They Should Have Never Given Wale The Internet

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Wale can’t win.  Not that he can’t make a successful album, but when you think about it, he’ll never get the praise he so feverishly pursues and expects from people.  Why?  Because:

(A) Wale probably expects more props for what he does than the limits of his talent warrant,

and

(B) Everything about Wale’s online and offline persona sucks.

Rap Is Stressful
Rap Is Stressful

Given Wale’s peevish nature, he could drop the most phenomenal album of all time and no perceptive person who’s seen his behavior up to this point would take any interest.  With hip-hop, it’s difficult to separate the material from the persona the rapper presents, unless you’re one of those smart rappers who limit their presence outside of their work and/or don’t present themselves outside of their work at all.  Social media and reality TV together have made the rappers who use them overexposed and way too vulnerable for the bravado they sell on record.  Both mediums, initially thought of as an incredible tool for connecting with fans, have proven in a number of cases to reveal artists with shitty personalities and shittier intelligence quotients.  Wale is the poster child for the rapper who probably ruined his career by becoming active on Twitter.  Because no one buys the bravado you’re selling when you’re online having a meltdown every other day and showing you’re a hothouse flower and not the secure MC a hip-hop head can actually respect.

It shouldn’t be any surprise that Wale recently called up Complex to threaten their staff for not including him in this year’s top 50 albums list.  Instead of focusing on those who do support his work, Wale tends to make the biggest spectacle of chasing down praise from people who seem reluctant or unwilling to give it…or just don’t like his music. I mean, at the end of the day…it’s Complex.  Not mentioning Wale’s album is probably the best decision the folks over there made in terms of hip-hop coverage all year.

Imagine Wale had left Twitter alone and portrayed himself as a humble adult as opposed to a petulant imp.  Come to think of it…he might be forced to come up with some new subject matter if he wasn’t constantly rapping about being denied recognition.  As much as I hate to admit it, Wale could (hypothetically) drop the best 16 I’ve heard in the last five years and I wouldn’t give it an ear, simply because he’s shared a little too much on the Internet for me to take him seriously as a rapper or as an adult.  Tragic.  You can say all that matters is the music, but I beg to differ when it comes to hip-hop and when you throw in the baring of the soul via social media.  Sometimes it can help, but in most cases, it probably helps to leave some of the mystique and step away from the computer.

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How Beyonce Stans Ruined Beyonce For Regular People

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This is not, by any means, an anti-Beyonce rant.  If you came here expecting sympathy for that school of thought, I’m sorry to disappoint.  Despite the fact that I don’t really listen to her stuff, I’m in no way ashamd to admit that yes, Beyonce is dope.  In fact, when you think of the woman’s consistency and work ethic alone, there aren’t many artists today that are worth stanning for if not her.  But I’ve already told you the trouble with stans.  In addition to being supportive to a fault, stans can also affect other people’s ability to enjoy or get into an artist as well.

We live in an age where it’s absolutely possible for a person to never hear a solid minute of the most popular musician in the world if they choose not to.  I exercise this right with many of your favorite artists, trust me.  If you’re smart enough to never listen to urban radio and never turn to the music video station, who’s to say you can’t block out music entirely?  Music blogs allow you to pick and choose the type of music you want to hear and seek out, so there’s really no reason to listen to mainstream pop music if you’re not into it.  I say that to say this: somewhere outside of your immediate circle of influence there are people who don’t listen to Beyonce, out of deliberate avoidance or because they’ve just never really been exposed to her solo work in any real capacity.  But nothing can repulse a potential fan than listening to a stan gush.  You should not be talking about how an album is classic before it’s even completed the download process.  Who can take that seriously?  Give it some time, sit with the music and think critically and honestly about it.  In the modern day, I think social media has ruined people’s ability to process music and TV shows, etc without checking into Twitter and Facebook to give a live play-by-play of everything they’re hearing and watching.  For this reason, live social media reviews aren’t worth a fart in a stiff wind.Beyonce4

The most annoying side-effect of Beyonce stannage is that where one extreme goes, another will surely follow.  While stans gush, those who don’t like Beyonce feel the need to stand up and be counted in different ways: “I’m just saying I don’t think she’s all that”.  Yes, and you “just say that” every time there’s a new release.  We got it.  Then, of course, there are the trolls who act as if the woman is complete trash just to throw their two cents in on the topic du jour and attract the ire (and attention) of all who will listen.  On one hand, you have exaggerated adoration and on the other you have the contrarian response that says “hey, look at me, I didn’t drink the Kool-Aid!”  Neither extreme helps the normal people come to a conclusion about the music or the star herself.  It just makes them wanna get the hell out of there at top speed.

