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[Ideas] THE BLOG: Is The Newest Wave of Hip-Hop Journalists Here To Stay?

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Is the blog, the newest wave of hip-hop Journalism, here to stay? And what effect has it had on rap, artistry, and hip-hop music?

by: Kara-Lis Coverdale

Around 2 am outside a Sacramento club, The Mash Up, a young hip-hop promotions-focused blog with a mission to “change promotional marketing and branding in the music industry” and give artists in their local Sacramento a “bigger platform to expose their talents”, captured a fascinating and “candid” (as The Mash Up puts it)  video interview with the opinionated indie emcee Murs.

It’s unclear from the video whether Phalary Long, the interviewer, was prompting Murs to speak on the current (technologically driven) state of affairs in hip-hop or whether these thoughts were just on the tip of his dreads at the moment, but either way, Murs came out with it, and it came out in a sincere and utter flood that he is a little more than frustrated–disturbed, even–with internet born and thriving “instant journalists and instant rappers”  that have so dramatically  changed the art of hip-hop and hip-hop journalism. I get the feeling he’s not the only one.

“Hip-hop journalism at this point is overdone. Everyone is a journalist like everyone is a rapper”, says Murs. “And it’s just like rap now. We get asked to do interviews now … every … day … because everyone has a camera, everyone has a blog… It’s so different being an artist now. When O.G.’s … watch the shit that we do, they say it was never like this. We’re in a different era. And no disrespect because there are good new journalists… No-one calls the journalists out yo, cuz everyone’s suckin’ dick to get up on a blog. Some of ya’ll mother fuckers is weak man. Hip-hop journalism is a fucking art form, and some of you guys have not fuckin done your homework, and some of you guys have not put in the work. I don’t care how many schools you went to. Because in hip-hop there is no school for this shit. I don’t care if you have a degree in journalism or communications– so fuckin’ what?  Were you there when motha’ fuckas were fightin’ and shootin’? Have you been shit on by your favorite rapper and like, had your camera taken? Did you get beat up by the Wu-Tang Clan?  Not that that’s the right thing, but that was hip-hop journalism back then. Goin to hear new music somewhere and motha fuckas is fightin’ and guns are gettin passed around and shit…”There’s legends, and then there’s you…The internet has made it easier. There are a lot of internet rappers that get shit on, and now it’s time for the rappers to be like, yo, you guys [journalists] need to step your game up as well.”

Before you start stuttering …but… but… but…,  Murs fairly goes on to credit the advantages of blogs like 2dopeboyz (where I found this interview), the most obvious being they support and make possible the careers of new and engaging “internet” rappers like Dom Kennedy and Kendrick Lamar. Also, content-based blogs that post anything and everything without in depth analysis or criticism, are places where anyone, journalists and writers included, can access new and upcoming artists whose voices were previously limited to concerts and parking lots (as Murs mentions in the interview, he was one of those who stood in a P-lot handing out mixtapes at the beginning of his career). These blogs are like pots of hip-hop content. Pick your stew.

Cost effective and consumer driven, all blogs are attractive because fans and music lovers choose what music they want to support, rather than leaving A&R up to major record labels. These blog-facilitated progressions are almost unanimously considered an advantage, particularly for indie based artists not unlike Murs.

But what is dead and lost now that “everyone is a journalist” as Murs notes? What is missing, and what has changed? Is the art of hip-hop journalism really dead and gone?

Excellent journalists, in other words individuals with thoughtful, analytical, and provocative things to say and write about with an air of style and personality, still exist. But those voices are rare diamonds buried beneath a seemingly endless terrain of blog sludge. The instantaneous nature of internet-centered music criticism has bore a lax and unpicky hungry beast (YOU) that appears to be only growing hungrier for the sludge. What accounts for the change in appetite? In the days of print media, it was the diamonds that were forever.

This phenomena is equally perplexing as it is easily explainable. Those who grew up in Murs’ era needed to wait an entire month to receive their artfully compiled hip-hop news fix in the mail. Like, by truck and mailman. Nostalgic and bitter as ever, this generation laments high quality music criticism, and remains, perhaps rightfully, snobby about who gets to bear the title “real journalist”.

Those who came of cultural maturity with blogs and computers however, have nurtured a culture of abundance and mediocrity with a demand so high, that quality is exceedingly impossible to maintain. In this climate, fifteen shitty posts per day now trump one or two thoughtful ones. And the trend bleeds into hip-hop music just as perversely: a fleeting throw-away two minute freestyle whipped up in Garage band now favors a meticulously crafted rhyme to last a lifetime. Abundance over quality, is the new criteria.

Crappy hip-hop music was always out there. So was crappy writing. Absolutely. The problem, as Murs sees it, is not only that the internet gives more voice to shitty rappers and journalists, but that overwhelming demand has severely affected even the professional journalist and the rapper’s impetus–and ability– to slow down, put the blinders on, and produce some fucking quality work for once. Sites that have been able to maintain a high criterion of quality, like Pitchfork, hiphopdx and Fader, are extremely successful. But they are few and far between.

