The pics show over 100 rare underground tapes that I collected over about 10 years. There are actually a lot more but these are the ones I have found so far that have covers & cases. About 5 of these are actually still shrink wrapped. Most of them were purchased or traded directly from the artist when they were new. None of these have been collected after the fact, none are re-prints. I could bust out the records & CDs to but tapes are special. If you see something missing that you think I should add to my collection or this gallery please feel free to let me know.
We have some very limited edition shirts featuring the the Four Track Anthems tape cover. If you want one hit me up. We have medium, large & XL.
Highground was the brainchild of Pilot Rase A.K.A. RaseOne, Pro A.K.A. Megabusive & Joe Dub A.K.A. “the hardest working man in show business”. In 1996 Highground was formed by these 3 emcees as an umbrella under which to “publish” the music being created by FTA and affiliates.
From the first days of the crew various artists from FTA were also heavy into music. A bunch of us had been rhyming since childhood. In 1993-94 most of us were still in Highschool or had just graduated. We had a rap crew with almost a dozen emcees from 4 cities. Durring that 94-95 period we would go down to KSCU & bust rhymes live on the air. The original crew split up after a while. We never recorded anything as a group. UBC (rhyming under the name “sequel”" at the time) Triangulum & Liquid Gold formed “Verbacydols” & started doing some recording with Sacred hoop in late 94. Rase & Mega (called “Pro” at the time) had started recording in early 1995 with a little help from some of our early music mentors like “O” & “Luke Sick”. Most people think that Highground started with the FTA tapes (Four Track Anthems etc.) but actually the first official highground release was Young Joseph’s (Joe Dub) Noise Pollution cassette circa 1998. Our best known underground tape “Four Track Anthems” actually pre-dates Highground by 1-3 years depending on the song. Once we formed Highground Four Track Anthems was then re-released under the Highground label & we published almost everything under that banner from 1997 – 2003 including several projects of our own & dozens from other artists. By then (2003ish) the 3 main founders had temporarily fallen out due to everyone being a savage & doing too much. Numerous personal issues broke up the original collective for a while. By 2004 we had phased out most of the old catalog & we were letting all of the old stock sell out & disappear from the internet & store shelves. Highground had become a small business by then providing various media services so it did not dissolve however we only released 1 FTA group album from 2002 – 2007 & focused on helping other artists & building the other aspects of the business. By 2007 All the old homies were friends again. Everyone was a lot doper & more together then we were back in the day. A whole new era for Highground, FTA etc. started around then. We are still in business & we are still making & releasing music today (2010) and we are still doing quite a bit of the undergrounds dirty work… but the more recent dealings of Highground & the other ventures of Highgrounds founders & the FTA crew are a topics for other articles. This one is more about our origins & history.
With many FTA members also being musicians, emcess, deejayz, producers etc. Highground was a natural development. It is now & always was more of an artistic necessity than a real business venture. We really only started it to serve our own needs. Our early tapes are not demos & the artists we helped out were not generally looking for deals. Real FTA songs were more like open mic sessions even less organized & poorly recorded than most other underground Hip-Hop but people always seemed to love it or at least be amused by it. Highground helped to organize, enhance & preserve this type of material for dozens of local artists in the early years. Before long we were all making cleaner, more deliberate tracks & albums with tools like four tracks, ASR10 sampler/sequencers, MPCs, live instruments & literally things like buckets & pots once in a while. With expert self producers like Joe Dub, AC75, Vrse Murphy & others to help guide us the Highground collective produced several talented emcees, producers & engineers over the years. With all doors open & nothing off limits we thought of our recordings as a side effect of the day to day life we were living. Our early recordings are just a tiny fragment of what was actually going on all those years, just a whole bunch of short moments captured. Highground was not created to help us make music. We made music while we were chillin, it was very non-technical & almost sarcastic. Highground was built to do the dirty work. Funding, manufacturing, graphics, internet, equipment, even transportation, roadtrips etc. were basically Highgrounds problem. The idea was that with some of us being very serious about a career in music Highground would allow us all to self publish any project we wanted without censorship or financial issues or arguing over the details of our “band” getting in the way. When it came to our own music we were just expressing ourselves & having fun. We took the artform very seriously but didn’t really care what anyone thought about our crazy songs. We knew certain folks would appreciate it & we left everything in the condition it was in at the end of the session. We made our music in a party atmosphere with tons of people around. All lyrics were written on the spot or freestyled. About half of the beats were made on the spot.
