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Jul 15

Bomb Hip-Hop Records

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Redesigning the perception of independent hiphop music, Brian Coleman sits down with Bomb Hip-Hop’s David Paul on what drives one of the most well respected, subterranean hiphop labels on planet Earth.

Brian Coleman: OK, tell me why you started BOMB (back in ’94, yes?). What started it? Was it planned, or did it just happen? How was the label related to the now sadly-defunct BOMB magazine, and the BOMB parties you used to throw?

David Paul: I was doing a rap show on college radio in 1990 at KCSF (City College of SanFrancisco). I used to do a monthly playlist that would also contain a paragraph or two with a show review or small article. I had wrote a couple of articles for new up starting rap publications but the magazines never put out their first issues. One morning I woke up and decided that I was going to do a hip-hop magazine. I put the first issue together (Oct. 1991) by using an old typewriter, reducing the size of the text on a copy machine and then pasting the paragraphs together with a glue stick… pretty archaic, but it worked! After the first issue a classmate of mine Vic Osborne offered to help me with the layout of the magazine since I didn’t have a computer. I have to give Vic mad props cause he helped me for the first year until I purchased a computer, typing in the text and helping with the layout and he never asked for anything in return. The caliber of writers that wrote for the Bomb during it’s existence was extraordinary and is probably what drawed readers to the magazine. Writers like Funken-Klein (R.I.P.), Billy Jam, Spence Dookey, Cheo Coker, Jazzbo, Faisal Ahmed, Dave Tompkins, DJ Shadow, Kut Masta Kurt and many others who have all wrote or are currently writing for major publications. In 1992 The Bomb Hip-Hop Magazine issued two flexidiscs by a then unknown Automator (of Dr. Octagon/Deltron fame), Charizma & Peanut Butter Wolf and other artists. While doing the publication I would always receive demo tapes for our Demos section in the magazine. In 1994 I released an album titled “Bomb Hip-Hop Compilation” that featured Jigmastas, Blackalicious, Charizma & Peanut Butter Wolf as well as many others that we has been in contact with by receiving and reviewing their demos. That was basically the start of Bomb Hip-Hop and how it turned into a record label.

BC: The indie hip-hop world wasn’t anywhere near as burgeoning (or crowded) back then as it is now. Did that make things easier or harder (harder for distribution? Easier because of less competition?)

DP: Actually you hit it right on the nose! There was less distribution but also less competition. Nowadays everyone has their own label so there is such a flood of indie music out there. Stores don’t have the budgets to bring in a lot of units of a particular indie release and fans can’t afford every single album out there.

BC: As part of your new “Droppen The Bomb” compilation (out May 29, 2001) you’re including your first album, “Bomb Hip Hop Compilation” as a bonus CD. That’s big news to a lot of BOMB fans. Why was that out-of-print for so long (when did it go out of print)?

DP: Bomb Hip-Hop Compilation was outta print basically right after it came out in 1994. I originally released the album when I was doing the magazine in conjunction with an independent label from Los Angeles. They got credit from the pressing plant, sold the albums and took off with the money and didn¹t pay the pressing plant or pay me anything for the artists share as well as my cut… welcome to the business. That¹s when I learned I had to do it on my own. So that album has been out-of-print since 1994 and this is the first time that it has been available since then because I couldn’t get the master artwork or music back.

BC: Over the years, I think BOMB has been known more for their contributions to DJ/Turntablist culture (through the famed “Return of the DJ” series, started in 1995) than for all the MC-based hip-hop tracks and albums you’ve put out. Do you think that’s fair to say? Do you think many people think it’s * just * a DJ label? Does that annoy you?

DP: Yes, that is definitely what Bomb is known for. But if you look at all of the Bomb releases (9 singles, 3 EPs, 20 albums) 44% of those are rap, 42% DJ oriented and 14% instrumental/other. Sure it is a little annoying that people mainly know Bomb for the Return of the DJ series but then again, it’s good to be known for something than nothing at all.

BC: With the press materials you sent out with “Droppen The Bomb” you included a sheet that seemed to be answering questions before people could ask them, like why you took a year off, and also explaining some of the economics of the business, even describing in some detail – how you got burned on retail co-op programs with chain stores. Why? It seemed like it was something that you wanted to get off your chest.

DP: It wasn’t so much as wanting to get something off my chest as much as wanting to school people. Unless you have your own label you don’t really understand everything that comes into play. I always meet people and when I tell them what I do they think it’s cool and must be fun. I love music and it beats sitting at a boring 9-5 job but it’s not that easy either. If you have a 9-5 you know you’re getting paid so much every two weeks, owning your own label you could go a few months (or longer) without seeing any money. Fans always hear rap songs about how labels are shady but it’s a two sided coin. You never hear an artist rapping how no one bought his album and he’s sorry his record label lost thousands of dollars on him.

BC: You also stated in those materials that, as part of the hiatus, you wantedto take a year off and “get back to enjoying music again.” Did you? What have you been listening to lately?

