While Dustin writing again after being pretty silent for nearly the entire year thus far is a big deal, I’ve had such frequent breaks from writing that I’m not even sure if this one was the longest. Thankfully, this time around it wasn’t due to writer’s block or mental burnout; essentially everything Dustin covered in his piece addressing why he stopped writing applies to me too.
There is something else that’s tangentially related to what Dustin spoke about in his reintroduction piece though. During the site’s hiatus, I spent more of my time observing than commenting. In doing so, I’ve come to really see how horrible some people can be when they speak on certain artists or music that they personally dislike. It’s something I was always aware of, of course, but it’s been driven home to me just how widespread this sort of attitude has been recently. Dustin said something in his article that stuck with me, but for reasons different than what I believe he had intended when saying it.
The people you’re talking to behind the monitor are people too.
In this age of constant accessibility to music and artists through social media, artists have become circus animals. When the routine isn’t what they want it to be, the audience throws peanuts because they think it’s funny. This isn’t a new or original observation, but everything is treated like either unequivocal fire or trash. No nuance, no middle ground. It’s all just perpetuated by lazy hip hop publications on social media, asking fans to drop a shit emoji or a fire emoji in the comments, reply with a .gif of how they feel about something, or whatever else to fish for engagement in the most shallow of ways. And when it comes to the fans, when you can quantify “how right” your opinion is through likes and retweets, it gets really easy to start spouting aggressive, intentionally contrarian, half-baked thoughts because of people mindlessly scrolling and interacting with it. These stupid hive-mind opinions start to spread, artists become easy punching bags, and a lot of the time, music gets reduced to a joke in certain circles. It’s a counterproductive practice, because there are people who put their whole selves into the music, as well as listeners who genuinely resonate with it on a personal level.
It’s become so easy for people to voice whatever opinions they’d like to and not have to worry about the consequences behind their words. Due to the fact that nobody really needs to see anyone else face-to-face in order to instantly communicate with them, a lack of respect has developed over the years that – while not exclusive to hip hop’s artists and audience – pervades the social dynamics between people who engage with music and people who make it. You don’t need to really think about what you’re saying, all you do is send a tweet out to virtual space and go about your day.
I don’t think there very many fans who really treat music like it’s art anymore. Music has been something so accessible for so long now. Not to sound like an out-of-touch old man, but kids are growing up in an era where the idea of spending money on music is an entirely alien concept. And why wouldn’t it be? Why on earth would someone spend money on something they can get for free? Adults who grew up buying music don’t question it so why on earth would an average teenager, for whom streaming is all they know, question it too?
But it’s still a problem, at least in my view. There’s no way that this hasn’t shifted the way music is thought about. I’ve seen somebody actually criticize somebody else for buying vinyl LPs of a few albums that they considered bad – it didn’t even seem to occur to this person that the album was a product that was meant to be purchased. Setting aside how silly it is to criticize a stranger over the internet about how he spends his money, this person couldn’t fathom the idea of financially compensating an artist for the product that was consumed just because it was perceived as “bad”. As though buying a bad album is any different from buying a bad video game or paying to see a bad movie in theaters…yet nobody would bat an eye at somebody doing the latter two.
The change in perception of music from art that’s meant to be paid for to essentially an entitlement is also part of what I believe has fueled the treatment of artists lately. The human element of an artist creating something is lost on people. I think that’s what makes it easier to trash something with no regard for the language being used. The degrees of separation that have arisen with the way music consumption has developed as well as the personal disconnect through social media honestly makes it understandable why things happen the way they do nowadays. Of course, trashing music isn’t a new phenomenon; there have always been assholes out there who are either trying to be funny or are insecure elitist fools who think they need to tear someone or something else down to look good. But at the end of the day, it’s just something that I’ve noticed more of, and it’s been bothering me.
