We’ve finally come to the end of this journey. My first blog Poisonous Paragraphs lasted exactly 3 years and ended after 734 posts over 1096 days. I vowed to never do that again as I was trying to be the digital version of John Henry as he fought the machine. It brings to mind the closing scene of the often criticized (and for good reason) film “Basquiat” when he (played by Jeffrey Wright) argues with a friend about John Henry’s accomplishments (“He died” “But he WON” “Yeah, but he DIED” “But he WON”).
I knew that the next time I wrote a blog I wasn’t going to take that same approach. Besides, Poisonous Paragraphs started out as means to draw attention to my writing so I could write for Rap publications. I’d been blackballed by all of them by it’s close so no need to kill myself writing epic pieces 5x a week that no one wants to read anymore. I can be more economical with my time & energy. Work smarter but just as hard as before.
Urban music has worked in much the same way since it first became album based sometime between 1967 and 1968, it goes in waves or generations that last between 3 and 5 years each. If you go back and look you’ll find key events or artists that initiated new changes that then spread out through the musical universe and in time the entire landscape had transformed to reflect that it was, in fact, a new era. You could either go on board on tap out. If you stuck around doing that same old shit, it wasn’t going to end well…for you.
Incidentally, Rap music became album based between 1987 and 1988 right in the midst of what we called the Golden Era (not until after we realized what we’d just experienced was, in fact, special) and everyone else had to follow suit. If not? They looked and sounded like dinosaurs. Long extinct relics from a bygone era. Needless to say? This is how I’m beginning to feel blogging in this Post Black Rap world…
I’ve seen the writing on the wall and got the fuck outta Dodge before. I’ve become old hat at this sort of thing. I was working in a box store/video store so I saw the end of the road for both way before it actually happened. I remember the 1998 holiday season like yesterday, the first one where the Internet significantly cut into the profit margins of Tower Records, Tweeter, Circuit City & Best Buy. Amazon became the wave of the future by the time it became 1999. I saw all the many failings of the video store and knew that in the Pre Dot Com Bubble Burst world that was becoming increasingly more digital someone would find a way to capitalize on it.
Sure enough, we were at Ground Zero for a digital revolution when we first noticed that we were selling more CD-R’s than physical CD’s at a time when CD’s were still flying off the shelves. Soon afterwards the Metro Boston Area and it’s 50 plus colleges and universities were hit first by Napster and just shortly after the Dot Com Bubble burst a new company called Netflix formed that eventually took down all the video store chains in the span of a decade. I was slowly phased out of working in these same stores because they no longer wanted to hire knowledgable staffs. They instead opted for pretty faces that had to search for everything in the store database whom they only had to pay minimum wage to. We all see how that turned out, don’t we?
We’re at another crossroads whether or not we’ve noticed. Rap journalism is in an extended lull right now and it’s online version is in dire straits thanks to things like catering directly to anything SEO based or Google Analytics. On the other side, everyone both in print and online are writing about the same tired subjects over and over again. In mainstream circles where the only acceptable stories are about either Jay-Z, Kanye West, Pharrell Williams, Kendrick Lamar or Macklemore there is pressure to make your particular piece stand out from the rest. This leads to some music journalists making ridiculous reaches and writing questionable statements (i.e. Jon Caramanica’s “Post Black Pop Star Rapper” phrasing).
What would possess a veteran writer such as Jon Caramanica to try so hard with a damb show review (the title alone let us know he was swinging for the fences on this one)? To be fair, he’s already tried his hand at the now tired cultural appropriation in urban music thinkpiece so his options were pretty limited at present. There are currently more cultural appropriation in urban music thinkpieces than you can shake an ass from a Lily Allen video at. Do me a favor and Google search “Lily Allen” & “Lorde” together then ask yourself if all music writers are sharing the same fucking brain?
To make matters worse, Rap journalism isn’t doing that great a job properly covering the genre they supposedly specialize in. Some artists are so fed up that they’re beginning to bypass the XXL’s, Vibe’s & The Source’s to go to other mainstream music publications for coverage instead. Both Spin and Rolling Stone have been more open to covering emcees like Roc Marciano, Ka and Homeboy Sandman than any of these so-called Rap magazines have been in recent years (which is another growing issue).
TDE (Top Dawg Entertainment) was less than happy with XXL’s decision to characterize their recent Black Hippy cover as “Kendrick Lamar & Black Hippy”, excellent piece written by Kris Ex notwithstanding. However, GQ fared no better in their execution of a Kendrick Lamar magazine cover nor with their clumsy writeup. It got to be so bad that Top Dawg issued a statement & pulled Kendrick Lamar out of performing at a GQ event due to his dissatisfaction with the tone of the article. Let’s delve a little deeper into this issue regarding how the artist in urban music is covered and characterized in the modern music media, shall we?