DP: I’ve been listening to a lot of different stuff. Old Prince, a lot of 80’s music and early 90’s rap. It’s very easy to get wrapped up in the business of music and forget how to actually enjoy music. I’m glad I took the time to get back to the roots of it all. Plus I had become a work-a-holic for a while there and all work and no play isn’t healthy.

BC: Is BOMB always going to stay as solely a hip-hop label? Have you ever been tempted to put out other kinds of music, like R&B, rock, electronic, jazz? Or is it important to stay focused?

DP: I have been tempted in past to do other types of music. As a music fan I like all types of music. A couple of years ago I actually signed an alternative rock band called The Planet Sun (Garbage/Curve style band). But once the album was ready I knew that I wouldn’t be able to properly market and promote that album. Business wise that is a totally different market that would take a lot of time to learn. I’ve been in the hip-hop scene since 1985, I know hip-hop so at this point it’s best to stay focused and stick with what I know.

BC: Tell me which two or three albums (or singles) you’re proudest of, and why.

DP: Obviously the Return of the DJ series is what I’m most proud of. But there are others like DJ Faust’s first album “Man or Myth?” and the “Revenge of the B-Boy” compilation. I can throw those on anything and listen to them front to back and it’s strong all the way through. Those will definitely stand the test of time, which is the true test when it comes to a great album.

BC: Which albums or singles never sold as many as you thought they should?

DP: Musically, one of the best records I’ve ever put out was the DJ Format “English Lesson” 12″ record. DJ’s like Cut Chemist, Z-Trip and That Kid Miles (Breakestra) were going crazy over that record but it just didn’t do that well in sales. I thought it would do okay and I told Format that I’d be probably be able to send him at least $500 at a certain point. But after all the expenses the project lost money. That was a shame because it affected the relationship that DJ Format and I had. Since he was in the UK he thought I was lying about the numbers that it sold. I offered to mail him copies of ALL the receipts and give him phone numbers to all the distributors so he could check on it. But he mentioned to me that anyone could make fake receipts and I could just have everyone at the distributors lie for me. When I look back at that situation I should have just told him the record did better than it really did and give him $500 out of my pocket. It would have been better than the grief and lose of a friendship. That record should have blown up but it didn’t and it’s a shame cause that is a HOT record.

BC: Did you have any idea how important and big the “Return of the DJ” series would be, when you started it in ’95 (with tracks by Q-Bert, X-Ecutioners, Babu)? Which one of those albums (3 volumes thus far) do you like best, or listen to most often?

DP: When I came up with the concept of the first Return of the DJ I never thought it would be important or big. I was just tired of rap albums no longer featuring that one or two songs that were DJ tracks. So I decided why not make a whole album like that. I don’t think it was some super intelligent concept, it’s just no one thought of it (or at least did it) before I did. In fact, the first volume really didn’t blow up. It wasn’t until 1997 when Volume II came out that people caught on and then I re-released the first volume. I can’t say that one of them is my favorite, they are all good and if you listen to them in order you can hear the progression of scratch patterns and styles.

BC: You’ve got a big BOMB 10th anniversary party planned in September in San Francisco. Obviously you started doing those parties in ’91 (while the label didn’t start until ’94). Tell me about some classic moments from the old ones, and tell me about what you’ve got planned (date set yet?) for the one coming up. Anyone definitely booked yet?

DP: The old Bomb parties are legendary. I usually did them during the Gavin Convention when they used to have it in San Francisco every year. Some of the artists who have performed at past Bomb parties include : Invisibl Skratch Picklez, Kool Keith (first live performance of any Dr. Octagon material), Aceyalone, Solesides Crew (Blackalicious, Lyrics Born, Lateef), Jurassic 5, Beat Junkies (Rhettmatic, J Rocc, Babu, Melo D), Supernatural, Schoolly D, Akinyele featuring Rob Swift, Shakey featuring Rahzel the Human Beatbox, Ultramagmetic MCs, Pete Nice & Daddy Rich, Alkaholiks, House of Pain (with B-Real from Cypress Hill), Pharcyde, Masta Ace, Freestyle Fellowship, Funkdoobiest and Nas. The 10 year celebration of Bomb is set for Sunday, September 23rd. There will be events on that Friday and Saturday as well but the big party of the weekend will be on that Sunday. We be announcing the artists sooner to the date, but you can be sure that there will be an awesome line-up.

BC: Tell me what tracks you really like, and which should get some good airplay, from “Droppen The Bomb.”

DP: Obviously “Definition of Nice” by Paul Nice (Featuring AG from DITC, DJ Babu and Gennessee) will probably get a lot of airplay, especially since we also have it available on 12″ vinyl. Other fat tracks would be the previously un-released Blackalicious song “The Calcutta Convention” and the new Swollen Members track “Dark Riders”. There’s plenty of tracks with different styles on the CD for DJ’s to choose from so I’m sure everyone can find at least one track they wanna bump.

BC: I’ve heard the Knightz of Bass “Reborn” record that you’re putting out (June 12). It’s pretty amazing. Sounds like it’s a lost Hashim electro record from ’84. Tell us about that group, since most people haven’t heard of them. Do you think old-school electro music is of interest to hip-hop fans these days, or are you looking more to the electronic/RPM fans?

