ROPEADOPE ANNOUNCES 25th ANNIVERSARY CELEBRATION

Ropeadope, the pioneering music company renowned for empowering a vast range of artists to maintain their creative and financial independence, is proud to announce its 25th anniversary celebration. 

Since 1999, the Grammy-winning imprint has released more than 650 albums from rising players and industry icons alike, traversing jazz and Latin jazz, DJ culture, funk, R&B, hip-hop, roots music and fusion, along with indefinable, beyond-genre blends. Ropeadope has presented essential albums by some of the most significant and influential artists in contemporary music, among them King Britt, Lakecia Benjamin, Ramsey Lewis, Yazz Ahmed, The Last Poets, Chief Adjuah, Eddie Palmieri, Claudia Acuña, Snarky Puppy, Vivian Sessoms, The Campbell Brothers, Ellen Andrea Wang, Col. Bruce Hampton, Phish’s Mike Gordon, Antibalas and many more. Through the slings and arrows of the creative industry’s last quarter-century, Ropeadope has been a model of persistence and integrity — a community-building, socially conscious, artist-first organization that has persevered in a commercial music industry increasingly focused on devaluing and exploiting musicians’ work. 

The celebration will take place over the next six months, presenting Ropeadope’s fascinating history and remarkable longevity in a cultural context. To tell this story, Ropeadope will launch a scrolling multimedia documentary featuring audio, video, text and other elements. It will be narrated by the founders, staff and musicians who have kept Ropeadope a living, breathing reflection of the scene. Four “eras” of the documentary will be unveiled during the year, culminating with the debut of the Ropeadope chatbot (a.k.a. Jerome Brown), which offers fans and artists the chance to interact with Ropeadope directly. 

Coinciding with the documentary rollout, a series of panel discussions will feature past and present staff and musicians, as well as key industry professionals who’ve played important roles in the Ropeadope story. Along with these discussions, presented on YouTube and social media, additional livestreams and recorded videos will dig deeper into specific aspects of Ropeadope’s history, with direct Q&A opportunities for fans following each session. A monthly radio show, premiered  at ropeadope.com, will feature takeovers by guest artists spinning their favorite Ropeadope tracks and creating a dialogue around the question, What does Ropeadope mean to you?

Playlists on top streaming platforms will connect Ropeadope’s rich past to its active present. In its clothing arm, Ropeadope will roll out capsule collections of its classic designs throughout the year. Select album covers will also be available for on-demand printing, on shirts and hats as well as hangable prints. 

But the crux of this celebration and reflection will be the multimedia documentary. The opening segment, the Founders Era, to launch in fall 2024, will return fans to the Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn of the late 1990s, when artists of divergent styles and backgrounds could still live in NYC on the cheap, communing nightly at venues like the Knitting Factory, Tonic and Wetlands Preserve. It was in that scene that a young entertainment lawyer and entrepreneur named Andy Hurwitz sought to document brilliant musicians like the turntablist DJ Logic, whose future-jazz document Project Logic was the first Ropeadope release. 

More mind-blowing albums along the axis of jazz, jam, soul, hip-hop and roots music followed, as did a deal with Atlantic Records, facilitated by industry legends Ahmet Ertegun and Craig Kalman. In 2001, the Ropeadope Industries Clothing lines were introduced, setting a new standard for intelligent, visually arresting streetwear that communicated cultural intellect, Afrocentrism and social-justice advocacy. 

Subsequent “eras” in the documentary will be released in the fall and winter, chronicling Ropeadope’s many innovations and groundbreaking releases. Those achievements include an astonishing tally of “firsts”: Ropeadope was the first label to host a blog, as well as the first to promote a podcast; and while it wasn’t the very first to offer its more enterprising artists their own sublabels, it has innovated that practice by making it a central part of the Ropeadope model — with over a dozen imprints launched, by Snarky Puppy (GroundUP), Chief Adjuah (Stretch Music), the Philly-based, Black-woman-owned imprint Artists First, and more. 

