How does a record label that releases two to three albums per year survive in today’s cutthroat music industry where cash is gold? When it reinvents itself without sacrificing integrity or quality. Los Angeles’ Delicious Vinyl is one of hip-hop’s longest-running independent labels.

“There is a lot of risk, and this is a family-run record label. Me and my brother [Mike Ross] own the label together, and we’ve put a lot of our lives into this. It means a lot to us to continue to create, keep it cool and keep following the path of what people have known the label to be,” co-owner Rick Ross comments.

If you were old enough to retain a memory from the early ’90s, you no doubt heard a Delicious Vinyl song on the radio. Whether it was Tone-Loc’s “Wild Thing,” Young MC’s “Bust a Move” or the Pharcyde’s “Passin’ Me By,” there was always a hip-hop anthem on the radio that Delicious Vinyl had a hand in creating.

Matt Dike and Mike Ross were responsible for starting Delicious Vinyl in 1987. Back then it was regarded as the West Coast Def Jam. Controversy surrounded its owners early on. White guys putting out black albums, who did they think they were? By cultivating some of the ’90s seminal rap and hip-hop hits, Dike and Ross earned the respect of their detractors and many fans along the way.

Dike has been out of the picture since 1992, but Rick Ross stepped in to help his brother and Chris Carey continue building their empire into the 21st century. Most of Delicious Vinyl’s catalog is nostalgic. Very little new material bears their famous logo these days, but if it does, you better believe Ross and company have faith in the product.

“We just usually try to do projects that are very organic, stuff that we’re really into,” Ross states.

The hip-hop landscape is drastically different from the days of Delicious Vinyl’s infancy when analog was prevalent and people needed skill to produce hit songs. It didn’t come without its trials though. Many artists, particularly those whose compositions were sampled either partially or entirely, frowned upon sampling.

Bands like the Pharcyde popularized it. DJ Fatlip sampled many beats on the two Pharcyde albums he appeared on: 1992’s Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde and 1995’s Labcabincalifornia.

“If you got a fan base that’s feeling what you’re doing – great, because we were taking other people’s music and we got criticized for that, for sampling whole compositions, but there was art in that and there was work put into it and we had our fans, and that’s all that matters,” Fatlip comments.

Fatlip has seen the hip-hop landscape transform from its analog roots into its current Pro Tools-friendly incarnation where skill isn’t exclusive.

“I’ve seen the rise of computer technology and the decline in the interest of music, but that’s me. Someone else that’s a Lil Wayne fan could care less about analog because at the end of the day, it’s all about the song and the artist,” Fatlip shares.

Rather than chastise the new school, Delicious Vinyl has set out to educate the new generation of aspiring hip-hop artists by providing DJ workshops at Freak City, an art space that doubles as a club by night directly under their office. At first glance, on the corner of Cassil and Sunset in Hollywood, the Karma Tobacco yellow sign that hangs over a brick building might suggest a tenant hasn’t occupied the building in ages. The frosted, double glass doors bear the tagged sign of “Freak City” and it’s inside where Delicious Vinyl bridges the new school to its roots.

“What I like to do with the space is bring back a little of the old school with a little bit of new school. That way, people can feel and get a little bit of the history vibe with a bit of the new shit,” Ross states.

In its two-story layout, there’s a main room where most DJs perform their sets with a huge video screen as a backdrop. A staircase to the right of the stage leads you to the VIP area where the leather couches are as tempting as the bar adjacent to them.

Follow the stairs down and meander through all the tagged walls to another room with a turntable in a more intimate atmosphere than the main room. Just outside of that room is an area where you can chill with a smoke and/or a drink and enjoy the night air.

“This is a club house, this space is like an art gallery. I want people to come in and be able to hang out, learn and experience something they’re not going to get anywhere else in L.A.,” Ross points out. “Sometimes it’s not about school. It’s about putting you in a creative environment where you can really see how things can be done really well.”

As Ross states, it’s not all play here. There’s also work done in the day when the club is transformed into a classroom for aspiring DJs to hone their skills or learn them from scratch. The workshop offers three experience levels: beginner, intermediate and advanced.

Beginners can expect lessons in beat matching, the fundamentals of a turntable and a brief introduction to Traktor Scratch or Serato platforms. Intermediate level students learn what the beginners do and more: master mixing with an emphasis on extending breaks, edits and BPM matching. Students also compile a one-hour mixtape for evaluation. Advanced students receive training in remixing, beat production and programming drum machines and keyboards. Students also learn Native Instruments’ Maschine. Delicious Vinyl offers lessons at each level in four 90-minute intensives free of charge.

“It’s this great chance to introduce a new generation of kids to this culture we all grew up with  – vinyl and so forth,” Ross shares.

“I respect a lot of new, cool artists ’cause I can hear the intention and the drive,” Fatlip says of today’s up-and-coming DJs. “The game never changes, but it’s always new players.”

Whether you’re an analog purist or Pro Tools enthusiast, one fact remains: You need a strong work ethic to back up the skill.

“There’s a lot of people that can try and do it, but there’s still a skill that needs to be there. There’s still a work ethic that has to exist for someone to move the crowd. You can have all the technology in the world [but] me, personally, I feel that Pro Tools killed everything,” Fatlip maintains. “If you’ve got a good song, whatever it’s recorded on, it’s gonna get felt by somebody. I do recognize the fact that lot of people, the purists, that loved what was going on in the ’90s, they can’t really get with what’s going on now because the sound has changed due to the way it’s recorded.”

Another way Delicious Vinyl is embracing the future is through their DJ app on the iPhone and iPod Touch. The Delicious Vinyl DJ App is a game where people can scratch records in the label’s library.

“It’s going to become a platform for music beyond our own catalog. To me, that’s really exciting because one of the things we like to do is help out our friends who are busting out with new music,” Ross continues. “Delicious Vinyl DJ is this great opportunity to turn people on to new music and give them a really cool app to play with as well.”

The forward-thinking label also has expanded to designing apparel. From shoes and skateboard decks to shirts, the Delicious Vinyl logo is incorporated into almost anything. Stars like Twilight’s Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart to NBA icon LeBron James wear their apparel.

Even in 1990, the label saw beyond rap and hip-hop. They re-issued Masters of Reality’s self-titled album when legendary producer Rick Rubin couldn’t afford the album’s envisioned distribution.

Recently, they’ve had their eye on club music. The prospect of releasing hardcore club music enthused Ross enough to create Delicious Gutter; a subsidiary that distributes music that otherwise wouldn’t fit under the Delicious Vinyl banner.

The DJ app and the merchandise have become integral parts of their business model since they don’t favor releasing many albums a year. It’s nothing new for them to release fewer than 10 albums a year. To a major, that’s blasphemy, but for Ross and company, it’s always been quality over quantity regardless of the success rate.

By the end of this year, Ross hopes to release at least two hardcore club albums through Delicious Gutter. Dubstep is another avenue Ross is interested in. In June, they plan to release DJ Nobody’s latest, One For All Without Hesitation.

It seems like everyone associated with Delicious Vinyl is on the same page. They could all sell out to the latest trend and cash in but instead choose to only release what they feel is right, even if it fails. It’s that nobility that has helped them survive 23 years, and more importantly, keep good music flowing in Los Angeles.

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