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Label Spotlight

Label Spotlight: Decon

by Mosi Reeves

Label Spotlight: Decon

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The blossoming of Decon Records seems like a happy accident. Formed by Peter Bittenbender and Jason Goldwatch in 2002, the label began as a creative and video-production agency; Goldwatch, who grew into a very successful director, cut his teeth helming videos for Dilated Peoples ("Worst Comes to Worst") and Common ("1999"). The company's first project, the 2002 weed-inspired road movie One Big Trip, featured a soundtrack that included Hieroglyphics and the neo-soul singer Goapele's standout single "Soweto."

A year after Hiero Imperium released the One Big Trip CD/DVD package, Bittenbender and Goldwatch jumped into the music business themselves, surprisingly. Deconstruction Records initially seemed like a sideline venture -- it occasionally released albums by L.A. homies like the influential if perennially ignored rap crew Project Blowed (Aceyalone's Love & Hate and Haiku D'Etat's Coup De Theatre) and Dilated Peoples (The Release Party) -- while the company chased big dollars by developing campaigns for youth-market brands like Puma. It hummed along as a modest player in the waning indie/backpacker market for the next few years, until Kanye West brought them 88-Keys' oft-delayed concept album The Death of Adam. That debut was fairly mediocre, but it had a decent single with West, "Stay Up! (Viagra)," that made the rest of the rap world take notice. Meanwhile, Aceyalone's "A Beautiful Mine" became famous when the creators of the TV drama Mad Men licensed RJD2's instrumental for its opening theme music.

Now based in New York, Decon has evolved into one of the most interesting labels in hip-hop. Its strength is its eclecticism, from Canadian hip-hoppers Shad (TSOL) and Classified (Handshakes and Middle Fingers) to mercurial New York party rappers Ninjasonik (the No Swords or Masks EP) to the somewhat overrated but still compelling Midwest thug Freddie Gibbs (Str8 Killa). Add a Kanye West/G.O.O.D. Music-related "street" album from Pusha T (Fear of God II: Let Us Pray), two albums from Nigerian soul singer Nneka (a cult artist here but a major star in Europe), Chicago club DJs and mashup experts The Hood Internet (Feat), and Goapele (Break of Dawn), and it would appear that Decon operates without any particular conceptual strategy save for quality music.

One recurring theme is the label's relationship with The Alchemist. The influential West Coast producer has recently embarked on a run similar to his early-2000s breakout years scoring hits for Jadakiss and Mobb Deep, including his druggy street raps with producer Oh No as Gangrene and his own bizarre beat tapestry Russian Roulette. His menacing gangster soundtracks and somewhat-related releases like Roc Marciano's critically acclaimed Reloaded provide some consistency in an impressively chaotic catalog.

Despite Decon's heightened industry profile, it continues to show unexpected depth. Its slate so far in 2013 includes prickly but entertaining Target Market from Canadian rap group Notes to Self, and the Hunter S. Thompson-inspired A Breathtaking Trip to that Otherside from L.A. psychedelic visual artist, rapper and producer Alexander Spit. This week brings Detroit knucklehead Boldy James' Grand Quarters EP, and upcoming months will see Ninjasonik's Peter Pan Syndrome and Aceyalone's Leanin' on Slick. It's a release schedule that's a bit all over the place, and Decon probably wouldn't have it any other way.

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