The reason we have all of these damb cultural appropriation thinkpieces in the first place is due to the fact it seems like only White artists will parody or even comment on modern urban music. The truth is it needs to be parodied because it’s completely absurd, predictable, bland, inane and totally out of control at present. There was a time De La Soul could make an "Ego Trippin’ (Part 2)" or The Roots could make a "What They Do". These were artists on major labels outside of the “jiggy” bubble considered closer to the underground than what later became TRL friendly. Even Chris Rock could make a parody video like "Champagne" addressing issues with urban music. Where are those people now and why don’t they have the freedom to do so anymore?
The problem is that in 2013 the Black artists or groups that would have the idea or the balls to address these issues aren’t on the radio, they don’t get coverage and they aren’t deemed “relevant” in Rap or urban music circles anymore. However, the artists that appear to be caricatures or are primed to be mocked get the push from the machine. MTV deemed Trinidad James buzzworthy. Migos, French Montana, Future & Juicy J were all over the place while talented emcees with something of substance to say were largely ignored by both radio and the print media. Thus the job of doing so fell on White artists such as Lorde and Lily Allen who weren’t even American because the lane was left wide open. Then came the hypocritical (and confusing) backlash.
Since there are aren’t any (in actuality there are plenty that would but none of them are either in position to do so or are so tethered to the machine that they wouldn’t think to do it because it could potentially hurt their careers or marketability) Black artists that are “relevant” critiquing urban music it looks like these non Americans are mocking “Black culture”.
First off, what they’re mocking isn’t “Black culture”, it’s actually “capitalist culture”. The idolization of status symbols and the appearance of wealth and/or opulence isn’t a Black thing (no matter what your Jay-Z and Kanye West fandom makes you think). If you see it over and over and over again it becomes boring, tired and repetitive thus making these obvious themes prime for criticism or parody. No one had shit to say when Chief Keef and Trinidad James among others were essentially making Rap look like one big minstrel show that hipsters awash in their ironic racism loved but the second someone critiques it THEY’RE out of line? You simply can’t have it both ways, people.
When Good Charlotte dropped the song "Lifestyles Of The Rich & Famous" back in 2002 nary a fuck was given when they referred to OJ Simpson and Marion Berry. Nowadays, these same lyrics would’ve launched a thousand blog posts. Lorde’s “Royals” isn’t racist in the least and focusing on the song’s existence rather than the obvious fact the problem is there’s little to no dissenting voices or conscious artists in modern mainstream urban music is frustrating. How come NONE of the hundreds of nearly identical cultural appropriation thinkpieces written over the past 4-6 months have brought up that fact?
In conclusion, we are at a crossroads and an impasse. Mainstream urban music is at an all time low quality wise. Rap journalism in both it’s print and online incarnations is stuck in a quagmire of repetitiveness due to a lack of inspiration and creativity (caused largely by the low quality of mainstream music). Writers like myself that have enough foresight to see the writing on the wall are looking at the front door (word to Large Professor). I’m sick of the bullshit, excuses, double standards, cowardice and lies from other so-called Rap journalists. I’m sick of killing myself to write about things of substance when most cats would rather collect checks doing disposable shit because they simply don’t value the power of their own words or lack any semblance of pride, conviction or integrity.
I’m sick of reading horrible lists created by teams on Complex that I could write better by myself without needing any interns or fact checkers. I’m sick of cowards like Elliott Wilson and B.Dot that actually think they’re curating this culture. I’m sick of reading lazy ass writing from passionless veterans that I can tell are just faxing it in. What I’m even more sick of is complaining about it. I started Bastard Swordsman out of frustration of not being able to properly express myself through the written word via Bloggerhouse back in February 2010.
After I heard that Keith “Guru” Elam was in a coma Bastard Swordsman took on a new purpose. Once he passed, it became a means of shedding light on that which no one else would do to reflect the hope he gave a kid from Boston to achieve his dreams. Now Bastard Swordsman ends under many of the same circumstances I initially started it under. I’m beginning to feel less and less that any real Rap writing of significant impact can be done if things stay on this current trajectory. The key to survival is to reinvent yourself, adapt to the changing environment and stay ahead of the curve. When something outlives it’s usefulness never be afraid to leave it behind. I never have…