Murs mentions he sometimes gets asked to give four or five interviews in a day. He also mentions he tries to grant every one he can. Imagine how frustrating it must be for not only Murs, but for any artist, to spend valuable time and effort giving an interview to have it come out of the wash completely botched and worthless, doomed to sink to the bottom of the internet sludge pile with only thirteen reads or views. Why do something if you’re not doing it right? Why waste everyone’s time? Why waste your own time?

Let’s try to get into Murs’ shoes for a minute. How many hip-hop blogs pop up when you enter “Murs Interview” into the search bar? A lot, right? Click on one. Any one. How many spelling mistakes can you count? How many blatant factual errors do you see? Is there evidence of Wikipedia copy and pasting? Does the site–and its content– look like it has been skillfully and meticulously put together with pride? Artfulness? With style? Is it timeless? Were the questions asked compelling, original, or provoking? Did the writers there make you think? And let’s consider this one: would you buy a copy of it? Murs is absolutely right: “If people aren’t buying your shit, then it doesn’t mean a fucking thing, man.”

If you didn’t catch the drift from the quote above already, let me re-visit how Murs recalls the work of classic journalists with near godly reverence because of the standard and caliber of coverage they offered: “I come from the era of Dream Hampton and Bonz Malone and Ronan Rones– those are the people that are fucking phenomenal to me. I’ve read all their books and I’ve read every interview, I have every issue of the source since 1991. I bought every single issue and read it. Even the one with TLC on the cover. That broke my heart when I was a kid and I didn’t understand. The first issue of vibe … double-XL, all that shit … Elliott Wilson, Sacha Jenkins…”

Now, thanks in part to the internet itself, and part to the (well-intending) people who have reacted and adapted to it, “shit is moving really fast and people are in a quest to stay relevant because this is a fucking business- it’s a fucking job. Either you’re an entrepreneur like myself or you’re on a major label but you’re still going to work everyday and you wanna be the best at your job, and if being best at your job means you have to hear the new Kanye song then rap over the beat and use his chorus and use your own lyrics and then shoot a fuckin’ HD handheld palm video and post it and get the most youtube hits rather than focus on making your album that’s goin’ to last a life time, I don’t know what’s right. I have no idea.”

Set aside this extremely poignant and painfully accurate example for a moment, and notice how Murs shifts his discussion between internet “journalists” and internet “rappers” fluidly, as if they are inter-related entities. The premium on abundance over quality in hip-hop journalism is, in fact, mirrored in rap and hip-hop music. As media that depend on each other, they are inextricably related. They operate in a check and balance relationship. Yet if I could call out a chicken or egg in this cycle, I would say it is the internet blogs– and the ADD consumption patterns they encourage–that have affected the production of music, not the other way around. So lets put on the spotlight and sincerely ask ourselves: are the blogs really that bad?

First, let me just say it: YES!!! Yes, they are. Some blogs produce very valuable, original, primary source materials, but in order to get at their juicy meat, be prepared to sift through a shameless trough of mediocrity that is at the same time authenticating, annoying, and sad. I mean, some of these writers (and the rappers they post) really are hopeless. Which is fine–some of these bloggers aren’t in it for the long run any ways, whether they realize it or not. Many of them are just fans.

But there is hope. When I parse blogs for background information as I write my own pieces, I am usually reminded of when I was a TA in grad school and my job was to read through piles of student essays and assignments utterly barraged with careless grammatical errors, cliches, and despicable organizational issues. Some of those papers actually contained original information and interesting ideas (and, to be honest, other times not). But trying to locate salvageable gems amidst the wreckage of the grammatical and organizational tornado that ran through them, was exhausting.

Exhausting, yes. But there was a reward in bearing with them. Some of those young writers, most often the obviously hard working ones, inspired me. And not just because of their genuine efforts or work ethic. When I did locate and uncover their oft-buried thoughts, they were intriguing. The facts they dug up, I had never heard of before. They spoke from a different generation and brought to the page a new perspective. At times they were naive, and at times they were dumb and careless, but the things they were naive and dumb and careless about revealed surprising things of importance and value.

I was always brutally honest, harsh even, when I critiqued those papers. I was particularly ruthless with the ones I thought had the most promise. I probably made a few people cry, but that’s only because I cared. I’m only casually making a comparison, but if you can bear the harsh grudge, salt and winds of Murs’ critique and learn something from it, then you may see Murs as someone who cares, too.

One of the most timely lines from Kanye’s new record is “Who will Survive in America?”

It’s a valid question here as ever. The blog, in all its shit and wonder, is here to stay. So is the sludge. If you’ve stuck around to this point in the article, then let me ask you this: What are you going to do about it?