URBNET Records has taken a new distribution approach to its latest projects, giving us a series of “Digital Only” releases. These albums are only available on iTunes and are put out quite frequently. This strategy has both its benefits and drawbacks. The obvious benefit is that it virtually eliminates all distribution and manufacturing costs. Since many music industry insiders are predicting the death of the CD, making an early transition to the digital realm can also be seen as being on the forefront of the next movement in the business. Despite these benefits, the drawbacks are also significant. For one, the type of hardcore hip-hop heads that a label like URBNET tends to cater to prefer having CDs. For these consumers, the compact disc has become their generation’s 12 inch record. Even if they rip the songs to their MP3 players, they still keep their CDs organized and collected in case they ever need to check on a production credit or want to look at the dope cover art. These fans do appreciate music and lyrics more than your average consumer, but digital only releases lack many of the attributes that attract them to music in the first place. Though millions of people love the convenience of digital releases, there are still credibility issues involved in the digital marketplace. Simply put, unless you have your CD in the store, we question whether you are established and professional enough for us to invest in. After all, almost anyone can tinker on a computer and make something they call music. Getting carried by a “store” such as iTunes is also much easier than being carried by a brick and mortar store since iTunes carries no inventory costs and therefore are less likely to turn down artists. URBNET further complicates things by dropping multiple albums by the same artist on the same day. Mindbender’s “Better Late Than Never Made” is one of two albums he’s dropping on March 4th and makes you question his credibility even more. It’s a shame too since this new distribution approach ends up dominating the thought process when the only thing that should matter is whether o not Mindbender is a good rapper.
When you look past the “Digital Only Release” label you find a person who both loves and embodies hip-hop. As is the case with many hardcore hip-hop heads, Mindbender wears many hats at once. On top of being a rapper he is a radio host, journalist, critic and an activist. Such complete cultural immersion could lead to redundant music, but Mindbender realizes that hip-hop is much more than b-boying, DJing, rapping, and graffiti. His music addresses life’s highs, lows, and everything in between. “Thank God For Toronto” is an anthem dedicated to Mindbender’s hometown and appropriately pays homage to the city’s large Jamaican population with the reggae inspired beat. “Blame Canada” finds Mindbender expressing his frustration with the obstacles faced by Canadian artists trying to break into the U.S. rap scene. As an emcee Mindbender possesses a strong and distinct voice and a decent, if unspectacular flow. The emphasis is clearly on his lyrical content and rhyme patterns. Lyrically, Mindbender mixes straightforward lyrics with abstract imagery. Rhythmically, Mindbender mixes things up as he drops plenty of rhymes within lines and layered rhyme patterns. His opening verse on “Dreamer” showcases his style well:
“It was all a dream, golden child hearing songs in my sleep
At thirteen the rap game became a drug and started calling me
Come from poverty to superstar
Screwing models who could do Hollywood pornography
Get on top of me
All from fulfilling my sonic prophecy
with songs that wanna eat your brain like a zombie
Fiend psychotically, the knowledge seeds are the anecdote
Don’t gag or choke as you swallow me
I know it’s a lot of thought to receive
Take now not later while you wait for a call from an angel
Or a million dollars from a stranger, praying for a miracle
Sacred profaner spiritual, escaping the collision course
By grabbing the vehicle by the steering wheel
I’m a speed demon and a dreamer”
It’s a good mix of complexity and simplicity as you get his message but he also gets you thinking. Mindbender’s unique rhymes style can get a little taxing on tracks like “Beautiful New Thought” and “Music is My Weapon,” but those tracks are balanced out by “Fucking Up My Life” and “My Last Wish” where he returns to personal narratives.
Overall, Mindbender is a good recommendation for fans of C-Rayz Walz, Scaramanga, and other semi-abstract rappers. I would put Mindbender below both those rappers in terms of overall skill, but not by much. Musically, his beats get experimental at times, but most are inspired by early 1990s east-coast, loop based production. If this were a proper release I’d note that at 9 tracks and 30 minutes you should pay accordingly, but given the single track purchases available in the digital world that’s not an issue. Time will tell whether this digital approach will lead to more exposure and fans for Mindbender, but at the very least it will get people talking.