I know it looks like all I’m doing is yelling “SOCIAL MEDIA BAD” in this piece so far, but please don’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to chastise anyone or preach. I’m certainly not guilt-free. On sites that I used to visit, I would be just as bad as the people I’m talking about right now. To this day, I can still be pretty harsh against my better judgement. I just try to keep it confined to private conversation rather than public trashing. Even so, I’m sure someone could dig up pretty disrespectful tweets that directly contradict what I’m saying now. So I get it. It’s just something that I feel is worth keeping in mind when discussing art. I’m not saying I want to see people pretending they like something when they don’t. Negative feedback to sub-par music is essential for an artist to grow. Sometimes an album is going to miss the mark. It happens. Artists are people, and people fuck up, no matter their profession. But musical discourse has gone from fairly thoughtful to almost entirely reactionary. It’s disrespectful to artists and frankly pretty boring to engage in as a fan. There are so few people whose opinions I respect or care to hear at this point in time and it sucks.
However, none of this is as egregious as what a lot of “professional” music journalists do. I have very little, if any, respect for the vast majority of them. I want to make something very clear though: I’m speaking mainly about writers at big publications like habitual offenders XXL or more recently The Source, and not necessarily people at smaller blogs (at least not the ones who value thoughtful writing over click-baiting everything the fuck out). Publications without integrity. Writers who will happily trash an artist in reviews that spend more time talking about the artist’s age, past hits, problematic behavior, and promotional buildup than they do the actual music. They drag the artists through the mud in reviews, but they’ll never shut up about them. They’ll cover every move they make, every tweet they send out, every affiliate who gets shot or locked up. They’ll expect these artists to sit for interviews…and then they’ll go right back and write another lazy review with no effort made at showing respect to the person who has supplied them with exposure and ad revenue or his/her creative process. I mean, I suppose it makes sense. People are going to click on the review regardless, so why bother putting effort into it if you’re getting paid either way, right? Plus, if you have a few snappy sentences insulting the artist, you can always rely on somebody to screenshot it and post it on Twitter for extra clicks!
None of this is a secret. It’s fucking disgusting. These writers, being the parasitic scum they are, don’t even hide how obvious it is. It’s getting worse as time goes on. It’s really not that hard to give an album a respectful and thoughtful critical write-up while without turning it into a personal attack, but that causes less of a reaction so that’s obviously out of the question.
On that note, I do want to say that I personally don’t feel comfortable writing reviews anymore. My writer’s block last year was directly due to the fact that I had shifted my focus to writing reviews. The site as a whole had trended in that direction in general, and I struggled to write anything that I felt truly did the albums I was reviewing justice. I don’t have the skill required to break an album into its components, speak about each, then bring it all back together to speak about it holistically. And giving an album a numerical grade seems like it’s very reductionist. Doing so works as a shortcut to people who don’t want to actually read about the album, but rather look for reviewers whose opinions validate their own. I don’t find reviews fun, and at the end of the day I only started posting here because I thought it was fun to talk about music. I am proud of my last couple of reviews, but they were exhausting and I still feel like I could have and should have gone further with them. So I’m probably done with that for the most part.
I understand that this may come off as needlessly bitter or preachy. But it bothers me how carelessly hip hop gets handled by music media, just because it runs pop culture and is therefore the easiest genre to cover. I’m tired of seeing kids who don’t understand or care about rap music or hip hop culture profiting off of something they don’t know and will never take the time to learn about. And while I’m not getting paid to do this, I know that to a lot of readers, I’m not any more qualified to talk than they are. The thing is, I know that’s not inaccurate. I’m not a voice that can speak on behalf of hip hop. I can’t dictate what hip hop should or shouldn’t be. I’m not a tastemaker, I’m not a gatekeeper. I’m a nerd who grew up fascinated with hip hop culture and rap music. I’m an outsider looking in. I write because hip hop has shaped so much about me, from my worldview to my sense of humor and beyond, and I would like to pay tribute to that. And that’s why it grates on my nerves so much to see people treat hip hop and rappers like they’re a commodity for anybody to get in on. Hip hop deserves respect and it’s about time the people who exploit it for a paycheck realize that, and do better.