickly peter out is really a recipe to be discouraged and not maximize your efforts. What I care about more is building up my audience and continually getting the music directly to them. I’m not as concerned with feeding the machines.
Naturally, there is an analog to this: Software.
In the Software as a Service world people build what is called a minimum viable product, a version of their idea that is good enough for people to use and get value from it. From there they continually improve the product based on feedback from their customer base. There are many big “releases,” but the product is technically never finished. It is a living and breathing project that many people continue to work on for as long as it exists.The product is never truly done, but at some point it may be abandoned for the next thing.
If you’re reading this, you may or may not know that I spent the bulk of my 20s rapping under the moniker “iCON the Mic King.” When I hit 29, I wasn’t achieving the things that I set out to for a variety of reasons and I switched my focus to a career in Internet Marketing. I never officially “quit” rapping, over the years you may have heard me pop up on a friend’s release here and here, but making music definitely took a backseat to becoming a thought leader in the SEO space.
In my goal setting for this year, I made it a priority to make a record that I’m really proud of and drop it by my 40th birthday.
With that, I’m taking the approach of building in public. I’m releasing the “ICONIC” EP produced entirely by TROX in this blog post. If you’d like to support, you’re welcome to purchase it on Bandcamp, it’s a pay what you want release digitally. We’ll also be taking pre-orders for a collectible vinyl release in the next few days.
Based on what I said above, you might be thinking “yeah, but is this record done?” What you are seeing and hearing as of this writing is the minimum viable product. What I mean by that is, this record is complete as it is. It is an incredible release that has been well-produced, mixed, and mastered. Every song is done and it could stand alone in my catalog as perhaps my strongest musical offering to date.
However, there are two things missing. The features. And you.
I’m in the process of collecting features from a couple amazing and legendary rappers, as well as one of my favorite singers. I’ll give more details as those items come to fruition.
As with a software release, there are some comments about what was done to generate the release. Subsequent release notes indicate what has changed since the previous version. In mine you’ll get a modified version of liner notes with any changes that we’ve made to the songs since the previous release. You can expect that as we iterate there will be new release notes in upcoming blog posts.
Synopsis: This is the intro track where I’m examining the promises I’ve made to myself regarding success and where I’m currently at in life.
Notes: I’ve been sitting on this beat from Trox for like five years.
Synopsis: I’m discussing how I’ve built my success up until this point and how we’ll continue to build from here.
The bridge is an interpolation of a bar that really resonated with me from Drake’s “Furthest Thing” wherein he says “Yours truly the boy/I just build and build more y’all niggas build and destroy/Y’all niggas party too much man I just chill and record/No filler you feel it now if you ain’t feel it before”
Synopsis: Anwar HighSign has been quite germane to the process of me getting back into the studio. I told him I was booking a week to lay tracks and he came to most of the sessions. I think we did this in the first couple days. We wanted to do our own version of the Drake and Rick Ross’s “Lemon Pepper Freestyle.”
Synopsis: This song is all about thanking my mom for, well, everything. My mom has always felt a very strong sense of responsibility for everyone in our family, and I have, naturally, been the primary focus of that. I wanted to do a song to thank her for making me, raising me so well, and let her know that she doesn’t have to worry about me — I made it.
Synopsis: This is me discussing the emotionally difficult sides of being an entrepreneur and how much of it is a balancing act.
Synopsis: I knew that I wanted a bit of a
Synopsis: This is a punchline rap song wherein I flip a bunch of business jargon phrases that are typically used by enterprise sales people. I love how I was able to merge references from both my rap life and business life into one banger.
Synopsis: I’m ruminating about people from my past that I don’t miss and also being quite petty about what they miss out on by no longer being in my life. Verse three is particularly important to me in a “Won’t got you here won’t get you there” kind of way.
Synopsis: This song is me getting back into my “iCON the Mic King” sci-fi rap punchline bars. I felt the need to remind myself that I can do a more refined form of what I used to do and just come with straight up bars and a hook over a beat that you can’t help but nod your head to.
Based on the old model, much of the feedback from releases comes from the music media. While I certainly appreciate that type of coverage and would welcome it for any release, I want to focus on the feedback from the audience.
We’ve built a place for a community on this website so you can give feedback on tracks. You’re also welcome to give feedback anywhere that I’ve posted the music. As we iterate on the releases, we may incorporate that feedback or we may just enter a spirited discussion that may inform my subsequent projects.
Oh, and if you’re wondering, I’m going to attempt to drop something new quarterly moving forward.
This post doesn’t replace the official liner notes. I’m writing this before my 40th birthday party so I’m not going to be able to give the proper level of detail on how I feel about everything that got me to this moment.
I do want to give some thank yous to everyone that helped me bring this idea to fruition.
It’s almost party time and I’ve got to go, but I hope y’all enjoy the record. Shoot some feedback and sign up to the mailing list so you can stay in the know!