It’s been five years since MC and activist Tim Holland, aka Sole, parted ways with the seminal hip-hop label Anticon, which he co-founded. In the interim, he moved to Denver and has been focusing on his own music. But now he’s back with a new imprint: Black Box Tapes. Holland was already essentially a DIY label for his music, taking care of distribution, promotion, accounting and PR; he just decided to enhance his successful music-as-business model by bringing some of his favorite artists into the mix. “All I’m doing is taking the infrastructure that I’ve already built up and using it,” he says. “I’ve got a shell built; all I have to do is fill it with music that I like.” The Anticon experience and the years following his departure from the label taught him a lot about being a working-class musician and making it happen as a one-man operation.
“I always knew I wanted to start another record label; I told myself that when I became rich and powerful, I would put out music by all my friends,” says Holland, half joking. “But then after kind of running my own truly DIY label operation for five years, I realized that from a working-class perspective, I had all the means that I needed to create the kind of label that I wanted. I didn’t need a million dollars or sold-out shows to do it.”
A taste of the kind of music that will be released on Black Box Tapes can be found on the label’s first mixtape: The Shape of Things to Come. The free sampler is available via Bandcamp and features local and national acts like Man Mantis, WHITENOISE, Jared Paul, SkyRider and more. Holland sees it as a way for the artists to cross-promote each other, but the singles compilation also serves to give interested listeners an idea of what Black Box Tapes aims to be: a go-to hub for experimental, often politically charged and activist-minded work from all genres.
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Holland says it’s his instincts as an artist that make Black Box Tapes different from a conventional record label. “Labels are traditionally good at spending money, but they are not good at helping artists put food on the table,” he says. Starting with a roster of friends and longtime collaborators and eventually branching out to other artists is how Black Box Tapes will unfold. The key, he notes, is to do everything gradually: “I’m starting really small and building slowly and intentionally, because I want to enjoy this.”
Watch for new releases from Black Box Tapes in the coming months; they’ll be available through the label’s Bandcamp page.
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