sweet as the scratch

"fly pirates": why i steal music and DGAF

Growing up in a public school system with few technological resources and even less faculty and staff adept at teaching alongside technology, I was always blown away by the skills my peers would showcase when we huddled around PCs, never less than four to a monitor. We lived in the same city and had the same teachers, but whenever a computer was involved, my friends and classmates were there to school me on the latest web craze and rip the mouse out of my hand when their knowledge of software trumped mine.

My awe turned to confusion when TV, the internet, and Bush's "no child left behind" curriculum informed me that there was a great "digital divide" plaguing America, propagating the myth that minorities were less likely to climb the economic latter because of their technological illiteracy. Meanwhile, in after-school programs and the occasional "typing day" in Language Arts, my black classmates could be found embedding YouTube videos in power point presentations, showing everyone how to "proxy" into the school server so we could get on Myspace, and selling mix cds and flash drives of pirated music: one-for-$10, $15-for-two.

Indeed, there was a digital divide among my peers, one between whites, who had access to computers at home but didn't do much more with them than play The Sims, and blacks, who did the majority of their computing at school but could make PCs sing…literally. Because these complex interactions with technology were often driven by one motive: hunting down music and sharing it with friends. PCs at my middle and high schools were basically over-designed jukeboxes, and the most technologically gifted students were always the folks who could access the most tracks and albums.

Best believe we weren't paying for the music we listened to on computers, mix-cds and flash drives, and the one or two iPods per friend group. This was a time when the international music industry was at a loss for how to manage digital sound, and everyone I knew got their music by wading through sketchy media-sharing platforms where the link to your favorite album could just as easily be a front for a virus or fetish porn…the shit we saw.


The way I think about and use music and technology today can be traced back to these early experiences with media piracy, which can be traced back further to me mimicking the interesting ways my friends and classmates turned computers into sound objects. Now, some years later, I'm technologically proficient with skills in web design, media composition, and hardware maintenance; more than anything else, these skills are the result of having to constantly change the way I track down and share free music. From cassettes to cds to LimeWire to Pirate Bay and torrents to mediafire to datpiff.com to YouTube/Soundcloud conversion software, and everything in between, media piracy is how I learned to tech.

Similarly, millennials boast the most technologically literate generation of urban youth to date simply because, why would anyone pay for music when you can get that shit for free? Keep stealing! Be pirates!

Cause, can a body really own sound anyway?

I obviously didn't have good taste in middle and high school when I was messing around with some of the earlier media-sharing platforms listed above, but below are ten tracks that I've had in my ears for as long as I've been listening to music forreal. It may be true that one or two of them motivated me and some classmates to dive into technology at a young age and stick with it for the occassional moment of discovery exciting and unexpected.

0:00 "Wheelz of Steel [prod. Earthtone Ideas]" - OutKast - ATLiens
4:04 "Get Ur Freak On [prod. Missy Elliot and Timberland]" - Missy "Misdemeanor" Elliot - Miss E... So Addictive
8:00 "40 Water [prod. Lil' Jon]" - E-40 - The Ball Street Journal
11:33 "Paper Planes [prod. Major Lazer]" - M.I.A - Kala
14:57 "The Food (feat. Kanye West and DJ Dummy) [prod. Kanye West] - Common - Be
18:53 "Ready or Not" - The Fugees - The Score
22:37 "Juice (Know The Ledge) [prod. Eric B]" - Eric B & Rakim - Don't Sweat the Technique
26:36 "Throw Some D's [prod. Polow da Don]" - Rich Boy - Throw Some D's
30:56 "Stay Fly (feat. Young Buck and 8Ball & MJG) [prod. DJ Paul and Juicy J]" - Three 6 Mafia - Most Known Unknown
34:51 "Po' Folks [prod. TrackBouz]" - Nappy Roots - Watermelon, Chicken & Gritz
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