Some people just want to listen to music, not be part of a machine and I’m sorry to say that Beyonce cultists make the machine less attractive by leaps and bounds every time the woman drops an album.  Granted, Beyonce’s unique, significant place in music history is set in stone.  She doesn’t need to acquire another fan as logn as she lives, but what is a fan’s job if not to share their love of an artist with others?  It becomes difficult to do that, though, when people have got you hidden from their Facebook feed or muted/unfollowed on Twitter because they’ve grown weary of your constant stanning.  Ultimately, people will do what the hell they want to do with their lives and social media, but there’s always a down-side to stanning and chances are, you’re doing less for your favorite artist than you think and keeping people from enjoying them who might be interested if they didn’t think the artist’s current fans are all complete lunatics.

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So You Want To Be A Rapper 2: How To Get Your Music Heard By Music Bloggers

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Since the first installment was so popular with folks and because I had a little more to add, I decided to drop the sequel.  As I said last time, it takes a lot of courage to put your music out there for the world to hear and criticize, so it’s important that artists aren’t wasting their shot at greatness by making simple mistakes that get their work ignored.  Here’s a few more tips to get your music heard by bloggers.

  1. Show Face – I talked a little bit last time about quality artwork and visuals, but I don’t think I was specific enough and didn’t stress the importance of putting a face to your work, especially if you don’t have a video available.  A lot of the artwork I get that comes with songs is totally missing the rapper’s face.  It can never hurt to let people put a face to the name and a name to the music and in some cases, the listener may remember you on face as opposed to name or vice versa, so you need to be working to get both out there as much as possible when marketing yourself.
  2. Production Matters – To keep it 100% honest, nobody cares about your raps if you’re sprinkling them generously over trash beats.  Though it’s never been easy to make a good beat, with all the technology available to beatsmiths, a cheap beat or one given to a rapper on the strength doesn’t have to sound cheap.  If you’re a rapper, go out and network…aspiring producers need to get their work heard just as much as you need your rhymes heard, so one hand should be washing the other.  No need to pay top dollar for professional beats if you just don’t have it like that just yet.
  3. Relax On The “Hot” Instrumentals – Speaking of beats, get something original…nobody wants to hear you being the 345th random rapper to rhyme over the “Started From The Bottom” instrumental.  While I know it’s difficult to find an original and good beat for every track on a mixtape, you can always go left and resurrect a classic track to rhyme over.  When you rhyme over a current “hot” track, all people do is compare your version to the original, professionally-done version.  Why do that to yourself?
  4. Accept Criticism…In Fact, Welcome It – As with anything you’re putting out there for public consumption, you’re going to have people that like it and people who hate it…hell, you may not even have people who like it at all, but if everyone likes it, you’re making nothing of substance…and this never ever happens.  Granted, sometimes people will go out of their way to be rude and overly critical and hip-hop fans are known for being heavy-handed with the criticism, but if that upsets you, maybe this isn’t the game to get into.  Not too long ago, I posted a guy’s mixtape on my site basically because he had some features and production by some of my favorite artists.  The next morning, I tweeted that I didn’t care for the guy’s flow, although the tape was good otherwise.  No response or thank you for the posting of the tape, but in response to the (for me) very mild criticism, I get “eat a d*ck, f*ckboy”, after which I proceeded to drag the kid for a while, explaining that you don’t get in the game and search Twitter just to take shots at anyone who doesn’t praise your work and not respond with gratitude to people promoting your work for you.  This is where I go from just not posting your material anymore to actively speaking about the incident to colleagues and ensuring others aren’t receptive either.  Call it petty, but you don’t bite the hand.  Bloggers are that hand.  Speaking of…
  5. Don’t Diss The Bloggers – I see this more from established artists, but don’t diss bloggers in your music or otherwise.  For the two jerks you’re referring to when you say bloggers are “hating” on you and your work, there are thousands who are posting your stuff and getting it out there to people who wouldn’t hear you otherwise.  We’re not all bitter hipsters who don’t like anything.  In fact, I don’t post much about what I don’t like as much as what I do, while others will rant and rave about artists they hate.  So don’t make generalizations and don’t burn bridges.  The world is changing and while I don’t recommend ass-kissing, I do think you have to realize that there are a lot of people that look to bloggers as taste-makers who can either be working for you or against you or ignoring you altogether.  You figure out which you want for yourself.
  6. Be Unique…But Don’t Expect People To Follow You To The Moon – There’s an epidemic of artists who are just weird for the sake of being weird to the point that it isn’t weird at all…just a faddish gimmick.  And gimmicks don’t generally have much longevity.  There’s an art to abstract, but chances are you’re not the next Raekwon or MF Doom…they’re still being the current version of them anyway.  Make sure people can pick up what you’re putting down.  Your unique will shine through when you’re being authentic without you appearing in your music video wearing a pink football helmet and footed pajamas.  All that’s going to do is make your image bigger than your material.

