The quality control in hip-hop
Press Stop: Why not buy a car with the money made from music?
Press Rewind: In Romania, hip-hop had become popular thanks to the bands founded in the early 90s, after the fall of the communist regime. In 1998, the genre created such a phenomenon that rappers appeared in TV talk shows debating topics like “Life in the Hood” or “Music educates or disrupts”.
It was a time when everybody started to put together their own hip-hop band, all the bench-block – hood guys wanted to make it big; a TV performance was the Hollywood dream of nearly every kid that sang.
Photo credit: BlacksheepsoundDeliric was a teenager back then. He met DOC, Vlad Dobrescu and DJ Paul in one of the many freestyle gatherings in a park in Bucharest, and as they found common (musical) ground, they founded C.T.C. (Technical Quality Control) in 1999. They gathered other names like Nwanda, Carbon, Cedry2k, Grigo, DJ Sauce – all unknown at that time in the Romanian music scene, and made several mixtapes as the first independent hip-hop label – We Make Records. The music evolved, rappers created stories through new sound; violins and piano started to make sense as part of the beat and references about life, science, philosophy, political and mass manipulation became common topics.
There was no money involved for them, but there was a stronger return: the passion for freestyle and the rising of the ‘’intellectual’’ rap. It was referred to as the Dictionary Freestyle Rap.
Deliric wrote his first track in 1993 as a child, rapping over Dr. Dre’s beats. He had to record each beat manually, rec-stop-play-repeat, on the cassette recorder. For him, it was just a childish gag back then. He started, then let it go, then he took on rapping when he was in eighth grade.
He grew up in an ill-famed neighbourhood in Bucharest. His father had a bar where ‘’the good guys’’ would play poker. But he didn’t like it, so he always tried to slip away from the bad boys hood. “The thing isn’t to stay and glorify the hood,” he says. “The smart thing is to leave it behind.” In 2001, Deliric took on a freelance designer job that allowed him to pay his own rent. He worked for seven years, while making music at the same time. It was those working hours that kept him focused on music, without thinking all the time about the financial return of it.
Making waves in the music industry
C.T.C never had songs that glorified the “bad-boy hood’, rather encouraged a self-centred view into music. It was a change in style and a new perspective.
‘’Own thought martyr
A self intake, burning in me
Reborn again to burn again…burn better
I try to remember
Push the memory, filter history
Deliric on C.T.C album
Live in concert Photo credit: Urban.roIn 2002, the band organised a freestyle underground concert called Resuscitation 101. They were practically unknown – they only had their mixtapes to show, yet the freshness of that event gathered 800 people from all over the country in one place. After this concert, and after appearing on various mixtapes, C.T.C released their first EP – The secret of the Atom, influenced by the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The EP defined C.T.C’ style, more people came to their concerts and the band began to sing on the albums of well known rappers. They created a hype in the hip-hop scene. In 2004, they held a concert and convinced Roton – a major record company in Romania – to sign a contract. Roton saw profit in their music because they were moving things in underground scene.
The following year in collaboration with the record company, the band released their first album –Technical Difficulties, for which they held nationwide concerts, got a four-digit dollar paycheck, which they had to split, and a video release for the song ‘Anything’. It seemed like a great year and a great deal, yet they were never aired on the radio – the real place where an artist makes money from copyright and has (inter)national coverage.
Collaboration with a major music label is a hit for an artist only then when it guarantees access to TV /radio and, especially, access to foreign markets, Bogdan Serban, radio producer in Romania, believes.
The thing was that underground hip-hop music had powerful lyrics talking about political ethics and manipulation. It had power of free speech, and Technical Difficulties respected exactly these principles of underground music. This was also what kept the band rear-mirrored from radio. In the all-time battle between staying true to their music and making it big on radio and TV, C.T.C members signed the contract with Roton because they couldn’t afford tomultiply their album at the same speed and number; but they did it without compromising their style.
Photo credit: DeliricThe boom of the Internet
In 2006, a year when C.T.C held concerts in all big cities in Romania, major record labels started to experience a decrease in their number of CD sales due to the boom of file sharing and illegal downloads, and ultimately was one of the reasons why no one invested in niche music, such as hip-hop.
“Before 2006, there were platinum and gold disc awards given to acts, who sold 50.000 units a year,” Deliric remembers. “When we released our album with Roton, we sold over 10.000 units. To compare, in 2013, a video from a known rapper can have 1 million views on Youtube in three days, but the artist barely sells 500 CD albums a year.”
We Make Records were among the first to see the online trend. Already in the early 2000, they had started selling their mixtapes via their online forum. Over time, the label released several albums and tracks for its artists, including DOC’s and Deliric’s songs. Deliric continued to make music and to distribute it on the internet even after Roton and C.T.C ended their collaboration.
One of his big projects was “Jupiter killed the melody”, for which he was working with both local and international artists. In 2008, at that time, there were only a few websites that promoted urban music, like hiphopkulture and sounetesubsol, and Deliric talked to them about selling his new project. The idea was initially faced with skepticism as a profit of one dollar per CD did not sound like a lucrative deal, but he finally convinced them when he multiplied 100 CDs anddistributed them for some 15 RON (5$). He always believed that hip-hop needed to create its own network in order to move things, and the internet allowed him to slowly move towards developing an independent music web.
The early days of hip-hop boosted the image of the bad boys and the gang on the block. Even today, the Romanian hip hop scene is often perceived as something that brings harm. In a way it is its own enemy. “I always wanted to clean hip-hop’s image,” Deliric says. “The one that was created in the early days of Romanian hip-hop is bad for the business. You can’t expect hip-hop to establish itself as a sub-culture if it promotes values that people would not support.’’
Photo credit: DeliricIn mid-2011, he released his solo album I.T.P (The Technical Inspection) while C.T.C continued to play and record together. 2011 was a year of political crisis in Romania, and everybody blamed the President and the government for it. But in his album, Deliric sent his own social message: You must stand up for yourself. He even took it to the streets. He designed a graffiti of a man in a suit, with a pig head and a thought bubble reading ‘’Deliric is the one to blame’’. His actions said something: You have to be able to put the blame on yourself.
I.T.P reached #1 in top online purchases, although it didn’t had a major record company behind it. I.T.P’s pig teaser, on the other hand, became his iconic clothing labelPorc. Established in 2012, to this day it carries a political and cultural message. And it is a sustainable way to promote Deliric as an artist and as an influencer. His designer experience paid off.
In 2013, he still isn’t on commercial radio, but compared to 2005, it’s not a question of his music being commercial enough. Today it’s about something else: Deliric has always been an independent artist with an independent label, who doesn’t pay fees or give extra credit to a large record company. We Make Records continues to make music and support independent artists.Even if there is a radio barrier, Bogdan Serban adds that We Make Records is a major label – even if it’s independent – for the local hip-hop movement and that in Romania, the new DIY philosophy is more effective than rigorous musical corporations.
Press Stop: Deliric is releasing a new mixtape in October. Making independent music is perhaps the thing that has kept C.T.C alive for 13 years. In this time, Deliric has managed to create an infrastructure for his music. It’s not all about money, but also for a quality control in music.