On November 27th, 2017, DJ Booth pronounced underground hip-hop dead. DJ Z regretfully informed us that due to the ease of accessing new artists – due in part to streaming services becoming dominant methods of music consumption – that “the underground is the new mainstream.” Of course, he supported this statement with many examples including (and entirely limited to) the fact that Xavier Wulf has a couple tens of thousands of followers on a few social and music media platforms. This article, for lack of a better description, misconstrued the entire of the underground. Below is an open letter that I have written to the publication and author. They may never read it, but these are things that need to be said.
To DJ Z and anyone from DJ Booth,
I’m going to start by explaining to you what “underground” actually is, since you seem to have a gross misunderstanding of the term. It is not a sub-genre label like “trap” or “conscious hip-hop” as you stated in your article. In fact, the artists that make up the underground span a wide variety of styles in the realm of hip-hop; I would be so bold as to say that every single corner of hip-hop has underground artists. You know why? Because an underground artist is simply an artist that exists outside of the mainstream consciousness in music. Claiming that somebody is now in the mainstream because they’ve got a hundred thousand followers on Twitter is absolutely ludicrous. They’re doing quite well in the context of underground music, but they’re nowhere near the mainstream in terms of popularity. No amount of accessibility to music changes that fact.
Let’s look at a bit of a hypothetical situation to make this point more clear. If you went out and took a survey of the general population, most will know of artists like Eminem, Jay-Z, Drake, Future, Lil Wayne, and Kendrick Lamar regardless of whether or not they actually listen to their music. These artists have firmly rooted themselves in the mainstream consciousness. Now, go out and ask the general population who Xavier Wulf is, and I think you’ll be shocked to find out that barely anybody has a clue. In fact, at the time of writing this article, Xavier Wulf does not even have a page on Wikipedia. Yet, you’re calling him mainstream and using him as proof that underground hip-hop is dead? How does one make that jump logically? That’s not a shot at him either, he’s got a large cult following, but he’s absolutely still an underground artist in the scope of hip-hop and music as a whole. You would have to be brain dead to claim otherwise.
Do you want to know why Xavier Wulf – and seemingly the entire hip-hop community – was upset at the claim that underground music doesn’t exist anymore? Because you are discrediting the insane amount of work he, and other musicians of similar stature, put into their careers in order to even have a career in the first place. It’s not easy to make it in music, and writing as if the internet has made it a cakewalk is of the utmost disrespect. Artists like him, Open Mike Eagle, Busdriver, Billy Woods, Uncommon Nasa, clipping., Fatt Father, Aesop Rock, and hundreds of others don’t have well established careers because the internet made them mainstream. They have impressive careers because they work their asses off in the underground to maintain their place; moreover, you’ve also spat in the faces of thousands of dedicated artists who haven’t even established their footing within the underground yet. But by all means, tell a rapper like MCrv, or label owner like Michael at FilthyBroke Recordings that the underground is the new mainstream. They will turn around and laugh directly at you, because it is very nearly the dumbest statement you could make.
The underground is alive, and it’s thriving. Publications like ourselves and many others being allowed to exist and work with so many beautiful artists globally is a testament to this. Stop disrespecting the genre that you eat off of for attention with sensationalized articles with zero supporting evidence. You are letting down hip-hop, and music journalism. The underground community will still be thriving in every single genre of music long after your publication, and mine, are nothing but a fading memory in the distance. You’re not an artist, DJ Z, maybe stop making claims about the world that they exist in, and start taking the time to listen to what they have to say about “the underground.” You might learn something if you open your ears and shut your mouth, just for a second.