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Kanye West Is Not This Generation’s Gil Scott Heron

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Hip-hop has an unfortunate tendency to over-think and under-think at the wrong times.  Many under-thought the whole Rick Ross/date rape issue, attempting to crucify the rapper vs. start a serious dialogue about how much our youth really know about rape (of the date variety and otherwise).  Many over-thought the entire career of Tupac Shakur and will to this day call an influential musician a “revolutionary” without having a solid grasp of what that title really entails.  There’s a difference between assassination and just getting shot, yet people are really holding dear to their hearts the idea that Tupac was a political target or a danger to the American government at any point in time.  This is no different from Kanye West and his seemingly arbitrary forays into sociopolitical commentary.

During the New Orleans flooding, many were praising Kanye West for his outburst while my reaction was more similar to Mike Myers’ immediate shock and distancing.  I saw it as no more than what it was…an outburst…and you can tell from the trembling in Kanye’s voice that it wasn’t a very well thought-out statement (“George Bush doesn’t care about Black people”).  “Oh, he was just passionate” was a lot of people’s explanation.  No, he was just being counterproductive, making what was going on an issue of race instead of an issue about class, dividing people where people should have been coming together.  But that’s Kanye for you, making more of an issue of him jumping up to say something at all than drawing attention to the issue at hand and stepping aside so that those listening can make their own assessment.  It’s all a show and I don’t think at that point in time that Kanye had the wherewithal to think “let me do this so I can bring more attention to the issue” but ultimately all it did was bring more attention to him and his biased and irrational opinions and need to over-emote.

The Taylor Swift incident was more up my alley and something I praised him for on this very website at the time it happened.  If we’re talking music and not politics, then Kanye is probably one of the few people in the mainstream industry who are qualified to speak up, especially when a sub-par, disposable pop video is receiving an accolade over one that will go down in music history as a great video, whether you liked “Single Ladies” or not.  While it’s almost impossible not to view the backlash from it as containing elements of the Black menace threatening middle America’s darling, delicate white flower, the issue itself was really at its heart more an issue of showing passion for the art of music in an environment where uninspired drivel was getting undue praise.  The issue needed to be raised and luckily, Kanye did so…but on a topic as frivolous as music…which he’s qualified to speak on credibly.

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I was basically unmoved by the new songs Kanye performed on Saturday Night Live, “New Slaves” and “Black Skinhead”.  As if being a guest on SNL and daily coverage on TMZ isn’t enough, what better way to captivate white and/or mainstream America than making them uncomfortable with racial and sociopolitical commentary?  While I’ve read many articles analyzing the bejeezus out of the songs and praising Kanye for using his voice or whatever, I think folks forget who we’re dealing with here.  While he may be attempting to “say something” of substance, he’s also been praising and working with the likes of Chief Keef, a young man who could probably benefit from the knowledge he thinks he’s dropping on a jaded public and then some.  I’m not saying Kanye should shut up because he’s contradictory, as the martyr-makers love to point out that all “great minds” contradict themselves and then pull a Tupac hologram out of nowhere as an example.  What I’m saying is that sometimes musicians need to simply be musicians and stop trying to horn in on activist territory, particularly when the astute can see through the facade to the root of your cause: grandstanding and an absurd fear that you will be forgotten, a fear which I think many in this generation share.  Many will sit and rail against the government and “the system”, tweeting and blogging away using tablets and $500 smartphones ironically to badmouth capitalism.