Considering that we were 16 – 23 years old, drunk with very primitive equipment (porta 03 4 track & ds8 sampler) we thought this was pretty good so we never tried to remix or re-record anything. Our tapes had more hiss & wilder levels than anyone’s. Even though we had been rapping for years by then we just did not have the patience. Sometimes we would start with a crystal clear beat but one way or another it all wound up super lo-fi in the end. We liked it that way. We released like 120 tracks like this before finally getting frustrated & starting to clean up our act a little with albums like “Threatening Myself” & “Farewell To Analog” which came out in 1999.
After a while we started to hate the word “underground”. It’s not just independent Hip-Hop music. It’s a genre of its own & underground is a perfectly good term for it but after a while it got too big and that word just sounded like trendy nonsense. Highground was doing cold, hard business. Breaking bread, breaking our backs. Most musicians are of course unsigned so there is always an underground scene in any genre by default. The“underground” or independent scene the Highground operates in has been around in some form since the beginning of Hip-Hop on the west coast & is still around today but the real peak so far was from about 1996 – 2001. That’s when there was the most activity, the most fans & the largest events. The scene did not die though. The hardcore devotees & the original community of artists have kept things going all around the bay area (and the globe) until today. With technology changing so fast a lot of people these days are looking back to things created before computers ran every home studio. Truthfully there can never really be an “underground” now that the internet is omnipresent in our lives. We had to actually travel & mail things back and forth. We had to make long distance phone calls & promote events on foot with paper fliers. The internet was around obviously & the underground had a strong presence there but things are much different now in 2010. The fact that this type of life was rare & yet shared by isolated groups of people all over the world lead to a specialized art form that was almost like rap for rappers or art for artists. 90% of the people at shows back then were artists themselves. These days the public is much more accessible to the musician or artist & most of what young artists make goes directly onto the internet. There is so much out there that no one could experience it all in one life time. The strange forces that brought us all together back then were much more mysterious than a facebook wall or myspace band page. Those words would have all been complete gibberish in the nineties. Hip-Hop had basically saved all of our lives so we evangelized our culture like a religion & that’s what it took to spread the music back then. The underground scene was an actual “social network”, an obscure street level movement spread directly through actual friends. It spread around the globe eventually causing the music industry (and the software industry for that matter) to adopt separate genre classifications for “Rap” & “Hip-Hop”… not quite right but a step in the right direction.
We adopted the internet along with everyone else. With this site (fulltimeartists.com) opening in 1998 we have basically always had a presence online. The net was really still finding its legs then. We were working a lot with DeeSkee from la2thebay.com & P-Minus of ATAK distribution (both still in business). It’s not that we are bitter about the internet or that it harmed our musical goals. The internet sold music for us exponentially more than the scattered brick & mortar distribution we scraped up. The issue is that things back then could be truly obscure, truly forgotten. Nothing is ever forgotten anymore. Anything obscure can be immediately brought to light. The simple knowledge that you are playing to an eternal world audience changes the nature of music. We did not know that 15 years later those early projects would still have a cult following & people would pay $75 for original copies of the cassettes but here we are (wish I had one to sell). We thought that all of these recordings & drawings & shows & events & fliers… would disappear into yesterday. Over time it seems they remain online somewhere forever. resurfacing from the analog past on myspace or facebook, eternally jumping around the world. Rather than resent the fact that our material is loose on the internet & rather than be ashamed of our old, childish material we have come to just accept it & help keep it in context. Our biggest accomplishments in music, art, business etc. all happened in the later days from 2000 to 2010 but no matter if we like it or not we will always be known for what we did in the early years. We helped eachother & dozens & dozens of other people, produce, publish, manufacture, distribute & promote their music & labels before most of us turned 20. Highground is not our biggest or baddest creation but it was our first real business & it has been essential the local scene since day 1.
Thanks for reading.