DP: Knightz of Bass are a crew of three guys in Germany; Cooley Blast, MoE and Jelly Jam. They basically produce electro hip-hop (80’s retro style). They have put out a few releases in Europe but this is the first time that their music will be available in the US. I doubt young hip-hop fans will even check for this record. Maybe the hip-hop audience age 28+ because that’s what they grew up with but most of the so-called hip-hop fans nowadays most likely won’t go crazy for it. As far as marketing, it will be promoted to the electronica/RPM audience. It’s close to techno in some senses so I’m hoping that audience will catch on as well as the old school hip-hop heads.

BC: Tell me about the other records you have planned after that: Def Cut “Return To Burn” (never heard of him, please describe) and the long-awaited “Return of the DJ: Volume IV.”

DP: Def Cut is a DJ/producer from Switzerland. His style is instrumental hip-hop with vocal snippets and some scratching. Similar to the Freestylers in a way. As far as the new Return of the DJ (August 21st release date), I think fans will like it. It’s just some pure hard-core scratching madness.

BC: I saw on the BOMB homepage (www.bombhiphop.com) that you want the tracks on “Return Vol. IV? to be “as hard-core and as scratch-heavy” as possible, mostly because you think magazine critics “have been knocking hard-core scratching lately.” Please explain. That sounds like a dare to both artists and critics to me. What got you to this point?

DP: When Volume III was released a few critics dissed it. They were the same people that were all over turntablism’s nuts a couple of years earlier and now they were writing it off as boring. They even had the nerve to say it wasn’t very musical. If you listen to all three volumes in the series Volume III is very musical and the most musical out of the three. In fact there are some incredible things being done on that album but I think critics didn’t take the time to analyze and recognize what the DJs were actually doing. To them it was a trend and the fad was over for them.

BC: Tell me the biggest mistake you’ve made in the business over the years, and what you learned from it. And what kept you going after that.

DP: Well, there has been plenty of mistakes that I have made. But I guess that’s all part of the learning process. One of the biggest ones was falling into the trap of trying to take it to the “next level”. There is no next level for an indie label! I tried to jump to the “next level” to find out that I should have walked up the staircase. The jump from what I do and selling massive amounts of records is a very large leap. I tried spending money on music videos, independent promoters, magazine ads, retail Co-Ops and so forth. But let’s face the facts, major labels have that part of the industry locked down and unless you can spend $100,000-$200,000 on a release you can’t compete in that world. The best thing to do is keep cost down, grass roots promotions, work the press and hope you get the most valuable type of promotion : word-of-mouth.

BC: Tell me what keeps you going, and why you chose to return to putting out records, rather than walk away. It must be even harder for you day-to-day since BOMB is a smaller operation than people probably think, and quite the opposite of a corporate record label (with lots of employees to back you up).

DP: To tell you the truth this is what I do – music is my life. I’ve been involved in the music business since 1985 and it’s been my only source of income since 1991. At 34 what else would I do (laughing), and to be honest I wouldn’t want to do anything else. It’s not like I stopped putting out records and then decided to return. I never left, just took a break from new releases and worked what I had and prepared the new releases that are coming out now. For the most part Bomb is a one-man record label. There have been a few people that have helped me over the years but for the most part it’s basically me. So if I don’t get something done, it won’t get done cause my only back up is myself.

BC: Are you 100% glad to be back in the biz? Did you miss it at all while you were “on hiatus?”

DP: Hmmmm… that’s a funny question. I’m definitely glad to have some new releases and have music back in the community but I also know how much work I’ll have to put it to make them successful. It’s all about timing. You can have a great record but it just comes out at the wrong time and fans are into a totally different style of hip-hop at that moment. Not to mention timing with radio, press and retail. You need all three to click and hit at the same time. That isn’t an easy thing to accomplish, but if it does happen then it helps a lot. Droppen the Bomb was originally supposed to come out two years ago but it wasn’t the right time. So I updated a few songs and deleted some of the dated ones for the version that is coming out and it seems like it’s the right time for this type of album. Some of the artists on the album are blowing up on their own right now so that will help push this compilation.

BC: Final comments for people out there, about what BOMB is all about, and why it’s different from other labels? And what people should look for this year, and beyond?

DP: I think what separates Bomb from a lot of labels are a few key things. First off Bomb is all about the four elements of hip-hop. I don’t just talk about it, I put my heart and money behind it with all my DJ releases, Revenge of the B-Boy (a breakdancing album), all the rap albums I’ve releases and the in-the- works Music To Bomb To (graffiti inspired album). Another thing about Bomb is it’s a very global thinking record label. I’ve had artists on my releases from a list of international countries; Norway, Finland, Germany, France, England, Japan, Australia and Canada to name a few. Upcoming releases for this year include Return of the DJ – Volume IV in August and the Bomb Anniversary Collection :1991-2001 in September (a 4-CD set featuring over 60 tracks). Next year I’ll have Revenge of the B-Boy : Episode 2, Music to Bomb To, a couple of rap compilations and a few surprises. I’m always coming up with something…

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