With these efforts and others, Ropeadope has connected some of the most exciting regional music scenes in America and around the globe — crisscrossing sounds and vibes among Dallas, Atlanta, Philly, New York, London and beyond. Earlier this year, Ropeadope and the advocacy organization City of Gold Arts announced a partnership called AfricArise. This new label group will provide a curated hub for artist-owned imprints that support the thrilling and diverse sounds being recorded today under the banner of African Jazz.

Ropeadope also provided early showcases for greats like Robert Randolph and North Mississippi Allstars’ Luther and Cody Dickinson (in the gospel-blues supergroup The Word), Norah Jones (on the Dirty Dozen Brass Band’s Medicated Magic album) and the Benevento/Russo Duo. Alongside Christian McBride and Uri Caine in the Philadelphia Experiment, who debuted on Ropeadope in 2001, Questlove revealed components of his exceptional musicianship that even dedicated Roots fans weren’t familiar with. 

At the dawn of the 2010s, Ropeadope began releasing music by Snarky Puppy, the Dallas-rooted collective that, through a combination of social-media savvy and constant touring, became a phenomenon. The technically astounding group, helmed by the bassist and composer Michael League, created public attention around fusion that hadn’t been seen since the 1970s. In 2014, a year after current CEO Louis Marks took the reins, and seven years after the label moved to Philadelphia, Snarky Puppy and Lalah Hathaway earned a Grammy for Best R&B Performance, for “Something,” from their Ropeadope release Family Dinner: Volume One.

All the while, Ropeadope has provided a zealous platform for music with something to say. AntibalasWho Is This America?, Analog Players Society & Masta Ace’s Home in America, Vivian SessomsI Can’t Breathe and the Last PoetsTranscending Toxic Times are but a few examples of Ropeadope releases that give compelling creative voice to the voiceless.   

Louis Marks and Fabian Brown (photo by Lynda Wyatt)

But the entirety of Ropeadope’s narrative hasn’t been a runaway success, and the documentary will pay thoughtful attention to those lean years of uncertainty: the collapse of physical distribution; the devastation wrought by Katrina on Ropeadope’s beloved New Orleans scene; the Great Recession; the Covid pandemic; the ascent of streaming and its negative impact on deep listening. All of these events created hurdles requiring patience, faith and ingenuity to overcome, and all of them provided opportunities for Ropeadope to not only support its artists but give back to the larger music community. In the case of Katrina, Ropeadope clothing launched the “Renew Orleans” campaign, in which T-shirt sales raised $90,000 for NOLA musicians. 

In the last decade, CEO Louis Marks and Ropeadope President Fabian Brown have connected musicians around the globe, releasing hundreds of albums while emphasizing community. Together they have built a streamlined model that maximizes reach while minimizing cost to the artist. Moving into the next phase, Marks and Brown are thinking carefully about the future of the music “business,” and where exactly Ropeadope’s adventurous artists and love for the album format fit — if at all. The answer, which Ropeadope is diligently exploring, lies in arts patronage — in a focus on philanthropy and posterity. “It’s about patronage for art, as opposed to getting caught up in the balance sheet and the profit-and-loss system,” says Marks, whose activist background includes work for Greenpeace and other organizations. 

To that end, Marks has joined with Fabian Brown and Joe Pignato as co-founders of Third Way Cultural Alliance, a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving the album as an art form. By finding the fertile and equitable middle ground between the commercial music industry and the benefactor-driven world of arts institutions, Third Way will provide a platform for the funding and promotion of engaging new music with a cultural focus — away from the exploitative systems of Big Tech and AI. 

As Third Way ramps up, Ropeadope continues to forge ahead with a robust release schedule, including compelling albums from Karl-Martin Almqvist and Nduduzo Makhathini, Paul Beaubrun, Obed Calvaire, Lakecia Benjamin, Erini, and The Campbell Brothers, among others. “What Ropeadope offers is art, even if it’s in a commercial space,” Marks explains, pointing out that current streaming models simply do not exist to champion independent artists. “We’re more CBGB or downtown art gallery than a Warner Music Group. This is a place where people create art and, this is important, where it can be saved.”

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