As a relatively unknown musician, Tim Fite may not appear to be in a position to be passing up opportunities to have his new album released. Yet the artist, who is signed to Epitaph’s adventurous imprint Anti-, is about to do just that.
His download-only “Over the Counter Culture” is the first must-hear album of 2007, a scathingly sarcastic look at consumerism, politics and corporate hip-hop. The digital release taps into the kind of political bravado of early Public Enemy, yet Fite laces his folksy hip-hop with insecurity, mainly his own doubts about his ability to practice what he preaches.
The album’s striking “It’s All Right Here” is a prime example. Fite’s drawl gradually picks up pace over a club-ready beat, capturing the sound of a man having a freak-out as he walks the aisles of Wal-Mart. With each product he passes, Fite struggles with his own desires for some “ill-begotten riches.” Passing a magazine aisle, he asks, “Where’s my groupies in they Prada jeans?”
Fite says, “A lot of people don’t even know their voice is being suppressed because they’re too busy buying stuff. They’re putting money back into a system that exploits them, and they’re told happiness comes from a material gain. That’s my primary target of rage on this record. It’s a complicated idea, and I have to recognize that my voice isn’t necessarily the most valid. I have benefited from all the things that I rail against.”
For Fite, who used to round up carts for Wal-Mart, the mega retailer was an easy target. Yet the artist brings the same sort of ironic cynicism to the anti-war rally “Camouflage,” which treats military attire as if it is a hot new fashion item. On a lighter note, he mocks the marketing of today’s rappers in “I’ve Been Shot,” declaring in the first verse that his “exit wounds make record exec goons swoon.”
Epitaph/Anti- president Andy Kaulkin heard the album and immediately wanted to release it as the follow-up to Fite’s 2005 set, the criminally underappreciated “Gone Ain’t Gone.” But Fite would have none of it.
“You cannot address politics about consumerism and put it out in the same way that any record would come out,” Fite says. “It would be wrong. It is not classy. As much as I need to pay my bills, and it’d be great to sell some records, this is not a record for sale. These ideas are not for sale. These ideas should be for free. And completely contrary to the code of record executive doctrine, Andy said, ‘I think people need to hear this, and I don’t care if we’re not going to make any money.'”
So with the help of Anti-, Fite will be making the project available as a digital download on Feb. 20, although it is out on file-sharing sites now. A proper follow-up to “Gone Ain’t Gone” should be completed by the end of 2007.