The unlicensed Acid Rap CD

Last month local hip-hop phenom Chance the Rapper landed on the Billboard charts with his Acid Rap mixtape, which he released for free in April; a “label” called MTC sold 1,000 units, and it landed on Heatseekers at 26 and the R&B/hip-hop chart at 63. MTC’s Acid Rap CD is unlicensed, but as Billboard recently explained, Chance faces an uphill battle fighting bootleggers because he remains unsigned:

Since Chance doesn’t have a record deal, he doesn’t enjoy the protection of the RIAA. But his mixtapes have generated considerable buzz on the Internet and in the press, enough for a third-party company to see value in manufacturing physical copies and offering them for sale.

The other big roadblock for Chance’s camp is the shortage of available info about MTC, other than the fact that its releases are distributed by Houston company 1-Stop Distribution; it’s through 1-Stop that the Acid Rap bootleg is available through Amazon and, as I noticed over the weekend, Logan Hardware. “I thought it was on a major label or something,” says Logan Hardware co-owner John Ciba. According to Ciba, customers ask for Acid Rap regularly, so he didn’t consider the possibility that it was unlicensed when he found it in 1-Stop’s catalog. “I ordered it because it was just in a catalog,” he says.

I bought the Acid Rap CD from Amazon for $14.66 to see if it could lead me to MTC. The reverse side of the front cover is a blank page, the image on the CD is the same as the Acid Rap cover art, and the back cover crams all the track information into a space not quite big enough to fit it (for example, Peter Cottontale‘s name is cut off at the end of the listing for “Cocoa Butter Kisses,” reading “Peter Cottont”). The back cover also includes a piracy warning (“All Rights Reserved Unauthorized Duplication Is A Violation Of Applicable Laws”) and the MTC logo, a yellow circle that includes the label’s full name and alleged address: Mixtape Coalition, 2234 Roark Rd., Denton, TX 77384. No such address appears to exist, at least according to Google Maps, nor does there appear to be a “Roark Road” in Denton (a brief search does turn up a “Roark Road” in Houston).

Fortunately the Acid Rap bootleg includes another piece of information—a UPC bar code, which contains a six-digit manufacturer-identification number. Using a UPC search available through GS1, I traced the Acid Rap bar code back to Music District Inc., a tiny label based in Houston.

A screen shot of the Music District manufacturer ID number
  • Leor Galil
  • A screen shot of the Music District manufacturer ID number

According to Music District’s site, there are only a few artists on its roster, including a rapper named Twank (aka Twank Star), whose first Music District album, Twank Is Coming!, is available to download from CD Baby. The six-digit manufacturer ID included in the bar code on the CD Baby page for Twank Is Coming! matches the one on the back of MTC’s Acid Rap bootleg. That same manufacturer ID has been used for other MTC bootlegs sold through Barnes & Noble and eBay, including Gucci Mane’s I’m Up and a Lil Boosie compilation called The History of Boosie.

Music District owner and CEO Suaran Marshall says the unlicensed releases are none of his doing, and that this isn’t the first time bootleggers have used his label’s bar codes. “I’m pretty sure I know who’s behind it,” he says. “The company is going to be 1-Stop.” Music District’s relationship with 1-Stop hasn’t been entirely antagonistic, though—for example, people from both companies have worked with Twank Star. One of the rapper’s Facebook pages lists 1-Stop owner Kompari Rudison as his booking agent, even though she no longer works with him.

Rudison was out of town when I called 1-Stop, but I spoke with general manager Mike Phillips. He didn’t respond one way or the other to Marshall’s bar-code allegations when I brought them up, and he says he doesn’t know who manufactured the Acid Rap CD. “We didn’t know that was unlicensed,” Phillips says. “We talked with attorneys for Acid Rap, and we agreed to pull everything because we are unaware that it was illegal.” (Acid Rap was still available through Amazon when this post was published.)

The saga of the unlicensed Acid Rap CD appears to be coming to an end, with no clear answer as to who manufactured it. But as more unsigned artists become popular without the help of the major-label system (or any label at all), the story seems likely to keep repeating itself with different players.