HIP HOP AND IT’S CRITICS
by Davey D
Looks like Hip Hop artists are rearing their heads and speaking out about the type of ratings they have or have not received from various publications. In the latest edition of Lee Bailey‘s EUR Report[http://www.eurweb.com] where he interviews TheLost Boyz, they go off on publications like The Source Magazine. Here’s an excerpt from that interview…
“All these cats go out here and spend all this money to get all these different people on their album and it still don’t sell. They (Made Men – formerly Almighty RSO) got Jay-Z, Jermaine Dupri and all these other crazy (people) on their album, but they don’t sell. They sh*t still ain’t sh*t. That four or five mics in the Source don’t mean nothin’. You gotta go up there with baseball bats to get 5 mics. We’re averaging 3 mics in the Source. That’s what they gave the first two albums. We was beefin’ like ‘Yo, how come we didn’t get five.’ But we don’t pay attention to that now. Basically all the n***as that they feel fail after going platinum. Everything else they come out with fails. They go from double platinum to double wood. They (The Source) gave us a nice write up and everything, but f**k the Source. F**k em!”
[Taken from Lee Bailey’s EUR Report Sept 11th 1999.. ]
Here the Lost Boyz are referring to the recent rumblings that have come out of the Source camp where their most recent editor Selwyn Seyfu Hinds vacated his post after publisher/owner Dave Mays went behind the back of his editorial staff and changed the low ratings given to ‘his group/friends’ Made Men to a higher one. A widely circulated industry letter was released a couple of weeks ago explaining this incident in great detail. Hip Hop deejays were being encouraged to boycott the magazine. For many, the whole incident brought back unpleasant memories of what went down at The Source a few years ago when many from their original staff broke camp after Mays was accused of subverting his editorial staff by slipping in a favorable article about the same group. It’s ironic that a similar incident would occur. To date there was another letter that’s been circulating explaining that Seyfu Hinds had taken a job with an on line publication being put together by Russell Simmons, however Source publisher Dave Mays asserts that the info is not totally correct and that while it’s true Hinds is stepping down as editor and chief he will remain on staff to help put together the December ’99 issue.
While the Lost Boyz have been lambasting The Source, Bay Area rap star E-40 is seriously upset with Blaze Magazine. His discontent was first brought out on his appearance on Tavis Smiley‘s BET Tonite. E-40 explained that he was upset by the fact his new album was given a miserably low rating of 2.5. In addition he felt that the people reviewing his album were unqualified and not up on the type of music that he puts forth. What initially was thought to be a direct response to the Blaze article, another Bay Area rap group who is down with E-40 named A-1 is set to drop a devastating song called ‘Critic Killers‘.
I caught up with E-40 aka Charlie Hustle this morning to get the whole scoop. 40 broke it down by noting that the song ‘Critic Killers’ was done long before the Blaze article, but it was connected to his current feelings. He went on to explain that there seems to be an attempt by several writers to do what he described as ‘character assassination’ when it comes to certain artist.
‘It wasn’t so much that they gave me a 2.5 rating as much as it was the writer seemed to go out of way to ‘clown’ me personally’, E-40 explained.
‘The writer in question, Dan Frost made disparaging remarks like ‘The Blueprint [E-40’s album title] needs to be proof read’, ‘the beats sound like an arcade game’, and ’40 needs to keep up with the youngsters’.
Adding insult to injury E-40 noted that Blaze seemed to go out of their way to depict him in a unfavorable manner by including photos that had nothing to do with the theme and Bay Area lifestyle E-40 attempted to bring out during the photo shoot. ‘man , I could’ve just sent them a photo if I knew they were gonna make me look bad’ E-40 stated. E-40 went into detail when he explained how he had spent quite a bit of time during the photo shoot which was requested by Blaze to bring forth the type of imagery that reflected the Bay Area’s unique Hip Hop scene and lifestyle. The end result was a photo that essentially downplayed things and had E-40 looking like any other rapper sitting in a car.
The Blaze review was unsettling because it runs counter to the type of positive response E-40 has been receiving out here on the West Coast. Although the album hasn’t been officially released, advanced copies have been circulating with mad props being directed at 40. Many are saying, this may be 40’s strongest album to date. Tracks like ‘LIQ’ are being played all over in Los Angeles while the Too Short inspired ‘Earl Dats Your Life’ is the jam that you’re likely to hear from everybody’s ride here in the ‘Yeh [Bay] Area’
With his last couple of lps, ‘Hall of Game‘ and ‘Elements Of Surprise‘, E-40 fans bemoaned the fact that he seemed to be moving away from the type of sound and style that first netted his huge popularity. This was in spite of the fact that both lps were commercially successful in terms of sales. This time around E-40 brought it back to basics by revitalizing classic Vallejo ‘Mob’ sound and as a result folks have been feeling him.
With Blaze dropping such a low review the ugly specter of East/West coast bias rears its ugly head among fans. When I see kids on every street corner in Oakland vibing to E-40 or listeners jamming the phone lines to the radio station requesting his music, one has to wonder if a reviewer truly understands the music he is peeping out. Are all these people who happen to be feeling E-40, 2.5 rated fans? Are they in someway Hip Hop deficient and hence need some one from outside their hood to inform them that their Hip Hop hero is wack and needs to go back to the lab?
