Not every day does an email from a Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times journalist land in your inbox — which is perhaps why Ian Urbina made sure to put in the subject line “(No, this is not spam, nor is it a bot).”

In his May 22, 2019 message to musician Benn Jordan’s manager, Urbina — using his New York Times email address — explained he wasn’t contacting Jordan for an interview, but to run an idea past him. “My idea concerns using music to empower story-telling,” he wrote, pointing to his 2015 series of Times pieces about crime in international waters.

Urbina wanted the Atlanta-based Jordan, who performs and releases electronic music as The Flashbulb, to contribute to a soundscape that would accompany the upcoming release of his book, The Outlaw Ocean: Journeys Across the Last Untamed Frontier. (The book came out in August 2019; it was widely acclaimed and became a Times bestseller.)

The project, as Urbina envisioned it, would use some of the audio he recorded during his reporting. Unbeknownst to Jordan at the time, Urbina was also in the process of contacting hundreds of other electronic and hip-hop musicians regarding the project.

“[Urbina] reached out to me later on asking if I knew of other artists for the project. He seemed hungry for more and more.”

Like many requests made of professional artists, there was a catch — and Urbina knew it. “Now, I am doing this entire audio idea as a passion project,” he wrote in a May 23, 2019 email to Jordan….

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