When it comes to legal issues surrounding a hip hop label, the cease & desist letters of infringement typically come from the liberal sampling done by an artist on the roster. Stones Throw tried to slip one under the radar of the United States Patent & Trademark Offices when it released Jonwayne's Cassette last year. Designed by Jeff Jank, he and the label thought no one would ever know, but even patent lawyers have kids who listen to hip hop it would seem. Someone snitched to Malboro and threats were issued to destroy all the remaining cassettes.
I talked to Jeff about the C&D letter and the reactionary tape Cassette 2, which is out now on Stones Throw and begging Coca-Cola to say something.
When you designed the CS did you take measures to avoid this sort of infringement?
Not at all, it didn't cross my mind. The cigarette box is the type of thing I use to do myself on all my own mixtapes as a kid. The font I got on some crappy “free fonts” website, and the tape was obviously made to look like a pack of cigarettes.
We didn't vet the design with lawyers, not at all. We passed it around and did it as a low-key kind of thing. Jonwayne wanted just to do something unusual, so we did. So getting a C&D was like the recognition of getting a Grammy.
Was there ever the idea kicked around of fighting it. I mean the design shares one letter “A” and even the As are different.
Fighting it would have been kind of pointless, even if we did have a spare 50 grand laying around and a few months to kill.
So the reactionary tape was made. What were some other iconic designs you kicked around?
I was going to do another one last year to release on Halloween that looked like a snickers bar, with a razor blade slipped in with the tape. But that seemed like a lot of work for a laugh, so we didn't make it.
How did you decide on Coca-Cola?
After we got this letter from the Philip Morris reps, the new idea came right away. Obviously the new one is more in parody territory. Not just a parody of the soda company, but a parodying the idea of a multi international conglomerate devoting any attention at all to a small indie record label — especially when the product in question is a completely outmoded one, the cassette tape.
But the whole point of this to begin with is Jonwayne's rap tracks. I'm happy to say he's working on some pretty good stuff — the tracks on this new tape a really too good for just a tape, but that's what we've committed to. He's got an album wrapping up with a title in line with the two cassettes — Rap Album One — we're looking forward to getting this out in a way that's a little easier for folks without tape decks to hear.