Kanye West has succeeded in becoming the caricature he’s been made out to be, spoiled rotten and caught up in his own hype machine.  Nevertheless, while folks were trying to pick apart the perceived depth of Kanye’s words on his two new songs, I was listening for the production, which of course was top notch.  All of this being said, I’m absolutely looking forward to Kanye’s album to drop in June (titled Yeezus, a title that’s yet another successful attempt to rile people and force his status as some sort of pop culture martyr).  My only point is to avoid taking Kanye too seriously or thinking his outbursts on topics other than music (and even those) are anything more than showmanship, lest you too become part of the joke.

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Why Does Riff Raff Bother You?

People tend to be intrigued or incensed by rapper Riff Raff.  Personally, I’ve been intrigued since I first saw the video for “Larry Bird”.  i can understand why some people might be initially alarmed by Riff Raff’s persona and image.  He’s a tall, skinny white guy with a bunch of tattoos (including a giant MTV logo on his neck), long cornrows, and is usually seen wearing a ton of diamond jewelry.  Hailing from Houston, he speaks with a Southern drawl and raps about some of the same things you would expect of a Houston rapper with a little bit of outlandishness thrown in to make him a unique act.  While it’s understandable that Riff is a love-it-or-hate-it type of persona and musician, some are taking it so far as to over-analyze his right to be who he is and question his credibility, even though he himself doesn’t seem to require any validation.  I don’t enjoy all of Riff Raff’s music, but he has an enjoyable verse here or there and as far as his persona, he seems to just do him and be pretty much hilarious in most interactions and interviews I’ve seen.

Riff Raff’s MTV Cribs Spoof

I can understand the concern that Riff Raff’s entire persona may be a satire of certain aspects of hip-hop culture, but when it’s proposed that he’s satirizing Blackness is where  I have a problem.  Black people do not own hip-hop any more than hip-hop defines the Black experience as a whole.  There are many Black people who do not identify with hip-hop culture just as there are many white people who authentically do.  For someone to imply that a white person dressing a certain way is an insult to their Blackness would just be indicative of the fact that someone may need to go back and re-examine their definition of Blackness because that’s trivializing the whole experience…it doesn’t boil down to hairstyles and gold chains on even the slightest level.

Even if Riff Raff is a satire of hip-hop culture…so what?  To take issue with a white person satirizing hip-hop is to imply that we own the rights to that solely, and that just isn’t the case.  Hip-hop has become so ingrained in mainstream American culture, we would be foolish to still be holding onto sole ownership as if this were still the 1980s.  If Riff Raff were an artist that I feel glorifies violence or misogyny in a satirical fashion, then I might take some issue, but he seems like a persona who’s about having fun, even if it might involve personal drug use or drinking.  Personally, what alarms me more is people like Chief Keef who come across as 100% authentic, represent a dark underbelly of Chicago youth that’s currently racking up real-life casualties, and glorify violence in a tone that is 100% serious.  Why are people focusing on satire when there’s that to address?  If we’re going to be gate-keepers for hip-hop, why are we picking and choosing who to call to task based solely on race?  If there’s a problem to be discussed about buffoonery and extravagance in hip-hop, then it should be addressed across the board as opposed to homing in on people based on how someone looks and what we think of their background and who they should identify with. 

Interview In Question: Hot 97’s Ebro Play’s Hip-Hop’s Gatekeeper vs. Riff Raff

Larry Bird x Riff Raff

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Hip-Hop Blogs Are The New Urban Radio…And That Isn’t Necessarily A Good Thing

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A while ago, people started buzzing about how blogs were changing the face of music and hip-hop specifically, saying that those who run blogs are more instrumental in getting music out than the labels and the radio stations.  This at first excited me as a person who turned off his radio back in 1999 and never really looked back.  I thought “hey, the blogs are going to start putting out more underground artists and getting people heard who may never see radio time but deserve an ear regardless” and to a degree, that happened and is still the case.

