“Digital is the most popular format right now, but people still crave something that they can hold, something they can look at; a piece of art really - people still want that.” London natives James Batsford and Sam Gilbert, have been working for the past few years on making their own mark on the music industry, and alongside day jobs working at indie labels have created Omertà Inc, a bold and brave new venture to deliver digital classics as tangible masterpieces.
Over the last few years vinyl sales have been on the rise; one week last December vinyl even outsold digital downloads for the first time ever. The physical format has become somewhat of a trophy for a generation of digital consumers have everything at their fingertips. “You’ll find a lot of people that buy vinyl don’t even play them,” James admits. “It’s more like a collectors item: people want something that’s not readily available. It’s similar to how streetwear brands such as Supreme work.”
Given that Omertà was forged from the pair’s mutual love of hip-hop, the exclusivity of a streetwear business model seems fitting. “I think [the relationship between] fashion and hip-hop [is closer than ever right] now” Sam offers, before expanding on Omertà’s master plan. “The first Thursday of each month we’re going to announce one or two new releases, and we want people to recognise that as our thing; as the day Omertà is going to drop something new.”
Adding to the hype, the exclusive pressings are carefully designed works of art. With their shiny new sleeves and multi-coloured splatter effect wax, it’s easy to correlate what Omertà are doing with the excitement around fashion and sneaker drops. “We’ve got colourful vinyl that we individually number by hand,” says Sam. “Just to give each one that bit of uniqueness about them.”
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For Omertà’s first batch of releases hip hop’s man-of-the-moment Future takes centre stage, with his 2012 debut album ‘Pluto’ finally given the wax treatment. Alongside the Atlanta behemoth is Oscar-winning Memphis group Three 6 Mafia and their ‘Most Known Unknown’ LP. The process behind each release has proven different every time. “With G Perico, his manager was incredibly on it. We hit them up direct, and within a couple of days they’d sent us the WAVs and we were putting everything into place.” With Future being signed to major label, Epic Records, things weren’t so simple with ‘Pluto’. “We had to get everything through Sony, the tracks and artwork, then we’ve got to okay everything through them as well, so it’s a bit of a longer process. That can get frustrating, but when it comes together it’s so rewarding.”
While their two biggest launch titles originating from the South, the duo are careful not to be pigeonholed to a particular region. “Southern Rap is what we’re launching with, but it’s not something we’re focusing on,” Sam states. “It’s where we feel the centre of hip hop is right now. It’s all been very natural though, we’ve not planned it around any specific area of rap, it’s based around what we’re fans of.”
Many of the releases coming out on Omertà are already available for free online. James and Sam aren’t afraid of digging into sites like DatPiff to find gems that deserve release on a physical format including Boston rapper Cousin Stizz’s acclaimed ‘Suffolk County’ mixtape and Canadian producer Murda Beatz’s star-studded ‘Keep God First’. “The mixtape is different to what it used to be,” explains James.
“When you look at something like Chance The Rapper’s ‘Coloring Book’, it’s pretty much an album, and a lot of these projects aren’t coming out on vinyl. We felt that no-one else was gonna do this so why don’t we? There’s a plethora of mixtapes that have never been released on vinyl before, and a ton of great releases we want to do.”
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The pair are also keen to let it be known that they don’t want Omertà to be seen as just another label releasing vinyl, they want to expand and grow themselves too. “We don’t want it to be just another hip-hop vinyl-only label, we want to be able to bring these people over, do cool events. We’re currently doing merchandise with a couple of artists and we have Zaytoven playing at Ace Hotel which is really exciting for us!”
Sam and James pride themselves on being fans of music above everything else, and it’s this mindset that puts Omertà ahead of the pack. “We’re coming from a consumer point of view. Both me and James are always on DatPiff and HotNewHipHop looking at new tapes that drop every week,” Sam reveals. “I’ve been buying mixtapes since I was thireen, back when they were a physical format in the 50 Cent and Eminem days, so I know how exciting it is having something physical to hold and look at.”
The proof is in the pudding, and when they got the first batch of Future records back from their suppliers, it all sank in. “When we opened it up for the first time and looked at it, we were like ‘Wow, shit this is real’,” James laughs. The boys are also confident in their own work ethic and quality too: “I don’t think anything we’ve done is anything less than great, we’re just cherry picking the stuff that we want to do.”
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Words: Mike Wood
Zaytoven plays the Ace Hotel tomorrow night, Thursday (May 4th). For tickets head here.