Our Town downtown
July 23, 2007
A young man with a bag of CDs and a pair of headphones approaches me in Washington Square Park, and asks if I listen to hip hop. I tell him not much anymore, and he’s not surprised.
David Muñoz, 28, who came to New York from his native California two years ago, sells his albums in Washington and Union Square parks, and markets them as a positive alternative to the brainless bling anthems that mainstream radio and music channels like BET keep in heavy rotation.
“Nowadays, a huge percent of the hip hop that people see in the mainstream is, just garbage. It’s just all about, you know, look at me throw money up in the air while half-naked women dance behind me and I drink a bottle of Cristal and show you all the jewelry I own, or I rented. But there’s still a few guys out there that are real good. And, they just don’t get pushed as well as they should, because of the belief the record company executives have that people want these buffoons, these fake thugs or whatever. But I think that with hip hop record sales going down in the last few years, it’s just a matter of time before the record executives see that they’re going to have to change. Because hip hop doesn’t suck. It’s just that, unfortunately, the image that hip hop has in the mainstream kind of sucks,” he says, when we meet in a coffee shop the following week.
Muñoz’s latest album isn’t political, but his music often is, which makes sense; he studied Government at Georgetown, led student walkouts over standardized testing when he was still an English teacher at his old high school, and in 2004, he ran for Congress as a write-in candidate.
How’d you end up running for Congress?
I was working on an album that was very political, talking about my whole marketing of it. I said, I’m going to be on the cover in a tie, like a politician. And then, one of my friends, he said, maybe you could like run for something, school board or something. I was like, I wouldn’t want to go for school board, I think I’d be wasting my time. And then I said, well I am 25, I could run for Congress. I found out it was too late to get on the ballot, but I could run as a write-in candidate. I liked that because it was highlighting how the way people vote is kind of like taking a multiple choice test. You don’t have to know the person or what they’re about. You just check the box off. As a write-in candidate—every person that voted for that candidate would know that person and know they really wanted that person.
Did you get any votes?
Like a couple hundred.
How do people respond when you approach them in the parks?
I get a great response because it’s just going directly to the people. It may not be, in the eyes of most people, the most glorious way to go about doing it. [But] it’s the most effective way because there’s a lot of people out there that still do listen to hip hop music. And I go out there every day and just find them without having to cross my fingers and hope they walk into a store or somehow find out about it on the Internet. It’s a way to be a cause rather than be the effect. Even if my stuff was in the stores and the Internet was helping me tremendously, I’d still be out there doing it. I get to meet the people that are going to listen to my music and they get to [meet] me.
You do it full-time?
About how much do you make a month?
It depends on the weather, depends how much time I’m out there. But I can make anywhere from $20 to $60 an hour.
And what’s the most CDs you’ve sold in a month?
Maybe like 800. And total, I’ve sold, probably around 7,000 to 8,000 CDs.
How old are the people buying them?
Oh, all ages. I’ve had like 90-year-old women buy my CD. In a wheelchair.
Do you ever run into people who are skeptical that hip hop can be positive?
Yeah, but those are people that don’t listen to hip hop.
Are you happy just being your own boss or are you hoping for a record deal?
I would like to be my own boss as long as I’m making money at it. A lot of these guys who have record deals aren’t necessarily very free, and are almost like slaves to their masters. I would definitely go for a record deal as long as it was the right terms and somebody I respected, and they let me keep a lot of creative control. I wouldn’t want them to tell me to like, make songs like 50 Cent or something. Because I had that happen to me.
When I first got to the city, I ran into these guys in Union Square Park, and then they took me over to this guy’s office. He said, I want to sign somebody and invest millions of dollars. But, he says, two artists sold ten million albums this last year or whatever it was—Alicia Keys and 50 Cent. Then he starts playing me 50 Cent’s CD. And he said, yeah! Like this! like this! He didn’t know what the hell he was talking about. And he wanted me to go get buffed and make songs that weren’t political and sound like 50 Cent or something, and then he probably would’ve went for it. I wasn’t willing to do that.