The problem is that during these early conversations about this great shift, people thought that the best thing about this would be that the role of taste-maker would go from corporate types with a vested interest to average-Joe bloggers with daytime jobs and an enthusiasm for music that had little to nothing to do with the almighty dollar.  Then blogging became a full-time economic pursuit for people.  Your average Joe figured out how to monetize his blog and discovered the effects that covering the “hot” artist of the moment had on site traffic and in turn, ad revenue.  And that’s just where everything got super stupid.  Now you’ve got artists releasing lots of content outside of actual music, giving you the artwork, tracklist, trailer to the album, trailer for the mixtape, trailer to the music video, behind-the-scenes footage of the music video, footage of the bowl of cereal the rapper had the morning before going to film the video, and so on and so forth.  It really gets out of hand, all in the name of beating you over the head with the “hot” artist of the moment, i.e. the six people in the game with enough money to afford all this extra marketing.  And bloggers eat it right up…why?  Because it gives them more content, which increases visibility (but may not necessarily build reader loyalty), and because it increases traffic and thus increases ad revenue.

Part of what comes with living in an era where literally “anybody” can have a blog is understanding that while some are here to be arbiters of good taste and mean well, others are here mostly for profit…and more or less also mean well, but are doing the culture a disservice by doing the same things we used to criticize urban radio for before the smart folks just stopped bothering to tune in.  Quality over quantity is just not something that is appreciated in today’s rap game, where you basically fell off if you haven’t put out a mixtape in the last 3 months.

My frustration comes more with being a hip-hop fan than with being a blogger, since Front-Free is simply an extension of my fandom, not something that I feel needs to measure up with other blogs in order for me to feel validated.  I’d rather have a blog on the side that is truly something unique and gives people an idea of my taste and point of view than have a blog that pays all of my bills but doesn’t bring anything new or unique to the table because that’s short-lived.  As a fan, it just sucks to have to sift through tons of the same nonsense in order to get to the real art that’s out there.  And I’m not knocking those who make money off of hip-hop blogging at all…many do have integrity and stumbled upon success while others are just playing the game and getting their hustle on.  But it’s a hustle that can absolutely be knocked when it subtracts from the culture and doesn’t add to it.  My advice to those getting into the hip-hop blog game is this: figure out where you want to go and if there are already a bunch of people doing exactly what you’re trying to do.  If there are, then you must make a decision of whether to continue to emulate or whether it’s worth it to you to gamble and bring something new to the table.  Please bring something new.

Sh*t Bloggers Say

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The Gay Rapper Question

 The other day, a reader asked me an interesting question: given that he were lyrically dope, would I or wouldn’t I listen to or support an openly gay MC?  First, let me say that simply having the ability to rap doesn’t mean I’m going to listen to you or support your work.  J. Cole can technically rap, but I have never been excited about new material because I find him boring.  Second, to answer the question, I would say yes, but I can’t wholeheartedly say that I would in all cases.  

Though I hate that I even have to do so, let me start by being “that guy” and saying yes…I have gay friends and colleagues.  I’m very much in support of marriage equality and am 100% in active support of trying to change attitudes in the Black and hip-hop communities regarding LGBT acceptance, not just tolerance.  I say this only to present my dilemma as honestly as possible.  That being said, I think the problem I would have with a gay rapper is the same problem a lot of enlightened straight male hip-hop heads (and we do exist…I can direct you to several…we meet every Thursday and there’s coffee and donuts) would have.  Over any other genre, in hip-hop, rappers tend to be very candid about their sex lives and exploits.  That isn’t to say that he would need to be forthcoming with those details at all, as many don’t rap about such matters, but would it be fair to expect him not to ever for my own comfort, stifling his ability to fully express himself?  I don’t think so.  The show Will & Grace was very careful about not showing too much man-on-man action to the point it became unfair to viewers who were interested in seeing a realistic character portrayed in a way that was honest.  Though two men kissing isn’t something I necessarily want to see on my phone’s lock screen, it was dope that we had come far enough as a society to show that reality and progress on network television.

