SLINGBAUM ONE: Fascinating music, terrible business
When I first saw an advertisement for SLINGBAUM ONE, in January 2020, I was stunned. Erykah Badu, D’Angelo, FKA twigs, Oumou Sangaré, Nick Hakim, Damon Albarn, Bilal, Syd, Questlove, Marcus Strickland, Jameel Bruner, and more, all on one, 3–track long project? These are the some of the biggest contemporary names of avant-pop and R&B, and arguably some of the biggest names in the history of the genres. Just like so many others, I was baffled and intrigued: who, or what, is Slingbaum?
I did a fair amount of research, and didn’t find much. Slingbaum’s team sent Pitchfork a photo of a man named Terry Slingbaum when the magazine requested more information. There are a few videosof someone named Terry Slingbaum performing (and presumably leading) a jazz ensemble. A Spotify page for Terry Slingbaum displays his credits on a couple jazz tracks. To me, it still didn’t make sense that a man with just a few online mentions had the pull to gather some of the most influential neo–soul/R&B artists of all time for a single, three–track project.
But, I bought the music anyway.
I was too hooked by the collaborators; it had the potential to be something absolutely spectacular. I shelled out $52.97 ($40 for the record, the rest for shipping) for what I thought was an exclusive, vinyl–only release. “We are selling this record once in this short pre-sale window and we have no plans to sell beyond this window or make it available digital to stream,” the initial advertisement read.
“Oh well,” I thought. “If I don’t like it, I’m sure I can sell the 12–inch and make a profit. After all, it’s limited edition, online pre–order only, and I’m sure the resell price will go up after the music is officially released.”
As it turns out, that wasn’t really true: according to a current statement on Slingbaum’s website, the pre–order demand was simply too high, so the vinyl will also be sold in–person, at select record stores. I’m not saying that making music more widely available is a bad thing, necessarily, but I am saying that the advertisement and marketing practices used were incredibly misleading.
My confusion increased: had I been duped? Is this some scam, or elaborate prank? Fast–forward to May 31st, when I received the code for the digital download (understandably, the vinyl production faced serious delays due to the COVID–19 pandemic). I hooked up my laptop to my decent–but–not–incredible speaker system, and hit play.
It’s been a few days now, and I still don’t really now how I feel about the project. On one hand, there is some genuinely experimental, fascinating, unique, and utterly dark ground covered. On the other hand, I paid $53 for a 15 minute .WAV. And 4 or 5 minutes of that is just ambient transitions between the tracks.
Every single collaborator is underutilized to a gross extent. D’Angelo, Oumou Sangaré, Bilal, and Syd are relegated to backing vocals for maybe 10 or 20 seconds, and I’m still not sure where Nick Hakim is (maybe guitar, but he’s credited as a lead vocalist).
Perhaps that was the point of the project, to de–emphasize these massive, household names, and hide them behind the Slingbaum pseudonym. But if that’s the case, why choose to revolve the marketing solely around the collaboration list? The creative philosophy and business practices are clearly at odds here in such a blatant way that it obscures and overshadows the fact that this music is pretty great.
I understand that music isn’t made in a void; it has to have some commercial intent. People need to make money. At the same time, it’s unfortunate when such an exclusive, expensive project is sold purely on the value of its collaborators, and many of them are barely even used.
SLINGBAUM ONE is available for pre-order on Rough Trade, FatBeats, and Port of Sound. In addition, SLINGBAUM ONE will be available for purchase in select record stores at an in-so-far unspecified date. Listen to Slingbaum’s “Behoove,” featuring Erykah Badu and D’Angelo, here at approximately 1:52:51.