I first received word that something was amiss in the blogosphere when Dee Jekyll, my partner at HipHopGame, hit me up and asked me if I had seen what happened to OnSmash. Being that's one of the sites I was checking on a pretty regular basis, I punched in the url and was amazed to see the homeland security logo in place of the latest leak or video.
At first rumors were circulating that it was just hackers; OnSmash and other sites like DaJaz1 would be up and running in no time. After all, it was rather odd that a site would be shut down out of the blue, which is how it appeared to everyone not associated with the shut-down sites. Maybe those sites received some sort of warnings and ignored them. Maybe they posted the wrong songs and pissed off the wrong people. Maybe it's something else. Whatever it is, the takeovers sent shockwaves through the writing world. I found myself talking to other writers, asking them if they'd heard anything and why it happened to those specific sites. No one anywhere had any insight.
As more time passes, the truth will come to the light. Maybe some government heads just didn't like the musical tastes of OnSmash and DaJaz1, but they may just be the tip of the iceberg. It does seem strange that they would be shut down while plenty of other blogs that post extremely similar content would still be allowed to operate just as they always had. And if it can happen to them, it can happen to any site.
One thing that really came to light is how little support the blogs have from the major labels, the ones who could reach out much easier to the government and let them know how things work in hip-hop media. It doesn't matter how many rappers preach to the choir with "Free OnSmash" freestyles because they're not capturing the ears they need to in order to make a difference. But the major labels, now they could turn some heads if they admitted that a lot of the "leaked" music posted on websites and blogs is done so at the request of their employees. Every label has at least one person who blasts out mp3s and very rarely do they include lines like "for streaming only." That must mean they want it posted for download, right?
Even though the labels used and continue to use websites and blogs for their ultimate benefit, they're still not getting as much as they probably want to be getting. Posting a lead single for free download definitely raises awareness for a big project, but it also significantly decreases the likelihood of fans shelling out 99 cents on iTunes for the single (or if it's a really, really big single, $1.29). The artist, on the other hand, gets a huge boost from fans downloading their single. if they're signed to a major, there's a good chance they weren't going to be seeing much money from the single anyway unless it was one of "A Milli" proportions. But what the artist does get is exposure, and when they come through cities they haven't been, there's a much better chance that people in said city will be familiar with their music and have some interest in going to the show and possibly copping some merch (all of which will go into the artist's pocket unless they signed a ridiculous 360 deal). Artists benefit from blogs. Labels, not so much.
I don't know whether or not the major labels had a hand in shutting down OnSmash and if they're targeting any other sites. If they are, it makes perfect sense from their perspective. They have less control and make less money. However, if the power in the music game continues to shift more and more to the artists, they're going to need a major label as much as they're going to need a good deal on pressing some 12"s. Arists like Tech N9ne and Murs continue to prove that you don't need a major label if you got talent and support. The grind is much tougher, because it's a lot of dates on the road while managing every other aspect of your career, but there also comes a lot more freedom with a career like that. They're also lucky to have fans that cop their albums. As fans, we can't be afraid to drop a tenski on a quality album even though we know we could find it for free somewhere if we look hard enough. If we want the ease at which we receive fresh music to continue, we have to hope that artists realize they can do it without a major label while we step up the support. It's something to work towards in 2011.