The problem I think a lot of people create in this whole fight for “tolerance” is that while we expect people to be accepting of other orientations, some are not respectful of others’ comfort levels.  I don’t think any of my gay friends or colleagues would expect me to attend a gay club or bar with them just to prove I’m as accepting as I say I am because that’s crossing the line, yet I’ve seen this thinking on shows like The Real World…and the guy even gets pressured into doing it sometimes (or he secretly wanted to go in the first place).  What they would expect me to be is respectful, which for me is a given…nothing more, nothing less…respectful of their rights, humanity (nobody wants to be introduced as “my gay friend” or “the gay”) and ability to express themselves, which is what I expect from them or anyone else as well.  Considering this, I don’t think it’s fair to say a straight person who wouldn’t be comfortable hearing a gay rapper rap about sex or attraction to other men (if he decided to do so) is intolerant or bigoted.  It just isn’t going to be a true assessment in many cases.  

In conclusion, would I support the idea of a gay rapper?  Absolutely.  Doors need to be opened in all facets of our society.  However, supporting something doesn’t necessarily mean that I have to listen to it.  If I don’t like your content, I’m not going to force myself to, especially if it makes me uncomfortable but I do believe it should be available to those who want it and are okay with it in this case.  I really hate when the talking heads who are often called to speak on hip-hop matters and even speak for hip-hop tend to speak down to the culture and whenever issues like misogyny in hip-hop are brought up, they use the issue as a pedestal with which to brow-beat the hip-hop community and further their own agendas.  This topic is no different.  We can look at this as a hip-hop issue or place it where it belongs, which is on the collective shoulders of the Black community and our archaic views on homosexuality.  That’s the root of it.  Would a lot of people be resistant to an openly gay rapper?  Yes, but gays have found resistance in many areas where openness is uncommon and it will take some opening of doors to push acceptance…work that needs doing, ultimately.  

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Why Paying For Music Doesn’t Make You A Better Fan

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The funniest thing I’ve seen in recent years with the growing availability of free music is fans claiming that they are somehow better fans of an artist because they refuse to dabble in leaked music or “pirating”.  What’s funnier than that even is people who will get the illegal download and then still go buy the album they already have.  I understand people think they’re being helpful and supporting the artist and all, but it just makes no real sense to pay for something you already have when it comes down to brass tacks.

The artists themselves generally aren’t concerned.  Take it from Kid Cudi regarding his recent album leak:

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Any artist worth his salt knows that (a) there’s no way to stop an album from leaking and that (b) there are still many people, at a certain level of fame, who will still buy the album…a hard copy even.  Hell, it’s the theory of many that artists often play a hand in leaking their own material simply to create a buzz.

Those tech-savvy enough to track down leaks are probably the best word of mouth an artist can have.  Someone who illegally downloads an album and talks it up online to thousands of followers and/or readers, specifically before the album’s official release date, are doing a hundred times more for an artist than the guy who buys the album at Best Buy and sits in his car listening to it alone and maybe tells his co-worker about it.  Even with press copies and advances I’ve received and written about, I’ve had many readers say they’ve decided to buy it based on my evaluation.  Even if you don’t have a blog anyone reads, your evaluation via social networks could really sway people’s opinion on a high level, making the tech-savvy an ace in the hole for artists where many would falsely consider them an Achilles’ heel.

People aren’t as tech-savvy as you may think.  I used to work in technical support and still do in a capacity.  I’m not a whiz kid when it comes to computers, but I’m still forever amazed that people in 2013 are still using AOL or Internet Explorer or…dial-up…oh yes, dial-up.  These people have no idea what a torrent is and barely know that artists release free music online from time to time that you can’t find in stores.  These people are still buying hard copies of CDs in the case because they feel like the sound quality is better…as if they were copping vinyl.  And I don’t mean to come off as a technology snob; I’m just trying to prove the point that there are those who still need to purchase physical copies of music and these people will forever pay for records in the store.

No money like show money.  True artists recognize the value (artistic and monetary) in performing for their audience.  You can’t download an experience and I’d be more enthused about paying for an artist’s live show than paying for something I can get for free and well before the label is expecting that I am supposed to have it.  The best effect piracy had on the music industry is forcing artists to improve their live shows.  For example, I saw Action Bronson live here in DC for the price of $15 and the show was so good I felt compelled to go home and purchase all of his old albums because I felt the show was worth more than that by the time it was over.

