Question from Doug: “What ever happened to the rapper Diverse? He had one album on Chocolate Industries that was great and had production from Madlib, RJD2, and Prefuse 73…and then nothing. It seems like a waste of talent. Any info would be appreciated!”

Answer: That’s a fine question indeed and honestly? I have no idea. Diverse, as you pointed out, broke out of the pre-Kanye/Lupe Chicago scene in the early 2000s and was one of the most prominent artists on Chocolate Industries. But someone at the label has been sleeping given that they clearly haven’t updated Diverse’s artist page in years despite the fact that he and CI actually put out a 7″ as recently as 2008/9: “Escape Earth.”

Around the same time, the Chicago Tribune reported that he was on the verge of releasing his next project but it’s been nearing four years since then and it looks like we’re still waiting. Personally, my favorite Diverse project might be this track he joined forces with RJD2 and Lyrics Born on:

Question from anonymous: “A few years ago, I used to frequent the myriad of music blogs that offered rare soul albums for free download and it was wonderful to discover obscure artists who otherwise would not have seen the light of day. Now it is a virtual wasteland, as all the sites have shut down due to fear of the RIAA or trolls screwing up a good thing. It was a great community that is now gone. I used to frequent Soulseek but even that has become ridiculously elitist and cliquish as you have to join snobby groups that won’t let you join unless you have something they find worthy. So my question to you is, where can I go now? Is there any underground soul community that is like the ones back in the good ol days (two years ago) that shares rare lps?”

Answer: First of all, I’d respectfully disagree that RIAA or trolls “shut down” the era of album blogs you’re talking about. RIAA, as far as I know, never prosecuted a single music blogger. There may have been a small handful of sites DMCA-ed but I never got the sense that there was some overall chilling effect. What was more effective was going after Megaupload and other large bandwidth download sites, thus shrinking the number of options available to people who wanted to put large files up for download. I still don’t think this was the death knell.

I think Facebook and/or Twitter had more to do with it. Not because they directly competed with blogs (who, if we’re being precise here, peaked in saturation about five years ago and have been on the wane since then) but because they compete for people’s attention and energies. It’s not just that these other sites lured away people who might have started blogs otherwise but perhaps more important, they drew off people who used to read blogs regularly. A blog that goes unread doesn’t offer much incentives to the people writing them. Believe me, I think about this a lot since the average number of comments on Soul Sides is a fraction of where it was back in 2005. And that kind of bums me out even though I understand why it happened. But as a writer, if you feel like you have no audience, your incentive to write can wither with it. And certainly, in the last few years, there’s no shortage of distractions that are keeping people away from blogs and more towards other places. I mean, all those animated .gifs on Tumblr don’t just create themselves.


Anyways, back to your original question. I think there’s actually two questions in there. 1) Where can you learn about soul music from a variety of people? 2) Where can you download albums for free? The heyday of the latter is over and frankly, I’m glad it is. Call me old school but it just seemed like that circumvented the traditional process of record discovery which meant literally getting your hands dirty by rifling through actual, physical records. Obviously, I’m being slightly hypocritical here since 1) I share songs which isn’t that far removed from sharing LPs and 2) I often benefitted from having access to full albums online whenever I need to research an artist’s discography. But ultimately, it just seemed like having a potentially infinite universe of every album ever released cheapened the inherent value of any single album.

I’m not saying this to chide you (or anyone else) but prior about 10 years ago, the main way you learned about records was to go to record stores. And you usually had to buy those records. But it was a marvelous, eclectic education. As you may have seen, I’m writing a guide to starting a collection and one thing I was going to add to that is that building a collection is inherently a long-term process. It takes years, especially since sitting with records and listening to them is time consuming. I think we – myself included – forget that because we have so much at our fingertips these days. But there’s something about the slower pace of finding records one by one, “in the field” that’s not replicable online.

And that’s the thing, if it’s about learning about music? Never been an easier time, especially since there’s an infinite jukebox of music available to listen to. Sure, Spotify and Youtube won’t let you download entire albums of CD-quality music but that was always a luxury, never a right or entitlement. If someone has to buy an album from iTunes or Amazon in order to listen/keep the entire album…well, that’s how the most of recorded music history worked. And it was never a bad bargain, especially not now since you can listen to each song before you commit to buying anything.

So that brings us back to: where can you learn about music? And in that respect, I think there are still solid resources out there. Just a few of my favorite: Soulstrut, Melting Pot, Home of the Groove, and Nerdtorious. And hell, I haven’t updated this in a minute but I figure my blogroll isn’t totally worthless (yet).

There’s also a ton of Facebook groups purely dedicated to sharing/talking about music. Check out Sweet and Deep Soul and The Executive Listener to start with.

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