Brooklyn-based Tim Fite created one of the most talked-about albums of 2007 by taking a novel approach to releasing a concept set about hip-hop and the consumer culture -- giving it away for free. Fite was raised in a rural community along the border of Pennsylvania and New Jersey by parents who raised him with a sense of frugality and social purpose. He developed an interest in music and began creating tunes that mixed samples of found music with his own organic instrumental accompaniment and lively sense of humor; Fite also points out that every tune he samples comes from an album he found in a bargain bin, which not only saves money but allows him to draw from music many listeners haven't heard before. Fite's first break came as a member of the rap duo Little-T and One Track Mike, who in 2001 scored a minor hit with the song "Shaniqua" from their album Fome Is Dape. The group's success was short-lived, and they parted ways in 2002. In 2004, Fite re-emerged with a self-released EP, Two Minute Blues, and in the fall of 2005, after signing with the artist-friendly independent label Anti-, Fite released his first solo album, Gone Ain't Gone, which combined his sampledelic style with folk-influenced melodies and gained him many comparisons to Beck.
While the album received good reviews, Fite's music took a sharp left turn for his second full-length effort: 2007's Over the Counter Culture was a trenchant satire of America in the new millennium, with greed dominating the culture as the cloud of war hovers over all and hip-hop becomes more about image and sales figures than creative expression. The music on Over the Counter Culture matched the message, representing a bold but spectral variation on contemporary hip-hop, but when the time came to release the album, Fite decided it would be hypocritical to sell an album so critical of consumer culture; as he told a reporter, "I don't think it's possible to be a member of society and not at some point or another turn around and do the things you can't stand. I had to be crystal clear about how I feel, and I can't sell these ideas. That would be wrong." With the support of Anti-, Fite posted the entire 15-song album as a free download on his website and via download services beginning in February 2007. Over the Counter Culture quickly earned rave reviews (critic Greg Kot said of it, "One of the best albums of the new year can't be bought"), and a video for the song "Camouflage" racked up over 370,000 plays on YouTube. A third Fite album -- this time for sale at better music stores everywhere -- was released in May of 2008, titled Fair Ain't Fair. Fite's fourth outing focused on the "pain, hope, and unbridled passion of one's teenage years." Described as the final installment in the artist's "Ain't" trilogy, Ain't Ain't Ain't arrived in March, 2012. ~ Mark Deming