Hip-hop’s undergoing something of a quiet crisis in that, due to the popularity of streaming, many are at risk of losing a lot of mixtape jewels and rare freestyles simply due to the fact that streaming services can’t feature them.  While I understand the legalities, it’s unfortunate that because it’s a genre based around taking something old and making it new, a lot of really great music will cease to exist outside of the mp3s people might still own from the days of Limewire. Think of how much Kay Slay, Clue?, and DJ Drama content won’t be anywhere to be found once mp3s go the way of the compact disc. Imagine a world where the only rap music we have record of has undergone all of the legal sample clearances and no one ever rhymed over anyone else’s beat. It’s sickening. So while we don’t have a solution to that inevitability just yet, I’ll share what I do personally to ensure that I’m not losing out on classic music that my favorite streaming service doesn’t have and/or never will.

Why Spotify?

One would think that the sensible option for someone who uses a Macbook would obviously be to just use Apple Music. However, I was a very early adopter of Spotify and by the time Apple Music and Google Music came to be, I was already waist deep in painstakingly curated playlists, some of which had a good following. I also like the social aspect of Spotify, in addition to the ability to embed playlists into my website, which at the time of my initial test runs, Apple Music, Google Music and Tidal did not offer, to my knowledge. I also like the attention Spotify places on playlist creation, with recommended songs to add to the playlists you create, the ability to add an image for your playlist, and just a damn good UI.

What’s the point?

Say you want De La Soul or Anita Baker’s discographies, which are nowhere to be found on Spotify – De La Soul because of longstanding legal issues which make their catalogue unavailable for streaming anywhere and Anita Baker because she apparently thinks making her music only available on Tidal of all services is a good idea. However, if you own their albums outright, it’s your right to listen to them via whatever medium you please and Spotify allows you to add your local files (files installed on your computer) to your Spotify account for personal use (these songs won’t be shareable, but there’s always Dropbox for that).

How does it work?

While you won’t be able to share the songs you put on Spotify from your local files with friends,  you’ll be able to access them alongside the rest of your Spotify collection and include them in your playlists, to be heard on as many devices as you have connected to your account.

  1. Open up Spotify on your computer.
  2. Go to Local Files on the left-hand menu. There may be duplicate songs if the files exist both as iTunes files and in your computer’s general files.
  3. Tap “Filter” to enter in search criteria (artist, song or album title, etc.) to find songs
  4. Click and drag all of the songs you want from your local files over to your playlists on the right or just right-click to add them to playlists.
  5. Sync your devices. If you want this music to be playable on your phone, simply open Spotify on your phone and hit the “Download” button on the playlist or playlists you’ve added the downloaded music to.

It’s a lot easier than it even looks here, but for Spotify users who want to add their own music for convenience, it’s clutch. And it’s a win for hip-hop fans, as we can still have convenient access to all of those rare freestyles and loose records that will never officially see the light of day in a world set up for streaming.

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I haven’t been interested in new Drake material since 2009’s So Far Gone. For those that know my writing, it’s no surprise that I’m still not interested, but I don’t think I’ve ever shared that I once was. My little sister actually put me on to Drake’s Comeback Season mixtape back in ’07 and I liked it so much I told everyone I knew about it. This was back when he was making records with the likes of Dwele and Little Brother and not jacking the style of an entire region every other song. Nevertheless, I’m still a rap critic of sorts, so I find it necessary to listen to everything I can, especially since Drake is one of the most (I hate that I’m saying it and you’re gonna hate that I’m using the word) important rap artists of the decade. Granted, that isn’t saying much for rap’s current crop of fans, but I digress. Drake’s Views album dropped today, but is available exclusively on Apple Music and iTunes. While it’s unclear whether the album will remain restricted to just Apple availability, it’s difficult to understand from an artist’s standpoint why this new tactic makes any sense other than to appease the powers that be (Apple, Tidal).

I canceled Apple Music about a week ago. I had meant to do it months before, but just got around to it recently. The same thing happened with Google Music, though as an Android loyalist, I still buy music I can’t find on Spotify from the Play store as opposed to iTunes for convenience’s sake. I gave up on Apple Music due to the inability to embed playlists onto my blog, which was a deal-breaker for me. I was an early adopter of Spotify and have been using it to embed playlists and the occasional single song onto my blog for some time now. Other than that glaring omission and the lack of any real social aspect (because who doesn’t like to silently judge their friends for listening to Nickelback or the likes of Rae Sremmurd on Spotify), Apple Music was a beautiful service. I also tried Tidal during its debut month, but canceled within a week, quickly identifying it as utter rubbish in a shiny wrapper – I once wrote that it was the Emperor’s New Clothes of streaming services, a vanity project that only served to show how out of touch Jay-Z and friends truly are with the average music fan. It was clear very quickly, I’m sure, to the numbers folks at Tidal that:

  1. Nobody gave a fuck about what artists make per stream, and
  2. Nobody gave a fuck about the edge in sound quality Tidal was claiming to offer.

