Building the Perfect Record in Public : Introducing the ICONIC EP
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?
The Way We Release Music Doesn’t Really Make Sense Anymore
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
Obviously, The Internet Has Changed Music Consumption
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.
Allow me to introduce the iCONIC EP v18.104.22.168
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.
V22.214.171.124 Release Notes
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”
King’s Ransom ft. The Honorable Anwar HighSign
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.”
- Some of you may recognize Anwar HighSign as the rapper Has-Lo, a great emcee and friend that was featured on “I’m the Best Mayne” on Flavor Ade.
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.
- We are attempting to get one of my favorite singers in the world on this song.
Synopsis: This is me discussing the emotionally difficult sides of being an entrepreneur and how much of it is a balancing act.
- I’m still not sure if we’re going to put this on the final release of the EP
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.
- We are attempting to contact a rapper to replace my chorus.
- We are attempting to contact one of the Philly GOATs to guest appear with a verse
- I’d also like to do a remix with some other Philadelphia rap luminaries
Like I said, You’re Missing From This
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.
Some Thank Yous
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.
- B – You’ve encouraged me to “make up” with my career throughout the 10 years that we’ve been together. You also took a lot of extra work in managing our amazing children while I bounced to Philly for weeks at a time to record. I appreciate you for everything you do.
- Baby Blak – Thank you for giving me a space to record at Jay Blak studios. The space you’ve created and the hospitality you’ve offered were critical to me creating a space to reconnect to and redefine my craft.
- Gos – Thanks for your patience and for sharing your skills as a seasoned audio engineer to make me sound better than I have ever sounded. You are a great collaborator who made an amazing environment for me to do some great music. I’m looking forward to the project we’re going to do over your beats.
- Anwar HighSign – Thanks for being there through the bulk of the process. Your energy and our discussions were critical to me finding what I want to be as a rapper in 2021.
Thank you for your contribution in the form of bars. I love that we can jump on a song after 10 years and just be right back in that groove. Orangutan slang, ankles painted!
- Verb Tec – Thanks for popping up at the lab and for all the discussions throuhgout the process. You’re directly responsible for the lack of overdubs on this record. Let the rappers rap!
- TROX – Thank you for sharing such bangarangs with me and being such a great collaborator. I know that I sat on tracks I bought from you for years. I appreciate you even being open to sending me more folders to begin with. The tracks you provided very much drove the inspiration for me to knock this thing out.
- The iPullRank Marketing Team – Thank you to Garrett and Kevin for helping me get a bunch of tasks done to get this out in time. Shout out to Kyle too for his last minute contribution.
- Darren Talent – Thanks for all your help in capturing some amazing photos and videos. I don’t think they are ready for what they are about to see!
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!