It’s the season of resolutions, and if you’ve ever thought about quitting your day job to pursue a passion, you should meet Zack Feinberg, the owner of Rotten Island Records.
In July, Zack quit his job in sales and used his savings to turn his hobby of collecting records into a business.
“I like to joke that I had 15 G’s and a dream,” he said.
Zack’s got a speaker parked in front of the store, located at 4 Stanwix St. near Bushwick Avenue, that plays records whenever he’s open. Oftentimes, people passing by will stop in to hang out with him and talk about music.
“[It’s] one of my favorite things about this spot on the corner,” Zack told Bushwick Daily.
Many of the people who just drop in have lived in Bushwick for a while. Zack says that he learns a ton about music and records from them.
Bushwick: A Record Head Haven
It’s not shocking that Zack is feeling the love from Bushwick residents.
Recently, the neighborhood has become somewhat of a haven for record stores. Years ago, rising rents drove record shops out of Manhattan and into Williamsburg. Now the cycle seems to have started again; rising rents are driving those same shops out of Williamsburg and into Bushwick and Bed-Stuy.
Tom Noble, the owner of Superior Elevation, a record store that’s been in the neighborhood for about two and a half years, says that the Bushwick record scene is definitely up and coming. He considers it one of the best places in the city to have a record shop.
“This is actually a place where you can get decent rent and enough people and foot traffic,” Noble said.
Even with multiple record stores already in the neighborhood, there’s always room for more, since every shop brings its own unique vibe, explains Steve Sylvestri, who works at Human Head Records. The shop has been in Bushwick for nearly five years.
“Everyone’s got their own character and everyone’s doing their own thing,” said Steve.
Zack describes Rotten Island Records as a shop that’s got all kinds of records, but it does boast a hip-hop collection that’s stronger than what you’ll find at a lot of other places. His record hobby actually came out of a love for hip-hop.
“In the 90s, a lot of underground hip-hop came out only on vinyl. So if you wanted it, you had to go to Fat Beats or something like that to get it,” explained Zack.
Fat Beats was a legendary record shop and hip hop mecca in Midtown. In 2010, after 16 years in business, Fat Beats shut its retail locations; but Zack uses its model as inspiration for the Island. Fat Beats would always have DJ’s spinning or artists performing, and Rotten Island Records also invites artists to come and perform once or twice a month. Past performances have included a jazz quartet and an electronic/hip hop DJ, LRKR.
Bushwick’s Hip Hop Roots
Zack’s love of hip-hop records is particularly fitting for Bushwick, which has deep roots in the genre. Back in the 90s, artists from other neighborhoods may have gained more commercial popularity, but Bushwick had a thriving rap scene.
“There was a lot of energy in Bushwick,” said Bazarro, a member of the neighborhood group Dysfunkshunal Familee and a major player in Bushwick’s rap game. Bazarro was responsible for the release of the Bushwick Day mixtape back in the mid-90s, which compiled songs from the neighborhood’s biggest rappers at the time.
Bushwick didn’t exactly have a single, unifying sound, explains Bazarro. Instead, it was a mix of different rappers with different types of creative styles that were all doing their own thing without much interest in chasing down record deals.
“It was just a movement of – I don’t want to say we were rebels – but we didn’t want to wait for someone else to discover us. We discovered ourselves,” said Bazarro.
Zack had a similar philosophy when he opened the Island.
Before taking the plunge and leaving sales for good, Zack ran his business idea past his girlfriend Jessica, asking her what she would think about dating a guy who had his own record shop but didn’t make a ton of money.
“She said to me, ‘We’ll be poor, but we’ll be happy.’”
Cover image courtesy of Travis Yewell on Unsplash