Third – the app is trash, fam. You’re charging people more than Spotify or Apple, yet lack a desktop client, the ability to upload your own music to listen to via the app, any social aspect, or really anything the other services don’t offer, aside from “exclusive concerts”, which I’m also sure nobody gave a flying fig about. So instead of heading back to the lab to come up with a better product, the bunglers at Tidal decide “hey, we’ll just hold some popular musicians’ music hostage and they’ll have no choice but to subscribe” (Tidal also offers no “free” tier of membership). This seemed to work at first when Kanye decided to drop The Life Of Pablo this year and Tidal was happy to report the number of people who had subscribed that week, but they conveniently failed to report the number who had unsubscribed once the free trial had ended or at the end of one or even two payment cycles. What was absolutely rich though was the staggering number of people who took to the torrents to download the album illegally. A mere two days after release, Torrent Freak reported a whopping 500,000 downloads from BitTorrent and was the most popular download on Pirate Bay.

All of you may not remember the struggle of pirating music from Napster, Kazaa, Limewire, or Frostwire, but we old-timers (allegedly) used to go through hell trying to get albums free and sometimes early and none of it was very convenient (though at the time, it was the best thing in the world for people who would have otherwise got stoned, went down music’s memory lane and woke up to a $60 iTunes receipt for purchasing random Stevie B or Blue Oyster Cult records). It was the Internets equivalent to walking five miles in the snow to get to the soda fountain or whatever the fuck your Paw Paw used to talk about. When streaming came about, ex-Limewire experts who had graduated to torrenting elsewhere were able to give out a collective sigh of relief because for a lousy ten bucks a month, one could have convenient access to damn near everything they wanted to hear – ever. No more having to unzip folders, check if they were legit, transfer to iTunes, then go through the epic hell of having to rename all of the songs therein to fit within your iTunes library or wherever you store your tunes. You’ll feel me if, like me, you feel like a clean music library is neck and neck with godliness.

For many of those same people to return to torrenting to get ahold of the Kanye album should show just how unappealing Tidal is to anyone with any modicum of savvy. Sure, you might snag subscriptions from the relentless Stans and/or people not particular about their music apps, but you’re missing out on an unidentifiable mass of casual fans and people who just want to use whatever app they’re most comfortable with to play music. And the thing is – they’re going to find a way to get your album in some fashion and you won’t even get the credit for the stream. Why? – because you wanted “control”.

When the awful news broke that Prince had died, fans like myself were stuck at work without access to their favorite Prince videos or songs to binge-enjoy. Within a few hours, though, the Internets were silently buzzing with Dropbox folders a-flying. With semi-obvious names like “Purple Doves”, people who weren’t willing to subscribe to Tidal were sharing music the old way, albeit the illegal one, like it or not. While I understand that people want to respect Prince’s wishes about access to his music, Prince was also notoriously Internet-shy and I doubt he had a real grasp on how the average web-savvy music head operates or how the plugged-in youth consume music. Despite their infinite access to almost everything in music history, many just don’t care about anything that’s older than five years and if they do, they’re not bending over backwards (clicking a YouTube link) to go find out about it. The sad thing about the latter group of music fans is that making music inaccessible to them will only ensure that that music dies along with the older generations that popularized it and who remember it fondly. It’s a shame in Prince’s case, considering how well Purple Rain stands to this day as a perfect album, one that could come out today and still be called a flawless record, even by smart music fans who weren’t born until over a decade after its release.

The competition between streaming services shouldn’t be about who can get what artist. The competition needs to be who can build the better, more intuitive apps. The way things are set up currently, the end user loses. The slow-witted uber-dedicated will pay for more than one app just to have access to one or two artists, some will find ways to access the music they want and get it on the app they like, and others will just ignore albums they don’t have access to altogether (this is what I did with the most recent Adele album, since “Hello” was available on Spotify – I’ll just assume there’s nothing good on the album because I refuse to seek it out to transfer to Spotify). People listen to music in different ways. As a music writer, I want to be able to both hear music without having to pay for every single record and also share it with my network and readers conveniently. Some people just want to stream whatever an app is willing to spoon-feed them. The streaming services should be building out their services to fit the most needs possible instead of trying to hold their artists’ releases hostage.