Fast Company

Will Fans Pay Public Enemy to Make a New Album or Just Buy Old Hits on CD?

public enemy

At every step of their music industry and lyrical innovation, the hip-hop group Public Enemy has been a magnet for irony.

A collective of self-proclaimed radicals lead by rapper Chuck D and hype man Flavor Flav, they've championed positive black causes and shouted out everyone from Jesse Jackson and Martin Luther King to Malcolm X and Louis Farrakhan. But one of their most memorable contributions to mainstream music was a cover version of their own song "Bring the Noise" with thrash metal group Anthrax.

They railed against the scourge of freebase cocaine in "Night of the Living Baseheads," then Flavor Flav developed a crack problem.

They blasted a fictitious woman for watching garbage TV in "She Watch Channel Zero?!," then Flav became a reality star in Flavor of Love on VH1.

Now the group has announced its plans to flip the script on the major-label-driven music business model by making an album with an Amsterdam-based company SellaBand, which asks fans to front the cost of a new record (and share in any profits). At the same time, Def Jam, Public Enemy's old label, a subsidiary of Universal, is slapping one of their hits on the Def Jam 25 Anniversary Collection, a 5-CD crate (remember CDs?) of re-issued songs from the back catalog, a classic moneymaking scheme for labels.

SellaBand will ask fans to help PE raise $250,000, which will pay for the cost of production and distribution of a yet-to-be-written, yet-to-be-named record. Participants, called "Believers"--because, let's face it, the album could be as superb as 1995's It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back or as atrocious as 2005's New Whirl Odor--can buy one of 10,000 "parts" of the forthcoming record for as little as $25.

"SellaBand's financial engine model goes about restructuring the music business in reverse," said the company's new "ambassador," Chuck D, in a statement. "It starts with fans first, then the artists create from there. The music business is built on searching for fans and this is a brand new way for acts to create a new album with fans first, already on board."

Def Jam, on the other hand, will ask buyers to pay a yet-to-be-disclosed retail price (likely at least double the $25 SellaBand/PE per-share cost) for five-discs worth of classic tunes released on the label from 1984-2008 (LL Cool J, Slick Rick, Beastie Boys, Oran "Juice" Jones, and more), tunes they likely already own and definitely know by heart. The discs, plus a full-color, 59-page book with an 8,000-word essay from author Bill Adler (Tougher Than Leather), come in a plastic crate, the kind DJs stuffed full of vinyl records and grocers stuffed into landfills.

PE fans will find the group's track on disc one, a 1989 banger called "Fight the Power."

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4 Comments

  • Raymond Roker

    You can aim a skeptical eye at PE's buy-a-share program or even their spotty post-glory album history. But I could have done without your leading commentary on irony. PE created some of the most timeless and meaningful lyrics in hip-hop and have always maintained their credibility. Flav is not the core of PE, it's Chuck and this has always been. To point out some loose irony around Flav's colorful life, that's just lame. And many would even argue that Flavor of Love, a show that elevated a middle-aged plus and not-lovely black man to the pinnacle of reality TV was just another blast of their genius.

  • Peter Sharma III

    Todd Rundgren began doing this with his PatroNet business model in 1990. Thomas Dolby runs on subscriptions through his Hyperactive movement. Laurie Anderson has subscribers to her content as well. None of what PE is doing is particularly unique or new but kudos to them for trying.

  • Peter Sharma III

    Todd Rundgren began doing this with his PatroNet business model in 1990. Thomas Dolby runs on subscriptions through his Hyperactive movement. Laurie Anderson has subscribers to her content as well. None of what PE is doing is particularly unique or new but kudos to them for trying.

  • Peter Sharma III

    Todd Rundgren began doing this with his PatroNet business model in 1990. Thomas Dolby runs on subscriptions through his Hyperactive movement. Laurie Anderson has subscribers to her content as well. None of what PE is doing is particularly unique or new but kudos to them for trying.