I pointed this out a long time ago, way before there was an East/West coast war, that many of our Hip Hop publications played a key role in bring this about by continuously putting out uninformed or obviously bias reviews. The people who were left being most upset would be the fans who would see the publication as an entity that was personally attacking them. Here out West, folks have a deep seeded loyalty to their artists. Any review that goes out to the public ideally should take into account the standards set by the artist’s audience. That is after all, who they ideally are speaking to when they drop their new material. Sometimes we have to put our personal bias and standards aside.
If Hip Hop is ideally supposed to reflect the lifestyle and culture of a particular individual, can a kid from New York really understand the mind set and musical upbringing of the kid from the hood 3000 miles away? Oftentimes there seems to be an implied assumption by many within the Hip Hop media that everyone is striving for the same Hip Hop standards. It’s like folks start thinking that an artist like E-40 or Juvenile should be setting their sights to spit lyrics with the smooth finesse of a Rakim or their beats should be bangin’ like those produced by DJ Premier. And while such individuals are clearly at the top of their game, they do not set the standards for everyone who are creating beats and rhymes in this rap game.
I’ve found that folks from all over this country have their own styles and sounds and what may be dope to some is wack to others. For example, here in Oakland, one of the hottest acts out is a guy named Keak Tha Sneak from a group called 3 X Krazy. You can’t walk two blocks without hearing that tape bumping from someone’s ride. To this day I can’t figure out the appeal. But I admit to having a certain musical bias. Some of the slang and Keak’s approach to doing his album will initially go over my head while folks from his East Oakland neighborhood will be loving it to death. He is ideally reflecting the things that are important to his audience. It would be foul for me to go out and publicly state the album is wack just because it ain’t my cup of tea especially when I see it blowing up the spot without any radio or video play.
Keak’s popularity should ideally be an indication for me to go out and get to understand this particular artist better. It means I should check to find out why so many people feel him. Is it his lyrics? His beat? His subject matter? It’s up to me to find out the deal and then hopefully I can use my media position to inform folks from outside the area exactly why Keak Tha Sneak is the bomb. I would not only be salting Keak Tha Sneak, but also a significant part of Oakland’s Hip Hop community if I came out and gave praise only to artists like Casual or Del while dismissing Keak Tha Sneak or The Deliquentswhich is another hot act blowing up in Oakland. At a time when this industry is so bent on labeling and compartmentalizing acts and music genres for its own convenience, the least I can do in my position is not continue this harsh pattern. It short changes the artist and it short changes Hip Hop.
So does E-40 deserve a 2.5 rating? To the kid who grew up listening to East Coast beats only, I can see him going in that direction. But I doubt if the fan growing up on the ‘left side’ [west coast] of country who understands the slang and feels the music would go in that direction. Did the reviewer really understand the significance of a song like ‘Earl Dats Your Life’? Did he understand what that song meant to Bay Area folks and what it meant to have Too Short introduce it.. Did he understand why folks in LA are eating up ‘LIQ’ .. Did he peep the game on a track like Ballaholic? Did the reviewer peep what sound or style that E-40 was bringing back?
I’ll be the first to admit, as a journalist you can’t be all things to all people. We’re not gonna be up on every style. We’re certainly not gonna like everything that gets put out on the market. There are gonna be some things we become big champions of and its good for us to show our enthusiasm. For example, I loved Rakim’s last album and I couldn’t quite understand why so many journalist lambasted it. However, when giving a bad review we should use extra precaution by making sure we separate our personal feelings from that of the fans. Why knock some one else’s hustle? Does this mean we can’t give bad reviews or call an album wack? Of course we can.
What I’m suggesting is that we as journalist must look at the larger picture and take into account that we as writers aren’t the necessarily the trendsetters in this game. The fans set the trends. We as writers just happen to have the ability to report or not report what’s going on in other parts of the world. We also have to remember that while it’s good for us to have strong opinions on things, however when it comes to art we should be clear about noting our opinion vs what may be going elsewhere.
The kid 2000 miles away from Cali in Tennessee may actually like the new E-40 album. He however may may not go pick it up because of a bad review in Blaze. The question that one has to wonder was Blaze really in touch with the kid from Cali and the kid from Tennessee? Hip Hop publications have positioned themselves as the middle men who play the crucial role of connecting communities and people from all over. These magazines have become primary resources for many folks within Hip Hop. We expect Time Magazine or Newsweek to say a Hip Hop album is weak. We all collectivly assume that a reviewer from those publications aren’t up on Hip Hop music and culture. The assumption is that the reviewers from our Hip Hop mediums are up on things.. Or are they?
The bottom line is this.. There are no clear cut formulas or ways to write about some one’s craft. Rappers take their chances when they submit material to writers for review. I guess the bottom line is that we may want to always keep in mind that this is someone’s work.. It’s their heart and soul and we should be a bit sensitive to it..Sometimes it’s not what we say, but how we say things especially in print.