Doesn’t matter how you hear the music ultimately.  I’ve actually had someone try to tell me that my opinion on music isn’t valid if I haven’t paid for every single album I own, which is absurd.  I might not be as concerned about the artist’s coffers as you apparently are, but that has nothing to do with my ability to properly evaluate the material.  I might not have the disposable “money to burn” income to spend money on things I can usually get for free, but that doesn’t have anything to do with my ability to listen to the music regardless of proof of purchase and be able to distinguish trash from treasure.  

People are going to find a way to be snobs at the end of the day, but I respect the snob who’s about music quality as opposed to those concerning themselves with who paid for the music and who didn’t.  Grow up.  Support doesn’t come from CD sales alone and if you understand the value of art over business, you would understand how piracy, even though it may be unfair, is driving hip-hop culture at the moment and forcing there to be a distinction between those just out for money and those who really want to garner a following and respect off of hard work.

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Rick Ross & Rape Culture: Reaction To The Reactions

 Rick-Ross1

“Put molly all in her champagne, she ain’t even know it / I took her home and I enjoyed that, she ain’t even know it.”

We’re not accomplishing anything by demonizing Rick Ross.  Ignorance is not inherent evil and shouldn’t be treated as such.  Think of it this way: if Ross thought it was okay to pen such a lyric and we’re just now hearing the backlash about it, there are legions of Rick Ross fans who heard it before now and thought it was A-OK.  That should scare you.  I’m not worried about Rick Ross because I honestly don’t think he’s actually doing what he says like most rappers wh0 rap about an extravagant, blatantly ignorant lifestyle.  What I’m concerned with is getting the youth to understand that rape isn’t just physically forcing a woman into sexual acts using violence or threats of violence.  It’s any situation where a woman is not in her right mind or physical capacity to either consent or to say no and someone still takes advantage of that situation sexually.  I really don’t think some of the youth and even some misguided adults know that.  Not to mention the fact that rappers are running around acting like MDMA (“Molly”) is something to be giving cute nicknames to and writing trite little jingles about.rick-ross-vixen

I’ve heard many critics use this issue to ridicule Ross for his weight and intelligence level (or lack thereof) and also to say that Rick Ross is not a part of hip-hop.  Talib Kweli made the point that if you exclude someone from hip-hop, you position yourself as an enemy and immediately make yourself someone who is not to be listened to.  I personally don’t care whether or not Ross learns anything, but if you’re going to spark a constructive dialogue with the youth who are caught in the middle of this debate and not understanding why people are upset, the solution isn’t to tell them that their favorite artist is trash.  You only succeed in positioning yourself as someone they can’t relate to.  So if the goal was to alienate yourself, then bravo.  I’m the first to say I’ve enjoyed some of Ross’ work since the beginning of his career.  It’s pretty safe to say he won’t be featured any longer on this particular blog, but that’s also due to the declining quality of his work.  Will I be taking “Ten Jesus Pieces” out of my iPod any time soon?  Not based on this, no.  Rappers and musicians of all kinds have said horrible things and rape language has been present in music for years.  That doesn’t, however, mean that this issue shouldn’t be addressed with regard to this lyric.  You can cite a rap lyric from years ago that hinted at rape, but remember that music has never been more accessible than it is today, nor has news coverage.  The more people that have access to the lyric, the more will be outraged by it and the more people will hear it and think nothing of it.  Artists don’t owe it to us to be socially aware and responsible, but I do believe the conversation needs to be had…Ross isn’t the first to rap about rape, but is probably the first to do so at a point of such high visibility in the public eye.

The main issue I have with the reactions toward Ross’ lyric is that it’s being made into a Black issue or a hip-hop issue.  At Rick Ross’ level, the people who support his music are probably not primarily Black, in terms of stats.  This is an issue of rape culture in America as a whole.  This is an issue of re-opening the discussion and making people understand the different instances where rape can occur.  Hip-hop is also not to blame, as violence and misogyny is not something that our culture spawned.  Sure, leaders of our community may feel obligated to step forward on the issue and kudos to them, but to confine this to a “us” conversation is a major disservice.  As a parent myself, it makes more sense to me to tend to my own son’s understanding of entertainment vs. reality than to expend my energy trying to police Hollywood and the music industry and call them to task for not raising my son correctly.  It takes a village to raise a child and though sometimes entertainment can play a bigger part than is healthy within that village, a lack of foundation will cause a child to go astray even if they never listen to one “rape lyric” or watch one violent film.  Mind you, I’m not condoning Rick Ross’ ignorance or his poor excuse for an apology, but I am calling people to task for not putting their energy in the right places…the places that will really get a useful dialogue going and hopefully shed light on the larger issues at hand.

