With physical record shops receding quicker than Rob Swift’s hairline (no offence Rob – it’s all love) wax junkies are having to rely on a handful of specialist online stores for that mandatory Hip Hop fix. For the first in a series of interviews with the dotcom record hustlers on the frontline, Max Weldon caught up with Dan from the infamous KingUnderground.com shop. I suggest you log on immediately and spend as much cash as you possibly can.
How did you get into selling Hip Hop records and what was your motivation for setting up the shop?
Dan: I think I was about 19 / 20 and had nothing to do with my life except kicking back. I started listening to Hip Hop when I was about 12, around the D.I.T.C. era. I think the first joint that got me really buzzing was ‘My World’ by OC, killer Premo action right there and the rest’s history.
I had a definite passion then and that has grown immensely ever since… still is. I always wanted to be my own boss as didn’t like being told what to do at school. I had only just started to mix when a friend and I came up with the idea of KingUnderground. My partner in business had been DJing for years so I had the Hip Hop knowledge and he had the wax knowledge! Together we thought we were gonna rock the world. Unfortunately my business partner decided he wanted to do other things with his life and left KU about a year in to opening. My main passion for selling records was to try and keep vinyl alive in the UK and to try and add to making the UK scene even better!
How many people are in involved in the day to day running of King Underground and who does what?
Dan: It’s mainly myself. I have some employees as well but only part time.
Where are you based? Do you run the business out of an office or a house / flat etc?
Dan: King Underground is based in Milton Keynes. Yes we have an office and have just moved into bigger premises.
Can you break down how the business works in terms of how the stock gets to you and who it comes from?
Dan: Well I wouldn’t want to give much away as to where we get our stock but we generally ship from the US to the UK using a freight company. We mainly try to go direct to labels but use distributors as well.
How do you build up trust with distributors and labels?
Dan: This one took a little while. Just got to get busy with the people you work with.
The shop obviously has a high level of quality control. How do you decide what to stock?
Dan: This is mainly from my own judgement and knowledge and experience.
How’s business? Picking up, slowing down or same ol’ same ol’?
Dan: Business is always getting better and better…
Do you think the people who used to buy in record shops are now buying online?
Dan: I believe a lot of people are, there aren’t many record shops about these days and if there are, they generally don’t specialise in Hip Hop. I love going record shopping but for me I would have to travel at least an hour to the nearest decent shop. Buying online is so much more convenient but I really hope that the shops can stay alive too!
What kind of stuff is selling at the moment?
Dan: I don’t think this answer will ever change, Dilla, Doom, Madvillain, Quas, all the classic stuff will sell for ever. On top of that though, The Mayer Hawthorne heart shaped vinyl has sold really well, Lyman Woodard Saturday Night Special (reissue) LP… plus a whole load more.
Sales figures aside, what new music is floating your boat?
Dan: New releases, well let’s go back to this year then, Reks Say Goodnight (Premo) 12”, El Michels Affair – 37th Chamber LP, Guilty Simpson – stress 12” (Dilla), Lyman Woodard – Saturday Night Special (reissue, but really dope), MF Doom – Born like this LP, Madlib – Beat Konducta Vol. 5, House of Reps – You Gotta Love Us 12” (Premo) Babu dearly departed 12”…. plus a whole load more.
Do you DJ / make beats / rap / break or write? (if so here’s your chance to plug yourself)
Dan: Yeah, I DJ. Just DJ’d at Glastonbury this year with another of my homie’s from Cloudy Minds. Cloudy Minds is a little Beat Crew we have formed consisting of Mr Brown, Toerok (DJ Silkuts), Samia, Ernest Herb and myself DJ Pings. Keep an eye out for future shows coming up this year and a full length live instrumental LP.
I make beats to – just straight up raw hip hop for the fiends. Lol.
What are your thoughts on the UK scene?
Dan: The UK scene? Well it’s not great if I’m honest but it can get better. A lot of its very grime like these days, which I’m not feeling. There are still some heads out there though keeping it live!
I’d be surprised if you weren’t a collector yourself. How many records do you own?
Dan: That’s hard to answer as I have tried counting them but have given up on many occasions, probably close to 2000. Mainly hip hop as well, so I’m now slowing down and building my breaks collection up, it’s never gonna end. I’ll probably have to rent an apartment just for my records one day!
The foundation of Hip Hop culture is searching for old records so I can’t see people stopping that anytime soon but as a collector it hurts me to see the sharp decline in enthusiasm for new vinyl, what are your thoughts on the future of record collecting?
Dan: Personally I don’t think vinyl will ever die. I buy vinyl as a collector as well as to play them in clubs and just to listen to. That’s always been the hip hop way, no doubt some of the younger generation of kids getting into hip hop these days may just get Serato and mp3’s and what not but the people that are really into it will want to do it the way there idols like Pete Rock, Lord Finesse, Premier and all the originators did it and that’s to buy straight up wax!
What do you think of the competition – Disorda, Fat City, Juno?
Dan: The competition has decreased dramatically since we opened in ‘05. There isn’t room for too many specialist record shops in the UK. There are some good retailers though.
Will King Underground.com be around in five years?
Dan: If it continues the way it’s going it will be here for a long time… There should be a lot more to come from KU over the next few years, FREE Podcasts, Exclusive releases and a load more so keep ya eyes peeled…
By: Max Weldon