New York native Matt Diamond is a busy man, running an influential music marketing company and a label, Coalmine Records. We talked to him about Coalmine’s latest project, Beats, Mines and Life: An Instrumental Journey, the history and ethos behind the label, and more.
Tell us about the concept behind Beats, Mines and Life: An Instrumental Journey.
Shouts for the Q&A. And lemme take a moment to give credit where it’s due, but I appreciate the day-in, day-out work you’ve been puttin’ in for the site. You’ve carved out a nice niche for where the dope shit could live in cyberspace. As for Beats, Mines and Life, I wanted to get a new project off the ground quickly to christen Coalmine’s new deal with EMPIRE Distribution, before we start getting into some of our full-length projects. Conceptually, I just thought it would be fresh to put the spotlight on the producers we’ve worked with over the years in the form of a beat tape, and highlight some of the more standout instrumentals off our catalog.
It feels like something of a pet project. Is it an idea you’ve had for a while?
I first toyed with the idea during the summer and thought a beat tape would not only be a quick and easy way to drop some content, but would also be fitting to drop on cassette in time for Cassette Store Day. So from there came the fun part of digging through our catalog and curating the tracklist.
The scope of producers included is pretty epic. How did you decide on the list of tracks to include?
I first cut my teeth as a deejay, so it comes pretty natural for me to group tracks together. I didn’t dig too far back into our catalog, so mostly everything’s from the 2nd half of our label’s history…or the past five years. But I wanted to make sure that I represented a good balance of the producers we’ve worked with, while sonically making sure all of the tracks fit. It was a bit of a jigsaw puzzle, but if you give it a listen, you could get a good sense of how most of the instrumentals just work really well together in sequence. I know I’ve done my part when after just a few listens you could sense the next track come in before it drops.
Did you have to make any tough choices, leaving some strong contenders out of the mix to make sure the tracklist was kept succinct?
Yah there were a couple tough choices. I was most torn between going with the original, M-Phazes produced version of Perfect Timing, or the Max I Million remix. I love ‘em both, but decided on the latter; M-Phazes is already well represented on the project with four other instrumentals, and the remix I thought worked really well in sequence.
Other than that, I was a bit indecisive on which Thelonious Martin-produced track off Molotov (Saga & Thelonious Martin) to use, but the vibe of They Don’t Know was the perfect closer. It wasn’t until after I was decided on the tracklist that I made the connection between the last track and the album title. Thelo used the same Minnie Riperton sample for Inside My Love that ATCQ used for, Lyrics to Go, so that pretty much sealed the deal, considering that the album title is a play on ATCQ’s fourth album.
I recently read an interview with Blockhead, where he was asked if there’s still a place for instrumental Hip-Hop. In my opinion there definitely is, but I’m intrigued to hear your thoughts.
Haha, I know that interview you’re talking about. Overall, I think you could reach a broader audience with instrumentals – not everyone is a fan of rap, but a great beat will resonate with almost any music lover. There’s also a lot of incredible production that just isn’t rap friendly. Ya know, the type of beats that sound incredible by themselves, but either just don’t work, or are too busy to be accompanied by vocals.
But I think a lot of music platforms realize the impact and significance of instrumental Hip-Hop. Spotify’s dedicated more space for instrumentals, with a rollout of new playlists; Lofi Hip Hop, Chill Instrumental Beats, and Trap & 808 Instrumental Beats. Longstanding vinyl retailer/distributor Fat Beats has been showcasing their homage for instrumental Hip-Hop as of late with their producer’centric vinyl series, Baker’s Dozen (listen to these installments from Ras G and Marco Polo). And then, of course, there’s the Beat Society showcase, which is dedicated to the fine art of beatmaking, and has been doin’ its thing since the early/mid-aughts.
What’s interesting about Beats, Mines and Life: An Instrumental Journey is that, for someone like me who was already familiar with the vocal version of many of the tracks, you get a different perspective now, focusing your ear on the beat rather than the lyrics. Was that part of the intention?
I think inevitably that was part of the intention. When music can exist as an unscripted open vacuum, it could take on an entirely new meaning. I’m usually always amazed when I hear the full instrumental version of a track for the first time, after first being only familiar with the vocal version. Sometimes the difference is really subtle, like being able to single out the bassline with a bit more clarity. Other times the difference is night and day, like when the vocals drown out the sample, and the instrumental track takes on a new form.
I also think that by lumping these beats together on one project, sans vocals, you get a greater understanding of our sound and our brand as a label. And akin to the artists we work with, there’s a certain pulse that remains somewhat constant, a common denominator of sorts that binds our releases together. Beats, Mines and Life helps bring that pulse to the forefront.
For those not familiar with Coalmine Records as a label, can you give us a potted history?
As a quick rundown, I launched Coalmine in ’05, solely with the intention of dropping a couple vinyl singles here and there. I couldn’t have picked a worse time – vinyl sales were in a sharp decline, and everything was starting to become digital. But I stayed the course, soaked up game, and would eventually release a bunch of full-length projects. After doing this for over a decade now, we’ve released full projects to date with the likes of Blu & Nottz, Guilty Simpson & Small Professor, Planet Asia & DJ Concept, Sean Price (RIP) & M-Phazes, Saga & Thelonious Martin, El Da Sensei, Bekay, Aaron Rose (Pro Era), and more, and have worked with everyone from the likes of Pharoahe Monch, C.L. Smooth, Kool G Rap, Large Professor, Masta Ace, Skyzoo, Rah Digga, The Artifacts, Talib Kweli, Heltah Skeltah, Big Noyd, Supernatural, Roc Marci, AG, Apathy & Celph Titled, The Beat Junkies (DJ Babu, DJ Rhettmatic), DJ Revolution, and a bunch others. Since 2013, all of our releases have been emcee/producer collaborations, and I don’t intend on that to change anytime soon.
To get a good idea of what we’re about, press play on our decennary compilation LP, Unearthed, which is mixed by the incredible DJ Revolution. I’d like to think of this as our label’s Soundbombing II.
What’s next up for the label?
We have our first 10-Inch vinyl release planned for Record Store Day/Black Friday (11/24). I’m gonna keep the details on this one a secret for the time being. To kick off the new year, we’re gonna drop our final installment from Blu & Nottz, which will conclude the series. And earlier this year, we announced a collab LP from Diabolic & Vanderslice which should see the light of day sometime next year. But we always have something new in the works, and if it’s not a full-length project, we’re usually releasing something on 45 for either of the two Record Store Day holidays, so just follow us online and you’ll be kept in the loop.
Interview by Grown Up Rap Editor Ben Pedroche.