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Where Have All The R&B Groups Gone?

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Let me start off with some hard and fast facts.

  • Trey Songz would not have made it in the 1990s as a solo artist.
  • Rihanna would not have made it in the 1990s as a solo artist.
  • Chris Brown would not have made it in the 1990s as a solo artist.
  • Ciara would not have made it in the 1990s as a solo artist.
  • Frank Ocean would not have made it in the 1990s as a solo artist.

Imagine what a Chris Brown CD would look like sitting next to something like Maxwell’s legendary Urban Hang Suite in the new releases section?  It would look like an un-purchased CD for people with any taste.  There was a time when, to be a solo R&B act, one actually was required to possess a vocal ability that would allow them to stand alone as a single act, not needing technological assistance or even top notch production to bolster or distract from their abilities or lack thereof.  Sure…as an example, Teddy Riley wasn’t the best vocalist by a long shot, but he was a legendary producer who was always backed by the likes of Aaron Hall and others.

There was a time when artists were humble enough to realize that their vocals are better suited for a group.  Granted, the fiscal climate has changed drastically to where an artist can see the benefit of keeping profit for themselves vs. splitting four or five ways among a group, but that’s where the line is drawn between being the best businessperson one can be and being the best artist one can be…and that’s often the line between the most timeless work and the most profitable in the here and now.  Then again, this is the generation of instant gratification and very little thought is put toward “will I still like this in ten years” when evaluating music.  For us “old timers” who remember the Silks, the Shais, the Xscapes…it’s hard to understand how we got to a place where the Devantes and Mr. Dalvins became, to the public, artists worthy of a solo career.  There are a lot of background players stepping confidently into the limelight today and it’s rather unfortunate for music.

And that’s not to say that each member of a group wasn’t talented or there to serve a specific purpose.  A lot of people liked Sisqo’s foray into solo work, but I personally preferred to deal with Sisqo’s outrageous look and dramatic vocals when tempered by the smoother, more subdued stylings of Jazz, Woody, and Nokio, who were each talented in their own right…just not to the point I wanted to hear a solo career out of them (although Jazz’ “Here With Me” is an undeniable jam).  Dru Hill, to me, represented one of the last phases in the evolution of the great American R&B group, indicating both a pinnacle of talent (the first two albums are undefeated) and unfortunately, a precursor to the demise of the R&B group.  In most great R&B groups from the 1980s and 1990s, there was never a real front-man, or at least not one who stood out so much as Sisqo did.  By elevating the front-man image-wise to where no one can focus on anyone else in the group and then having that artist go solo, Dru Hill and Sisqo specifically kind of set the tone for what was to come: artists better suited for groups becoming solo entities and skipping the group dynamic altogether.  Now it’s not fair to single out Dru Hill and I’m thankful for their contributions as well as Sisqo’s, but I think it’s a fine example.  

On the flipside, you have the example of Dave Hollister, who delivered the classic vocals to Blackstreet’s “Before I Let You Go” and ultimately became a solo artist to some success.  Despite having great vocal ability, Hollister seemed to lack some of the star power and personality to really shine as much as he could have as the front-man for a group.  Chicago 85 was a great solo album, but didn’t get the ears it deserved for a number of reasons.  This is the same for artists like Kevon Edmonds, once a member of After 7, and plenty others who were members of successful groups and went solo to a lukewarm reception.

There’s too much ego and greed in music today, which is why you see the lack of R&B groups and even hip-hop groups and collectives, in addition to the number of artists who require a marketing machine and tabloid-worthy antics to distract listeners from the fact that their carefully-crafted public image is a front for minimal talent.  It’s why you have songwriters and producers stepping out from behind the boards and trying to hold their own as artists.  It’s recession-era fallout, really, and that can’t be helped.  What we can do is remember where R&B used to take us and expect more out of what we are hearing today and hope that from that, supply ultimately begins to meet demand.

Head Over Heels x Allure f. Nas

Before I Let You Go x Blackstreet

Cheers 2 U x Playa

 Tender Love x Force MDs

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