Big in Japan
"People get caught up and lose everything they have trying to be famous. I like making safe, smart, calculated moves."
So says Will Glass, a.k.a. Intrinzik, during our sprawling discussion and along the way, he'll also advocate keeping a day job, having something to fall back on, and being monetarily practical overall.
You probably don't expect such frugality, such pragmatism, from a rapper. But 28-year-old Intrinzik does a lot of things you might not expect. In five short years, he's gone from a hardcore punk drummer to a novice rap-rocker in a ski mask to an accomplished MC who can hold his own alongside such heavyweights as Cappadonna, the Phunk Junkeez, and the late Proof of D12, who recorded two appearances on Intrinzik's album just weeks before his murder. He's also become an underground rap mogul with his Intrinz INK record label.
Intrinzik's five years of rap 'n' grind are conveniently collected for posterity on his new CD/DVD career retrospective My Favorite Album, released on October 31, the same day everyone's least favorite album, Kevin Federline's Playing With Fire, hit the streets and the streets hit back. When the smoke clears, both will have probably sold somewhere in the 8,000 to 10,000 range, but one will be considered a dismal flop while the other will be deemed an underground success. And while Intrinzik is too smart to get caught making dumb-ass K-Fed claims like "The world is mine," he may already have a part of the world in his back pocket.
That's right. Intrinzik's big in Japan. Although he may not have name recognition with your average Tokyoite, Intrinzik's got a serious distribution deal there with RB Records, a sizable rap-rock label. Having already sold vast amounts of CDs by Intrinzik's old rap-rock group Fallguy, and Separated at Birth (his horrorcore side project), RB is now giving the Intrinzik brand name a push.
While rap-rock is considered old hat worn backward in the U.S., Intrinzik notes, "Japan is just getting into it now. A lot of the local bands there are in that Limp Bizkit mode. So it works out great for me. . . . But the U.S. is a hard market; people download music. In Japan, it's all about the culture people want the album, the artwork, they support the artist back in the States."
No matter what the sales figures are in his hometown for My Favorite Album (currently he estimates it's sold between 800 and 900 copies), Intrinzik knows it's going to sell 10 times that amount in Japan.
To promote My Favorite Album, RB has already installed Intrinzik endcaps and listening booths in many Japanese record retailers, giving the kind of in-store promotion that is unheard of here in this country unless you're Mariah Carey or Joe Schmo with megabucks to waste.
"With this record, I could've been in Best Buy or got a listening booth. All these distribution companies want you to put $5,000 or $10,000 in promotion, and by the time you're done with it, you've got to sell 3,000 records to break even," Intrinzik says. "I sell 1,000 records by myself and make $8,000. Same with touring. To open up for the Kottonmouth Kings, you might pay 10 grand. Just to get on the bill. I've got bills to pay. So instead, I'm all over iTunes and selling online downloads. At my level, with no radio or MTV just get the music out there, make a little noise, and make your money back."
The growing Intrinz INK recording roster is one way the rapper keeps his profile up in other states. He's got McNastee representing Intrinz INK in Lawton, Oklahoma, and Jason Porter in Los Angeles, with other future potentials including Big Slack (Oklahoma City), Menacide (Grand Rapids, Michigan), and Fury (Bristol, Connecticut).
"We're all friends, and when I have a flier, I'll put an ad for McNastee's album on the other side and we all do cross-promotion that way," Intrinzik says. "Whatever I'm doing for them in my city, they're doing for me in theirs. Or else we'll broker beats or sell verses for each other and split the money."
Clay Conner, a.k.a. Big Slack from Oklahoma City, is another rapper who could be the next link in the expanding Intrinz INK chain. "I had always heard about Intrinzik through message boards and underground music Web sites," Conner says. "However, Intrinzik really came onto my 'radar' when I heard about McNastee in Lawton, Oklahoma. After doing a handful of shows with McNastee [with Intrinzik in attendance for a couple], he expressed interest in releasing my mix tape, Pick Up the Slack Vol. 1, and also my first official solo album."
Oklahoma City's rap scene, Slack says, "is basically nonexistent. People here just don't want or aren't ready to buy tickets to hip-hop shows and CDs from up-and-coming artists. So the situation at Intrinz INK is really good for me, since a number of the sales come from the Internet and people in other markets who are willing to buy underground music and come see underground hip-hop shows."
With an eye to the immediate future, Intrinzik is currently recording a brand-new Fallguy record specifically for the Japanese market and producing a hip-hop album by a 50-year-old homeless guy he discovered outside of Circle K called Shep Dog. Intrinzik set up Shep in a condo his previous renters trashed, and Shep is doing home improvement work on the place while recording what could be a rap first a been-there-done-that-buy-me-a-beer pimp. "He raps 1992 shit," Intrinzik says. "He sounds like a more aggressive Eazy-E. It's probably the raddest thing I've ever been involved with."
What about the follow-up to Intrinzik's second solo album, Tricks of the Trade, in which he revealed every shell game his platinum peers were up to, from renting bling and ho's for videos, to buying rhymes, to rapping off cue cards? We may have to wait a while, since Intrinzik is true to every word he spits, even in jest, and he's unique in his knack for lowering expectations, too, with claims like "You're gonna hate this song," "My verses need work, they're the worst on the street," and "This song is number zero, it's off the charts." Who else disses himself on his own record before a hater can? And in the process, delivers a great record?
Yet Intrinzik takes what he says very seriously. "On one of my songs, I say, 'Platinum plaques on my third release.' If I don't think it's going to go platinum, I'm not gonna do it. I'm gonna find my way around it," he says.
Doing a greatest hits, which doesn't count, was one way. He also plans to release Intrinzik singles every couple of months online, and when he has 74 minutes, he'll design a three-inch album cover and put it up on iTunes as a digital-only album.
"Record stores are done. Kids going to high school have all got iPods and everything is already moving away from CDs, so why fight it?" Intrinzik says sadly. For a musician who grew up hanging around in record stores, trading in his punk CDs to get the new rap CDs and reversing the process when he missed having the old punk CDs, this particular passing of the torch is a bitter pill to swallow.
"Sure, I'll miss doing the elaborate packaging. But kids in this country don't give a shit about that," he muses before brightening again. "But as a record label owner, my job has just gotten even easier. So do I want to run three miles and lose 10 pounds, or do I want to walk a mile and lose eight pounds?"
We'll wait while you do the math.
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