it occurred to me after a phone call from the homie deuce, my man a hundred grand, ace-of-spade since the third grade: i’ve done a pretty shoddy job keeping folks abreast of the musical goin’s-on. he’d just received a press release by way of a very impersonal electronic mailing list, and was surprised to learn that common market has a new album due out may 13th – one that’s not called tobacco road.
deuce: “what the hell is black patch war?!?”
me: “it’s the name of a tobacco farmer’s rebellion from the early twentieth cen—”
deuce: “no, dumbass – i mean how come you didn’t tell me you were puttin’ out a new album before tobacco road?”
me: “…i didn’t tell you about it?… really? oh, you got the press release, huh? damn, man – my fau—… hold on a second, fam – that’s my moms callin on the other line…”
yeah, evidently i neglected to tell her, too. i guess in the midst of all the commotion caused by our spur-of-the-moment decision to fashion a full-fledged EP out of compromise, i forgot to inform a whole lot of team players that we were changin’ up the game plan.
within an hour of sending out the press release i got a slew of text messages from folks like sharlese: “did you change the name of the album? oh, wait, nevermind – i kept reading.” and ms. youssef: “so, uh, what do i do with this long-ass review of tobacco road now?” and the young homie dawson: “if this means i have to wait another two and-a-half years for the release of tobacco road i will call in every personal favor owed to me by panamanian guerillas who will happily grant you a semblance of pimp-strut swagger by smashing your femur with a ball-peen hammer.” i’m paraphrasing.
i heard some spirited young stalwart of the massline forums even demanded an explanation for essentially fuckin’ up his expectations for TR, so here you go, lil’ mammoth – this one’s for you.
sabz first started passin’ me beats for a follow-up project in the summer of ’06. my approach to the writing was slow and unrushed since there was no sense of urgency to test our fortitude against the sophomore slump. then came the re-release; i was reluctant, at first, but in retrospect i’m glad we made the decision to blend a little business in with the art. The national release landed us on tour with dan the automator in late november, around the time that massline was negotiating a full-scale release of geeteezy’s masterpiece lovework.
though we’d put down some rough vocals, it was clear the next CM album was still about six months out. feeling fearful of slipping into creative atrophy, i spoke with sabz about putting together a series of mixtapes. with his blessing i got to work soliciting beats and rhymes from a broad association of townsfolk; the result was massline mixtape vol. 1, a compilation with flashes of brilliance that ultimately demanded more resources than we had as a label. sure, we could have just made it available for download, but i wanted something more for a project that, for me, was supposed to satisfy the need to put out a new album. i admit i’m the main reason the massline mixtape never came to fruition; sorry, nam.
the lack of motivation to follow through with the mixtape was in large part due to the fact that sabz and i were beginning to talk more specifically about a concept for the new CM album. the title was his idea, and in a single sentence he layed out the objective. tobacco road became my primary focus and pushing the pen was imperative.
but you know how priorities do – by practical definition, attention to one means negligence of another, which often times results in the rise of a whole new problem that can’t be ignored; it insists on being your newest priority. such was the case with my health when recovery from surgery for crohn’s disease became more difficult than living with the symptoms. then it was my job after a nasty corporate takeover, then my faith during the preparation for a once-in-a-lifetime pilgrimage to israel, then my family after the brutally unexpected death of my brother-in-law.
i went nearly four months without writing, but when the chaotic contemplations became coherent analyses, the words came like a torrent. TR was now twenty tracks deep, dealing heavily with the relationship between religion, labor and suicide. recording started in june at a homie’s basement studio, but an extremely demanding work schedule caused the process to move, well, kinda slow.
it was the last week of september when we were set to wrap up the tracking of the final two songs and, to put it mildly, things fell apart. i’ll save the details for a VH1 special, or a RA/MTK collaboration diss track – whichever comes first, but suffice to say fifteen weeks of work was a wash and TR was lookin’ at a major delay. a good friend caught word of the happenin’s and pulled some strings to slide us into london bridge; five days later, TR (take two) was done.
at that point i had reasonable expectations that the album would drop early ’08. we started shopping for distribution immediately, but the response from a wide variety of labels sounded remarkably similar: “great record, but now’s not a good time.” by the end of february the prospects seemed grim, and i started putting a plan together to release TR the same way we dropped the eponymous debut – with a $3500 loan and a prayer. for the record, i wasn’t the only person in the world who thought this was a good idea, but there was one person who thought it was utterly terrible. the ensuing dialogue was intensely passionate, but from the clash of conflicting opinions comes the spark of truth.
black patch war represents the essence of compromise. i agreed to hold off releasing TR (and, somewhat ironically, potentially committing professional suicide) and to continue shopping the album on the condition we put out new material in may. we got that, and for once in a really long time it feels like the kid is winning again.
hope to see you all at the VERA project may 9th. peace to you and yours…